(This post is the first in a series of expositional posts on 1 Samuel. Though I am currently preaching through 1 Samuel at our church, these are not my sermon manuscripts. They are written specifically for the readers here at “One Degree to Another.”)
The Bible is honest about the suffering and pain we encounter in life. I love this about the Bible. It doesn’t sugarcoat these questions–the Psalms, Job, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, and countless other biblical books wrestle with our pain and plead with God for an answer.
1 Samuel begins not only with a woman in this type of pain, but also with Israel at a dark point in her history. Israel was still suffering the effects from the period of the Judges. “There was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Israel would sin against the Lord, experience defeat at the hands of an enemy, the people cried out for deliverance, God raised up a judge who delivered the people, and after the death of the judge, the cycle repeated itself.
“There was a certain man’ seems to be an innocuous enough way to begin a book of the Bible, but this is the writer’s way of preparing us for something big to come. In Judges 13, Israel was at another dark point in the period of the Judges and then we read “there was a certain man of Zorah, from the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah.” He would become the father of Samson, who delivered Israel from the Philistines.
Isn’t interesting that in many of the darkest moments in Israel’s history, hope comes in the form of a baby. When Israel was languishing in slavery in Egypt, the narrative shifts to the birth of a baby boy who should have been murdered, but instead was preserved in the house of Pharoah. Samson was born during the period of the Judges and so was Obed, the son of Ruth and Boaz. In Isaiah, God promises to send a sign and it will be that a virgin will bear a son. This prophecy experiences its fullest fulfillment in the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The baby in 1 Samuel’s narrative is born to a barren woman, as so many miraculous children are in Scripture. Hannah is married to Elkanah, who has another wife named Peninnah. He loved Hannah more than Peninnah, but Hannah was barren and Peninnah was not. This created a rivalry between the two women, in which Peninnah relentlessly mocked Hannah for her barrenness, even when they were on their way to the house of the Lord for the feast.
One aside is necessary here. During the discussions about biblical marriage, someone will inevitably point out that there were polygamous situations in the Bible, as if the report of these marriages was enough to redefine marriage in the Bible and allow for gay unions. There is one major problem with this logic. The Bible reports that these marriages existed, but it never shows them as stable and happy marriages. In almost every case where there was a man with multiple wives, the results were calamitous, both for him and the women and children involved.
Elkanah saw his wife’s distress and tried to comfort her by reminding her of his love, but this could not console her. They left to go worship at the house of the Lord, probably for the Feast of Tabernacles, and Peninah mocked Hannah along the way. When they arrived, Hannah began to pray in the house of the Lord with such intensity that the priest thought she was drunk. She promised the Lord that if he would give her a son, she would dedicate him to the Lord and he would be a Nazarite from birth.
Eli the priest confronted Hannah about her supposed drunkenness and she explained the reason for her vexed appearance. He told her that the Lord would give her a son when she came back the next year.
Hannah’s intensity in prayer and the Lord’s answer reminds us that the Lord is near to us when we suffer and hears us when we pray. Walking through pain and suffering often makes us feel like we are alone and misunderstood, but the Lord is always near, especially in our pain. I have always been encouraged in the story of Joseph that at every point in the narrative where Joseph sinks lower, it says “the Lord was with Joseph.” Because of Jesus, we know that the Lord is near to us and we know that he hears us. We should call upon him in heartfelt prayer and follow him through whatever path he calls us to walk down.
“What Do You Do When You Struggle to Pray?”
For Further Reading:
Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller
1 Samuel: Looking on the Heart by Dale Ralph Davis