First Samuel 1:1-20 Samuel's Mother

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1.  Today we read the opening section of "[The Book Of] First Samuel."  [The Book Of] Ruth is located in our Bibles right before that.  I'll spare you a detailed explanation, but in the [original] Hebrew Bible [The Book Of] Judges actually comes right before First Samuel.  The end of Judges concludes as follows, "In those days, there was no king in Israel and they did what they considered right from person to person in their own eyes," (Judges 21:25).  This is the setting to the narrative we read for today.  People were living by their own individual standards.  The people of God were truly in a spiritual Dark Ages.  But, among such Israelites God raised up a man of God.  It was Samuel.  The history of Israel was immensely altered by this man.

2.  And God chose a specific woman to give Samuel upon this earth.  [God] chose a woman to become [Samuel's] mother.  It was Hannah.  What kind of person was she?  Was she a female warrior who grieved for her country and burned with the ideal of the people of God?  No, she didn't seemed to be like that by any means.  When we look at today's scriptural passage, we see that she was a lonely weak person pounded by sadness and worries.  God chose a woman like her and had prepared her for the birth of Samuel.  This preparation was done through one of the great hardships she was given.

A Test Of Faith

3.  This hardship given her took the form of no children being born to her.  The Bible ventures to say in verse five that "The Lord closed up Hannah's womb."  In other words, the Bible explicitly informs us that the will of God is at work here.

4.  Back then, when no children were born to you it was taken as an extremely religious situation.  They thought when you had a lot of children it was the blessing of God, but when you couldn't have children it was regarded as a curse from God.  That's why it wasn't unusual at all when [a childless] person habitually received unearned suffering and was all the time discriminated against.

5.  Furthermore, it was also a time back then when polygamy was commonly accepted.  Hannah's husband also had him another wife.  It said her name was Peninnah.  As you'd expect, by his having two wives there, strife arose in the home.  Peninnah hated Hannah and hurt her.

6.  Peninnah had children, but Hannah did not.  This was suitable material for Peninnah's attack on her.  How would she hurt her?  In verse six it has it that "When the Lord did not grant her children, she made her depressed and tormented her."  She did that at festival time when they worshipped the Lord and presented sacrifices to Him.  In other words, it's not that Peninnah tormented her with the fact that there would be no heir to leave behind Hannah's name.  That's not what it was, rather, she hurt her saying, "You are cursed by God.  It's useless for you no matter how much you may try to worship God.  Even if you offer a sacrifice to God, it will have no meaning."  Thus, Hannah's problem was the problem of being placed in a situation where everyone thinks she was so cursed by God and in their not understanding God's will at all.

7.  It was a test of faith.  More than mere pain, it was an ordeal in which her very faith itself was being accused and tested.  When she did not understand the will of God and at the time when she could not find his good will in visible form, the doubts of whether "Do I keep looking to God?" or "Do I turn my back on God?" were in question.

8.  Of course, Hannah wasn't the only one alone who had experienced such testing.  We can find [this] in the lives of the many characters who appear in the Bible.  For example, consider Jesus' mother, Mary.  I wonder how surprised and stunned Mary was when it was announced to her that she had conceived by the Holy Spirit.  And she was in a situation where her engagement to be married should have been broken.1  Her trust in God and obedience to him were under fire in all this.  Mary said, "According to your word may it befall me," (Luke 1:38).

9.  As for another example, but in a different form, we can see the same test in The Book Of Job.

10.  It says in the text that "Job was pure and righteous, he feared God and lived avoiding evil," (Job 1:1).  God said to Satan, "Have you noticed my servant Job?  There is no one like on the earth.  He is pure and righteous, fears God, and lives avoiding evil," (1:8).  In reply to this Satan spoke as follows, "Will Job honor God even while there is no benefit to him?  Aren't you preserving him, his clan, and all his properties?  You bless all the works of his hands.  Please, with this one thing to him, lift your hand and try touching his property.  He will definitely turn his face to yours and curse you," (1:11).  This is from the opening section of The Book Of Job.

11.  As we understand from the entire book of Job, these words of Satan are words that have great significance.  I don't think I'm the only one who has the feeling of having their hearts searched out by these words.  What we call faith is often times really a trust in "signs visible to the eye."  When we take the good will of God in a form visible to the eye, then fearing God and trusting him isn't hard to do.  But, Satan says, "Will [you] honor God even while there is no benefit to [you]?"  When [you] no longer understands God's will and when [you] can't find God's grace in a visible form anywhere, will [you] still turn [your] eyes to God and respect Him?  That is what is at stake here.  That is the significance of the test given to Job and [that] is the significance of the test given to Hannah.

The Prayer In Which She Pours Out Her Life

12.  Well, amid such great suffering what did Hannah do?  It says the following beginning in verse nine, "Then, the sacrificial meal at Siloh ended and Hannah stood up.  The priest Eli was sitting on a seat near the pillar of the temple of the Lord.  Groaning with pain, Hannah prayed to the Lord and wept hard," (verses nine through twelve).

13.  She was not the kind of person who remained calm regardless of the suffering.  She showed her pain openly.  She wept and wouldn't eat anything.  She moped along.  But, she didn't turn her back on the Lord.  I think that is wonderful.  Just because we are believers we don't need to smile when we want to cry.  When we want to cry we should cry.  We might even feel a little blue.  But, we should not turn our backs on God.  If Hannah had turned against God, what would have happened?  If she had turned against God and paid back evil for Peninnah's animosity, what would have happened?  That house would have surely become like a hell - as if Samuel had never been given to it.  But, she did not pursue such a foolish course.  She was probably filled with sorrow.  But, she stood up.  And she went to pray.  She goes to the Lord.

14.  As Hannah wept hard, she prayed there a long time.  Because the priest Eli saw Hannah's lips moving since she was praying on the inside of her heart, he misunderstood her as being drunken with wine.  Eli said [to her], "How long will you be drunk?  Start sobering up."  Whereupon she replied, "No, kind priest.  You are mistaken.  I am a woman with deep sorrow.  I have not been drinking wine or strong drink.  I have only poured out my request before the Lord from my heart," (verse fifteen).

15.  It's a detailed account but, I think it's a very poor translation here where it says, "I have only poured out my request before the Lord from my heart."  In verse eleven, as she states her own request and vow, it might be translated here as "request from the heart," but this is a word that ought to be translated by all rights as "life" or "soul."  In other words, she had not been just pouring out her requests.  She was pouring out her life.  Or we could say, she was pouring out her entire being before the Lord.  It wasn't a partial thing like "a request."  We should expect that what was going on in her was not only her requests.  There was probably resentment towards Peninnah in her.  There was probably sorrow over her husband who truly never understood her pain.  She must have been so lonely because of that.  In addition, I don't think we can say she never even had resentful feelings towards God who had allowed such a condition in her [life].  She included all these things and poured out her whole being before God.

16.  And the reason she could make a prayer in pouring out her life was that there is One who steadfastly accepts it.  There are limitations among us human beings.  No matter how much we trust or love we have limits.  When [someone] pours out his or her soul, it is humans who can't take it.  But, God, who heard Hannah's prayer, is different from humans.  He is a Being who does accept our lives, our souls, and our entire beings.

17.  Before long, at the end of her prayer like she made, she accepted the words of the priest to "Be at peace and return home," (verse seventeen) and she went back home.  Then the Bible says this, "After that she ate the meal, but her facial expressions were no longer like they were before," (verse eighteen).  In The Bible Society Version, it is translated loosely as "Her face was sorrowful no more."

18.  Nothing at all changed in her life situation.  No children were born.  When she went back home, Peninnah's egging on was still there as always.  She might have been sad that she was not understood by her husband, but she herself had changed.  She is in a tight spot here, but there she is already over and passed the hardship.  When she had poured out her life and turned it over to God, she broke past her difficulty.

19.  Hannah was given a great test according to the deep plans of God.  In it Hannah did not turn her back on God but poured out her soul and prayed.  Here we have the figure of a person of faith that we ought to look at.  And because she was like that, when Samuel was born she did not raise her child as if she had owned him, but she nurtured the child with faith and soon was able to present the child to the Lord just as she had vowed to him.  Thus, Samuel came to be sent into a world of darkness.  I think today we should engrave in our hearts this image of Samuel's mother.

End Note

1The Hebrew custom of marriage at that time even required a bill of divorcement for just engagement periods as well.

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