May 13, 2007
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
First Samuel 1:1-20
1. Today [I] read [to you] from the opening section of The Book Of Samuel. The character named Samuel from whom the book gets its title is a great leader and a prophet, who stands at a major turning point in the history of Israel. What [I] read [to you] today is the story dealing with the birth of Samuel. From this [passage I] would like [for us] to take note of the woman named Hannah, the mother of Samuel. She is nobody special. The figure we see here is one of a person who is powerless, and who is always having problems at home, struck by one blow of a hardship after another. Today, through the way [she sets for us], [I] would like [for us] to consider what living by faith means.
2. First, let's stop to look at Hannah's hardships. In what ways had Hannah been suffering? Her suffering was not unusual at all for her times; it had come from being in the domestic configuration of polygamy. Her husband Elkanah had another wife whose name was Penninah. Because there was more than one wife, strife was born from that plurality. That makes sense to me. This is not the only place in the scriptures where a domestic disorder produced by polygamy is described. Hannah suffered due to Peninnah's hostility and malice.
3. Worse still, Hannah had no children. But Peninnah the other wife had both sons and daughters. Penninah depressed her with that fact and caused her to suffer. But, Peninnah did not hurt her by merely saying, "He and I have children together, you know! But, oh, you and he have no children together, right?!" Nor did she hurt her by saying, "My kid's gonna be the heir, you know darling!" What does the Bible say in it? It says, "Penninah, who looks at her as her enemy, irritates and hurts Hannah with 'The Lord will not grant thee a child.'," (verse six).
4. Let's think about this a bit more. The text does certainly say in verse five that "The Lord had closed Hannah's womb," (verse five). But, that's not saying God was doing anything wrong against Hannah or God was punishing her. Not one single such a word is written like that here. What that statement means is the simple fact that when it comes to human birth God has thoughts that go way beyond human thoughts.
5. But, yet from the human side of things, that's not how we see it most of the time. When we're wanting to have a child and the child doesn't come, we end up seeing it as if God has visited upon us with some kind of wrong. Or maybe we feel like we've been abandoned by God. Because when something like that [just] is, it does happen that society as a whole will look at our not having children born to us as a judgment or a curse from God. That's how it is viewed pretty much anywhere in the world, and the society in Israel where Hannah was living was exactly that way, too.
6. Therefore, for the other wife Penninah, the fact that Hannah had no children became great material for criticism and attack. In particular, festival times were the best chances for Penninah to hurt Hannah. On the day of the festival as the household would go up to the holy place in Shiloh and offer sacrifices in worship to the Lord, Penninah would hurt Hannah. The scripture says, "Each year, in this way, when Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, she was hurt by Penninah," (verse seven).
7. Let's use our imaginations. "You sure are cursed by God. Why is somebody like you even worshipping God I don't know. It don't make no sense for you to even offer a sacrifice, though you do. Cause God hates ya. And the proof of that is the fact God ain't gonna give you no kids." I am thinking she hurt her probably saying something like that. For Hannah, the time of the festival was the most sorrowful and painful of times. Although it was a time when everyone was sharing a meal with joy together in the presence of God, Hannah was crying this year as well. She was grieving so much that she could not eat a thing.
8. It was an annual thing. She had passed through those sad festival hours so many times. But, even though each year that would happen, the closest people to her did not understand her true pain. Her husband Elkanah had said to her, "Why are you crying, Hannah? Why aren't you eating? Why are you moping? Am I not better to you than ten sons?," (verse eight). "You might not have no kids, but having me should be good enough." Does his talking like that solve it for her? One would not expect it to. Elkanah was totally lacking in insight.
9. I am repeating myself, but her suffering was not [because] there were no children between her husband [and her] and not [because] she had no child to be the heir. That's not [why she suffered], it was a suffering that had to do with her faith. She could not see God's goodness and will [for her life] in a form visible to eye. Don't we all have experiences like that? She was unable to sense God [as] compassionate and merciful [towards her]. She could just feel [herself] as if abandoned by God, as if deserted. She could not see God's love or anything close to it. Instead she just felt that God was doing her wrong. She was completely in the dark about God's plans [for her]. That's the kind of suffering it was. Her faith itself was actually being shaken at the core; it was suffering that we could even call a test of one's faith. When we think in those terms, I think we can feel it too, don't you? It may be in variously different forms, but I think just about everybody will be likely to have an experience of that nature. It doesn't always seem like God's smile is shining brightly like the sun. [We get] closed in by thick clouds, the light doesn't shine in completely. We'll have times like that too.
The Pour Out Your Life Prayer
10. But, what do we do in those kinds of times? Our way of being is questioned. What did Hannah do in [her] suffering? Let's take a look at that point next. The Bible says the following beginning in verse nine. "So, the sacrificial meal at Shiloh was over and Hannah stood up. The priest Eli was sitting in the chair near the pillar of the Lord's temple. Grieving Hannah prayed to the Lord and wept severely," (verses nine and ten).
11. Hannah stood up. Then she went to grieve. It wasn't in a place where there were other people, where her non-understanding husband was. She went to grieve before the Lord. She went in order to cry before the Lord. Even though the goodness and the will of God was entirely invisible, she still did not turn her back on God.
12. Just because we claim to be believers, we don't need to smile when we want to cry. When we want to cry, we should cry a lot. We may even mope. There are even times when we want to say hard and hateful things to God. But, we must not turn our backs against God. We might have questioned "Why?," [but] we don't ask somebody else and turn our backs against God, we must question God directly. As a matter of fact, aren't the Psalms filled with words of grief like these? I am reminded of the words from Psalm twenty-two which Jesus had in his mouth upon the cross. "Oh my God, oh my God, Why are you abandoning me? Why have you separated so far off, not being willing to save, and you do not hear either [my] moans or words?," (Psalm 22:1). While he makes the claim, "Why have you abandoned me?," he has not quit [his] turning to God.
13. While Hannah was crying severely, she prayed there a long time. Seeing her lips moving because she was praying in her heart, the priest Eli misunderstood her as being drunk with wine. Eli said, "How long have you been intoxicated? Sober up from [your] intoxication." Whereupon, she answers, "No, priest. You are wrong. I am a woman in deep agony. I have not drunk wine or strong drink. I have just poured out [my] petition from [my] heart before the presence of the Lord," (verse fifteen).
14. [Her] saying "I have poured out [my] petition from [my] heart before the presence of the Lord" isn't a translation that sufficiently relates the situation at hand. Since in verse eleven she states her petition and oath, this passage too might have been translated as "[my] petition from [my] heart," but this is a statement that should fundamentally be translated as "life" or even "soul." She said she "poured out [my] soul (life) before the presence of the Lord." In short, she was not merely pouring out a request. She was pouring out [her] life. You could say she was pouring out before the Lord her entire existence. It wasn't a partial thing like "a request." What she had in her was not just a request as you would suppose. She probably also had in her a resentment towards Penninah. She probably had grief towards [her] husband who truly did not understand her suffering. She must have also had a feeling of loneliness that she had borne for a long time. She may have had a resentment towards God of "Why did I have to feel this way?" She poured out her entire being before God by including all these things.
Return Home In Peace
15. The priest Eli said to Hannah in this [condition], "Return home in peace. May the God of Israel grant your petition." What do you all think about that? [Especially] this statement. The priest named Eli misunderstood her as being drunk. He did not hear one thing of her actual prayer. Perhaps what Eli said was only a formal statement as per a form that was used in the temple. It lacked as a message of comfort, having no personal empathy in it for her.
16. But what about [Hannah's response]? Hannah heard his statement and went home. The Bible then says, "Hannah said, 'May the lowly maidservant acquire your favor,' and departed from there. She took meals after that and her facial expression was no longer as it was before."
17. Please think about this. Samuel had still not been born. She didn't even have a sign [given to her]. Her day to day life hand not changed a bit. When she went back home, there would be the pestering from Penninah same as ever. There would be her husband not understanding her at all. The people in society would make her, who has not given birth to a child, the butt of rumors, same as ever. That's how it would seem, not one thing would change. But, her facial expression wasn't like before. While she was in the midst of suffering, she had pierced through [past] her suffering. Why is that? Because she heard the words for sure, "Return home in peace." They weren't from Eli the priest. They were from God.
18. Why did the formal words that Eli spoke sound in her heart as the Word of God? It was probably because she had met with God already in her praying [as the one who] said "Return home in peace." When Hannah was pouring out [her] life and praying, when she was pouring out her whole being and praying, God certainly did accept her whole being. Hannah had already touched in prayer the one who said, "Return home in peace."
19. [It was] God to whom Hannah had poured out her all, [she prayed] in His presence. [It was] God who had accepted Hannah in her totality. This God of Hannah is the very same God who would send Jesus Christ into the world soon at the fullness of times. After that day, God revealed himself through Christ. God has revealed himself as the God who accepts us in our entirety, even our sin.
20. Of course, we don't understand all that God is doing. Sometimes we may not agree with it. Sometimes God's will is blocked by black clouds and is completely invisible to us. We may sometimes have no choice but to grieve, "Why?" But, one thing alone is clear. God accepts our whole sinful existence. Therefore, we can pour out our all before God. We should pour [ourselves] out [to him]. That's living by faith. We hear God's voice in that place [of pouring out ourselves]. The Lord will also say to us, "Return home in peace." At that time, while amidst [some] hardship, we will find ourselves already breaking through it. Like Hannah did. "Her facial expression was not like it was before."