Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"Hannah Rose"

Text: 1 Samuel 1

Psalm 65:1-4

 

            On this Mother’s Day morning, we’re going to hear the story of a mom who doesn’t receive quite as much Biblical “press” as the likes of Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Mary, mother of Jesus. We meet Hannah [a name which in Hebrew means “grace”] in the opening chapter of the Old Testament book of 1st Samuel. This morning’s sermon is going to be of a type we call “expository,” which means we’re basically going to allow Hannah’s story to unfold verse by verse. Please turn in your Bibles to 1st Samuel 1, and keep it open there as we follow Hannah from inconsolable grief to effusive joy.

 

            (Read 1 Samuel 1:12)

            In the lives of the Old Testament patriarchs, there was nothing more important than the legacy of children; more specifically, male children, as these would carry on the name and the bloodline. We remember the angst of father Abraham and his wife Sarah as they waited their entire lives for the blessing of a son. Even though God had promised that Abraham’s descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky and the grains of sand on the shore, Sarah had been unable to conceive. So in desperation, she proposed that Abraham should have a child with her Egyptian maid Hagar. Hagar bore Abraham a son whom they named Ishmael. Yet from that time forward, Sarah and Hagar looked upon each other with contempt, Ishmael a constant reminder to Sarah of her barrenness, her failure, her perceived curse.

            Elkanah’s story is a parallel of Abraham’s. 1st Samuel opens with Elkanah’s impressive pedi gree: “…son of Jeroham son of Elihu son of Tohu son of Zuph, an Ephraimite.” Elkanah had a proud past. But with his wife Hannah, legacy wise, he had no future. We can presume that Elkanah’s other wife Peninnah served a role similar to Hagar’s – she would bear the son, but would never be her husband’s first love. These opening verses invite us to reflect on the question: How is a new future possible amid the frequent barrenness of life which renders us bitter, hopeless, and fruitless? The dramaticanswer to this question is in the four scenes which follow.

            (Read 1 Samuel 1:38)

            There is no question that Hannah, in spite of her not bearing children, is the apple of Elkanah’s eye. We’re told that year after year, Elkanah would worship and sacrifice at a place called Shiloh. While he would give portions of the food sacrifice to Peninnah and her children, he always showed special favor to Hannah, giving her a “double portion.” The incongruity in this scene is between Elkanah’s great love for Hannah, and what’s perceived as God’s having “closed” Hannah’s “womb.” Year after year though, Hannah sinks deeper and deeper into depression. To make matters worse, just as there was bitter rivalry between Sarah and Hagar, so too was there between Hannah and Peninnah. Peninnah, in fact, aggressively teased Hannah for her inability to conceive. Despite all Elkanah’s attempts to affirm and encourage his beloved, Hannah’s grief was inconsolable.

            (Read 1 Samuel 1:918)

            “Hanna rose and presented herself before the Lordat the temple in Shiloh.Sometimes in life, there is nothing more difficult: to rise and stand before the Almighty in the midst of our pain and suffering; in Hannah’s case, to rise and stand before the One who was viewed as the very source of her pain and suffering, the very One who had “closed her womb.” Hannah prays and weeps “bitterly.” Words at this point serve no purpose. Her inner groaning and distress are prayer enough. She then proceeds to in effect bargain with the Lord, vowing that if God permits her to bear a son, she will dedicate him to the Lord’s service: “I will set him before you as a nazirite [ie. one separated or consecrated for special service] until the day of his death.”          All the while, Eli who was the priest on duty at the temple had been observing Hannah. He noticed that her lips were moving, but no words came from her mouth. Eli’s assumption was that she was inebriated. When he confronts her, telling her to stop making a fool of herself, she explains herself. She had “drunk neither wine nor strong drink,” but had been “pouring out (her) soul before the Lord.” Hannah was not drunk. She was desperate. Eli is obviously moved by Hannah’s vexation and piety, so he pronounces an assurance and a benediction: “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.” What an awesome ex change this is! Eli believes Hannah. Hannah believes Eli. Both believe God. This marks a decisive turn in the story as we’re told that following the encounter, Hannah “went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no longer.” We might imagine Elkanah thinking to himself: “Where you been girl?”

            (Read 1 Samuel 1:1920)

            God is a powerful Rememberer. When God remembers the covenant partner (that is Hannah) and the promise (articulated through the voice of God’s servant Eli), newness becomes possible. The hopeless one is the one now assured a future. After worship the morning following Hannah’s experience in the temple, Elkanah and Hannah consummate God’s promise. Then after nineteen verses which prepare for the birth, one verse narrates it: “In due time, Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel...” This new son is the one asked for, and the one graciously given.

            (Read 1 Samuel 1:2128)

            In a sense, this is a scene of returns. Elkanah, we were told in verse 3, “used to go up year by year from his town to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts….” Verse 21 states: “The man Elkanah and all his household went up to offer to the Lord the yearly sacrifice and to pay his vow.” While Elkanah’s earlier visits were marked by devotion with little future hope with his beloved Hannah, this visit is marked by both devotion and hope with the birth of baby Samuel.

            Hannah did not accompany Elkanah on this visit as she was nursing her child. But she was quite determined what she was going to do when Samuel had been weaned. She would return and pay her vow before the Lord; her promise once made in the temple that this child would be dedicated to God’s service. Her husband was on board. So after the child was weaned, Hannah did indeed present Samuel in the temple at Shiloh. She made sacrifice, reminded Eli who she was, then spoke of this child’s destiny: “For this child I prayed; and the Lord has granted me the petition that I made to him. Therefore, I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is given to the Lord.” Then Hannah rose, and left Samuel in Eli’s care where he would apprentice in priestly duties as he grew. Hannah first rose before the Lord with inconsolable grief. Now she rises before the Lord with effusive joy. Save Hannah’s prayer recorded at the beginning of chapter 2, this concludes her story; the story of a mother – crushed and perplexed, yet yielding and trusting, finally faithful and grateful. And as we learn beyond Hannah’s story, Samuel becomes a judge, a prophet, a priest, and an anointer of kings; predestined by his mother’s love and devotion to become one of the first great champions of the Jewish faith.

            Hannah stands throughout Biblical history as a model for motherhood, and as a model for faith in God to do what seems impossible. Her story teaches us how amid the frequent barrenness of life which can render us bitter, hopeless, and fruitless, a new future is possible. It begins by rising to our feet before the Lord, however painful and difficult that may be, and pouring out our deepest inner groaning and distress. Perhaps this is an example of what Jesus taught much later in His beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” It continues as we vow obedience to the Lord, both for us and on behalf of those we are charged to raise and teach. That’s one of the pillars upon which the sacrament of infant baptism stands; the vows we make to bring our children up to know and honor God. With a renewed sense of hope, we rise again before the Lord in worship, trusting that we’ve been heard and that God will act. Then upon God’s fulfillment of God’s promises, we fulfill our vows with thanksgiving and praise, responding by placing every thing into God’s hands, and committing all to God’s care.

            So on this Mother’s Day, how grateful and glad we should be that Hannah rose!