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Hannah’s Prayer

This morning I’m excited to get us started into a new sermon series. I’ve been wanting to do another character study for some time now – the last one we did was back in May of 2019 when we went through the life of Joseph.

So I’ve been eager to do another one – and originally, my intention was to do a series on the life of David. I’ve preached a few sermons on David – but I’ve never systematically gone through his whole life. And so in preparation, I started looking at the beginning of David’s story – which begins by the prophet Samuel anointing David as the future King of Israel when he was just a young boy.

However, as I started reading about that in 1 Samuel chapter 16, I ended up flipping back a few pages – reading more and more about the prophet Samuel and all that happened before David was even the scene. And eventually, I ended up right back at 1 Samuel chapter 1 – which describes the events around Samuel’s birth. And there was so much good stuff in all of those chapters that I wanted to share all that stuff with you as well!

So as it stands today, I’m not entirely sure what this series is going to be about! Maybe this will be all about Samuel. Maybe we’ll eventually get to David too? Maybe we’ll throw King Saul in there somewhere – I’m not entirely sure yet.  All I know is that we’re going to start in 1 Samuel chapter 1 – and we’ll see where we go from there.

But, before we jump into our text, let me first give you a very quick run-down on exactly where we are in the greater story of the Bible.

The book of 1 Samuel begins right at the end of the era of the judges. By this point in time, the people of Israel had conquered the Promised Land led by Joshua and had been living there for some time. But during this time they really failed to be the “holy nation” that God intended them to be – they neglected to follow God’s commands and instructions and instead they just did whatever they wanted.

In fact, the very last verse in the Book of Judges says this:

25 In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. Judges 21:25

And as you can imagine, when people do whatever seems right in their own eyes, things go off the rails pretty quick. The book of Judges contains some of the most horrific stories in the entire Bible as people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. We’re going to see in a few weeks that even the priests at God’s tabernacle had abandoned the ways of God and and were living selfish and sinful lives!

So because of that, God had allowed many different enemies around them to invade and oppress the Israelites. This would continue for several years until the Israelites turned to God and God would then send them a deliverer – or a judge. You remember guys like Ehud (the left-handed man who stabbed the fat King Eglon), or Samson and Gideon, Deborah – those people were all judges of Israel. They would rescue Israel from their enemies and lead the people to again follow God. This happened over and over again many times during the time of the judges.

And Samuel, as we’re going to find out later, is actually the very last of those judges. In fact, he’s considered to be the last judge and the first of the prophets. I suppose Moses would technically be the first prophet, but he’s kinda in his own category. But Samuel would be the first of a long line of prophets who would faithfully declare the Word of the Lord to the people of Israel. That’s something that didn’t really happen during the time of the judges. In 1 Samuel 3:1 we read:

“Now in those days messages from the Lord were very rare, and visions were quite uncommon.” 1 Samuel 3:1b

In the time of judges, we see very little prophetic revelation from the Lord – but from the time of Samuel onward, we see nearly a constant presence of prophets in Israel – and of course, their prophecies make up a large portion of our Old Testament.

But this was the world into which young Samuel was born. It was a time when God seemed to be silent. The people of Israel had no king and everyone did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. There was constant danger from enemies who would invade and oppress Israel.

Overall, it was a fairly dark time. But it wasn’t all bad. Despite the many who did evil – there were still those who loved and obeyed God. And Samuel’s parents were among those people. 

We are introduced to them in 1 Samuel chapter 1. So if you have your Bibles, feel free to turn with me to 1 Samuel chapter 1, and we will begin at verse 1.

There was a man named Elkanah who lived in Ramah in the region of Zuph in the hill country of Ephraim. He was the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, of Ephraim. 2 Elkanah had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah did not.

1 Samuel 1:1-2

And so there’s our brief introduction to Samuel’s parents. We have Elkanah and his two wives – Hannah and Peninnah. And the Bible makes it very clear for us that Peninnah had children and Hannah did not. That will become an important detail as we go on in the story.

Some commentators suggest that Hannah was likely Elkanah’s first wife – and that he took on a second wife, Peninnah, because Hannah was barren. In those days, having children to carry on your family name was extremely important. And so because Hannah seemed unable to have children, Elkanah may have married again so that he would be able to have children through this other wife.

Of course, that’s a bit of speculation, but it certainly makes sense based on what we’re about to read. So let’s read on.

3 Each year Elkanah would travel to Shiloh to worship and sacrifice to the Lord of Heaven’s Armies at the Tabernacle. The priests of the Lord at that time were the two sons of Eli—Hophni and Phinehas. 4 On the days Elkanah presented his sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to Peninnah and each of her children. 5 And though he loved Hannah, he would give her only one choice portion because the Lord had given her no children. 1 Samuel 1:3-5

Just to explain what’s going on here, this sacrifice that Elkanah was presenting to the Lord would be what the Bible refers to as the ‘peace offering’. It was an offering made to God simply out of thanksgiving and praise. This was the only sacrifice that was shared by both the priest and the giver.  Part of the animal being sacrificed would belong to the Lord and that part would be given to the priest, but part of it would be given back to the giver to eat and to celebrate with his family. 

And so that’s what’s happening here. Elkanah is dividing up the meat of the sacrifice among his family members – to Peninnah he would give several portions to feed her many children, but to Hannah he would give just the one piece because she had no children to feed. However, because he loved her, he would give her a choice piece – the best of the best. Or as other translations put it, a double portion!

This is the same thing that Joseph did when he prepared a meal for his brothers in Egypt before he revealed his true identity to them. He gave a regular portion to all his half-brothers, but he gave a double portion to his full brother Benjamin! This double-portion signified that this was a special person – they were honoured above all the rest!

And that’s what Elkanah is conveying here – that even without children, Hannah is dearly loved – He loves her above all the rest!

And while I can certainly appreciate his intentions in doing this, you can imagine how that might cause some friction between Hannah and Peninnah. When you communicate that you love one wife more than another, that’s not going to make for a happy home. And that’s exactly what we see happening. Verse 6.

6 So Peninnah would taunt Hannah and make fun of her because the Lord had kept her from having children. 7 Year after year it was the same—Peninnah would taunt Hannah as they went to the Tabernacle. Each time, Hannah would be reduced to tears and would not even eat.

8 “Why are you crying, Hannah?” Elkanah would ask. “Why aren’t you eating? Why be downhearted just because you have no children? You have me—isn’t that better than having ten sons?” 1 Samuel 1:1-8

And again, I appreciate Elkanah’s good intentions of trying to comfort his wife, but I don’t think he’s helping the situation any!

Even though Hannah knows that Elkanah loves her – she’s still missing the one thing that she wants the most. She wants to have children. To be barren, particularly in that culture, would have been devastating! Back then, THE KEY role for a wife was to bear children – and Hannah couldn’t. She would have felt like she was a failure at the one thing she was suppose to do. 

And then to have Peninnah with all here kids mock and taunt her – you can understand why she would be reduced to tears and not even want to eat! 

This would have been such a painful and difficult thing for Hannah to endure.

And I imagine that some of you can probably relate. Maybe some of you know what it’s like to long to have children, but for some reason, you’ve been unable. Or maybe you’re single and you long for marriage, but marriage just doesn’t seem to be in the cards. Or maybe you have a family member who doesn’t know the Lord, and you long for them to come to know Christ.

These are all super hard things to go through as is – but on top of that, imagine someone mocking and taunting you because God hasn’t given you those things that you deeply long for! That would be truly devastating!

So I don’t know if you can relate to what Hannah is going through here, but if you can, I want you to notice what Hannah does in all this. When Hannah is at her lowest – when she is hurting – when she feels empty – when she feels completely stuck… Look what she does. Verse 9

9 Once after a sacrificial meal at Shiloh, Hannah got up and went to pray. Eli the priest was sitting at his customary place beside the entrance of the Tabernacle. 10 Hannah was in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed to the Lord. 

1 Samuel 1:9-10

I love the fact that Hannah choose to pray. When in her darkest hour and in her deepest discouragement, she choose to go the Lord. Even though she was in deep anguish – she was crying bitterly – she knew she could take those bitter tears to the God of Heaven.

I’m reminded of 1 Peter 5:6-7 which says:

6 And God will exalt you in due time, if you humble yourselves under his mighty hand 7 by casting all your cares on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:6-7 NET

Hannah knew that she could cast all her cares – all the things that weighed heavy on her heart – she could cast those things on God knowing that God cared deeply for her. She didn’t have to carry those things alone.

That’s why God has given us this thing called prayer. He invites us to come to him – even when we are in bitter anguish – casting our cares on him – because He truly does care for us. He doesn’t just want to hear our eloquent, happy prayers that we might pray at church or in at Bible study – he also wants to hear our angry prayers – our bitter prayers – our broken prayers. It’s ok, He’s God. He can handle it!

And what’s more, He can do something about it! We don’t pray to God simply to vent our frustrations, but we pray to God knowing that He is all-powerful and He has the ability to change our situation. 

Hannah certainly believed that. As she prayed, she had a very clear and specific request for God to act on her behave. Look at verse 11.

11 And she made this vow: “O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, if you will look upon my sorrow and answer my prayer and give me a son, then I will give him back to you. He will be yours for his entire lifetime, and as a sign that he has been dedicated to the Lord, his hair will never be cut.” 1 Samuel 1:11

Hannah was very clear and specific in her request. She asked God to give her a son.

And she had absolute confidence that God could answer her prayer. And if God would choose to give her a son, then she would, in response, give him back to God.

And this vow to dedicate her son to the Lord wasn’t so much a bargaining or negotiating with God for a son so much as it was an expression of her earnest desire.

I don’t know that we need to bargain with God get Him to answer our prayers. I think we tend to do that quite often – “God if you will just do this – then I’ll do that for you!” “Get me outta this pickle and I’ll go be a missionary in Africa!” Or something…

But we don’t have to do that. God already has our best interests in mind. He wants to answer our prayers if He knows it’s something that’s good for us and that fits with his sovereign plan for our lives.

Jesus said in Matthew 7:7…

7 “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

9 “You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? 10 Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! 11 So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him. Matthew 7:7-11

God delights in answering our prayers. He delights in giving us good gifts. Of course, we don’t always agree with God on what a ‘good gift’ is! Sometime what we think is would be good gift, God knows that ultimately it isn’t. 

To illustrate, my kids think a giant tub of candy would be a great gift – but as parents who care about their health – we might think otherwise! We may say “no” to their request for the giant tub of candy even though they really want it because we know that it’s not in their best interest to give that to them.

And I wonder how many of our prayers are “tub of candy” kind of prayers – where we think what we’re asking for would be great and wonderful – but God knows that it’s not. Or at least, God knows that now is not the best time for that gift.

Sometimes, while we do need to be persistent in our prayers, ultimately, we need to recognize God’s goodness and his wisdom in giving us – or not giving us – what we ask for.

As for Hannah, she continued praying to God to give her this gift of a son. The story continues in verse 12…

12 As she was praying to the Lord, Eli watched her. 13 Seeing her lips moving but hearing no sound, he thought she had been drinking. 14 “Must you come here drunk?” he demanded. “Throw away your wine!”

15 “Oh no, sir!” she replied. “I haven’t been drinking wine or anything stronger. But I am very discouraged, and I was pouring out my heart to the Lord. 16 Don’t think I am a wicked woman! For I have been praying out of great anguish and sorrow.”

17 “In that case,” Eli said, “go in peace! May the God of Israel grant the request you have asked of him.”

18 “Oh, thank you, sir!” she exclaimed. Then she went back and began to eat again, and she was no longer sad.

1 Samuel 1:12-18

We’ll pause the story here for today, but I think that last verse 18 here gives us a good reminder of one of God’s main purposes for prayer.

After spending much time earnestly praying to God – after pouring her heart out to the Lord – after the assurance from Eli that God had heard her prayer – Hannah returned to her family and she was no longer sad.

Something had changed. At this point, God had not yet answered her prayer. She was still childless. Peninnah was still likely to mock and taunt her. But Hannah was no longer sad. Something had changed, but it wasn’t her situation. It was her. 

R.C. Sproul once said:

“Prayer does change things, all kinds of things. But the most important thing it changes is us.” ~ R.C. Sproul

One of the big reasons God asks us to pray is not necessarily because he wants to change our situation, but because He wants to change us.

As we spend time with God, sharing with him our deepest longings, crying out to him for deliverance or help or provision – or whatever it is – as we commune with Him in prayer, He changes us from the inside out.

Through prayer, we grow in our knowledge and understanding of Him

Through prayer, we grow in our faith and our trust in Him.

Through prayer, God helps us to see things from His perspective.

Through prayer, God changes our attitudes and how we see others.

Through prayer, God gives us joy and hope and peace – even in the midst of the most difficult trials.

You know, I can tell you from experience, that when I pray, something always changes. Sometimes it’s my situation – but more often than not, it’s me. God changes me.

And that’s really His ultimate goal. His goal isn’t to give you a more comfortable life. His goal isn’t to rescue you from every trial and tribulation that comes your way. His goal isn’t to give you all the things that you think you need.

His goal is to transform you into the person He created you to be.

The Bible tells us that we have been created in the image of God – created to live in perfect harmony with God. But our sinfulness has corrupted that image dramatically.

More than anything, we need to be saved from our own sinfulness – which of course, is exactly why God sent his Son Jesus to die on the cross and be raised from the dead. His death and resurrection makes it possible for us to be saved from our sin.

And for those of us who have accepted God’s gift of Salvation – we’ve kinda entered into the next phase of our transformation – where God changes us from the inside out to become more and more like his Son – more and more like the person God created us to be.

And a major way He does that is through prayer. I know I often preach about how important it is to be reading God’s Word – and it absolutely is! We have to spend time daily in God’s Word. But in addition to that, I’m realizing more and more in my own personal life, just how important prayer is as well! 

Prayer has the power not only to change our situation, but more importantly to change the core of our being – our very person! That’s how God makes us more like Him.

So I just want to encourage you this morning to make prayer a central part of your daily life. Spend time with God often – share your deepest longings – share your hurts – share your anger and frustration – and also share your greatest joy and your triumphs too. Thank Him for the good gifts that he’s already given and ask Him for the things that you need! Just be in conversation with the God of the universe – because He cares more about you than you can even imagine.

And I guarantee you – things will change. Maybe your situation – but at the very least – you.

Prayer will change you.

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