Last week, our story was about the Hebrew people wandering in the wilderness being transformed into God’s holy people. Between Exodus and Samuel much has happened. The Hebrew people wander until they come to the Promised Land and claim it as their nation.
In inhabiting the land to be named Israel, they become Israelites. In the wilderness, God is their ruler. In the land of Israel, the people want to look to a human for their leadership. It’s the same problem they had in the Exodus. The people want a human leader and a tangible God. In the new land, they want a human leader who mediates with God and adjudicates Divine justice.
God has granted Israel Judges to be their leaders. We know judges as Deborah, Samson and Gideon. They were military leaders and heard the complaints of the people. Still, under the judges, there was civil unrest and lawlessness. The book of Judges ends with conflict and violence. The last verse, Judges 21: 25 says: “In those days, Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.”
We know the people asked God for a king and he reluctantly granted their request. The story of the prophet Samuel is the hinge, the bridge between the time of the judges and the first king of Israel taking the throne of a united kingdom formed of the 12 tribes of Israel descended from the 12 sons of Jacob also known as Israel. The prophet Samuel will anoint both King Saul, Israel’s first king, and King David, arguably the greatest king.
Today’s text is the story of Hannah and her son Samuel.
You all seemed to like the story telling I did a few weeks ago, so I’ll treat this text as a story.
In the hill country west of the Jordan River, there was a man named El-kA-nah. He had 2 wives; first Hannah and another Peninnah. Peninnah had children but Hannah had not bore children. It’s said that Peninnah had many children but Hannah had none.
Every year, Elkanah went to Shiloh to worship God. Shiloh was the center of the religious worship of God for the Israelites. They had placed the ark of the covenant in Shiloh when they inhabited the Promised Land. It was believed God lived on top of the ark of the covenant between the cherubim. Going on a pilgrimage to Shiloh, at that time, was like going to the Temple once it was built many years late by King Solomon. The prophet Eli had 2 sons, Hophni and Phinehas, who were priests. They were bad dudes. If you read into the book of 1 Samuel, you’ll find out all the trouble these 2 priests got into.
Elkanah and his wives and children went to Shiloh to offer their annual sacrifice. Elkanah gave Peninnah and her children moderate portions of meat at their meal, but he gave to Hannah a double portion. Elkanah, it seems, favored Hannah over Peninnah even though Hannah hadn’t given him sons. Peninnah was jealous that Elkanah loved Hannah more so Peninnah teased Hannah about not having children. Peninnah was a mean bully provoking and irritating Hannah.
At this scene in our text, Peninnah’s teasing hurt so much that Hannah cried. Hannah was so distraught she wept and so sad she couldn’t eat. Elkanah doesn’t understand why Hannah is so sad. Elkanah tried to understand her sadness and tried to console her: “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”
After their meal, Hannah got up and went to the Lord’s house to pray. She wept bitterly as she made her plea to God. She vowed: “God, if you’ll answer my prayer, if you’ll remember me, and not forget me, please give me a son, then I will give him back to you for all the days of his life and he shall be a Nazarite.”
The prophet Eli saw Hannah praying and was confused by her demeanor. She wasn’t kneeling, hands folded, head bowed down, eyes closed. She was praying from her heart. Her lips were moving, but she had no voice. Eli thought she was drunk from drinking too much wine at dinner.
He said: “how long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.”
Hannah said: “I am not drunk. I am a deeply troubled woman. I haven’t been drinking. I was pouring out my soul to God. Do not think of me as a wicked woman. I have been praying here in great anguish and grief.”
Eli said: “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of Him.”
Hannah said: “May your servant find favor in your eyes.”
Hannah was comforted by Eli’s words. She left with a new outlook on life. She was no longer downcast and she was able to eat again. The next day, Elkanah, Peninnah, Peninnah’s children and Hannah went home. Elkanah and Hannah made love. The Bible says “The Lord remembered her.” And she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. Hannah named her son Samuel which means “God hears.”
Hannah’s prayer was simple. “Remember me. Don’t forget me.” Her prayer wasn’t about something like wealth or a long life. She didn’t want to have a great name or role in Israel’s kingdom. She didn’t want a great legacy. She simply wanted to be remembered by God.
Sometimes, it can be difficult to pray, because we don’t know what to pray or how to pray. Teaching our children to pray in Children’s Church or the Children’s moment and at home is so important, because it gives kids the tools they need to be able to express their joys and concerns, petitions and praise to God throughout their life.
Praying can be awkward if you don’t know how to pray, especially if you’re asked to pray in public. There are some examples in movies of how awkward prayer can be if you’re unsure of how to talk to God. Here are a few examples of awkward public prayers from movies.
“Dear Lord Baby Jesus, or as our brothers to the south call you, Jesús, we thank you so much for this bountiful harvest of Domino’s, KFC, and the always delicious Taco Bell. I just want to take time to say thank you for my family, my two beautiful, beautiful, handsome, striking sons, Walker and Texas Ranger, or T.R. as we call him, and of course, my red-hot smoking wife, Carly who is a stone-cold fox.” — Ricky Bobby – Talladega Nights – Will Ferrell
O dear God, thank you. You are such a good God to us. A kind and gentle and accommodating God. And we thank You O sweet, sweet Lord of hosts for the smörgåsbord You have so aptly lain at our table this day, and each day… by day. Day by day… by day. O dear Lord, three things we pray: To love Thee more dearly, to see Thee more clearly, to follow Thee more nearly day by day… by day. Amen. – Gaylord Focker – Meet the Parents – Ben Stiller
I’ve prayed my share of awkward public prayers when I’m at a loss for words. When we’re taught to pray as children or early in our walk with the Lord, and we practice praying regularly, our prayers become more honest, more mature, more direct. There is no more honest prayer for example than Robert Duvall as Preacher Sonny in the Apostle. He’s yelling at God:
“He’s taken my wife. They stole my church. That’s the temple I built for you. I’m mad at you. I can’t take it. Give me a sign or something. Blow this pain out of me. Give it to me tonight, Lord God Jehovah. If you won’t give me back my wife, give me peace. Give it to me. Give it to me. Give it to me. Give me peace. Give me peace. I don’t know who’s been fooling with me. You or the devil. I don’t know and I won’t even bring the human into this. He’s just a mutt so I’m going to bring him into this. But, I’m confused. I’m mad. I love you, Lord. I love you, but I am mad. I am mad at you. I am mad…”
That’s an honest prayer. I hope that when we pray, we pray boldly that we can say we’ve prayed more prayers like Preacher Sonny than Ricky Bobby. God can take our being honest about how we’re feeling. It’s how Hannah prayed, as a deeply disturbed woman. It’s how Preacher Sonny prayed. It’s how we can pray. God’s got big shoulders. We can cry, be angry, yell, shake, stomp, wave our hands, shake our fists. We can be honest and ask why bad stuff happens when we’re trying to make sense of the world or ask why things aren’t happening for us.
God answers honest prayers. I’m sure he hears those awkward prayers we pray to baby Jesus about fried chicken. He hears all our prayers, Taco Bell or give me peace.
When we pray honestly and from the heart like Hannah, when we pray for something fervently, when we pray for something for, it seems like, forever, we can get caught up in our prayers. We can get stuck on our knees. We know God hears our prayers. We know that. At some point, we need to take a break from praying for that one concern. God has heard your prayer. It’s time to trust that God has heard and wait on the Lord. We’re not going to hear or see God’s answer if we continue to pray, because we’re looking for God to answer our prayer in a certain way. If we’re on our knees praying day after day after day for a particular answer, we’re going to miss how God answers our prayers, because, often, God does not answer our prayers in the way we think He will.
So, change your prayer to have open eyes and ears to listen for God’s answer. Please don’t pray for patience as you wait on the Lord. But, get up off your knees, wash the tears from your face and go out in search of God’s answer. God has heard your prayer. God will answer your prayer as He sees fit at just the right time.