Hannah’s God

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Had God forgotten Hannah? Was He just too busy with other, more important things? Maybe Hannah had sinned sometime in her past, earning her the punishment of childlessness…or at least had made some bad choices way-back-when that landed her here. She knew how the other woman looked down on her and wondered why she had the “woman’s curse.” Or worse. Maybe the LORD had just struck her barren for His own sick enjoyment, so He could laugh at her suffering and mock her childlessness, like her husband’s other wife, Peninnah, did. All the time.

Sure,  Elkanah said he still loved Hannah…she might’ve even been his favorite wife. As much as a wife who can’t give her husband any children can be favored over the one who does, anyway. You know how men are. He probably just liked her more youthful figure, compared to Peninnah’s stretched-out, well-used one. But a husband’s love, while wonderful, just didn’t fill that void.

And then one day, just after the annual sacrifice at the tabernacle in Shiloh…Hannah lost it (again). She was frequently depressed and didn’t want to eat or be around the family. But this time, she was DONE. Cracked. Bat spit crazy.

Only this time, they were all out in public, for God and everyone to see. Pastor Eli was sitting right there, on the bench next to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. And Hannah just brazenly wandered right up to the Doorway of God’s Own House! By herself! She didn’t even notice Eli, what with all the sobbing and incoherent mumbling going on as she poured out her heart, directly to God, laying it all drenched in tears and snot, right on His front doorstep.

God answers her prayer and gives her a son, Samuel, whom she then gives back to the Lord to serve in His house. In the next chapter, she sings a song of thanksgiving.

Yay, Hannah! What an example of an effective prayer! You should pray like that if you really want to see results.

No.

Actually, I think Hannah would be pretty horrified to hear our version of this story, the one praising her for her such a powerful prayer that God rewarded her by granting her plea for a son. What you need to do, then, is be like Hannah.

But she wasn’t given Samuel as a reward for being such a powerful pray-er, who managed to say just the right words and suddenly change the Lord’s mind about her barren state. And she wasn’t given a baby because she was just so pathetically desperate for a child that she promised she’d give him right back to God as her special gift to Him.

Hannah prayed to God, not because she thought her tears and sincerity would convince Him to do what she wanted and give her a child, but because she knew that He was the one from whom all good gifts come — including (and especially) the gift of children. She prayed to the LORD because she had a God who gives good gifts.

If her “pouring out her heart before the LORD” was anything like my pouring out my heart before the LORD, the world is probably better off not knowing what she said with all her groanings too deep for words. It’s bad enough being barren. Being barren with a husband who had another — very fertile — wife (who even mocked your childlessness)…that’s got to be a real special kind of torture.

Hannah probably told Him about Peninnah’s hurtful taunts and her utter hatred for her and all her stupid kids, and how it killed her to see her husband being fatherly with them. How she hated everyone for their polite questions and unhelpful platitudes, and their whispers and gossip. How she’d wait and pray and try-not-to-hope but couldn’t-help-hoping that this time it would happen…and then have those hopes-shattered-into-tiny-little-pieces as her period inevitably returned. Every. Single. Month.

Why God?? Why not her? Why all those other women? When would it be her turn? Didn’t He love her? What had she done wrong? She must’ve done something to deserve this shame-filled fate. She poured out all the doubts and fears and feelings that she had kept pent up for so long. ALL of them.

When she had confessed everything to the LORD, there was nothing left to get in the way of faith anymore. So she made a vow. Notice how this part gets recorded in Scripture, possibly because, unlike the sobbing confession, Hannah’s speech was now clear and quite lucid. “O LORD of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.” (1 Samuel 1:11 ESV)

Oh, but there’s more! Hannah’s brazen faith didn’t even back down when, after watching the whole scene, Eli called her a drunk and told her to go sober up. She had just triple-dog-dared the LORD God Almighty to remember her and give her a son. It was nothing for her to now give His Holy Priest the what’s-what, explaining to him that she is not drunk (thank you very much), but that this is what a woman praying to her LORD “in anxiety and great vexation” looks like. The stunned Pastor Eli could only respond by sputtering out a perfunctory absolution and quickly sending her on her way.

And her faith Amen’d even that!

Whether God gave Hannah a child after this is beside the point. Hannah’s Canticle (foreshadowing Mary’s Magnificat) is not sung in celebration over her son’s birth or his being given to the Lord, but in praise of Her God, from whom all good gifts come. He doesn’t operate like other gods. In fact He does all sorts of things that Gods aren’t supposed do— even in the Old Testament! Hannah’s God is the One who strengthens the weak, feeds the hungry, gives children to the barren, and raises the poor from the ashes. He kills and raises to new life. He is the one who gave her barrenness and He is the one who gave her Samuel and his other brothers and sisters.

 

 

 

 

 

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And You, Miss, are no Lady.

When I think of quiet and gentle spirits, I admit that Sarah isn’t the first one who comes to mind (1 Peter 3), though she certainly must fit the bill. I think of Melanie Hamilton Wilkes. Or “Mealy-mouthed Melly,” as Scarlett O’Hara referred to her. To Scarlett, as passionate and brash as her name, Melanie was a wuss. Melanie also married Scarlett’s crush, so that didn’t help the situation between them any. But you’d never know there was even an iota of tension between the two women by the way Melanie behaved.

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Melanie exemplified thoughtfulness, generosity, and gracefulness. She always managed to put the best construction on everyone’s actions — especially when it came to Scarlett. Scarlett was moody, stubborn, outspoken, passionate, manipulative. And stunning. She had the smallest waist, prettiest dresses, perfect pout, and she knew how to work it all to get nearly anything she wanted.

Gentle and quiet are definitely not words that anyone (including me!) would normally use to describe my spirit. Hard and outspoken would be more like it. I guess that makes me more Scarlett than Melanie. (Just don’t look at my waist!)

But I figure I’ve got good reason to be that way. (Cue the flow of excuses. I’ve suffered. I’m a double-parent, I’m always on duty. If I don’t do something, it doesn’t get done. I don’t know what a vacation is. And don’t even get me started on my relationships. My health literally changes with the weather.)

Gentle and quiet are great, but they don’t pay my bills.

And yet, buried away, that person is still there. Hidden actually. Or, in my case, buried under piles of self-pity, fear, and overbearing pride. I don’t want to be that way. I beat myself up whenever I hear that someone is afraid of me. I feel the nastiness welling up and still just can’t seem to stop the hurtful words from coming out. I can’t even manage to be gentle and quiet with myself, much less with the people stuck in range of my ever-swirling anger vortex.

Yeah, yeah. I’m the Father’s beautiful, beloved, precious child. My baptism means something to me, for a few seconds anyway. At least until everyday (read: fallen) life gets in the way. When we get a little stressed out and things aren’t going the way we want them to, we go dredging up our own sinful images from the muck. Gentle and quiet? No, what we really need is tough and forceful. Or maybe downright selfish and catty will be more expedient today.

You know what the problem is with being gentle and quiet in the face of this life’s troubles? It only happens by faith. You can’t fake a quiet and gentle spirit. Only the Spirit gives that to you. Sure, you can bite your tongue and retract your claws. You can force yourself (or be forced) into outward quietness and submission. You can only be as quiet and gentle as you are faithful. And you can only have as much faith as you have Jesus.

We get so distracted by the worries of the day that we even forget that we have a Jesus. And it’s not even that Jesus was gentle and quiet in the face of trials so we should follow His example and be that way too too. It’s so much better than that. We have a Jesus who is our guarantee, our promise that the Lord only has good gifts for us. Our baptism reminds us that we don’t have to storm ahead, take charge, and manipulate situations to make life tolerable. Christ died to save us from an eternity of worrying about ourselves. He was not just gentle and quiet, He was gentle for us. He was quiet for us.

Take a moment and step away from whatever has you stressed-out and worried today. Make the sign of the cross and remember that you are baptized. You have a Jesus.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  (Matthew 11:28-30)