The Hand That Fills The Cradle Rules The World
Rev Dr John A Scott
Chelmsford Presbyterian Church
Do you ever get the feeling that your life is slipping by and as yet you have done nothing for the Lord? For some reason there always seems to be some burden preventing you from moving forward?
Perhaps caught in the grip of a personal crisis or struggle that consumes your every waking moment, you can’t even begin to think about serving God.
Have you ever taken time to think, “that that crisis might not, in fact, be a spiritual cul-de-sac”? It might not be the wrecking of your life; but rather that God has sent this moment into your life as an opportunity for you, to help you come to terms with your own weakness and limitations and through your appreciation of your own weakness you will begin to discover the amazing strength and purposes and grace of Almighty God.
But without question, there are definitely dark times in our lives when it’s hard to see the hand of God, because we can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. We can’t see any hope. That seems to be the case with Hannah. When we first meet her in our Bible we find her as a woman weeping in Shiloh. The family gathering at Shiloh was a bit like our family gatherings at Christmas, but this year the whole event just proved to be too much for her to cope with. Everybody else’s happiness drove her mad and only depressed her. Suddenly she was gone from the table, not able to take it any longer. She slipped down to the tabernacle entrance. She wanted to pray, she might even get around to praying if the heaving sobs would just subside.
As we look at her life there is a sense in which Hannah has almost all that anybody could want. She had Elkanah, a husband who provided all that she could need, a typical middle class lifestyle of their day – you can see how his family roots are traced out for us in the first verse of this book so obviously a man of some importance with an income able to support two wives.
So What’s the Problem Hannah?
The problem was that although Hannah had Elkanah, she didn’t have him – not really – she shared him with Peninnah, an overly fertile, mouthy, thorn in the flesh.
Thorn in the flesh is the Christian way of saying “pain in the neck”.
Peninnah had been able to give Elkanah the children he wanted, and though Hannah loved Elkanah and knew that Elkanah loved her even more that he loved Peninnah, Hannah could never get away from the bottom line, no kids from Hannah.
We might wonder what this has got to do with the kingdom of God and why given the very bad state of things in the nation that the Bible fusses so much about this woman’s domestic problems.
Think about the state of the nation at the time. It was in the time of the Judges and if we read the last few chapters of Judges we see that on four occasions we are told.
In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit, Judg 21:25 (NIV) . There was almost a state of anarchy existing – complete lawlessness. Even when you came to Shiloh, which was supposed to be a holy place, you’re faced with the scandalous situation of the priests embezzling God’s offering by taking more of the meat offering than they were entitled to by God’s law. They had turned the women Temple helpers into prostitutes, and it’s not as if this is done quietly – it was the talk of the land.
The nation had been going through barren times. The book of Ruth tells us about times of famine that had driven at least one family away from the land. Shiloh; the place of worship had become morally bankrupt and barren.
The nation faced a great rival in the form of the Philistines, who provoked and irritated the nation of Israel year after year. The whole country was living in misery, many had been calling on the Lord to remember them and not forget. They were a deeply troubled people living with great anguish and grief, totally downcast, without order and direction.
If you didn’t have any problems, coming to church in Shiloh would have given you problems. The state of things there at the worship centre was just a joke, and everybody knew it.
This being the state of things in the nation, why, at this point in the history of the nation, does the biblical record focus on one woman’s problem of not being able to have babies?
Of course, this is not an unusual motif for the biblical record. Sarah, Abraham’s wife had this problem, Rebekah had no children for the first 20 years of marriage. Rachel was barren, Samson’s mother, and Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s mother all faced lonely infertile years.
Barren women seem to be God’s instrument in raising up key figures in the history of redemption.
As Dale Ralph Davis puts it, “Hannah, therefore shares in a fellowship of barrenness. And it is frequently in this fellowship that new chapters in God’s history with his people begin. God’s tendency is to make our total inability his starting point. Our hopelessness and our helplessness are no barrier to his work.” Indeed our utter incapacity is often the prop he delights to use for his next act.
When we are without strength, without resources, without hope, – then, in love, God stretches forth his hand from heaven. He moves the heart of a distressed woman to come to him in prayer. As a matter of fact, all the adjectives that I have used to describe the state of the nation at that time were used by Hannah to describe her own situation.
If you find yourself in a situation today that is as soul destroying and destructive and consuming you can take some encouragement when you see where God often begins.
God’s work began not only in barrenness but also in distress. Hannah described her situation as one of bitterness. Remember Naomi, how she had gone away from the Lord full and the Lord had brought her back empty? She wanted a name change – “call me Mara because the Almighty has made my life very bitter”. At the end of every chapter of Ruth, God gives Naomi a harvest. Eventually a baby is placed into her arms so that those women who had witnessed the misfortune of her return could say among themselves, “Naomi has a son”, and that son became the grandfather of David the greatest king in Israel.
Now, just a few years on, the scene is set when there is need for a king and the Biblical spotlight shines in upon this domestic problem in Shiloh. How is the plot going to move forward?
We’re going to find that Hannah’s problem becomes…
A Problem prayed over
The irritated Hannah, wound up by Peninnah’s constant baiting and goading her, drove her into the presence of God, it took her to the throne of grace to pray fervently that God would come and intervene in her life. Is Hannah such a stranger to the presence of God that she has to be driven there by despair? We just don’t know the text doesn’t tell us. But how often does God have to deal with us to drive us to him. It’s no real surprise to us that the hymn writer could pen these words
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry,
Everything to God in prayer!
Are we such strangers at the throne of grace that God will have to drag us there, under the weight of an emotional load that we will then have to admit that we need God?
Whether this is true of Hannah or not, we can only guess, but we find her in deep pain before the Lord. We don’t want to play down the heavy grief of Hannah’s – or our own – bleak circumstances, but let us moderate our despair by realising that this despair may be but another prelude to a mighty work of God.
Hannah rushed away to the tabernacle entrance. She was totally oblivious to the peering, suspicious eyes of old Eli. Bitter in soul, she began to pray to God with many, many tears. There was no one else to turn to. She poured out her soul before the Lord. – We often feel that we need to sort the problem out first and just give God the leftover bits. – With an openness and an honesty she lays the matter before the Lord. God doesn’t need to be kept informed by us, but he does command us to inform him. At times, we don’t have, because we don’t ask. Sometimes we hear that people have given up on God. “What’s the point with all this religion, nothing ever changes”. But did you honestly pour the matter out before the Lord? As you cried to your friend; as you talked the matter over with Christian friends; did you cry the matter out before the Lord? Did God get to hear first hand from your lips in prayer, about your pain, your struggle, the bitterness, the anger, the confusion, the feeling of hopelessness, or is he hearing it second hand from those who are praying for you? Take it to God today in prayer, pour out the description in all the detail and passion that you would use in sharing it with your closest friend. This kind of prayer does not come easy. But be encouraged that even the tears that we cry in the presence of God can sometimes constitute prayer.
I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes. Away from me, all you who do evil, for the LORD has heard my weeping. – Psa 6: 6-8 (NIV)
As Hannah decides to turn to God what help does she get from the clergy? Eli who wouldn’t say a word to his scandalous sons has the nerve to blunder in upon her private moment with God and accuse her of being drunk. Misunderstood or not, discouraged by those who should have been helping her she is going to make it through to the throne of Heaven. Hannah is going to pray!
Tortured by her rival; on-consoled by her husband; misunderstood by the clergy: in Heaven God will hear and understand and place the ointment of his comforting spirit upon her soul.
Listen to how she addresses God, O Lord Almighty, which could be translated, Yahweh of hosts, or translated Warrior God of the armies of Heaven.
Nothing can compare with the power that we can call upon as we lift our hearts to Yahweh of hosts, the warrior God, the captain of the armies of heaven. We come in prayer to the God of total resources. Look at her prayer
O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head. 1 Sam 1: 11 (NIV)
Can Hannah – can we – really get into communication with Yahweh of hosts, the king of every and all power. Can we assume that the broken heart of a relatively obscure woman from the mountains of Ephraim matters to Almighty God?
We can! And he does hear and he cares – as we will clearly see in…
A Problem resolved beyond Hannah’s dreams
Hannah left the presence of God, no longer downcast, she arose early the next day to worship the Lord. Back home we’re told that the Lord remembered her, Hannah welcomes the day that she has been longing for, she is expecting her first child. The baby boy is to Hannah the answer to her prayer, just to have a child, but the Lord has answered not only to fill the barrenness of Hannah’s life but to fill the barrenness of the life of the nation. This little baby that she will call Samuel will grow in stature and in his knowledge of the Lord. He will become the greatest of the judges and be used by God to anoint the King of Israel.
What God had given to Hannah, Hannah gave back to the Lord. When Samuel was weaned she brought him back to Shiloh. Perhaps in the intervening years she has grasped something of the importance of who her son will become. There is certainly tremendous insight in her prayer as recorded for us in 2: 1-10.
Her prayer or song can be divided into three parts.
(1) Verses 1-3, are very personal. We can link it immediately to Hannah’s situation. She begins with personal experience, and breaks into a confession of faith in v. 2.
There is no one holy like the LORD; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.
Verse three might take in Peninnah but the reference is plural and it is a word of warning to all who will reflect on her situation, that self confidence is of no value and from this we can learn to place our faith in the Lord our God, because he is a God who knows.
(2) In verses 4-8, Hannah expands on the matter of the ways of the working of God. The way that God delivered her is characteristic of the way God rules his world.
(3) In verses 9-10 the horizon expands even further to consider the way that things will be when God fully, completely and visibly rules. This is the final result, the grand finale – the deliverance of God’s covenant people. God will do this through his king, his anointed one. Of course we can see this develop in the appointment of David and the establishing of the Davidic Covenant and the promise of an everlasting kingdom. With New Testament eyes we can look back and see that this is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ. As God’s obedient servant and King, he will put down all his enemies and he will reign and reign, to the ends of the earth, in the glory of the new heavens and the new earth.
We need to see each little victory, each little deliverance that we witness God doing in our lives as a sample of the coming kingdom, if you like, a down-payment of the full deliverance, the final salvation that will be ours in Christ, when he establishes his kingdom.
You should not despise these little deliverances that God works in your life. These answers to prayer are clues and signs or symbols that one day he will deliver you and make you to sit in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus to the glory of God the Father. Don’t despise the work of the Lord in your life. Don’t sit floundering under a crisis, bring it into the presence of the Lord and pour out your soul in his presence.
Hannah’s problem began to make sense the day she went into the presence of the Lord and poured the whole matter out before him. She didn’t get the solution, she just learned to trust God and in God’s time he revealed to her the significance of what he was doing in her life.
Dare we come into his presence and pour out our hearts before him in prayer?
Dare we stay away?