Saturday, June 4, 2016

Hannah: A Woman of Worth

 
Have you discovered yet what you believe you were "meant to do?" The thing that gives you worth and purpose in this life? The thing that makes you swell with excitement and pride?

Maybe it's something that you do, a talent or an ability. Or maybe it's something you hope to do in the future. Possibly it's how you present yourself, your style and personal image. What about a call on your life? An achievement? Something you made or have? Are you holding it in your mind?
Good...now...imagine that God takes you on a journey to losing that very thing that you feel gives your life meaning. Gasp!

The very idea of losing this thing you prize might shake you to the core. For some of us worriers, our life's focus is about preventing what we most fear with an iron grip on the steering wheel of life. Others of us may at this very moment  be facing our worst nightmare. It's terrifying. Maybe you're wondering why God allows things like this, and how we should navigate such an experience. The answers lie in 1 Samuel 1 in the life of a woman named Hannah.

Meet Eli


Hannah comes into the picture of biblical history at a time of national disorientation. God had grown up, called out and redeemed the people of Israel, brought them into their own land, given them order and prosperity. But, unfortunately, one little compromise at a time had landed them in a sort of identity crisis, with tribal skirmishes and a lack of unity and loyalty to God. The end of the book of Judges describes them as "every man doing what was right in his own eyes."
Even the spiritual leadership in the place that represents the connection between God and man, at His tabernacle, had totally deteriorated. Nestled semi-permanently in a place called Shiloh, our story begins at the tabernacle where we meet Eli, the high priest, and his two sons, Hophni and Phinheas.
Scripture doesn't exactly paint a favorable picture of these guys:




"Now the sons of Eli were worthless men; they did not know the Lord and the custom of the priests with the people."

If you've heard me teach or read my blog, you know that I love to take a deeper look at the names, places and words written in the Hebrew language - and this verse in particular contains something special that will become important later.



עֵלִי



The name Eli (pictured above) means literally "my yoke" if you do a little digging into a Hebrew lexicon. The word worthless, that describes Eli's sons, is pronounced "belial." See how eli (yoke) is hidden in that word? Worthless means lawless, or without a yoke of authority. So if we look at this verse's description of them by translating the Hebrew names into English, what we see is that God describes the priesthood at that time this way:
"The sons of my yoke were sons without a yoke..."

It's no wonder there was confusion. Not even those with the highest calling were taking God seriously.




Meet Hannah


With all this as the backdrop of our Hannah's story...now we finally get to meet her. We read that a man named Elkanah brings his family to Shiloh, to this infamous priesthood residence, to worship every year.
Now, to say the least, Elkanah has a complicated family situation. He has two wives, Hannah, and Penninah. There are a number of reasons this might have been, though it certainly wasn't God's design. One possible, even probable explanation is that in the culture of the world that this time, it was customary that if a woman didn’t seem to be producing an heir, a man could opt to take a second wife in order to produce sons. We are told right at the start that Hannah didn't have children. This was a major deal for a few reasons– one, having children was the one-and-only retirement plan. Your children cared for you in your old age. And secondly, it was believed spiritually that children carried on your essence. Without them, your life force ceased. It was a great shame. So, it is possible that when Hannah didn’t have children, or didn’t produce them quickly enough, Elkanah took on a second wife in order to secure their future.
Even though Hannah didn't have babies of her own, it doesn’t appear to have affected Elkanah's feelings for her. The scriptures tell us that he loved her more than Penninah, and visibly showed it. So Hannah didn't necessarily need to have children for any type of marital or financial security. It went deeper than that for her.





A Matter of Worth


...but the LORD had closed her womb. 5

For a Hebrew woman, the ability to have a child was not just a selfish desire (I don’t believe that to be the case for any person actually) – it was a matter of purpose. God commanded man in Genesis to be fruitful and multiply. So in her mind, if she couldn’t do that, the very thing that God had called and created her to do, what value and purpose could she possibly have? Within her was death, not life. She was broken, not a complete woman. And there wasn’t a thing she could do to change that. It was humiliating and very visible to all.



Hannah had to face her worst fear. The very thing that defined her worth, she couldn't do. Hannah isn't the only one in history who has had to face this. And there may come a day when you find yourself in her shoes. I have. So have pastors, friends and mentors, and teachers I love. People who are devoted to the Lord, dedicated to his service, committed and obedient.

Doesn't seem fair, does it? And yet, the reality is that God chooses to challenge us sometimes in these areas. And the reason is simple. We have a tendency to define our value in life by what we’re able to do. What we can accomplish. And that is simply not what He made us for. And God will work very hard in our lives, and even bring discomfort and grief, to ensure that we understand this.

So how are we to respond when this happens? How do we navigate through it to not live in shame and defeat? Thankfully, through Hannah, God gives us a roadmap to healing and freedom. And, just in case you read ahead, it has nothing to do with getting what she wants. The victory actually comes far earlier than the baby she would eventually have.
Let's take it in steps:



Step 1: Give Credit Where Credit is Due


When moments like Hannah's happen in our lives, the worst thing we can do with that is pawn it off on the devil or bad luck and miss seeing God’s design in it. Notice, Elkanah and Hannah didn’t blame the enemy – they knew it was God’s prerogative to give or withhold life. Verse 5 states it as a given that God had closed her womb.

So many times we give the enemy credit for something that is actually part of God's design. The Bible tells us that nothing can touch us without God’s awareness and permission. Hannah and Elkanah wisely recognized that this infertility thing, this brokenness within her, was something that was part of their journey because the Lord ordained it. Knowing that doesn’t make it easy, but when we begin with that perspective, we can truly begin the journey to understanding it. Instead of resisting it, dismissing it, avoiding it, we can begin to explore it, asking ourselves "What is God up to here? What could He be wanting me to learn?"



Don't give the devil the satisfaction of negating God's work without asking these questions, just because there is some discomfort in the situation. God is on the throne!



Step 2: Don't Be That Girl


"Her rival, however, would provoke her bitterly to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. It happened year after year, as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she would provoke her; so she wept and would not eat."6-7

Poor Penninah. She had done exactly what was required of her, producing strong, healthy children, only to play second fiddle to Hannah. While she did all the work to raise children, Hannah reaped all the rewards of her husband's love. I'm sure she felt that she was just as worthy of Elkanah's attention, after all, it was she who had provided his legacy and his security through her healthy womb. She no doubt saw Hannah as an obstacle, a freeloader, riding on the inheritance of what belonged to her and her children.



Women are not made to share a husband. It's not rocket science. And men aren't made to have more than one wife, because they are unable to not play favorites (see Abraham, Jacob, countless other men in scripture who made this error). So, in her position, Penninah did what any reasonable woman would do that was forced to share her man – she competed.

Hannah had something she wanted, so she did the only thing she could to take away Hannah’s special gift from her husband. She irritated her so much that she couldn’t enjoy the preferential treatment, putting them on equal footing.

Now on the other hand, to Hannah, Penninah was a constant reminder of the one thing she didn’t have, and so was this annual festival. I’m sure she dreaded the trips every year, watching God add more and more to Penninah’s blessing while she was there alone, hearing Penninah’s spiteful words and having her inadequacy constantly thrown in her face.

Having lived through infertility now for several years, I can say with confidence that even if Penninah hadn’t intentionally provoked her, just the sight of what was happening there would have made Hannah feel attacked. It’s hard not to play the comparison game when others enjoying what you long for is in your face all the time. The temptation is to want to deprive others of their joy, like Penninah did.

But Hannah chose a different way. She realized that the victories of others aren't personal attacks. Despite Penninah's ugliness, Hannah doesn’t retaliate, she doesn’t try to steal Penninah’s blessing from her. She withdraws. She shows us that we need not look for reasons to nullify the blessings of others.
One of my favorite biblical models of this principle is Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist (whose life mirrors Hannah's in many ways).

Elizabeth had to wait for a long time to become pregnant. And there was a great deal of prophecy surrounding her little one. Enter Miss pre-teen unwed mother, Mary. Cousin Mary's having the Son of God, the Messiah. She didn't have to wait, and suddenly everything's all about her. Wow. I can easily see how Elizabeth might have felt a little one-upped. A little bitter that her journey had to be so long and so hard, just to see everything fall in to place to early in Mary's young life. What was so special about her, anyway?

But that's not how Elizabeth responds to Mary. She celebrates with her, encourages her, prays over her, lets the moment be about her cousin and her friend. Wow. What a classy lady. That's who I want to be like. A woman who takes the high road and celebrates the victories of others, recognizing it as proof that God is at work and alive and moving, so there is hope for me yet!



Step 3: Don't Expect Others To Fix It


"Then Elkanah her husband said to her, 'Hannah, why do you weep and why do you not eat and why is your heart sad? Am I not better to you than ten sons?' Then Hannah rose after eating and drinking in Shiloh. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat by the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. She, greatly distressed, prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly."8-10

Oh, Elkanah. Face. Palm. He was just trying to help. Guys generally want to fix it. And sometimes they just want to help us look on the bright side. My husband wants to "help me see the other side of things" all the time. And I can tell you, in the heat of emotional turmoil, it's not always super well-received. If you read his appeal to her carefully, it almost seems like there's a little hurt behind the words. Maybe he's taking it a little personally: aren’t I enough for you?



Loving, Christian, well-meaning people, with a desire to try to help those who are grieving - can sometimes say some really insensitive and awful things. They just do. It's because they feel they need to say something. Anything. It makes the thick silence less tense. Unfortunately, sometimes it does more harm than good. But I must admit that, on the other side of that coin, sometimes when I'm hurting I have unrealistic expectations of people. I expect them to understand. I expect them to bear with me. I expect them to know I'm having a bad day or that something might hit me the wrong way. It's totally unfair for me to do this.

That Hannah gracefully finishes the meal, gets up and walks away rather than slapping the snot out of her husband and screaming at him reminds me of something very important. This is not about Elkanah. It's not his journey, and it’s not his job to fix it.

It's not fair to expect people to help us with stuff that is really between us and God. There will never be the right words at the right time to fix it all. People, for the most part, just aren't equipped to do that. So, we need to gather our composure, take a deep breath and smile, and let them off the hook. They're doing the best they can.

I believe in this moment, after all these years, Hannah finally figures this out. So, she gets up, and is finally goes to the only one who can help with her problem.



Step 4: Pour Out, Not In


"She made a vow and said, 'Oh Lord of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a son, then I will give him to he Lord all the days of his life and a razor shall never come on his head. Now it came about, as she continued praying before the Lord, that Eli was watching her mouth. As for Hannah, she was speaking in her heart, only her lips were moving, but her voice was not heard. So Eli thought she was drunk. Then Eli said to her, 'How long will you make yourself drunk? Put away your wine from you.' But Hannah replied, 'No my lord, I am a woman oppressed in spirit; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have poured out my soul before the Lord. " 11-15

Notice something here that's very important about Hannah's prayer:


She admits her brokenness and shame, acknowledges God as her authority and the only source of life and healing, and commits her life to Him.

Doesn’t this sound oddly like a prayer for salvation?

Friends, the Bible is never just talking about what it says on the surface. Hannah is a picture, a type, of all of us. Her story shows us the great lengths God will go to remind us that attaching ourselves to Him in love and service are what gives us our worth. This was never just about motherhood. It was about having an encounter with the Creator.

In contrast, while Hannah is having this triumphant spiritual encounter, Eli stands off in the distance, watching her/sizing her up. Isn't it interesting that this supposed spiritual leader looks at her and assumes she's nuts? Unfortunately, it reveals a lot about his own spiritual state.

He accuses her of self-medicating. Of pouring in to numb the pain. Apparently this was somewhat of a problem in Shiloh, people enjoying a bit too much "ceremonial wine." In my house, when there is great stress, there is ample "Netflix watching." We drown out reality by plugging in. Other people "eat their feelings." Some drink or use substances. Some exercise or read a million self help books to try to self diagnose. They move further inward. Not all of that activity is bad, but it's not the answer to our problem.

How often do we make prayer and repentance the last resort? We try to distract ourselves from pain rather than taking our concerns to the throne of God. We put it off until we are absolutely distraught and out of all other options. I hope Hannah's story will serve as a reminder that this is the only option that brings true and final relief. But it doesn't have to be the last option. We don't have to prolong this painful process.


Step 5: Embrace the Yoke


"'Do not consider your maidservant a worthless woman, for I have spoken until now out of my great concern and provocation.' Then Eli answered and said, 'Go in peace; and may the God of Israel grant your petition thatyou have asked of Him.' She said, 'Let your maidservant find favor in your sight.' So the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad."16-18

When Hannah walked away that day, nothing had changed about her situation. And she didn't know if God would change anything about her circumstances. But somehow she now seems free of her burden. Why? What just happened? I think the key lies in her declaration


"I am not a worthless woman."

Remember when we began talking about Eli and his sons and we were told that they are sons of Eli (my yoke) who were without a yoke – worthless? Belial? This is that same word!

This declaration is the triumph of the whole journey. Here, the woman who lived year to hear in despair that her only life's purpose had escaped her, now stands before the leading spiritual authority of the day to declare her worth. This is not the same Hannah that we met just a few verses before.
Something has happened to her on a spiritual level. It wasn’t about her body, it was about her soul. She finally figured that being yoked to the Lord is what gives her worth and purpose.

The beauty of this entire episode is that it has all been a journey. It began with a problem, that drove her to the one who could provide what she was truly longing for. The problem was actually the solution all along. Her worth isn't in motherhood. It was in embracing the yoke of God.

The story wouldn't be a perfect type of salvation if God didn't grant the life within her that she requested. He heals her womb. She has a baby. She honors her vow, giving the child back to the Lord. Again, notice that she still doesn’t have a son with her day to day. But she has something far more precious – she is healed, whole, and now she can become fruitful. Getting her way was worth far less than the eternal value of what she gained in that precious hour of desperate prayer to God. Rather than a temporary satisfaction until the next big desire came along, she would possess a satisfaction she could enjoy forever.

The moral of the story is this: God wants to do something IN you before He doing something THROUGH you.

When this broken woman came before the Lord, acknowledging her unworthiness and devoting her life to him, there was a healing bestowed that made what was dead within her alive again – and everything that came out of that healing was for the Lord.

It must be this way in our lives as well – maybe it isn’t a womb – but whatever the dream is, whatever your vision for your life, allow God to shake you up, so that you can have life, and have it abundantly. Don’t be afraid to surrender your vision for your life. Don’t hold things so tightly and fearfully that you miss the impact you could make.


Final Thought: The Power of One


As the story of Samuel, this child of God, unfolds, we discover that God has huge plans for this life offered to Him. This child will be the last of the judges, a prophet who will usher in a new era of unity in Israel under the direction and authority of an anointed king. Hannah's obedience benefits not only her own situation, but that of her family, and her nation.

Wow. Look at what a penitent prayer and the surrender of a life can do. I can't help but wonder what God wants to do through me. Through you. How many thousands will God reach if you and I simply follow the road that Hannah took. What great things is God waiting to do through our obedience as we lay our vision down to embrace His yoke? I don't know about you, but I'm ready for the adventure.



Blessings! 


To see a live teaching of this lesson, click here.



4 comments:

  1. Thank you Amanda, this is a very powerful lesson. May God Bless you and use you this morning. Love you.

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  2. Awe you are so welcome! I hope it's helpful! I love you back, wonderful woman!

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  3. So beautiful & insightful! I have learned these lessons in harder and easier ways. I love your blog.

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  4. Thank you so much sharing your bible lessons ONLINE!! I needed this today. During my lunch break. In the middle of the week. I needed this. Love you so much!!

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