What do a barren woman in ancient Israel and the tragedies of 9/11 have to do with each other? More than you might think.
Hannah (1 Samuel 1) lived at a violent time in the history of Israel, the period of the Judges where “every man did what was right in his own eyes.” (And most of it wasn’t “right.”) The socio-economic situation was a mess, and the religious situation wasn’t good either. Eli, the high priest, had two sons who were wicked priests, sleeping with the women who came to worship and becoming wealthy by taking bribes.
Although Hannah may not have known all her country’s troubles, she had plenty of her own. Once her husband realized she was barren, he brought in a second wife, Peninnah, who had many children. In that day having children not only passed on the family line, they could make the difference in survival. Children were laborers on the family farm and cared for parents in their old age.
Three times a year Hannah’s life became even more difficult as she traveled with the whole family to the religious festivals at Shiloh. These were far from happy trips because, as verse 7 says, “whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her ‘til she wept.” As Alice Matthews put it in A Woman God Can Use: “Imagine having to walk for ten miles with someone who never stops picking at your inadequacy all the while her children keep bumping into you, wiping their noses on your skirt or asking you to carry them. No wonder Hannah arrived at Shiloh under a black cloud of depression.”
At the temple at Shiloh Hannah prayed desperately, vowing that if God gave her a son she would give him back to God to serve Him. Eli the priest saw her and jumped to the conclusion that she was drunk. When he realized that she was actually pouring out her heart to God, he promised that her prayer would be answered.
After little Samuel was born, Hannah could have been tempted to delay indefinitely taking him to the temple. But Hannah didn’t make excuses or delay. When she took him to Eli, Samuel was probably only three, the age most children were weaned. Imagine voluntarily giving your toddler into the care of an old priest who had made a mess of raising his own sons. What faith in the protective power of God she had! Hannah faithfully kept her vow—a wonderful example for all of us.
But there’s something more here. War speculation is currently in the news as well as the 9/11 anniversary of the attacks on America twelve years ago—and last year. When we look around we see the world in a mess just as Hannah did (but she didn’t have a 24-hour news cycle rehashing it constantly). Hannah’s recorded prayer (1 Sam. 2:1-10) has some surprising elements. Besides exalting God’s faithfulness, she also commented on the evil in the world. Reading it recently in The Message I found some things became clearer:
3 . . . For GOD knows what’s going on.
He takes the measure of everything that happens.
8He puts poor people on their feet again;
he rekindles burned-out lives with fresh hope,
Restoring dignity and respect to their lives–
a place in the sun!
For the very structures of earth are GOD’s;
he has laid out his operations on a firm foundation.
9He protectively cares for his faithful friends, step by step,
but leaves the wicked to stumble in the dark.
No one makes it in this life by sheer muscle!
10GOD’s enemies will be blasted out of the sky,
crashed in a heap and burned.
GOD will set things right all over the earth,
he’ll give strength to his king,
he’ll set his anointed on top of the world!
(1 Samuel 2:3, 8-10 The Message)
When our world comes down around us, as it did for the 3,000 victims of 9/11 and their families, there is little sense to be made of it except what Hannah’s prayer says: “God knows what’s going on” (v. 3). And even when everything goes wrong—God can turn it around: “He rekindles burned-out lives with fresh hope, restoring dignity and respect to their lives—a place in the sun!” (v. 8). Eventually “GOD’s enemies will be blasted out of the sky, crashed in a heap and burned. GOD will set things right all over the earth, he’ll give strength to his king, he’ll set his anointed on top of the world” (v. 10).
Until God’s enemies crash and burn, God asks that His “faithful friends” (v. 9) do just as Hannah did—trust Him and remain faithful.
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