Unwavering Hope

Unwavering Hope

1 Samuel 1.3-20, 2.1-10

The story of Samuel’s family. This family was from the tribe of Ephraim and lived in Ramah in the highlands of the land of Ephraim. They lived at the time of the judges were there were no kingly leadership, but everyone did what was right in their own eyes. This season in Israel’s history is between the conquering of the Promised Land with the death of Joshua and the beginning of Israel’s Monarchy government.

At the end of the book of Joshua and the beginning of Judges we learn that Joshua was old and full of years then he died and they buried him in the highlands of Ephraim (Joshua 24.29-33, Judges 2.6-10). The priest during the days of Joshua’s leadership also died and was buried in the highlands of Ephraim. And, it is here in the highlands of Ephraim at Ramah that this story begins.

When all of Joshua’s generation passed away, another generation arose after them that did not know the Lord or the things that he had done for Israel (Judges 2.10). Joshua had no government successor, but instead left the priestly order in charge of the worship of the people. The only leadership focused on worshiping God.

The story of Samuel begins with an act of worship. In the midst of people choosing for themselves what was right in their own eyes, we discover that Elkanah worshiped and sacrificed to Yahweh in Shiloh. Shiloh was the legitimate place of worship in Israel which Joshua set up when he distributed the land after it was conquered (Joshua 18.1). Shiloh was the place where the tent of meeting was set-up and the ark of the covenant placed. The tent of meeting was at Shiloh over 350 years, according to Talumic sources. Eventually, the Ark of the Covenant was taken into the Israelite battle encampment and later captured by the Philistines (1 Samuel 4).

Elkanah, the husband companion. This story begins with a man named Elkanah from the tribe of Ephraim who lived in the highlands of the Ephraimite country. Elkanah had a family with two wives, but only one of the wives had children. The story immediately points out the problem for us – barrenness. Each year Elkanah would worship the God Almighty, the Lord of Heavenly Forces, at Shiloh. It is important to note that this man chose to worship God in the proper manner at Shiloh, and he was teaching his family to worship God properly (1 Sam. 1.3).

We also discover in the story that he shared the sacrifice with this fruitful wife and her children but gave a “double portion” or “manna” to this barren wife (1 Sam. 1.5) as a sign of compassion. Manna was the word that described the food that God provided the Israelites as they survived in the wilderness after their captivity from Egypt. He loved Hannah and would attempt to comfort her (1 Sam. 1.8)

Peninnah, the antagonistic wife. The story describes the other wife as being mean-spirited toward Hannah. In two verses we know all we need to know about this woman. She was Hannah’s rival who poked fun at her barrenness. She was merciless in her berating of Hannah and this went on for years (1 Sam. 1.6-7).

Hannah, the hurting. Each year the family would travel to Shiloh to worship and her rival would provoke her until she wept and fasted, but she was not comforted by the overtures of her husband. Once – only one time – did Hannah take her concerns to the Lord at the Tent of Meeting. In her deep anguish she prayed, wept bitterly, and made a vow to God – I’ll give you my son! She declares her misery to God that he would be set apart for God’s purposes. And, she kept on praying – deep prayers of the heart – but words did not come from her mouth (1 Sam 1.15-16). And, as the story continues she confesses her distress to the Priest Eli who blesses her (1 Sam. 1.17) at which time she is released with peace. From that point on it seems that she has nothing but peace about the situation as she waits for God to work his hand of mercy (1 Sam. 1-19-20). Hannah’s prayers are heard and a child is born to her who will become the last judge in Israel’s history. She was faithful to fulfill her obligation to God as she grew her son up and weaned him, then sent him onward to serve at the Tent of Meeting all the days of his life. To be sure this great blessing from God caused Hannah to sing a song of rejoicing (1 Sam. 1-10)!

Eli, the priest and his sons, Hophni and Phinehas. When Hannah made her way to the place of God’s dwelling she had an encounter with the doorkeeper, Eli the Priest – a holy man who’s not so holy. It seems that Eli often sat at the entrance of the doorway (1.9, 4.18) and he’s watching Hannah. He’s confused thinking that she has imbibed too much drink. And, when she explains her situation he offers her a blessing of peace (1 Sam. 1.17). Later, we discover that his sons are not holy in their behavior at the Tent of Meeting as they misappropriate the sacrifice and have sexual relationships with the women at the place of worship (1 Sam. 2.22-25, 2.29, 3.13). 

God, Yahweh (Lord), Elohim (the God of Israel), and the Lord of heavenly forces (the Lord Almighty). And, when we made her way to the place of God’s dwelling she had an encounter. As Hannah poured out her heart to God, peace came. God waited until Hannah was ready to conceive and release her child for the good of the people. In the text we read that Elkanah and Hannah worshiped “Yahweh” – a very familiar form of speaking to and about God. It is the sacred name of God. While the text uses “Elohim” as Eli references God – a distant and authoritarian name of God less familiar. Later in the story Samuel will speak to Eli on behalf of God, it is evident Eli’s relationship with God is strained to the point of judgment (1 Sam. 3.12-13).

Samuel, the last judge. Samuel stood between the season of judges and the beginning of Israel’s monarchy. The son of Elkanah and Hannah would grow up to anoint the first two kings of Israel – Saul and David. Samuel ministered to the people in the season of transition between what had been and what would become. Hannah could never have known that her child would be such an important figure in Israel’s history. And, the Lord ensured that all of Samuel’s words would never fall to the ground. However, his sons would grow up to do evil in the sight of the Lord and his family tree would become stained with sinful leadership behavior.

Unwavering hope. Hannah’s hope teaches us how to respond to painful situations in our lives. When we are faced with hopeless situation, we must choose to worship, fast & pray, confession to others our situation. We might even do strange things and confuse others. We are to hold on to our beliefs – waiting and doing our part to be holy. And, when the answer comes we are to sing, releasing the answered prayer back to God.

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