Help For The Brokenhearted
Scripture: 1 Samuel 1:1–28
Help For The Brokenhearted1 Samuel 1:1-28
Sunday, April 29, 2007
Pastor Randy Smith
It was roughly a thousand years before the birth of Jesus Christ. Yet it was a dark time for the nation of Israel. The people were in the Promised Land, but conquest was still incomplete. The tribes were disorganized. Enemy attacks were frequent. Financial hardship was a reality. The priesthood was in ruins. And morality was a byword from days past. While every man did what was right in his own eyes, the nation slipped into greater dissonance and despair beyond any human remedy. If they were to have any hope, God would have to act on their behalf.
And this He did!
A deliverer would come upon the scene and his name would be Samuel. He would be the last judge and the first prophet in Israel. He would be pious and patriotic. He would be devout and dedicated. He would unite the kingdom, deliver the people and through enormous courage restore righteousness. He deserves his place in the New Testament where he is remembered as a great man of faith (Heb. 11:32).
Yet when we read about the origin of Samuel in the book entitled 1 Samuel, we do not observe the fanfare we would expect. Born in nowhere's-ville Ephraim to a polygamist father and a mother of scorn and derision, this spiritual giant came upon the scene in the most unexpected way. Is there some foreshadowing? Is this not the way our Savior came into the world? Is this not the way our God chooses to work, creating hope for the hopeless and using the least likely characters as a backdrop to magnify His glory and grace?
Israel was in for a special treat, and so are we, as God will encourage our hearts in the months ahead through the material in 1 Samuel. I hope you will see that this book is primarily not historical, but theological. And while prominent actors will appear on the stage such as Samuel and Saul and David, the director is God and the show belongs solely to Him.
Let's begin the adventure...
1. THE REALITY-A WOUNDED HEART (verses 1-8)
A theme that runs through the Bible is how God's will is forged in the fires of affliction. Sorrow is often His tool to reveal His character and accomplish great and mighty actions.
As we begin 1 Samuel, we are not thrust into a king's palace, but rather the broken heart of a barren woman in verses 1-8. Her name is Hannah and her name means, "grace."
While verse 3 makes a passing reference to the priesthood of Eli and his sons Hophni and Phinehas (in the weeks ahead we will see how unrighteous they were), Hannah's husband by contrast seems like a decent man. The beginning of verse 3 reveals his heart for God. "Now this man would go up from his city yearly to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts in Shiloh." In addition to his spiritual devotion, he also seemed to care for both of his wives. (Let's remember that although monogamy from the beginning was God's ideal (Gen. 2:18, 24) and the unfavorable consequences of polygamy are spelled out all over the Bible, it was common for men in the ancient world to have multiple wives, especially when his first wife was unable to bear children.) Verses 4 and 5 say while at the feast, "(Elkanah) would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and her daughters; but to Hannah he would give a double portion, for he loved Hannah." He cared deeply for Hannah, and as you can well imagine, this attitude provoked the other wife to jealousy.
Introduce the other wife. Her name was Peninnah and another contrast is established. Verse 2 says, "Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children." Both verses 5 and 6 say, "The Lord had closed her womb." A point is obviously being made by the author.
In the ancient world, barrenness was viewed as a sign of God's curse. The Jews were well aware of Psalm 127 that declares, "Children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward" (Psm. 127:3). In their narrow-mindedness, many concluded the inability to have children was an indication of God's judgment. They attempted to contain the mind of God in their little and incorrect theological boxes. Beyond their comprehension was the God who exceeds our imagination. Little did they realize the blessings that God had in store for a woman named Hannah.
Peninnah was one of those individuals. She used her fruitful womb to pour salt into the broken heart of Hannah. Verse 6 says, "Her rival, however, would provoke her bitterly to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb." She would flaunt her children, her ability to provide for Elkanah's line and her perceived favor with God, while Hannah sat by and suffered the hurt and embarrassment. The taunts were sharpened barbs, strategically aimed to deal a final deathblow to Hannah's bleeding heart.
As Hannah would listen, consider the following hypothetical conversation between Peninnah and her children:
- "Now do all you children have your food? Dear me, there are so many of you, it's hard to keep track."
- "Mommy, Miss Hannah doesn't have any children."
- "What did you say, dear?" (Could you speak a little louder?)
- "I said, Miss Hannah doesn't have any children."
- "Miss Hannah? Oh, yes, that's right - she doesn't have any children."
- "Doesn't she want children?"
- "Oh, yes, she wants children very, very much! Wouldn't you say so, Hannah? [In a low aside] Don't you wish you had children too?"
- "Doesn't Daddy want Miss Hannah to have kids?"
- "Oh, certainly he does - but Miss Hannah keeps disappointing him; she just can't have kids."
- "Why not?"
- "Why, because God won't let her."
- "Does God not like Miss Hannah?"
- "Well, I don't know - what do you think? Oh, by the way, Hannah, did I tell you that I'm pregnant again?! Do you think you'll ever be pregnant, Hannah?" (Davis, 1 Samuel, p. 17).
To make matters even worse, verse 7 says, "It happened year after year, as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she would provoke her." The painful innuendos and subtleties, the whispering behind the back, the rolling of the eyes, but add to that the religious setting in which these attacks took place. Verse 7 concludes, "So (Hannah) wept and would not eat." Hannah was driven to the point of emotional depression.
They say depression often occurs when we believe there is no hope in a painful situation. Hannah found no refuge during the spiritual gatherings. Peninnah was a woman who would not be silenced, and she had the leverage of children on her side. She had to share her husband with this mouthy thorn in the flesh. Hannah could do nothing to make herself get pregnant. And even though Elkanah tried his best to comfort her, as a guy, he just could not feel her pain. His words in verse 8 meant well, but fell short of the relief Hannah's heart desired. He said, "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?"
Did anybody understand? Did anybody care? Could anybody help her? As the Psalmist said, "Look to the right and see; for there is no one who regards me; there is no escape for me; no one cares for my soul" (Psm. 142:4).
Have you ever been in a situation like this? Maybe you are in one this morning. A situation in which your heart bleeds from the emotional pain? A situation that you want resolved but appears insurmountable because of your inability and helplessness? A situation in which even the kindest and most sincere words of human comfort fail to bring the healing your heart craves? If so, what do you do? Where do you turn when your faith is tested?
It is first interesting to see where Hannah did not go. She did not medicate herself with self-indulgence. She did not stoop to Peninnah's level and fight her adversary sinful blow for sinful blow. She did not complain and grumble about how unloving others were. She did not enlist the help of Elkanah to fight on her behalf. She did not even follow Peninnah's provocation and express anger toward God. On the contrary, she turned to God. She turned to the One who was truly able to help. She found her refuge in God, knowing that her total inability would be His starting point.
Dale Ralph Davis remarked, "Our hopelessness and our helplessness are no barrier to (God's) work. Indeed our utter incapacity is often the prop He delights to use for His next act. This matter goes beyond the particular situations of biblical barren women. We are facing one of the principles of Yahweh's modus operandi. When His people are without strength, without resources, without hope, without human gimmicks-then He loves to stretch forth His hand from heaven. Once we see where God often begins we will understand how we may be encouraged" (Davis, 1 Samuel, p. 16).
2. THE REMEDY-A GOD WHO CARES (verses 9-18)
As we turn to the second point, Hannah knew that the remedy for her pain was refuge in a God who cares. Nahum 1:7, "The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and He knows those who take refuge in Him."
Listen to this blessed theme repeated in a few of the Psalms:
- 5:11, "But let all who take refuge in You be glad, let them ever sing for joy; and may You shelter them, that those who love Your name may exult in You."
- 18:2, "The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold."
- 31:19, "How great is Your goodness, which You have stored up for those who fear You, which You have wrought for those who take refuge in You, before the sons of men!"
- 34:8, "O taste and see that the Lord is good; how blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!"
- 36:7 "How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings."
- 62:8, "Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us."
Hannah knew where she needed to go. So while her uneaten meat was getting cold and the tears were flowing from her eyes, she dismissed herself when the religious meal was over (verse 9). She brought her broken heart to God.
Verse 10 says, "She, greatly distressed, prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly." She had the faith to believe James 5:16, "The effective prayer of a righteous (person) can accomplish much." So she, 1 Peter 5:7, "Cast all (her) anxiety on Him, because He cares for (her)" trusting that, Psalm 6:8, "The Lord (hears) the voice of (our) weeping."
Scripture and personal experience testify that it is a wonderful place to be before the Lord with a broken heart in absolute dependence! For this is God's launching pad for great blessings.
Her pain led to prayer and her prayer is recorded in verse 11: "O 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 the Lord all the days of his life, and a razor shall never come on his head" (a Nazirite vow - Num. 6:5).
A few observations:
First notice how Hannah had confidence in God's ability to help. She opened her prayer by calling Him the "Lord of Hosts." "Host" is a word often synonymous with the armies that belong to God. They range from "angels" (Jos. 5:14) to "stars" (Isa. 40:26) to "men" (1 Sam. 17:45). One Commentator said, "The name expresses the infinite resources and power which are at the disposal of God as He works on behalf of His people" (Baldwin, 1 and 2 Samuel, p. 51). Use of this title by Hannah reveals her great faith in God's ability to help, knowing that the world's resources are at His sovereign disposal.
In addition to God's ability, second, notice how Hannah had confidence in God's desire to help. Think about Hannah's life on the grand scale of world history. How significant was she in the eyes of the world? Moreover, how significant were her problems? Would the earth stop spinning if this relatively obscure woman did not get what she wanted? I believe Hannah accepted these facts, but she also accepted the fact that the infinite Creator-God is willing to condescend and sympathize and hear and help as is in accordance with His will and Hannah's best interest. Hannah knew that even taking the "little stuff" in God's economy to His Throne glorifies the One who truly does care for all of our needs. And when we offer these prayers, the request will always be answered in one of three ways: "Yes," "Yes, but not now" or "I love you too much to give you what you're asking." This faith allowed Hannah to pour out her heart before God with great confidence. Psalm 34:15, "The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and His ears are open to their cry." Psalm 142:2, "I declare my trouble before Him."
Third, though it appears this way, Hannah's prayer was not striking up a bargain with God. It was not as one pastor said an attempt to manipulate God by twisting His arm and prying a blessing from His reluctant hands. Hannah wanted a son, but notice how she promised to dedicate that child to the Lord (literally, as we will shortly see) all the days of her life. She wanted a son, but she ultimately wanted to give God's gift back to Him in a token effort to praise and glorify His name. And when the gift would eventually arrive, she spent her time praising not the gift, but the Giver of the gift Himself (2:1-10).
Moving on, I am glad this woman's life was right before the Lord because she just could not seem to get a break from any humans! Now we will see a contrast between the corrupt leadership at the temple and the childlike faith of simple and suffering woman.
Beginning in verse 12, "Now it came about, as she continued praying before the Lord, that Eli was watching her mouth." Back in verse 9 we read that Eli was the priest at the temple. Obviously she did not see him in her distress, but he was observing her.
Verse 13, "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." The spiritual leader mistook earnest prayer for intoxication.
Verses 14-16, "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 Do not consider your maidservant as a worthless woman, for I have spoken until now out of my great concern and provocation" (emphasis added).
Once he understood her great devotion, Eli turned his accusation into benediction. Verse 17, "Then Eli answered and said, 'Go in peace; and may the God of Israel grant your petition that you have asked of Him.'"
Hannah replied in verse 18, "Let your maidservant find favor in your sight." And then the narrator adds those all important words, "So the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad" (emphasis added).
What a reversal from verse 7! Before she could not eat, now she can. Before she was grieved, now she is no longer sad. What changed externally? At this point, absolutely nothing! The circumstances were still the same. But Hannah emerged from this time alone with the Lord renewed and strengthened, knowing her concerns were at the disposal of the "Lord of Hosts" (1:3, 11) who works all things together for our good (Rom. 8:28). The new outlook brought joy and peace.
3. THE RESULTS-PRAISE AND FAITHFULNESS (verses 19-28)
As we move to the third point we observe the results of Hannah's prayer.
Beginning in verse 19, "Then they arose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord, and returned again to their house in Ramah. And Elkanah had relations with Hannah his wife, and the Lord remembered her."
The Lord remembered Hannah. This does not imply that something jogged a faulty memory. God remembered Hannah in the same sense that He remembered the barrenness of another women named Sarah or the groanings of His people in Egypt or the righteous Noah as he waited for the waters to dissipate. God was about to unfold a new stage of redemptive history to a barren nation through this barren woman who presented herself as the Lord's vessel. And in this case, her prayer would be answered not through any miraculous intervention, but as they often are, through the natural events of everyday life.
Verse 20, "It came about in due time, after Hannah had conceived, that she gave birth to a son; and she named him Samuel, saying, 'Because I have asked him of the Lord.'"
Hannah was tested. God answered her prayer. But just when you would think it is over, her greatest test had now arrived. This is how the Christian life often works. In Hannah's case, would she permanently give the child away to serve in the Temple as she once promised? Moms, for a moment, put yourselves in her shoes!
Beginning in 21, "Then the man Elkanah went up with all his household to offer to the Lord the yearly sacrifice and pay his vow. But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, 'I will not go up until the child is weaned; then I will bring him, that he may appear before the Lord and stay there forever.' Elkanah her husband said to her, 'Do what seems best to you. Remain until you have weaned him (about 2 or 3 years); only may the Lord confirm His word.' So the woman remained and nursed her son until she weaned him. Now when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, with a three-year-old bull and one ephod of flour and a jug of wine (a very generous offering), and brought him to the house of the Lord in Shiloh, although the child was young. Then they slaughtered the bull, and brought the boy to Eli. She said, 'Oh, my lord! As your soul lives, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you, praying to the Lord. For this boy I prayed, and the Lord has given me my petition which I asked of Him.' So I have also dedicated him to the Lord; as long as he lives he is dedicated to the Lord.' And he worshiped the Lord there" (1:21-28).
Let's summarize: Hannah desperately wants to have a child. She is ridiculed by Peninnah, the woman with children, the woman to whom she must share her husband. Elkanah is unable to comfort her and the religious leader of the day, Eli, mistook her motives and assumed she was intoxicated.
God blesses her with the child. Have her problems disappeared?
In just a few years, the long-awaited child she received would move away to the distant Shiloh. She would give her son to a man who failed as a leader and a father as he raised two sons deemed by the Bible as "worthless men" (2:12). She would only get to see her son on a yearly basis (2:19). She would open herself to added ridicule and judgment by Peninnah. From a human viewpoint, her problems only intensified. As one Commentator said, "Having come to God with nothing, she now returns to Shiloh to give back that which means everything" (Arnold, 1 Samuel, p. 58).
Once again, it all comes down to perspective. Hannah didn't have faith in Eli; once again she demonstrated her great faith by leaving Samuel in the hands of God. Hannah knew the grand truth that we are to give back to God that which He has given to us. Hannah did not view children as something she could manipulate solely for her own enjoyment. She rightly understood that all children come from God. We do not lend our children to God. God lends his children to us and expects us to rear them to be useful for His service. That is why Eli's children were considered "worthless men," because as the text says, "They did not know the Lord" (1 Sam. 2:12).
Beloved, what makes a successful parent? It was Super Bowl Sunday, 2001. Julie was in labor and she was about to deliver our third child. After having two girls, the story was scripted in my mind. My first son, this starting quarterback for a professional football team, would be born on Super Bowl Sunday. It was almost prophetic! God had different plans. Instead of receiving Shane, we received Natalie.
Yet so what, if this potential son of mine had a laser arm and could dodge blitzing linebackers? Would that make me a great parent? Would God be impressed? But if little Natalie, maybe unknown to the majority of the world, could grow up and be a godly woman to contribute to the health of the church and boldly share her faith by word and example, then I believe Julie and I have succeeded. Maybe she'll even be a pastor's wife who could support her husband as much as my wife supports me!
Hannah's focus was on the Lord. Her selflessness produced a gift for the entire nation. While many thought she was cursed, the blessing of little Samuel would present a great prophet and mighty instrument of God to fulfill a major role in God's redemptive history.
If you believe 1 Samuel chapter one teaches that God will grant babies to all barren women, you have missed the point. The goal of this account is to teach us that we can have hope in what appear to be impossible situations. It is a call to the brokenhearted for wholehearted faith in the God who cares and the Gods who delivers.
I do not want to play down your pain. But Christian, you must realize that what you dread and are most tempted to resist, is often the means to God's greatest blessings. There are no short cuts or alternative routes. God uses our suffering as a prelude to His mighty works. Do you, like Hannah, have the faith to believe God is in control and always has your best interests in mind, even when your prayer is answered in a way other than you expect?
Israel needed a deliverer. God sent them the prophet, Samuel. But the day was dawning when God would send His ultimate prophet. A superior deliverer would come on the scene to remove our sin and reconcile our broken relationship with God. His name would be Jesus Christ - born also in a unique and humble way to a misunderstood woman. And like Hannah, God would give away His son, not to live, but to die on a cross for unworthy sinners like you and I. Like Hannah, people would say He was cursed, but His sacrifice actually brought those people (and us) great spiritual blessings. Then demonstrated by His utter faith in the Father, He would ascend and forever serve as our high priest, intercessor and advocate. As a man, He would have experienced sorrow and be able to sympathize with our suffering, and as God, able to meet our most pressing needs. He would dwell within us. He would care for the smallest concerns of the brokenhearted saying, "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest" (Mt. 11:28). He would give grace to the humble (Jas. 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5) and bless those who are "poor in spirit" (Mt. 5:3). For these are the times His grace shines the brightest. As He would prove through the cross, there are no helpless or hopeless situations. As the Apostle Paul said, "(His) power (truly) is perfected in (our) weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9).