Friday, November 6, 2009

The Gift of a Future

Hannah's husband, Elkanah, was a man with a proud past. At least, that's the feeling I get from the beginning of 1 Samuel. Why would you mention four generations worth of ancestors unless some kind of pride was attached to that ancestry? Despite marrying into this proud past, however, there seems to be little hope for Hannah's future. In a world where women are valued by the children they provide, Hannah is barren. To be sure, Elkanah loves her deeply in spite of her barrenness but the story seems to indicate that even Elkanah's love is not enough to overcome Hannah's hopeless situation. (When Elkanah asks his wife "Am I not better to you than ten sons?", Hannah gives no answer and continues to pray for the Lord to remember her and give her a son.) To make matters worse, Elkanah's other wife, Peninnah, provoked and tormented Hannah over her lack of children.

Hannah's story is a microcosm of the story of Israel, particularly the place where Israel finds itself in Hannah's lifetime. Israel too has a proud past. They still remember the days that God delivered them with a mighty hand from slavery in Egypt. Israel has seen God do tremendous things in the past. But Israel's situation is now bleak and there is little hope for the future. The reactions of Eli the priest to Hannah's prayer is telling of the situation in Israel. When Hannah comes to the tabernacle to pray, Eli sees her lips moving but doesn't hear her speaking and assumes that she must be drunk. Was prayer in Israel so rarely seen that even a priest had to assume someone who was praying had just had too much to drink? Furthermore, Eli's sons offer no hope of better spiritual leadership in the future. And just as Hannah was mocked by Peninnah, so Israel was mocked by its rivals and their greater power, especially the Philistines.

Into this bleak narrative with no future and no hope, God breathes new life through the birth of a son. Samuel is the answer both to Hannah's prayer and to Israel's problem. Samuel is not only the overcoming of Hannah's barrenness. He is also the future leader of Israel; the one through whom Israel will have a hope and a future once again. Hannah and Israel both had a proud past and heritage but as great as that heritage was, it was not enough to make for either of them a future. Only God, by his gift to Hannah, could do that.

Our local congregation has a proud heritage dating all the way back to the 1920's, a long time for a Church of the Nazarene. Just a year ago our denomination celebrated its proud heritage of 100 years of holiness mission. And the Church around the world has seen God do many tremendous things over the last 2000 years. But no matter how proud we might be of our past, God's grace is still our only way into the future.


Rev. Kazimiera I.H. Fraley said...

There is a special place in my heart for all the "barren women" stories in the Bible because for 2 1/2 years I was Hannah, Sarah, Rebekah, longing for something I did not have, could not have and was told I would never have. I have to say I never noticed that Hannah did not respond to her husband's statement and in essence told him, no you and your love are not "good enough" for me. Her response was to continue to pray for God to give her a son. I think I am glad I am not preaching this passage this week. I don't know what I would do with it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

David Young said...

Thanks for your thoughts as well. Even just the few words you shared about your own experience gives me a little more of a window into how Hannah must have felt and therefore enriches my ability to re-tell this story. Thanks.