November 15, 2009
I Samuel 2:1-10
1 Hannah prayed and said,
‘My heart exults in the Lord;
my strength is exalted in my God.
My mouth derides my enemies,
because I rejoice in my victory.
2 ‘There is no Holy One like the Lord,
no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God.
3 Talk no more so very proudly,
let not arrogance come from your mouth;
for the Lord is a God of knowledge,
and by him actions are weighed.
4 The bows of the mighty are broken,
but the feeble gird on strength.
5 Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
but those who were hungry are fat with spoil.
The barren has borne seven,
but she who has many children is forlorn.
6 The Lord kills and brings to life;
he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
7 The Lord makes poor and makes rich;
he brings low, he also exalts.
8 He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honour.
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,
and on them he has set the world.
9‘He will guard the feet of his faithful ones,
but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness;
for not by might does one prevail.
10 The Lord! His adversaries shall be shattered;
the Most High will thunder in heaven.
The Lord will judge the ends of the earth;
he will give strength to his king,
and exalt the power of his anointed.’
Yes! That is the exclamation you are going to use and over-use when the stuffing and turkey take their second and third laps around the table a week from Thursday. It is the word we wish our toddlers would learn, although they usually learn its opposite first. It also could be the one-word summary of Hannah’s prayer in I Samuel chapter 2.
“Yes!” She is celebrating like Tiger Woods after draining a 40-foot putt on the 18th hole at Augusta. We can imagine Hannah throwing that same signature fist pump. She not only got what she wanted, but she got to rub her enemy’s nose in it. I got mine--In your face. This is an ecstatic, emotional, and very human prayer.
It reminds us of all those sports celebrations. You may know that the world’s most popular sport is soccer. In soccer, it is hard to score a goal and one goal often decides a game. Thus when a team scores, the celebration tends to be totally over the top. I saw one player do 12 consecutive back flips down the field. Other teams do break dancing, team conga lines and all manner of dance routines. The most coordinated effort has to be the six guys who sit in a line and pretend to row a canoe across the field. This is all because some one kicked a ball into a net.
Touchdown celebrations are more familiar to most Americans. Few can forget the 380-pound “Refrigerator” Perry doing the Super Bowl Shuffle. Terrell Owens produced a Sharpie from his sock, autographed the touchdown ball and threw it into the stands. But the most outlandish TD festivity involved the Saints’ Joe Horn pulling a hidden cell phone out from under the goalpost padding and making a celebratory telephone call after he scored.
In 2006, the NFL, sometimes called the “No Fun League,” cracked down on such end-zone antics. Celebrants no longer can use any props or celebrate with any other player at the same time.
In any case, back to Hannah. She had her own end-zone celebration. She had her dance, and a triumphant “YES!” That’s the emotion that comes through Hannah’s prayer-song. To fully understand that emotion, we need to remember her situation.
Hannah was one of Elkanah’s two wives. There is a television drama on HBO called Big Love about a fundamentalist Mormon family in Utah that practices polygamy. Hannah was locked into an OT version of Big Love. Polygamy was culturally acceptable throughout the ancient Middle East. That does not make it culturally acceptable for us today, but that is where Hannah was. Women could not easily provide for or protect themselves in ancient patriarchal society, and warfare decimated the population of available men, so to that culture polygamy seemed an acceptable solution. In fact, it produced plenty of problems.
In 1 Samuel 1, we read of the catty competition between Hannah and Peninnah, the co-wives of Elkanah. Bearing children was considered a blessing for women, while barrenness was a curse. Fertile Peninnah mocked Hannah’s infertility (1:6). That was unkind and insensitive to say the least..
So there it is. Hannah hates her competition. Perhaps she hates her husband also. She certain hates sharing her husband with that awful person. Perhaps she hates herself for being barren. She wonders where God is. She is a bitter, angry, miserable woman, who cries pretty much all the time and prays desperately. If God would just give her a son, she would gladly give him back to God as a priestly servant.
God responded, and Hannah gave birth to Samuel. By the way, the name “Samuel” means “asked of God” or “heard by God.” True to her word, Hannah presented Samuel as God’s servant at the tabernacle in Shiloh. As Chapter one ends, she says, “Therefore I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is given to the Lord” (1:28).
The first ten verses of chapter 2 are Hannah’s response to the whole sequence of events in Chapter one. These verses are a song and a prayer.
Hannah’s song reflects on her experience of going through tough times to final victory. To a certain extent, this parallels Israel’s exodus experience. They were exiled for forty years in the desert before achieving victory in Canaan. But it is more than that. This is a universal human experience. Everyone who has gone through an ordeal to achieve some final result knows how Hannah feels.
Take a simple process like getting a driver’s license. You study for the test—practice your driving, read the manual. Then you take the test. You pass the written part. Then the highway patrolperson rides around with you, giving you instructions, testing your driving skills. I still remember, after completing that process, walking outside the examination center and waving that license in the air and saying, “Yes!” That is what Hannah felt.
But there are some other elements of Hannah’s prayer that are not very attractive. Her prayer-song is full of joyfulness, and spitefulness. She hit a home run. Her competition struck out—YES! The competition is, of course, the other woman — Peninnah. Hannah derides her enemy and claims her own victory (2:1).
This is what the Germans call “schadenfreude.” Schadenfreude means taking pleasure in another person’s suffering. Researchers have shown that two motives cause schadenfreude, two things lead people to enjoy other people’s hardships—low self-esteem and envy.
Well, both apply to Hannah. She envied Peninnah, and her self-esteen was lower than pond scum. She was anxious, lonely, probably depressed.
That is where she was before her prayers were answered. All that has changed now. She was in the pits. Now she is on top of the mountain. Thus, you can understand her “YES!”
Like any other human being, Hannah is a complex blend of motivations, attitudes, and actions—not all good, and not all are bad—and her prayer reflects what she is.
Her prayer song is a celebration of her victory. It is about her, but it is also about God. Ultimately, it is God we celebrate. God provides all that we have. God is sovereign over all and is often gracious in giving us what we desire.
Most of us are far better at desiring and asking than we are at being thankful for what we receive. I have said that Hannah has a mixture of motives, but give her credit, she gives God credit. This is a lesson for us. Like Hannah, we can look for God at work and be intentional in giving God credit and praise.
This is an art that most of us are not very good at. My wife and I have a debate about this. She insists that one should write thank-you notes for gifts. I have always thought that if we say “thank you” to the giver when you receive the gift, that is sufficient, but maybe she has the best of the argument. Sitting down and writing a note conveys appreciation in a way that spoken words never can. Maybe we need to write some thank-you notes to God. Of course, Hannah is celebrating her victory, but she is also praising God for answered prayer. We already know about the celebration, we need to learn about the “thank you.”
Another lesson from this prayer song is that answers to prayer are rarely instantaneous. In Luke 18, Jesus tells the parable of the Persistent Widow who kept hounding the judge to hear her case until finally he grew so tired of her constant badgering that he did. And Jesus told us the point of the parable—which is that we should persist in prayer until we get an answer. Hannah went up to Shiloh to worship God “year by year” (1:7). How often did she ask God for a child? How many years did she wait? We do not know. Certainly she waited for some time. Americans are a notoriously impatient people. We want it and we want it now, but here is the lesson, God does not act according to our timetable. In God’s own time, in God’s own way, God answers prayer, and God’s answer is always the best.
Now here is another lesson from this prayer-song. We ought to be honest before God. Hannah wanted to rub her success in Peninnah’s face. That is not well-mannered. We may wish she had been more gracious in victory, but at least when she prays to God, she is honest about what she wants, and what she feels. We often forget that God is omniscient; that is, God knows all that can be known. God knows our secret thoughts, our secret hates, our secret loves. When Jesus was here in the flesh, he would often stun people by revealing to them what they were really thinking. This means that we might as well be honest with God about what we feel, because God already knows anyway. And God hears the prayer of our heart even when it is not something that we dare to pray out loud.
How many times have we prayed “nice words” while doubting them? Have we ever been furious and come to church and prayed “thy will be done,” when what we really wanted was our will. God knows all that, so we might as well be completely transparent when we come before God. Or how many times have we sung songs in church without thinking about the words coming out of our mouths? Check out the hymns and songs this Sunday. Those lyrics contain huge statements of belief. Do we truly mean what we sing? Maybe it is time for us to stop lying to God and start praying what we really think and feel.
Now Hannah was a woman who lived thousands of years ago, and you might think that there is nothing she can teach us. If we could bring Hannah forward in time to be with us today, we would find her to be, in many ways, an ignorant person. She knew nothing about science or technology. She almost certainly was illiterate. But she knows one thing that we ought to know. With God it is come as you are, as you really are. You don’t pretend, because God knows what you really are.
That leads us to next lesson: God accepts us as we are. There are no perfect people. That is the bad news. The good news is God accepts imperfect people. We have fallen short of the holiness God wants for us, but our failures in holiness should never be something that keeps us from approaching God and worshiping God. Hannah was a little spiteful, a little vindictive, nevertheless, God loved her, and and was with her, and we still read her song-prayer today as example to us.
But the final lesson from Hannah is simply this. She knew she had value in the eyes of the Lord. I mentioned earlier that Hannah, before God answered her prayer was probably suffering from low self-esteem. She thought that no one liked her. Maybe she did not even like herself. After all what was there to like? She was such a miserable, whining depressed creature. But God answered HER prayer. What does that say about her? About Hannah? God cares about her. And that makes her something special.
In the children’s sermon today, I mentioned that the current advertising slogan for Coca-Cola is “Open Happiness.” You probably have heard many of Coke’s other slogans: “Always Coca-Cola” (1993), “Coke is it!” (1982) or “It’s the real thing” (1969). The 1942 slogan was “The only thing like Coca-Cola is Coca-Cola itself.” What is the point? The slogan-writers are trying to tell us Coke is very special, unlike anything else in the world.
Now you may not believe the Coke commercial, but there is a lesson here, the same lesson that God taught Hannah. When God answers her prayer, Hannah realizes that she is very special. She is the real thing. She is unlike anything else in the world—because God loves her, because God cares for her.
Hannah has been deriving her sense of worth, her self esteem, from her situation, and it has not worked for her. Her situation was pretty miserable, and therefore she was pretty miserable. Now she derives her self-esteem from God. She says in v2, “There is no Holy One like the LORD, no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God” (1 Samuel 2:2). This Rock, this Holy One, is with her, to love her, to lift her up, and to help her along the way. So the miserable desperate woman can now say, Yes!
And you can say, Yes!
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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