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      Perseverance through Faith

      A sermon on 1 Samuel 1-2 July 6, 2023 by Sebastian Meadows-Helmer

      There’s the saying that 

      “behind every successful man there stands a woman”,

      So it’s fitting that for Samuel, 

      one of the most important prophets and judges, 

      who shepherded the transition of ancient Israel to the monarchy,

      That his origin story starts with his mom.

      Little is known about the lives of women in early Israel, 

      as the vast majority of the Bible concentrates on men 

      and their faith stories,

      So it is surprising that we get to hear quite a bit actually from Hannah, 

      Samuel’s mother.

      Hannah is pretty amazing.

      She is a model of faith,

      Showing resourcefulness and courage 

      amidst a very difficult time of her life.

      You see, her wealthy husband, Elkanah, 

      had another wife, Peninnah.

      Now this was probably common among rich men who could have enough money for this extra insurance to have children and an heir,

      And could thus afford to have a woman to love, as well as another woman to make children.

      There would be unavoidable tension and a rivalry when the problem arose that Peninna was having babies, when Hannah was not. 

      Peninnah was harassing Hannah,

      which caused Hannah a lot of distress.

      And Hannah was depressed: 

      since a married woman back then had no value 

      unless she was able to have kids.

      What’s remarkable though about this story 

      is we get to hear Hannah’s own words, 

      and how she formulates her thoughts and feelings.

      At the central sanctuary, she prays to God and asks for a son, 

      and vows to dedicate him to the service of the Lord if this wish is granted. In effect she makes a deal with God.

      When taken to task by the prejudiced priest, Eli, 

      who thinks she’s an alcoholic,

      She shows courage and stands up to the man in power 

      and calls him to account

      and clarifies her position in a model statement of faith: 

      V15  I am a woman deeply troubled. She explains

      I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink;

      I have been pouring out my soul to the Lord!

      I am speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time!

      Do not regard me as a worthless woman!

      Eli realizes she is sincerely praying, and offers her a blessing.

      And then the miracle occurs, 

      V19 The Lord remembers her! Hannah conceives and bears a son.

      She further shows agency by telling her husband that she will not go up immediately with him to the sanctuary for the yearly sacrifice,


      V222 “as soon as the child is weaned I will bring him, ..where he will remain in the presence of the Lord forever.”

      And as promised:

      V23 when the child was weaned, she brought him 

      (again taking agency), along with an expensive offeringof a 3 year old bull, a bushel of flour, and 40 litres of wine.

      She then reminds Eli:

      Remember me?

      “I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, 

      praying to the Lord!

      For this child I prayed, and the Lord granted me the petition 

      that I made to him. 

      Therefore I have lent him to the Lord, as long as he lives, 

      he is given to the Lord.”


      There are quite a few interesting issues in this story.

      The primary problem is that the Lord had closed her womb.

      Now why would God do that (we might ask)?

      What a terrible thing for God to do!

      Well perhaps, this is just the interpretation of society of that day.Her infertility was not seen as a physiological problem.

      In the day, it was seen as punishment,

      The cause was likely sin, the rumours must have gone on…

      and Hannah’s rival Peninnah no doubt enjoyed bullying her about it. 

      A woman being infertile or barren, 

      is an issue that crops up relatively often when women are mentioned in the Bible.

      We hear it with Sarah, Abraham’s wife, with Samson’s mother, and also with Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist.

      One of the problems in the patriarchal society of the day was that

      A woman needed a male heir to support her if her husband died (who was often much older than her).


      “children could be seen as a solace or even compensation to a woman whose relationship with her husband was not good enough to fill her emotional needs”. Women’s Bible Commentary (Jo Ann Hackett)

      If the belief of the day was that God closed her womb,thenthe only option for her was that God could open it again, and give her children.

      She needed a child for emotional comfort, 

      to ensure her position in society and to secure her future.

      So she needed to go and pray, and best to do it at the most important place of religious life for ancient Israel at the time, the sanctuary at Shiloh (about 30 km north of Jerusalem).

      This is a rare example of a Biblical woman taking matters into her own hands, making a religious vow, and following through with it. She takes control! 

      (Gunn (Queer Bible Commentary))

      But “while Hannah is a woman of speech and action, nevertheless she ultimately sacrifices her son:” (it’s almost a bit anticlimactic).

      The reason this happens is because 

      it’s in the context of a first fruits offering.

      Her idea was that she would give the first fruits of her womb 

      in hope of a return blessing of continued fertility.

      Generosity begets generosity, would be the motto.

      Blessed are those who give, in other words.

      (She just needed one son…and then all the harassments would cease from her rival and from nosy society.)

      And at the end of the day, this tactic pays off, 

      and Hannah gives birth to three sons, and two daughters.

      And then we hear her song, an ancient poem of thanksgiving,

      One of the Greatest songs sung by a woman in the Bible,

      (And I think it’s especially poignant the translation we used today was by a woman (Wil Gafney).)

      It might remind you of Mary (the mother of Jesus) who also sings a song, the Magnificat, “My soul magnifies the Lord,” 

      After she visits her cousin Elizabeth.

      Both songs talk about the reversal of human fortune brought about by God:

      The Bows of mighty are broken

      Feeble gird on strength

      God raises up the poor from the dust

      To make them sit with princes.

      Celebrating the birth of her son, she observes her change of fortune,

      From being someone who was lowly and despised by society, 

      to someone who finally is recognized as legitimate 

      and welcomed as a (quote) “real” woman.


      And so besides being a very rare instance of a woman taking agency and being a primary character in a Biblical story,

      What can Hannah teach us?

      I think there’s three things.

      First, we need to take our problems and cares to God in prayer.

      Whatever frustrations or struggles we have, we need to pray about it.

      Whatever issues we have, for example,

      Being estranged from our siblings

      Being frustrated by delayed medical treatment

      Or if we’re saddened by what we hear on the news

      Or whatever it may be,

      Like Hannah, we can pour out our soul in tears to the Almighty,

      Not holding back, even if it means someone might scoff at us 

      like that old fool priest Eli.

      Second, God remembers us!

      God is there for us in our times of need.

      God hears us and knows us intimately and loves us 

      and wants the best for us.

      Third, Hannah is a model for courageous, almost risky faith: 

      in that she is willing to give up the most longed-for thing in her life, Her Son.

      She so loves God that she will trust God that it will all somehow work out.

      We are also challenged and encouraged to give first fruits to God, to give the best of our heart as well.

      Hannah is a model for perseverance and trust in God.

      Fourth, we need to sing praises to God, and like Hannah be able to exclaim, no matter our situation;

      “My heart exalts in the Lord, …

      For God has done good things to me.”

      Singing praises and thanks to God is such an important part of our faith life.


      So as we sing our Hymn of the Day “For all the faithful women”, we note how important it is to tell and hear her-story and not just his-tory.

      Our Christian Faith is all the more richer and deeper when we acknowledge the women in the Bible, like Hannah, Miriam, Ruth, Martha, Dorcas, Eunice and the unnamed women as well.

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