Sunday, May 10, 2009

Hannah and Her Sisters

So in the course of time Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, “Because I asked the LORD for him.”

                        1 Samuel 1.20

Miracle Moms

One of the odder aspects of the Old Testament is its ongoing fascination with miracle moms—devout women incapable of conceiving children without divine help. Sarah remains barren past menopause, while her maid, Hagar, delivers Abraham his first son, Ishmael. When God announces Sarah will bear a son, she laughs. Nine months later, Isaac comes along. Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, also struggles with infertility until God gives her twin sons, Esau and Jacob. Jacob’s wife, Rachel, remains childless while his other wife, Leah, brings a string of kids into the world.

Hannah, mother of Samuel, Israel’s first great prophet, also qualifies as a miracle mom. But her story stands out for its poignant portrayal of her character. She too watches helplessly as her husband, Elkanah, sires children by his second wife, Peninnah. Each year, after offering his temple sacrifices, he brings the meat back to feed his family. Though Peninnah has more mouths to feed, he gives twice as much to Hannah, tenderly hoping to strengthen her. This goes on for years, with Peninnah forever taunting Hannah as a failed wife. The longer it drags on the more determined Hannah is to touch God’s heart. She stays before Him, fasting and weeping—to the point Elkanah worries about her health. In desperation, she solemnly vows if God will give her a son, she will give him back to God to live always in service at the temple. She prays this inwardly, over and over, unaware her lips move as she prays. The temple priest, Eli, mistakes her grief for drunkenness. Hannah confesses her problem to him. He sends her home, promising God will answer her prayers. Soon after, she gets pregnant. She calls her boy “Samuel,” a homonym of the phrase “heard by God.”

Return to Sender

Now Hannah’s tale gets really interesting. A year passes and it’s time for Elkanah to pack up the family and head for the temple. After making such a spectacle of her anguish, one might think Hannah would be impatient to show off her son. One imagines her outfitting him in darling clothes to the envy of markedly younger mothers. Not so. She tells her husband to go without her. “After the boy is weaned, I will take him and present him before the LORD, and he will live there always,” she says in 1 Samuel 1.22. And so she does. She takes the toddler to Eli, reminding him, “I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the LORD. For his whole life he will be given over to the LORD.” (v27-28)

As a man without children, I can’t begin to contemplate Hannah’s emotional conflict as the day hastens to honor her vow to God. I have no idea how she nursed and cared for her baby, given the “Return to Sender” tag attached to this precious, long-awaited gift. Yet as a son, I’m touched by the integrity of Hannah’s faith, her ferocity of spirit, and sacrificial obedience. Though all her sisters—the other miracle moms—merit unreserved admiration for yielding to God, she carries a distinction unlike any other. While God calls on the others to do His will, Hannah calls on Him to work in her. He chose the others; she chooses Him.

Maternal Influence

After returning Samuel to God as promised, Hannah stays in touch with the boy, seeing he’s properly cared and provided for, introducing him to new brothers and sisters as they arrive. Samuel retains her imprinted integrity of faith the rest of his life. But her maternal influence reaches beyond him to those he later influences, most notably David. The Bible gives no background on David’s mother, but knowing Hannah like we do, it’s fair to read his poetry and wonder how much of it originated with her. Psalm 24, for example, sounds like pure Hannah: “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it… Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart... He will receive blessing from the LORD and vindication from God his Savior.” If anyone realizes everything belongs to God, it’s Hannah. If anyone knows what it costs to earn His favor and appreciates the bittersweet pleasure of being vindicated by His blessings, it’s she.

Mother’s Day is glorious for some, unbearable for others. Those of us privileged to grow up beneath the wings of “Hannahs” delight to lavish them with praise and gifts or remember them with unalloyed love and joy. Others are less fortunate. We all, however, can learn and prosper from Hannah. Her stature as a great mother of faith hasn’t diminished. Her influence hasn’t waned. She calls, teaches, and inspires us even now, making this Mother’s Day happy for us all. (Of course, with extra hugs, kisses, and love to my own mom and every other mother who graces Straight-Friendly’s readership. Happy Mother’s Day!)

Hannah's integrity of faith is thrilling, her sacrificial obedience heart-rending. Her testament lives on in her maternal influences felt to this day. 

(Tomorrow: Net Casting)

No comments: