Meditation on I Samuel 1:4-20
The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, OH
Pastor Karen Crawford
Nov. 14, 2021
Link to live-streamed service: https://fb.watch/9hndqTmN5F/
Jim and I had a rare treat on Thursday night. We drove to Columbus to “The Schott” at Ohio State to see contemporary Christian singer/songwriter Lauren Daigle.
The petite 30-year-old with a powerful voice has earned seven Billboard Music Awards, two Grammy awards, four American Music Awards and ten GMA Dove Music Awards. She has sold-out concert venues all over the world.
On Thursday, in spite of wind and pouring rain that soaked our clothes and umbrellas on the walk from the parking lot, the huge auditorium was filled with about 10,000 people. Many of them were young adults, teens, tweens, and children. Many of them knew all the words to Lauren’s songs—and sang along with her, especially the refrain of my favorite song of hers: “You Say.”
“You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing. You say I am strong when I think I am weak. And you say I am held when I am falling short. And when I don’t belong, oh You say I am Yours. And I believe (I) Oh, I believe (I) What You say of me (I) I believe.”
Jim and I weren’t the only older fans at the concert. There were plenty others. The couple sitting next to us, Sandy and Jeff, said they had been married 40 years. The concert and the trip, which included an overnight hotel stay, was a Christmas gift to each other. They drove 6 and half hours from Lititz, PA, to see Lauren.
Even more powerful than Lauren’s voice is her faith, strengthened and shaped by hardship. At 15, she fell ill and was diagnosed with a disease called cytomegalovirus. The nasty, stronger cousin of mono can attack the liver and other organs. The doctors told her to rest and to isolate at home. Nothing else could be done.
She had hoped to be a singer since she was 3 years old and had a solo as a camel in the Christmas pageant. At 15, she didn’t even have the strength to sing and felt as if her life was over. Her one escape was a loft in her home that became a secret prayer space. “What are you trying to tell me, God?” she asked the Lord there. “Who am I supposed to become now?”
The Lord answered her with visions of herself singing in front of thousands of people, getting on and off a tour bus, writing and recording songs. It was God’s promise to her—though it was a 2-year journey for her healing, when, Lauren says, “God made himself known to me and in that knowing I found myself.”
Hannah, in our reading in 1 Samuel, also found herself—and her voice when God made himself known to her during a dark and difficult time.
First Samuel begins at the close of Judges, when Israel is in moral, religious and social chaos, for “there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.” Judges 21:25. The nation is marginalized by the increasingly powerful Philistines, while Israel is waiting, “for a king who will protect, defend, gather, and liberate the community.” (Walter Bruegemman) “Israel is waiting for David!.. With David’s appearance, Israel’s fortunes begin to change, and the change is known in Israel to be the work of God.” (Brueggemann)
The story begins not with David but with Israel’s waiting as Hannah’s waiting begins, in hopelessness. For Hannah is barren. Despite her struggle to conceive in this patriarchal society, she is dearly loved by her husband, Elkanah.
Because Elkanah loves her, our passage says, he gives Hannah twice the amount of meat to eat than his other wife, Peninnah.
Wait. Two wives? Are you wondering why Elkanah had two wives and why this contentious relationship?
Ancient commentaries on the Hebrew Scriptures or Midrash explain that when a couple has been married for ten years without having a child, the husband is required to take another wife to fulfill the commandment to be fruitful and multiply. (Jewish Women’s Archive) Elkanah, therefore, was compelled to marry Peninnah because of Hannah’s barrenness. Elkanah hints in this passage that Penninah has 10 children when he tries to comfort Hannah, saying, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”
Hannah weeps and refuses to eat not just because she hasn’t been able to conceive, but because Peninnah, her rival, provokes and ridicules her mercilessly. In ancient rabbinic commentaries, more details are provided. “Peninnah would rise early in the morning and ask Hannah: ‘Aren’t you getting up to wash your children’s faces before they go to school?’ And six hours later she would ask: ‘Aren’t you going to greet your children when they come home from school?’ … Peninnah would grieve Hannah by means of ordinary everyday activities, taking pains to remind her, at all hours of the day, of the difference between them.” (Jewish Women’s Archive)
Every year, the family would go to Shiloh, the temple of the Lord, to pray and make the sacrifice required by their faith. The pilgrimage to Shiloh was another opportunity for Penninah to provoke Hannah, who would respond with tears and refusing to eat.
But something is different this year. This time, while Hannah prays in the presence of the Lord, she makes a vow that if God would look on her misery, remember her, and give her a son, then she will give the son back to the Lord. He will be a nazirite—set apart as holy for God’s purposes and not drinking any wine or cutting his hair.
I don’t know how to view the priest in this story. Is he comic relief or just plain “bad guy” when he totally misunderstands Hannah and accuses her of being drunk? And yet, his ridiculous response is what stirs Hannah’s transformation from passive and silent to strong and courageous. She finds her voice—and it’s a powerful one, still heard many, many generations later.
She answers, “No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord.Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.” Her passionate speech persuades Eli he has made a mistake; this is a woman of faith. He sends her off with a blessing. “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.”
Eli may have said this same blessing to everyone who comes to Shiloh to pray. But Hannah believes it, answering him with confidence, “Let your servant find favor in your sight.”
She eats and drinks with her husband, goes home, and is no longer sad! Her heart has been transformed. And the Lord remembers her. God remembers her! In due time, she gives birth to a son. They name him Samuel—Hebrew for “God has heard,” for she says, “I have asked him of the Lord.”
Hannah keeps her promise. When Samuel is weaned, she brings him to live in the house of the Lord at Shiloh, reminding the priest, “As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord. For this child I prayed; and the Lord has 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.”
Hannah’s story ends with her song of prayer. She sings praise to the God who transformed her and her life. From darkness to light, from desolation to hope, from sadness to joy. She sings praise to the God who will transform Israel. From darkness to light, desolation to hope, and sadness to joy, through her son, Samuel. The prophet and priest will bring the era of chaos and corrupt judges to a close and anoint Israel’s first kings—Saul and David.
She sings with her powerful voice, beginning, “My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God.”
In Advent, we will hear echoes of Hannah’s song with Mary’s song of praise in Luke, beginning, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
Mary sang her version of Hannah’s song with her powerful voice.
God had remembered her, too!
Dear friends, I have often felt like a barren woman, longing for more children to be served by our ministries. I know God has put that desire in my heart so that I would pray for the children and young families of our community. God has plan for them. For God wants all to know the love and grace of Jesus and our hope of eternal life.
Today, with Hannah’s story of answered prayer for the long-awaited child, I am stirred to pray for children everywhere, EVEN MORE. For God answers prayer—in His way, in His time.
On Thursday night, at the Christian concert at Ohio State, I could see that the Kingdom of God is growing!
Jim and I gathered with about 10,000 people, many of whom were young adults, teens, tweens and children.
They knew the words to Lauren’s songs of faith.
10,000 people sang in a powerful voice!
That gathering of God’s children, singing our faith, would not have happened if not for Lauren’s dreams and prayers in her secret place.
And the Lord remembered her.
Let us pray…
Holy One, we come to you to confident that you are listening to our prayers—and that you want us to pray for your Kingdom to grow—and that you would use us to labor with you. Thank you, Lord, for remembering Hannah’s prayer and blessing her with a child after many years of barrenness, a child who would one day anoint Israelite’s greatest king, David. Thank you, Lord, for wanting to transform our hearts and lives like you transformed Hannah’s and Israel’s—from darkness to light, desolation to hope, and sadness to joy. And Lord, we thank you for the message of faith of many Christian musicians, and we pray you would bless them in their work, as you would all missionaries, using their gifts for your glory, that they may be fruitful in sharing your love and grace in song with all the nations. In your Son’s name we pray. Amen.