Posts Tagged ‘believing that God has a plan’

1 Samuel 1:1-8
Elkanah and His Family

There was a old poster when I was a kid that had a kitten hanging by one paw from a small limb of a small tree and the caption beneath said, “Hang in there baby! Friday’s coming!” Sometimes though it’s Monday and Friday seems an eternity away. That kind of typifies our story for today both in the Scripture lesson and in my illustration.

When we have our weeklong intensive seminar for my doctoral program, I feel like the Hannah in the room full of Peninnahs. Each one of my cohorts in the doctoral program are either senior pastors of larger churches, associate pastors are larger churches, or solo pastors as medium-sized or smaller churches. They are like Peninnah and are bearing children so to speak. They are pastoring. They are fulfilling their God-given purpose in life. And, then, there’s me. I am still just trying to get pregnant, so to speak, like Hannah. In ancient times, a woman’s purpose was many things to her family but the greatest achievement of a woman was to bear children. The lack of children was an embarrassment to her husband socially among men and, even women would belittle a childless woman as not fulfilling her true purpose in life. It was a social stigma. People would whisper behind your husband’s back and behind yours too as the childless woman. All Hannah wanted to be was a mother of a child. She wanted to fulfill her purpose in life.

I can relate to her pain in that it has been my calling that I feel at the soul level from the Holy Spirit that I am called to be a pastor. However, I am childless for a long time in that regard. I have not yet been allowed to become pregnant – to be in ministry. People wonder and even I wonder at times why I even am bothering with all this additional education. It seems silly to me at times why I am doing this. There are no churches beating down my door. Even my own church. I feel like Hannah. Wanting to be pregnant and to bear a child but God’s not allowing me to fulfill my purpose. Why is that? What’s wrong with me? Why is there no church that wants me? Why do I not have a burden to just go start a church myself? Church planting is a needed thing? Why do I not have a passion for that? Why is there no people group that I have a burden for? Just why did God put this calling on my heart and nothing is happening with it? I am no closer to being in full-time ministry now than when God first placed the call on my heart? Why do even my own elders at my own church not even see me in that light? Why did God give me the call if He is not going to provide me the opportunities to follow it at an established church or if He is not going to give me a burden and a passion for a people and a region that needs a church to be planted there for them? Am I just barking up the wrong tree and all this is just foolishness and a waste of time and that I am not suited for it anyway? Am I just comparable to a barren woman in the ancient Middle East?

I bet that Hannah was asking God those same questions. She was put on this earth to have babies. Even today when women have so many more options than they had in the ancient times of the Middle East and other regions of the world, too, there is a certain stigma associated with being a barren woman. There is just a certain fulfillment that a woman gains from being pregnant and bearing children. It is simply a part of the nature of a woman – to bear children – even today. That women can carry a child within their womb, grow another human being inside their bodies, and give birth (one of the most painful and beautiful experiences a woman can have) is a miracle of God. We men who really think about it must stand in awe of women in that regard. They are the live-givers and nurturers of life. It is part of their purpose for existence. For Hannah’s time, it was especially true. Did she feel left out? Left behind? Odd? Weird? Not worth as much? A step behind? A day late and a dollar short? Less than? Did she feel that God had forgotten about her? Let’s think about those things as we read through this first passage in 1 Samuel (1 Samuel 1:1-8), this morning:

1 There was a man named Elkanah who lived in Ramah in the region of Zuph[a] in the hill country of Ephraim. He was the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, of Ephraim. 2 Elkanah had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah did not.

3 Each year Elkanah would travel to Shiloh to worship and sacrifice to the Lord of Heaven’s Armies at the Tabernacle. The priests of the Lord at that time were the two sons of Eli—Hophni and Phinehas. 4 On the days Elkanah presented his sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to Peninnah and each of her children. 5 And though he loved Hannah, he would give her only one choice portion[b] because the Lord had given her no children. 6 So Peninnah would taunt Hannah and make fun of her because the Lord had kept her from having children. 7 Year after year it was the same—Peninnah would taunt Hannah as they went to the Tabernacle.[c] Each time, Hannah would be reduced to tears and would not even eat.

8 “Why are you crying, Hannah?” Elkanah would ask. “Why aren’t you eating? Why be downhearted just because you have no children? You have me—isn’t that better than having ten sons?”

In this passage, we see that, although may great Old Testament leaders (such as Abraham, Jacob, and David) had more than one wife, this was not God’s intention for marriage. Genesis 2:24 states that in marriage, one man and one woman become one flesh. Why then did polygamy exist among God’s people? First, it was to produce more offspring to help in a man’s work and to assure the continuation of a man’s family line. Numerous children were a symbol of status and wealth at the time. Second, in societies such as in the ancient Middle East where there were full scale wars between nations, civil wars within nations, and border skirmishes quite frequently, man young men were killed in warfare, polygamy became a way of supporting women who otherwise would have remained unmarried and, as a result, most likely destitute. Nevertheless, polygamy often caused serious family problems, as we see here in this story of Hannah and Peninnah.

In this story, we see that Hannah had been unable to conceive children, and in the ancient Middle East, a childless woman was considered a failure. Her barrenness was a social embarrassment for her husband. Children were a very important part of the society’s economic structure. They were a source of labor for the family and it was a child’s duty to take care of their parents in their old age. If a wife could not bear children during this time in history, she was often obligated to give one of her servant girls to her husband to bear children for her on her behalf. Although Elkanah could have divorced her for her barrenness, he remained lovingly devoted to her despite social criticism and his rights under civil law. Part of God’s plan for Hannah involved postponing her years of childbearing. While Peninnah and Elkanah looked at her outward circumstances, God was moving ahead with His plan. Think of those in your sphere of influence that are struggling with God’s timing in answering their prayers and who need your love and help. By supporting those who are struggling, you may just help them remain steadfast in their faith and their confidence in His timing to bringing about the fulfillment of their life’s purpose in God’s plan.

For me, the thing that I have to remember that my timing is selfish and shortsighted. I may be barren now and have been for a while since the calling was laid on my heart by God. By I must trust the Eternal One’s timing. I must trust that He is working out His plan right now in my life even though there is no visible evidence that His call to ministry is anything but a dream right now. I kept reminding myself of the story of Joseph in prison after being falsely accused of taking advantage of Potipher’s wife. He languished by human standards in prison for 12 years. 12 YEARS! I am sure that he has his days of doubt and where he was down and out and where he felt barren and where he felt that God had forgotten him. But he kept plugging away. He kept being faithful and earnest to God. He kept holding on to that small sliver of hope that God gives us sometimes. Sometimes that small sliver of hope from God is all we have to hang on to. Sometimes that small sliver of hope is what God wants us to hang on to so that He can teach us real faith – that faith that you have when everything else in your life is screaming that you should not have faith in God’s plan. That’s faith. That’s real faith. That’s where we become closer to God is when we have nothing else but His hope to hang onto. Let us remember that Joseph by not letting his outward barrenness control him, he was able to continue to give God his best even in prision. He was rewarded eventually with what God’s true calling was for his life – to be the savior and preserver of God’s people and even the people of Egypt. If he had let go of that small sliver of hope that allowed him to be faithful to God despite his prison circumstances he would have never been in position to get to his rightful place in God’s plan. Hannah continued to be faithful with her small sliver of hope and she became the mother of Samuel. Samuel become one of the most important men in the history of Israel – transitioning the country from a loose band of tribes ruled by a rag-tag bunch of judges into a nation ruled by a centralized monarchy. She found her purpose in being his mother. She influenced his character and who he became. She played an important role in God’s plan. She held onto that small sliver of hope even when the world was chiding her for being barren and what an embarrassment she was.

Whatever you are going through, hold on that small sliver of hope. God is working His plan for your life. He is working in the background even when you can’t see the evidence right now. Trust that He has a plan. Hold on to that hope. Hold on. Hold on. You will see someday the whole purpose for the barren time right now. Hold on. Hold on.

Amen and Amen.