The Israelite people that were freed from slavery in Egypt have travelled through the desert to the promised land. Took them 40 years but they eventually get there. As we join in Hannah’s story they have been settled in and living their lives for a number of years. They’ve had some struggles and they’ve had to do a bunch of work to sort things out. They’ve had some tough times but they’ve had some good times, too.
After they settled in there was a period of time that they didn’t have appointed leaders like kings because the thinking was that God was the only king they needed. As the number of God’s people grew, that didn’t work out so well. Society would kind of forget about God and starting doing their own thing and you just know that’s not going to work out in the end. Periodically someone would come in to help straighten things out. They were known as the judges and they served for a period of time to get everything in society back on track and then they stepped down.
Staying on track worked for a little while, right up until it didn’t and then things went downhill again. Not so different from deciding to eat healthy and exercise, in many ways. Starts out great right up until it isn’t and then our healthy habits go downhill. Same thing for the Israelites. Things would go downhill for a while and another judge would come in to help straighten things out. They got everything in society back on track and… You can see how this is going.
Having had enough of living on this kind of rollercoaster year after year, decade after decade, century after century, the people will eventually decide that they need a king to rule over them and keep all the things in order. That’s how Elkanah and Hannah come into the story.
It isn’t an easy entrance into the story. It is a story that involves heartbreak. The heartbreak of not being able to have kids. That was a big deal then and remains a big deal today. It is a story that involves transition. The anxiety and fear of a society changing. It is a story that involves redemption. The redemption of hope restored. Hope on the other side of heartbreak.
But not in the way it may seem on the surface.
The easy reading and interpretation on this text is to say something like, “See, Hannah had faith, prayed to God, God loved her and her prayer was answered. Yay, God! Let’s go have coffee and donuts.” There’s a couple of problems with that.
The first problem is to wonder about the rest of the Bible. Answering to yourself, have you ever thrown your hands up in disgust over trying to understand something in the Bible that didn’t make sense? We don’t need to make things overly complicated for the sake of being complicated but I think we have to be careful about taking the path of the easy interpretation.
The second problem hits a little closer to home and touches on a bit of reality. Let’s do an audience participation test. Everybody now, raise your hands if it applies to you. How many of you have faith? How many of you have prayed to God? How many of you are loved by God? How many of you have had all your prayers to God answered? At least as far as you can tell?
Yeah, that’s a deal, isn’t it?
We all know that sometimes we get the answer we want from our prayers and we also know the reality of not having our prayer answered in the way we want. I can’t begin to know the mind of God on why that is. Which makes me think that it’s not so much an answered prayer that is the high point here it’s that Hannah stayed in touch with, stays connected to, God.
Here’s the thing. I mentioned earlier that being unable to have kids was a big deal then, as it is now. One of the concerns that Hannah has is that by not having any kids she is worried she’s going to be left behind. She doesn’t want to be forgotten as everyone passes her by and passes her over. Because in those days, and sometimes in these days today, that’s what happens to a woman who is unable to have children. She’s left behind because she’s not valuable. She’s left behind because she’s not good enough.
It’s in the chapters before this reading this morning but Elkanah has another wife, Peninnah. This is in the time when polygamy was acceptable and common. Now Peninnah has had several kids so Elkanah has his legacy covered. Which leaves Hannah is a pretty bad spot. She’s worried about not having value. She’s worried about not being good enough. She worried she’s going to be kicked to the curb and left behind with no means of survival.
So she prays about it. When Hannah is fearful and concerned he stays in touch with, stays connected to, God. And there is where the hope begins. We know from our own experience that prayers get answered, prayers don’t get answered. Who knows how this works? You don’t have to respond outwardly but ask yourself this; has there been a prayer at some point in your life that looking back on you’re glad God didn’t answer?
What does work and what is unfailing is God’s presence surrounding us. Sometimes it’s easy to miss out on that with the uncertainty that surrounds us in our lives from time to time. The good news for us is that God’s unfailing presence isn’t related to whether we’re valuable. Or not. God’s unfailing presence isn’t related to whether we’re good enough. Or not. As children of God, we’re all valuable enough. And we’re all good enough.
God made certain of that with forgiveness in Christ Jesus. When Jesus died on the cross any question of our value has been erased forever. In Christ Jesus God has made our connection permanent. God will never, ever leave us.
With that opportunity before us, all we can do is choose the method, or methods, we want to use to connect with God. God’s right there, waiting to meet us in God’s word, the Bible. God’s right there, waiting to meet us in prayer. God’s right there, waiting to meet us in oh so many ways. God’s right there.