Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com. This week I review how God answers prayer for Hannah. Hannah is a childless woman in a society that values women with children and male children in particular. Hannah is distressed, distraught, and discouraged. She faces “baby mama drama” from her husband’s other wife and she’s had about enough of living in this pain. In the end, Hanna’s situation works out. God answer’s her prayer. But for so many people, things don’t always work out the way we think they should. Like Hannah, many people are unable to do anything about their circumstances, knowing that only God can work it out. Like Hannah, we rejoice when things do work out. But when life throws us twists and turns we can be confident that God loves us no less, and in fact God’s love for us is infinite. Hannah didn’t know things were going to work out. But after hearing the man of God tell her to go in peace; her soul was no longer troubled. She had a calm assurance that somehow God was still on her side.
As we continue to understand how God is faithful, this week I focus on Hannah as she responds to God with calm assurance after promising to give her firstborn child back to God as a Nazarite. Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms:
The books of 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel bear the name of the Priest / Judge / Prophet however, Samuel dies before 1 Samuel ends. The New Interpreter’s Study Bible notes that “these two books were originally one book and remain one book in the Jewish canon. The division into two books probably originated in the second century BCE with the translation of the Hebrew into Greek”. Regardless of whether Samuel is read as one or two books, its major themes remain the same and are seen through both books. The NISB notes “there are two large and interlocking themes in 1 Samuel. The first is public: the importance of good government. The second major theme which continues in 2 Samuel is personal: the complexity of relationships both between people and God and among people”. Additionally, Nelson’s Bible Handbook explains that “1 Samuel records the critical transition in Israel from the rule of God through the judges to God’s rule through kings”. It also notes that “all of 2 Samuel and a major portion of 1 Samuel deal with events that happened after Samuel’s death”. This is likely an indication of the importance of Samuel as a major figure during a transitional time for the Israelites.
The NISB notes as part of the second major theme in Samuel “the complexity of relationships between families. These inter-human relationships are almost always conflicted, beginning with Hannah and Peninnah and going through Eli and his sons, Samuel and his sons, and Saul and his children. Listen, Parent/child relationships are a constant concern in all of Samuel”.
This first chapter of 1 Samuel opens with the story of Samuel’s mother Hannah praying to conceive a man-child. Hannah, a barren woman has been tormented by Peninnah the other wife of Hannah’s husband Elkanah. They have come to Shiloh to offer sacrifices unto the Lord. The text notes that Elkanah gave portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; but to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb.
The NISB explains that “there are three themes in this story:
1) Strife within the family.
2) God acting behind the scenes in ways that are apparent only to those who look for such actions.
3) God’s penchant for unexpectedly raising up the lowly”.
The central theme of this week’s lesson continues to be God’s faithfulness – this time during grief, and that God answers prayer. In this text we see a powerless woman beset with family conflict and we see how God moves on her behalf to answer her prayer. Our text will reveal how Hannah prayed, how God answered, and how Hannah honored God for answering her prayer. One note of caution… Please be considerate knowing that God has not favorably answered the prayer of every woman and every man who desires to have a child. Many women and men struggle for years to have a child only to be disappointed. We know that God is able and that God can change their situation. What we don’t know is when or even if God will. So please be considerate. Some important words to consider from this text include:
Review of Last Week
Last week’s lesson was taken from Genesis nineteenth chapter. It was titled Faithful During Distress and Faith and Doubt. Verse one began with two angels arriving Sodom in the evening. When Lot sees them from the gates of Sodom he got up to greet them. The text then skipped to verses four and five and then fifteen. I covered verses two through fourteen as a way to more fully understand the entire story.
In verses two and three Lot invited the two angels to spend the night at his house where he showed them great hospitality by providing shelter and making a feast. Before they fall asleep all the men from the city, both young and old, surrounded Lots house and demanded “bring them out to us so that we may know them”. I quoted the NISB’s explanation that “since know them is a veiled reference to sexual intercourse (4:1), the men of Sodom must be intent on homosexual relations with Lot’s guests”. I also quoted the NISB explaining
“While Israelite law prohibited sexual relations between men (Lev 18:22, 20:13); the narrator appears more appalled by other aspects of the Sodomites’ behavior. This story is particularly critical of their mistreatment of guests and disregard for the inviolable (unbreakable) codes of hospitality and of their mistreatment of an alien in their midst. This is an instance of the social oppression identified as the cities chief sin (18:20-21)”.
I noted that this is a story focused on the punishment of Sodom because of inhospitality toward its guests as well as its violence toward aliens in their midst. The men of Sodom were evidently seeking to gang rape these guests. And for these transgressions God would destroy this city. I quoted the The New Interpreter’s Bible One Volume Commentary noting that “The obligation to extend generous hospitality to vulnerable strangers is deeply rooted in Israelite law (Exod. 22:21; 23:9; Lev. 19:33; 23:22; Deut. 10:19; 24:17-21)”. Additionally, it notes their intention to have sexual relations with these strangers
“Signals their intention to commit the violent act of male rape, a technique of humiliation and torture of vulnerable people (both men and women). The wickedness of Sodom here is not homosexuality. Sodom’s sin is the lack of hospitality and the threatened violence by heterosexual men against vulnerable people in the community, those considered aliens and strangers in their midst”.
Again, this text is not primarily focused on homosexuality, but more so the violence and inhospitality. Ezekiel 16:48 – 50 explains the sin of Sodom.
48 As I live, says the Lord God, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. 49 This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. 50 They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it.
Lot begs the men to not act so wickedly. Then surprisingly he makes the horrible offer to give the men his two virgin daughters instead of the two guests. Keep in mind that this was a patriarchal society. Women were often if not always treated as property. Women had little if any rights at all and were treated at best as second class citizens. The men refuse Lots offer and then threaten that they will deal worse with Lot than with his guests. The NISB notes that “this is a desperate act of a man trying to preserve both his life and the ancient codes of hospitality; but it also reveals the perilous place of women as second-class citizens in ancient society”.
After these two guests rescue Lot by reaching out to bring him in the house and shut the door behind him the angels strike the men outside the door with blindness.
When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot to take his wife and two daughters out of the city so they would not suffer the same punishment of the city. Lot lingers, the angles seize him, his wife, and two daughters by the hand and took them outside the city. The text does not say why Lot lingered.
Verse seventeen told us “When they brought them outside they said, flee for your life; do not look back or stop anywhere in the plain; flee to the hills or else you will be consumed”. These guests are intent on sparing Lot and his family.
Verses eighteen and nineteen show Lot’s gratefulness but they also show his doubt that he could make it to the hills.
In verse twenty, Lot offers an alternative. Instead of fleeing to the hills he asks to flee instead to a nearby small city. Lot believes he can make it to this nearby city and there his life would be spared.
In verse twenty-one the angel says to Lot “very well, I grant you this favor too, and will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken”. The angels have indeed been gracious to Lot. God’s compassion and mercy toward Lot has been on display throughout this story.
In verses twenty-four through twenty-six the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven and he overthrew those cities and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. Because of their sins of inhospitality and the mistreatment of aliens in their midst God destroys these two cities, the plain surrounding the cites, all of its inhabitants, and all that grew on the ground therein.
Verse twenty-nine restates how God destroyed the cities of the Plain, but remembered Abraham. Because God remembered Abraham, Lot and his two daughters were saved from the destruction of the cities. It was Abraham’s faith that God would do justly that saved Lot. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is Just”?
This week’s lesson continues with the theme of God’s faithfulness. This time God is faithful during grief; but God ultimately answers Hanna’s prayer. In the same way Abraham pleaded with God on behalf of Lot and his family, now Hannah pleads with God to answer her prayer for a man-child. Last week we saw how God was faithful to Abraham. This week we see how God is faithful to Hannah and how Hannah honors God for God’s faithfulness. The lesson this week is entitled Faithful During Grief and God Answers Prayer. The scripture text comes from 1 Samuel 1:9-20.
What Takes Place in This Passage:
The lesson opens at verse nine. Hannah along with her husband Elkanah and Elkanah’s other wife Peninnah are gathered at the temple in Shiloh. After eating and drinking, Hannah arose and presented herself before the Lord to pray. Eli the priest is seated in the temple door. The NISB notes that at this point “Shiloh is the central Israelite shrine which contains the Ark of the Covenant”.
In verse ten Hannah is deeply distressed as she prays to the Lord weeping bitterly. Hannah is a woman without a child in a society that values women who have sons. She weeps bitterly because not only is she childless but Peninnah her husband’s other wife is her rival and provokes her severely to irritate her (verse 6). Dr. Theodore W. Burgh writes in The Africana Bible that “Hannah’s antagonistic rival torments her with vicious barbs and taunts. Hannah is caught in the midst of what could be understood in contemporary street vernacular as “baby mama drama””.
Townsend Commentary notes that “ancient Eastern legal texts allowed an infertile wife to provide her husband her maidservant to bear children for her as his heir. Therefore, the principal wife may possess legal rights to the children of her servants”; if you watch The Handmaid’s Tale that sounds familiar. But this however, is not the desire of Hannah’s heart. Hannah desires a man-child birthed from her own body. Hannah is distressed, she is distraught, and she is ready for her circumstances in life to change. She’s tired of being picked on and talked about. She’s tired of being laughed at and scorned. Even though her husband loves her, she’s tired of being treated badly about something for which she has no control. She has no child of her own and there is nothing she can do about it. In the Africana Bible Dr. Theodore W. Burgh explains “Hannah feels the pressure of the high value her society placed on bearing a child – particularly a male – in order to confirm her womanhood, she prays diligently to her god asking to become pregnant.
In verse eleven Hannah makes a vow. She vows to God that if God will remember her with a man-child she’ll give him back to God as a Nazarite until the day of his death. Elkanah loves Hanna despite the Lord having “closed her womb” (vs 5). And now Hannah believes this is something only God can fix. She makes a bargain with God. If only God will bless her with a man-child, she’ll give the child back to God as a Nazarite.
Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms define “vow” as that which one has promised, particularly to God or to other persons, that binds one to them. And as much as Hannah wants a child of her own she promises God she’ll return the child to God if only God remembers her with this blessing. We can look upon Hanna’s vow with compassion and understanding as a powerless woman desperately desiring to change her circumstances. However there are numerous other uses of vows throughout scripture that we can look at both favorably and unfavorably. Jonah makes a vow inside the great fish (Jon. 2:9). Jezebel vows to kill Elijah (1 Kings 19:1-2). Jacob vows at Bethel if God will keep him, that he’ll serve God. (Gen 28:20, 21). And in Acts 23:12 certain Jews vow to kill Paul.
But Hannah’s vow was specific. Hannah vowed to give God a Nazarite. Westminster defines a Nazarite as a member of a group of Israelites who vowed abstinence from eating or drinking the fruit of the vine, who let their hair grow long, and who sought to avoid contact with dead bodies (num. 6), as a way of expressing their devotion to God. Hannah’s child will be special. Hannah’s child will serve God in a specific way. This child will be set apart for service to God and as the rest of 1 Samuel will show how Samuel indeed becomes an iconic servant of God. Hannah like many parents today wanted her child to make a difference in the world.
Additionally, Dr. Theodore W. Burgh explains in the Africana Bible that “a Nazarite was a male or female who dedicated himself or herself, or who was dedicated to YHWH by others, through specific vows (Num. 6:1-21, Judges 13:7).
In verses twelve, thirteen and fourteen Hanna continues praying silently with only her lips moving. Eli the high priest notices her and thinks she is drunk. Eli said to her “how long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine”. The NISB notes that Eli’s first speech shows his inability, unexpected in a priest, to distinguish between prayer and drunkenness. This raises the question of how effective a leader such an out-of-touch man can be, especially one who is the priest of the nation’s most important shrine”. Eli was indeed out of touch. He could not distinguish between the sincere prayer of a powerless woman and the antics of someone drunk with wine. Perhaps there are ways in our own lives we mistake someone’s sincerity for what we see as playful antics.
In verses fifteen and sixteen Hannah sets the record straight. Hannah tells Eli she hasn’t been drinking. She’s been pouring out her soul before the Lord. She informs Eli that she has been “speaking out of great anxiety and vexation all this time”.
After having set the record straight, verses seventeen and eighteen show Eli is at least an understanding priest. Now he recognizes Hannah’s pain and distress. Now he sees her for the woman she is and he tells her to “go in peace; the God of Israel grant you the petition you have made to God”. So many people have been in Hanna’s situation. Unable to do anything about their circumstances and knowing only God can work it out. After hearing the man of God tell her to go in peace her soul is no longer troubled. Hannah has a calm assurance that somehow God is going to work it out. She left her place of prayer, went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and she was no longer sad.
Verses nineteen and twenty close this lesson as Hanna and the others rise the next morning, worship God, and then travel back to their home in Ramah. At some point Elkanah has sex with Hannah and the Lord remembered her. Hannah conceives the son she wanted so desperately and names him Samuel. Verse twenty says “she named him Samuel, for she said “I have asked him of the Lord””. Hannah gets the answer to her prayers. The birth of Samuel changes her life and her circumstances.
Hannah’s prayers were answered. She was blessed with the child she so desperately wanted. Her circumstances changed for the better and she has a happy ending to her story. But sometimes our stories don’t end like we thought they should. Life takes us on twists and turns that we would not have chosen on our own. Regardless of the bargains we make or the vows we take with God, our circumstances will be what God purposes for them to be. Sometimes we desperately hang on to any thread of hope that God will hear our prayer and answer for us positively. We rejoice when things work out. But sometimes things don’t work out like we thought they should. Beloved, even when things don’t work out like we think they should, know that God’s love for you is infinite and what we don’t understand now, we’ll understand better by and by.
Key Characters in the text:
Hannah – She is the mother of Samuel and wife of Elkanah. She prays fervently at the temple in Shiloh for God to relieve her bareness.
Elkanah – He is the father of Samuel and husband of Hannah. Despite Hannah’s barrenness he confesses and demonstrates his love for her.
Eli – He is the high priest at the temple in Shiloh. Also one of the last minor judges; in the latter role he is said to have served for forty years (Townsend).
Key Words (not necessarily in the text, but good for discussion):
Vow(s) – That which one has promised, particularly to God or to other persons, that binds one to them. In the Roman Catholic tradition, the entrance into the religious life is marked by vows. Other vows may be made for undertaking specific actions.
Nazarite – A member of a group of Israelites who vowed abstinence from eating or drinking the fruit of the vine, who let their hair grow long, and who sought to avoid contact with dead bodies (num. 6), as a way of expressing their devotion to God.
Ark of the Covenant – The chest carried by the Hebrews that contained the tablets of the law. It was lost from history after the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of Jerusalem (586 B.C.).
Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas:
1. Let your request be made known to God (Phil 4:6).
2. Praying your heart’s desire.
1. Why did Hannah want her child to become a Nazarite?
2. God answered Hannah’s prayer positively. How should we respond when we see no positive results to our prayer?
3. Did you know women could take the Nazarite vow in the Old Testament?
God answers prayer. Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes the answer is no, and sometimes the answer is not now, maybe later. At any rate, God answers prayer. It’s up to us to understand the answer and continue to move forward in God’s plan.
Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:
Next week the lesson comes from the book of Exodus. We see God’s faithful provision for the Israelites in the wilderness. Very soon after departing Egypt the Israelites face difficult times and they began to mummer against Moses and Aaron. When they face hard times in the wilderness God demonstrates God’s faithfulness by miraculously supplying their needs. The lesson is entitled “Bread From Heaven”.