Sermon for November 14th

First Reading      1 Samuel 1:4-20

Second Reading 1 Samuel 2:1-10

Gospel Reading Mark 12:38-44

Sermon: “A Woman of Faith to Inspire Us – Hannah”

With this Sunday, we have now come back full circle in our readings and examination of Bible characters this summer and fall. We began back in June with Israel’s last Judge – Samuel. We proceeded on with many other names: kings such as Saul, David and Solomon; Folks in very difficult situations like Johnathon, Bathsheba, Nathan and Job; Villains like Goliath, and Absalom; and we have already met a couple of great women of faith as well, Ester and Ruth. And now we come back to the beginning again with Hannah here at the end. I say the end because this is almost the end of the church year which ends with Christ the King Sunday next week. Then we begin the cycle again with Advent. I say the beginning because Hannah is the mother of Samuel, which is where we started.

It seems that whenever God needs to start something new, he begins with a faithful woman. Think about it for a moment, when God decided to begin to form a people for himself, he did it through Sara – insisting that it be Sara and not Hagar. When it was time to bring them out of slavery and into the promised land it all began with a faithful mother who hid her son in the Nile in a reed basket and then never let him forget who he really was, even though he was raised in the palace of Pharaoh – her name was Jochebed, by the way, which we only find out from a brief mention in a genealogy later, since her name isn’t mentioned in the story. When Israel’s spy’s needed sheltered in Jericho as the conquest of Canaan was starting, it was Rahab who did it. And of course, when God came to this earth, it was done though faithful and obedient Mary. None of these were powerful, or obvious choices, just faithful and willing to serve. That is the way God often works as scripture tells us time and time again.

And now, at this critical time when Israel is to transition from judges to a theocratic monarchy, Hannah is chosen by God. The name Hannah stems from a Hebrew word which means “favor” or “grace.” But at the beginning she isn’t feeling favored at all – quite the opposite. She has been unable to bear children and is being persecuted by her husband’s other wife, who does have kids. Her husband, though he loves her dearly, doesn’t really help either. Who wants to hear “Why are you crying, Hannah? Why aren’t you eating? Why be down hearted just because you have no children? You have me – isn’t that better than having ten sons?” He just didn’t get it! And he sounds more than a little stuck up on himself to boot. Even the annual trip to the temple to offer sacrifice and eat in the presence of the Lord was not a source of comfort. As Hannah passionately prays to God the priest (who evidently hadn’t ever seen a woman in passionate prayer) accuses her of being drunk. It was not until she explained herself that he offered her his blessing and assurance that God heard her prayer, saying (1 Samuel 1:17 NLT) “In that case,” Eli said, “go in peace! May the God of Israel grant the request you have asked of him.”

Hannah was made of some pretty tough stuff. she never lost her faith and she was bold enough to take her distress straight to God – raw and unfiltered. God granted her request for a child and since Hannah and was then grateful and courageous enough, she honored her vow to dedicate her son completely to the Lord. In this way, God used him to transform the nation. He literally grew up in the tabernacle of God serving as old Eli taught him. Samuel was to become unique in Israel’s history, serving as Priest, Prophet and the anointer of the first two kings. But it all stated with lowly, humble Hannah.

It is her song of praise to God after Samuel’s birth that I want to particularly draw our attention to this morning. We will hear something quite like it again in just a few weeks when we hear Mary’s song of praise anticipating the birth of Jesus. Perhaps Mary knew it and found it spoke to her situation as well. It is both personal and prophetic – We read it as our second passage this morning. It begins like this: (1 Samuel 2:1-2 NLT) “My heart rejoices in the LORD! The LORD has made me strong. Now I have an answer for my enemies; I rejoice because you rescued me. No one is holy like the LORD! There is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.

When she refers to God as a Rock, she uses it as a metaphor to depict the strength and stability of the God of Israel as the unfailing source of security for his people. David will use it several times as well and so will Isaiah, but Hannah said it first.

As her song goes on she reflects on the reversals that she sees God accomplishing around her and eventually through her. First she notes the massive arrogance she has experieced. (1 Samuel 2:3 NLT) “Stop acting so proud and haughty! Don’t speak with such arrogance! For the LORD is a God who knows what you have done; he will judge your actions.” She is definitely referring to Peninnah who was her rival in the family, but likely also Eli’s sons whom God will denounce to the young Samuel, when he calls him at night in just a few years. We have seen such arrogance ourselves this summer as we heard Goliath roar in defiance of God, Seen Saul usurp the role of the priest and of Absalom when he rebelled against his father David. None of them ended well. Arrogance is indeed a great sin that blinds us to the will of God.

Next Hannah tells us that God often works contrary to natural expectations and brings about surprising reversals. We see this frequently in the stories that follow in the history of Israel. She notes: (1 Samuel 2:4-8 NLT)

[4] The bow of the mighty is now broken, and those who stumbled are now strong. [5] Those who were well fed are now starving, and those who were starving are now full. The childless woman now has seven children, and the woman with many children wastes away. [6] The LORD gives both death and life; he brings some down to the grave but raises others up. [7] The LORD makes some poor and others rich; he brings some down and lifts others up. [8] He lifts the poor from the dust and the needy from the garbage dump. He sets them among princes, placing them in seats of honor. For all the earth is the LORD’s, and he has set the world in order.

This is a theme that Mary will use in her Magnificat and one that Jesus will need to remind his own disciples of (and us too). Recall Jesus telling them that the first will be last and the last first? That one who would be considered great among them must be the servant of all – even as he washed their feet as a slave would normally do? Recall also Jesus advising folks to take a lower seat than they thing they deserve so that the host would invite them up to greater honor. All of these things and many more remind us that humility before God and others is a necessary virtue for all.

Hannah next declares that all the situations we encounter: life and death, prosperity and adversity, are determined by the sovereign power and providence of God. We have seen this is the story of Job, it is richly illustrated in the lives of the Prophets such as Elijah and Elisha who restored life and dispensed justice with drought and fire from heaven. We also see it in the life of Jesus who raised Lazarus and a little girl, who healed hundreds, restoring sight, cleansing lepers, inviting sinners into the kingdom. and yet spoke harshly against the arrogance and self centeredness of the religious elite of his day calling them a brood of vipers. Though we encounter many difficult things in life, we are assured that God is present – supporting us and working through and around us to work his sovereign will. We will normally only see this looking back, but it is true nevertheless.

Hannah goes on to say (1 Samuel 2:9-10 NLT) [9] “He will protect his faithful ones, but the wicked will disappear in darkness. No one will succeed by strength alone. [10] Those who fight against the LORD will be shattered. He thunders against them from heaven; the LORD judges throughout the earth. He gives power to his king; he increases the strength of his anointed one.”

Hannah’s prayer turns prophetic here, anticipating the establishment of kingship in Israel and the ideal of the obedient, righteous king. Some, beginning with David would exhibit this faithful trait, but ultimately her expectation finds fulfillment in Christ and his complete triumph over sin and death. This is the first reference in the Bible to the Lord’s anointed — i.e., his anointed king, and indeed her son, Samuel will anoint both Saul and David. But it becomes the basis for the Messianic idea in the Bible. As the NIV study Bible explains: “Anointed” and “Messiah” are the translation and transliteration, respectively, of the same Hebrew word. The Greek translation of this Hebrew term is Christos, from which comes the English word “Christ”. The roots of kingship (and ultimately the messiah go way back in scripture: A king coming from the tribe of Judah is first prophesied by Jacob back in Genisis 49:10; kingship is further anticipated in the prophecies of Balaam in Numbers 24:7,17. Even Deuteronomy 17:14 – 20 looks forward to the time when the Lord will place a king of his choice over his people after they enter the promised land.

As we approach the end of this yearly cycle it is good to pause and look back and see how god has been at work in the past. It gives us strength to our conviction that God is still at work today, no matter the present circumstances. Neither pandemic, nor social division, nor technological upheavals change the ultimate truth that God is still present and will answer those who call. God still honors the humble and cares for the vulnerable. God still works through the seemingly powerless and humbles the arrogant.

Let us trust in God in everything we do and give thanks for the lives of those remembered in the pages of scripture, who have lived that way so that we can be encouraged by their example.