“The Bible’s Children: Samuel”
I Samuel 1:20
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.
Sixteen years ago, back in May of 2006, Brooke Shields wrote a book she called Down Came the Rain: My Journey through Postpartum Depression.
And in that book she said that, after all the time she spent in the public eye, you might think that finding out she was going to have a miscarriage moments before stepping on stage wouldn’t shake her up, but it did.
It was December of 2001 and she was standing in the wings of the Palace Theatre in Hollywood, California, for Muppetfest, a tribute to Jim Henson and a fund-raiser for Save the Children. There was a lot of excitement and energy in the air, and the audience, a house full of parents and children, was having a hard time keeping quiet.
In order not to be seen before her cue, she moved farther backstage, to where Mr. Snuffleupagus was also waiting for his entrance. Little bits of brown fur were flying everywhere, she said, and it took all her effort not to sneeze.
She was dressed as Miss Piggy in a black, sleeveless, sequined dress with a pink feather boa, long purple gloves, and a huge fake diamond ring. And though no one could tell, she was pregnant.
But there was a problem. She was told, just the day before, that something wasn’t right with her pregnancy and more tests were needed. So early that morning, before she even came to the theater, she went back to the clinic to have more blood drawn.
Now, standing offstage, waiting for her cue, her cell phone rang and the news was not good. Her doctor said, “I’m sorry, but your pregnancy is no longer viable. It’s nature’s way,” he said. “The baby isn’t strong enough to survive.”
She was crushed, for she knew, in that moment, that her hopes of having that child were gone.
And though the stage manager knew something was wrong, he had no choice but to cue the Muppet rock band to file onto the stage and then point at her for her entrance. After all, she said, the show must go on.
Later she wrote, “Prayer is about the private quiet plea for help. Knowing that I was prayed for was often the only thing that stood between me and despair.” And she said, “There’s nothing of greater earthly help than a friend who is willing to reach out, way out if necessary. Listen, give good information, be honest, pray. That’s what friends are for.”
The Bible is full of praying women. Sarah prayed and had a son. Jochebed prayed and God saved her son. And Queen Esther prayed and God saved an entire nation.
Now here in the book of I Samuel chapter 1, we hear about a woman named Hannah who also prayed. I’ll start at verse 1: “There was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim of the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, an Ephrathite. He had two wives. The name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other, Peninnah. And Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children” (I Samuel 1:1-2).
The book of I Samuel takes us back in time to about a thousand years before Christ. Long before there were kings named Saul or Solomon or before David killed Goliath, there were Judges--men like Gideon and Jephthah and Samson, and even a woman named Deborah, who ruled over the nation of Israel.
That’s when, out of the blue, we meet a man named Elkanah who, as the Bible said, had two wives--one named Hannah and the other, Peninnah.
So he had two wives. Why did he have two wives? That’s a good question!
As far as we can tell, he had already been married to a girl named Hannah. She was his first and, (dare I say!), favorite wife. But as it said in verse 2, she couldn’t have any children.
And in that time and place, that was about the worst thing that could ever happen to a woman. After all, as one commentator wrote, “In an agricultural society, a woman found her identity as a mother of children.”
Worse yet, not having children wasn’t simply a biological problem. In the ancient world, children were a way to look forward to the future, the promise and hope of tomorrow, a symbol of possibility and stability in an otherwise completely unstable world.
So the lack of children was a way to talk about endings, about the loss of hope, and about the frightening possibility that there would be no future.
That’s why it hurt Hannah so bad.
So what did her husband, Elkanah, do? He could have simply divorced her and sent her away. Back in the day, what was a man without daughters and sons? But since he loved her so much, he chose, instead of sending her way, to take another wife, a second wife, which, as you can imagine, only added to Hannah’s humiliation and pain.
Then if that wasn’t bad enough, while Hannah couldn’t have any children, wife number two, Peninnah did. In fact, the Bible says she had “sons and daughters” (I Samuel 1:4).
Now we don’t know how many she had, but the words “sons and daughters” means, at the least, two of each--which makes four and probably more. And if all that wasn’t bad enough, as it says in verse 6: “And her rival, (that’s Peninnah--wife number 2!), used to provoke her, (that’s Hannah--wife number 1!), grievously to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. So it went on year after year” (I Samuel 1:6-7).
The Bible says, “Her rival used to provoke her.”
One commentator imagines a conversation that went something like this:
Peninnah said, “Now do all you children have your food? My, there are so many of you; it’s hard to keep track. Hannah, can you give me a hand?”
“Mommy, Miss Hannah doesn’t have children.”
“Miss Hannah? Oh yes, that’s right--she doesn’t have any children.”
“Doesn’t she want children?”
“Oh yes, she wants children, very, very much! Wouldn’t you say so, Hannah? Don’t you wish you had children too?”
“Doesn’t Daddy want Miss Hannah to have any?”
“Oh, he certainly does--but Miss Hannah keeps disappointing him; she just can’t seem to have any children at all!”
“Because God won’t let her!”
“Doesn’t God like Miss Hannah?”
“I don’t know--what do you think? Oh, by the way, Hannah, did I tell you that I’m pregnant again?! Do you think you’ll ever be pregnant, Hannah?”
And what did Elkanah do in the face of her deep hurt and shame? Practically nothing! First, he asked why she was crying, (which, if you don’t mind me saying, is about as insensitive as you can get!). Then he said, “Aren’t I good enough? You have me! Am I not worth more to you than ten sons?” (I Samuel 1:8).
Well, Elkanah, thanks a lot!
But the story isn’t over. There’s more. Lot’s more.
You see, as was their custom, the day came when Hannah and Elkanah and Peninnah, (and probably all the children too), went to worship at Tabernacle central, to a town called Shiloh. And there Hannah pretty much fell apart. As it says in verse 10: “She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly.”
And not only did she cry, she made a promise. She said, “O Lord of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your servant and remember me, but will give to Your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head” (I Samuel 1:11).
Which is fine, wonderful, in fact! There was just one problem. When Eli, the priest, saw her standing there talking, with no sound coming out, he was sure she was drunk! He even went so far as to say, “Woman, how long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you” (I Samuel 1:14).
And what did Hannah say? She said, “I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord” (I Samuel 1:15). And as Eli raised his hands in blessing, he said, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to Him” (I Samuel 1:17).
And wonder of wonders and miracle of miracles, not long after, she did conceive and have a son. And she called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked for him from the Lord” (I Samuel 1:20).
And sure enough, just as she had promised, a couple of years later, she brought him to Eli and said, “For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to Him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord” (I Samuel 1:27-28).
And what a wonder her little Samuel would become! He’s the one who, in the middle of the night, would hear the Lord call his name. “Samuel! Samuel!” He said, until Samuel replied, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant hears” (I Samuel 3:10).
He anointed Saul king. He anointed David king. And just before he died, he said: “I have walked before you from my youth until this day, but now I am old and gray…only fear the Lord and serve Him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things He has done” (I Samuel 12:2, 24).
One more thing--you may not know this, (actually, I’d be surprised if you did!), but this past Thursday was a very important day. Called Absolutely Incredible Kid Day, it’s a national holiday that happens every third Thursday in March, that celebrates children who have changed the world.
And incredibly enough, children have changed the world!
Take Jaylen Arnold, for example. With Tourette’s syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and Asperger’s syndrome, he knew he was different, and so did everyone else. And that’s why they bullied him.
So at the ripe old age of eight years old, he started a website that has, by now, taught more than a hundred thousand children how to recognize bullying and how to appreciate those who are different. Back in 2017, when he was sixteen, he was presented with the Diana Award, the only American to have received such an honor.
Or think of Katie Stagliano of Summerville, South Carolina who, after growing a forty pound cabbage in her backyard, (which, by the way, managed to feed 275 people!), came up with a plan to help feed the homeless.
Inspired by her non-profit called Katie’s Krops, today, there are more than a hundred gardens in over thirty states that help to feed the homeless.
But of all the children who have lived or will ever live, there’s no one more absolutely incredible than Jesus!
While Hannah devoted her son Samuel to the priesthood, God devoted His Son to our humanity. And while Hannah once devoted Samuel to a life of service, God devoted His Son to death on a cross.
Born miraculously of a virgin, He took on our finite, limited, vulnerable, hurting, weeping humanity, to live out the full extent of our trials, our troubles, and our temptations. All the griefs and sorrows that you carry, He carried. And though He was like us in every way, yet without sin, He was rejected by men, stricken, smitten, and afflicted.
As Luther wrote: “All this He does only out of fatherly, divine, goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all which it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.”
You have blessed us, dear Father, more than we could ever know or understand. Help us to walk in the footsteps of that woman named Hannah and her son, Samuel, that we too may faithfully follow You, for Jesus’ sake. Amen