"After God Says Yes"

Hannah is an unexpected hero. We are told at the beginning of 1 Samuel that she is married to Elkanah and they are from Ephraim, a fertile place described elsewhere as blessed with “the choice gifts of heaven and of the deep that lies beneath,”[2] but Hannah has no children.

The disciples examine the fresh wounds on Jesus's body after the resurrection
[1] “Prayer” by Graham Dean

1 Samuel 2:1-10

June 26, 2022

Todd R. Wright


A lot of water has gone under the bridge since the prayer we looked at last week: Abraham’s bargaining with God for the sake of Sodom.


He and Sarah had a son, Isaac, as God promised, though they were both old.


Isaac’s son, Jacob, had a son, Joseph, with Rachel, though she was baren.


Joseph was sold into Egypt as a slave, but rose to great power, as one blessed by God.


Moses led Israel out of Egypt and through the wilderness where they became God’s people.


When they crossed into the Promised Land, they were warned about pride and forgetfulness,


but they fell prey to both, and a lack of faith-filled leadership led to moral and political anarchy,


except when Deborah, Samson, and Gideon acted decisively in God’s name.


It is as if the narrator is holding their breath waiting for the next hero to arrive.

 

Hannah is an unexpected hero. We are told at the beginning of 1 Samuel that she is married to Elkanah and they are from Ephraim, a fertile place described elsewhere as blessed with “the choice gifts of heaven and of the deep that lies beneath,”[2] but Hannah has no children.


Those two words – no children – tie her story to that of Sarah and Rachel and all the others who desperately want to be mothers but aren’t. It is a world of longings, frustrations, tears, and prayers.


I know people who have lived in that world. So have you.


Eugene Peterson writes, “We read, ‘no children’ and [t]his story is no longer outside us; it is beginning to get inside us, or we inside it. The way in, as in so much of life, is through pain and prayer.”[3]

 

Hannah, we are told, is loved by her husband, but tormented by his other wife, Peninnah, who has children. She takes every opportunity to poke and provoke, to irritate and instigate, to cut and crush, to inflame and infuriate Hannah. (Bless her heart!)


Every year they make the twenty-mile pilgrimage to Shiloh to worship God. God seems close there with the presence of the Tabernacle and the ark of the covenant. It seems like if God will answer prayers anywhere, God will answer them there.


So, Hannah prays. Every year.


Every year Elkanah tells her he loves her just the way she is.


Every year Peninnah salts the wound.


Every year Hannah’s tears gushed and her stomach churned … but no baby came.

 

What do you do with unanswered prayers?


Do you hope that the sheer weight of them will tip the scales of justice?


Do you listen to the whispers that insist you must be doing something wrong


and search for better words?


Or worse, do you come to believe that some sin has blocked your access to God


and embark on a brutal scavenger hunt to root it out?


Or do you just give up … as if this piece of your heart is disposable?


Langston Hughes once asked, “What happens to a dream deferred?”


Perhaps you remember some of his speculation: “Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Does it stink like rotten meat? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?”[4]


Is that what happens to the frustrated prayer when God seems stubbornly silent?


Dryness of soul? Rottenness of spirit? A sagging hope? An explosion of despair?


Or does the prayer eventually conclude that there is no God?

 

I find it remarkable that Hannah does not give up. She keeps on praying.


In fact, she doubles down. She makes a vow. If God will bless her with a son, she will give him to the Lord. Peterson muses, “Her generosity is as integral to her prayer as her poverty.”[5]


Eli, the priest, notices her. She is a sloppy mess and he thinks she must be drunk.


He is used to prayer by means of ritual, incense, and animal sacrifice. He is used to prayer as part of a community, directed by a priest. But Hannah uses her own words, her own voice, without any help from him or anyone else. Eli has never seen anything like it and challenges her.


She is not intimidated. She will not be stopped or shamed. She will not be turned away.


To his credit, Eli recognizes her prayer as true prayer and blesses her.


And to her credit, she accepts his blessing, though he had doubted and dismissed her.

 

I don’t know what changed, but this time a baby came!


It has been a long journey, but Hannah did not give up … and we have accompanied her.


But success begs different question: what do you do when God says, “Yes!”


That’s the question that led Walter Brueggemann to include this prayer among the “greats”!


It is great because this story that began with weeping ends with singing!


Hannah responds with a doxology – a prayer of praise!


She might have focused on gratitude for the gift. Instead, she celebrates the giver!


And what a celebration it is! “There is no one like the Lord,” she says!


She has known a great reversal. So she trumpets all the ways God shakes things up![6]


The weapons of the strong are smashed and the hungry are getting second helpings!


The barren woman has a house full of children and the dead are raised to life!


Those who scratched a living out of the trash others threw away and those who grieved, mumbling “ashes to ashes and dust to dust”, will be lifted up and given fresh hope!


Part of what makes her prayer such a gush of joy is that there is a sense that more is going on here than the birth of one baby. That baby is a symbol that if God can answer this one prayer for this one woman, then God can answer the prayers of a whole nation in need of a blessing.


So Hannah sings. And her voice is joined to a song Israel has already been singing.


Brueggemann says, “Israel is peculiarly a community of doxology. Its life consists in praise to God for what God has done and what God continues to do.”[7]

 

So, let’s take a moment and consider what our community’s doxology would sound like:


We’ve spent more than seventy years on this spot,


babies have been born and leaders developed, each its own miracle;


prayers have been heard and answered … and tears cried and wiped away.


We’ve seen the hungry fed, body and soul, and just as Hannah promised,


the knocked down lifted up and the too big for their britches taken down a peg or two.


We’ve experienced difficult seasons and asked tough questions, just like she did,


and known enough hope and mercy, forgiving and compassion to share it with others.


We have much to praise God for. So let us join Hannah in singing! Amen.


[1] “Prayer” by Graham Dean
[2] See Deuteronomy 33:13
[3] From his commentary, First and Second Samuel, page 16
[4] From his poem, “Harlem”
[5] This quote and the observations about her encounter with Eli are also from First and Second Samuel, page 19
[6] Some of these phrasings are from Peterson’s The Message
[7] From his commentary, First and Second Samuel, page 16
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