The ministry of Samuel took place during a crucial time in the life of Israel. Many people who read the Old Testament do not realize the important work of Samuel as a leader at a time when Israel was facing its greatest challenge as a nation. During his lifetime, Samuel serves as a priest, as a judge, and as a prophet. During his many years of service, Israel had to fight for its survival. The threat posed by the Philistines was severe. For Israel to survive as a nation, it needed strong leadership. Samuel delivered Israel until the nation appointed Saul as its first king.
The story of Samuel begins when a barren woman made a vow to God. She promised that if God would give her a son, she would dedicate the child to serve in the house of the Lord all the days of his life. God answered the woman’s prayer and gave her a remarkable child. From his early days in the temple at Shiloh, Samuel’s commitment to God reveals that he was indeed a remarkable child. The birth and early childhood of Samuel have great lessons to teach us. Samuel’s story begins with a mother.
Mother’s Day is a day of celebration, a day when children honor the woman who gave them birth. But Mother’s Day can also be a day of great loss, a day when people remember mothers who have died. To some mothers, Mother’s Day can be a day of disappointment. Some mothers remember the children they have lost, others agonize over their children who have walked away from the Lord. On Mother’s Day some mothers agonize for their children’s broken dreams, their failure to achieve their God-given potential.
Hannah, Samuel’s mother, was a woman who had faced many dashed dreams. Hannah was a woman who knew much about disappointments. Hannah’s dream was to have a family and many children; her broken dream was that she was barren and unable to have children. But, through faith, prayer, and trust in God, Hannah became a great mother who was used by God to change the tide for the nation of Israel. Hannah’s experience with infertility teaches us, with God’s help, how to handle, how to survive, and even how to thrive in the midst of disappointments.
Broken Dreams in the Family
The story of Samuel begins with the relationship between Hannah and her husband Elkanah, “There was a certain man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah. He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none” (1 Samuel 1:1-2 NIV).
Hannah was a great woman, but we know little about her. She lived in Ramathaim. The name of the city means “the two Ramahs.” This means that the city was built on two hills. Hannah lived in the hill country of Ephraim; she was a rural nobody. She was an unimportant person, but a woman whom God was going to use for his purpose. God was going to use Hannah through her son to make an impact in the life of his people.
Hannah was powerfully used by God even though she was a simple rural woman, who was also a wife and a mother. God’s selection of Hannah reflects a motif found many times in the Bible, that is, when God uses people, he does not choose a person who has an important position in society. Rather, God chooses people who are open to God’s leading, people who have a personal relationship with God.
Hannah’s husband was Elkanah. Elkanah was a Levite of the family of Kohath, one of the sons of Levi (Exodus 6:16; 1 Chronicles 6:22). Hannah lived in a polygamous family. Elkanah had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. The Bible does not condemn polygamy; however, polygamy was never God’s will for his creatures.
Hannah was Elkanah’s first wife, but because she was unable to give him children, Elkanah took a second wife in order to have children by her: “Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none” (1 Samuel 1:2).
The culture in which Hannah lived expected wives to give children to their husbands. In an agricultural society, a woman found her identity as a mother of children. Hannah had a problem. She was unable to give children to Elkanah because she was barren. Hannah had dreams of having a family, of having many children but because of her infertility, she was unable to become a mother.
Because of Hannah’s infertility, Elkanah could have divorced Hannah but he chose not to do so because he loved her. Elkanah then was forced to take a second wife. When Elkanah told Hannah that he was taking a second wife, the news of his decision added to her pain and humiliation.
The polygamous home of Elkanah was not a happy place. There was animosity and competition between the two wives. Peninnah was “a rival” to Hannah. Peninnah lacked sensitivity about Hannah’s situation. Peninnah “kept provoking Hannah in order to irritate her” (1 Samuel 1:6).
The gloating and the provocations increased Hannah’s pain and humiliation. So hurt was Hannah by Peninnah’s provocations that she wept and would not eat (1 Samuel 1:7). Another source of pain was the perception that the Lord had closed her womb (1 Samuel 1:6). This statement raises the question about how God acts in the world and in the lives of human beings. Did God cause Hannah’s infertility? Did God restrain Hannah from conception and from bearing children? There are many reasons for temporary infertility as well as lifelong barrenness.
There is no way of knowing the reason Hannah was barren, but God can miraculously intervene and heal the barren womb. Hannah eventually conceived and gave birth to a son whom she called Samuel.
Dealing with Brokenness
Hannah had a broken heart. Hannah’s heart was broken because of the intense emotional stress she had to endure because of her infertility and because of the taunts of Peninnah. Hannah was in pain because she desired to be a mother but was unable to do so. People with broken hearts become vulnerable to anxiety and depression. How did Hannah handle her broken heart?
Dealing with brokenness through worship
Elkanah was a godly man who feared the Lord. Every year Elkanah and his family went to Shiloh to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord (1 Samuel 1:3). In the days of Joshua, the people of Israel gathered at Shiloh and set up the Tabernacle there (Joshua 18:1). During the period of the judges, the house of God was at Shiloh (Judges 18:31).
So, Hannah went to Shiloh, where the Ark was, to worship God and to plead her case before God. Whenever Elkanah went to sacrifice to the Lord, he would give portions of meat to his wives. He would give one portion to Peninnah and all her sons and daughters, but he would give a double portion to Hannah because he loved her.
Worship was important to Hannah. Year after year Hannah would go to the house of the Lord at Shiloh to tell God about her broken dreams. She was in pain, she lived with a broken heart, but Hannah chose to worship God because she knew that he was the only one who could help her with her helpless situation. How can a person live with broken dreams? Hannah worshiped God even in her pain; she was hurting, but she chose to worship for she knew that God would not “despise a broken and humbled heart” (Psalm 51:17).
Dealing with brokenness through appreciation for what God has done
God had given Hannah a good and godly husband. He was sensitive to Hannah’s situation. Elkanah had a healthy relationship with his wife. He and Hannah had a good marriage, and he was a caring husband. When Elkanah saw his wife grieving, he tried to encourage her. He said to her, “‘Why are you crying, Hannah? Why aren’t you eating? Why be downhearted just because you have no children? You have me – isn’t that better than having ten sons?” (1 Samuel 1:8).
In her life, Hannah had experienced loss and a troubled situation that brought her brokenness and much pain. Hannah dealt with her brokenness through the awareness that the grace and goodness of God was manifested in her life through the many blessings she had received from his hands. In life, people get preoccupied with their brokenness, but in order to deal with their brokenness they must remember the many blessings they have received from God, they must be appreciative for what God has done for them because of their relationship with God.
Dealing with brokenness through prayer
Hannah went to Shiloh to worship and to connect with God through prayer. After offering the sacrifice, and after she had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah got up and stood before the Lord to pray. Deeply distressed and in bitterness of soul, Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping throughout the time she prayed. Hannah made a vow to the Lord, “O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head” (1 Samuel 1:11).
Hannah’s prayer was not a superficial way of talking to God; it was a prayer from the heart. Hannah was pouring out her soul to the Lord. Hannah took her broken dreams and brought them to God in prayer. Hannah brought her sorrows to God. She brought her broken heart, her broken dreams, her pains, and her disappointments. All these she brought before the God who is known as “the God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3 NIV).
The psalmist also prayed to God in his time of need, “In my distress I called to the LORD; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears” (Psalm 18:6 NIV). From his temple in Shiloh God heard Hannah’s voice. Even though Hannah, did not know at the time, because of her prayer, her womb was already opened. And the Lord gave Hannah much more than she asked, for in 1 Samuel 2.21 we discover that the Lord gave her three more sons and two daughters.
Dealing with brokenness by trusting the Lord
While Hannah was praying, “Eli the priest was sitting on a chair by the doorpost of the LORD’s temple” (1 Samuel 1:9 NIV). Eli was a priest who had also been a leaders and a judge in Israel for forty years (1 Samuel 4:18). The Hebrew word for “chair” in 1 Samuel 1:9 is the same word for “throne.” Eli’s throne was his official seat as priest and judge in Israel. Throughout the book of Samuel, Eli is presented in a negative term. Here Eli is practically insulting Hannah by accusing her of being drunk instead of recognizing a devout woman in prayer. Hannah mildly rebuked him. She said that she was not drunk, that she was praying. She did not tell Eli her problem, but she said that the reason she was pouring out her soul to the Lord was because she was deeply troubled (1 Samuel 1:15).
Eli recognized his error and graciously gave her a priestly blessing, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him” (1 Samuel 1:17). After praying and talking to Eli, Hannah left, ate something, and she was no longer depressed because she trusted that God would answer her prayer and give her a son.
The Psalmist said, “My heart trusted him, so I received help” (Psalm 28:7). Hannah had placed her trust in God because she believed that God would answer her prayers. And God answered her prayer, “So in the course of time Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, ‘Because I asked the LORD for him’” (1 Samuel 1:20). She asked for a son and God gave her a son. Hannah was vindicated through prayer.
What happened to Hannah does not always happen this way in the lives of other people. Sometimes it does; sometimes it does not. When Daniel’s three friends were thrown into the blazing furnace, they told King Nebuchadnezzar, “the God we serve is able to save us,” but they also recognized that God might not act. So, they said to the king, “but even if he does not” we will continue to serve God (Daniel 3:17–18). In those occasions when prayers are not answered, one must remain faithful to God.
On May 9, 2021, my pastor Jeff Griffin, Senior Pastor of The Compass Church in Naperville, Illinois preached a sermon on Samuel 1:1-20 titled “Samuel: Lessons From a Remarkable Child – Broken Dreams.” The post above is based on Jeff’s sermon.
Jeff began his sermon by detailing the burning of the house where his parents lived for many years. That house was his parents’ dream house. It was the place where his family had celebrated special occasions for more than 27 years. The fire destroyed his parents’ dream home. Jeff shares how his parents grieved over the destruction of their dream house.
Jeff concluded his sermon by sharing the problem of infertility he and his wife endured for several years. They had decided to adopt when his wife told him that she was expecting a child. God had answered their many prayers and relieved them of the pain of their broken dreams.
Throughout the sermon Jeff emphasizes how God works in the lives of people with broken dreams. The four ways to deal with brokenness, worship, appreciation, trust, and prayer are the four keys that open the doors for the merciful and gracious God to come into a person’s broken heart with healing and restoration.
A Video Presentation
“Samuel: Lessons From a Remarkable Child – Broken Dreams.” A Sermon by Jeff Griffin
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
Other Studies on Samuel
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