Monday, 30 January 2012

1 Samuel 1 - God and the "impossible"

Last night we started a new series at Lighthouse looking at 1 Samuel 1, here are my notes:

Often we struggle with Old Testament narrative we love the stories but struggle to work out how they apply to us, so how can we read it and understand it for ourselves. Here are 5 big questions to ask as you read:

1. Why? – is it included, what is the authors point? “We will never go wrong if we focus on God.”
2. Where? Literally, what comes before it? What follows it? Where historically does it fit?
3. How? Is it packaged in a certain way? What is happening (Acts/scenes)? Does the structure reveal an emphasis?
4. What? Observation of text. What is puzzling?
5. So what? What difference does this make to us? “If what I study won’t apply, there is something wrong.”

There are also some other things to bear in mind or look out for when reading narrative:
  • Readers edge- Sometimes we know more than the characters (Job)
  • Selectivity – the writer includes what they thinks is important and excludes what isn’t.
  • Sarcasm - is a clue (e.g. I Kings 18:27, Dan 3)
  • Imagination – writers pile up images to convey danger.
  • Surprise – What should shock us?
  • Emphasis and repetition – used as underlining.
  • Reports not recommends – sometimes it even assumes we can work out if something is right or not in light of Law.
  • Intensity – does the writer cram a lot into a short space? (Ruth 1:1-5)
  • Tension texts – we should feel the suspense and get thinking about God’s providence.
Read the text again, what shocks you? What questions do you have?

1. The way of the righteous in a sin sick world.
You can’t help but notice the righteous character of both Hannah and Elkanah as you read this chapter. Elkanah clearly leads his family in worship of Yahweh, taking them up to worship and providing them with sacrifices which would have been costly(3-4) both at the start of the chapter and twice at the end of the chapter. And Hannah is certainly portrayed as a godly woman. They live are righteous people, they live life in the light of God’s grace to them as his people.

But tragically (2)“Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.” Bad things happen to good people; that is one of the first things this text tells us. The bible does not hide from the difficulties which afflict God’s people. And the injustice of Hannah’s situation is rammed home by the actions of Peninnah, what does she do? (6-7)she provoked Hannah continually. The contrast here just makes you feel the weight of the injustice even more, how can godly Hannah be childless and yet spiteful Peninnah have children, it’s the wrong way round it’s just not fair!

And then we read (5-6)and what is the repeated phrase? “Yahweh had closed her womb...”. That ought to stop and make us think, it’s not what we expect to read is it? We expect to read Hannah had no children but not that God stopped her from having children. It ought to give us a clue as to what is coming, God is at work, in fact thinking about the history of God’s people it is amazing how often God takes and works through what is impossible, but we will think more about that later.

What this text confronts us with straight off is that being one of God’s people does not function like the ‘get out of jail free’ card in monopoly. It is not that when suffering comes we can play the ‘but I’m one of your people it shouldn’t happen to me’ card. Hannah and Elkanah are devout worshippers of God but they suffer the effects of living in a world ravaged by sin. It is not about a lack of faith on Hannah or Elkanah’s part, she doesn’t need to just believe in God’s promises more. God’s people are not immune from suffering or heartache.

We see though not just Hannah’s problem and provocation but God’s. In 1 Samuel one we zoom in on one family in Israel who are living righteously, but that is not the general pattern. Judges 21:25 ends with this summary of life in Israel; “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” That is the situation in Israel as Hannah and Elkanah go to sacrifice, they are the exception not the rule. Something which is brought home by the mention (3)of Hophni and Phinehas the priests. If the problem in Israel is that everyone does as they see fit then these two provoke God in much the same way Peninnah provoked Hannah. Just turn over to 2:12 where their lives are summarised like this “Eli’s sons were scoundrels; they had no time for the LORD.”  What was their job? They were priests, but priests who had no time for Yahweh, who didn’t love or care about God and therefore worship was a farce.

Here is chapter 1 we see two problems come together one on a national and salvation history scale in terms of the state of Israel, and another on a micro and personal scale in the barrenness of Hannah and the provocation she suffered. God is at work graciously and amazingly to resolve one problem as he answers another.
2. The prayer of the righteous in a sin sick world
Whenever we experience suffering or see others suffering we are faced with a choice; to run to God with it or to turn away from God because of it.

The author wants us to feel Hannah’s pain (6-10)load up the causes and pain felt as a consequence of her barrenness and Peninnah’s provocation. Hannah can’t have children and Penninah provokes her every time until she wept and would not eat, Elkanah tries to comfort her but just doesn’t get the pain she feels, and finally Hannah can take it no more and (10)”In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the LORD weeping bitterly.” But notice that Hannah may weep bitterly but she has not become bitter, she still knows that God is the one to turn to. Throughout the chapter Hannah is a worshipper, she is a lover of God, she trusts in God. The character of God not the circumstances she is in determine her worship.

Hannah turns to God in her distress because she knows who God is and that he hears his people. Hannah knows that God is Almighty, she addresses him as Lord of hosts, Lord of the armies of heaven, the cosmic ruler and sovereign over everything. It is to that God she comes in prayer. But notice that despite acknowledging his might and cosmic power she also expects him to see and care about what is happening to her, a broken hearted woman from the hill country in Ephraim.
Her God is both universal and powerful and personal and concerned for her, but notice something else about her prayer she prays for a son to serve God. She doesn’t just pray for a child for herself but for a child to serve God.

Hannah knows that God is her only refuge – Peninnah provokes her, Elkanah doesn’t understand how she feels, and Eli accuses her(15) but Hannah “was pouring out my soul to Yahweh.” Isn’t that a brilliant definition of prayer – pouring out our soul to God.

It is understanding God that enables her to pray this way, her focus is on an Almighty God who cares and hears, she does not use the words “Our Father...” but she certainly approaches God as her Father. The answer to problems in our praying is to understand who God is not to focus on the mechanics of prayer. Our God is big enough and cares for us enough that we can pour out our soul to him knowing he is sovereign and he cares for us.

Hannah leaves with Eli’s benediction “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.” She does not have a guarantee of a child but she knows that God has heard her and that is enough(18).

It is the comfort one of God’s children enjoys in coming to the Almighty God of the universe who cares for them and pouring out their hearts.

3. God at work to save a sin sick world
There is a real danger here that we can misuse this chapter to suggest that it is God’s will that every barren woman bears children. This is not a blanket promise to all God’s people, it is not prayer formula to use which guarantees pregnancy. The bible contains a number of cases of barren women whose wombs God opens; Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah, Elizabeth. And as you look at them you see a pattern of God doing the impossible as part of his plan of salvation; Sarah has Isaac the son of promise, Rebekah has Jacob and Esau, Rachel has Joseph who saves the fledgling nation, Hannah bears Samuel who is a great prophet and anoints king David, and Elizabeth bears John the Baptist who prepares the way for David’s greater son Jesus.
God can do the impossible and throughout salvation history he brings life to barren wombs to fulfil his promises, because this is God’s plan to save and he will do it. But it is not a blanket promise, it is not a how to, which is liberating because it means continuing childlessness is not a result of our sin or our lack of faith, it is the result of living in a sin ravaged world.
At the end of this chapter as Hannah has a son just as she asked God for and as that son is given over to God we ought to stand where the chapter starts and finishes worshipping God. God who is his peoples refuge even in the midst of problems and provocation, God who graciously hasn’t abandoned Israel but will work out his plan to save his people, God who hears his people when they pray and answers prayer in accordance with his purpose, God who is worth worshipping and living for because of his character rather than our circumstances.

No comments: