It has been years of prayer, tears, and groans. I have pleaded with the Lord for many, many hours. Finally something has broken through in his timing and my prayers. Maybe things will be different now. Whether this is the case or not, this is cause for reflection.
The incredible burden of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1 is one which any honest person, much more a Jew or Christian, can identify with. Hannah is one of the two wives of Elkanah. “YHWH kept Hannah from conceiving,” (v.6) while Elkanah’s other wife, Peninnah, has sons and daughters. This is a cause of rivalry and provokation between the two wives. While the child-laden wife “taunt[ed] her severely” (v.7), Hannah begins to weep, and, perhaps unintentionally, to fast. Nothing in all the world is able to console her: not her husband’s preference for her in affection and provision, or his attempts to soothe her.
So it has been for my heart many years. So often the counsel for such dejection is directed to kill the desire in an attempt to avoid idolatry. Idolatry is, after all, wanting and adoring anything other than God more than God. But that’s not how God, the author of this account both in history and in the recorded narrative, treats Hannah’s all-consuming desire.
Elkanah’s family was in the habit, as faithful Israelites were called, to go to the Tabernacle once a year which then was at Shiloh. After the family ate and drank in the holy town, Hannah got up, walked to the Tabernacle and began to weep and pray in anguish at door of the house of the Lord (v. 9-10).
She takes her deepest, holiest longings and obeys the principle laid out in Psalm 55:22 and 1 Peter 5:7, she casts her burden on the Lord. Listen to the anguish “Making a vow, she pleaded, ‘Lord of Armies, if you will take notice of your servant’s affliction, remember and not forget me, and give your servant a son, I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and his hair will never be cut'” (v.11).
She gives this burden to the Lord who by some strange work of the Holy Spirit, both comforts Hannah with the words of Eli, the High Priest, and confirms that it will be done for her. This is apparent because the inconsolable Hannah’s tears are suddenly wiped away with what is described in Proverbs 12:25 – ‘anxiety in a person’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes them glad.’
So with the good word of God through Eli, Hannah stops weeping, conceives and makes good on her promise. What are the lessons I can learn from this passage. There are multitudes of things we can learn:
- Our earthly desires, even ones that crowd out all others, are not necessarily idolatry.
- God can use the worst burdens of our hearts to do incredible things. Samuel was by far the greatest of the judges Israel had seen and was the greatest prophet that had come since Moses, bringing the “word of the Lord” for the first time in generations.
- What we do with the devastating burdens and longings we possess matters. Hannah essentially gave up the right for the burden to be her own. The lack of a child was considered a sign of being cursed in that time, but for her to give the child to the Lord meant that this had transformed from a burden for Hannah’s satisfaction to something in which God’s name and glory was at stake.
- There is a longing which only eternity can satisfy. Many people have been cut off in the midst of their youth, with plans and dreams on the earth snuffed out. Even in this, the greatest dreams and greatest plans – were they all of them satisfied – would never treat the heart to good like the Lord intends to do for his people forever and ever. Surely if “the sufferings of this present time” (eg. dream/longing/hope crushing)
“are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18), then God’s dreams are even better than the most longing-satiated life on the earth.
So, God honors our earthly longings, doesn’t condemn us for idolatry just because they consume us with grief, but also has even better things for us were they left unsatisfied. In sum: we can’t possibly lose. Believe God, and be happy even if you must wait for fulfillment.