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Saturday, August 1, 2015
Today’s Reading | 1 Samuel 1:1–20
There was a certain man of Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham son of Elihu son of Tohu son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. He had two wives; the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children. Now this man used to go up year by year from his town to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the Lord. On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; but to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. So it went on year by year; as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. Her husband Elkanah said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”
After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the Lord. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly. She made this vow: “O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazirite until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head.” As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore Eli thought she was drunk. So Eli said to her, “How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine.” But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.” Then Eli answered, “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.” And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your sight.” Then the woman went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no longer.
They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. Elkanah knew his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, “I have asked him of the Lord.” (NRSV)
When I first began my studies at the divinity school many years ago, I was most excited by the Hebrew scriptures. Seldom had I heard them read in church. So much was new and different. Rich human stories of particular people and particular places drew me in. As I sit down to reflect on Hannah’s story, I note that her husband, Elkanah, was from the hill country of Ephraim. Today I write this from a contemporary village of Ephraim, named by its Moravian founders.
Hannah, one of Elkanah’s two wives (biblical family values again!), was unable to conceive a child, unlike her counterpart. Hannah was unwilling to accept that she would remain childless, though. She yearned and prayed. She went to the temple and mouthed her desperate petitions to God, risking ridicule in the process. Hannah was driven to negotiate with God, offering her son in God’s service if she could but have a male child, leading to Samuel’s birth.
The painful, persistent pursuit of progeny continues in our own time. Earlier in my ministry, I supported a couple who sought every means possible to conceive a child. When they were forced to try the alternative of adoption, they finally succeeded, raising a wonderful young woman. God had heard their prayers and sustained them along a different path than they had imagined.
Stories of our faithful forebearers encourage us as we confront our own struggles. They are rich resources that remind us that we are not alone in facing deep difficulties along our earthly journeys. We have human support, past and present. And we have a divine traveling companion as well.
Holy One, thank you that you hear our prayers emerging from deep within us. Hold us within your care. Respond with wisdom that far exceeds our own. Renew our persistence, trusting that in life and in death we belong to you. Amen.
Written by Jeffrey Doane, Parish Associate for Older Adults
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