SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON/Not Very Promising?
Wednesday, October 23, 2013 1:00 AM
"Then Eli answered and said, "Go in peace; and may the God of Israel grant your petition that you have asked of Him." She said, "Let your maidservant find favor in your sight." So the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad. . . . It came about in due time, after Hannah had conceived, that she gave birth to a son; and she named him Samuel, saying, "Because I have asked him of the Lord."" (1 Samuel 1:17-18,20)
If you look up the word 'promising' in your dictionary you will find that the adjective is used to speak of something which is "likely to succeed or to yield good results". Humanly speaking, there was nothing 'promising' about Hannah's situation. This first chapter of the Book of Samuel introduces us to a family - Elkanah, and his two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. This family lived in Israel at a time when there wasn't much to be happy over or optimistic about. In other words, these were dark and depressing times for this nation whose spirituality was at an all-time low. It wasn't much better for this family either because much strife and contention dwelt under Elkanah's roof. Verse five of the chapter would indicate that Elkanah loved Hannah more, but that she was barren. God had closed her womb so that she could have no children. His other wife, Peninnah, however, was extremely fruitful. This unbalance was the source of much friction as Peninnah took every opportunity available to embarrass, provoke and persecute poor Hannah. And this went on for years!
Today's verses are derived from that portion of the chapter where Hannah, in shear desperation (but also in faith) goes to the temple of the Lord to pray. There she lays her broken heart before the Lord and weeps bitterly as she seeks His divine intervention. The old priest, Eli, has opportunity to converse with her and, upon learning her true heart, blesses her and lends his own prayer with hers - that God would hear her and grant her request. And so, we read that "in due time" Hannah's womb was opened and she gave birth to a son to whom she gave the name Samuel, which means, "asked of the Lord" - because he was an answer to prayer.
Now, let's go back to that word - 'promising' - for a moment. If you had been able to advise God, knowing that it was His desire to renew this troubled nation by bringing about widespread spiritual revival and reformation - in your wildest imagination would you have thought to advise Him to take this approach? - to reach down into such a troubled family - and to use the woman who was barren, rather than the one who was fruitful, to bring forth your chosen instrument for that renewal? It's absolutely amazing, isn't it, how God chooses to operate at times? I know that we are told that His ways are not our ways, but still we are surprised by the modus operandi He often employs, aren't we?
Think about it! God determined to raise up a people for Himself, and so what does He do? He reached way over into the Ur of the Chaldeans and called an obscure man named Abram to follow Him. Amazing! Then, God promised this man that his descendants would one day be as numerous as the stars in the heavens, and initiated that blessing by reaching down (once again) into the life of his barren wife to bring forth Isaac, his firstborn son of promise. Amazing! Then later on we are told that this same God, in order to further His promise, sent Jacob and his sons (seventy people) down into Egypt, subjected them to 400 years of slavery that He might one day bring forth that promised throng of descendants - a people who would walk before Him in faithfulness. Again I ask you - don't you just find it incredibly amazing to see how God works - in the most desperate of times? - in the most hopeless of situations? In fact, are we not led to believe that it is in the midst of the most 'unpromising' of people and times that God delights to reveal His power and glory?
What are some of the things you've identified as almost devoid of any 'promise'? Something came to your mind just now, didn't it? -- some situation over which you've already written the epitaph 'Lost Cause' or 'Hopeless'. Perhaps it's not a situation but a person you've in mind - someone you've all but given up on for you see in him/her no potential for change. Has your faith become so weakened that you are unable any longer to believe God capable or willing to do the impossible?
If you look a bit further into the second chapter of the Book of First Samuel, you will find Hannah's prayer of praise and thanksgiving. I only have space here to call your attention to one phrase in her prayer. It's found in verse 4 where she says "the feeble gird on strength". Surely Hannah was speaking personally here and acknowledged that earlier time when her own faith was weak and she was about ready to fall. But it was then, in the midst of her distress that she found strength in the Lord. Whether you take the verb here actively or passively is almost irrelevant. The message is the same. Hannah drew strength from the Lord or was girded with strength by Him. He bore her up and gave her hope.
Isn't this what we need today? There is much around us that appears so very 'unpromising'. It would be all too easy for us just to throw up our hands and give up, wouldn't it? Then, let us remember the nature of our surprising, promising, and amazing God of grace and power. Surely He is able to gird us with strength, enabling us to trust Him once again to do amazing things in our lives.