A Woman After Godís Own Heart
Announcer: Thank you for listening to this message from True Woman ’08, Revive Our Hearts’ first national woman’s conference. It’s our prayer that God blesses you with His word and His heart as you listen.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Please welcome with me Janet Parshall to our platform.
Janet Parshall: Thank you, Nancy, so very, very much.
I want to ask you a question. I want to see how many people can say, since this entire gathering has started, that you can say in some way, somehow, you can say absolutely definitively that you’ve been touched by God. If you can say, “Yes,” would you stand? Praise God. Praise God. I think we can say that God is in this place. Remain standing as we approach the Throne of Grace.
Our gracious Heavenly Father, what a joy it has been to walk away from the world and to just walk closer to You. Father, we thank You that, while we cannot yet see You with these mortal eyes, we know that You are in this place. Honestly, Father, it takes our breath away. That day's coming when we will behold You face to face. But right now, Father, through the leading and the nudgings and the insfpirations of the Holy Spirit, we learn more about You. Through Your Word, we learn more about You, Father. You’re revealing Yourself to us. Father, You’re putting a great big mirror in front of us and asking us to look into it this weekend, to see You; and the reflection looking back, Father, what we want more than anything else is to see ourselves as women who reflect who You are.
So Father, I pray now that as we open Your Word, and as we learn more about You and this unbelievably immense responsibility of motherhood, that in that high and most precious calling, we would learn yet again something more about You.
We pray these things in the name of Your precious Son Jesus, amen.
Well, I am honored and thrilled that Nancy asked me to be a part of this, and then I found out that the topic she wanted me to talk about was motherhood. Oh, easy topic. Hugely important topic, but you know, it’s so funny because when Mary was speaking this morning, I have to tell you, that was really piercing my heart for a lot of reasons. Because as she was ticking off the history of the feminist movement, dear ones, I have to tell you, this was my history.
When I was watching what was going on, I remember turning on the television and hearing Betty Friedan say, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” I heard her say that marriage was an illegitimate profession, and I heard them say:
· you could only self-actualize outside the home
· I should use a certain hair product because, frankly, I was worth it
· I deserved a break today
It was, in fact, all about me. Little fwould I know that as I was listening to that still, small voice that said, “You can listen to their words, or you can listen to Me. I blessed you with Sarah, Rebecca, Samuel, and Joseph. Now you can relegate their care to someone else, or you can stay home and look after My little lambs. What would you do, daughter?”
Despite the world that tfold me everything I was doing was wrong, I praise His holy name that I stayed home to take care of my children. And little did I know that while I was tending those lambs, God was writing on the tablets of my heart.
I love that quote from John Piper that said that God is doing a thousand things even when we can only see one thing. He was writing on the tablets of my heart what it meant to look well to the ways of my household. Little did I know that someday I’d end up having in the marketplace of ideas to debate family values. What would that mean if I hadn’t been home learning what family values were all about, by teaching my children the values found in this Word? Would I know at that point in time that God someday, in His sovereign, amazing, stupefying plan, that God would have me some day sit on the stage with those exact same feminists and have to debate them on the very issues that I was debating in my own heart. So it was amazing.
I’ll never forget one time in New York, it was me against five feminists. It’s always balanced in the media, you knew that, right? It was Gloria Steinem. It was Eleanor Smeal. It was Susan Faludi, and it was two other feminists. They were going back and forth. Two female hosts who, in fact, walked up to the five feminists. Literally, it was one chair and five chairs. They walked up to the five feminists and said, “Oh, we love your work, and we’re all card-carrying members of NOW.” Okay, I guess this is how a Christian is eaten by the lions publically.
But what hit me in the midst of this debate, and we went back and forth as we debated our different world view—and it could not have been more different, I have to tell you. God pierced my heart, because I looked over, and I realized, there is Patricia Ireland, who at that time was the current president of the National Organization of “some” Women. I realized she was a woman who had a lesbian partner and a husband and had two abortions. How do you spell brokenness?
I looked at Gloria Steinem who had, not one, but two serpent rings. One wrapped around her middle finger, one wrapped around her little finger. I thought to myself, “How sad. She’s looking for power derived from the culture rather than power that comes through your life through a relationship with Christ Jesus.”
On the midst of that stage, what I suddenly realized was this: That when Christ hung on the cross, He didn’t hang longer for them than He did for me. I realized that my heart needed to break for women like that. Yes, their ideas are pernicious. Ideas have consequences—ideas like they fostered and promoted put women in broken places and really led them astray. But in the end, those women are not the enemy. They have been captured by the enemy, and they need to be prayed for as well.
So God is a sovereign and amazing God. There I have been, debating all these feminists with their world view, but thanking God constantly that my classroom was my kitchen. God took my experience as a mother and helped train me so I would know how to speak the truth in love. Never, in a million years, realizing that the women I heard on the TV would be women some day I would have to face in the debate arena.
So this whole idea of motherhood is very important to the heart of God. When we talk about mothers, you realize there’s not a person in this room who isn’t affected by this subject, because, if you’re breathing, you had a mother. So whether or not you have biological children is immaterial to the lesson we can read in Scripture that I’m about to share with you, because motherhood is universal.
Let me tell you something about a praying mother. Craig and I for years lived in a place called Fredericksburg, Virginia. This is where George Washington lived from the age of seven to 21. If he threw a silver dollar, it wasn’t across the Potomac, it was across the river in Fredericksburg called the Rappahannock. What was significant about that town is there’s a little jetty of a rock, not too far from where his mother is buried. It was a praying rock. His mother would go out there consistently, and she would pray for her son. And story after story after story of George Washington, in the heat of battle, being preserved, can be tied back directly to the powers of the effectual prayers of a mother who was praying without ceasing for her son.
Listen to what George Washington said. He said, “My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever saw, and all I am I owe to my mother. I attribute all my successes to the moral, intellectual, and physical education I received from her.” It’s amazing, the power of a praying mother.
Also I find it interesting, too, that Abraham Lincoln had much to say about his mother. He said, “I remember my mother’s prayers, and they have always followed me. They have clung with me all my life.”
Presidents remembering the power of a praying mother. Can the prayers of a praying mother affect and change the course of a nation? Turn with me if you would, please, to First Samuel. This is a wonderful story, and there’s so much in the Scriptures. There are so many things I want to say just by way of backdrop before we start this, and that is: Number one, no matter how many times you’ve heard this story, this Word is living and vibrant. Every time you drop down that plumb line, you’re going to pull up a new truth. So my prayer for you tonight is that if you’ve never heard it, wonderful; may you be introduced to a magnificent woman of faith. If you’ve heard it a thousand times, may you discover something new about this precious woman.
Let me set the backdrop for you. Israel is in a mess. She has a defiled priesthood. There is no leader. This country is in absolute disarray. They’ve had a series of judges that have been corrupt and at the end of the book of Judges we read paradoxically, “In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did what was right in his own eyes.” He says it once in Judges 17:6 and then again in 21:25. It is the exact same verse. God wanted us to get the point that things were in disarray.
So in the midst of all of this, we read, as we begin this first chapter, a most amazing story about a man and his wives. It starts out this way:
There was a certain man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none (verses 1-2).
We are only two verses into this chapter, and, “Houston, we have a problem.” First of all, let’s start with the fact that he had two wives. I find this very interesting. Because if you go through the Scriptures, you’ll see that Abraham had two wives—and problems. Jacob had two wives—and problems. David had multiple wives—and problems. Solomon had multiple wives—and problems.
So God allowed for polygamy, but the written guarantee is that every time in that allowance there was polygamy, there was trouble in River City. I have heard people, for example, who advocate variances on the form of marriage, “Well, even your Bible talks about polygamy,” to which I’m quick to say, “Oh, yes, it does, and you need to read the rest of the story. Because every time there’s polygamy, there’s a problem.” That’s why, by the way, when you begin to dabble with that institution created by God in a place of perfection called Eden, we are troubling a profound truth, as Dr. Piper said so well last night.
So as we watch what happens in the State of California, we watch very carefully to see whether or not God’s truth will be trampled underfoot. In the end, that is not a political issue, that is a biblical issue. Then we watch today hearing that the Connecticut Supreme Court said, “Today from this point forward, Connecticut will recognize same-sex marriages.” Start dabbling with God’s plan for perfection, and you inherit the wind.
So then the other issue is that we have two wives, one has children, and one does not. I love the anthropology of the Scriptures. I love the way we can go back, and we discover how important different things are that we might not subscribe the same amount of meaning to. But we know that there’s tension between these two women. Many biblical scholars feel that perhaps he married Hannah first and, because she couldn’t produce an heir, he then married Peninnah, who the Scriptures go on to tell us has multiple children. So let’s go on to see what happens.
Year after year [underline that, year after year] this man went up from his town to worship and sacrifice to the Lord Almighty at Shiloh, where Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of the Lord. Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons [plural] and daughters [plural]. But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb (verses 3-5).
Now, again, we can dig into every one of these passages. First and foremost, it’s very obvious that Elkanah loves Hannah. He gives her a double portion. That’s his love letter to her. It’s affirming the value she has in his life, even though she doesn’t have children. Let me tell you, the customs of the day is he could have divorced her. He could have gotten rid of her because she didn’t have children.
Craig and I had such an experience. We were in Cairo, Egypt with an Egyptologist in an Indian restaurant. It was like a scene out of a Humphrey Bogart movie. This large Egyptian man was going on, talking about his wife who had given him two fine daughters. He was talking about how much he loved his daughters and how much he loved his wife. Then he took a slow drag off of his cigarette and blew a circle of smoke in the air. Then he looked at Craig and me and said, “But it’s time for me to get another wife.” I thought he was being facetious at first, so treading lightly, I said, “Why would you get a second wife?” And he said, “Because my first one hasn’t given me any sons, and I need sons.”
This is the 21st century in Egypt. Islamic law allows him to take up to four wives. So you understand that he could have gotten rid of Hannah because she wasn’t creating the lineage that was mandatory. Your value, your worth, your place in history was predicated on your progeny—Hannah didn’t produce; Peninnah did. Yet, in the midst of all of that, what do we see? We see that Elkanah loved Hannah. He gave her a double portion.
Now, do you think that made Peninnah feel real good? I don’t think so, and I think Scripture tells us a lot about that. But I want to go back to what we just read before we go on to the next verse. It said, “And the Lord closed her womb.” Uh-oh. We have a sovereignty issue here. Do you mean God could actually make someone infertile? Oh yes. That could be part of His good and perfect plan? Now this goes to the idea of saying exactly what Nancy told us before—He is God, we are not. What if it is God’s perfect plan that you never have children? Does it make Him a puny God? Does it make Him an insufficient God because you can’t have children? Or is He still the sovereign Lord of all, and part of His plan, where you might not be able to see the purpose or the outcome or the reason, He’s closed your womb? He’s closed her womb, but then . . . I love it when Scripture tells us, and then when they tell us the second time, if you didn’t get it, you better be paying attention the second go around.
So look what we read: "And the Lord closed her womb. And because the Lord had closed her womb . . ." (verse 6). Comma—before we go on, do you understand what the Scriptures are saying? Don’t miss this. This was God, in His sovereignty, closing her womb.
Oh God, You are God. I am not.
Can you accept His will for your life right now, even if it isn’t what you want? Even if the outcome . . . “But God, I want to be married.” What if God says, “No”? “God, I want children.” What if God says, “No”? “God, heal my husband.” What if God says, “No”?
Does it start chipping away at His love for you? Do you start saying, “I can’t trust You.” Why? Because He’s not the ATM of our prayer request? Because He doesn’t give us what we want? Because in our boastful nature we can presume to know what in fact is best for us? If everything is pushed through the grid of His love—and it is—can we trust Him? Can we trust Him? I think often we say, “Oh God, I love You,” so easily. But how we balk at saying, “But God, I also trust You.”
So we go on to read this interesting soap opera, except it’s no fake story; it’s so real. “The Lord closed her womb, and her rival—who’s the rival? Peninnah—and her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on (and underline it again) year after year.”
Dear ones, Peninnah’s more than a pain in the neck. She’s worthy of being strangled. She’s been doing this year after year after year. Scripture doesn’t tell us, but we can use our sanctified imagination—you’re a fertile woman, you’ve had multiple sons, multiple daughters, the other wife is barren. She’s riveting her criticism against Hannah. How does she do it?
[moan] “Oh Hannah, could you get me some water from the well? My legs are so swollen, and I’ve been dealing with leg cramps. You know how it is when you’re pregnant—oh that’s right, you don’t know how it is when you’re pregnant.” Oh, we can be catty. That hasn’t changed in hundreds of years. So you have to just sort of imagine what Peninnah was doing to drive Hannah to the brink. Obviously she had children, but obviously there was a deep animosity there. Year after year, and she has to live in the same household with this woman.
What would your perspective be? If it was God’s good and perfect plan, and there was this absolutely obnoxious and irritating person in your life that, no matter what, the person couldn’t go away, would you just say, “That’s a mistake,” or would you say, “God,” as Nancy just said so beautifully with the lemon [squeezing sound] and what’s that going to bring out in us? Sometimes God allows obnoxious people in our life for a reason—those are lessons I’m not real fond of—but He does.
“Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival . . .” I love the way that she’s referred to—not by name but “her rival.” Does that tell you the adversarial position this woman had? She’s not called Peninnah. Twice now she’s referred to as “her rival.” “Her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat.”
Now I don’t think you have to be a clinical psychologist to realize that, dear ones, she was depressed. Have you ever been so depressed that you just say, “Yuk, the idea of food is nauseating”? Or just to be weeping so much that you can’t draw your breath? You’ve cried like that; I know you have, and this woman just goes after her constantly, constantly, constantly, draws her to the brink of depression. “I don’t want to eat. I can’t stop crying. Oh God, when will it stop?” But how does Hannah press on? How does Hannah press on?
Elkanah her husband would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Come on, why don't you eat? Why are you so downhearted? Don't I mean more to you than ten sons?”
Oh, this is a tricky question. This is a very tricky question, because on the one hand, “Oh, yes, I love you.” Oh, not really, because she’s conflicted on what her desires are. Obviously Hannah’s living in this household where maternity is your security. It is your affirmation, your reason for living in this particular culture, and let me tell you, it was considered a shame.
You go back and you read some of the stories. Rachel told Jacob that if she didn’t have children, she would die. Hannah thought her childlessness was a punishment from God. Elizabeth knew the reproached looks she got from people all around her, and she thought maybe she’d done something to make God mad. In Luke we read, when John was born, she knew that the Lord had “taken away my disgrace.” This was more than just an infertility problem. This was a validation issue, and she’s not being validated.
So what happens? Well, he asks her this question, and obviously it isn’t ten sons, counting ten. It’s a wonderful euphemism for meaning a big family. He’s got one with Peninnah. “Don’t I mean more to you than a big family?” Well, you’ll notice what her answer was—oh that’s right, we don’t read it. I find that interesting. We’ll have to get to Glory and ask her, “Say, when he asked you that, what you were really thinking?” She doesn’t answer.
“Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up.” I love the Scriptures. It’s just like this 2 x 4 reading it one day. “Hannah stood up.” Why would the Bible take the time to tell you what her posture was? “Hannah stood up.” Can I tell you what I think? This may be extra-biblical, but I’m just going to, from one sister to another, share it to you.
I think it had everything to do with the idea that when she stood up, somewhere between the spaces of those words, she had said, “This is it. I have got to get to a place in my life where I completely surrender this to God. I’ve got to let go. So I’m going to go up to the temple, and I’m going to lay this at His feet.” The standing up in Scripture, my two cents, is an outward quiet affirmation of the, “I’m going to stand on my trust in You.” So the standing up was the position of her heart at that point, and there’s evidence to that as we move on to see exactly what happened. So she stands up.
“Now Eli the priest was sitting on a chair by the doorpost of the Lord's temple. In bitterness of the soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord” (verses 9-10). Can I just stop right there? Now, there might be a whole lot of us in this room, but there’s an intimacy among us, isn’t there, because women have women talk, and women understand women talk. (Sorry, Craig, you just don’t get this.)
But women really do have this women talk, and here’s what I know: I bet you, to the person in this room, in the middle of the night, you have tear-stained your pillow, or you’ve said goodbye to somebody and buried your face in your hands and sobbed until you didn’t think you could draw your breath, or when the house was finally empty, you hit the floor of your kitchen, and you poured out your heart to God. So when it talks about bitterness of soul, you know what that means. “Oh God, I can’t . . . I’m letting go. I’m so beside myself. If You are God, reveal Yourself to me.”
And you know what I think? I think our Abba loves those prayers, because we’re at a place where all we can do is say, “Daddy—Daddy, just pick me up in Your everlasting arms of love and wrap them around me. Quiet me with Your singing, like the Scriptures say, hide me under the shadow of Your wing. Let me know You’re there. Let me just crawl up on Your lap and be rocked and cared for.” Yes, He’s a magnificent, awe inspiring, holy King. But the great dichotomy of our faith is He is still our Father, which, by the way, makes us princesses, which is a pretty cool idea!
So when you see this bitterness of her soul, when she’s crying out, “and she made a vow.” Now let me just stop you right here. This Book says a whole lot about vows, and you do not mess with vows. If you make a vow to the Lord, you better be serious about it. Let your yea be yea. When they would make vows in the Old Testament, they’d actually stick it inside the thigh. That’s how they would do it with another man. If they made a vow between two people, it was that sealing act between one person to another person. What I find interesting is that she makes this vow—and what a vow it is. Could you have done this?
“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” (verse 11). Dear ones, she could—most of us would—have ended the prayer at that point. “Give me a son.” That’s the self-evident want, is it not? But oh my, she does not end the prayer there. She says, “Then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life.”
Just stop and let that trickle down from your brain into your heart. Wait a minute—the one thing she’s begging God for is a son, more than anything else—bitterness and ridicule from Peninnah, emptiness of her womb, knowing it’s been closed by God, “Oh God, give me a son; give me a son.” This is perfectly logical, perfectly reasonable, perfectly understandable, and then—“I’ll give him right back to You.”
Could you have prayed that? Could you say, “God, if You’ll give me the one thing I want more than anything on the face of this planet, I’ll turn right around, and I’ll give it back to You.” How could she do that? Because she was God-centered. Because her relationship with the living God said, “Lord, I will trust You. I can surrender myself to You. I so believe in Your provision and Your compassion and Your care. God, give him to me, and let me show You how much I love You by giving him back to You.” That is truly a magnificent prayer.
Then she goes on to say that “no razor will ever be used on his head" (verse 11). No one will ever cut a hair on his head. Hair has significance, particularly in the Old Testament. It was a form of protection, a form of covering. So she was almost being a bit prophetic, not even knowing this son, what his name would be, how he would be used. “Oh God, I ask for Your protection, not a hair on his head will be cut.”
So what happens? Well, she keeps on praying to the Lord, and Eli observed her mouth. Now, let me tell you about the temple. Picture this: This is why all these different aspects of Bible study are so important, the anthropology, the history, the cultural issues, it just makes these stories that much more alive. This was not like the temple in Jerusalem. This would have been a different kind of temple. Temple, yes, but it would have been pillars, and it would have been pieces of linen. So the wind would have blown, and even though she would have been standing back in the place where the women could be, as the wind blew the linen, Eli the priest could turn, and he could see her praying.
Picture that moment—crying out. Have you ever done that? Have you ever cried out to God in absolute silence, but your lips move, just because it’s just percolating up, and so you move your lips when you’re praying? I bet every single one of us have done that. Sometimes you just can’t stop it. You just want to mouth it because it’s just coming out of you as you petition our great King and stand boldly before His Throne of Grace.
So what does Eli do? Eli watches her. Because Hannah was praying in her heart and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard, Eli thought, “She’s drunk.” Now, is this not maddening? She gets it from Peninnah for years. She goes up to the temple to pray for that which she has made a vow, says she’s going to turn right around and give it to Him, pours out her heart to God, and the priest says, “You’re drunk.” And notice what the language is—this is something else that jumped out at me—he said, "How long will you keep on drinking?” (verse 14).
Oh, the slander in that statement. It’s not just a matter of being momentarily drunk. He makes this quantum assumption that she’s an alcoholic, which, by the way, was a big deal in those days. It would have not at all been uncommon to have a bunch of people—remember, the temple’s defiled, the country is in disarray—so he’s accusing her now of being a drunkard. Boy do I love her response. Now I’ve got to tell you, in my flesh, I would have turned and lunged, and I would have wanted to take his throat out with my teeth. She doesn’t do that.
He says, “Get rid of your wine,” and look what she does. Remember the Scripture says a soft answer turneth away wrath? You don’t overcome evil with anger, you overcome evil with good. Look at what this true woman of God does in her response. In quietude and in femininity, she says, “Not so, my lord. I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer” (verse 15). I love the words “wine or beer.” What do you do with liquor? You pour it. She says, “I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”
Now Scripture does not record an apology on Eli’s part, and yet, look at the way she conducted herself. Is there not a lesson there for us as women of God? The gentle spirit, the way in which she responded, the false accusation, and look at the gracious way in which she responds.
So Eli then says, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of Him” (verse 17). It was believed at that time that when the priest made that kind of a statement, they were in many respects being prophetic. So if the priest said, she had a pretty good sense that maybe—maybe—her prayer was going to be answered. So she said, “May your servant find favor in your eyes, and then she went home and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast" (verse 18).
What is it about food and feeling good? Ah—I love it. Things go better with food, that’s the problem. So she has something to eat. I love the timeline. The wonderful thing about Scripture is you can read chapter 1 to chapter 2 like this and you’re done in five minutes. When you read the biography of Hannah, you have to walk through this experience trying to see it from her vantage point. She doesn’t know how this story is going to end. She just had to trust God, doesn’t she? You and I get to know how the story ends, but we get to peer into her experience and watch how she trusted Him every step of the way.
So what happens? “Early in the morning they arose and worshiped before the Lord, and then they went back to their home in Ramah. Elkanah lay with his wife [now check the time on this] and the LORD remembered her. So in the course of time Hannah conceived” (verses 19-20). You know what that means? It means Elkanah knew her. I don’t think she got pregnant right away, because it said, “in the course of time.”
So you know what that means? Again, it’s not illustrated here in any depth, but again, understanding this idea of “trust and obey for those no other way.” She said, “Okay, I made my vow, Lord. You give me a son, I’m going to give him back to You. All the days of his life he’ll be Yours, my way of thanking You for your sovereign gift and mercy and love for Your servant.”
She gets a false accusation from the priest. She doesn’t return fire. She’s gracious and loving, thanks the priest, goes home, and then “in the course of time.” She’s still walking by faith, trusting in every moment of the way—“Was the priest right? Will I conceive? Will I have a son? Oh Peninnah, not today.” She was yet still trusting Him every step of the way.
“In the fullness of time, she conceives and gives birth to a son, and she names him Samuel, saying, ‘Because I asked the Lord for him’” (verse 20). Wow. The story doesn’t end there. Now she wants to dedicate him, because the vow is, “Lord, You give me a son; I’m going to give him back to You, all the days of his life.” This is tough. You want this baby boy. This baby boy has been turning under your heart, he’s been kicking and rolling and having the hiccups. You now have the leg cramps that Peninnah had. You know what all of this is about. Every day of that nine-month-period of gestation, every little movement, every little thump, every little kick, she had to give up a quiet prayer that said, “Yes, Lord, he’s Yours. Yes, Lord, he’s Yours.”
She didn’t relinquish once. She relinquished over and over and over and over, reminding us, dear ones, of the profound reality that our children do not now, nor have they ever belonged to us. They are His. We are simply in a lend-lease program. He gives us permission to touch their hearts and their minds, to teach them, to write truth on the tablets of their heart, to help them to know and love the Savior, to get them to know and love His Word, but in the end, they’re His and His alone. This was driven home to me in a powerful way.
One night in the middle of the night Craig and I got a phone call, and standing in front of our door at 3 o’clock in the morning was a police officer who said, “Do you have a son named Sam?” And we said, “Yes.” And he said, “Your son’s been shot in the head, and we don’t know if he’s dead or alive.” And for three hours in the middle of the night, driving through the Blue Ridge Mountains, all we could do was hold hands and pray quietly, not knowing if, when we got there, our Samuel would be alive or dead.
In the quietude of that night, God gently reminded me, “Janet, he never did belong to you.” All I could say was, “Thank You, Father God, he knows You as Lord. If he’s gone, he is now absent from the body and in Your presence. If he is not gone, You are the Great Physician, and You’ve gone before us, and how I praise You and thank You.” All the way through the night I had to feel my grip loosen because I realized he wasn’t mine, he was His.”
When Sammy was born, I would say constantly, “For this child I prayed, and the Lord hath given me my petition which I have asked of Him.” It’s easy to say it at the beginning, but what if I had to let go of him before I thought it was the right time? Thanks be to God. Sammy recovered after many, many long months of therapy and rehab, and now he’s married, and he has given us three grandchildren. Our God is an awesome God.
So what does Hannah do? “So now when the man Elkanah went up with his family to offer the annual sacrifice to the Lord and to fulfill his vow, Hannah didn’t go. She said to her husband, ‘After the boy is weaned, I will take him and present him before the Lord, and he will live there always’” (verses 21-22). Wow. Wow.
Let me tell you again about the customs of the day. When they weaned, back in those days, the average time for weaning was three years of age. So that meant for three years—three years—three years she taught him how to tie his sandals. She taught him how to do his job, to say his prayers, to make his little cot. She taught him how to fold his hands and give a blessing before he ate his food. She taught him how to worship at the temple, raised him in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. And every single day for Hannah, wife of Elkanah, second wife to Peninnah, Hannah knew she was one more day closer to giving him up.
How in the world did she do that? She did it because she was a true woman of God. She did it because her life was God-centered, not self-centered. She had a million reasons, even by today’s modern standards, to say, “Me. Me. I got short-changed. This is my boy. Forget it, God. I was in a moment of frustration, I didn’t mean that.” She didn’t do that! She trusted God. “Lord, I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know that You hold the future. You gave me this child, and, Father, I’m going to keep my vow, and I’m going to give him back to You, and he will be Yours all the days of his life.” So she surrendered—she surrendered. She said, “Yes, Lord.” That’s how she did it. How else could you possibly do that? And in so doing, she becomes this magnificent role model for us and what it means to be a true woman.
So she does it, and you understand that she has to have the approval of her husband at this point, because what does he say? He says, “Do what seems best to you. Stay here until you have weaned him, and only may the Lord make good His word, and the woman stayed home and nursed her son until she had weaned him” (verse 23). So the vow had the affirmation of her husband. It was his boy, too, you realize. She had the support of her husband. She kept that word, and every day, in the nurturing and the loving and the cradling—his little fevered brow when his first couple of teeth came in, that cradling him at night when he woke up and he was frightened, and she hugged him and rocked him—she knew when he was three she would take him . . . At three—they’re still babies at three—but look at the intimacy of the nursing.
Turn if you can to Isaiah 49:15—just to go to this point where God understands this connection between a mother and the nursing that goes on. Isaiah 49:15, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she’s born? Though she may forget, I will never forget you.” Do you realize how unbelievably profound that is?
Here’s the God of all creation who even comes up with this idea of nursing babies, of that connectedness, that unbelievable bond between a mother and her child. When that young baby’s very life, his sustenance, is drawn from the mother, those moments when he falls asleep in your arms and you smell that sweet baby hair, and he curls his finger around yours as he’s nursing, yet the Scripture says you’re going to forget that some day. But you know what, as profound, as intimate, as nurturing as that moment is, our great God turns to us and says, “I will never forget you.”
Does that take your breath away? “I will never forget you.” As intimate, as maternal, as universal as that experience is of a mother nursing her child, that will fade, but “I will never forget you.” How deep and wide and vast is the love our Father has for us.
So we go on. And “after he was weaned, she took the boy with her, young as he was, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh. When they had slaughtered the bull, they brought the boy to Eli, and she said”—basically, “Remember me? Remember me?” “As surely as you live, my lord, I’m the woman who stood beside you praying to the Lord. I prayed for this child [I prayed for this child], and the Lord has granted me what I have asked of Him, so now I give him to the Lord, for his whole life he will be given over to the Lord. And he worshiped there” (verses 24-28).
That’s amazing. It’s absolutely amazing that she does that—that she surrenders and gives him to him. Well, we have her prayer. Let me skip through that one moment. I’ll come back in a minute, and then we read about Eli’s wicked sons. Now, this is also interesting, because these were bad, bad boys—Hophni and Phinehas were not good guys at all. They were stealing from the Lord’s sacrifice. They were going into the pot and taking out of the sacrificial pot the food, the offering that should have gone to the Lord. Well, their story doesn’t end well, trust me. You’ll have to look it up, and this is the same man with these bad boys that you’re entrusting your son to. For Eli, it was almost a second chance. For Samuel, it was a profound teacher.
So we go on and we read, if you fast forward through the second chapter, and you get to verse 18, chapter 2, “but Samuel was ministering before the Lord, a boy wearing a linen ephod.” Now, that was like a sleeveless jacket that was worn over the tunic, and the Scripture says “each year his mother made him a little robe.” It could have just said robe, but the fact that it said “little robe” reminds us women that he was still a little boy. Once a year she gets to see him and bring him a new coat—once a year. She took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice. What would it be like? “Oh, Samuel, how big you’ve gotten. Oh, Samuel, I never noticed how blue your eyes are. Oh, Samuel, do you remember me? Oh, Samuel, you belong to God.”
When they got back and turned around to go back to Ramah, in the quiet journey back home again, did she think to herself, “One more year before I get to see him again,” or did she think, “Oh, God, You’re so gracious. You’re so kind. You gave me what I prayed for. Father, what a joy it was to be able to turn right around and give him back to You.” I think it was the latter. I think it was the latter.
“And Eli blessed Elkanah and his wife, saying, ‘May the Lord give you children by this woman to take the place of the one she prayed for and gave it to the Lord.’ And they would go home, and the Lord was gracious to Hannah, and she conceived and gave birth to three sons and two daughters.” Take that, Peninnah.
Now she didn’t know when she gave up her son that that was going to happen, but look how God is—exceedingly, abundantly beyond what we could ask for. “Son, I’m going to give you a quiver full of kids. Hannah, do you trust Me? Are you willing to surrender to Me? Do I love you?” Amazing story.
So, meanwhile, the boy Samuel grew in the presence of the Lord. How amazing this was. So we read the prayer of this praying mother. There’s a wonderful parallel here to the story of Moses’ mama. She does the same thing. He gets rescued out of Pharaoh’s court. She takes him and hides him until she can’t hide him anymore, puts him in a basket and sends him down the Nile, where Pharaoh’s daughter just “happens” to be bathing. Pharaoh’s daughter gets the baby, and she goes, “Hmmm, I need someone to help feed the baby,” and the baby’s sister says to the Pharaoh’s daughter, “I just happen to know a lactating Levite down the road a piece.” So she gets the baby back, she takes care of the baby, she grows the baby for three years—identical experience to exactly what Hannah had—three years, every day, letting go, turns him back, takes him to Pharaoh’s court, and she doesn’t even get to name him. Pharaoh’s daughter calls him Moses. “I drew you out of the water.” It’s amazing—the prayers of a mother.
We read the Magnificat—how Mary, when she hears this good news says, “Oh God, let Your will be done.” Let Your will be done.
So Hannah prays for a boy who changed a nation. Mary prayed and was given a Boy who would change the world. The prayers of a righteous mother availeth much. I think that there’s something we can learn as praying women, and that is this: Whether you have biological children or not, we are all spiritual mamas to somebody, and we can be praying—single women, childless women, women with a quiver full of children, women who’ve never had any children—God has put us in the position of being true women for children through prayer. I think only this: When we’re finally in Glory, we’ll be able to meet the people that we’ve been praying for steadfastly.
But Hannah’s story teaches us exactly what it means to be a true woman of God. Her life was God-centered. She let go of her own plans and said, “God, You’re in charge. I’m not.” She then trusted God and said, “God, I believe You can answer this prayer. I believe it so much, I’m going to go home. I’m going to eat something. I feel good. I’m trusting You completely. I can believe in You.” And then she said, “Yes, Lord. Yes, Lord. Yes, Lord. Yes, Lord.”
This is a very powerful story, but it’s a very tough story, because it was motherhood as God’s refining fire. When we have babies, we think of fuzzy blankets and rattles and toys and Baby Einstein. But the reality is that when you have a baby, sometimes, that is God’s custom-designed refiner’s fire—the surrendering, the letting go, the trusting and believing that He is God.
It’s an amazing story. Hannah is a profound example of what it means to be a true woman of God. May we, like she, live lives that are God-centered, learning to trust Him completely, and then saying, “Yes, Lord. Yes, Lord.”
Our gracious Heavenly Father, we bow in humility and thanks. We read this story of this woman. She had ups and downs. She was ridiculed, Father. She suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous criticisms in her own home. She was ridiculed by the religious leader of the day, and, Father, she never took her eyes off You. She trusted You. She knew You were in control, even when she didn’t know the outcome of the story and didn’t know that her story would be written in the Eternal Book that You are the author of. She trusted You. She surrendered it all to You, Father. She said, “Yes, Lord.”
She is exemplary of what it means to be a true woman of God. I thank You for her story, and I pray tonight, Father, regardless of what position we have, whether we be a biological mother or not; that we would be spiritual mothers; that You would open our eyes to women who need our prayers, to children who need our prayers; that we would fling open our arms, Father. By being a true woman of God, we would be the nurturers to the children that You Yourself have placed in our lives, whether they be biological or friends or family or adoptive or foster or a child we’re praying for on the other side of the earth. May we remember our role as spiritual mothers.
Oh, God, thank You for this story. Thank You for a prophet that would change a nation, but thank You even more for a mother who trusted You enough to say, “Yes, Lord. Yes, Lord.” In Your Son’s precious name, we say, “amen and amen.”
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