A Full View of the Father

God is a Spirit; He wants us to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth.

OK, Happy Mother’s Day to everyone who is a mom and everyone who had one.  In honor of the day, we are going to look at the ways the Bible uses motherhood as an example of God’s love for His people.

We need to be careful, even more so than usual, of confusing the imagery with the reality.  On Mother’s Day, sentimental feelings abound, but as is the case with all things in this world, the reality is more complicated.  Let me give you a couple examples.

First, over a decade ago, an email story made the rounds, telling about a report published in National Geographic magazine about a mother bird killed in a forest fire.  When walking through the area after the fire was extinguished, rangers found a bird’s body “petrified in ashes.”  A little heart-sick by the sight, they attempted to break up the corpse by knocking it over with a stick.  When they did so, three little chicks scurried out from behind the body, unharmed.

This inspirational email drew a moral to this story about motherhood and the kind of loyalty mothers feel for their children, sometimes even defending them at the loss of the mother’s life.  It’s a great and inspiring tale, and it’s also not true.

National Geographic denies having printed such a story and officials at Yellowstone national park deny having had or publicized such an experience.  Worse still, one of their bird experts said that for a bird to sacrifice herself in such a way was contrary to all we know about bird behavior.

I offer this solely as a cautionary tale about how the world is more complicated than our symbols can hope to account for.  The best way to honor moms is with real memories of them in the fullness of who they are or were.  Sentiment can get in the way of truth more subtly than an outright lie.

Second, some of you may remember the furor started by a women’s conference held in 1993 in Minneapolis.  It was called a “Re-imaging Conference” in which the 2200 attendees were invited to “re-imagine” God as a woman.  It was hoped that this exercise of imagination might ultimately empower women to overcome bias and a culture that oppressed them because of their gender.

What made headlines about the conference was not anything it did to help women, but the flaky stuff that happened there in unbiblical and ill-advised attempts to be provocative and turn male-dominated culture and theology upside down.  One example is worship directed at Sophia, a goddess of worship.

Some may claim that the conference was well-intended, but got hijacked along the way by pagans and feminists.  The extremists got all the attention and the more orthodox elements were ignored.

Here we are 25 years later.  I think it’s fair to ask what difference this conference made.  I read a speech given by one of the participants trying to defend the conference.  It was thin stuff.  Personally, I think attempts to paint over centuries of Christian teaching and tradition were unwise and did little, if anything, to expand our faith or our public life.  Gender inequality still exists.  The Re-imaging Conference is a trivia question that only serves as an illustration of how divided we can become when the extremists are allowed to frame the discussion.

All of that to say this: the Bible declares God is our Father, but also uses motherly images to show the comforting and protective aspects of His character.  A full view of God acknowledges both.  Further, a full view of God acknowledges That He is a spiritual being, a higher form of personhood that is not limited to one gender.  When we say God is our Father, we are not saying He has a physical form like dear old dad.  We are not saying He has any gender.  We are saying that He has acted toward us in ways we understand as being typically masculine and in ways we understand as being typically feminine.  When doing theology, we need to be careful about mistaking our words for the reality.  God is greater than our words.  Otherwise, we fall into error akin to that seen at the Re-imaging Conf.

  1. There are Bible Verses that Compare God to a Human Mother.

For a long time I [God] have kept silent, I have been quiet and held myself back. But now, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant. (Isaiah 42:14)  It is comforting to know that God has promised to save His people.  More than that, He is EAGER to do it.  His eagerness is similar to that experienced by a pregnant woman eager to have her baby.  Sometimes other people get eager for the day to arrive!

As a mother comforts her child, so will I [God] comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem. (Isaiah 66:13)  We have good biological and cultural reasons to associate comfort with mothers. The fact that God comforts His people in a way like a mother’s comfort of her child does not mean that God possesses a feminine gender; this is a figure of speech that is meant to have an emotional association.

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I [God] will not forget you! (Isaiah 49:15) It’s comforting to know that even though He brings discipline and allows us to suffer trials, God has not forsaken His people.  Using this metaphor, Isaiah invoked the steadfast love a mother shows her children.

  1. There are Bible verses that compare God to a Mother Bird and a Mother Bear.

A common image of God is of a mother bird sheltering her chicks under her wings.  We can look at six examples.

May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.  (Ruth 2:12)  The word for WING can also be translated as “skirt” for a woman’s garment or “robe” for a man’s garment.  This imagery can be applied to avian and human moms.

Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings. (Psalm 17:8)  In v. 7, David asked God to show THE WONDER OF YOUR GREAT LOVE.  Apparently God answered this prayer as in v. 8 he offered this image of a protective bird as an illustration of God’s wonderful love.

I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed. (Psa. 57:1)  In this verse, the psalmist is calling out for God’s MERCY, not his love, but the analogy of a protective bird is used again.

He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge. (Psalm 91:4) In v. 3, the reader is promised to be saved from THE FOWLER’S SNARE, doubling down on the bird imagery.  The psalmist is the bird trying to elude the hunter and God is the parent bird giving him a safe shelter from the hunter.

Jesus renewed these images when he lamented over Jerusalem: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” (Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34)  Jesus expressed His grief over the people’s unwillingness to recognize Him as their Messiah.  In so doing, He drew from the Old Testament passages we’ve read and puts Himself in the role of the divine mother hen.  His heart’s desire was to save His people from their sin and the city from destruction, but they utterly refused the refuge He offered.

A variation of this image looks to mother eagles, which are known to teach their eaglets to fly by pushing them out of the nest but catching them before they plunge to their doom. “[God] guarded [Jacob] as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them aloft.” (Deuteronomy 32:10-11)  This infers that though we have times in our lives that it feels like God has tossed us out to fly or die, He is watching over us to catch us before we truly hit bottom.

The other side of these biblical images of motherly warmth is the fierce protection momma gives when her young are threatened.  In another observation of nature but with a different animal, Hosea 13:8 reads, Like a bear robbed of her cubs, I will attack them and rip them open,” says the Lord.

There are three wild animals mentioned in this chapter; lion, leopard, and bear.  All three were native to that land and were notorious for their relentless and ferocious natures in killing prey, especially in defense of their young.  The maternal instinct can produce wrath as well as warmth. Beware the fury of a mother whose cubs are threatened!  This is not a sentimental mother-image, but it is comforting to know that God will protect us and will make things right.

  1. But God is Never Called “Mother.”

We’ve seen how the Bible uses maternal images to describe the character and action of God.  However, the Bible never uses feminine gender for God and never called God “our heavenly mother”.

Some people will explain that by citing that the Bible writers lived in a patriarchal culture.  While I think you can argue that point, it still surprises no one that in such a culture, it would be expected to use masculine pronouns for God.

On his internet blog, Shiao Chong offers a better reason. It is his point that the Bible writers would never call God “Mother” because the pagan religions of the day had idols of a “Mother Nature” kind.  They made an idol in a female form, a Mother Goddess, because they hoped to create fertility by worshiping her.  This was not an attempt to glorify women, but to gain some control over nature by personifying it.  Unlike modern pagans, calling god “mother” was never about empowering women. It was about glorifying nature.  God inspired the Bible writers to use metaphors of the fatherly qualities of God with motherly qualities, as need be.

Fatherly qualities are not meant to suggest that God has a masculine gender, nor do the motherly qualities prove that God has a feminine gender.  Together, they prove that God is not limited to a gender as we are: He is greater than both.

God is a Spirit; He wants us to worship Him as Spirit and as Truth.

There are not many verses that present God in a female way but they are part of the Bible and they present a side of God we need to convey more often.  If we were to attempt something similar, we could say of God, “He is like a grandma who puts your coloring pages on her refrigerator.”

Using figures of speech like this does not change our belief about the person of God – He is a spiritual being, without gender – but they help us understand, by association, the characteristics we typically associate with fathers and mothers.  The figures of speech do not define the reality of God, they describe Him to us in symbolic terms that have personal and emotional terms.

We’ve seen that the love of God is protective, comforting, loving, and sheltering.  Those are qualities that some Bible writers used motherhood to illustrate. At this moment you may be wondering if this has anything to do with anything other than theology.

ON A THEOLOGICAL LEVEL: We need to understand what God is saying to us.  God has promised to love His people.  He has declared His love in His desire to comfort, nurture, and protect us. In this relatively short supply of verses, those qualities have been illustrated by examples of motherhood.  These are beautiful and sentimental images that deserve to be heard as such, not used as flimsy justification for re-imaging God.  God does not need a “hostile makeover!”  Let’s defend our theology on this point.

ON A RELATIONAL LEVEL: Genesis 1:27 tells us that God created human beings of both genders in His image.  This verse makes it clear that no one is “more like God” because of our gender.  So this discussion has ramifications for something utterly essential, like our gender and our identity as men and women.  The truth is; both genders together that most completely portray the image of God.

ON A PRACTICAL LEVEL: an application can be found for parents: mothers and fathers must follow God’s example to be the kind of parents He wants us to be.  He is our Father and we must refer to God as such, but He shows us love in forms that we might consider masculine and feminine.

RESOURCES

Shiao Chong’s Blog: “A Reformed Christian’s views on the Christian faith and its engagement with culture and all areas of life.”  https://3dchristianity.wordpress.com/2011/05/06/biblical-maternal-images-for-god/

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary

 

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Turns Out Samson Had Parents

Please read Judges 13 in your well-worn Bible.  I have used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Focus on the Family founder James Dobson James Dobson told about a mother who was sick in bed with the flu. Her little daughter wanted so much to be a good nurse, she brought mom an extra pillow and a magazine to read. And then she even showed up with a cup of tea. Her surprised mother took a sip and said, ”Wow! I didn’t even know you knew how to make tea!”

The girl said excitedly, ”Oh, yes. I learned by watching you. I put some water in the pot, put the tea leaves in, and I boiled the water, and then I strained it into a cup. But I couldn’t find the strainer, so I used the flyswatter instead.”

Her mother set the tea cup down and said, ”You what?!”

”Oh, don’t worry, mom,” the little helper exclaimed.  “I didn’t use the new flyswatter; I used the old one.”
Being a mom is not easy! One woman who said, ”Before I was married, I had three theories about raising children. Now, I have three children and no theories.”
Moms know motherhood can be everything from exhilarating to exhausting.  So today it is very appropriate to pause and say ”Thank You” to our mothers and thank God for them.

Tdoay we’re going to hold up Samson’s mother as a good example of motherhood.  Even though we don’t know her name, she distinguished herself as a quick-witted, faithful, and reasonable woman.  Samson became a biblical hero because of his mother’s obedience to the revealed will of God.

  1. Context: what’s happening in that part of Judges?

On a national level, we look to verse one and find that Israel was virtually hostage to the Philistines.  Israel’s cycles of evil resulting in suffering, crying out to the Lord, and deliverance are so typical verse one is almost formulaic. The cycle went from Idolatry to Oppression to Repentance to Deliverance, then back to Idolatry.

The EVIL they did was part of worshipping idols; forsaking the true God for false ones.  The discipline they suffered as a result was being DELIVERED into the hands of one of a pagan nation.  The length of Philistine domination – 40 years – is the longest such period in Judges.

The people cried out in their distress and God bailed them out once again.  At this stage of their history, the people God used to bail them out were called “judges:” that’s where the title of the book comes from.

On a personal scale, we turn to verse two to find out about Samson’s parents and Samson’s divine origin.  The surprising part is that they were childless at the time.

Strange as it may seem, biblical accounts of childless women are typical Mother’s Day sermon material: think of Sarah, Hannah, and Elizabeth.  (We save Mary for Christmas.) The Bible says that children are a gift from God.  That’s true.  However, people of that time assumed that the opposite must also be true; that being childless was a sign of God’s disfavor, a mark of shame, maybe even an indication of hidden sin.  (In fact, a later Jewish reference, the Talmud, proverbially state that people who were blind, leperous, in slavery, or childless were “dead.”

The family lived in ZORAH, a town into which they relocated to escape the oppressions of the Philistines.  It was located 15 miles west of Jerusalem.

They were DANITES; descendents of Jacob’s son Dan.  Calling them a CLAN instead of a “tribe” may imply there weren’t too many DANITES left.  To be frank, the Danites were the “outlaw”  tribe of Israel.  They had a history of betraying the other tribes and were often at the pointy end of the oppressions of pagan nations.

  1. Samson was to become a Judge and Israel’s Deliverer (sorta).

The angelic messenger promised Mr. and Mrs. Manoah a child in verses three, six, and eight to fourteen.  In v. 3 he said, “YOU ARE GOING TO BE PREGNANT AND GIVE BIRTH TO A SON.”

In v. 6, in the way she summarizes her encounter with the angel, we see that Mrs. M was mostly clued in: She referred to the angel as a MAN OF GOD, a phrase usually used for prophets, judges, and kings.  Wrong, in this case.  Se said “HE LOOKED LIKE AN ANGEL OF GOD, VERY AWESOME.”   AWESOME is a word that meant “fear-producing;” it was often used to describe God.  But Mrs. M may have been so intimidated by her visitor that she was afraid to ask his name.  This is something Mr. M would do in v. 17, when the angel returned.

For his part, Mr. Manoah only slowly caught on.

One teensy detail Mrs. M did not tell Manoah as she recounted the instructions of her visitor was the matter of their son leading God’s people in overthrowing the Philistines.  So it’s clear that Manoah was sufficiently intimidated by the idea of fatherhood alone, and prayed to God for some guidance in how to BRING UP THE BOY WHO IS TO BE BORN.  In verses nine and ten, Manoah’s prayer was answered with a “Yes;” the angel came back.

In verses 11-14, Manoah asked the obvious questions first.  The more intrusive questions came later.

“ARE YOU THE MAN WHO TALKED TO MY WIFE?” and “WHAT IS TO BE THE RULE THAT GOVERNS THE BOY’S LIFE AND WORK?”  (The kid isn’t even born yet and dad is already putting him to work!)

The angel only directly answered the first question.  In answer to the second, he repeats only the instructions given to Mrs. M and also does not mention the whole “lead deliverer” thing either.  This may indicate the angel thought Manoah was showing a lack of faith and/or “the paralysis of analysis.”

Conditions that were attached to the promise; God required the male child be a NAZIRITE from birth to death and for his mother to be a Nazirite throughout her pregnancy (4-5, 7, 13-14).  (See Numbers 6 for the full set of Nazirite regulations.)

The name nazir (Hb) means “dedicated” or “consecrated.”  In general, being a NAZIRITE required keeping an extra set of laws to achieve a higher level of holiness.  In such a role Samson was said to be “DEDICATED TO GOD FROM THE WOMB.”  According to Numbers 6, a Nazirite vow was made by an adult man or woman and was to be kept for a limited period.  To make this vow on behalf of an unborn child and to make it for life are both unique to Samson.

The specifics included: “DRINK NO WINE OR OTHER FERMENTED DRINK” (in Numbers 6, all fruit of the grapevine is prohibited), “DO NOT EAT ANYTHING UNCLEAN,” and no trips to the barber; “WHOSE HEAD IS NEVER TO BE TOUCHED BY A RAZOR” (interestingly, the Nazirite’s head was shaved clean at the end of his or her time of commitment).”  The main concern about Samson was that he didn’t get a haircut (verse five).  I assume we all know how that worked out…?

Mrs. Manoah was commanded to observe these regulations because God knew what the mother consumed would become part of the child’s body as well.  He wanted Samson to be fully pure from birth.

God’s purpose in these extraordinary arrangements was pronounced by the angel: “HE WILL TAKE THE LEAD IN DELIVERING ISRAEL FROM THE HANDS OF THE PHILISTINES.”  God intended Samson to provide leadership for His people in overcoming their oppressors.  It also means he would not accomplish this deliverance alone; Samson was supposed to unite the people under his leadership and they would overthrow the Philistines by working together.

  1. Mr. Manoah misunderstood, then overreacted.

Biblically, angels never tolerate worship that belongs to God.  Mr. Manoah learned that lesson.   Whether or not there was an ulterior motive behind his offer of hospitality (15-16), what’s clear is that MANOAH DID NOT REALIZE THAT IT WAS THE ANGEL FROM THE LORD to whom he was speaking.

The question about the angel’s name (17-18) is not necessarily as innocent as it may appear.  In this culture, to know someone’s name was viewed as being able to somehow exercise power over them or know something special about them.  This made people in general reluctant to give out there name, just as we are supposed to be reluctant to give out personal information on the Internet (especially to Russian hackers).  As is always the case in the Bible, there is a refusal to answer that question directly; the angel replied, “IT IS BEYOND YOUR UNDERSTANDING.”  Or, “It is too wonderful for you,” a hint at his heavenly status.

If is only after the angel’s dramatic exit that Manoah understood, but then he overreacted a bit.  It took an over-the-top demonstration (19-21), but Mr. & Mrs. M were finally convinced.  After all, it’s not every day you see a blast of fire that reaches heaven AND your dinner guest ride it out of sight!  (Something similar happened when an angel appeared to another judge, Gideon, in 6:20-23.)

In verses 22-23 we read Manoah’s overreaction.  Everybody knows that if you see God, you are burnt toast because no one sees God and lives.  So Mr. M panics; “WE ARE DOOMED!”  (Think C3PO in all the Star Wars movies.)  But Mrs. M is a sensible sort and reasons that if God had only wanted to blow them up, He would not have accepted their sacrifice, nor would He have given them the promise of a child and instructions on her pre-natal behavior.

  1. God’s promise was kept.

Mrs. Manoah birthed a boy and named him Samson (24).  The name SAMSON is related to the Hebrew word for “sun,” but is exact meaning is not clear to us today.

What is clear is that the LORD was with him: HE GREW AND THE LORD BLESSED HIM (24).  Sounds a bit like Luke’s summary of the Jesus’ growing-up years: JESUS GREW IN WISDOM AND STATURE, AND IN FAVOR WITH GOD AND MAN (LKE 2:52).

The second detail in this line is also exceptional: THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD BEGAN TO STIR HIM (25).  That word STIR is from the Hebrew word salah (Hb) which meant “to rush upon; trouble.”  This is the only use of this word in the Bible, which is part of what I mean by “exceptional.”  IMHO, this word has a more aggressive sound to it than I would normally associate with the Holy Spirit.

It is also exceptional in its irony.  Of all the Judges, Samson is the one most often empowered by the Holy Spirit (see 14:6+19; 15:14) in the most unusual way and yet was the worst-behaved.  More on that as we develop this series of messages on Samson.

Ted Sutherland wrote an Internet account of a Mrs. Monroe who lives in Darlington, Maryland. “She’s the mother of 8 children. And except for a few interesting experiences, she’s just like any other mother across America.

“She came home one afternoon from the grocery store and everything looked pretty much the same, though it was a little bit quieter than usual. She looked into the middle of the living room and 5 of her darlings were sitting around in a circle, exceedingly quiet, doing something with an object in the middle of a circle. So she put down the sacks of groceries and walked over closely and looked and saw her kids playing with 5 of the cutest skunklets you can imagine.
“She was instantly terrified and she said, ‘Run children, run!’ Each child grabbed a skunk and ran, in 5 different directions. She was beside herself and screamed louder, more frantically, with great gusto. It so scared the children that each one squeezed his skunk! Guess what? Skunks don’t like to be squeezed!”

<Retrieved from https://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-ted-sutherland-humor-mothersday-discipline-3704 on 5/13/17.>

As much as we love mom, we realize she’s only human and doesn’t always give good advice.  However, godly moms like Mrs. M. have God’s help to transcend their humanity and obey God’s commands.

Samson had godly parents who loved him a great deal.  But were they always good parents?  You’ll have to come back next week to find that out.

Mother of the Year

I believe this is a real, historical account.  However, in the interests of dividing the narrative in a way that increases understanding, we will take a look at it as if it were a play unfolding on a stage right before our eyes.

Message: The size of Hannah’s sacrifice helped determine the size of Samuel’s contribution to the history of God’s people.

  1. Setting the stage (vs. 1-3).

Dramatis Personae:

Elkhanah – the husband – apparently a wealthy man, as he could afford two wives.  He is the only commoner mentioned in the books of Samuel and the Kings as having more than one wife.  Men of that time put a lot of emphasis on having sons to perpetuate the family name and receive their estate.

Peninnah – the other wife – the antagonist.  She had birthed several children but was jealous of the extra attention Elkhanah gave his barren bride.

Hannah – the first wife – the protagonist.  Having had no children felt to her like a curse so she sought to create favor with God.  But her name meant “grace,” so we know God is not far from her.

Eli – the priest – hopefully a better priest than father…

The Place: The family lived in the central part of Israel, in the tribal territory of Ephraim, just south of where the tabernacle (the tent-sanctuary in which Israel worshiped) was set up in Shiloh.

The Scene: the family’s annual pilgrimage to the tabernacle to offer their sacrifice for sin.

  1. Act One – Hannah’s Vow (vs. 4-18).

The annual pilgrimage was a big event because of its spiritual content and ritual, but it was also one of the few meals of the year when a big quantity of meat was served.  This is why vs. 4-8 go into such detail about dinner.

As the scene is acted out, it is a typical experience in the family.

– Peninnah and her children would all receive their portions of the roast.

– Elkhanah would attempt to console his barren wife with a double portion of meat.  This is a great man gift!!  MORE MEAT!  This is like giving the little woman a chain saw for Mother’s Day.

– Peninnah saw this as an act of favoritism and jealousy provoked her to irritate Hannah to distraction.  It’s possible that Elkhanah took Peninnah as a second wife because Hannah was infertile.  Peninnah meant “ruby,” but this gal was no gem.

– It may seem like Hannah had no sense of humor or tolerance for teasing on this subject, as Peninnah always provoked her to the point of tears and loss of appetite.

We need to remember that childlessness in that culture was commonly – if superstitiously – understood to be a sign of God’s disfavor.  It carried a big social stigma as well as the disappointment that couples in all cultures can feel when they have difficulties having children.  In this case, however, vs. 5-6 make it clear that Hannah’s childless condition was the will of the LORD.  This painful circumstance had greater consequence than the difficult emotions and relational strains it caused in the family.

Elkhanah again shows a man’s subtle touch when he asks, “DON’T I MEAN MORE TO YOU THAN TEN SONS?”  My guess is that Elkhanah is expressing a pretty inflated opinion of himself at this moment.

One commentator said this passage is the Bible’s best argument against polygamy!

Doing this scene over and over each year had a cumulative effect on Hannah.  So after the latest feast was over, she got up and excused herself and went to the tabernacle.  Of course, as a woman, she was not allowed to enter the sacred grounds, and knelt in prayer at the doorpost instead.

Hannah’s emotional state was no different on this day than it had been any of the previous years: she was full of BITTERNESS & WEPT MUCH.  BUT – the thing that was different was she prayed to the Lord and made a vow to Him (11).  She promised to give the child to the LORD.  She may have been trying to make peace with God, believing that she had done something to deserve this cursed status as barren.  Her vow was not a selfish one, but an unselfish one, since it involved giving her child back to the LORD.

The mention of uncut hair referred to the consecration of an individual to the LORD – they were especially dedicated to His service.  It was part of the Nazirite vow, for example.  Samson’s parents had done exactly the same thing in exactly the same situation.  This is how Samson ended up with long hair.  (Actually, these two accounts are very similar.  Samson ended up tragically, Samuel triumphantly.)  Maybe that’s where Hannah got the idea.

Numbers 6 allowed for such a vow to be made by an individual for himself.  Numbers 13 allowed for this kind of a vow to be made FOR an individual before birth; just as Hannah had done.

Eli is taking a breather from a busy day of animal sacrifices – imagine having to go to seminary AND butcher’s school to train for the priesthood – keeping an eye on Hannah.  He has reason to be suspicious: it was customary to pray aloud, not silently.  So when Eli saw Hannah’s lips moving but heard no words, he assumed the worst – that she had abused the feast day in a typical way – too much strong wine – and was drunk.  Of course, it was grief and not wine that caused her anguish and Hannah told Eli so.  To his credit, Eli saw Hannah’s earnestness and realized the error he had made.  His condemnation turned to blessing (17).  Note especially the words, “MAY THE GOD OF ISRAEL GRANT YOU WHAT YOU HAVE ASKED OF HIM.”

This next bit is to Hannah’s credit: Eli’s blessing had an immediate effect (18); Hannah was comforted.  She rejoined her family and joined them in the feast AND HER FACE WAS NO LONGER DOWNCAST.  This is an indicator of Hannah’s faith; the priest’s words she took as God’s and took it as an answer to her prayers.  Also, she was finally able to eat something.

  1. Act Two – Hannah’s Vindication (vs. 19-28).

The LORD vindicated Hannah’s faith by giving her kids!

See 1:19-21 = He gave her Samuel. He REMEMBERED her.  This does not mean God had ever forgotten Hannah, only that her own words are being used.  Samuel means “heard by God” and is her explanation of the child’s birth.  Hannah’s choice of words in vs. 27-28 give away her understanding of the situation.  Since Samuel was born as a result of her vow, she understood Samuel was “on loan” to her.  Therefore, as the original language makes clear, her bringing Samuel to the tabernacle and leaving him there is simply returning to God what truly belongs to Him.

It took two books of the Bible to relate the influence Samuel had on the history of Israel.

– He was a transitional figure from the rule of the judges to the rule of kings.  He was the last of the Judges.  When Samuel began his leadership, the twelve tribes were only loosely affiliated and scarcely able to keep enemy nations at bay.  By the end of his days, Israel was organized under King David, their borders secured by a powerful army and the greater power of the true God.

– Raised by a priest at the tabernacle, Samuel could not serve as a priest because he was not born into the priestly tribe of Levi.  Still, he lead Israel in worship and reformed the priesthood that had become corrupt under Eli’s mismanagement and his sons’ outright blasphemy.

– He also acted as a prophet and is regarded as the first of the OT prophets.

– Samuel was a great man whom God used mightily at a pivotal time in the history of His people.  Part of the explanation for that is this account of the unusual and divine aspects of his birth.

See 2:1-10 = God gave Hannah a song of prophecy.  The passage we read previous to the message is one of three songs God gave to special women – Miriam (Moses’ sister), Hannah, and Mary (mother of Jesus).  All of them are prophetic in the sense that they praise God for miraculous works He has done in the history of His people and the works He will do in the future to bring human destiny in line with His will.

See 2:21 = God gave Hannah three more sons and two daughters.  The text identifies this as an act of grace on God’s part, a sign of His blessing, the vindication of Hannah’s faith, the LORD’s “seal of approval.”  It is the “happily ever after” ending to Hannah’s story.  Biblically, having children is usually seen as a blessing:

– PSS 113:9 = HE SETTLES THE BARREN WOMAN IN HER HOME AS A HAPPY MOTHER OF CHILDREN.  PRAISE THE LORD.

– PSS 127:3 = SONS ARE A HERITAGE FROM THE LORD, CHILDREN A REWARD FROM HIM.

Additionally, Hannah vindicated her own faith by keeping her vow.

See 1:21-22 = It was customary for a mother to abstain from ceremonial worship until the child was weaned.  But notice that even here, from the beginning, Hannah’s intent was to follow through on her vow.  In that culture, it was customary to nurse a child for 2-3 years after birth, but it was acceptable to continue to nurse until he was 12 years old!  Hannah could have really cheated on this vow, but v. 24 tells us that the boy Samuel was YOUNG when she left him with Eli. Its not hard to imagine that there were moments when Hannah held her son and regretted her vow.  That she wanted to change her mind and keep him.  Part of the reason this account has been recorded in Scripture is to testify to the great faith Hannah had.

See 1:26-28 = Hannah’s testimony, in her own words, to the extreme devotion and obedience she showed by committing her firstborn son to the LORD’s service.

In my study Bible’s list of “Notable Women,” Hannah is listed as “The Ideal Mother.”  It’s quite a paradox to accept that the woman who gave up her son, who left him to be raised by a priest, is the “Ideal Mother.”

Hannah’s story is an example of Jesus’ teaching; “ANYONE WHO LOVES HIS FATHER OR MOTHER MORE THAN ME IS NOT WORTHY OF ME; ANYONE WHO LOVES HIS SON OR DAUGHTER MORE THAN ME IS NOT WORTHY OF ME” (MTW 10:37).  This is a difficult teaching.  Out of selfishness and sentimentality, we’ve come to accept the notion that service to family is the highest form of service.

That is clearly contradictory to Jesus’ teaching.  Our first love must always be our love for God.  We do our family no good service if we forget that and mix up our priorities.  Truth be told, love for God and love for our brothers and sisters in the church both take priority over love for family.  Think about it; our relationship with God and relationships among His people are the only ones that will survive into eternity.  Marriage and family are interim institutions that abide only until death.

I realize this is an especially “hard sell” on Mother’s Day, but the point is that Hannah is primarily an example of godly priorities.  She is the “Ideal Mother” not because she doted on her children but because she counted her vow to God more important than her motherly instincts and her love for her child.  The size of Hannah’s sacrifice helped determine the size of Samuel’s contribution to the history of God’s people.  That is the message we need as much on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and Grandparent’s Day as we do every other day of the year.

This does not in any way reduce the status of family as a blessing from God, as the relationships in which we must strive to invest as much love as we possibly can.  The Bible sets a very high standard for family relationships.  It has a high place, not first place.

What this means is that God must always be first priority.  If anything – or anyone – else takes first place, that is idolatry.  The very best thing we can do for our families is to keep God first.  We do that by obeying His commands to love our families, following the great example Hannah has set for us.