Come Walk with my Friend
Please join me as I walk on one of my favorite "trails" in the Bible and with one of my closest friends. As we walk, you will learn why this friend is such a very good friend to me. We will see some wonderful things and we will learn some valuable lessons as we walk. Allow me to give you an overview of this trail. It begins on fairly level ground but then it steadily descends until we reach one of the lowest and loneliest valleys in all of God's word. Within this valley we will see God bring about a change in the heart of my friend. Then, for the first time, the trail will begin to ascend. The trail steadily climbs to a high summit where we will be privileged to walk through one of the greatest prayers in all of God's Word. Come walk with my friend.
The "trail head" is located in First Samuel 1:1. When all of us have arrived at this trailhead we can begin our walk. My friend is waiting for us just a little way down the trail.
1 Now there was a certain man of Ramathaimzophim, of mount Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah, the son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephrathite:
Elkanah lives in Ephraim. So our trail is located in Ephraim. The name "Ephraim" means "Fruitful".
2 And he had two wives; the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah: and Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.
Here in verse 2, we meet my friend that I told you about. Her name is Hannah. The name "Hannah" means "Grace". As we follow this word-trail through the words "but Hannah had no children" we are led to the edge of an overlook where we catch our first glimpse of the valley that we are about to descend into. This is the valley of Hannah's grief as we shall soon see.
3 And this man went up out of his city yearly to worship and to sacrifice unto the LORD of hosts in Shiloh. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, the priests of the LORD, were there.
Here we learn that Hannah's husband Elkanah is faithful and godly. Elkanah is a good man. He goes to God's house (in Shiloh which is in Ephraim) with his family regularly where he not only sacrifices, but he also worships. Now the trail turns aside for a moment and for no apparent reason in these words: "And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, the priests of the LORD, were there." We'll talk about this further down the trail.
4 And when the time was that Elkanah offered, he gave to Peninnah his wife, and to all her sons and her daughters, portions:
5 But unto Hannah he gave a worthy portion; for he loved Hannah: but the LORD had shut up her womb.
6 And her adversary also provoked her sore, for to make her fret, because the LORD had shut up her womb.
There are several things that we would do well to notice at this point. We learn that Elkanah loves Hannah. We are told that the reason that Hannah is barren is that "the LORD had shut up her womb." We learn that Hannah has an adversary who provokes her sore and we learn the reason for this is also "because the LORD had shut up her womb". The trail starts to get rough here and, strange as it may seem, it appears that God is the one who has made it rough. For it was the LORD who had shut up Hannah's womb. I cannot know what is in Hannah's mind at this point, but I can't help but wonder if she sees the meaning of the name of the land she lives in ("Fruitful") and the meaning of her own name ("Grace") only as reminders of that which God has withheld from her. The trail is not easy here. It will be good if we stop and rest for a moment. Take off your packs and let's sit down and gain a better understanding of what God is showing us on this part of the trail.
Do you know that God will sometimes cause grief in your life or mine? Yes, I believe that he sometimes will because in Lamentations 3:32 God says:
“But though he cause grief,
yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies.”
We see in this verse that God may cause grief, but we also see that he is compassionate and merciful. Hannah's grief has a merciful purpose. The land that Hannah lives in is well named. Hannah had been well named. But now we are in a narrow, steep-sided valley with Hannah and she can't see far enough ahead to see God's blessing for her. Let's walk on.
7 And as he did so year by year, when she went up to the house of the LORD, so she provoked her; therefore she wept, and did not eat.
You and I won't spend much time in this valley of grief this morning but here we see that Hannah walked through it "year by year". Hannah was in this valley for a long time. We ought to be careful how we judge someone who is having a tough time as a Christian and whose problems are not quickly overcome. It may be that this person is a "Hannah".
We've all been walking with Hannah long enough to get to know her somewhat, so now I want to begin to show you specifically why she has become such a good friend to me:
Hannah is nobody special (just as I am nobody special).
“For ye see your calling, brethren,
how that not many wise men after the flesh,
not many mighty, not many noble, are called:”
1 Corinthians 1:26
Hannah has problems (just as I do).
“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace.
In the world ye shall have tribulation:
but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”
Hannah has an adversary (and I do too).
“Be sober, be vigilant;
because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about,
seeking whom he may devour:”
1 Peter 5:8
So, Hannah is a good friend because I have things in common with her. She’s not that much different than I am. She is not living on a spiritual plane that I cannot relate to.
But Hannah is an even better friend to me for another reason:
Hannah draws me to Christ.
Allow me to explain. For one thing, Hannah is sorrowful. This may seem to you to be a strange thing to draw me to Christ, but you see in Hannah's sorrow I am drawn to consider my Saviour's sorrow:
“He is despised and rejected of men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief:
and we hid as it were our faces from him;
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
Hannah draws me to Christ because I see Christ in her.
As we walk with Hannah I will show you other ways in which I see Christ in her.
8 Then said Elkanah her husband to her, Hannah, why weepest thou? and why eatest thou not? and why is thy heart grieved? am not I better to thee than ten sons?
Now let's shift our attention for a moment from Hannah to her husband Elkanah. Back a ways on this trail we saw that Elkanah loved Hannah and that he showed kindness to her. But within the next few verses we are going to see that his efforts to help Hannah fail. I believe that we can learn some valuable lessons here. In this verse we see four questions directed toward Hannah, and not a single response from Hannah. This isn’t much of a conversation is it? Elkanah's questions could be summed up by the question, "Why aren't you happy?" If we take the time to understand Elkanah's questions we will discover that Elkanah really wasn't asking Hannah to explain to him why she wasn't happy. Rather, in a round about way, he was making a statement to her: "Hannah, you have no reason to be unhappy".
God was working in Hannah's life in a way that did not fit Elkanah's understanding of God's methods. Elkanah attempted to "correct" Hannah because he was confident that he "knew better". A person who wrongly presumes to understand the heart of another and who also misunderstands how God is working in that person's life is not someone that God is apt to use to help another through their words. I believe that this is one reason why we don't see an answer to Elkanah's questions recorded here. The conversation simply dies (as we see by the change of subject in the next verse):
9 So Hannah rose up after they had eaten in Shiloh, and after they had drunk. Now Eli the priest sat upon a seat by a post of the temple of the LORD.
I believe that another reason that we see no answer from Hannah recorded here is contained in Job's statement in Job 6:2 and 3:
“Oh that my grief were throughly weighed,
and my calamity laid in the balances together!
For now it would be heavier than the sand of the sea:
therefore my words are swallowed up.”
When a person is in genuine grief (as Hannah was) their words may be "swallowed up". So how can you help such a person? There are many teachings in God’s Word which can instruct us here, but one of the simplest is in Romans 12:15:
“...weep with them that weep.”
I believe that another mistake that Elkanah made was that he presumed that a blessing in one part of Hannah's life must in some way compensate for a loss in another part of her life: "am not I better to thee than ten sons?" Elkanah did not understand that Hannah's desire for a husband and her desire for a child were independent of each other, and that it was unkind of him to try to pit the one against the other.
The one person in Hannah's life who could have been most helpful to her had failed her. Elkanah's failure is obvious as we walk through the next verse:
10 And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the LORD, and wept sore.
Friends, we are now in the bottom of the valley. We have been walking with Hannah in her grief, but now she is utterly broken. She has no strength to walk further. Here we must stop and wait with her. Friends, let us still our hearts and see how God will speak to her and to us, for though it seems so quiet and lonely here, the Saviour is here also.
And here again, as I wait with Hannah my attention turns to Christ. For he once prayed and wept in a valley that was much lower than the one in which Hannah now prays and weeps.
“And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly:
and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”
11 And she vowed a vow, and said, O LORD of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the LORD all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head.
Three times Hannah refers to herself as "thine handmaid". She sees herself only as a lowly servant of God and once again I see Christ in her:
“But made himself of no reputation,
and took upon him the form of a servant,
and was made in the likeness of men:”
In this low valley something has changed in Hannah's heart. Up until this point, Hannah's attention has been drawn to herself, but now Hannah's prayer is for others also. And I believe that this was the change that God had to bring her to. Do you remember when the trail turned aside momentarily back in verse 3?
“And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, the priests of the LORD, were there.”
It may very well be that the presence of Hophni and Phinehas was associated with Hannah's heart change here. We are told in chapter 2 that these two young men were very wicked and that the result of their wicked use of the priesthood was that:
“...men abhorred the offering of the LORD.”
I Samuel 2:17
No small spiritual damage was being done to the nation of Israel because of these two young men. It seems that Hannah would have been aware of this. Hannah's vow to give up her future son to God's service is in concert with Israel's crying need for a true spiritual servant. Now that Hannah's request has aligned itself with God's desire to meet his people's needs things are beginning to change.
12 And it came to pass, as she continued praying before the LORD, that Eli marked her mouth.
13 Now Hannah, she spake in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard: therefore Eli thought she had been drunken.
Here are two more reasons that Hannah is such a great friend to me:
“she continued praying”
Hannah doesn’t stop praying
"Now Hannah, she spake in her heart”
Hannah speaks to God in her heart
Don’t you know that a friend who communicates with God in this manner can be a very great blessing to you and to me?
Hannah is probably at the lowest point in her life here and she is pleading with God in a way that causes her to act in a manner that is unusual:
“her lips moved, but her voice was not heard.”
And it is in this state that the man of God falsely accuses her of a great sin:
14 And Eli said unto her, How long wilt thou be drunken? put away thy wine from thee.
Oh my friends, please consider Hannah's response:
15 And Hannah answered and said, No, my lord, I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit: I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but have poured out my soul before the LORD.
16 Count not thine handmaid for a daughter of Belial: for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief have I spoken hitherto.
Under the circumstances, Hannah's response is astonishingly gracious. Before we started walking this morning, I told you that we would walk through one of the lowest and loneliest valleys in all of God’s word, and that is exactly where we are now. Remember that Hannah has lived for years with a great desire that is unfulfilled, and that she has been greatly provoked during this time. The closest person to her on earth has greatly misunderstood her, and she is at this very moment in bitter grief. For you and I, Eli's untimely comment might have been "the straw that broke the camel's back”, yet she refers to her accuser as "my lord" and she refers to herself as "thine handmaid". So consider how Hannah's gracious response once again draws me to Christ:
“Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again;
when he suffered, he threatened not;
but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:”
I Peter 2:23
Consider that in verse 15 Hannah tells us that she has poured out her soul. Hannah did this in a human way. This points me to Christ who poured out his soul in a divine way:
“Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death:
and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.”
17 Then Eli answered and said, Go in peace: and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of him.
Hannah's gracious answer has softened Eli's heart, and now Eli becomes a great blessing to Hannah, for:
“...a word spoken in due season, how good is it!”
18 And she said, Let thine handmaid find grace in thy sight. So the woman went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad.
Glory! For the first time the trail is heading upward! My friend the handmaid whose name is Grace is finding grace.
19 And they rose up in the morning early, and worshipped before the LORD, and returned, and came to their house to Ramah: and Elkanah knew Hannah his wife; and the LORD remembered her.
"...and the LORD remembered her". That's an answer to her prayer when we were with her in that lowest valley as she said:
“O LORD of hosts,
if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid,
and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid...”
20 Wherefore it came to pass, when the time was come about after Hannah had conceived, that she bare a son, and called his name Samuel, saying, Because I have asked him of the LORD.
So, Samuel is an answer to Hannah's prayer, for "Samuel" means "Asked of God". And here we see another reason that Hannah is such a good friend to me:
Hannah’s prayers are answered.
A friend who continues praying, who prays to God from the heart, and whose prayers God answers is the kind of friend whose friendship is beyond worth.
21 And the man Elkanah, and all his house, went up to offer unto the LORD the yearly sacrifice, and his vow.
22 But Hannah went not up; for she said unto her husband, I will not go up until the child be weaned, and then I will bring him, that he may appear before the LORD, and there abide for ever.
23 And Elkanah her husband said unto her, Do what seemeth thee good; tarry until thou have weaned him; only the LORD establish his word. So the woman abode, and gave her son suck until she weaned him.
Notice that Elkanah is no longer questioning Hannah. Now he understands how God has worked in her life.
24 And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, with three bullocks, and one ephah of flour, and a bottle of wine, and brought him unto the house of the LORD in Shiloh: and the child was young.
25 And they slew a bullock, and brought the child to Eli.
26 And she said, Oh my lord, as thy soul liveth, my lord, I am the woman that stood by thee here, praying unto the LORD.
Notice how respectful and kind Hannah is to Eli. She says "Oh my lord": In Hannah's current state of victory she could remind Eli of his past blunder, but we hear not a word of this escape her lips.
“And be ye kind one to another,
tenderhearted, forgiving one another,
even as God for Christ‘s sake hath forgiven you.”
So, here we see another reason that Hannah is such a good friend:
Hannah is kind.
Hannah was the same woman whom we have walked with through that lowest valley…
“as thy soul liveth, my lord,
I am the woman that stood by thee here,
praying unto the LORD.”
…but she has an entirely different life now. We are now looking back at that valley, for we have reached the mountain's summit.
27 For this child I prayed; and the LORD hath given me my petition which I asked of him:
28 Therefore also I have lent him to the LORD; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the LORD. And he worshipped the LORD there.
We have walked with Hannah through her valley of grief and we have heard her prayer there. Now we are on Hannah's summit of joy and we must not miss her prayer here in First Samuel Chapter 2. This word-trail befits the grand view that one would witness from such a high point. As we walk, Hannah reminds me in one final and wonderful way what a good friend she has become to me:
Hannah draws me to Christ because she exalts him.
This prayer exalts her Saviour over and over again, and I am drawn to Christ as I walk with my friend.
1 And Hannah prayed, and said, My heart rejoiceth in the LORD, mine horn is exalted in the LORD: my mouth is enlarged over mine enemies; because I rejoice in thy salvation.
2 There is none holy as the LORD: for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God.
3 Talk no more so exceeding proudly; let not arrogancy come out of your mouth: for the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.
4 The bows of the mighty men are broken, and they that stumbled are girded with strength.
5 They that were full have hired out themselves for bread; and they that were hungry ceased: so that the barren hath born seven; and she that hath many children is waxed feeble.
6 The LORD killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up.
7 The LORD maketh poor, and maketh rich: he bringeth low, and lifteth up.
8 He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory: for the pillars of the earth are the LORD’S, and he hath set the world upon them.
9 He will keep the feet of his saints, and the wicked shall be silent in darkness; for by strength shall no man prevail.
10 The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces; out of heaven shall he thunder upon them: the LORD shall judge the ends of the earth; and he shall give strength unto his king, and exalt the horn of his anointed.