J. Gordon Duncan

Culture, Business, Fitness, Etc.

Hope for the Hopeless – 1 Samuel 1:-18

In my brief seven years as a pastor, I’ve already been involved with or visited what would seem to be like a myriad hopeless situations.  As police chaplain, I’ve had to inform a 10 year boy that his mother had passed away.  I’ve held the hand of an 80 year old man as his wife of 50 plus years died.  I’ve prayed with folks as they watched their marriage come to an end.  I’ve visited Holly Hill Mental hospital to help folks who are struggling with addiction and suicide.  I’ve preached funerals and prayed with people whose parents have passed away.  I’ve attempted to encourage people who have lost jobs and seen dreams dashed.

Knowing the willingness of Sovereign King Church to be involved in the lives of others at the most difficult levels of pain and hurt, many of you have encountered similar and perhaps even more hurtful and discouraging situations.  In the moments of our grief, it can feel incredibly hopeless.  Our hearts cry out, “What now? Or What else?” Sometimes, we cry out,  “Why God, why?”

Often we meet our grief with a variety of things to soothe our hearts and minds.  We’ll lose ourselves in mindless television.  We’ll eat our troubles away.  We’ll skip eating all together.  We’ll drink until we don’t have to think about what bothers us.  Every now and then we handle these situations healthfully.  We’ll go running or exercise to burn off the stress.  We’ll spend time in prayer or study of the scriptures or find comfort in the community of the church.

You know, if in some way, we don’t meet the every changing difficulties of life with the never changing truths of scripture, hopelessness is the appropriate response.  Vague ideas of who God is just don’t get it done.  Expressions like, “God never closes a door without opening a window” are shallow and ineffective aside from being confusing.  I don’t even know what that one means.  If you are struggling with hope or the lack thereof, the firm foundational truths of who God is, what He has done, and what He promises to do are what the heart needs more than anything else.

In light of those truths, we are embarking on a brand new series today on the book of 1 Samuel entitled “Transitions” – in it, we are going to see folks going through some of the most difficult challenges any human beings have ever gone through.  There we will discover that their need for hope is the same as our need for hope.  With that in mind, let’s answer this Big Picture Question:

Big Picture Question:  How is God hope for the hopeless?

1 Samuel 1:1 There was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim of the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, an Ephrathite. 2 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.

In this amazing complex couple of sentences, we meet a man named Elkanah.  He lived in the hill country of Ephraim with a known genealogy and family history.  Many assume he had a decent amount of wealth.  More than likely, Elkanah was financially doing okay.  We have no idea whether he was rich or not, but he was doing well enough to afford two wives.  So we immediately know something Elkanah:  he was smart enough to make a decent amount of money, but not smart enough to know that its hard enough to keep one wife happy, much less two.

Nevertheless, this was a period of time, where many men would take multiple wives. Elkanah’s first wife was named Hannah and she was barren meaning she had no children.  His other wife was Peninnah had lots of children.  Now, I can imagine this family dynamic was just a flat out disaster.  In a culture where having children, leaving a legacy to live beyond your years, and basically finding your value in your family, you can imagine Hannah had a tough go of it.

First of all, bareness hurts.  Wrestling with the fact that you may never have or not have any more children can be crushing.  If the desire of your heart is to have children, and you can’t, your heart feels deflated.  Amy and I went through that for over two years, and I know many of you have and are struggling with the hopeless feelings that come from wanting children and not being able to have them.

Children are a good desire.  Not being able to have them is confusing and painful.  Sometimes spouses aren’t on the same page with one wanting kids and another not.  Lots of issues like faith, finances, and feasibility come into play, but lying in bed at night, none of these things matter when you want a child.  For Hannah, she lived with a daily reminder of her struggles as her husband had children but with another woman.  She had to look at those kids, that woman, and her husband playing with someone else’s children every day, and I imagine her heart hurt in ways that are hard to understand unless you have experienced bareness.

Fortunately, bareness is a life circumstance used by God to display and demonstrate His power and grace.  Think about all the examples of God displaying His power and grace through women by overcoming their inability to have children.

  • Abraham’s wife, Sarah, was barren and advanced in age when God made the promise to make a people for Himself from her children.   Gen 11:30
  • Rebekah had to wait 20 years before she could have children.  Gen 25
  • Rachel was barren in Gen 29 but God opened her womb in Gen 30
  • Samson’s mother Manoah was barren for years until God moved in her life so that she might have a son Judges 13.
  • Elizabeth was old and childless when God blessed her with the birth of John the Baptist Luke 1.

“Barren women seem to be God’s instruments in raising up key figures in the history of redemption, whether the promised seed (Isaac), the father of Israel (Jacob), saviors or preservers of Israel (Joseph, Samson, Samuel), or the forerunner of the King (John the Baptist).”  Dale Davis

Bareness, and really, any other helplessness that we feel is only met and assuaged as we experience the hope and presence of God.  Our hopelessness, our inabilities, appear at the moment to be the thing that makes life for us impossible or intolerable whether that hopelessness comes from being barren, divorced, unemployed, etc.  If you have ever or are presently struggling with hopelessness, then you share a fellowship with Hannah.  One author calls that the Fellowship of Bareness.

“And it is frequently in this fellowship that new chapters in Yahweh’s history with His people begin – begin with nothing.  God’s tendency is to make our total inability His starting point.  Our hopelessness and our helplessness are no barrier to His work.  Indeed our utter incapacity is often the prop He delights to use for His next act.  This matter goes beyond the particular situations of biblical barren women.  We are facing one of the principles of Yahweh’s modus operandi.  When His people are without strength, without resources, without hope, without human gimmicks – then He loves to stretch forth His hand from heaven.  Once we see where God often begins we will understand how we may be encouraged.”  Dale Davis

This is where we often go wrong don’t we?  We are hopeless and helpless.  We either run towards the wonderfully gracious care of our Father in heaven or we run away from Him because we feel that He has not heard our cries.  Some of you, very much so, right now, are in that situation.  You feel that you are centrally lacking something that you need or so desperately want.  You will either trust God in this moment and find hope, or you will trust yourself and continually find yourself hopeless.  Let’s see what happens with Hannah.

3 Now this man used to go up year by year from his city to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the Lord.

It was Elkanah’s practice to go worship and sacrifice to the Lord of Hosts at Shiloh once every year.  This is our first interaction with the title “Lord of Hosts” in scripture.  The title implies the Lord over many as in the Lord over a host of angels or a large military.  It is a title to display the unfathomable and limitless power and riches of Yahweh.  This is the God to whom Elkanah would worship and sacrifice each year.  Despite being a wealthy man with two wives, he was a man who was without children by the wife he so dearly loved.

Working at the sanctuary in Shiloh are two central characters for us in the beginning of the book of I Samuel:  the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, the priests of the Lord.  We will learn a great deal about them, but let’s allow the scriptures to tell that story as we get there.  Our story progresses in verse 4.

4 On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters. 5 But to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb.

The sacrifice that Elkanah would offer each year was more than likely a peace offering as sacrifices for the atonement of sin would happen in more central places for the people of God and not in more remote areas like Shiloh.  All sacrifices in some way were an offering for the forgiveness of sin but a peace offering was really more of an offering of thanks and asking for the blessing and favor of God to fall on a particular person.  So after the sacrifice was made, the remaining parts of the animal would be divided up to be eaten by the priests and the family who offered the sacrifice.  So Elkanah would give the prerequisite portions to Hophni and Phinehas and then give a portion to Peninnah and his children through her for them to eat.  This was a meal of blessing that celebrated the peace of God and His provision and protection resting up on all that ate it.

Then we see something incredibly heartwarming.  In the culture of that day, when Elkanah discovered that his wife Hannah was barren, he could have cast her aside as useless.   It wouldn’t have been biblical but it wouldn’t haven’t been shocking or out of place.  But instead of looking at Hannah with disdain because she could not provide him an heir, Elkanah looked at his wife with compassion.  He gives her twice the portion of the sacrificial meal that he gives Peninnah because he loves her and has compassion on her as the Lord has closed her womb.

Now as you can imagine, Peninnah has feelings as well.  It appears that Elkanah loves Hannah more than he loves Peninnah, so she decides to start treating Hannah terribly because she is tired of losing the best of her husband to another woman.

6 And her rival used to provoke her grievously to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb.  7 So it went on year by year. As often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat.

Now, no one enjoys being teased.  More than likely, at some point in time in your life though, someone has picked on you.  When I was in 6th and 7th grade, it was the worst.  I was the tiny, short kid with curly hair, bad teeth, and more mouth than brains.  Getting picked on was a day to day reality for me.  In some ways, that time of life toughened me up and it other ways it scarred me.  I went home early the last day of 6th grade because some kids run up behind me bulldogged my head into the ground.  When I woke from being knocked unconscious,   I stumbled to the office and just went home.  It was like that.

Some of you have gone through similar situations.  You have been picked on for being overweight or for having acne or being tall or short.  Some of you have been picked on for just having emotions being told to suck it up or quit being so sensitive.  Sometimes, these pains have come from loved ones, even parents, and those wounds cut deeper and last longer than most.  Whether you call it being teased or being bullied or whatever, some of out most lingering pains come from when people have made fun of us.  Hannah is going through that.  She is in incredible pain.  She wants to have a child with her husband, but she can’t.  When she couldn’t, he married another woman and had a gang of kids.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the new wife now provokes her and irritates her.  In her moment of greatest pain, she is being mocked and taunted by an uncaring woman who seems to have it all.  According the passage, this went on for years.  It’s one thing to be teased in a moment.  It is another thing to be mocked repeatedly year after year.  Hearts grow dim and hearts grow cold in times like that.

Like many people who have suffered as Hannah has, she got so upset, she quit eating.  Her depression was so great, the only thing she could do was weep.  Food was the furthest thing from her mind.  She was probably withering away and perhaps that explains why her husband brought her a double portion of the sacrifice.

Now before we go any further, let me say some things about Elkanah, her husband.  Elkanah is a paradox. On the one hand, he has shown himself to be a pretty caring dude in a culture that didn’t seem to have too many caring men.  But on the other hand, he is big dumb male as well.  So we gotta give him a little bit of the benefit of the doubt, but let’s just see what happens.

8 And Elkanah, her husband, said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”

Okay, let’s not forget everything what came before this passage.  Elkanah is his culture could have just discarded Hannah for being barren and unable to give him an heir.  It wouldn’t have been biblical, but it wouldn’t have been socially shocking either.  He loved Hannah and wanted her to be blessed.  He didn’t need an heir any more.  He had plenty from Peninnah.  What he wanted was for his grieving wife to be comforted and for that day and age, I say, “Good man, Elkanah.  You are far from perfect but a bit more upstanding than a lot of other dudes.

Having said that, however, the words that come out of Elkanah in verse 8 are pretty naïve and belie the fact that this guy just doesn’t understand the pain of his wife.  He asks her, “Hey, why the sad face?  Why are you crying?  Aren’t I just such an outstanding husband?  I mean I’m such a good husband, aren’t I better than ten sons?”

This comes from the man who married another woman when his wife was barren.  Elkanah, for all his good qualities, is clueless.  Yes, I’m sure that Hannah is very thankful that Elkanah didn’t cast her away when he discovered she was barren.  She is probably thankful that he doesn’t mock her like Peninnah does.  She is probably thankful that he cares and wants to comfort her when she cries.  But when the heart hurts, the heart hurts, and Hannah’s clearly hurt.   In many ways, the very thing that defined her as a woman in that day was just beyond her grasp.  The Lord had closed her womb.  She could not have children.  She was in love with her husband but more than likely felt incredibly inadequate because she couldn’t provide a child for him.  She had the pain of watching her husband woo another woman who apparently was as a fertile myrtle.  This woman was not compassionate but actually antagonistic towards her.  She would openly mock Hannah for her inability to have kids.  Hannah’s pain is an emotional pain that is so bad, she is at the point she doesn’t even eat any more.

Now, I have no desire for anyone among us to dredge up these kinds of feelings but there are some here that can relate to Hannah.  Perhaps, you can relate to the inability to have a child or the inability to have another child, and your body and soul just ache.  Perhaps, you can relate to feeling as if the whole world looks at you with the eyes of Peninnah, mocking you and insulting you.  Sometimes we just wonder if we have missed out on what we thought would make our lives fulfilling or enjoyable.  These things make us so discouraged and depressed that we can’t even eat.

Now, what we are going to see next week is that Hannah has not abandoned God in all of this pain though many people would have long ago.  She is going to get desperate enough to try to cut a deal with God, but she hasn’t abandoned him.  But we don’t want to get to that point just yet.  If we are going to see God move in amazing ways in this woman’s life, then we need to feel her depths of pain.  To truly understand what it means to have your needs met, then you must wrestle with helplessness.  We see that with Hannah.  She has no option or hope for a child outside of herself.  There are no options outside of God’s work and intervention.

We, however, have a hard time getting to that point.  It is hard in this day and age, as smart and accomplished, and prideful as we are all, to flat out, lay it out before God and say, “I can’t change this.  Without your help, with your intervention God, I am helpless and hopeless.”  But let me assure you of something that is going to be a continual theme for the next few sermons:

  • Faith in God begins where your ability ends.
  • Faith in God begins where your self-sufficiency ends.
  • Faith in God begins where your options end.

Contrary to popular belief, faith is not measured by how great of an act you perform.  Faith is measured by your understanding of how big a God you have.  Great acts of faith are the result of the great acts of God.  As our children’s bulletins will state, for us to have hope, just as Hannah had to have hope, we need two things:

  • The love to care that there is a problem.
  • The power to fix the problem.

The only place that is found is the person of Jesus Christ.  Hear these comforting words of hope from Hebrews 4

14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.

Verse 14 reminds, us that Jesus is our great High Priest.  In the OT system, the High Priest would intercede between sinful men and women and the holy God.  Interceding means that the High Priest would act as a go between.  He would offer sacrifices for sin and he would plead to God for mercy.  Verse 14 tells us that our confession, our statement of faith and that which we hold to, is that God has sent His son, Jesus to be our High Priest.   God interceding for sinful and hopeless men and women to God.  The one who pleads your case before God the Father is the gracious, merciful, beautiful Jesus Christ.  Why is this hopeful?

15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

Jesus is sympathetic.  If you come to Him with pain, misery, and the need for mercy and hope, He offers it to you.  Jesus suffered in every way while here among us.  He was beaten, rejected, lied to, and spat upon.  He was homeless and at times penniless.   His best friends left Him, betrayed Him, and deserted Him.  He knows what it feels like to be alone.

And Jesus was tempted to sin in every way that you are tempted to sin.  But here is how He is different.  He lived obediently and triumphantly and that is your hope.  He was perfect and righteous, and He is still sympathetic to your needs.  Jesus does not disdain you in your sin and fear and hopelessness.  Jesus sympathizes with you and intercedes on your behalf to God.

16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Right now, each and every one of you in your hopeless, confused, desperate state of mind, draw near to the throne of God with your cries of praise and cries for help.  Don’t approach God in fear if you approach through Jesus Christ.  Approach confidently as loved sons and daughters to the throne of grace.  There you will receive all the mercy and grace that you need in your time of help and your time of hopelessness.

You have no other hope in this world except the man Jesus.  Rest in that hope today either for the first time or yet again.

July 12, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment