J. Gordon Duncan

Culture, Business, Fitness, Etc.

Let’s Make a Deal – 1 Samuel 1:9-20

Nowhere in scripture, does God ask you to prove your faith to Him.  You are not asked to do some heroic act.  You are not commanded to undertake some gargantuan effort.  God does not ask you to cut a deal with Him in order to get your prayers answered.  As we mentioned last week, faith in God is measured in faith in God the person, not in you the person.  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 just the result of the great acts of God

We receive the clearest definition of what faith is in the book of Hebrews 11:1-2.  Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation.  What follows that verse is often called the Hebrews Hall of Faith.  It lists ordinary people of great faith in the OT.  For example, Abraham is commended for his faith in leaving his homeland and trusting God for a son, Moses is commended for leading the people of God out of slavery in Egypt, and Gideon, David, and Samuel are commended as well.

Now you may hear these things, and say, “Hey Gordon, I thought you said faith is not measured in great acts done for God?  Isn’t that what these folks are commended for?”  At first glance you might say so, but the end of Hebrews 11 makes it clear why these believers are being commended.

39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us.

The people in Hebrews 11 are commended for their faith in a Savior yet to come.  They did all of those things without fully understanding the completed work of Jesus Christ on the cross for the forgiveness of their sins.  They had great faith in both what God has done AND what He promised to do.  That is what fueled their obedience and great work.

When our hearts struggle with having this great faith, right or wrong, we begin to think about God giving us what we want.  We think, “If I have enough faith will God answer my prayer?”  Those thoughts center around the idea of God’s favor falling on us.  Our minds and hearts wonder, “If I’m in God’s favor, then God will help me get out of debt, pay off my bills, get healthy, lose weight, get a job, quit looking at porn etc.”

Unfortunately, this is not what either faith or the Lord’s Favor means when we examine scripture.  What we are going to do this week is examine a lonely, desperate woman cut a deal with God.  In looking at it, we are going to see some things we should imitate and some things we shouldn’t.  With that in mind, let’s ask this Big Picture Question:

Big Picture Question:  What does it mean to find the Lord’s Favor?

I Samuel 1:9 After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. 10 She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. 11 And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”

This passage comes right after Hannah’s husband, Elkanah, offered a peace offering to God at Shiloh.  Once done, Elkanah gave the required amount of the sacrifice to the priests to eat, then he gave another portion to his wife, Peninnah, and her children, then he gave a double portion of the food to Hannah because she was barren and he wanted her to be blessed.  After this, Hannah is distressed.  She just can’t take any more.  She has been mocked by Peninnah for her inability to have children.  Elkanah kindly but quite naively tried to comfort her but to no avail.  She just can’t take it anymore.  She leaves the dinner and goes outside.  Eli, the priest, the father of Hophni and Phinehas, see her walking out and takes notice of this woman who would leave the family dinner to wander alone.

Imagine Hannah’s heart and imagine the emotions that she might be feeling right now.  Perhaps you can relate.  Maybe you have wanted something so badly or perhaps you have felt incomplete because you think you are lacking some good thing.  This is where Hannah is, and she has been this way for years.  She starts weeping and praying bitterly.  In her desperation and pain, she comes up with an idea:  she’ll make a vow.  She’ll cut a deal with God.   Here it is.   She prays to the Lord of Hosts and says, “I am your servant.  If you will see my affliction and not forget me, and if you’ll give me a son then I will give him back to you.  In fact, no razor will ever touch his head.”

Now what she is vowing is called a Nazirite Vow.  Numbers 6 details what these look like, but the idea is to dedicate a child to be a priest of the Lord.  Part of that dedication is that they will not cut their hair, they will not drink anything, whether grape juice or wine, from a grape vine and a few other things.  This is the same vow that apparently John the Baptist took.  Hannah is promising to send this son into the priesthood.

Now we should highlight a couple of things about her vow.  Note who she is praying to:  the Lord of Hosts.  We mentioned this particular name of God last week.   The Lord of Hosts is a title of God that speaks to God’s absolute adequacy and power.  It gives the idea of the Lord of great riches or the Lord of a vast army of angels or the Lord over a giant military.  Is anyone noticing a contradiction or maybe an irony here?  Hannah is praying to the all adequate and all powerful God, and to sweeten her deal, she offers the God of all power and all sufficiency, the God who lacks nothing, she is offering Him something if He will answer her prayer.  Hannah is offering her child back to God.  She is bargaining with the Lord of Hosts

Now, here is the problem.  In principle, every gift given from God is to be returned to God.  Jesus told a parable to emphasize this point:  the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25.  In that parable, the master gives 3 stewards or servants some money to take care of while He is gone.  The first servant invests in wisely and gives the master a return on His money as well as the second servant.  But the third servant was scared of His master and of losing the money, so He just hid it.  That servant is rebuked by the master and the master calls that servant worthless because He didn’t see Himself as one entrusted with the masters money.  The point is that everything you have is God’s.  He has entrusted you with the stewardship of all of those things whether it be your money, your house, your car, or your children.  And there is nothing of which you should ask of God that you do not intend to then return to God in use to the glory of God and the advancement of the Kingdom of God.

And here is another problem with bargaining with God:  you have nothing He needs.  God is all-sufficient lacking no good thing.  God is not in this situation thinking, “You know Eli, Hophni and Phinehas are not really getting it done as priest.  What I really need is someone new.  What was that?  Hannah you’ll offer me your son?  Hey, I could make this work.  There is no bargaining with God.  Anything you could offer to God, He already claims as His possession.  You think you have made some sacrifice by saying you will give something to God or do something to God when the life of faith is already living and doing and the giving of all things to God in thankful praise of His merciful grace poured out to you.  You give everything to God when you profess faith in Jesus Christ.

Folks, don’t get me wrong.  Hannah is a great women of faith but not because she was willing to offer her child back to God.  Something you have, want, acquire or hope for is to be God’s anyway.  Hannah is a great woman of God because she knows that the only hope she has is the Lord of Hosts.  He cares for her and hears her cry.  That is the Lord’s favor – not bargaining with God to convince Him what you want.  Being in a relationship with God where He cares for you and hears your cries is being in the Lord’s favor.  Don’t’ be fooled into thinking that you have a popularity meter with God and once you’ve pushed it from “really angry” to “really happy” you are in His favor.  If you have a relationship with God and your sins are forgiven by the work of Jesus Christ, you are in God’s favor.

Now, while Hannah is pouring her heart out to God, Eli has watching kinda creepily all along.  Look at verse 12

12 As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman. 14 And Eli said to her, “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.”

As Hannah was praying, Eli was watching her.  Hannah was praying silently, but in her grief she was mouthing the words that she was saying.  Basically, praying quietly.  Eli jumps to the conclusion that she is a drunk woman and rebukes her.  He tells her, “How long you going to be drunk, girl?  Put away that wine.”  Now, why would Eli think that she was drunk?  Honestly, I think Eli’s assumption is in part because he is not the sharpest tool in the woodshed, but there is some reasoning behind his thinking.  The sacrificial meals that Elkanah and his family were enjoying surrounding the Peace Offerings given to the Lord of Hosts generally included wine with the sacrificial meat.  More than likely, this is not the first time Eli, the Priest of the Lord, had to rebuke someone for getting drunk after the sacrificial meal.  This happened in that day and it happened in the meals surrounding the Lord’s Supper, and Paul rebuked folks in 1 Corinthians 11 for getting drunk then too.

But I read this and I think, Poor Hannah:  her husband is clueless, her husband’s other wife is merciless, and her pastor thinks she is a lush.

15 But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. 16 Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.”

Hannah cries, “No, no, no, no, no, no.  I am not drunk; I am troubled in spirit.  I have not been pouring wine down my gullet all night long; I’ve been pouring my heart out to God.  She begs of Eli, “Please don’t think I’m a drunk and a worthless woman.  I’m just overwhelmed with anxiety.”  Hannah is not eating remember.  She has been so depressed that she hasn’t had been eating or drinking anything at all.  Eli is just too quick to judge and he doesn’t give the benefit of grace or the judgment of charity.  He assumes sin.  Maybe this a common occurrence from the folks in Shiloh and when we take a better look at the ministries of Eli, Hophni, and Phinehas, we’ll see that they are not very discerning priests anyway.  But once again, we are called to have compassion for Hannah.  She feels as if God, her household, her pastor, and pretty much every other person in the world is against her.

17 Then Eli answered, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.” 18 And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.

Eli finally gets the big picture.  Instead of rebuking Hannah, he pronounces a blessing.  He tells her to go in peace and then tells her that the God of Israel will answer her prayers.  How can Eli do this?  Apparently, in addition to be a Priest of the Lord, Eli was used by God at this point and time to be a prophet.  He tells her that everything that she has hope and prayed for is going to be granted by God.  Hannah, by faith, immediately believed Eli’s announcement.  By saying, “Let your servant find favor,” she is saying basically, “I hope and pray you are right.”  She believed it though because for the first time in who knows how long, she goes away, gets a big kosher burger, and her countenance is lifted.

Hannah walked away with real hope for the first time in a long time.  Can you imagine how she might be feeling?  She probably sat down at the table to have Peninnah, her husband’s fertile myrtle second wife jeer and sneer at her, but it didn’t matter.  She could, I don’t know, rest for the first time in a long time.  As excited as she was about having a child, I’m sure it was just as encouraging to know that God heard her and cared.  That’s part of the struggle when we have prayed for the same thing over and over isn’t it?  Even if you are not praying, but just achingly wanting something to change, it would be comforting to know that you were heard and genuinely cared for.

Right now, I imagine some of you feel unheard or maybe even ignored.  I had a conversation the other day with someone who was just flat out struggling.  Pretty much every area of life was a mess:  work, home, health, etc.  This person’s thoughts weren’t about having every one of those things change.  That would be nice, but their pain was way beyond that.  The question in that person’s heart and mind was, “Who cares?  Who is listening?  Where is God in the midst of all this?”  And despite the fact that we all happily sang some songs to Jesus a few minutes ago, I bet many of you are at that exact same point right now.  Like last week, we call that the Fellowship of the Barren.  There are things that we need that we just seem to be going without.  Maybe you hear Hannah’s story and find hope or maybe you hear it and think, “There is just another person getting what they want while I don’t.”  Hang in there, let’s look at verse 19.

19 They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the Lord remembered her. 20 And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked for him from the Lord.”

The family gets up the next day, worships one more time before making the trip back home, and then they pack up the family truckster and head back to their house.  Elkanah and Hannah conceive a child, and between verses 19 and 20, we cover nine months of pregnancy.  I wonder how the family dynamic changed?  I wonder how Peninnah handled the news that Hannah was going to have a child?  We don’t really know, but this much is true:  Hannah and her faith are famously told of and spoken of in scripture, and we are later told that she ultimately had five children…and we never hear of Peninnah again.

Once Hannah’s son is born, she names Him Samuel.  Samuel can mean “offspring of God” and it can mean “name of God” but either is fitting because Hannah asked God for Him and the only way she was going to have any offspring was if God did it.  There was not way that Hannah could take credit for this blessing.  It came only from God.  So that leaves us with the thought:  should we make vows to God if we want or really need something?  Well scripture gives us two ways to view that.

  • Psalm 76:11 Make your vows to the Lord your God and perform them;
  • Matthew 5:34 I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

At first glance, this would seem to be an apparent contradiction, but upon further examination, its not.  You see, Psalm 76 is speaking of the declarative praises of God in the sanctuary, and those are called “vows” – you guys all just did that when you sang a moment ago.  The words you sang are vows to the Lord, and rightfully so, you are all called to live a life consistent with the praise you just sang.  That’s why we take the words we sing very seriously here.  Your words are promises and declarations to God.

In Matthew 5, Jesus is rebuking people who felt that the only time they had to keep their word was when they made a vow.  This is sorta the opposite of crossing your fingers.  People in that day were promising to do things, and when they didn’t keep their promises, they would just say, “Hey, I didn’t take a vow.”  Jesus is telling them to make every yes a yes and every no a no.  Speak truthfully in every word.  No, the great hope that you and I have for both the taking of vows and the gaining of God’s favor is that someone has already done both on our behalf.

Listen to the declarations that Jesus makes in John 5:30 “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.  Jesus has explains there His vowed to obey God and to obey God perfectly.  Jesus only did that which His Father wanted Him to do.  And in His keeping of this vow, He displays that He carries God’s blessing to tell us who He is.  Listen to verse 36.

36b For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me.

Jesus keeps His vow to obey the Father so that you may know who He is.  In agony, as Jesus sweat drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed once again, to be bolstered to remain faithful to that which He promised to do.  Matthew 26:39 My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.  Yet, in anguish, Jesus faithfully kept His vow of obedience bringing those who have faith in Him into His favor.  Jesus’ obedient life, and ultimately, His obedience to die on the cross on your behalf, ushers you into God’s favor.

Philippians 2:8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus’ enabling your dead heart and still tongue to cry out that He is lord is God’s favor poured out on you.  You see the favor God is equal to the mercy of God.  Psalm 119:58 I entreat your favor with all my heart; be gracious to me according to your promise.  Psalm 106:4 Remember me, O Lord, when you show favor to your people; help me when you save them,  Favor equals mercy.

And when Jesus was obedient in life and death, He earned God’s favor.  He faithfully obeyed and kept His vow on your behalf, and because of that, every blessing of Christ becomes your blessing.  Let me give you an example.  Remember when the scriptures describe Jesus’ early life?  Luke 2:52 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.  When you experience the love, grace, and faithfulness of God earned for you by Jesus, you are described in the exact same way.  Proverbs 3:3-4 Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart.  4 So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man.

Folks, if we ever think, “What have I got to do to get God to give me what I want?” we have left the service of God and entered into the foolish realm of trying to get God to serve us.  God will not serve you by capriciously giving you what you want.   He grants your prayers according to the mysteries of His will, and of that, I will not dare to speak.  You have been served though by Jesus Christ.  When you heart is gifted with faith, and you cry out to God just as Hannah did, for God to bestow His grace and mercy, then you walk in the favor of God.  Jesus faithfully keeps all vows while we are so poor at keeping any.  But Jesus’ faithful vow keeping in obedience to His Father’s will and obedience to death on the cross, ushers you, by faith, into God’s blessing and favor.

It is there that you live as a child of God.  Knowing that you cannot be blessed in any way greater than by being blessed with salvation and mercy, you can yet still ask God for His blessings for particular you need.  It is as that point that you merely ask the Lord of Hosts to bless you in His wisdom know that you are already blessed as Christ is blessed and there is no greater place of blessing to be known.

July 28, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment