Tuesday, October 12, 2010

"Hannah: Learning to Be Someone”

"Hannah:  Learning to Be Someone”

This week’s lesson asks the question: “What am I worth?”  Modern psychology encourages people to have a high esteem for themselves.  Some even think the Bible teaches this in the words of Jesus: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Mark 12:31).

Jesus is not teaching that an individual should have high esteem for the self.  In fact, it says, "Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves" (Philippians 2:3).  The Bible teaches that we should love and protect our neighbors and even our enemies as naturally as we love and protect ourselves.  Our sense of self-worth should be based on God’s opinion of us.  He values us so much that He gave Jesus to this world to save our souls.  Jesus, the Savior of the whole world, would have died for me even if I were the only sinner in the whole world.  He feels the same way about each of the other humans He has created.  Everything comes into perspective when we realize that He wants us to treat each of His other children with the same tender care He feels for us. 

Christ died for me because I cannot do anything to save myself.  Beginning to grasp the magnitude of the good news of the gospel, we will begin to have a true sense of our real worth.   The foundation of our salvation (the gospel story) is God’s unconditional love.  As we learn to know this love, and allow it to flow through us, we will develop a healthy sense of self worth that is humble and teachable.  “Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.  There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.  We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:17-19).

The story of Hannah indicates that she must have had an understanding of God, and of His love toward her.  Circumstances and environment caused her severe emotional pain.  She did not become bitter, or blame God for her misfortune.  She did experience deep, genuine grief because she did not have any children, especially a son.  Along with many others, she must have cherished a hope that she would be the progenitor of the promised Messiah.  For an extended period of time; that hope was denied her.

Monday’s section mentions two characters that made Hannah’s life miserable.  The narrative indicates that Elkanah was a devout worshiper of the true God.  He offered sacrifices as required by God’s law.  Yet, in my opinion, he comes across as a very insensitive husband.  He seems to have no understanding of nor empathy toward Hannah’s grief.  His relationship with Peninnah resulted in much pain to Hannah.  This story should encourage every husband to examine his conduct and attitudes toward his wife.  As husbands, we need to pray for God’s grace and love to motivate every act which affects our wives.

The narrative indicates that Peninnah was not filled with the love of God.  She did not act as a genuine “Christian.”  Her words and actions added to Hannah’s grief.  We need to note that Hannah did not repay “in kind.”  She took her troubles to the Lord in deep, heartbroken prayer.

“Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.  He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.  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” (Isaiah 53:10-12).

Because of His great love for us, Jesus was poured out as a sacrifice for us.  Because Hannah was filled with God’s love, she could “pour out her heart” in prayer to God.  It is my prayer that each of us will learn to pray like that.  The key is to be filled with God’s unconditional love.  Until we see Jesus poured out on the cross for us personally, our prayers will not be that “deep.”  “This pouring-out prayer is perhaps the most intimate kind of prayer.  In involves being absolutely honest with God, expressing our deepest pain and fears.  Hannah was so absorbed in her prayer that she became oblivious to those around her, and to what they might think of her.  She was, in fact, clinging to God the way Jacob clung to his nocturnal assailant” (Adult SS Bible Study Guide, p.25).

When Hannah finally “poured out” her heart to God for a son, she was no longer selfish in her request.  She was asking for something that really belonged to God, and she covenanted to return it to God.  God saw to it that Hannah’s request received an immediate and favorable response.  When we recognize God’s ownership of everything surrounding us, our prayers will be less selfish.  When we receive God’s love and share it with others, our prayers will become more powerful and we will receive amazing answers.

Faith accomplished what nothing else could. And let it be remembered that there is good reason for this. Perfect faith implies perfect worship. Faith and humility are inseparable. The greater one's faith in another, the lower his opinion of himself. So that perfect faith in God, such as Abraham (and Hannah) exhibited, implied perfect willingness to do whatever God required of him. Such faith is as powerful to-day as it ever was. It suffices to secure pardon for sin, even as it did for Abraham, and nothing but such faith will secure pardon. The cleansing of a sinner from the defilement of sin is the greatest of all miracles, and it is one that is daily being performed in response to faith. Whenever God sees such trust and submission in the heart of anyone, nothing that that one can ask for can be denied. Then who would not pray, "Lord, increase our faith"?  --E. J. Waggoner, Signs of the Times, December 8, 1887  746.3

Hannah’s song reminds us of  the song of Mary which is recorded in The Gospel of Luke.  It was a response of true joy and thanksgiving.  The response was born of total surrender to God’s will and action.  We can experience this joy and thanksgiving when we surrender to the gospel – the cross of Christ.  A deep heart appreciation of the salvation that is in Jesus Christ brings about such a faith response.  When we see the totality of God’s act and discover that we cannot contribute anything to our salvation, we will fall on our knees and say a genuine heartfelt thank you to Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Then Hannah’s song will be our song.

Hannah’s example of child training rates with that of Jochebed and of Mary.  Hannah had Samuel for only a few years.  He grew up in the same dysfunctional household that caused Hannah’s grief.  By God’s grace, Hannah instilled heavenly virtues in the growing mind of her son.  We all can benefit from a study of these examples of child training.

What the parents are, that, to a great extent, the children will be. The physical conditions of the parents, their dispositions and appetites, their mental and moral tendencies, are, to a greater or less degree, reproduced in their children.…It was Hannah, the woman of prayer and self-sacrifice and heavenly inspiration, who gave birth to Samuel, the heaven-instructed child, the incorruptible judge, the founder of Israel's sacred schools.  Would that every mother could realize how great are her duties and her responsibilities, and how great will be the reward of faithfulness. The mother's daily influence upon her children is preparing them for everlasting life or eternal death. She exercises in her home a power more decisive than the minister in the desk, or even the king upon his throne”  (Conflict and Courage, p. 139).

J.B. Jablonski