Monday, January 13, 2014

The Faith of Hannah and the Mercy of God

“With the merciful You will show Yourself merciful; With a blameless man You will show Yourself blameless; With the pure You will show Yourself pure; And with the devious You will show Yourself shrewd. For You will save the humble people, But will bring down haughty looks. For You will light my lamp; The Lord my God will enlighten my darkness. For by You I can run against a troop, By my God I can leap over a wall. As for God, His way is perfect; The word of the Lord is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him. For who is God, except the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God? It is God who arms me with strength, And makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of deer, And sets me on my high places. He teaches my hands to make war, So that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You have also given me the shield of Your salvation; Your right hand has held me up, Your gentleness has made me great.
Psalms 18:24-35

Peninnah was a sour-hearted woman and Peninnah was a “show-off,” and Peninnah paraded her child-trophies before Hannah to provoke her. She had something that Hannah didn’t have and that Hannah wanted and that the Lord chose to withhold from Hannah.

She was a woman “blessed” with many children and Hannah had none—the curse of her time and the agony of her heart. And Peninnah rubbed it in, rubbed it in as much as she could, into the open, aching wound that Hannah bore.

And I read about Hannah, and Hannah didn’t lash out, but rather poured out the burning sorrow of her heart. Before her God, in humble, tearful agony, and her God heard. Heard Hannah’s wordless sobs and hushed throbbing prayers, her cries for mercy. And where she could see no mercy, no loving-kindness, only the gaping hole of an empty womb, the Lord planted a seed of promise. And his name was Samuel—God hears.

Did Hannah ever feel like heaping burning coals of words, bitter words against Peninnah? Feel like hurling insults and scourges of captious remarks against her tormentor? Probably. But she chose instead to cry out, to cry out to the only One who could, who would help her—her seemingly silent God of mercy, who ultimately spoke His will of love towards His child and granted her request.

We come up against situations sometimes, and the Lord allows these situations into our lives to test us and to teach us to put our hope in Him and to trust His merciful judgements.

Someone wounds us, perhaps over and over and over. Perhaps even someone who claims the name of Christ and appears “fruitful” and much-blessed. We are barren. The Lord has withheld something from us, for whatever reason He has deemed fit. Perhaps this person constantly provokes us, subtly delivers stinging remarks, snide insults, or carefully concealed digs. Maybe they try to ruin our reputation, try to hint that the Lord has withheld good from us because of something amiss in our character.

We cry. We pray. We wonder why the Lord doesn’t deal with this person immediately and put an end to such injustice.

Our prayers give way to sighings. We either become more fervent, seeking the Lord and hoping in His mercy, or we wilt under the pressure, growing bitter and depressed towards the person who is provoking us and ultimately towards the Lord who is allowing this thorn in our lives. We have a choice—to become frustrated, subdued, bitter and angry with God and with the one who is hurting us, to lash back and to bite back and to repay evil for evil. Or to put our trust in the God who hears.

We have to ask ourselves and be honest with ourselves before God--Do I want to be hard and cold and rocky? Or do I want the life of the Son of Jesus to shine through me? Do I treat others as I would have them treat me, am I poured out as a sweet spring of grace or a bitter mouthful of arsenic-tainted words and motives?

Someone has wounded me—do I openly or secretly try to wound them back? Someone has spitefully treated me—do I lash back in anger or carefully-concealed coldness? What does my heart speak towards the Father of glory? Am I reflecting the love of Jesus in the way that I am responding to pain and injustice? What does my heart speak towards God?

There are times, I think, when a safe distance can be maintained, if possible, with someone who continually seeks to cause pain and who becomes a distraction from your relationship with the Lord. If someone is trying to hit you on the head with a rock, you run—you don’t wait to negotiate. David found this course of action necessary with Saul (a so-called believer) and Elijah with Jezebel (a heartless pagan).

But there are times when we cannot run from a situation, when we must stand strong and pray and wait upon the Lord. He gives much grace in these situations. And they are hard, but the hardness comes so that we may learn to be soft. Not weak-willed, not passive, but moldable in God’s hand, the hand that will exalt us in due time, the hand that will lead us to the God who hears.

Hannah never strikes me as a spineless, woe-is-me-jellyfish kind of believer. Rather, she is incredibly strong through the strength of her God, steely-willed gazing towards her Maker. The spiritually barren are not those who wait upon the Lord, but rather, those who try to take things into their own hands, to manipulate their own destinies based upon a “practical” understanding of God’s ways, a surface faith in Him that has never dug deep into agonies and need and heart-sobbing and cries for mercy.

Hannah’s faith digs deep and in the end, she is able to look at her enemy, her persecutor and speak these words, words of faith and praise in the God who hears—not from a heart of bitterness, but from a heart of hope and praise:

“My heart rejoices in the Lord;

My horn is exalted in the Lord.

I smile at my enemies,

Because I rejoice in Your salvation.

No one is holy like the Lord,

For there is none besides You,

Nor is there any rock like our God.

Talk no more so very proudly;

Let no arrogance come from your mouth,

For the Lord is the God of knowledge;

And by Him actions are weighed.

The bows of the mighty men are broken,

And those who stumbled are girded with strength.

Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,

And the hungry have ceased to hunger.

Even the barren has borne seven,

And she who has many children has become feeble.

The Lord kills and makes alive;

He brings down to the grave and brings up.

The Lord makes poor and makes rich;

He brings low and lifts up.

He raises the poor from the dust

And lifts the beggar from the ash heap,

To set them among princes

And make them inherit the throne of glory.

For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,

And He has set the world upon them.

He will guard the feet of His saints,

But the wicked shall be silent in darkness.

For by strength no man shall prevail.

The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken in pieces;

From heaven He will thunder against them.

The Lord will judge the ends of the earth.

He will give strength to His king,

And exalt the horn of His anointed."

I Samuel 2:1-10

Photo Credit: VinothChandar / / CC BY

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