In this life we can be jostled and pushed, shoved and bumped. Sometimes our troubles overtake us and we even become gravely disheartened, humiliated, ashamed or disgraced by circumstances beyond our control. Some trials just keep getting worse and we drown under a heavy weight of sadness or anxiety while our prayers remain unanswered. For a few of us, life is just too hard and God seems far away.
When the thing that we want the most is denied us, it doesn’t make sense. Why can’t I get better? Why don’t those people stop abusing me? When will I be free from this pain? Where will I get the money I need? Will I ever find someone to understand and love me? Why did she die so young? Why can’t I have children? When will my husband be saved? These questions haunt our minds and put our lives on hold while we fret and agonise, waiting for an answer.
Hannah, the mother of Samuel was also grieved by a very hard trial. She was childless, because “the Lord had shut up her womb.” (1Samuel 1:5) Month after month the disappointment of infertility struck - no baby to love, no baby to satisfy her body’s cravings to conceive, no baby to give her the status of a good wife to her husband, Elkanah. It was on her mind day and night. Why Lord? Everything looked grey and pointless because of this pain. She felt like a fruitless woman, tainted with the label ‘barren’ and her desire to be a mother seemed unreachable.
Hannah’s sorrow was not relieved quickly. She endured many years of waiting, but the answer she longed for did not come. Instead, it was Elkanah’s second wife who bore children for her husband. “And her adversary also provoked her sore, for to make her fret, because the Lord had shut up her womb.” (1Samuel 1:6) She was baited and provoked by Peninnah; she devoured Hannah’s peace and spitefully wounded her spirit year after year. Hannah’s failure to conceive and her faithful prayers in the house of the Lord were cruelly mocked. While Peninnah blossomed and bore many children, it seemed that the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb forever and was deaf to her cry.
Satan our adversary, the father of lies, is obsessed with the destruction of God’s children. Like Peninnah, the devil may taunt and poke and remind and accuse us too, for he is proud and feels no remorse, but only takes pleasure in our pain and delights to steal our joy; he will gladly take our minds captive to misery - it is his trade mark; he is “ a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)
How do you respond when life takes a bitter turn? How do you react when your hopes, like flimsy pieces of paper, burn to ashes before your eyes? What do you do when the very thing you feared comes to torment or belittle you? What do you do when things don’t go the way you had planned or expected?
Examine how Hannah responded to her devastating trial. Look at how she coped with circumstances which were beyond her power to control. In her earnest yearning for a child, Hannah wept and called out to the Lord. In her pain she did not turn away from God when there seemed to be no answer. She did not give up praying despite the jibes from her enemy that her prayers were pointless. In her anguish, she did not give up seeking the Lord and praying. She turned to God, even when there seemed to be no answer. She continued to give honour to her Lord by going to his house to offer Him a sacrifice of prayer. She trusted God and offered up her sadness to Him and with the Psalmist declared “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me.”([Psalm 24:2)
How easy it would have been for her to gloat over Peninnah’s loveless marriage – for “when the time was that Elkanah offered, he gave to Peninnah his wife, and to all her sons and her daughters, portions: But unto Hannah he gave a worthy portion; for he loved Hannah”. (1Samuel 1:4-5) Hannah was lavished with rewards and gifts by her husband who loved her, while Peninnah was only given a concubine’s portion. How easy it would have been to assert her seniority and make Peninnah’s life hard in repayment for the pain and torment inflicted by her vexing words.
Hannah was not like that. She didn’t turn her sorrow into hatred or hostility, nor did she give-in to spite, impatience or unkindness. Although the malicious taunting continued, and “she wept and did not eat”, she did not complain about Peninnah when her husband asked her “why is thy heart grieved?” Instead, she went to the temple of the Lord, where “she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore.” (1Samuel 1: 7) Her prayer came from the depths of her aching heart straight to her Father in heaven.
May our afflictions drive us to our knees to seek the Lord first, before anything else. If He withholds, then it will always be for His glory; if He gives, it will be for His glory too. Our God is above all earthly desires and needs; He sees the beginning from the end. The picture of our lives is already completed in His heart and He knows what is needed to bring us to Him, fully surrendered, a sweet offering, a living sacrifice.
The Lord answered Hannah’s prayer and she bore a son, Samuel. Her story of affliction and sorrow is recorded in the Word of God for the whole world to read. She had faith and is honoured and God is glorified through her trials. The relentless tests which vexed her soul turned her heart to God and she put her trust in Him only. Her torment is our encouragement and we are blessed by her sacrifice of prayer.
We can have even greater faith, long suffering, forbearance and love than Hannah, because we have Jesus and His spirit lives in us! What Hannah was denied in her day, we have been given freely and abundantly. “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” [Hebrews 12:3] Thank you, Jesus that we can walk with you through every trial. Thank you for the trials which drive us to you and for the joy set before us – life with you now and forever.
"No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord."
Isaiah 54: 17