1 Samuel 1: 20-28 Sunday 31st March 2019 9.45 and 11.30 am
By porthkerryandrhoose, Apr 4 2019 03:18PM
How do you thank someone? What things do you say or do? Perhaps a quick text is enough sometimes, while other times you might send an email or letter. Maybe the personal touch is preferable – phoning or meeting up with the person you want to thank. Sometimes though, particularly when someone has been really helpful or incredibly kind, we want to demonstrate our thanks. In these circumstances, we might buy a gift to say thank you, or offer to treat the person who’s helped us.
This morning’s passage from the 1st book of Samuel tells us the story of Hannah, whom God blesses with the gift of a son after many years of childlessness. If we look back to earlier in the chapter, in vv10 and 11, we see Hannah’s deep distress at having no children, ‘In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the LORD, weeping bitterly. And she made a vow, saying, “LORD Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.” In praying in this way, Hannah entered into a covenant with God and her plea was accepted, as Eli the priest told her in v17: “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.” As we think about this covenant agreement, we’ll see the extent of Hannah’s thankfulness to God for prayer answered; we’ll see how she waited until the time was right to fulfil her part of the covenant; and remind ourselves of the truth that gifts offered to God are giving back what he has first given to us.
Firstly, let’s look at the extent of Hannah’s thankfulness to God for prayer answered. We see in v20 part of her gratitude: ‘She named him Samuel, saying “Because I asked the Lord for him.” The name Samuel sounds like the Hebrew phrase meaning ‘heard by God’ or ‘asked of God’. So in naming her son Samuel, Hannah has given herself a reminder for the rest of her life that God heard her prayer asking for the gift of a son and graciously answered it. Every time Hannah says or hears Samuel’s name she would have remembered how her son was a gift from God and given God the glory anew for his generosity. Hannah’s thankfulness went beyond her choosing of Samuel’s name too. We see in v24 how, in time, Hannah fulfilled her covenant with God and took Samuel to the Lord’s house to give him to the Lord to serve him there. She offered sacrifices to the Lord, according to the Hebrew laws and customs. She then acknowledged God’s goodness to her in her words to Eli, the man who had encouraged her to hope. We see her words in vv26-28: ‘Pardon me, my lord. As surely as you live, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the LORD. I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the LORD. For his whole life he shall be given over to the LORD.’ With her words and actions, nobody could have doubted Hannah’s thankfulness for God’s answer to prayer.
Let’s think about our own prayer habits for a few moments. We bring our concerns and fears to him regularly. We are happy to ask him to act. We can pray eloquently and at great length when we’re asking God for something. But what about when our prayers are answered? Do you, do I, return to God in prayer as regularly to say thank you for answered prayer? Are you, am I, as happy to say thank you as we are to ask in the first place? Are you, am I, as eloquent and detailed in our thanks as we are in our requests? When God answers our prayers, we need to consider our response to him. Is a quick ‘thank you’ prayer enough of a response for what God has done for us? There may be times when that’s all we can offer. However, there will also be times when a bigger response from us is more appropriate. Perhaps you’ll feel led to offer a gift to God as a sign of your thankfulness. Maybe you’ll choose to celebrate in fellowship with your church family with an act of prayer or a service of thanksgiving. Think about how you want to say thank you to God for the things he’s done for you.
We’ve seen that Hannah did indeed fulfil her part of her covenant with God, but let’s now see how she waited until the time was right to do so. We see in vv21-22 how Hannah chose to wait before presenting Samuel to the Lord: ‘When her husband Elkanah went up with all his family to offer the annual sacrifice to the LORD and to fulfil his vow, Hannah did not go. She said to her husband, ‘After the boy is weaned, I will take him and present him before the LORD, and he will live there always.’ Now Hannah may have had personal reasons for wanting to stay home from the temple with Samuel. Perhaps the thought of taking him on this occasion and bringing him back was too much for her, knowing that on a future occasion she would be leaving him there. However, Hannah also knew that there was an apposite time for her to offer her son to God, which, as we see in v22 is when he was weaned. A child being nursed by its mother wouldn’t be able to live in God’s house independently and so presenting Samuel after he was weaned would have been the right time.
In the same way, there was a right time for animal sacrifices to be presented to God, which Leviticus 22:27 says was, at the earliest, eight days after their birth. For the first seven days the animals were to remain with their mothers. And when making firstfruit offerings to the Lord, these would be made from ripe grains which would be baked into bread, as in Leviticus 23:17. When making offerings to God, he accepted only the best: unblemished animal sacrifices; the ripest fruit; a weaned child. If we want to offer a gift to God, we have to be sure that it is our best gift.
Finally, we can use this passage to remind ourselves of the truth that gifts offered to God are giving back what he has first given to us. Again, we see this in Hannah’s choice of name for Samuel and her words to Eli: ‘The Lord has granted me what I asked of him. So I now give him to the Lord.’ It’s said that the words that Hannah uses for ‘asked of’ and ‘give to’ are the same. And so Samuel’s name comes also to mean ‘given to God’. Hannah was giving to God what she had first asked and received from him. Likewise for us, all our gifts to God were first his gifts to us. If you’re familiar with the 1984 Eucharist service you’ll remember the words of the offering: “All things come of thee, and of thine own do we give thee.” These words come from 1 Chronicles 29: 14, as the people of Israel offered precious metals and stones to the building of the temple. David supervised these offerings and prayed: ‘Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.’
In reminding ourselves in this way of God’s generous nature, let us also remember that he responds to our gifts to him with even more generosity. Let’s look forward to 1 Samuel ch2. We see that Hannah and Elkanah returned to the temple every year to make the annual sacrifices and to see their son Samuel. And Eli would pray for God’s blessing upon them. In v21 we see God’s generosity once again: ‘And the LORD was gracious to Hannah; she gave birth to three sons and two daughters.’ This is a consequence of Hannah and Elkanah’s generosity to God. They offered him their firstborn son – their ‘best’, their long-awaited child – and were rewarded by God with more children. I know God’s generosity in this way myself: when faced with reduced wages, I chose not to decrease my monthly gifts to God. By his generosity, the financial difference has not been punitive. We see too in our parish life, our generosity as a parish in charitable giving is rewarded by God with generous donations for things the parish needs. It’s a cycle of generosity that begins with God but that we can keep going when we are generous in our response of thanks to him.
We’ve seen today in Hannah an example of right living with God. Hannah knew she could go to God in her distress and ask for her heart’s desire. In asking for such a great gift, she entered into a covenant with God, promising to give the son God blessed her with back to him. We’ve seen Hannah’s great thankfulness in her choice of name for her son as a constant reminder of God’s graciousness to her and in her public acknowledgement to Eli. We’ve seen how Hannah waited until the time was right to offer Samuel back to the Lord, so that she was giving her best. We’ve also seen how Hannah’s response to God’s generosity was rewarded with even more generosity. Let us too, remember to be thankful when God answers our prayers. Let us consider our response of thanks, ensuring that we give God our best and let’s also keep the cycle of God’s generosity turning by playing our part in it.