12 Keys to Spiritual Maturity: Letting Go of Everything

Sermon by Derek Thomas on July 15, 2001


12 Keys to
Spiritual Maturity:
Letting go of Everything (#4)

1 Samuel 1

The wonderful thing about the Old Testament is that it stops to reflect on
how the doctrines of grace impinge upon the lives of people, and not just
“important” people, but ordinary people. In that sense, the Old
Testament seems to have time to pause, to linger on the effect of God’s truths
upon the lives of people in a way that the New Testament does not. I am
convinced that all the major truths of Scripture are reflected biographically in
the lives of people that God weaves into the Scriptures to provide “real
life examples” of how the truths of Scripture are meant to impact upon us.
As we continue to reflect on some of the marks of spiritual maturity, there is
something in the life of Hannah as recorded in the first chapter of 1 Samuel
that is really quite beautiful and extraordinary. I want us this evening to look
at something that emerges in the life of this godly woman Hannah. In the midst
of the most testing circumstances, Hannah prays one of the most exquisite
prayers recorded anywhere in the Scriptures.

Its important for us to realize that there are other issues taking place in
this chapter, issues which — if we were studying the entire book, would be
important to point out. For this study, we will limit ourselves to some
particular issues that have to do with our theme of spiritual maturity. In order
to do that, we will have to take a look at some other people, in particular, her
husband Elkanah, a woman called Peninnah —-a woman that Hannah may well have
thought of as an overly-fertile, mouthy, thorn-in-the-flesh who just happens to
be Elkanah’s second wife and with whom Hannah has to share her personal
space. And then there’s Eli the priest of Shiloh.

It’s a deliciously told story that has all the ingredients of a
“soap-opera” but in the midst of it emerges something truly
surprising. There is a key here to grasp and use. It unlocks the door to
meekness, self-effacement and usefulness.

Let me tell the story using three ideas that emerge in it:


1. God’s people can find themselves in testing
circumstances through no particular fault of their own

That’s not a very profound thing to say, I realize that; but, it needs
saying and needs repeating.

Let’s look at this man, Elkanah, first of all. He is a man of some standing
(his roots as recorded in the opening verse are impressive) and moderate wealth
(if your wondering where that can be seen in the text you’re obviously single!
Try supporting one wife and then multiply that figure by 2 and you will get the
idea!). But more importantly, though he worshiped God and seemed quite sincere
in doing so, his life was seriously compromised. Year after year he goes to
Shiloh to sacrifice (v. 3 (cf. vv. 19, 21). This is before the days of
the temple in Jerusalem. It was at Shiloh that the Tabernacle, the “Tent of
Meeting,” was set up after the days of the conquest. And it is here that
Elkanah goes on an annual basis to sacrifice. Later in the chapter, you find him
speaking to Hannah in what sounds like very pious language: “do what seems
best to you (don’t read that as though he didn’t much care!) … only may
the Lord make good his word” (v. 23).

But, Elkanah has two wives! His obedience was selective. True, it wasn’t
unusual for folk, godly folk, in those days to overlook the command of God in
Genesis. This was not the pattern intended. It was evidence of the hardness of
his heart. It was something God permitted in those days of the church’s
infancy: there was no penalty, no theocratic discipline. But, to cite Paul,
“from the beginning it was not so.”

What this says is that sin remains a powerful thing in the hearts of those
who know and love God. Elkanah’s era was the one that followed the period of
the Judges when, to cite the recurring phrase that summarizes that era,
“everyone did that which was right in their eyes.” And this act was to
mar his life as it had the lives of Abraham and Jacob, and as it would the life
of Solomon.

We aren’t told the details, and therefore we will have to conjecture a
little. Hannah is the one that Elkanah loved (see what verse 5 says about that)
and we may assume that she was the one he had married first. But her barrenness
had “forced” Elkanah to take another wife, Penninah. Perhaps, Hannah
is in middle age, and he sees this young pretty thing flashing her eyes at him.
Despite the inconvenience that he was already married, for Penninah there was
the prospect of a pretty good standard of living under his roof. You may ask
what possessed her to want to enter this relationship, but things like this
happen without much forethought. For a woman in these times, life could get a
whole lot more difficult than this. So, he pays the dowry price, and sets up
home with her. Perhaps, he brings her into his own home, under the same roof as
Hannah! Perhaps they had two “roofs.” That would certainly have made
things a little easier for everybody. You have to imagine the pain Hannah feels.
Nights spent alone and awake must have been filled with tears.

Of course, polygamy isn’t happening on this scale today, but adultery is!
You have another woman “on the side.” There may not be marriage, but
the multi-partner relationships are as common as ever. There are situations
where the wife knows about her husband’s unfaithfulness, feels resentful about
it, but is unwilling or maybe unable to do anything about it without real pain
and hurt to herself and her children and the future of all of them. And perhaps
she fears reprisals: abuse, vengeance, a way of life that isn’t as materially
comfortable as the one she now has. So she puts up with it. And Hannah finds
herself in circumstances that she longed were different than they are. But she
is trapped.

It’s a mess, isn’t it? It was in Solomon’s life and David’s life, as
it had been in the lives of the Patriarchs. The pain and hurt between the women;
the problems among the children. In Solomon’s time, it would lead to the
division of the kingdom in the end.

There’s a principle here: not to be conformed to this world’s agenda, or
scale of values. Just because others are doing it gives no excuse for us to
behave in a similar fashion.

And then there’s Peninnah! She’s a miserable little thing. Well, to be
fair, she too is in a situation she might not have chosen to be in; but, she
makes the most of it. It’s difficult to be too sympathetic to this girl. It’s
the way she rubs it in, “irritating” Hannah as verse 6 suggests.

And there’s a further problem. Hannah cannot have children! God has closed
her womb (v.6). She is barren. Worse, Penninah is having children by the
calendar! Every year there’s another one! Verse 4 mentions “sons and
daughters!” And Peninnah’s aggravation has sent Hannah into despair. She
stops eating. She cries a lot. She spends a lot of time alone, listening to the
voices of Penninah’s children playing in the distance. It makes her sick to
the stomach!

You think this doesn’t happen today? A woman in her forties and her husband
sees a young thing wearing something provocative and he leaves her, has an
affair, and children are born and the cycle is the same.

There are times when its hard to cope! (note the language of weeping and
despair in verses 7, 10, 15 and 18). Imagine being in this situation! And there
will be Christians who will say to you: “It can’t be right that you feel
like this!” It’s the voice of the pit making you feel worse than you did
before! There are situations that are terrible and that others can make worse.
They will persecute and torment and exploit. You are following the Savior and
life turns sour.

Nor is Hannah by any means the first.

Sarah, Abraham’s wife–the one he loved the most–was barren for the
greater part of the story of Abraham’s life. Isaac isn’t born until Abraham
is a hundred years old, and Sarah has to endure the mocking of Hagar in much the
same way as Hannah has had to endure Peninnah’s.

And Rebekah, Isaac’s wife is barren for the first 20 years of their
marriage.

And then there’s poor Rachel. She has another woman, Leah, to contend with
who has had four children already (and there were three more to come later).
Rachel is exasperated and hands over her servant girl Bilhah to Jacob by whom
there were two children; and then she gave another servant girl of her’s,
Zilpah to Jacob by whom there were another two children.

And you think you have problems!

2. In every difficult circumstance there is grace to
help in time of need

What I want us to see is that God helps Hannah in this situation. Two things
in particular come to the surface.

i. She knew God! Trusting
the God of Israel gave her a framework in which she could handle this situation
without coming apart at the seams. It may not sound a very profound thing to
say, but that would be a mistake. Knowing God in a personal way gives us
stability in times of stress. Knowing God as our heavenly father encourages us
to take every situation to him and “talk it through.” It encourages
trust in circumstances that seem to indicate trouble. Knowing God means sharing
a confidence that everything works out according to a plan and purpose that is
beneficent. This is the beginning of her spiritual maturity. It helped her keep
her head. Rudyard Kipling’s poem, If, says what I want to say here.


If you can keep your head

when all around you they are losing theirs,

then you will be a man!”

ii. She was willing to accept
her situation selflessly.
The lack of bitterness and revenge in her response
is breathtaking! She might have responded with a prayer that goes something like
this:

“Lord teach her a lesson!”
“I’m
tired of her patronizing, biting words!”
“Give
me a child and I will show her what boasting is all about!”

Of
course, Kipling was thoroughly Edwardian and he said, “you will be a
man,” but we can say “you will be a woman” and still retain the
idea he meant to convey. Knowing God helps us keep our heads when life turns
sour.

You
think Christians can’t pray like that?

And not
only did she refuse to become catty with Penninah; she also refused to take
things out on her husband. She was loyal to her husband even when we might
forgive her for spelling out what a cad he had been.

What accounts for this response? The answer seems to be that she had taken
her bitterness, what there must have been of it, to the Lord and seen it
dissolve in His presence. In her submissive, quiet way she had shown herself to
be more mature than her husband! One or two things might have helped her:
Elkanah loved Hannah and there were times when that showed itself in very
tangible ways. Verse 5 tells us that Elkanah gives Hannah a special portion of
the sacrifice because he loved her very much (though there is doubt about this
reading of the text). And Elkanah does seem to be sensitive to her pain.
“Why are you weeping?” he asks at one point (v.8). You might be
cynical and say, “you should know!” But perhaps, and I think it is,
it’s Elkanah being thoughtful.

Grace can be found in the most difficult circumstances of we are prepared to
look for it.


3. The grace that helps forges in her a key to
spiritual maturity: complete consecration

What Hannah didn’t know, and what none of us know either about our lives,
is that God was going to use her to bring forth an important person in the
scheme of things–Samuel. Hannah was a conduit in the purposes of God for
Israel. She did not know that, but it was no less true because of that.

We have to ask ourselves, are we prepared to be an instrument in God’s
hand, no matter how painful that be for us? Pain is always accompanied by
strength to bear it. When we are without strength God steps in and does
something to advance his purposes and help us in the process. It takes great
God-centeredness to see that, and believe that. You will need to have your heads
above the clouds beholding the Lord Jesus sitting at God’s right hand to be as
stable as Hannah is here.

It’s the prayer she utters that is most remarkable. It is at one of those
visits to Shiloh. She has finished eating, and she begins to pray to the Lord.
What she says, in effect is this: “You give me a son, and I will give him
back to You” (v.11). I think this is one of the most remarkable prayers in
the whole Bible! Eli, the priest, saw her lips move but heard no sound and
concluded that she was drunk, and quickly rebuked her!

I think it outshines any of the great prayers that we find. It’s a lesson
in consecration, self-effacement, in forgiveness. Its saying: whatever you are
pleased to give to me, I am going to use it for your kingdom. That could be a
job, or our health, or a marriage partner. Or it could be our money!

George Matteson’s hymn comes to mind:

O love
that wilt not let me go

I
rest my weary soul in Thee
I
give Thee back the life I owe…

So does the hymn,

All
to Jesus I Surrender
All
to Him I freely Give…

And then, her life changes! Just when hope seems gone, God steps in and she
has a son, Samuel. Things don’t always go on as they might appear to do.

She went to the means of grace and touched omnipotence.

What is that you most desire? And are you prepared to hand it over to God for
Him to use in whatever seems best to Him?

It is a key to spiritual maturity. What a tough key it is!

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