Rising From Spiritual Defeat – The First Step

(1 Samuel 1:1-18)

We need to take note of the context of Hannah’s life, and the misery she suffered. First there were the political circumstances of Israel in the late period of the judges. Eli was the judge of Israel at the time (1 Sam. 4:18). This was an unstable and difficult period. There were times of peace, but the threat always hung over the nation that they would be overrun by their enemies. The raiding parties from the peoples around them were constantly attacking Israel, killing, robbing, abusing the women and destroying whole villages. There was the spiritual situation. Israel is described in this period as everyone doing what was right in their own eyes (Judg. 21:25). There was very little spiritual purity in the land. They worshipped God and idols at the same time, compromised morally and spiritually with the nations God told them to avoid and they syncretized their worship of God with the religious rites of the heathens, even to the extent of sacrificing their children to their gods in fire, and engaging in ritual sexual activity, both hetro and homosexual in nature. The writer of 1 Samuel indicates that it was a time of spiritual darkness where the light of God had gone out and where the word of God was rare and not often heard. The prophets were not preaching much (1 Sam. 3:1). The sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, priests in the temple of the Lord, were wicked, stealing the best meat from the worshippers before it was sacrificed to God and sleeping with the women that ministered at the temple (1 Sam. 2:12-17, 22-25).

So Hannah lived in a period of time when there was a sense of danger everywhere and very little spiritual support, or confidence. At her home no doubt God was honored, judging by the fact that Elkanah pilgrimaged every year to Shiloh to worship the Lord (1 Sam. 1:3). And yet Hannah was undoubtedly a godly woman with a great deal of faith in God, and a great commitment to him. We read that she was married to a man who had two wives. Elkanah’s other wife was Peninnah, and she was fertile, having several children. However, Hannah had none. She truly wanted to have children, but it never came about year after year. To make matters worse, at the celebration time, when the family went on vacation to Shiloh to worship God, Peninnah would torment Hannah so badly that she would lose her appetite. Eating was part of the sacrificial ritual, but Hannah effectively could not participate, because she was so upset about not having children and because she had been tormented to death. Elkanah loved Hannah and gave her the favored portion, and Peninnah tormented out of jealousy until she couldn’t enjoy it. This was the miserable situation in which Hannah lived. She loved God, knew how to pray and lived a life of godliness, but she could not have children and it overshadowed everything else in her life. She was tormented to death by her rival, every time they went to worship God. She couldn’t even get relief in the temple!

We can imagine Hannah’s misery. Uncertainty everywhere she looked. She could not change her infertility problem. She had a rival that tormented her. As they went to worship God imagine the scene of chaos and misery. They have brought their sacrifice to the temple. We are told that the sons of Eli were wicked. Hannah is already uptight dreading the confrontation with Pinninah. The journey from Ramah to Shiloh is lengthy (about 24 miles) and difficult, fraught with danger from possible bandits or danger of invasion (on an invasion route to the north part of Jerusalem, because east to west invasions were nearly impossible due to the steep ravines). They would have traveled what was called the “Ridge Route,” the major road through the area (NIV Atlas of the Bible. Zondervan. p. 40). Shiloh was in the hill country of Ephraim, in the heartland allotted to that tribe (NIV Atlas of the Bible. Zondervan. p. 40). The country is about 27 by 15 miles, made up of steep, terraced rock hills. The wadis (seasonal rivers), drain toward Shiloh and to the Mediterranean. The elevations are from 1,900 -3,200 feet (NIV Atlas of the Bible. Zondervan. p. 40). Tired and worn out from traveling they would prepare to worship after resting, only to be confronted by Hophni and Phinehas demanding they give them the better portions of the sacrifice even before the appropriate portions had been offered to God on the altar. The temple must have not seemed a very hospitable place. Then it would start; after the offerings had been made, Elkanah would bring Hannah the larger portion and Peninnah in a fit of jealousy would taunt her about having no children, while the whole time bragging about her own. If we could look behind the scenes, we might see Hannah dreading the annual pilgrimage. And they did this year after year, so we can assume that Hannah suffered this indignity for a very long time.

Without this background we are impossibly indifferent to Hannah’s plea for help from God; it seems more or less like an urgent request, when in fact it was a the impossible cry of a broken heart and a failing spirit. Hannah was living a spiritual challenge in her life that almost a nightmare. Her heart remained burdened from year to year and was regularly tortured and discouraged. On top of which there was little spiritual reinforcement in Israel to bring hope, because the spiritual support structure was in ruins. The word of God and prophetic encouragement was virtually non-existent. Even trips to the temple were an ordeal rather than a spiritual blessing. Hannah was living with a tremendous almost unbearable spiritual challenge in her life.

Remarkably, however, Hannah was a woman of prayer, and one year something different happened. We are not told what made this year different from the others, but after being tormented into refusing her food, Hannah found herself in the temple seeking God more desperately than ever before. She had prayed on many occasions but something was different about this one, and she prayed through beyond the pain, beyond the misery, beyond the doubt. Her breaking heart somehow touched the heart of God, and God was ready to answer her prayer. In seeking the Lord, she was so fervent that as she prayed in her heart her lips moved, and Eli thought she was drunk. When he rebuked her, one more cruel misunderstanding, Hannah confessed her pain, that she was seeking God for a deeply personal request. She never revealed the request to the priest! But Eli saw her earnestness and prophesied that God would bless her and grant her petition.

I is important to note what happened after Hannah had prayed. She went on her way greatly changed in her attitude and she ATE something (1 Sam. 1:18)! Now we must stop and not read on too quickly. Hannah has gone from deeply troubled to being at peace and hungry! Clearly something has changed in the context of the prayer she prayed. She still does not have a child, and she is clearly not pregnant, and yet her whole disposition has changed. It changed in the context of the prayer she prayed. Hannah overcame her spiritual battle and challenge in prayer before the answer ever materialized in terms of a child born to her. She won the battle in spiritual warfare through fervent, persistent prayer.

There are two things that Hannah left Shiloh with that she did not come with, and one of them was NOT a child. That would come later. She left with peace in her heart. She arrived with turmoil and pain, but she left in peace and assurance from God, Secondly, she left with victory. She left with victory over her pain and suffering, disappointment and misery. When she went out to eat after praying it was because the misery that robbed her of her appetite had been taken away by God! She also had won the victory over the taunting of her enemy or rival, Peninnah, because she had received something from God.

It is the same with us when we take time to pray earnestly about things until the breakthrough comes. Peace from God comes not from answered prayer, but from prayer that breakthrough to the presence of the Holy Spirit. When we touch God and he touches us, the victory is won and the peace comes. It is not the answer to our prayers in the way we want to see them answered that give us peace. God’s presence and assurance gives us peace, when we pray through to the knowledge of his presence. Spiritual challenges and defeats have to be met with this kind of prayer, long before there are any changes to out circumstances and situation. As with Hannah that comes later, it comes afterwards in due course. It still took her nine more months at least to realize her dream! Earnest, powerful sincere, prevailing prayer is always the first step to spiritual victory and deliverance.

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