“He will guard the feet of his faithful ones,
but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness,
for not by might shall a man prevail.
1 Samuel 2: 9, from The Song of Hannah
Hannah was the favored wife of Elkanah, the Ephraimite, and the devout mother of the prophet Samuel. He was born to her after years of bitter barrenness (1 Sam 1:6–8) and fervent prayers for a son (1:9–18).After she weaned her son, Hannah expressed her gratitude by returning him for service in the House of the Lord at Shiloh (1:24–28). Her prayer (psalm) of thanksgiving (2:1–10) begins with the words, “My heart exults in Lord; my strength is exalted in the Lord.” This song foreshadows the Magnificat, the Song of Mary centuries later (Lk 1:46–55). The name Hannah derives from the Hebrew word for “grace.” She is remembered and honored for joyfully having kept the vow she made before her son’s birth and offering him for lifelong service to God. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)
Reflection: In high school (I graduated in ’72), I was the president of the social science club (I was a class-A nerd!) and the club went to hear Dr. Paul Ehrlich speak at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on his huge best seller Population Bomb in which he argued Malthusian horrors of overpopulation, decreased productivity and rising prices resulted in a global crisis bar none. His book has been reprinted 20 times. None of his predictions came true. Just think how many ‘scientific’ doomsday scenarios grip the public media. He argued for ZPG: zero population growth, that is replacement breeding, 2 or less children. I even remember in high school being relieved it was only my sister and I in our family. This thinking has permeated Western civilization to the point Biblical scholars debunk the Lord’s imperatives to be fruitful and multiple in Genesis 1. When in a liberal Lutheran church body (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America)I heard in an evangelism presentation that we can not count on families (or what’s left of them) filling the church. Such a ‘tactic’ was derided as “bedroom evangelism”.
I thought of these terrible reminiscences in reading in Hannah’s brief bio above about her “bitter barrenness”. “Bitter barrenness” surely described Hannah’s soulful plight and ours as well. When Elizabeth was greeted by her kinswoman Mary, she exclaimed blessed is the “fruit of your womb”. The Visitation is sheer joy. We want wombs no longer fruitful. We want barrenness, bitter barrenness as a way to ‘solve our problems’, but it has not. ZPG in Europe will result in the demise of those once Christian populations, but it also is a cause of the demise of life and joy. Pro-life is more than no abortion. Pro-life means children. Our solutions to problems both actual and perceived become even greater problems. In Hannah’s bitter barrenness, she prayed to the point that the priest Eli thought she was drunk because she was so overcome. The Lord answered her prayer and she conceived and named her son Samuel, literally God hears. There was good news in the bedroom of Hannah and Elkanah and in the bedroom of Joseph and Mary. We must take the Lord at His Word of promise to be fruitful because, parenthood is the highest vocation in creation which is blessed by the Lord with His Word in the 4th Commandment: Honor your father and your mother. No children means no honor. We live in a shameful age. Christians must be as Hannah and be Samuel, trusting in the Lord: He hears.
The Lord also heard more that Hannah may had not heard: Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phineas were scamming worshipers of their offerings (1 Samuel 2: 12-17) and committing adultery with the women serving at the temple in Shiloh (1 Samuel 2: 22-25). Hophni and Phinease were priests as their father.We are told Hophni and Phineas were “worthless men”(1 Samuel 2: 12) and Eli knew about it but did little. Sounds like headline ripped from our news about churches in our day. There was a greater bitter barreness in the land: “And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.” (1 Samuel 3: 1). We are also told this about Hophni and Phineas: “They did not know the Lord”(1 Samuel 2: 12). Priests who do not know the Lord nor follow in His ways sound like the bitter barreness of churches advising abortion, non-fecund same sex false marriages, wombs never knowing life as ‘planned parenthood’, divorce and remarriage, winking at adultery and masturbation, always thinking about money, preaching a false prosperity ‘gospel’ of your best life now. What went on in Israel happened over years as well in this land. We decry the terror abroad but not the terror in our barren pews. Yet the Lord raised up Samuel: God hears. He has heard and calls out to repent: Christ died to take away your sins not for you to wallow in them, you are freed. Samuel anointed the first kings of Israel, David and Solomon and from the seed of David came the King anointed with the Holy Spirit.
God the Father Almighty, maker of all things, You looked on the affliction of Your barren servant Hannah and did not forget her but answered her prayers with the gift of a son. So hear our supplications and petitions and fill our emptiness, granting us trust in Your provision, so that we, like Hannah, might render unto You all thankfulness and praise, and delight in the miraculous birth of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.