For Not By Might Shall a Mom Prevail
: 1 As some of you know, my wife Lisa is a great cook. Anything she makes is good, and I love her cooking! And I’m not just saying this because Lisa is my wife, or because it’s Mother’s Day, but because … well… fellas, have you ever had one of those times when the words came out of your mouth, and they sort of hung there in the air like one of those cartoon balloons? You wished you could bring them back? But you can’t?
Early in our marriage, Lisa found out that I like apple pie. And so she made me pie, lots of pies. And they were great. But there’s something you need to know. Even though I liked Lisa’s apple pie I really loved Mrs. Smith’s apple pie. You know the kind that come frozen from the grocery store and you heat them up in the oven, with the squishy apples, and the apple goop that is really, really sweet, and caramelizes into the crust? Big scoop of vanilla ice cream. . . ooohhh! And Lisa’s apple pie was good, but the apples were a little on the crunchy side and I just wasn’t used to that. Now I wasn’t so dumb that I ever said that out loud, that I liked Mrs. Smith’s pies better than Lisa’s. That would be stupid. I just enjoyed her home made apple pies. And then one day, she made me a pie, served it on a plate, a little ice cream on the side, and it was really good! I don’t know how she did it, but she made me a pie that tasted just like Mrs. Smith’s apple pie! And I thought this would be a good time to encourage Lisa, to let her know that, whatever she did with this apple pie, she needed to do it again. “Hey hon,” I said. “This is great! You are getting a really good at making apple pie!”
And then she said, “It’s Mrs. Smith’s!” You know, there are times when you are better off if you just keep your mouth shut.
: 2 Howard Hendricks tells us, whenever we read the Bible, we need to look for things that are true-to-life. Our text this morning comes from 1 Samuel Chapter 1, the story of the birth of Israel’s last judge, Samuel. Samuel served as the transition leader from the corrupt days of the judges, where “everyone did what was right in their own eyes,” to the period of Israel’s monarchy, which began with Saul and then King David. The story is a powerful one of how God’s purpose is accomplished through our pain when we take it to God in prayer. This will lead us to the conclusion found in 1 Samuel 2:9: For not by might shall a man prevail (or a mom for that matter!) But all this starts with a average family, and a husband, a good guy, a godly guy, and a guy who sees a problem, and tries to “fix” it.
: 3 Let’s look at verse 1: 1Now there was a certain man from Ra-MA-tha-im-ZO-phim from the hill country of Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah the son of Je-RO-ham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. 2He had two wives: the name of one was Hannah and the name of the other Peninnah; and Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children. Most scholars would say it is likely that Hannah is Elkanah’s first wife. She could not have children, which is heartbreaking at any time, but back then there was huge social stigma attached. For them, bearing children was a sign of God’s blessing, and to be barren was considered a punishment from God. In agrarian and pastoral communities survival depended upon children to work, and add to the family’s wealth and to build the status of the patriarch. A barren woman would see herself as an outsider, even within the group, unable to share with the other women in common life experiences. Even the things the other mothers complained about; teething, potty training, terrible twos, whining, fussing, and fighting - Hannah had no part in any of that, and I can tell you from experience that a childless wife feels left out. And time didn’t heal her sense of loss. Every year it got worse and worse.
PROBLEM: Faced with a barren wife – a problem - Elkanah “fixed” things. He got a second wife who could and did bear children, perhaps like Hagar did for Sarah, Abraham’s wife. The trouble is, a man has room in his heart for only one woman. God made us that way. As far as the family goes, Elkanah’s “fix” only made things worse. Verse 3: 3Now this man would go up from his city yearly to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts in Shiloh. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests to the Lord there. 4When the day came that Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and her daughters; 5but to Hannah he would give a double portion, for he loved Hannah, but the Lord had closed her womb.
Guys, we never cease trying to fix things, do we? Elkanah could not give Hannah kids, so he did the next best thing: he gave her presents! A feast with meat as the main course was a rare and special thing. To give Hannah a double portion, in front of the whole family, made Peninnah, who would have seen herself as more deserving, feel slighted. Elkanah’s good intentions really only made things worse. Look at verse 6: 6 Her (Hannah’s) rival, . . . would provoke her bitterly to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. 7 It happened year after year, as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, [Peninnah] would provoke her; so [Hannah] wept and would not eat.
Being jealous of Elkanah’s love for Hannah, her double honor, Peninnah provoked Hannah to tears, rubbing salt in her wound of infertility. “Here we are, going to praise the Lord,” she might say, “and what do you have to praise him for? You’re not blessed, you’re cursed! Get yours now, because my children will get it all. If anything ever happens to Elkanah, I’ll put you out on the street! Why do you come anyway? You’re worthless!”
Now here are the facts: Elkanah loved Hannah. God loved Hannah. He actually has a great purpose for her life. She will become the mother of a prophet and judge, the prophet Samuel. He will replace faithless Eli and his corrupt sons, and usher in a period of devotion to the Lord. Samuel will turn Israel’s heart back to God. He will be a king-maker, the answer to the prayers of not just Hannah, but a whole nation. Hannah will have a significant part in that, setting the course for his entire life as a man dedicated to God. How strange that we listen to the lies of the devil, when God has a great purpose for the pain we suffer, if we will just see things from His point of view.
Well, Elkanah is not done trying to fix things. You know guys, the absolute worst thing you can do in the face of emotion, is apply reason. Take it from me, it doesn’t work. But that never stops us from trying! We’re always trying to fix things! Verse 8: 8 Then Elkanah her husband said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep and why do you not eat and why is your heart sad? Am I not better to you than ten sons?” (Bad idea. “Gosh dear, you’re getting a whole lot better at making apple pie!) 9 Then Hannah rose after eating and drinking in Shiloh. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat by the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. 10 She, greatly distressed, prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly.
: 4 PAIN: How true-to-life. How true-to-life that all this happened on a holiday! What was intended as a day for rejoicing, feasting and celebration had become, year after year, a day to be dreaded and a point of pain. Today is Mother’s Day, when we celebrate our mothers. And I cannot let it go unsaid that for many women, Mother’s Day is a day of pain. Hannah hated getting in the caravan to go to God’s house, to try and put on a show of celebration, when in fact, her heart was breaking. There are some moms here this morning who dreaded getting in the mini-van today, to come to God’s house, to make it easy for everyone else who, quite honestly, are mostly ungrateful the rest of the year. But that’s what mom’s do, isn’t it? They make it easy for us. Mothers are the “magic lady” who makes things “appear.” She makes food appear on the table, clean clothes appear in the drawers, and shampoo appear in the bathroom. She makes little notes of encouragement appear in the lunch-bag. Her magic also works in reverse: she makes things dis-appear: not just dust-bunnies from behind the piano bench, but the sting from a skinned knee, the disappointment in not being picked for the team, and the hurt underneath a thousand tears cried by her kids on mommy’s shoulder. If you live with a magic lady, it’s time to start letting her know you notice that it’s not done by magic.
And of course there are women who’s pain matches Hannah’s. They are unable to bear children. Many of those women are not even here today. Lisa used to be one of them. My son Luke was born 15 years into our marriage, and I think the last 5 of those years, Lisa just skipped Mother’s Day. It was too painful.
The reason the story of Hannah is so important is that it reminds us – all of us - what to do with our pain, because we all experience it from time to time. Mother’s Day is a day for rejoicing and celebration. I trust that for most of the mothers in this audience you are rejoicing in the Lord. Your kids love you, they honor you, your husband absolutely adores you, and you feel God’s blessing immeasurably. Praise the Lord for that. But you know as well as I do, that from time to time, we all experience pain. It’s what we do with our pain that makes all the difference. Let’s see what Hannah does. Look at verse 11.
: 5 PRAYER: 11 She made a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and a razor shall never come on his head.” 12Now it came about, as she continued praying before the Lord, that Eli was watching her mouth. 13As for Hannah, she was speaking in her heart, only her lips were moving, but her voice was not heard.
This is the climax of the story, where Hannah pours out her heart to God. Her emotions are raw and real, and she vents them freely to God. They are so raw that she can’t even give voice to them. Have you ever been provoked, angry, irritated, so sad you couldn’t eat, greatly distressed and bitter, felt forgotten, even neglected by God? The weight on your soul is oppressive, and you feel incapable of doing anything other than crying? If you were to make a list of all the emotions mentioned of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1 & 2, you would find these very words used to describe her pain.
Before we move on, I want you to notice something. Sometimes our affliction prompts us to ask too little of God. We buy into the lie that says God has abandoned us, and doesn’t care, so why bother to ask? But Hannah asked for everything she could. Look at this: She doesn’t ask for a child, she asks for a son. And not just any son. What she has in mind is a son as great as Samson, the very last judge, who also never cut his hair, and was also dedicated to God from birth. Hannah has just asked for much more than the joy of parenting. She wants the privilege of having a significant part in God’s purpose for Israel. She wants to be the mother of Israel’s next judge. She wants it to be her son who brings about revival in the land, to turn their hearts back to God. That’s what she is asking for.
How true-to-life that the husband doesn’t get it. How true-to-life that the pain is at its worst on a holiday. And how true-to-life that sometimes, when your intentions are most noble, you are least understood. Let’s pick up in the middle of verse 13: So Eli thought she was drunk. 14Then Eli said to her, “How long will you make yourself drunk? Put away your wine from you.” 15But Hannah replied, “No, my lord, I am a woman oppressed in spirit; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have poured out my soul before the Lord. 16“Do not consider your maidservant as a worthless woman, for I have spoken until now out of my great concern and provocation.” 17Then Eli answered and said, “Go in peace; and may the God of Israel grant your petition that you have asked of Him.” 18She said, “Let your maidservant find favor in your sight.” So the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.
How true-to-life that prayer makes all the difference in the world. Prayer refocuses our attention on God. It reminds us that our circumstances do not represent God’s reality. We may start with our circumstances, but, once we are in God’s presence, He often has a way of shifting our focus from our lack to His purpose – meaning the bigger picture of what He wants to do, and how our suffering might fit into that picture. There are times when I look at a guy like Dave Cho, with deadly liver cancer, and think, “Lord, I know lots of bums out there. I can live without them. Why Dave?” God’s reality reminds me that maybe I can live without them, but maybe God can’t. It’s not about the world the way I want it, with great guys like Dave Cho around, but the world as God is preparing it. Very often that means suffering. It was true for Jesus Christ. It’s true for His followers. It’s a historical fact that God moves his purpose forward through the suffering and sacrifice of His saints. Mom’s, you know that your sacrifice is necessary for your kid’s well being. That’s why we have a day to celebrate you.
When we take our pain to God in prayer, the result is freedom. Look at verse 19: 19Then they arose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord, and returned again to their house in Ramah. And Elkanah had relations with Hannah his wife (It’s always good to put our faith into practice!), and the Lord remembered her. 20 It came about in due time, after Hannah had conceived, that she gave birth to a son; and she named him Samuel, saying, “Because I have asked him of the Lord.”
The name “shamu-a-el” sounds like the Hebrew word for ask (sha-al), and hear (shemah), so Hannah gave her son a name that would be a reminder to her, and eventually to all Israel, and now to us, of what happens when we ask of God. He hears, and in hearing, responds. John puts it this way in 1 John 5:14-15: 14This is the is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will (or His purpose), He hears us. 15And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.
Finally, Hannah fulfills her vow. She nurses Samuel for 3 to 4 years, weans him, and then follows through with her promise. Skip down to verse 24: 24Now when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, with a three-year-old bull and one ephah of flour and a jug of wine, and brought him to the house of the Lord in Shiloh, although the child was young. 25Then they slaughtered the bull, and brought the boy to Eli. 26She said, “Oh, my lord! As your soul lives, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you, praying to the Lord. 27“For this boy I prayed, and the Lord has given me my petition which I asked of Him. 28“So I have also dedicated him to the Lord; as long as he lives he is dedicated to the Lord.” And he worshiped the Lord there.
We find out in the next chapter that Hannah took him a new linen ephod, or priestly robe, every year, probably for quite a while. We can imagine it was hard for her to leave her four year old boy with a man who had raised two losers like Hophni and Phinehas. But Hannah was good to her vow, and gave Samuel to God for His safe keeping, and we know that God was as good to His part as Hannah was to hers.
: 6 In all this, we have several lessons: First of all, we learned, guys, that there’s rarely a simple fix for our wives’ problems. Sometimes, the best thing you can do for your wife is listen and stand by her. I want to make the problem go away. I’ll apply logic and reason. Lisa tells me that for women, their issues are so inter-related with other issues, when I try and fix the thing that’s on the surface, I just show her how little I understand her and her life, and that hurts her worse than the problem itself. Life for her is a huge complexity. For me, solving a problem is simple. Just chop it off and kill it. Lisa wants me to listen and try and understand.
Next we saw the encouragement to take our pain to God in prayer. Hannah’s example shows us that our prayer can be free, spontaneous, and from the heart. Don’t mince words with God. He can handle it. Both Martha and Mary said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, our brother would not have died.” Jesus didn’t rebuke them. He cried too. A lot of the Psalms say in a nutshell, “Lord, this stinks. Do something.” More and more, I’m realizing that the hard things of life are not something to try and understand or try and figure out, or a problem to solve. They are opportunities for me to learn to simply trust God and His good heart.
We saw that Hannah was bold in her request to God. She asked for a lot. I think what we see in her request is something more than the joy of parenting, but the chance to join with God in what He is about to do. In her barrenness she felt like she was being denied that chance. And this leads us to what I think is the most important application of this text.
PURPOSE: All we are, and all we have, and all we do, is for God and His purposes. Today on Mother’s Day, it is a reminder that our kids belong to God. They are on loan to us from God, just like everything else. Thirteen years ago, when God chose to make Lisa a mother, and me a father, he gave us a gift that He wanted back. From the time that Luke was born, we have placed in him a vision that his birth was special and his life is unique; that he belongs to God, and that God has great things in store for him. Ten years ago, with our second son Michael, God gave us a powerhouse of potential and a tender heart that we fully expect to be used in God’s service. Both our boys have unique gifts, abilities and personalities. The wise mother (and father) helps shape their future by giving them a dream to live up to. Don’t you know that Hannah did that for Samuel, telling him this story, never cutting his hair, cutting the cloth of his future with every garment she made. You know if we don’t give our kids a vision of who they will be in God’s world, who will?
Woman, how divine your mission Here upon our natal sod!
Keep, oh, keep the young heart open Always to the breath of God!
All true trophies of the ages Are from mother-love adorned with pearls;
For the hand that rocks the cradle Is the hand that rules the world. (William Ross Wallace, stanza 3, “Hand That Rocks the Cradle”)
There are times in our lives when we forget that parenting (or really anything in this life) is a calling, a mission from God. But it is. It is a mission, a stewardship, a responsibility He has entrusted to use for His purposes. We forget, and the “daily-ness” of family life eclipses everything else. We shuttle from one thing to the next, the next project, the next test, the next game, the next church activity, the next crisis of growing up, and the last thing on our mind is a calling from God as parent. All we can think about sometimes is survival.
I think we need to follow Hannah’s example here as well. You take whatever opportunity you have. Whether it’s on the way to school, or out on the ball field, at the dinner table, or as you kiss your kids good night, you take the opportunity you have. Lisa is outstanding in this. I have a long way to go. Hannah really only got a few years of devoted time with Samuel, but she took whatever opportunity she had. This takes faith. Faith that when God is in it, that’s enough. God’s hand was on Samuel. Isn’t His hand on your child too?
When we focus on God’s purpose, it reminds us that parenting is not about us, it is not really even about our kids. It is about God. How often it is that, with any gift from God, we wrongly assume that it is ours to spend upon ourselves. God gives us great joy through parenting, but that’s not the main reason why He made us parents. Hannah prayed, and God answered and gave her a son. But the answer to the prayer wasn’t the end, it was only the beginning. When God answers our prayer, it is because He is about to do something, and so he gives us what we need to move His purpose forward. For example, for the last two years, we have prayed for a Sr. Pastor. We prayed, and God answered, but it would be wrong to think that’s the end. It’s only the beginning. God’s answer is to bring us into a new season at Immanuel, one that I think will be more fruitful than any we have experienced so far.
And so it is with our kids. We have to shape them for the future, because God intends to do something through them, and to use us to get them ready for that. Mothers please remember that. Remember that when you feel frustrated, unappreciated, neglected, taken advantage of, run ragged, weighed down with care, stretched to the breaking point, unsupported by dad, pressured by your own mother, and absolutely misunderstood. Remember that God is going to use you in spite of all that, and probably through all of that, and also remember that what God gives you to do, He always supplies what you need to do it. That’s called grace, and He gives it abundantly. : 7 That’s what Hannah found out. Listen to her song from 1 Samuel 2, verse 2:
2“There is no one holy like the Lord, / Indeed, there is no one besides You, / Nor is there any rock like our God. (And down in verse 8) 8“He raises the poor from the dust, / He lifts the needy from the ash heap / To make them sit with nobles, / And inherit a seat of honor; / For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, / And He set the world on them. / 9“He keeps the feet of His godly ones, / But the wicked ones are silenced in darkness; / For not by might shall a man prevail.
For not by might shall a mom prevail either. When no one understands your problems, even your well-intentioned husband. For not by might shall a mom prevail. When you are at your wits end, and the best and only thing you can do is pray. For not by might shall a mom prevail. When your pain leads you to a realization of God’s purpose. For not by might shall a mom prevail. Let’s all say that together, and then I’ll close in prayer: For not by might shall a mom prevail.
Prayer for the women, mothers, dads and children.