At this point I think it’s important to run through the hermeneutical method to arrive at grounded applications from this passage. We don’t want to spiritualize or allegorize what’s going on in the passage, so by moving through a method we can hopefully avoid those issues and arrive at a truth and application that the author was trying to get across.
What did this story mean to them?
- This story would be meaningful for Israelites because it explains the origin of one of their great prophets, Samuel. It sets the stage for God’s work in Samuel’s life and in the early history of the people of Israel.
- I would imagine Hannah’s obedience and conformity to the Law would appeal to Israelites hearing this as well.
- The Israelites may have seen some kind of resolution or justification in Hannah’s eventual conception and birth. If they viewed barrenness as a curse or trouble from God, they may have wondered at her apparently obedient nature. Why would God leave her cursed and barren? But he doesn’t! He makes her the mother of a great prophet!
What’s different about their context from ours as it relates to this story?
- As Christians we’re under a new covenant in Christ. We don’t have to offer sacrifices like Hannah did.
- The whole premise of barrenness as a curse is particularly interesting as a spiritual concept. I don’t believe barrenness is a curse as we understand “curse” modernly. I would attribute it to a general consequence of the Fall of humanity (In speaking or preaching about barrenness in this passage, be extra sensitive: you could have couples or women in your congregation who are unable to conceive. This may be especially painful as they may be praying just as fervently as Hannah, but without her wonderful resolution). Realize too that in the story, the narrator never says that barrenness is a curse. Even in other passages it’s the characters themselves that consider it that way. Finally in Hannah and in the other cases from the stories of the Patriarchs, barrenness was often overcome by the Lord’s work to bring about a progression in the Salvation Story (God’s work among people that led to Jesus). So, our cultural understandings on this issue are fairly different.
- We don’t make vows like Hannah did. This relates to the earlier discussion about vows and oaths and the new testament teaching on this issue.
- We don’t let churches or institutions adopt children for service! It might seem strange to us, but in the story it worked out just fine and wasn’t viewed negatively.
What are some general truths from the passage?
- While we haven’t seen the rest of the story yet, a truth is that God acted to bring about a leader/prophet that the people needed.
- God answered Hannah’s prayer and gave her a son.
- The story has a good conclusion in part because Hannah is faithful to fulfill her vow.
- God acted in a situation that seemed impossible to bring about an amazing and needed result.
- Hannah had faith enough to ask God for a human impossibility. She knew she was barren and yet she still asked for help.
- Hannah turned to God in her distress, not anything else.
What are application points we can derive from these general truths?
- First I think it’s important when teaching this passage (and others like it) that you emphasize God is not there to simply fulfill all our wishes. In scripture we have a lot of examples of people praying for things that are fulfilled because these stories are God’s record of His actions with people. We’re going to see a lot of things that are out-of-the-normal because God was working out his plan of salvation. I believe God still does miracles today, but just because these things happened in the Bible frequently doesn’t mean we should expect the exact same thing today. Explaining some of that (but maybe not in so much detail) will help people think critically about the story and not expect that their prayers for anything and everything will automatically be fulfilled by God.
- God is faithful to act in our lives in the right ways at the right time. We can trust God with our lives and we can make decisions in life that reflect this trust. In our story and as we’ll see in later passages, Samuel became an important figure for the people of Israel. He was the one God worked in at the right time to bring about God’s purposes. The application for us is to be in prayer and in tune with the Holy Spirit so that we don’t make faithless decisions, but choices that reflect our trust in God to act at the right time.
- God answers our prayers, and as scripture teaches us, prayer makes a difference. At this point is may not be incredibly helpful to get into issues of God’s foreknowledge and prayer and so forth. I think scripture is clear that prayer is important and does change things. I tend to think that if Hannah had not been obedient and faithful to God and had not prayed for a son, she wouldn’t have had a son, let alone a prophet of God who was important to the history of God’s people! Prayer is certainly no guarantee of God’s action; His action is not automatic, and what we ask for is not always in His will to fulfill. But the main lesson I think we can take away from this is not the power of prayer but the importance of faithfully bringing our requests to God. This story is not just an introduction of a book or greater narrative. I think an original hearer of this story or a modern reader can learn from Hannah’s wonderful example of obedience and faith. Through these characteristics she experiences the wonderful work of God in her life and even sees the perfect fulfillment of her prayer in life. Our application today is to exercise the same faith in God as we live our lives in step with him.
This would conclude a lesson or sermon on the passage then. Having a call for prayer or even extending such a message about faith and trust into an explanation of the Gospel would be entirely possible.
In the next few posts I’ll work through 1 Sam 2:12-36 so you can see the same method used on a different passage. I’ll also continue to focus on the Cultural Concepts to show how this background information really helps to put these passages in their appropriate contexts.