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Monday, October 20, 2008

All Consuming Sorrow

Dear Heavenly Father, Please reveal yourself to us as we open up your Word. Holy Spirit, open our eyes to see and believe and live your truth. May your Word sink into our souls and change us. May you be glorified by in this study. In Jesus Mighty Name, Amen.

1 Samuel 1:1-8 There was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim of the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, an Ephrathite. 2 He had two wives. The name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other, Peninnah. And Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.3 Now this man used to go up year by year from his city to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the Lord. 4 On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters. 5 But to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. 6 And her rival used to provoke her grievously to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. 7 So it went on year by year. As often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. 8 And 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 more to you than ten sons?”

Hannah had it rough. Not only did she ache to be a mother, but she had to share her husband with another wife, and the other wife had his children and taunted her for her inability to conceive. We are told that this was a pattern in Hannah’s life year after year. I can imagine that with each year, it just got harder and harder for Hannah. Moreover, as often as Hannah faithfully went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her! I could just imagine how confusing that must have been—especially knowing it was the Lord who closed her womb. Perhaps she wondered, “Lord, I am trying to obey you and follow your ways, why would you withhold the blessing of a child from me while you bless Penninah who sinfully mocks me all the time?” Or maybe she asked, “Lord, isn’t it enough that I don’t have children and Peninnah does, why must I bear her provocations as well?”

Regardless of what she was thinking, we do know that Hannah’s pain overwhelmed her to the point of weeping and not eating. To further grasp the significance of this, it is helpful to have a little background here. Elkanah had gone to Shiloh to participate in one of three holy feasts to worship and offer joyful sacrifices to God. After the sacrifice was made, the offerer could eat of it and distribute it to those whom he chose. Theologian John Wesley's sermon notes on this passage tell us this: "Out of the sacrifice of his peace - offerings, the greatest part whereof fell to the offerer, and was eaten by him, and his friends or guests, before the Lord. And out of this he gave them all portions, as the master of the feast used to do to the guests. " Elkanah gave Hannah the gift of a double portion of this offering as a demonstration of love for her. It was to be eaten by her in joyful worship to God. Instead of accepting the loving gift from her husband and participating in this act of worship to God, Hannah was distracted by her sorrow. Her sorrow became all consuming. As Bible Commentator Matthew Henry describes, “It made her uneasy to herself and to all her relations. She did not eat of the feast; her trouble took away her appetite, made her unfit for any company, and a jar in the harmony of family-joy.”

Hannah’s husband tries to cheer her up. We don’t know what Hannah thought of her husband’s words initially. Maybe she thought, “Why can’t you just understand what I am going through?” Maybe she thought, “You are right, I should not allow myself to drown in my sorrow and introspection.” There does seem to be some rebuke in what Elkanah was saying to her about the way she was being consumed by this struggle. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary says:

Elkanah, mindful of Hannah's grief, asked her, "Why are you downhearted?" (v.8). More literally the question is, "Why is your heart bad?" The only other precise OT parallel for this phrase is Deuteronomy 15:10: "Do so without a grudging heart" (lit., "May your heart not be bad when you do so!" [i.e., when you give generously to the Lord]). To do something "with a bad heart" means to do it resentfully (or grudgingly; so NIV on Deut 15:10). Thus Elkanah is not so much asking Hannah why her heart is sad ("Why are you downhearted?") but why her heart is bad ("Why are you resentful?"). Are you angry or full of spite because you do not have children? "Don't I"—your husband, who loves you very much—"mean more to you than ten sons?"

While the passage does not explicitly say so, I am inclined to agree with these commentators that there was something sinful in Hannah’s all-consuming response to her situation and that her husband was gently calling her out on it. Like Hannah, I sometimes find myself drowning in my own pain to the exclusion of all others. I compare my situation with others, and I often find that I have been given the short end of the stick—minimizing the pain of others and amplifying my own. I get self-absorbed and self-consumed to the extent that it interferes with my ability to love others—to rejoice with those who rejoice, to mourn with those who mourn, and to humbly and sacrificially serve. I lose sight of my blessings and instead zoom in on the circumstances that cause me pain. I think this was Hannah’s sin too.

I love this observation by Matthew Henry about the state of Hannah’s mourning: “… it was her infirmity so far to give way to the sorrow of the world as to unfit herself for holy joy in God. Those that are of a fretful spirit, and are apt to lay provocations too much to heart, are enemies to themselves, and strip themselves very much of the comforts both of life and godliness.”

Our sorrows should not overshadow our joy in the Lord if we believe the good news of the Gospel and if we desire and worship the Lord above all things. Our desires for changed circumstances should not overshadow our desire for the God and for His good and perfect will. Our suffering should not distract us from loving those around us. Our feelings do not entitle us to “let go” and behave however we feel to the neglect of God and others.

I want to be clear about what I am not saying though--I am not saying that there is something wrong with grieving. We see this picture of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. In the garden, Jesus anticipated: bearing the full weight of the sins of the world, absorbing the full wrath against those sins, being separated from the Father with whom He enjoyed perfect relationship, enduring the mocking scorn of the creation He rightfully ruled, being abandoned by His friends, and suffering the excruciating pain and brutality of it all. Matthew 26:37 tells us that Jesus was sorrowful “even to the point of death”. Luke 22:44 tells us that in His agony, Jesus’ sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground. Jesus did not sin in any of the emotions He experienced.

We have much to learn in what Jesus did do in His sorrow. We’ll talk more about that next time. In the meantime, I’ll close with this quote from John Piper:

If there were no afflictions and difficulties and troubles and pain, our fallen hearts would fall ever more deeply in love with the comforts and securities and pleasures of this world instead of falling more deeply in love with our inheritance beyond this world, namely, God himself. Suffering is appointed for us in this life as a great mercy to keep us from loving this world more than we should and to make us rely on God who raises the dead. "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22).
There is no other way. Do not begrudge them. They are hard to bear. I know they are. But if you keep your inheritance before you, and if God gives you the grace to see what Paul calls "the riches of the glory of his inheritance" (
Ephesians 1:18), then will you not say with the apostle, "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us"? –John Piper, from his sermon, “Children, Heirs, and Fellow Sufferers,” available at:

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for your Word and the way it speaks to every circumstance in our lives. Thank you that there is purpose in suffering and that you do not leave us alone in it. Just as Jesus wept with Mary and Martha at the death of Lazarus, I know you weep with us in our pain as well. Please make us faithful in the way that we suffer. May we never desire anything or anyone more than we desire you! Please forgive us for our lack of desire for you and fill us with an all consuming hunger for you. Forgive us for being self-absorbed and demanding. Forgive us for excusing our sins on the basis of the emotions we feel. Sometimes it feels so overwhelming. Clearly we do not have the power to do this on our own. Please give us the strength and the power of your Spirit to resist our sinful inclinations. By your Spirit, may we keep our eyes on you rather than on ourselves or our circumstances. Please fill us with love for you to endure our circumstances with patience. Please fill us with love for others so that we can humbly and sincerely serve others out of love. I ask all of this in Jesus' name, Amen.


Rachel said...

I am taking some time to read over your blog and so enjoy it. You do write very well. I hope you don't mind that I posted about you on my blog to direct others here. If you prefer not, let me know.

Anonymous said...

You have a very special gift. Thanks for sharing it.

Heather said...

Thank you Bina! You are such a blessing! God is using you to teach many of us and to encourage us to go deeper in our relationship and knowledge of Him.