Today's post is not so much about a husband and wife as it is the package each spouse brings into the marriage...relatives!
In the days when men were allowed more than one wife, Hannah found her marriage crowded with unwelcome criticisms and comparisons!
Do you dread family reunions and holidays?
Oh, the food is wonderful and it's not that you don't love your kin. It's just that you hate being compared to someone at the table every time you get together!
Who opens their mouth first--your meddling mom or nosey mother-in-law? How about your accomplished sister or your brother's perfect wife?
It can be anyone. And the list of comparisons is endless:
"Your older sister has a child and works; she seems to handle it just fine!"
"Our family has always gone to the Frozen Chosen church. I don't understand why you had to leave and go to one of those wild ones!"
"Why do you talk about Jesus all the time? People will think you're a fanatic!"
"None of the other kids in the family are home-schooled. Aren't you afraid yours will grow up weird?"
"So your husband wants to become a pastor. Ummm…what seminary will he be attending?"
"You know, so and so plays the piano and so and so has a beautiful singing voice. It's a shame you were never musically inclined."
"What? The family always gets together for Independence Day at the beach. Why are you abandoning us for a crazy mission trip to…where did you say? My God, I've never even heard of the place!"
"Hon, we were talking last night about you. Are you sure you're not in a cult?"
And on and on!
Hannah was well acquainted with similar exasperating taunts. Let's begin her story in the first chapter of 1 Samuel:
Elkanah had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Peninnah was able to bear children--lots of them--but Hannah remained childless. Verse 6 says, "Her adversary (Peninnah) provoked her sore, for to make her fret…"
Elkanah saw how this affected Hannah and tried to comfort her. "Hannah, why weepest thou? And why eatest thou not? And why is thy heart grieved? Am I not better to thee than ten sons?" (Verse 8)
When it came time to go to the Temple, Elkanah gave Peninnah and all of her sons and daughters their regular share, but his beloved Hannah received a double portion.
What she received was a share from the family's Festival Tithe, used yearly by an Israelite and his household for rejoicing before the Lord (Deut. 14:22-27).
In a manner of speaking, God returned to the tither what he faithfully set aside, with the stipulation that it was to be used solely for rejoicing in His presence. This blessing would be similar to a family saving up for a yearly vacation in order to be refreshed body, spirit, and soul. For the Jews, this was a truly merry occasion filled with food and wine, dancing, worship, and fellowship.
Yet Hannah didn't have a problem with Elkanah's love and generosity. It was the unrelenting jabs and guilt trips spewing from the other family member!
So who's your Peninnah? Who sorely provokes you and causes you to fret? Amusingly, her name in Hebrew means, "Pearl". And compared to you, she's the normal and well-adjusted one…socially, financially and more importantly, religiously.
To these people, you appear fruitless--just like Hannah.
But what Pininnah didn't realize is that Hannah wasn't empty; it just wasn't her time. And woman of God, you're not barren of God's plans and purposes, either.
At her wit's end, Hannah went to the Temple alone and wept before the Lord--so much so that Eli the priest thought she was drunk. It was there she made a vow: if He would grant her a son, she would return him to the Lord's service as a Nazirite.
Numbers 6:1-21 explains this vow was a means of further consecration unto the Lord. During the length of the vow, which could be temporary or permanent, the hair of the Nazirite could not be cut..He or she was also required to abstain from wine, wine vinegar, grapes and raisins and all corpses and graves--even those of family members.
Eli watched as Hannah travailed fervently before the Lord. When he found out her condition, he declared a priestly blessing over her to "Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of him." (I Samuel 1:17)
She received his words by faith. She rose, ate, and cast off her sadness. The next morning she and Elkanah worshiped before the Lord and then returned home. Verse 19 says that the next time Elkanah was intimate with Hannah, "The Lord remembered her". (Verse 19)
Nine months later, Hannah joyfully gave birth to a son she named Samuel. Soon afterward, it was time to make the yearly trip to the Temple again, but Hannah refused to go until the child was weaned.
2 Chronicles 31:16 states that males in the service of the Lord were provided for from three years old and up. Other historical sources indicate that children were usually weaned in Oriental cultures around the age of three.
True to her word, Hannah later took the toddler Samuel to the Temple to minister before the Lord with Eli. She proclaimed, "…I have lent (returned) him to the Lord; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord…" (1 Samuel 1:28)
Samuel became the greatest prophet in the Old Testament period. In fact, 1 Samuel 3:19, 20 records, "And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him, and did let NONE of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord."
Although Pininnah, our Pearl, had many sons and daughters, the Bible does not mention their names or deeds. Hannah gave birth to one miracle, whose name rings throughout time as one of the greatest leaders in Judeo/Christian history.
The issue is quality over quantity, isn't it? Which of these two concepts do you think is most important to God?
Also, Hannah recognized the importance of properly preparing her child before releasing him into his ministry. She took her time to nurture and bond with Samuel, even forfeiting her yearly pilgrimage to the Temple, which no doubt generated a lot of gossip.
What are you doing that you KNOW is God's will for your life and family, in spite of the fact that it goes against traditions and expectations?
What dream have you asked from God that will literally take a miracle to bring it to life?
What are you willing to give up long-term in order to see that your "Nazirite" (especially consecrated) blessing is cultivated in excellence before you release it to the Body of Christ?
You'll assuredly be pressured by the Pininnahs who seem to spit things out left and right, but don't be tempted to become one of them. You will increase your output, but sacrifice your effectiveness in the effort.
Many pastors have done this in pursuit of mega-churches and mega-money. Reject those who insist on counting, rather than weighing their people.
Take your time, Hannah. Shield what God has given you until you sense it is "weaned" or able to walk. Many believers have been given wonderful assignments from God, only to launch them out into the world before they're able to stand.
A ministry's failure is never due to what God commissioned. It's the vision holder's impatience and pride that causes him or her to loose an immature work into a grown-up world. It ends in either a stressful collapse or corruption.
Bathe your gift in prayer, feed it with God's Word and cradle it in faith. Protect it against verbal assaults from the jealous and unwise. And don't put anything on the devil's radar too soon!
Like Hannah, go in faith; cast off your sadness and proclaim, "God is not a man that He should lie; neither the son of man, that He should repent: Hath He said, and shall He not do it? Or hath He spoken, and shall not make it good?" (Numbers 23:19)
Though the vision tarry in becoming a reality, "...wait for it; because it will surely come." (Habakkuk 2:3)
Why do you have to wait?
You see, what Pininnah produced was natural for her and required very little effort. What will come out of you will be something supernatural.
The name Hannah means, "favored". Although pearls (Pininnahs) are pretty and quite valuable to man, costlier still is the favor of the Lord, which cannot be purchased--even if all the pearls in all the oceans throughout time were to be offered in exchange!
While waiting on your divine timing, be grateful for and enjoy your double portion. At first, Hannah could not see the generous anointing that was sustaining her year after year. Do you? Do you appreciate the "Elkanah" that loves you without qualifications? He is God's instrument to bless and help you fulfill God's dream!
Respect the worth of the dream inside of you, and don't give in to Pininnah's scorn. God's way is always harder and longer, but well worth it--if you want a Samuel.
God is systematically exposing and eliminating the phonies. God is not going to allow those with Pininnah mindsets to share in His Glory because "unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required…" (Luke 12:48)
Truthfully, some people want to serve God, but not on the level of a "Samuel". But get ready; they'll quickly criticize those who do.
Once you receive the fulfillment of God's promise, can you give it back to Him--unreservedly, unconditionally? Ministries are called to Mt. Moriah every day, but few ever get there...it's because they think it is a place of death, not worship (Genesis 22:5).
Those who do are like Abraham, accounting that if the promise has to be laid on the altar, God is able to make it live no matter what happens (Hebrews 11:19)! Hannah's altar was the Temple. She left what she had birthed there. Period.
However, Hannah continued to diligently cover Samuel, bringing a coat every year when she came to the Temple (1 Samuel 2:19). A "Samuel" ministry does not abandon its need for a prayer covering as it grows. But notice again: Hannah did not try to talk her son into coming home or ask to stay as his advisor. Prayer covers, but does not coerce.
Eli declared another blessing over Hannah and Elkanah, and she subsequently bore THREE sons and TWO daughters. No, their names are not recorded in the Bible. But God vindicated Hannah within the family. When she did it God's way and asked for quality, God granted her first desire and then unexpectedly blessed her with quantity!
Powerful ministries (notice I didn't say large or widely known ones) began as Samuels. They haven't forgotten who they are. None of their words "drop to the ground unfruitful".
Therefore, God does the multiplying. They don't have resort to manipulation, begging, or sordid trinkets. The taunts, questions, and misunderstandings from the Pininnahs do NOT bother them.
They're not influenced by disapproval or flattery. They prefer to fellowship with other Hannahs and Samuels who don't believe "Big and Busy" to be the hallmark of a successful calling.
Your kids may be your ministry. You chose carefully where they go and what they see--even the kind of education they receive. You may be a teacher, a writer, a singer, a pastor. You may hold down a 9-5 job, but you do it as unto the Lord and consider it your mission field.
Whatever and wherever--whether it's up and walking, incubating inside of you or the seed has yet to be released--you are able to divinely smile at your detractors at the next family gathering and say, "Pass the butter, please!"
You know that with God, it's all about quality!