In light of this being Thanksgiving week, I wanted to share a record from the Bible that has always been very near and dear to my heart. Certainly, one could do a word study of the word "thankful" or "thankfulness" and see many exhortations to be thankful which is good to build a scope of knowledge in this subject. But, to really understand the concept of "thanksgiving", we need to look at someone who became one of the most thankful people who ever lived.
Long ago and far away, there was a man named Elkanah and he had two wives. One of his wives was named Peninnah, and all the Bible says about her is that she had children. His other wife's name was Hannah and she could not bear children, for she was barren. Hannah is the focus of this study in thanksgiving.
Every year Elkanah would go to Shiloh to worship and sacrifice to the Lord. He would give portions of the meat to Peninnah and to all her children. But according to 1 Samuel 1:5 he doubled the portion to Hannah because he loved her and he felt badly because she was barren. Peninnah was extremely jealous of the extra attention Hannah received and in verse 6, she is called her "adversary" or "rival". She would provoke and vex Hannah for receiving more. She would shamelessly attack Hannah for being barren. She was vicious and full of jealousy and envy. She just wanted Hannah out of the way so she could receive everything for herself.
Peninnah was relentless in vexing Hannah every year. It drove Hannah to the point of depression where she would no longer eat and did nothing but weep. Elkanah went to Hannah and asked her why she was weeping and asked her if he wasn't better than ten sons. But, Hannah was not in any mood to be comforted by Elkanah's words. It says in verse 10 that Hannah stood in the presence of the Lord and:
"She was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord and wept sore."
Oh haven't we all been to that dark place Hannah visited that day? Many years ago I was terribly wronged by a man who had initially taught me the Bible and had, in fact, ordained me. He had been given wrong information about a situation and blamed me for something I didn't do. He never asked me for "my side of the story". The situation became very ugly and resulted in my being "fired" and having to leave the ministry post to which I had been assigned.
Because I never was allowed to deal with the situation personally before this man's death, the seeds of bitterness were planted and with time became rooted. The Bible speaks of the "root of bitterness" for good reason. Bitterness is like a root that grows deep into the soul. It takes hold and never wants to let go. Just like a weed, you can cut off the top but it grows right back; so bitterness never seems to go away, it just keeps growing and becoming ever more destructive.
I was a bitter man for many years. I pretended I was "over it", but I knew I was lying to myself. One day after a sequence of humbling events, I remember standing before the Lord, with bitterness of soul. I spent the better part of a night crying and praying to the Lord to help me get rid of the bitterness that was eating my soul as a disease eats the physical body. When I finally was willing to forgive the man who had "ruined my life", I felt the bitterness being uprooted from within me. It is truly amazing how forgiveness literally destroys bitterness. It is impossible for bitterness to co-exist with forgiveness. Forgiveness will always show bitterness the door and kick it out of our hearts.
Bitterness is not one of those things that go away with "time", nor is it benign. Bitterness is a malignant cancer as it grows in our hearts and slowly but surely destroys us from the inside out. Bitterness can only be resolved by confronting the source from which it springs. Bitterness starts with feeling sorry for yourself and grows to resentment. If not dealt with at that stage, then with time resentment in the mind becomes bitterness in the soul.
After years of Peninnah mocking, provoking and vexing her; Hannah finally broke down before the Lord. Not only did she pour out her heart before the Lord, she vowed a vow. From the NIV, here is her vow as recorded in verse 11:
"And she made a vow, saying, ‘O Lord Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant's misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.'"
This was not one of those desperation prayers like Jimmy Stewart threw up to heaven standing on the bridge in "It's a wonderful life". This was not the typical shallow "deal" prayer so many unbelievers make with God when confronted with a life and death situation. Prayers such as; "Oh God please save me and if you do I will live for you forever", rarely are answered and even less likely to be fulfilled. They are desperate attempts by desperate people grasping for straws. Hannah was not grasping for straws, she was pouring her heart out to God and simply making a vow to Him.
Vows in Biblical times were much bigger deals than today. People today make vows all the time with no anticipation of ever carrying them out. In fact, one of the most sacred vows of all, the marriage vow, is broken almost 50% of the time. Hannah wanted a son so much she was willing to commit the yet unborn child to a lifetime of service to God. Never cutting his hair was the sign of the Nazirite vow which can be studied in Numbers 6:1-21. Normally this vow was taken for a limited time, but Hannah made this vow for her child for life. Of course the most well known person to take this vow was Samson in Judges 13.
Hannah was speaking to the Lord silently, but was moving her lips. Eli the old prophet saw this and accused her of being drunk. Hannah says in verse 15 and 16.
"Not so, my lord, I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord.
Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief."
Eli told her verse 17 to "Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of Him". She was immediately elated and her face was no longer downcast. She knew in her heart that her prayers were going to be answered, and according to verse 19 they were. Elkanah knew his wife and "the Lord remembered her". God opened her womb and in Hannah conceived and 9 months later she gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, which means, "Because I asked the Lord for him".
I don't believe there are words in the English language to convey the thankfulness in Hannah's heart when first she found out she was pregnant, and then when the day came, she bore a son. The elation, joy and bliss were indescribable. Now, "miracles of miracles", she had a son. The very thing she had prayed to God for had come to pass.
You know from a human point of view, she wanted to keep that child and raise him. That is every mother's desire. But, Hannah had made a vow to the Lord, and she was not going to break that commitment on account of her "feelings". She informed her husband that after Samuel was weaned, she would present him before the Lord and he would spend the rest of his life in service to God. This was a very difficult thing to do since it meant giving up the joy of watching Samuel grow up, get married and have kids.
Hannah could have become more bitter than she was before she bore Samuel. She could have felt it was "unfair" to being given a gift and then be forced to give it back. Not Hannah, she was not bitter in the least. She was the most thankful person who ever lived. She had asked the Lord for a son, and vowed that if He gave her one, she would in turn dedicate his whole life to the Lord. When she went to Eli that is exactly what she did.
Time and space do not allow me to share all the thoughts in my heart. Oh my, I could preach and teach for the next three days on all the unbelievable lessons to be learned from Hannah. Truly she is one of the greatest women in the Bible. She did not do any great exploits for God like Debra did in the book of Judges; no, her greatness is found in her humility, her faith and her thankfulness. She did not look at committing Samuel to a lifetime of service to God as a loss; she looked at it as the greatest privilege any human could be allowed to enjoy in this life. She deemed it her greatest honor to give back to the Lord what He had so graciously given to her.
Please allow me to close this little study with quoting from the NIV, Hannah's incredible prayer to the Lord as recorded in 1 Samuel chapter 3:
"My heart rejoices in the Lord; in the Lord my horn is lifted high. My mouth boasts over my enemies for I delight in your deliverance.
There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.
Do not keep talking so proudly or let your mouth speak such arrogance, for the Lord is a God who knows, and by Him deeds are weighed.
The bows of the warriors are broken, but those who stumble are armed with strength.
Those who were full hire themselves out for food, but those who were hungry hunger no more. She who was barren has borne seven children but she who has had many sons pines away.
The Lord brings death and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and he raises up.
The Lord sends poverty and wealth; He humbles and He exalts.
He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor. ‘ For the foundations of the earth are the Lord's; upon them He has set the world
He will keep the feet of his saints, but the wicked will be silenced in darkness. It is not by strength that one prevails;
Those who oppose the Lord will be shattered He will thunder against them from heaven; the Lord will judge the ends of the earth, He will give strength to His King and exalt the horn of His anointed."
Great Blog! Hannah is truly one of the greatest women in the Bible. Her thanksgiving, faith, and humility is something to look up too. Thanks for the reminder on how we should be at all times.