Monday Scripture - 1 Samuel 1: 9-11 After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the Lord. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly. She made this vow: “O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child...
The story of Hannah is a curious one. Israel's society seems trapped in a cycle of anxiety. If we were to continue to read on in 1 Samuel we would find them asking God to appoint a king. Up to this point, they are lead by judges, but the guidance the judges provide is inconsistent. Sampson, the most well-known judge to Christians, is strong and successful, but more often than not uses his God-given strength for his own benefit and not for the good of his people. The book which records the story of the judges ends by telling us, 'In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.' So society was in chaos. Israel had not maintained the safety and security they had hoped upon their rescue from Egypt generations before. Of course, the solution they suggested, a king is also warned against by God. God describes the result of choosing a king in chapter 8 of 1 Samuel as injustice, exploitation, poverty, inequality and suffering.
Israel's desperate attempt to find stability and realize the hope of prosperity that God offered them when they entered the promised land is understandable. As we have already said, the political leadership of the judges was not consistent or reliable. Neither was the religious leadership. The sons of Eli, the priest, themselves priests, are described as, scoundrels with no regard for the Lord or the people they were ordained to serve. Their behavior is cruel and exploitative. Perhaps it is all best summed up by a verse from the third chapter of 1 Samuel, 'The word of the Lord was rare in those days.' Israel is a disorganized and disheveled confederation of tribes, each doing what they feel best with little coordination and no clear vision or goal. There is anarchy. Political and religious leadership are failing. Cruelty and violence are commonplace, with priests and leaders using power for personal gain. The present and the future of Israel is grim
So it is shockingly odd that the story focuses first and foremost on an ordinary woman named Hannah, remarkable only for the fact that she is barren, which, in that time and place is a shameful failure. Would it not seem that God has more important things to attend and bigger issues to address than Hannah? Yet here God is, listening to the prayers of this woman, who is not a princess or a queen or the wife of a dignitary. She is ordinary in every way and yet her prayer cuts through the noise of Israel's political and religious storms and grabs God's attention. We are told that God hears her prayer and blesses her with a child she names Samuel. And with the birth of Samuel is the birth of hope for Israel. Samuel will be the priest who returns honor to the office and who anoints, eventually, King David. This isn't a Hallmark Channel movie, so Israel is not perfect after this. But Israel's best chance to survive, thrive and grow towards the righteous witness for which it is intended is born when Hannah kneels to pray. And we are reminded that Jesus once taught that the Kingdom of God was like a mustard seed. And perhaps that is something to consider. In our own culture focused so intently on the wealthy, the powerful, the famous, the beautiful and the strong, Hannah is the vessel through which hope for the future is born. This story not only warns us about where our attention is focused, but also encourages us to believe that acts of faith, while they may not bring about miraculous change to the chaos we face like; hunger, poverty, racism, islamophobia, sexism, rape culture, are the seeds that become the kingdom of justice and peace of healing and wholeness for all those harmed by the chaos that seems to reign.