Summary: Hannah shows us that women today can turn their insecurities and their relationships over to God and can find fulfillment.
(First Baptist Church, Gaithersburg, MD, May 11, 1980; Calverton Baptist Church, Silver Spring, MD, May 9, 1982; Takoma Park Baptist Church, Washington, DC, May 12, 1985)
One of God's great mercies is that He consistently takes our faltering insecurities and transforms them into something beautiful for the kingdom. Over and over again we come to the Lord in some sort of awful state and He takes that despair, He takes that terrible hopelessness and helps us to make out of it a result that honors Him and brings happiness to us. If we can capture the secret of that transformation we have come a long way in terms of dealing with the disappointments we experience.
A man like Douglas MacArthur, for instance, was said to have had an absolute paranoia about the politicians back in Washington. Here he was, out on the battle front somewhere trying to mastermind a good-sized chunk of the Second World War, and back in the capital, so he thought, Roosevelt and Pentagon's desk soldiers were out to get him. Insecurity; sometimes bordering on the hopeless. But from somewhere the General found the personal resources to turn that insecurity into the kind of public relations efforts which helped to inspire the nation and to keep the confidence on millions of Americans alive. It's strange, when you think of it, how one person's insecurity, creatively handled, can fuel the sense of security, the feeling of well-being, for countless others.
Now of course not everyone overcomes insecurity; you know that. Sometimes we not only fail to overcome it, we actually end up communicating it, sharing it around. The child psychiatrist asked the mother about her little terror, “Does he feel insecure”? The mother's answer was, "I don't know whether he's insecure or not, but everyone else in the neighborhood sure is by now!" We don't always handle our feelings of insecurity well, but there are those matchless occasions when the grace of God intervenes and permits us to achieve triumph in spite of ourselves.
In ancient Israel there was such a person; there was the woman Hannah, wife of Elkanah. But Hannah, you see, was only the number two wife. In a two-wife marriage, she was the runner-up. Today women sometimes feel threatened by the idea that there might be another woman; Hannah never had to worry about that. There WAS another woman in her marriage. And in some sense she was it! The Scripture makes it clear that Hannah was most unhappy, and that there was one principal cause for this: she had no children. Hannah, we are told, lived well and loved well; she was highly regarded by her husband. We are told that she was well esteemed in the community. But all of this was not enough for her; that one thing which her culture had taught her counted for more than anything else, that Hannah did not have. Without a child her line would come to an end. Without a child she did not profit her husband. Without sons his name might vanish from the memories of his kinsmen once he died. Without children you were not fulfilling the injunction handed down by Moses to "Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth.” All these things were so very much a part of that ancient Hebrew culture that no amount of reassurance could help Hannah get over the idea that she was incomplete without becoming a mother.
To me one of the most poignant lines of all the Scripture is the fumbling attempt at reassurance offered up by Elkanah in the face of Hannah's despair. “Hannah, why do you weep? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?” I must admit that I can identify with brother Elkanah here; there are times when a mere male, confronted by the tears of the nearest female, cannot do anything right, cannot say anything right, but he is reduced to an absolute jelly of solicitousness. And I expect that was poor Elkanah's plight. Hannah has worked herself up into a fine state about being childless; she has listened over and over again to the taunts tossed her way by number one wife Peninnah. And now, to bring things to a head, here they are at the Temple again, and her husband Elkanah split up the meat left from the sacrifice. And when he did so, it must have been something like this: here's a slice for you, Penninah; and here's one for you, Hannah; and now Penninah, let's see, you need to take care of the children: one for Joab and one for Leah and one for Lemuel and one for the baby, I think she can chew this now. Oh Hannah, would you help Penninah carry all this, it's getting to be too much for one mother to handle.