Magazine article The Christian Century

Waiting in Hope

Magazine article The Christian Century

Waiting in Hope

Article excerpt

WE SPEND much of life waiting for things to happen. There is always some future event that, we are convinced, will solve some deep problem. Once that happens, we say to ourselves, we will be able to get our lives together. Scripture is filled with waiting too. In fact it seems as if God is harnessing this human hunger for the future and using it to point to a higher longing for God.

Hannah had waited a long time for a child and didn't need to be reminded of it. But when the family took its annual excursion to Shiloh for communal worship, her rival Peninnah always took the opportunity to remind Hannah of her barrenness. Ironically, the encounter between them occurs just as their husband Elkanah is offering sacrifices to the Lord to cover their sins. After the sin offerings, he would make a peace offering. According to the law, portions of this offering could be distributed to the family and they could eat a meal together that celebrated their restored relation with God. At this high moment, when peace and unity were to be savored, Peninnah pointedly reminded Hannah that she was barren.

Hannah left her meal uneaten. "Why do you not eat?" Elkanah asks. "Am I not worth more than ten sons?" Knowing full well that her yearning for a child was best expressed to God, Hannah took her distress into the temple and laid it before the Lord. She wept bitterly, promising that if a male child were born to her, she would give him to the Lord.

Her distress was so obvious that Eli the priest was convinced she was drunk. "Don't make a spectacle of yourself," he pleaded. She responded that she was not drunk but was "a deeply troubled woman." She did not tell him the nature of her concern; nonetheless, he reassured her and added his petition to hers. Although she was given no outward sign or response, she returned to her family in peace and rejoined the celebration. And God remembered Hannah, as he had remembered Noah and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and continued to fulfill his purposes, this time through the anguished prayers of a barren women. When Samuel (literally "the name [of God] is El") as born, Hannah fulfilled her promise and gave him to the Lord.

Hannah's joy is recorded in her hymn to the Lord. "My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God." Recalling Miriam's praise (Exod. 15) and anticipating Mary's Magnificat (Luke 1), Hannah lifts up the Holy One of Israel as the rock of salvation. She knew that God alone was worthy of trust and would come to the aid of the needy. She knew this because God had heard her distressed cry and "rais[ed] the poor from the dust and the needy from the ash heap" to "inherit a seat of honor. …

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