The Person to Person series helps readers apply Godly character traits to their relationships through the study of Christian relationships throughout the Bible.
Our first lesson looked at Jethro and Moses and the importance of involving family in ministry work. In this second study we will learn valuable lessons from the relationship between Hannah and Eli in I Samuel 1 (KJV), namely how relationships can help us maintain an eternal perspective.
Hannah was the second wife of the Levite Elkanah. She is best known for being the mother of Samuel, the last judge of Israel who would become one of its most notable prophets and priests.
However, long before Samuel was born Hannah spent most of her life unable to bear any children. This by itself caused great distress in her life, and things were made all the worse for her because of Elkanah’s other wife Peninnah.
Peninnah provided Elkanah with children and while we know from scripture that Elkanah loved Hannah more than his other wife his practice of polygamy (which though a common practice at the time, went against God) caused great hardship for the household.
The environment was so bad that Hannah was constantly subjected to harsh and scolding words from Pennianah about her inability to have children. The Bible describes what Hannah had to endure in this way…
6) And her adversary also provoked her sore, for to make her fret, because the Lord had shut up her womb.
7) And as he did so year by year, when she went up to the house of the Lord, so she provoked her; therefore she wept, and did not eat.I Samuel 1:6-7 (KJV)
Hannanh was not just made fun of and tormented for being childless but also for going to the temple. The situation became so difficult that ultimately Hannah became unable to even eat.
The strife, drama and heartaches that Hannah endured paint an important backdrop to today’s lesson. It is important to note what Hannah’s situation and attitude towards it caused her to do.
Verse 7 tells us that Hannah went year by year to the house of the Lord. She kept a decided commitment to God despite constantly being hurt by Pennianah’s harsh attitude towards her.
I believe it can be assumed that Hannah during these trips prayed for children but it is here in the account that we see something important take place…
9) So Hannah rose up after they had eaten in Shiloh, and after they had drunk. Now Eli the priest sat upon a seat by a post of the temple of the Lord.
10) And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore.
11) And she vowed a vow, and said, O Lord of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head.I Samuel 1:9-11 (KJV)
Years of enduring strife, depression and emotional pain from Pennianah combined with her own sorrow for being unable to have children led Hannah to do something. It led her to commit to action and in so doing she grew even closer to God.
She not only went to the temple once more as she was accustomed to doing but she made a vow before God for a child with all her might, honesty and reverence.
Notice that she did this not out of spite, bitterness or to hurt those who hurt her, but to honestly plead her cause to God and to rely on Him to help her. Her mind was set on God first and reliance on Him, her priorities were in the right order.“All throughout her life Hannah kept God at the center. So much so that she pledged to God her greatest desire. She relied on God as provider, and made sure that He was the one to receive the glory.”
Hannah demonstrated this by going to God and declaring that her child would be given to Him alone. All throughout her life Hannah kept God at the center. So much so that she pledged to God her greatest desire. She relied on God as provider, and made sure that He was the one to receive the glory. Reader, can the same be said about your greatest desire(s) in life?
We also learn from this that we must not let problems or others bring us down. Reader, do not let bitterness take a stranglehold on your life or derail you, stay committed to prayer, church and the Bible. Let challenges move you forward, let them kindle a desire in you to respond to them in a Godly manner as Hannah did. Use them for good not for bad. Use them to grow more like Jesus.
Trials, if we allow them, can make us do what they made Hannah do, they can push us to the point of crying out to God, to giving the entire situation to Him. They can get us moving in the right direction, they can re-orient us to where we really need to go, they can even help our resolve much as it did for Hannah, all of which are good things and things that matter not just for this life, but for eternity.
13) Now Hannah, she spake in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard: therefore Eli thought she had been drunken.
14) And Eli said unto her, How long wilt thou be drunken? put away thy wine from thee.
15) And Hannah answered and said, No, my lord, I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit: I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but have poured out my soul before the Lord.
16) Count not thine handmaid for a daughter of Belial: for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief have I spoken hitherto.
17) Then Eli answered and said, Go in peace: and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of him.
18) And she said, Let thine handmaid find grace in thy sight. So the woman went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad.I Samuel 1:13-18 (KJV)
Hannah was not afraid to let her emotions be known. She went publicly to the temple where Eli was. She was not concerned about anyone else but God in this situation.
Eli noticed her and was caught off guard at the severity of her anguish, so much so that he mistook it at first for her being intoxicated with alcohol, however this was not the case.
We need to remember that it is ok and a good thing to come before God and plead with Him and to be emotionally open around others. Of course many times this is easier said than done, as humans in a fallen world we don’t easily overcome embarrassment and fear.
Sure, we learn as we get older that not everyone is always watching us (as we often think in our school age years) but it is still easy to not pray in public, or even not to go to an alter or tell others about things going on in our life because we are afraid. Yet Hannah did not let embarrassment and fear get the better of her.
What we have to come to terms with is that God deserves and welcomes our attention. He fully welcomes our crying out to Him, it’s a good thing, its not something to shy away from because of what others might think or say.
Often when we are going through the unbearable, whatever that may be, there is someone there near us who can help. In this case Eli was the man for the job even despite his initial reaction to the situation.“What we have to come to terms with is that God deserves and welcomes our attention. He fully welcomes our crying out to Him, it’s a good thing, its not something to shy away from because of what others might think or say.”
How many persons have talked someone off a ledge? How many have showed up in the life of another unsuspectingly just when they needed someone else to be there?
Think about this also, said persons cannot help another if they do not know what is going on or if they do not suspect that something is wrong. Hannah could have easily showed up and not prayed as she did, but she was not afraid to display her true feelings publicly and Eli noticed.
Reader, if you are going through the impossible do you have anyone in your life that will be there for you to help you? Will they notice when something is wrong? Are they the kind of people that you can cry out to God to in front of them and not worry? Can you share with them what is going on in your life and receive unconditional acceptance in return? I hope the answer is yes.
Again, we see Eli’s first reaction was one of shock but he quickly ends the encounter with “Go in peace” and desires that Hannah’s petition be granted.
I do not want to under emphasize the lesson here that we should not, as Eli did, let our first impressions cloud a situation where we can be of tremendous aid to someone, yet the bigger lesson here is that we must be an aid to those in need.
Why? Because there are eternal ramifications. As Christians we must understand this, we must keep an eternal perspective in mind when it comes to our relationships and interactions with others.
Because of her prayer to God and Eli’s encouragement, Hannah became cheered up. This is not something merely to gloss over, think about it, she could not even eat before she arrived. This was a dramatic turn for the better.
Reader, if a Hannah comes into your life how will you respond? Let’s look now at the rest of the account…
19) And they rose up in the morning early, and worshipped before the Lord, and returned, and came to their house to Ramah: and Elkanah knew Hannah his wife; and the Lord remembered her.
20) Wherefore it came to pass, when the time was come about after Hannah had conceived, that she bare a son, and called his name Samuel, saying, Because I have asked him of the Lord.I Samuel 1:19-20 (KJV)
24) And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, with three bullocks, and one ephah of flour, and a bottle of wine, and brought him unto the house of the Lord in Shiloh: and the child was young.
25) And they slew a bullock, and brought the child to Eli.
26) And she said, Oh my lord, as thy soul liveth, my lord, I am the woman that stood by thee here, praying unto the Lord.
27) For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him:
28) Therefore also I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord. And he worshipped the Lord there.I Samuel 1:24-28 (KJV)
Now then what can we specifically learn through the encounter of Hannah and Eli that teaches us about maintaining an eternal perspective?
First, encounters with others, no matter their duration, can have long term effects on our lives. When someone is “the right person at the right time” they can have positive effects on us that help us through not just a moment but a season.
Eli encouraged Hannah in her hour of greatest need and yet his encouragement was not just for that hour alone, it was to help her through an entire season of difficulty.
Think about people that have swooped in just in time in your life to rescue you from a terrible time in your life. Do you remember them? Do you remember what that did for you then and how it helped you not just in your moment of need but through an entire season of distress?
Have you been that person for someone else? Look at what it did for Hannah, she left in peace and she gave birth to a son who would become one of the greatest names in Hebrew history. Eli’s encouragement was not just for a moment, nor was it just for Hannah either.
This brings us to our second point, and that is that being an encouragement to someone not only effects them, it effects others. Often the other people effected are not even known to us.
Think about all of the people throughout history who have been called to preach but needed someone to help convince them? Think of how many people they wound up influencing for the kingdom.
Or the person who struggled with an addiction yet someone gave them a hand up? Think of how their testimony helped others overcome addictions. What about someone who overcame doubt or who badly desired something Godly like Hannah? What if someone stopped and helped them through that?
Think of how much Samuel would change the course of God’s history and be used by Him for His glory. Those are results with eternal significance.
Reader, never doubt the profound influence that others can have on your life, especially in times of peril or the immense influence that you can have on their life when you help them.“It’s a matter of proper perspective, that is an eternal perspective, that helps us see these types of encounters for how important and vital they really are and how they can work for God’s glory and for the kingdom.”
It’s a matter of proper perspective, that is an eternal perspective, that helps us see these types of encounters for how important and vital they really are and how they can work for God’s glory and for the kingdom.
The third point is that relationships that come together in trial are forged in strength. When Hannah revisited the temple Samuel was a very young child, it had been some time since she had seen Eli, hence why she needed to re-introduce herself to him in a way.
Time passed but Hannah had not forgotten what had taken place before. Throughout our lives we meet people in times of distress just like Hannah. Sometimes those people circle back around to us or vice versa.
A relationship forged in distress carries with it a significant weight, it’s a deep bond between two people. When someone meets you at your weakest point you do not forget them. This is why veterans have such close bonds with those with whom they serve for example.
Remember we are all likewise soldiers for Christ. What is more you do not forget what God has helped you out of during a difficult time and Hannah certainly did not.
The next lesson we learn is that struggles prepare us for the future and again there is an eternal dimension to this.
Hannah could have given up many times but she remained faithful to God and relied on Him and we have seen already how Eli and Hannah’s prior meeting prepared Samuel for a life of service to God.
This became a reality through a combination of Hannah’s commitment to God and Eli’s response to Hannah to go in peace which prepared her (and Samuel) for the future. As Proverbs states…
11) A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.Proverbs 25:11 (KJV)
2) My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;
3) Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.
4) But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.James 1:2-4 (KJV)
Struggles, when rightfully approached with the right attitude and action, prepare us for the future and are part of our sanctification in Jesus. They prepare us in that we come out of them stronger and more able to serve God.
Remember, when Hannah returned she did so to introduce Samuel to Eli because Eli would be the one who would train Samuel and together they would both be the last judges of Israel. Think of how the original encounter between Hannah and Eli prepared Samuel even before he was born.
Lastly, we see the vital importance of keeping our mind and promises committed to God. Hannah kept her promise to God and to Eli.
After he realized he had jumped to a false conclusion Eli wished that Hannah’s petition would be granted. Someone of Eli’s rank would not just say that, he believed Hannah would keep her end of the pledge and that she was committed to God. He did not let his first impressions get the best of him, it did not cloud his understanding.
Hannah ultimately kept her word. Her attitude was right from the start, she did not want a child merely for the joy of having him, she wanted him for God too, what a testimony!
Even when Samuel was born she could have renounced her vow and kept the child for herself but she did not, she even protected him until he was weaned and then took him to Eli so he could be his teacher. She was not selfish but was determined to a life of devotion to God. She kept her eyes, heart and mind firmly on Him and His glory which lasts forever.
This all runs counter to the world, but we Christians see things differently for our life is about becoming more like Jesus and about work that lasts for eternity.
Peter says it best…
3) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
4) To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,I Peter 1:3-4 (KJV)
Now, let’s review the main takeaways from this lesson…
How Relationships Help Us Keep an Eternal Perspective
- Encounters with others and their encounters with us, no matter how insignificant or not they may appear, can have long term effects on our lives that help us to not just overcome a momentary trial but entire seasons of distress. (Hannah did not just get through a rough moment in her life, she overcame a rough season and her trials helped her become an even better Christian).
- Being an encouragement to someone not only effects them it effects others and there is no limit to the number of lives that can be changed because of this. (Samuel would become a great leader in Hebrew history).
- Relationships formed through trials are forged in strength. (Hannah, years later after Samuel was weaned, had not forgotten Eli).
- Struggles prepare us for the future. (Through God’s answer to her petition, Eli’s encouragement and her commitment to God Hannah was prepared to raise a son who would become a great leader. Also, Samuel would help shape God’s history).
- We must keep our promises and commitments to God and others for His glory. (Hannah followed through with God and Eli by giving them her son to be of service to God and His Kingdom).