Mercy within mercy within mercy
Week 6, Day 1
(The full text for this week is below)
1st Samuel 1.1-2 There was a certain man of Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham son of Elihu son of Tohu son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. He had two wives; the name of one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.
The book of 1st Samuel is set in a time of great uncertainty for Israel. The Sea Peoples—known in the Bible as the Philistines, had landed on the southeast coast of the Mediterranean and taken over 5 towns in that region. They were moving inland and threatening the land Israel occupied. They were stronger than the Israelites and they possessed iron weapons—state of the art for the day.
1st Samuel was written down, as much of the Old Testament was, during Israel’s exile in Babylon—a time of even greater uncertainty for the people of God. With their homeland destroyed and their leaders enslaved the future of the nation and the people was, once again, dim.
All of this makes the opening verses of the book most interesting. With enemies threatening and the future disappearing, the story begins with the phrase: “…but Hannah had no children.”
How often in last few years have we come upon Bible stories that begin with a woman who had no children.
In ancient Hebrew culture, a woman’s status was determined in large part by the children she bore her husband. Her failure (and it was always the woman’s failure) to produce children, particularly a male heir, was devastating to the family. Children were literally the only future they had. No children, no future.
In 1st Samuel Hannah, the barren wife, becomes a metaphor for a barren nation—one with no future, whether threatened by Philistine attack or annihilation in Babylon. And here, as in every other case, the barren woman prays and God responds. A son is born; the future is assured.
The point of the story, of course, is that the future is always in the hands of the God who can be trusted. Hannah, who becomes the mother of Samuel, is a model of that trust for anyone, us included, who live in foreboding, uncertain times.
So the book begins not with high political intrigue or military heroics, it begins with a woman trusting God to provide her a future. And “we are placed on notice that in the coming stories of prophets and kings, battles and politics, the real story is of God’s grace. Israel’s future will be the gift of God…Hannah’s name itself means ‘grace’ in Hebrew”(1) .
Prayer: God, your story about us and about this world is always one of grace. Truly, you are “mercy within mercy within mercy (2) ”. Amen.
1. A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament, Birch, Brueggemann, Fretheim and Petersen pg 224
2. The Sign of Jonas, Thomas Merton
I Samuel 3.1-21
1 Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.
2 At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 3 the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was.
4 Then the Lord called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ and he said, ‘Here I am!’ 5 and ran to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call; lie down again.’ So he went and lay down. 6 The Lord called again, ‘Samuel!’ Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call, my son; lie down again.’ 7 Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.
8 The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. 9 Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” ’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
10 Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’
11 Then the Lord said to Samuel, ‘See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. 12 On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13 For I have told him that I am about to punish his house for ever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. 14 Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering for ever.’
15 Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. 16 But Eli called Samuel and said, ‘Samuel, my son.’ He said, ‘Here I am.’ 17 Eli said, ‘What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.’
18 So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, ‘It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.’
19 As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. 20 And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord. 21 The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord.