“My heart exults in the LORD; my horn is exalted in the LORD. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation.” I Samuel 2:1b
A Longing for Significance
Don’t we all long for a life of significance? Wander through any bookstore (my happy place), and you will find an endless supply of books that will help you “leave a legacy,” “become extraordinary,” “be significant,” “make a mark,” or “achieve greatness.” There are a lot of promises sitting on those bookshelves. Even the cookbooks promise you a path to cooking nirvana – a place where all your baking and cooking hopes and dreams come true.
And isn’t that what significance is? A weight tied to our hopes and dreams? When whatever you hope in arrives then you will be significant.
The dictionary defines significance as “the quality of being worthy of attention; importance.” Significance has weight. Importance. It means something.
As women, we often find a lot of different paths to significance (I am sure guys do too, but I am not a guy, so I won’t speak for them). Depending on what circles we run in the messages we receive about significance can come from a lot of different things – children, husbands, our job, a clean house, awesome brownies (sorry, I am having a craving), money, community, romance. Pick your path, and I guarantee you there is a book, blog, Facebook group, Instagram or webinar on it. Our hope is wrapped up in our significance. Don’t we feel the pull of despair and depression when we realize that the thing we had pinned so much hope on isn’t delivering? Our significance is shattered.
When Our Perfect Life Fails
The Bible isn’t blind to our longing for significance. In fact, it starts the book of I Samuel with a woman longing for significance. I Samuel is a key book of the Old Testament. It is the bridge between a theocracy and a monarchy. God has foreseen Israel’s wish for a king (Deuteronomy 17:14-20) and here in I Samuel the moment arrives. But it doesn’t arrive with a party bus. It arrives in the story of a woman.
We meet Hannah the moment we enter I Samuel, an ordinary woman, deep in grief and sorrow. Her family home life is a mess – a second wife who taunts her, barrenness that haunts her, and a husband who is trying to romance her with double portions of food.
The moment we start this story we see the effects of sin. Dysfunctional families, barrenness, grief, harsh realities. In I Samuel 1, we see Hannah, our mirror in longing for significance, grieving her lack of importance. The cultural message to women of her day – Have children! Have a family! You are nothing if you can’t have children!
But Hannah was barren. And why was she barren? “Because the Lord had closed her womb” (vs. 5). Even God’s sovereign hand seems against her. While this passage is often used to discuss the pain of barrenness and the fulfillment of a child this story really isn’t about Hannah’s lack of a child. This is about filling the emptiness. Hiding the shame. Curing the brokenness. We all have a pain that clings to us no matter how hard we to work to hide it.
We don’t know exactly what is happening in this family, but the scripture here indicates that Hannah was possibly a first wife who, because of her barrenness, had to endure her husband’s second wife. A second wife who proceeded to produce a quiver full of children. Every meal must have been torture. Faced with the happy faces of children not her own and the constant taunting from her rival and the (probably not so helpful) romantic gestures from her husband would be emotionally exhausting. She lived with the constant reminder that she had no significance, no hope. She was living on the outside of her cultural ideal. She is longing to break in and have meaning. Her grief weighs on her until she “wept and would not eat” (vs. 7).
Pouring Out Our Sorrows Before God
What does Hannah do with her brokenness and grief? She gets up (vs. 9). And she takes her distress, her pain, her brokenness to God. She goes to the temple of the LORD in Shiloh and there she “prayed to the LORD and wept bitterly” (vs. 9-10). In that place before God she “vowed a vow and said, ‘O LORD of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head” (vs. 11).
This vow. This strange, bizarre vow. What do we do with a vow like this?
I don’t know about you, but the vows I have made to God don’t look like this. I remember making all sorts of promises to God in my childhood -“hey, God, yeah, so if you can do this thing then I will eat all my vegetables” or “I promise I will do all my chores without complaining if you do this one little thing for me.” My vows are weak. My vows are self-serving. This vow that Hannah makes as she cries to God in her anguish and despair is astonishing. Instead of using God as a fulfiller of wishes, she plans to give the child she is asking for back to God.
Hannah is dedicating her child to be in service to the LORD for the rest of his life. Numbers 6 explains the requirements and details for taking a temporary Nazarite vow. But Hannah is making this a lifelong vow. Like Samson before him (Judges 13:4-5), who conveniently kept forgetting his vows, and John the Baptist in Luke 1:15, Hannah’s child will live under some restrictive rules. Hannah’s vow means she will give up all claims to her child and send him to live in the temple to serve God.
No strings. No trade agreements that she will be given more children.
Is God Enough?
Her future would still be bleak. Her arms would still be empty. Her rival would still have children and Hannah would still have none. Her home would not ring with her child’s laughter. Her husband would still be without an heir. She could still be alone in her old age, with no son to take care of her. She would still have no significance. This is the promise she made.
This pressing into God. This belief that the LORD of hosts cares for the broken, the small, the weak, the failed. Hannah’s search for significance has reached a turning point. She begins to understand that her real shame, the deepest source of her pain, is a broken relationship with God.
Hannah, after this crazy vow “went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad” (vs. 18). Hannah’s significance has been transformed. Her significance and hope are no longer in a child, or a husband, or acceptance. Her significance and hope are now in the God who is her salvation (I Samuel 2: 1). She now places herself into the hand of the Rock of Ages.
Heath Thomas writes, “Faith means rejoicing in God when our dreams are still unfulfilled and resting on God when life is still falling apart all around us.” (Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Samuel).
The Ultimate Treasure
Hannah does get pregnant. She does have a son. But the author of this book does not want us to walk away with the idea that God is some kind of divine genie – that we rub the bottle and he fulfills our wishes. Hannah’s story reminds us that God is the gift. Significance and hope are not found in children, or jobs, or money, or whatever else we use to fill the emptiness. Our idols pale in comparison to the LORD who “lifts the needy from the ash heap” (I Samuel 2: 8). Our God is the one who will give “strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed” (vs. 10).
Hannah’s part at the beginning of I Samuel is not insignificant, even though it seems a strange way to begin a story about kings. Her story sets the pattern for the rest of I and 2 Samuel, announcing both the king Israel chooses, Saul, and the king that God chooses, David. Saul’s pride and arrogance, when confronted with his sin, and David’s lowliness and humility, when confronted with his, is patterned here.
The True King
Ultimately, her prayer in I Samuel 2:1-11 points to the King who seeks the poor, the lowly, the weak, the barren and the needy. Our God will not let our sin, hopelessness, and despair be our identity. I and 2 Samuel continues the story of how Israel’s leaders and kings, whom they rejected God for (I Samuel 8), failed. The idols Israel chased failed. Our idols fail. We are seeking false kings to fix our problems.
Hannah’s story is about being lost. Our relationship with our Creator is broken because of sin. But Hannah’s story is also the unfolding story of God. God provided a way out of our restless search for significance. We know the end. We get to see the full scope of God’s salvation plan. We know how God, in His profound mercy, provided a Savior, his own Son, whose death and resurrection reconciles and reunites us with God. This is our significance and our ultimate treasure. Our shame is gone, and we are free. The True King Reigns.
What are you seeking in your search for significance? What has more weight in your life than Jesus?
About Val Hooks: I like to write, read, drink tea, and research stuff. I am a passionate follower of Jesus. I have teenagers (pray for me) and a fantastic husband. I call Summit View Church, Vancouver, Wa. my home.