"Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Wednesday, January 9.
Every Mother’s Day, when many women are celebrating, others are experiencing a deep pain, longing for a child. The Bible tells us about a woman who knew this pain.
We’re taking a look at her life in a series called Hannah’s Prayer and God’s Power. Here’s Nancy.
Nancy: We’re examining the life of a woman in the Old Testament who has become my most recent favorite Bible character. Her name is Hannah. The name means “grace.”
Her story is one of incredible grace—the grace of God in her life and the grace of God in using her life to bring grace to a whole nation. What an incredible story of how God chooses and uses an unlikely person to accomplish extraordinary purposes in her generation as He does in our generation, as well.
We saw in the last session that Hannah came from a family where she was loved by her husband. Her husband was a devout worshiper and follower of the Lord, but there were some issues in this family.
First, we noticed in 1 Samuel chapter one, verse two that there were two wives. Elkanah (the husband) “had two wives. The name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other, Peninnah.”
We saw this was not God’s plan. God did not authorize this. It was contrary to the way He had established marriage, but God is able even out of our failures to bring glory to Himself and to bring His light to shine in a dark generation.
I am so grateful for that redeeming grace of God. Now, there’s another problem in this family, particularly in Hannah’s life, and that is the issue of her unfulfilled longing for a child.
Verse two, 1 Samuel chapter one, “Elkanah had two wives. The name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other, Peninnah. And Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.”
That’s the first description given of these women. That’s what identified and marked them in this era when having children—particularly having sons—to continue the family name was ultra-important.
That’s how they were identified in that culture. Peninnah had children. Hannah had none. The implication in that day and culture was that therefore Peninnah was blessed, but Hannah was cursed.
This is actually a perversion of something that was a truth in God’s Word. God’s Word says children are a blessing, and we read at different times throughout the Old Testament that God said to His people, “If you obey Me, I will prosper you, and one of the ways I will prosper you is I will make you to have children.”
That’s a blessing. It’s a good thing to have children. It’s God’s way. It’s God’s plan in Deuteronomy 28. “The Lord [if you obey Him] will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your livestock and in the fruit of your ground.”
So the people took that to say, “Okay, if children are a blessing from God, if being fertile is a blessing from God, then if you can’t have children, if you’re barren, then you must be cursed by God. You must have sinned. You must have displeased the Lord in some way. There must be something wrong in your life, and your barrenness is a sign of that.
You see, they saw one promise of God and they jumped to a conclusion that therefore, anyone who didn’t have children was cursed of God.
In this passage there is no reason given for why Peninnah had children and Hannah had none. There’s no “why.” There’s no explanation given here. It’s just simply, “Peninnah had children, and Hannah had none.”
Isn’t that the way life often is? Life isn’t fair. Have your children said that? “But it’s not fair, Mom.” And you say, “Life isn’t fair,” and it’s true.
God is just, and God never makes a mistake. He is good. He is righteous. He is holy, but God doesn’t deal with all people the same, and many times, God doesn’t give an explanation for our heartaches—not here and now, anyway.
We’re going to see that this barrenness, this infertility, Hannah’s inability to conceive children, became a great heartache to her and caused heaviness of heart.
But at this point in her life, there was no reason given. There was no explanation. Life doesn’t always work the way we want it to, the way we think it should.
We like these simple, neat little formulas. You obey God, and you will be blessed. Okay, what does blessing mean? In Hannah’s case, “I want children. If I obey God and love God, He will bless me, and therefore I will have children.”
And how many women who could not have children have found themselves under the pile, the guilt, the weight of what they think or what others maybe have told them.
“If you would just trust God more. If you would just pray more. If you were just more spiritual.” Nobody would say it that way (I hope!), but often, isn’t that the case as it relates to unfulfilled longings?
We think, “If I were just more godly, God would fulfill my longings.” It may be a longing for a child. What is it that you long for, that you want desperately and that you’ve never received?
Is it a child? Maybe it’s a mate. It’s not wrong to have longings. Children are good. Husbands are good. It’s not wrong to long for health. It’s not wrong to long for the ability to pay your bills, for your husband to have a job that’s sufficient to do that, or if you’re not a wife and mom, for you to have a job where you can provide for yourself.
It’s not wrong to long for the salvation of your mate or your children or another loved one, your parents. Those longings are not wrong. What is wrong is when we become demanding, and we say, “Lord, You have to fulfill my longing and my desire now.”
“I’ll love You, I’ll trust You, I’ll obey You if you fulfill my longings, if you give me what I want.” You see, you can be obeying God. You can be walking with God. You can be a godly woman and still have pieces of your life that don’t seem right, that don’t fit together, where your longings are not fulfilled.
There was, for all that we know, a godly woman who couldn’t conceive children, and her rival, who was a cruel woman, the other wife, Peninnah, had lots of children.
How do you figure? You know what? Don’t try. You can’t figure it out. It doesn’t make sense why God would bless somebody who isn’t the least bit spiritual with lots of children and God gives you heartache or heartbreak or gives you children and then takes one or more of those children.
And then it’s, “What did I do? Where did I go wrong?” That can be the thinking and the question. Sometimes the acts of God in our lives and our choices don’t seem consistent with the Word of God and the ways of God.
You go back to Deuteronomy 28, and you say, “It promises that if we obey God, He will bless us. He will make us prosperous. He will make us fertile.”
Sometimes God acts in ways that don’t seem to be consistent with His own Word. That’s only because we’re looking at it from a very limited, finite perspective. We don’t have the whole picture.
We don’t know what God’s up to, and what you have to recognize is that your life, with its unfulfilled longings, is part of a bigger story. It’s part of a bigger plan.
I was telling somebody the other day that I feel like a little tadpole in the bigger plan and purposes of God, but we get so self-centered, we start to think the story is about us. It’s our story.
It’s not your story. It’s God’s story that He’s writing and that He’s unfolding in this world, and God calls us to be willing to take a big part in that story of redemption, in that story of God’s fame and His name going around the world and His glory being known on earth, and the glory of the Lord covering the earth as the waters cover the sea.
That’s what God’s about. He says, “Are you willing to have a big part in that? Are you willing to be disposed of? Are you willing to be inconvenienced? Are you willing to have unfulfilled longings, if necessary, so that I can fulfill My bigger purposes in your life and in our world?”
So what does God call us to do? He calls us to trust His heart when we can’t see what He’s doing. We can’t figure it out. He calls us to trust. “God, You are good. Whatever You determine, You’re God. I accept Your plan. I trust You.”
He’s calling us to surrender, to acquiesce, to relinquish our control and surrender to His will as He unfolds it in our lives.
That doesn’t mean you surrender to God and you no longer have these longings for a mate or a child or a job or health. It means that you keep surrendering the hurt, the longing, the unfulfilled longing.
You keep giving it up to God as a sacrifice. And it means not only do you trust and surrender, but you find your place in God’s plan.
You may not know that right now, as Hannah at this point of the story is clueless as to what God is up to. You see, God is up to a plan for His nation of Israel, and Hannah is thinking about her little bitty place in that plan.
All she can see is she doesn’t have children, and she wants them desperately. What she can’t see is that there’s a plan unfolding. God has a plan, a purpose. God is on a mission. God is orchestrating the events of the planet, including her little tiny part of it, to bring glory to Himself.
I hope you’re going to stick with us for this whole story as it unfolds because you can’t get it all in one session, and you’re going to see what has been unfolding in my heart over the past few days as I’ve been studying this passage.
There’s a story here. There’s a plan. There’s a purpose. There’s a program. God’s behind it, and Hannah is going to come to see that even her infertility is a part of that plan.
Her disappointment, her unfulfilled longings are a part of that plan, and when the story is over and done with and told, and you get up and you can see the big picture, and you can look down on what you only knew a little bitty part of before, and you say, “Oh yes! That’s what God was doing!”
Then, you say, “Yes. God, what You’ve done is good.” You’ve heard me say it before. Someone has said that God’s will is exactly what you and I would choose if we knew what God knows.
We don’t know what God knows. If we did, we’d be God. God challenges us to receive and embrace His plan, His will, His timing for this season of our lives, whatever that may be.
So we’ve seen that Hannah was barren. She was infertile. That was hard enough, but to make it worse, she also had to deal with the fertility—the extreme fertility—of the rival wife, Peninnah.
Peninnah not only had children, but according to verse four, she had “sons and daughters.” That’s at least four children. So not only is Hannah unable to conceive and have children, but she’s living in the same household with a woman who is extremely fertile.
So there’s the unavoidable comparison between the two women, not only in their own minds, but also in the minds of other people who are watching.
There’s this constant salt in the wound for Hannah. It’s bad enough not to be able to have children yourself, but then you’re constantly faced with this woman who’s having children, constantly it seems.
You can just imagine as a woman what an emotional cycle that Hannah must have gone through every month. Every month she’s hoping, “Maybe this will be the month that I’ll get pregnant,” only to be disappointed one more time.
Month after month after month after month. And then she would learn Peninnah’s expecting again. Peninnah’s going to have a baby, and you grit your teeth and say, “Isn’t that wonderful.”
“God bless her.” You want to be happy for her, and some of you who’ve not been able to have children or couldn’t have them for some period of time, you know what it was like hearing about other women your age who were having children, lots of them, and you want to rejoice with them, but it’s hard.
Their fertility is making you face your own infertility, and this can be true with any kind of longing. It may be a single woman, and all her friends are getting married, and all you’re longing for is not happening, but it is happening to other people around you.
So Hannah is faced with this very real thing. She’s watching Peninnah’s belly grow, and perhaps as a second wife in the home, she’s having to assist in the labor and the delivery of this other wife, this competitive wife.
She hears Peninnah’s newborn crying. She sees Peninnah nurse and hold her infant, and every one of these activities again and again and again is like a knife wound in the heart of Hannah.
It’s like single women going to weddings throughout the summer, and you say, “I’m really thrilled for all these people getting married, but what about me? How come this doesn’t happen to me?”
There’s this joy for them, but there’s this wound for yourself, the comparison. So here’s Hannah with a mother’s heart, but empty arms, again and again and again.
These are situations over which she had no control. She couldn’t make herself get pregnant. Everywhere she turned, she was faced with the reality of her own barrenness and this rival wife’s fertility.
By the way, it’s interesting in this passage that these women are described just in terms of their child bearing. “Peninnah had children. Hannah had none.”
Isn’t it interesting that our culture tends to define us and describe us in those kinds of terms. She’s single. She’s married. She has children. She has none. Her job—she’s an executive. She’s in management.
Ladies, it’s not whether you’re married or single, whether you have many children or no children in the will of God.
Whether you have a high-paying job or no job at all, whether you’re working at home or working out in the marketplace if it’s that season of life for you to be doing that—those aren’t the things that define you. They may define you in the eyes of the culture, but in God’s eyes, what defines us is our heart. It’s our relationship with Him—our faith, our trust, our surrender to Him.
It’s the heart issues, and that’s what we also need to be careful about when we’re defining others, that we don’t put them in these little boxes and say, “That’s who she is,” that we look deeper down into the heart.
Verse four of chapter one, 1 Samuel tells us, “On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters.”
This is referring to those annual pilgrimages when Elkanah would take his family to Shiloh, where the tabernacle was located at the time.
They would worship God. They would offer sacrifices, and then as God had prescribed in the Old Testament law, after they offered peace offerings and thank offerings, those would be followed by a fellowship meal where the worshipers would eat a portion of what had been sacrificed.
It was a form of communion. It was a love feast. It was a time when they would sit and participate together in feasting on a part of the sacrifice they had made.
It was supposed to be a time of joy and celebration, centering around their worship and the feast days.
So “on the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah, he gave a double portion” (verse 5).
We don’t really know what that word double means. Some translations say “a worthy portion.” It’s not a clear word, but it’s clear that he took care of Hannah, that he honored her in some way.
And it says, “Because he loved her, though the LORD had closed her womb.” Here’s a woman who has a husband who loves her. She’s cared for; her needs are met; she’s in a family that worships the Lord.
She has a lot, but she doesn’t have the one thing she really wants. Isn’t that like us to have so much but to become obsessed with, as Hannah did ultimately, the one thing God doesn’t let us have, for reasons known only to God.
Here’s the reason we have to see the sovereignty of God in this. It’s because of the last phrase in this verse, verse five. “Elkanah loved Hannah, though the LORD had closed her womb.”
Why was Hannah childless? Because God, who opens and closes the womb, in His sovereignty, had not ordained, to that point, to give her a child.
That’s what it comes down to—the Lord had closed her womb for reasons that God was not explaining at the moment, and for reasons in our lives as we look at our unfulfilled longings that God may never explain this side of Heaven.
We have to come to the place where we understand God does not owe us an explanation. He is God, and if God wants to give you a husband, bless Him. If God wants to give you children, bless the Lord and receive children as a gift from God.
If God wants to give you good health, if God wants to give you finances sufficient to what you think you need, bless the Lord for that.
But if God withholds something that you think is good, and that if God gave it, it would be good, but God for a time or permanently withholds it from you, you have to come to the place where you bow before sovereignty and where you’re willing to be content with mystery, to say, “I don’t know why. I don’t understand why, but I’ll live with mystery because I know that God knows.”
It’s repeated in verse six, “The LORD had closed her womb,” and I think that’s for emphasis. It’s God who opens and closes the womb. It’s God who is sovereign in these issues, as we’ll see in this passage, of life and death and birth.
All these matters belong to the Lord. As we continue in the passage, we’re going to see that Hannah finally came to surrender to sovereignty, but it was only through a long, intense struggle.
You may struggle, but sooner or later, if you want to be intimate with God, you have to come to the place where you wave the white flag, you stop complaining, demanding, insisting, and you say, “God, You’re God. I accept Your sovereign choice, Your sovereign decision in this matter.”
What is the point in Your life where God has, in His sovereignty, ordained something to be different than what you would have chosen?
Let me ask you this—can you look back on past situations in your life where something you wanted very badly, you now thank the Lord He didn’t give you at that time?
You can see now what you couldn’t see then, that God was withholding this out of mercy and grace and love for you, that God had a plan. God had a purpose, and now it’s clear to you.
God lets us see some of those things in time. Can you trust now, though you can’t see that God has a plan and a purpose for the area where His sovereignty goes against your unfulfilled longings?
Will you bow the knee, bow the heart, and say, “Lord, I embrace this. I long for it, but I give my longings up to You. I trust You, and I know that You are fulfilling Your purposes, and I trust You to do that.”
Leslie: That’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss guiding us through the process of surrendering to God’s will.
Until today, have you thought much about what it means to give your deepest desires to God, to give up something you want, trusting Him to give you something better?
Nancy’s book Surrender can help you see how joyful and peaceful it is to give yourself entirely to God. If you’ve never thought about this issue, ordering Surrender can be a perfect way to start.
You can order Surrender online at ReviveOurHearts.com. or call us at 1-800-569-5959.
When you get squeezed by the pressures of life, how do you respond? It’s an important question. We’ll find out why tomorrow.
Now, Nancy is back to pray.
Nancy: Father, I know that the things I’ve said today tread into the area of mystery, and there are many more unanswered questions that I’ve raised than ones that I’ve answered.
But Lord, thank You that we can trust You with our unanswered questions, and right now, we just want to give up to You that particular unfulfilled longing, that area of our lives where You have closed the door.
You’ve not allowed us to have the thing we want or the thing we think we need, the good gift. Lord, in the midst of that, we want to be worshipers, faithful, devoted followers of Jesus Christ.
Faithful if you supply, faithful if you provide what we want, but Lord, we want to say we don’t just love You for Your gifts. We love You because You’re God. We don’t want to be paid lovers.
We ask that You’d give us grace to think and respond that way. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen."
Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.
All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.
Sharon has a wonderful post on this very topic. I hope you can check out her blog dated January 2, 2008.
~Thank you Secret Sister!