Friday, October 26, 2012

The Blessing of Children

Pierre-Édouard Frère - Interior with Woman Teaching Child to Pray - Walters 371404
When I think about how my children are a blessing from the Lord, I have a very definite set of "blessings" in  mind.  With my young children,  spontaneous kisses, wide eyed wonder, cooking lessons, bubble baths, and snuggles all come to mind.   Indeed, all of these things are blessings to be grateful for in my nightly prayers, but when I read the Bible, I find one woman thankful for much different things. 

For an Israelite woman in the Old Testament, childbearing was very important.  In fact, it was almost her whole purpose in a marriage, to provide sons that would inherit their father's land and keep it in the family.  In polygamous families, outsiders viewed the women's status based on her fertility.  We've seen how Rachel and Leah competed in the game of popping out babies.  A woman who was barren was seen as cursed by God.  Indeed, there were times when God closed a woman's womb.  Hannah was one such woman (1 Samuel 1:6).

When Hannah prayed for a child, she made a vow to God. She vowed that Samuel would be dedicated
to the Lord from birth. It is possible that her husband, Elkanah, was a Levite. If so, her baby would also be a Levite.  Levites were typically only dedicated in such a way from age 25 on, so her promise went out of the norm. Other vows, such as the Nazarite vow, were normally taken for a limited time.
By Law, Elkanah could have released Hannah from her vow (Numbers 30:12), but he did not choose to do so.  Therefore,  when Samuel was weaned, Hannah took him to the temple to live with the priests there.

I've often wondered how she could do that.  In my modern western mindset, giving up a longed-for child seems like a tragedy.  I even cringe at the thought of boarding schools.  I want my children with me as much as possible.  How else can I enjoy the blessings of kisses, cooking lessons, and bubble baths?  I don't know if I could have kept my vow; there certainly would have been tears.

However, we don't see Hannah crying.  In fact, it is not until after she presents Samuel to Eli that she sings a song of Thanksgiving.   In her song, we have a glimpse into her heart to see some of the reasons that she is grateful rather than resentful.  The most important seems to be that Hannah finds her joy in the Lord, not in earthly relationships.  "My heart exults in the Lord; My horn is exalted in the Lord, my mouth speaks boldly against my enemies, because I rejoice in Thy salvation" (1 Samuel 2:1).  This concept is hard for me to swallow.  If I have any idols in my life, they tend to be in my loved ones.  I have more than once turned down an opportunity to serve because I was afraid it would not be good for my family.

Hannah realizes, though, that God takes care of everyone, especially the weakest members of society.  "He raises the poor from the dust, He lifts the needy from the ash heap To make them sit with nobles, and inherit a seat of honor; For the pillars of the earth are the Lord's, and He set the world on them" (1 Samuel 2:8).  If God cares for the poor and needy, He could certainly care for her son.

Sometimes I forget this too;  I have found that parenthood really is a test of faith.  From the time I saw the double line on the pregnancy test, I had to trust that God would protect my children in ways I could not.  At first I thought I could come to a place where I would not worry all on my own.  After that first trimester, I thought, I would feel less nervous.  It didn't happen.  I was a little paranoid my whole pregnancy.  I counted every kick, and even went to the hospital when she didn't move to my satisfaction.  When she was born, of course there was SIDS to worry about.  And on and on.  I finally learned that I had to place my precious daughter, and then my son and baby girl, in God's hands.  Hannah seems to have already learned this lesson.

Hannah also had an eye for the future of her child.  Her song foreshadows Samuel's life in a way that must have been a form of prophecy. "The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; And He will give strength to his king, and will exalt the horn of his anointed" (1 Samuel 2:10).  Samuel was destined by God to be Israel's last human judge.  At this point in Israel's history, there were no kings.  In fact, Samuel would anoint the first two kings of Israel.  Hannah's song indicates that she might have had some inkling as to what her son would become, and she was able to rejoice for him.

I think Hannah must have had some pangs of sadness as she left her young son with Eli the priest, but she was still able to sing a song of thankfulness. She knew that God had blessed her already by allowing her to bear a son.  She chose to put her faith and her joy in her relationship with her God.  Her blessing was in knowing that God had something special planned for Samuel, and that He would care for her child much better than she could.  

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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