Hannah’s Son – Prayer for God’s Blessing

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This is a dress in a window display in a mall I saw on vacation it is made with the pages of books (it was a book store).  It just seems very cheerful, and it kind of gave me a mental lift of our prayers winging their way to God!

 

Roman’s 9:15-16 For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then, it does not depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.

Read 1Samuel 1:10-11 Hannah prayed for the Blessing of a son, and promised God that she would give him back to God for all the days of his life, and his hair would never be cut. God answered her prayer and Samuel was born and given to Eli the Priest at the Temple after he was weaned (1Samuel 1:22, 26-28)  God blessed Hannah with many more children after Samuel. (1Samuel 2:5)  Note that Hannah’s prayer was answered and she was blessed with more children for her faithfulness to her promise.  Hannah’s prayer included an offer of personal sacrifice of the thing wanted most.  Sometimes when a prayer is really important we can fast and sacrifice our meals or give up fun activities in order to honor the seriousness of the prayer.  We do this most often either for healing of someone or ourselves, or during the season of Lent in an effort to experience a small part of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.  Sometimes when a matter of prayer is crucial to you, you feel that just prayer alone is not enough, then it is appropriate to fast so that you can concentrate on God more.

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Read Judges 11  Here is the story of another person who wanted a blessing from God, and made a vow to God.  However, this is a case where there is a lot of controversy.  We can learn a lot from Jephthah’s wild seemingly ill considered vow.  He vows that if God will let him win a war, then he will offer to or sacrifice to God whatever first comes out of his house when he returns safely.

Have you ever made a vow or promise that you wish you had never made?  I don’t think there is a person alive who hasn’t.  I am sure that Jephthah had regrets…as his one and only child…his daughter is the one who first came out to meet him.  Now there is controversy among scholars about whether he actually burned his daughter as a sacrifice, or if she was just offered as in the case of Hannah offering Samuel to God as a servant in the temple, or maybe she was just set aside and never allowed to marry, but stayed in her father’s house.  I am going with the idea that Jephthah was known to be a man of God and knowing that God had prohibited human sacrifice he would never go against God.  (Deuteronomy 12:29-32) After all, he was chosen as a leader of his people by God.  That is why he is mentioned in Judges in the first place.

Also his daughter mourns her virginity and it tells us she never knew a man. So her mourning of her virginity in this case would be the never having a husband and children.  For a Jewish woman of her time, that was a horrible fate to have.  A woman’s worth as told to us in the story of Hannah and many other women throughout the Old Testament was based on whether she could provide sons for her husband so that his lineage could continue.  The same could be said of a Jewish man, having a son was his top obligation.  So much so that if his brother had a wife and died without a son, then he was to marry the widow and raise up a son as his brother’s child so that he would have a son to carry on his line. (Deuteronomy 25:5-6)

So when we see this story of Hannah, she was miserable and she wanted a son to validate her worth.  Jephthah had only a daughter and he, undoubtedly loved his daughter as we can see from his response to her appearance.  Jephthah was someone who had no proper family when he was growing up, and was actually rejected and ejected from his father’s house, so family was probably doubly important to him over others who were raised in a family where their Mother was respected and loved.  Saying this, it seems to me that his vow to God really was a painful burden to him.  As his daughter would not be able to provide him with a continuation of his family line, and she was his only child.

Unlike in the story of Hannah and her son, Samuel, we are not told that Jephthah suddenly started having other children.

So both of these people prayed for a blessing and tried to give something to God in return.  Hannah ended up with the greater blessing, as the scorn she received from her husband’s second wife was abated and she had many children.  The way I feel when I read Hannah’s story is that she is a woman in misery, and is praying for God with all the humbleness of her heart to remove her misery.

On the other hand, when I read of Jephthah, he seems like a person of great pride.  He is a person who is a bargainer.  When his family called him back he bargains with them to become the head of the family if he fights for them and prevails.  Then he offers God a bargain, that he will give God a sacrifice of whatever comes out of his house first if God will just let him win against his enemies.  Jephthah was not miserable in the sense that Hannah was, but he was also looked down upon by members of his family and community.  He was a “can do” type of person, his relationship with God was almost completely different from Hannah’s.  Hannah was a “can’t do anything about it” person.  She was humble and laid her problem out to God.  Jephthah on the other hand probably would have gone into battle anyway, and hoped for the best; but felt that if he offered God something that maybe God would make certain of his victory.

The thing is in both cases, God did bless these people with the desires of their hearts.  Jephthah in the end needed and desired the respect of his family after the way he had grown up.  By offering his daughter to God, he also gained more community respect.  We are told that for four days a year the Jewish girls would go into the desert to lament his daughter’s virginity.  In this case, to honor it, as well as mourn her sacrifice of having no family.  Another thing about not having a son, is that there was no one to care for her in her old age….though, as she was a “living sacrifice” to God I am sure that God made sure she was cared for.  Just as he will care for us if we make ourselves into “living sacrifices” to him. For us to be living sacrifices means that we are living our lives fully invested in following God’s plan for our lives.  We are setting aside our selfishness and our need to control things, and allowing God to work in us.

The thing is that there is nothing other than ourselves that we can offer to God…God does not do bargains.  He listens to our prayers and our repentance of our sins, and he wants to give us the desires of our hearts.  Just like any parent wants to give their children the desires of their hearts….without any bargaining!    God does not bargain…he blesses whom he will bless and he curses whom he will curse.  Generally, he blesses those who love him…maybe not the way they wish to be blessed on the surface, but he gives what the person really needs to help them grow closer to him, and to fulfill their plan.  The thing is we don’t always understand the actual blessing that God has given us when it is given to us.  Sometimes, we have to have time to see it.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:33-37 Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. (ESV)

 

 

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Sharing God’s Grace with Others

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Praying Hands by Albrecht Durer in the year 1508 as part of an altar piece it was a sketch done on blue paper made by the artist himself.

2 Cor. 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.

2Cor.8:1-9  We are to further demonstrate God’s grace in our giving to those in need, both of ourselves and our material goods.  It is important to tithe your money and other material goods to be generous to others and your church because everything you have and everything you are came from God.  In essence it all belongs to Him already, you are the caretaker of it for God.  Therefore, when you use these things which include your talents, you need to use them for God’s purposes and in obedience to Him.  That is  a responsibility you have to God.  Living in obedience to God’s will means that no matter what our living conditions wealthy or moderate, or poor we are to honor God’s grace by being generous to the best of our ability in caring for others. 

Read Mark 12:41-44, The story of the widow’s mite, and also read Acts 6:1-7 The story of how the disciples established a policy or group of trustees to take care of a group of widows who were being over looked.

The wealth of Jesus talked about in 2 Corinthians that he gave up for us is not earthly wealth.  Traditionally, we understand that Jesus was not wealthy on earth.  So the wealth that he gave up for our sakes is the wealth of heaven.  Imagine knowing and living in heaven and purposely giving up that place to come down to earth and show us personally who God is to us and for us so that we can have a personal relationship with our Father in Heaven?!!

When you put that act beside whatever we can possibly give up here on earth it pales in comparison, doesn’t it?!!  I mean,there is not another person walking the earth now or in the past, other than Jesus who has ever experienced the wealth of heaven.  We experience a little bit of heaven on earth now and then whenever we have moments of extraordinary happiness and contentment.  Or when we have personal “God moments”  aka “aha! so this is what God is like!” moments.  For instance, when we watch our children being born, or some other miracle of life.  When I was sitting in church today, I heard this wonderful, yet very sad story of two brothers in a poor family.  It really struck me that it really goes along with the idea of generosity and God’s grace.  So I will share it with you.

I don’t know if the story is true.  I couldn’t find support for it, but it is still a wonderful story and a good illustration. The setting is the 1500’s.  There was once a father of about 18 children who worked about 18 hours a day to support his children at whatever job he could find.  He didn’t turn down anything no matter how demeaning the job.  Two of his sons were very gifted artistically and wanted to go to train to be an artist. However, the boys knew that their father would never be able to afford to send them.  Lying in bed one night the boys decided to flip a coin, and the winner of the toss would go get the training and the loser would get a job and support the brother who won in getting their training.  The brother who won was named Albrecht.  He went for training and his brother went to work in a mine.  The training time went on, and Albrecht finished his training and flourished in the art world…now in Hollywood’s version this is where he would forget all about his brother and just live the high life, right?!  In this case, Albrecht went back home and they had a big family dinner to celebrate his success.  Finally Albrecht stood and made a toast to his brother, and announced that now it was his turn to support his brother while he went to get his artistic training.  The brother, sat in his seat with tears running down cheeks and said quietly, that “no, I cannot go for training, it is too late for me.  The years I have worked in the mine have given me broken fingers and broken hands, and now I can no longer do the delicate work with the brush or pen that I once was able to do.”

When I heard this very emotional story, I thought to myself, “Wow! Now there is sacrificial giving!”  The brother who stayed behind probably knew fairly shortly after he started working that his artistic prospects were never going to happen.  He would have been well understood by the world’s standards to have written his brother and said, “Hey!  I can’t do this because if I do then I won’t get my chance ever.  My hands will be ruined!”  However, the brother who worked kept his word at great cost to himself.  He must have realized that if he didn’t hold up his end of the bargain then neither of them would have their dream fulfilled.  That would have been even sadder.  At least this way his brother could get a chance at success, and he could enjoy that success along with him in spirit.

The story concludes that Albrecht drew this very famous picture using his brother’s hands as a model in honor of his brother’s sacrifice for him.  The artist’s name was Albrecht Durer.

When we read the story of the Widow’s mite in the Bible it is a story of sacrificial giving, and I thought that this story also (whether true or not for this particular artist it is true of someone somewhere) was a good example of another kind of sacrificial giving, the giving of oneself for another.

Grace vs. Debt

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Each Birthday we have is a gift of grace from God, and each time we get a gift from someone we always want to give a gift in return don’t we?  The gift we can give God in return is to freely show others who God is in our lives and how they can have God in their lives.

Romans 4:4-5 Now, when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation.  However, to the man who does not work, but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.

Read Romans 4:4-5, Titus 3:7,Hebrews 2:9  These verses describe the difference between grace and indebtedness.  If a man works, then his wages are his employers debt to him.  So his reward is not a grace from the employer, but a reward for his work.  If a person tries to work to get to heaven, they will never get there, because their reward is given to them on earth in the accolades and attention they get for their good works, and that you cannot work hard enough to make up for your sins because you are always committing more sins.  The debt is never ending.  However, if you rely on God’s grace and goodwill through faith in Jesus Christ and his ability to forgive your sins, then God’s grace is your reward, and your sins are forgiven.  God doesn’t ever owe you forgiveness.  He chose to give it to you, it is up to you to accept it.

Read Acts 8:1-24  This is the story of Simon the Sorcerer who has practiced sorcery on the city and has a high position within the city due to his sorcery.  He listens to Philip and becomes a believer and is baptized.  He makes a big mistake because of ego, he wants to have the Holy Spirit, but wants it for the wrong reasons.  He offers to buy it from Peter and John when they come into the city and start preaching and healing with it.  Peter and John tell him he has made a big mistake and curse him.  He asks them to pray for him, and they said that they would pray that God will forgive him for trying to buy God.  The point of this story is that Grace is freely given.  It is not something you can work for, or buy.  It is not a debt that can be paid in wages for work.  You cannot buy God, with money or with good deeds.  You can receive God as a gift He gives you.