1 Samuel 1:1-2:36; 1 Samuel 4:1-22
Here are some observations about why Hannah seems more honorable than Eli.
She obeyed the Law regarding the redemption of the firstborn. (Exodus 13:13-15; 34:20; Numbers 3:46; 18:15-17) In the Law of Moses, since God had taken the firstborn of every household in Egypt, the Lord required that the people of Israel give their firstborn to Him. The firstborn son was to be dedicated to the Lord, given completely over to Him. He did mean this literally, but He also made a provision for the people to “cash out” on the commitment. A monetary value was placed on the life of the firstborn child, and a family could opt to “redeem” the child and give the money to the house of the Lord rather than the child.
There are many reasons why this law was created, some of which we probably don’t understand. One reason it was created was to provide an analogy for the redemption that God gives us through Jesus Christ. God redeemed us, or bought us out of sin, with the blood of Jesus.
Another reason, and probably the deeper and more immediate reason, was to give the Israelites an opportunity to actualize and demonstrate their total commitment to the Lord. Remember, God is not messing around; He wants the best of all that we have. He wants the firstborn of our lives, not the left-overs. In our culture this is true, but especially in the ancient world the firstborn son was everything to a family. The firstborn son received the inheritance of the father and carried the family name on into the next generation. By offering your firstborn to the Lord you were literally saying, “Lord, you own everything I have.”
God still asks us for our firstborn, even if we don’t have a physical child. He wants the firstborn ambitions, the firstborn fruit; He wants the best of all that you have. Too many times we tend to give the best of what we have to the taskmasters of the world who don’t love us, don’t care for us, but give us money to put food on the table. We give the world our best, and then drag our weary self into the presence of God…if we feel like it. We don’t give God the first because we are afraid that if we give it to Him, then we won’t have enough to pay the bills and meet our commitments at work and in the world. God promises us that if we will trust Him enough to give Him the first of what we have, that He will more than take care of the rest.
In Hannah’s day it is most likely that the people of Israel had abandoned the law of bringing their firstborn to the Lord. If they did follow that Law, they probably opted to throw some money at it and get their child back. While cashing in or redeeming the child was acceptable according to God’s Law, it leaves room for outward behavior to exist without a transformed inward attitude. In the same way it is very easy for us to go through the right motions (giving a tithe, coming to church, serving in a ministry, etc.) but still have an unsurrendered heart. Hannah wasn’t like that. She didn’t just follow the letter of the Law, she actually did the Law. She gave Samuel to the Lord and handed him over to Eli to serve in the Tabernacle. Wow! It must have been a difficult step for Hannah, yet she did it in faith. Her simple and bold faith changed the course of life. It changed her life and the life of the nation. Because of her faithfulness God opened her womb and she had many more children. Because of her faithfulness the nation of Israel was given the man named Samuel who would guide them into the next phase of their existence.
Her parenting was God focused, Eli’s was child and self-focused. Eli made the tragic mistake that most parents fall into. He looked out for the best interest of his children over and above the best interest of God. Too many times we become child-centered and want our kids to be happy all the time. Unfortunately this becomes true in how we train our kids about God. We want our children to love God so much that we can fall into the temptation to always present the “happy and fun” God to them. We never want church to be boring, so we cart them off to their own church service where they can have fun the whole time. We don’t want them to have to sit still in church because that might turn them off and they will grow up and turn away from God.
Unwittingly, by creating this environment of constant entertainment and “fun” for our children, we are actually teaching them the opposite message that we intend. Rather than teaching them that God is fun and cool, we are teaching them that God exists to entertain them. We are teaching them that every impulsive desire of their hearts is something that demands attention. We are teaching them that God is their servant.
Children (young and old alike) are basically self-focused. When we have a need or a desire, we cry and whine until we get it. Part of the transformation that must take place in every person’s heart is that of focus. We must focus our attention and fixation away from self and onto God. In so doing we will become “other-oriented” and will be able to actually love God and love our neighbor. If we always got what we wanted, when we wanted it, then we would never have to realize that we are not the center of the universe.
Eli made this mistake. He trained his boys that their position in the temple was self-focused. In the Law of Moses God told Aaron that the offerings given at the Tabernacle belonged to the priests. It was their sustenance, to support their service of God and the people. Eli and his son’s distorted this truth and manipulated into believing that they deserved the choice pieces of the sacrifice, that it was owed to them, and that their position as priest gave them authority in the lives of the “common man” to use and abuse as they saw fit.
Hannah, on the other hand, trained her son that service to God, for God’s sake is the mode in which we should operate. She did not look to meet her own needs first, but kept God’s Law at the forefront of her mind and her behavior toward her child.
As parents in our current youth-centric, over-stimulated, must-be-entertained-at-every-moment, can’t-sit-still culture, perhaps we could make some effort to teach our children the discipline of waiting. We can teach them that it is OK to sit and listen to an adult talk during worship time. It is OK to politely allow someone to express themselves in a way that may not be interesting or even make sense to you, and that you, out of sheer respect for others, should pay attention and show respect.
Am I saying that we should intentionally make church boring to “teach our selfish kid’s a lesson?” No. Should we never do wild and crazy kid-oriented stuff in worship? Of course not. Should our worship space be dull and lifeless? No way. I’m not saying that. All I’m saying is that, as parents and spiritual aunts and uncles in our church communities, we need to make sure that we find practical ways to teach our children that God’s desires and the needs of others take priority in the life of a Christian. No human being is the center of the universe. God is the center and we all, equally and mutually, orbit around Him.