Expository Child Dedication Sermon on 1 Samuel 1
by Maylan Schurch
Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church 6/11/2022
©2022 by Maylan Schurch
To view the entire worship service, click the link just below:
Please open your Bibles to First Samuel chapter 1.
For today’s sermon, we’re temporarily stepping aside from our read-the-Bible-through-in-a-year plan. The reason is that two families, both related to Evelyn Watson, have brought their children to be dedicated to the Lord. And that’s what we’ll be doing at the conclusion of this sermon.
When I asked Evelyn for a scripture passage to base today’s sermon on, she wondered if we could look at the story of Samuel’s mother Hannah. After all, Hannah was another parent who dedicated her child to the Lord.
But this dedication wasn’t difficulty-free. Hannah faced several challenges along the way. I’ve called this sermon “Hannah’s Crossroads.”
I grew up in a “crossroads” town. Redfield, South Dakota is at the intersection of two major US highways, 281 and 212. This means that if you came into Redfield from the South on Highway 281, you would come to a place where you had to decide whether to turn right and go to Minneapolis, or keep going north and go to Fargo, North Dakota. Or if you turned left, you could travel on Highway 212 all the way out to Yellowstone National Park.
So depending on where you wanted to go, it was important to know which direction to take when you came to that crossroads.
This morning we’re going to look at part of the life of a woman who faced – if I’m counting correctly – four major crossroads, just here in First Samuel 1. We’re going to watch as she approaches each of those crossroads, and see which direction she takes. Spoiler alert: she always turns in God’s direction.
And as I read through her story, with 40 decades of pastoring under my belt, I can think of people down through the years who have faced the same kinds of crossroads Hannah faced. And I think that watching Hannah can mentor us in making decisions like this – not only the two young families and their children, but every single one of us.
So let’s keep an eye on Hannah as she approaches her first cross road.
1 Samuel 1:1 – 2 [NKJV]: Now there was a certain man of Ramathaim Zophim, of the mountains of Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. And he had two wives: the name of one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.
Are you getting a feeling for what Hannah’s first crossroad might be? Let me tell you what I think it is, and you can decide if you agree. If you’re taking sermon points, here comes what we could call Sermon Point One.
I believe Hannah’s first crossroad was chronic disappointment.
Nowadays, there is not the same pressure for a woman to become a mother. But back in those days, most Israelite woman desperately wanted to become a “mother in Israel.” This was very important, so important that back in Judges 5:7, a judge named Deborah sings a song of triumph after a victorious battle, and she proudly slips in the information that she herself was a “mother in Israel.”
You can probably think of some other Bible women who had trouble becoming mothers: Sarah, Abraham’s wife; Rebecca, Isaac’s wife; Rachel, Jacob’s wife; Manoah’s wife the mother of Samson (whose name we don’t know); the Shunamite woman who came to Elisha asking him to pray to the Lord that she could have a child; and finally Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist.
And Hannah has her own heart set on becoming a mom. But it’s not working out.
Why was infertility such a crossroad? Because the conventional wisdom at that time was that, if you couldn’t have kids, it was somehow the Lord’s fault. Down in verse six, it flatly says, “the Lord had closed her womb.” Several times throughout the Bible the Lord lets himself be “blamed” for things which might really have been caused by something else. Maybe this was a gynecological issue of some kind.
But since it was conventional wisdom that God was preventing her pregnancy, Hannah probably believed it. And year after year, while Wife Number Two (Penninah) kept having babies, Hannah had none.
So Hannah’s first crossroad was chronic disappointment.
Have you ever been disappointed with God? Christian author Phillip Yancey wrote a book with that title. Have you had a disappointment which is chronic, which keeps going, and you don’t see an end in sight for it?
Did someone cheat you in some way? Do you have a disability which has hampered you from reaching your full potential? Is there a loved one who is no longer in your life, someone you mourn?
As Hannah stood at this first crossroad, she could have easily taken the wrong direction. She could have grown gradually more and more bitter toward God. After all, if He was the one who had closed her womb, didn’t He deserve a bit of bitterness?
But at this first crossroad, Hannah instead turns in the direction which will lead her closer to God. What she did was to feel her grief deeply – she didn’t try to suppress it – but she also waited. And of course, she certainly must have prayed. And prayed, and prayed.
And that’s what I think Hannah teaches us – be patient, and pray.
And as she continues to wait and pray, Hannah comes to her second crossroad. Let’s start with verse three.
Verses 3 – 8: This man [her husband Elkanah] went up from his city yearly to worship and sacrifice to the LORD of hosts in Shiloh. Also the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, the priests of the LORD, were there. And whenever the time came for Elkanah to make an offering, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he would give a double portion, for he loved Hannah, although the LORD had closed her womb. And her rival also provoked her severely, to make her miserable, because the LORD had closed her womb. So it was, year by year, when she went up to the house of the LORD, that she provoked her; therefore she wept and did not eat. Then Elkanah her husband said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? And why is your heart grieved? Am I not better to you than ten sons?”
Can you imagine being Hannah at this point? Not only has she had to navigate her first crossroad, but here she is at another one. Here comes Sermon Point Two.
I believe that if Hannah’s first crossroad was chronic disappointment, her second crossroad was personality conflict.
When I read this story as a kid, I would automatically say, “Oh, that nasty, mean Peninnah! Why would she harass Hannah like this?”
I’m not going to excuse Peninnah here, of course, but after all, she was not Wife Number One. She hadn’t been picked first. She sensed that Elkanah loved Hannah more than he did her, and that was probably true. Even though Peninnah had as many kids racing around the house as she could handle, she didn’t feel her husband’s devoted love the way Hannah did.
And if you know your Old Testament, you know that that same dynamic was repeated with Sarah and Hagar, and Rachel and Leah. Hannah was the adored wife, and Peninnah was pretty much just the baby-maker. It was unfair, which is one reason why plural marriage was never God’s idea, or His ideal.
And of course Peninnah shouldn’t have behaved the way she did. Yet from the way the story goes, it sounds like she didn’t let up on her harassment. She provoked Hannah every chance she got. Verse six says that Peninnah did this to make Hannah miserable.
And clueless Elkahah didn’t make things any better. His clumsy attempt to comfort Hannah was exactly what she did not need to hear. “Aren’t I better to you than ten sons?” That seems pretty egotistical, but he might have been repeating something Hannah had said to him when she was younger, to console him that she couldn’t give him children.
And the story says that when Elkahah took the sacrifices to the tabernacle, he would bring back portions of the meat. He gave a portion each to Peninnah and the kids, and a double portion to Hannah. And I can imagine Hannah looking down at that generous helping and thinking, Peninnah gets the children, and all I get is seconds.
How about your life? Do you have personality conflicts? We all have them, but some of them are so close to us and so painful that it’s almost unbearable. This is a tough crossroad to navigate.
How did Hannah do it? Well, she could have gone to permanent war with Peninnah. She could have found ways to get back at her, ways to make Peninnah’s life just as difficult as she possibly could. She could have been cruel to Peninnah’s children.
But there at this difficult crossroad, Hannah went a different direction. From all we know, she behaved patiently. There is no record of her responding in any way but in humility and grief and fasting – and the fasting may have been caused by her grief.
And when it came time to go up to the tabernacle once a year, Hannah could’ve stayed home. But instead, she kept going to God’s house, year after year.
And one year – maybe it was the same year that Elkahah tried to cheer her up by asking if she thought that he was worth 10 sons to her – Hannah steps into her crossroad and turns toward God.
Verses 9 – 14: So Hannah arose after they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat by the doorpost of the tabernacle of the LORD. And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the LORD and wept in anguish. Then she made a vow and said, “O LORD of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head.” And it happened, as she continued praying before the LORD, that Eli watched her mouth. Now Hannah spoke in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli thought she was drunk. So Eli said to her, “How long will you be drunk? Put your wine away from you!”
And suddenly, Hannah discovers that she is at her third crossroad.
If Hannah’s first crossroad was chronic disappointment, and if her second crossroad was personality conflict, I believe Hannah’s third crossroad was being hurt by the church.
Have you ever perceived yourself to have been hurt by the church? This is a major problem. Once upon a time, several years ago, the editor of the Signs of the Times magazine, Marvin Moore, called me up and said, “You’re a pastor. Would you mind writing me an article called ‘Hurt by the Church? Could you give some insights on that?”
So, I got to work on that article, bringing in Bible examples, and situations I’d known about, though of course not mentioning any names or details people could identify. I sent off the article, and he accepted it, and published it.
Two years later Marvin called me back. He said “I was wondering if you could write an article for Signs called ‘Hurt by the Church.’” I told him, “You know, I think I wrote an article on that topic a couple of years ago.” He looked it up in his files, and said, “You’re right. You did.”
I said, “Did you want to just re-run that one?” And he said, “No, I’d like you to write a new article on ‘Hurt by the Church.’”
Evidently this is such a chronic problem that, in Marvin’s view, you couldn’t have too many articles on this subject. So I came up with a new article, trying not to repeat myself, and he published that one too.
Even from my own pastoral experience, I’ve learned that a lot of people perceive themselves to have been hurt by the church. And Hannah, standing there before the high priest, sobbing, praying silently, was hurt by no less than the church’s top leader, the high priest.
So why did Eli act this way? Well, when you think of the way Eli’s sons behaved, there was probably a lot more drunkenness and debauchery that showed up near the tabernacle than there was real worship. Maybe Eli had seen so few true, heartfelt God-seeking people that he’d forgotten what it looked like.
So, trembling under his rebuke, Hannah stands there at her third crossroad. This was a major hurt for her. She had made herself vulnerable. She had come to the very house of the Lord, she had fervently prayed. And now she was contemptuously misunderstood.
In fact, if you’ve been keeping your eye on the news recently, you know that one of the major Protestant denominations is facing a lot of liability for the way they have tried to sweep sexual abuse under the rug over the years. And every so often you hear of a megachurch pastor who has used his position and authority to take advantage of a woman, sometimes multiple women.
And a lot of these folks who have been hurt by the church in situations like this simply leave. And no one can blame them. Nobody should have to remain in a situation of abuse – either in a congregation or in a marriage.
Of course, Hannah’s situation was a bit different than that. Eli hadn’t physically harmed her, or anything like that. But he had shown scorn to her because he didn’t recognize the depth of her heart-searching.
And faced with this scorn, Hannah could have turned on her heel, and walked away from any further contact with God. She could’ve said, “If this is the way God’s church treats me, I want nothing more to do with it.”
Yet once again, Hannah turns in a direction which leads toward God rather than away from Him. Maybe she senses that Eli has just arrived at the wrong conclusion, and things need to be cleared up.
So here’s what she does instead:
Verses 15 – 18: But Hannah answered and said, “No, my lord, I am a woman of sorrowful spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor intoxicating drink, but have poured out my soul before the LORD. Do not consider your maidservant a wicked woman, for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief I have spoken until now.” Then Eli answered and said, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition which you have asked of Him.” And she said, “Let your maidservant find favor in your sight.” So the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.
Her face was no longer sad? What has happened within Hannah? Has the sting of misunderstanding worn off as quickly as that? Has the discouragement of all those barren years simply evaporated?
What happened must’ve been something supernatural, because the situation has not changed. She has made Eli understand that she is a true worshiper of God, and he has given her a blessing. But how can she know whether anything has changed for her? What happened within her to take that gloomy expression offer face?
As I say, it was probably supernatural. My mother and father were people who prayed earnestly and frequently. My mom would tell me about how she would pray about some issue, and she would say, “Last night the Lord gave me peace about that.” Dad would say the same thing about things he prayed for.
That’s what must’ve happened to Hannah. She probably didn’t know how things might change, or whether things would even change at all. But she had peace.
Verses 19 – 20: Then they rose early in the morning and worshiped before the LORD, and returned and came to their house at Ramah. And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the LORD remembered her. So it came to pass in the process of time that Hannah conceived and bore a son, and called his name Samuel, saying, “Because I have asked for him from the LORD.”
Imagine the rejoicing! Imagine Elkahah’s delight! Hannah’s heart was overflowing. Maybe even Peninnah and her children gathered around to look at the tiny baby.
And as this new mother cuddles her infant, and croons over him and sings him songs, she’s approaching maybe the most difficult crossroad of all. You see, she has promised this baby to the Lord. She has even promised that Samuel will be a Nazirite, someone who is under a vow not to cut his hair or to drink strong drink. She has totally devoted her son to God’s service.
Let’s lay down our final sermon point:
Hannah’s first crossroad was chronic disappointment. Her second crossroad was personality conflict. Her third crossroad was being hurt by the church. And I believe that Hannah’s fourth crossroad may have been deciding whether to honor her vow to God.
And this is where we discover just what kind of person Hannah was. She knows she is looking ahead to three, maybe four wonderful years with this little guy. You can imagine what love she will give him, what scriptures she will whisper into his ears.
You can imagine how carefully she taught him to interact with his older half-brothers and half-sisters. You can imagine how lovingly Hannah taught Samuel about how much God loved him, and how he would play a special role in God’s service.
Hannah could have simply ignored her vow. But as much as she loved her boy, she loved her God more. This was a miracle child, and the same God who gave her this child would protect him.
So let’s watch Hannah’s baby dedication.
Verses 21 – 28: Now the man Elkanah and all his house went up to offer to the LORD the yearly sacrifice and his vow. But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, “Not until the child is weaned; then I will take him, that he may appear before the LORD and remain there forever.” So Elkanah her husband said to her, “Do what seems best to you; wait until you have weaned him. Only let the LORD establish His word.” Then the woman stayed and nursed her son until she had weaned him. Now when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, with three bulls, one ephah of flour, and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the LORD in Shiloh. And the child was young. Then they slaughtered a bull, and brought the child to Eli. And she said, “O my lord! As your soul lives, my lord, I am the woman who stood by you here, praying to the LORD. For this child I prayed, and the LORD has granted me my petition which I asked of Him. Therefore I also have lent him to the LORD; as long as he lives he shall be lent to the LORD.” So they worshiped the LORD there.
As I was reading these verses this week, tears actually came to my eyes as I read that last verse. Hannah does not say “I have given him to the Lord.” Instead she says, “I have lent him to the Lord.” Samuel is still Hannah’s boy. He’s just on loan to God.
And the Lord blesses Hannah. In chapter 2, verse 21, it says, “And the LORD visited Hannah, so that she conceived and bore three sons and two daughters. Meanwhile the child Samuel grew before the LORD.”
And just as God blessed Hannah for her true-hearted faithfulness to Him, He will bless these two children, and their parents who have brought them to the house of God today. And when they—and the rest of us—come to the difficult crossroads in our lives, our loving Heavenly Parent beckons us toward Him.
In the very next chapter, 2 Samuel 2:30, the Lord sends a message to Eli. Part of that message says, “Those who honor Me, I will honor.” And if, at every crossroad we face, we turn in the direction that honors the Lord, the direction that puts Him first, He will handle our problems and restore us in ways He knows best.