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Sermon notes for a sermon preached at the Living Bread Church in Israel 9.7.2011
The message I have for tonight is about Favouritism, and how to deal with the effects of favouritism.
There are a number of examples of life stories that show the effects of favouritism that have been written down for us in the scriptures. For instance:
Genesis 37:3-4 "Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him."
Genesis 29:30 "So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah, and served Laban for another seven years."
2 Chronicles 11:21 "Rehoboam loved Maacah daughter of Absalom more than all his other wives and concubines."
The ancient prophets and writers knew that what they wrote was not just for them. They knew they were passing them on for the benefit of future generations, such as us, so that we could learn God's ways from them.
So let us take a closer look at one example from the first book of Samuel.
There was a man who lived in the hill-country of Ephraim somewhere near where Deborah had judged Israel in the time of the "Judges." If you are looking at a map it is the hill country on the left side of the Sea of Galilee.
Elkanah had two wives, which can be problematic in itself.
Peninnah meaning pearl or jewels. Possibly from the Hebrew root word for precious stone ... but she didn't feel like a precious stone because there is no mention of her husband loving her.
Hannah meaning "He (God) has favoured me/favours me (i.e. with a child)", or "gracious", to bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior ... but she didn't have children and didn't feel that God had favoured her and there is no record of her being kind to Peninnah. She was a "rival." She stooped, but not in kindness. She was bowed down under Peninnah's words.
So each had a name but no fulfilment of it.
Now we are told that Hannah was precious to her husband Elkanah, and that Peninnah had children. And through the narrative we can build a picture of two wives wanting what the other had and maybe even thinking it was their right because of their name, or at least wanting a fulfilment of their names.
1 Samuel 1:5, we are told that "whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice he would give portions to the two wives. But he would give a double portion to Hannah, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb."The text does not say he love "them" and nowhere in the text are we told that Elkanah loved Pennenah at all. This omission is important. The double portion was not the problem. We are given the impression that Elkanah favoured Hanah. We are told that they were rivals. SO they were both rivals for their husband's affection and Elkanah didn't appear to do much to alleviate the situation, to mediate between them.
Peninnah justifiably may have felt rejected by her husband because she knew he loved Hannah more or at least believed that he did and even though she had the culturally acceptable sign of God's favour (children), she was not happy. She wanted her husband's love. She wanted what Hannah had. So what did she do?
"And her rival (Penninah) provoked her sore, to make her fret, because the Lord had shut up her womb. And [as] Elkanah did so year by year, when she went up to the house of the Lord, she provoked her; therefore Hannah wept, and did not eat."
She made sure that Hannah knew that God had not blessed her with children. She provoked Hannah. You can probably imagine the kind of words that she said, out of her husband's hearing of course. Perhaps she even hissed at Hannah as she passed. She saw Hannah as a rival and tried to build up her own self esteem by constantly putting Hannah down. She used her tongue and no doubt her body language to push Hannah away.
Now Hannah also wanted what she didn't have. She wanted what Peninnah had. So what did she do as a response to her feelings of rejection? She wept and she fretted. She cried so much that she couldn't eat. She allowed anxiety and tears to rule her life and to rob her of the joy of her husbands love.
What could each of the wives done in this situation?
Well we are told that finally Hannah prayed. What took her so long? How many years did she allow Penninah's words to hurt her and cause her to stoop in anxiety, or cower before her?
Hanna also vowed showing she was serious. She promised to give the child back to God. It was her shame in the eyes of her world that she wanted removed because it was a shameful thing in those days for a wife not to have a child.
Now what happened when she prayed? God answered her and she gave birth to Samuel. Samuel was a sacrificial gift to the Lord but the gift is not what God wants. He wanted conversation. He also wanted Hannah to know that He was the giver of life. Children were a gift from God. They were not the result of God's favour because God shows no favouritism.
Deuteronomy 10:17"For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe."
Romans 2:11 "For God shows no partiality."
Acts 10:34 "God shows no partiality"
And we are told not show favouritism either:
James 2:9 "But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors."
James 2:1 "My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory."
This doesn't mean that children are not a blessing. They are but there are things much greater even than children.
Isaiah 56:4-5 For this is what the LORD says: "To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant--to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off."
So what did God show Hannah through this experience?
We can discover this in her words which are so significant they have been included as part of our scriptures.
Hanna's own words reveal what she learned:
"For the Lord is a God of knowledge, And by him actions are weighed.
Psalm 1 says "How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked." This includes some of the thoughts that come into our mind.
We all have moments of anxiety that come upon us. But what do we do with them? Do we take them to the best counsellor in the universe, who is right here with us? "The Lord is a God of knowledge." Let us remember this and seek His counsel.