Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? Is that even the right question to ask?
The next book in our bibles is the book of Ruth. Why it is there? It is believed to have taken place during the time of the judges. During the exceptionally low time in the life of Israel, a story emerges that highlights the grace of God and the mission of God.
To the shame of Israel, a Moabite woman demonstrates a greater love for God and others than most of the Jews. Ruth, a foreigner, and NOT a descendant of Abraham, ends up exemplifying the type of life of sacrifice that God wants for his people.
In Judges, one of the key phrases was this one: “In those days Israel had no king”. It is how the book ends. The story of Ruth is actually pointing out one of the stories in the future of Israel when it will have a king, their most famous king, David.
Matthew 1:1–6 || 1 This is a record of the ancestors of Jesus the Messiah, a descendant of David and of Abraham: 2 Abraham was the father of Isaac. Isaac was the father of Jacob. Jacob was the father of Judah and his brothers. 3 Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah (whose mother was Tamar). Perez was the father of Hezron. Hezron was the father of Ram. 4 Ram was the father of Amminadab. Amminadab was the father of Nahshon. Nahshon was the father of Salmon. 5 Salmon was the father of Boaz (whose mother was Rahab). Boaz was the father of Obed (whose mother was Ruth). Obed was the father of Jesse. 6 Jesse was the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon (whose mother was Bathsheba, the widow of Uriah). [NLT]
In the end, Ruth, the Moabite (as well as Rahab, the prostitute) end up in the genealogy of the Messiah. This feel good story also shows Boaz as a type of Savior, a picture of the coming Messiah.
That takes us to the next 2 books of the Old Testament. 1 & 2 Samuel. Samuel will be one of the three main characters of these books and is considered the last of Israel’s judges. Whereas the pattern of the judges IN the book of Judges was a horrible downward spiral away from God, this last judge will be one of the best since settling in the promised land.
The word LORD or “Yahweh” the name of God, appears 23 times in chapter 1 in the CSB. There are only 28 verses!
1 Samuel is the beginning of the reminder that no matter how dark the times are, or how perverse society has gotten, or how painful your situation, the place to turn in God.
We left off in Judges with the Danites worshipping their idols, with their own priests and their own religious articles. They were at the extreme opposite of what God intended.
Judges 18:30–31 || 30 The Danites set up the carved image for themselves. Jonathan son of Gershom, son of Moses, and his sons were priests for the Danite tribe until the time of the exile from the land. 31 So they set up for themselves Micah’s carved image that he had made, and it was there as long as the house of God was in Shiloh. [CSB]
“The house of God was at Shiloh” is a key phrase. That location was established in Joshua 18 as a centralized location in the geography of Israel. It is where the tent of meeting was located, and the ark of the covenant was placed there.
While the book of Judges speaks of the apostacy or the Danites, the book or 1 Samuel begins with a man who is faithful to worship God at Shiloh each year.
1 Samuel 1:1–3 || 1 There was a man from Ramathaim-zophim in the hill country of Ephraim. His name was Elkanah son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. 2 He had two wives, the first named Hannah and the second Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah was childless. 3 This man would go up from his town every year to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of Armies at Shiloh, where Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were the Lord’s priests. [CSB]
The author of Judges not only states that location, but also the God that was being worshipped AND the priests, who were serving the Lord. There is an intentional bridge between the end of Judges and the beginning on 1 Samuel – and it is a stark contrast. You begin the transition from “everyone did what was right in their own eyes” to the people obeying the command of the Lord. Though not immediate, it begins with a couple and a conundrum.
Elkanah was a Levite, one that was set apart to serve God. So, not only would Elkanah go to worship God, he would serve at the tent of meeting or the tabernacle. [the temple had not been built yet, so if you read a passage that says “temple”, understand it to be the tabernacle]
As part of his duties, he would help with the sacrifices, and as the law of Moses permitted, he would be able to share in part of the meat – he and his family, as a special gift from God.
However, the gift was a painful one for Hannah.
1 Samuel 1:4–8 || 4 Whenever Elkanah offered a sacrifice, he always gave portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to each of her sons and daughters. 5 But he gave a double portion to Hannah, for he loved her even though the Lord had kept her from conceiving. 6 Her rival would taunt her severely just to provoke her, because the Lord had kept Hannah from conceiving. 7 Year after year, when she went up to the Lord’s house, her rival taunted her in this way. Hannah would weep and would not eat. 8 “Hannah, why are you crying?” her husband Elkanah would ask. “Why won’t you eat? Why are you troubled? Am I not better to you than ten sons?” [CSB]
Each year as the meat was passed out, Peninnah, would get a lot, because she had children. Hannah’s portion would be much smaller and would remind her that she had no children.
To make matters worse, Peninnah would taunt Hannah, and remind her that she had no children.
So we have a wife that is loved but childless, being taunted by the other wife. [Does any of this sound familiar? Like Jacobs wives, Rachel and Leah in Genesis 29-30]
1 Samuel 1:9–20 || 9 On one occasion, Hannah got up after they ate and drank at Shiloh. The priest Eli was sitting on a chair by the doorpost of the Lord’s temple. 10 Deeply hurt, Hannah prayed to the Lord and wept with many tears. 11 Making a vow, she pleaded, “Lord of Armies, if you will take notice of your servant’s affliction, remember and not forget me, and give your servant a son, I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and his hair will never be cut.” 12 While she continued praying in the Lord’s presence, Eli watched her mouth. 13 Hannah was praying silently, and though her lips were moving, her voice could not be heard. Eli thought she was drunk 14 and said to her, “How long are you going to be drunk? Get rid of your wine!” 15 “No, my lord,” Hannah replied. “I am a woman with a broken heart. I haven’t had any wine or beer; I’ve been pouring out my heart before the Lord. 16 Don’t think of me as a wicked woman; I’ve been praying from the depth of my anguish and resentment.” 17 Eli responded, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant the request you’ve made of him.” 18 “May your servant find favor with you,” she replied. Then Hannah went on her way; she ate and no longer looked despondent. 19 The next morning Elkanah and Hannah got up early to worship before the Lord. Afterward, they returned home to Ramah. Then Elkanah was intimate with his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. 20 After some time, Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, because she said, “I requested him from the Lord.” [CSB]
We have a story with a very happy ending here! But before the happy ending, let’s look at the way Hannah felt, because I think we can all resonate.
Hannah describes herself as:
She was “deeply hurt” and cried with many tears.
Have you even been in a situation where you were hurt and in tears? Have you ever felt hopeless? Have you been in so much anguish that you cannot eat or sleep?
I want to encourage you this morning by reminding you, not of your circumstances, but of the God who is in control of all things.
This might be a hard pill for us to swallow. The pain that Hannah was going through was because of the plan of God. God allowed her to NOT have kids. God “closed her womb”.
Why? Why would God allow such a thing?
When you are going through those painful seasons of life, do you believe that God just wants you to be miserable, or do you believe that God has a plan, and if you will simply trust him, in his time, he will do something wonderful.
Rather than try to fix things on her own, Hannah turned to God. I love this. Though her culture was sacrificing to the goddess of fertility (the Ashtoreths), Hannah turned to the God who gives life.
Hannah reacted to her circumstances out of her faith and worship.
And she poured out her heart to God. Do you know that God WANTS to hear from you – even when you are angry, hurt or sad? God did NOT get angry at Hannah, nor did he reprimand her for her feelings. God listens.
A few weeks ago I got to talk with someone dear to me that is not able to have children. She was angry at God, so much so that she couldn’t talk to him. Eventually, she did – and she vented and poured out her heart to him.
She is not angry, but sometimes still sad. We have not seen the end of the story yet, and I am waiting to see what awesome thing God is going to do in her life.
Do you believe that God wants to hear from you? Even your angry, hurt or sad words?
Hannah made a vow that if God gave her a son, she would give her son to God. This is actually a picture of what Abraham did with Isaac.
I want to propose to you that if Hannah’s pain had not been so deep, her commitment to give her greatest joy to God may never have materialized. God had a plan for the entire nation of Israel, and for that to happen, the son born to Hannah needed to be special – dedicated to the work of God.
What was different after the prayer? She had a peace. She ate and was not sad. She left things in God’s hands.
Though this phrase may make you think for a moment that God can forget, that would be incorrect. God does not forget. This is more a statement that God heard Hannah and answered her prayer.
God never forgets us, even though it is easy for us to forget him on a daily basis. He is always there, even if we feel like he is not. He is always listening, if when he does not answer immediately.
God answered her prayer and gave her a son, Samuel. He will be the last great judge of Israel.
1 Samuel 1:26–28 || 26 “Please, my lord,” she said, “as surely as you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord. 27 I prayed for this boy, and since the Lord gave me what I asked him for, 28 I now give the boy to the Lord. For as long as he lives, he is given to the Lord.” Then he worshiped the Lord there. [CSB]
She found her greatest peace and joy in the presence of God. She understood that her position in society and in her family was not determined by her ability to conceive, nor was her greatest identity found in being a mother of a son.
You will not fix all of you pain with medicine. You will not fix society with laws. You will not usher in world peace with governments.
God is still in control, Amen? God is the one who gives contentment, Amen? God is the source of our value and identity, Amen? God is the answer to the problems of this world, Amen?
Two times in this passage, God is referred to as the “LORD of Armies”. How many of you noticed that?
No one can fight your battles like God can. No one. You cannot, your spouse cannot, your lawyer cannot, and the United States Army cannot.
And ultimately, the battles that we face on this earth are not the ones that really matter. They are a distraction from the real battle. The real conflict is one for our hearts. God created us for relationship and representation, and as long as we are consumed with our situations, we will not be able to see his goodness.
Romans 8:31–39 || 31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He did not even spare his own Son but offered him up for us all. How will he not also with him grant us everything? 33 Who can bring an accusation against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies. 34 Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is the one who died, but even more, has been raised; he also is at the right hand of God and intercedes for us. 35 Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: Because of you we are being put to death all day long; we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered. 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. [CSB]
Hannah’s pain brought her closer to God and strengthened her faith. We see this in her prayer in Chapter 2. This is why James could write, “consider it joy when you encounter trials” – not because of the pain it brings, but because it draws us closer to the God who created us and loves us.
In the next few weeks we will see how God used Hannah’s painful situation to bring about the salvation of a nation and to draw people back to God.
As we end today, I want to remind you:
God is the God of hope and peace that you can turn to. The circumstances of this life