Servant leaders make good on their promises.
The story of Hannah in the opening of 1 Samuel demonstrates the gravity of remembrance, grace, and vows. Hannah, barren and distressed, pours out her soul to the Lord and trusts in the blessing of promise from Eli, the priest. The Lord remembers her, extending grace through the birth of a son. But the remembrance doesn't stop with the favor of the Lord. Hannah dedicates her young son, Samuel, to the Lord, in remembrance of her vow and the grace extended to her.
Hannah exemplifies what we seek in our leaders - one who negotiates for the sake of all and makes good on her promises.
Read the full episode transcript here.
Hollie Benton 0:04
You're listening to Doulos, a podcast of the Ephesus School Network. Doulos offers a scriptural daily bread for God's household and explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian. I'm Hollie Benton, your host and executive director for the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. And our co host is Father Timothy Lowe, former rector of the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem. Hello, Father Timothy.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 0:28
Hello, Hollie, nice to be with you again.
Hollie Benton 0:31
And you as well. So you and I have been spending a little bit of time in the Old Testament working through the story arc of the Lord leading his people Israel through His servant, Moses. Today, you suggested we open the story of Hannah. What stands out to me about Hannah, whose name means grace or favor, what stands out about Hannah with respect to servant leadership is that having been extended grace and finding favor with the Lord, she makes good on her promises. How often do we in facing some kind of difficulty or struggle, perhaps even pleading with the Lord, negotiating with Him, do we resolve to do some great and noble generous act? For example, we struggle with education or the dreaded test tomorrow, we dream of using our degree to offer some good in the world, or struggling with that new job or starting up a new business, perhaps feeling like an underdog, those internal promises that might keep us going so that one day when I finally make it, then I'll be able to give my wealth away to charities or to the poor? How many of us make good on our promises? Forget those grandiose promises we make in our naive youth about the virtue we will accomplish later in life. What about just the day to day promises we make to those on our teams, in our church communities, and in our families? I'll take care of the dishes. I'll work on that promotion for you. Let's get together for that visit. So many promises, and yet do we actually do what we say we're going to do? Or do the promises we make in the moment, provide us with some kind of emotional benefit? a drip of dopamine to make us feel good in the moment because we've said something virtuous? It's so easy to forget the promises we make, or to justify that, somehow, the circumstances have changed, and we're no longer accountable to what we said we would do. But making good on promises really is the glue of relationships, of loyalty, of commitment. It's what the Lord asks of each of us, just as He extends mercy through His promise we are to do likewise. So Father Timothy, please provide us some context for what we're about to hear today in First Samuel.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 2:58
Gladly. Again, I want to tell our hearers, we have to go back and say some things we've said in previous podcasts, we'll do it quickly. And that is the constant cycle of God acting, human responding, human failure, flaw, judgment, starting all over again. And it continues and continues in the book of Genesis, we've seen this obviously, in the story of creation, the fall of Adam and Eve kicked out of the garden, the Noah flood and the starting again with Noah then starting again with Abraham, and then that ends in disaster at the end of Genesis. His ancestors are stuck in Egypt, and then start again with Moses and bringing the children to the wilderness, disaster again, that generation is judged and therefore not allowed to enter, starting again with the new generation, Joshua. And so that's where we're at, starting again, reset button. Let's try again. And so that is what's happening here at the beginning of First Samuel chapter one and two. But at the end of Joshua and Judges, which has its own little sort of reset button, after the Israelites come into land, is that at the end of Judges, it's a complete and total disaster. It simply says that they had no king and everybody was doing what was right in his own eyes. In other words, it's as if he was talking to America 2022. You know, there's no base, there's no, everybody is a law to themselves and it leads to chaos and destruction, human sinfulness. So that's the disaster in the in the biblical arc of the story that you mentioned. Which brings us now to the story of Hannah as the beginning. Okay, as the beginning. Verses one through eight are important because it sets the stage and it simply talks about the despair of a woman. Her name is Hannah, who is childless. And we've heard this story before. Sarah would be the prime example so far, Rachel, the favored wife of Jacob, who was also barren sought to negotiate. So we've had negotiations as you talked about in your intro as well. And so you have this woman, now I want people to pay close attention, because she is an exception to the rule. Exception to the rule.
Hollie Benton 5:16
Okay, starting with first nine, "After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli, the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. And she vowed a vow and said, O Lord of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thy maid servant, and remember me, and not forget thy maid servant, but will give to the maid servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head. As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth, Hannah was speaking in her heart, only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore, Eli took her to be a drunken woman, and Eli said to her, how long will you be drunken? Put away your wine from you. But Hannah answered, No, my lord, I am a woman sorely troubled. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your maid servant as a base woman. For all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation. Then Eli answered, Go in peace, and the God of Israel, grant your petition which you have made to him, and she said, Let your maid servant find favor in your eyes. Then the woman went her way and ate, and her countenance was no longer sad. They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord. Then they went back to their house at Ramah, and Elka'nah knew Hannah, his wife, and the Lord remembered her. And in due time, Hannah conceived, and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, I have asked him of the Lord. And the man Elka'nah and all his house went up to offer to the Lord the yearly sacrifice and to pay his vow." So I'm sure we could spend a whole episode on being deceived by our own perceptions and assumptions just as Eli assumes she is drunk when Hannah is actually praying to the Lord. What I find fascinating though, is that Eli doesn't actually know what Hannah's petition is. Eli functions himself as a servant to the Lord, with respect to the message he delivers to Hannah, "Go in peace, and God grants your petition." So it's not about Eli and his judgment, nor his instruction. It's about the story arc of trust, and the word of the Lord and the Lord remembering what he promises to Hannah. What I like about Hannah, the underdog in the story, is that she does what good leaders do. She says what she's going to do, the vision is clear. And then she actually does what she says she will do. She keeps her promises, she acts with faith and trust. And as we know, with every good biblical story, it is the Lord who is the true hero of His story. It is the Lord who provides through Hannah for his own purposes. Hannah, as her own prayer acknowledges, is just a lowly maid servant, obedient to the word of the Lord.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 8:30
I think we have to acknowledge that once in a while the Bible is humorous. As we said, Hannah has been maligned. The favorite wife, but barren. We're not given the reason why the Lord, and this is technical in the intro, the Lord has shut her womb. We're not told, it's not because of any this or that, it's just because the Lord is a giver of life. And of course, then the other wife mocks her and abuses her and maligns her and makes fun of her. And this is the depth of her sorrow, which prompts her to the point of pouring out her soul. And the humor is, is this is a woman in the same oppression, let's talk about it, the same oppression that the Israelites were in the slavery of Egypt, because the two episodes actually are connected. And we're all of a sudden, the priest, and I like it when priests are not put in a good light. I imagine Eli is just giving his blessing, saying the standard cliche. Oh, you know, you have our heartfelt prayers and good wishes and whatnot. I mean, I hate the jargon, but it comes as a standard sort of response. And oh, yes, okay, the Lord hears your petition. But he is the priest of the Lord. And He blesses her. And it is that blessing and this story that gives her the comfort when she goes about her way. But I like the part of remembrance. And this is something I want our readers to understand. It is when God remembers. We do not control God. We can bargain with Him and He's going to do what He wants to do for his own purposes, okay, we are subject to Him, subject to His work. But He remembers, and this is said twice in this episode, and then all of a sudden, He will act. So think about it, even our own prayers, if there's something not ticky tacky, not something that's just a self centered request, but something that comes from the depths of our heart and our soul. We have only one thing, to pour it out and ask God to remember. And not to say, Okay, I will serve him if - no, no, no, we are still faithful. God acts, Hannah responds, her shame is taken away. She offers the child back to God. As you said, at the time, Eli had no idea, no idea what he was saying and what it meant for him. So in order to answer that question, what it means, you'd have to continue to read the next chapter and the next chapter, where you see Eli's sons become wicked and corrupt, and use their position of priestly authority and for gain and for abuse and self indulgence. And the only thing that brings Eli comfort is the little boy Samuel, who ultimately then will replace them all. And so Hannah offers him back. As her name says, she has found grace, she offers him back. And now he is totally consecrated, therefore able to do the Lord's work. He is able again, then to be the prophet of the Lord, to guide the Israelites in the next two books, First and Second Samuel. Sadly, the cycle will continue. But at this point, Hannah fulfills her vow. God remembers her, the child is offered, consecrated, and the rest remains for us to see where it goes next.
Hollie Benton 11:54
Here are the last few verses of First Samuel now. "And she said, Oh, my lord, as you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord, for this child. I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition which I made to him, therefore I have lent him to the Lord, as long as he lives he is lent to the Lord. And they worshipped the Lord there." Wow, imagine if every mother's perspective of their children was truly giving them back to the Lord, the giver of life, the one who grants mercy through the birth of a child. And really isn't that what we do with baptism, is offering them back, our children back to the Lord. But father Timothy, I question here the translation in Hebrew. When we hear the Lord has granted me my petition, the word petition in English is the Hebrew word shey-ay-law, which comes from the same root when we hear, therefore I have lent him to the Lord. And in this case, lent in English comes from the Hebrew word shaw-al. Translating it lent makes the reader hear that Hannah has some kind of ownership over her son, and that she gets to decide whether she will loan him to the Lord. She promises her son to the Lord before she has ever even conceived of a son. The English translation kind of sets it up as a tit for tat, if this then that. But really, because the words are so linked, it just seems like it's a package deal, that it's not about, you do this, and I'll do that. But this is all part of the petition. My whole ask was, give me a child that I can return to you. It's not, so that I can give my child to you. Give me a child that will be consecrated to you.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 13:48
Right. Hannah has made a vow. She has given the child and she understands it as a gift, and a promise, a remembrance by God. So she has made all the connections. You liken that connection to baptism, when we come. You know, we have infant baptism in the Orthodox Church, so we have other people speaking on behalf, making the promises, the commitments to serve, to enter into the life given to us by Christ, and to serve Him only. To reject evil, pride, all that comes with that. And so it's the same promise. And I like that you liken this experience to our baptismal beginnings. And it fits in with what we said earlier about reset buttons, new beginnings, and how we start good, but do not follow through. And that again, of course, is a lifelong struggle. And so Hannah, has made good on her promise and the story continues after this. Very, very little is mentioned, but it says every year she would come at the time of offering, an annual sacrifice for the family, and she would always bring something for her son, a piece of clothing. And every time priest Eli would thank her for offering her son in this capacity, letting go. That's her only expression of motherhood is simply making the yearly offering of clothing. This son is consecrated for something else. And so she joyfully lets go, but something significant in the text also happens. And that is, every time she comes, she receives a blessing from Eli. And she goes home. And she ends up having three more sons and two more daughters. As Christians, if we truly enter into the baptismal vows that we make, we're talking to adults on this podcast, not the innocent children, babes. If you hear this podcast, you are a baptized person, no doubt, I'm guessing 99.9%, otherwise you wouldn't be listening. You have made the same vows of consecration, that your life is not yours, it's there in service. And we know leadership is about service, it's not about anything else. And so the question is, are we willing, as Hannah, to give up our claims to ourself. This is my son, no, you belong to the Lord. Because the Lord decided to show favor when he remembered me. I can tell you without disclosing pastoral situations, especially when it comes to children, childless couples who want a child so bad, so bad, so bad, so bad, and they live in anxiety and loss, they go through all what's medically possible, maybe even several times, still, for some reason, are unable to have a child or the mother is unable to carry the child to full term. And behind that is personal anxiety. But my point I want to make is our life is an offering, not just of our children, for those of us that have children, but also of our own life. And if we're not willing to understand it in a more deep and profound way, then we're just doing our own thing, like the end of Judges where we're doing what is right in our own mind and living in the chaos. And for those of us who claim to be Christian, then our areas of leadership, become disasters. And we'll see in the rest of Samuel, the leaders become the problem, not the solution, which means they're not living up to their place, their God appointed, God willed, ordained if you will, position as teachers, bishops, priests, lay leaders. Anyway, so here we are, we see one little success story. And this is what I want to say about Hannah. She is the exception, sadly, because she is not flawed. She does not go back on her vows. So God has remembered, as you said, according to her name, she has been shown favor and grace. And in Luke, you will also hear a similar thing, the Virgin Mary, "Hail, O favored one, full of grace," she becomes an image of a Hannah, not in the same sense, but there are similarities in terms of grace and remembrance. And their hymns of praise as Hannah offers in chapter two and the Virgin Mary in Luke's Magnificat. So what can I say? We have a responsibility. We have our baptism. We have Hannah here as a witness. We have Samuel as the one offered, and then who's called to serve and he will have to live his own baptismal life, we'll throw that Christian word in there, his own life of grace. That's the task and we will be judged accordingly.
Hollie Benton 18:45
May we always remember.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 18:46
Always remember, that is the word isn't it? It's just not God who has to remember, we have to remember. And that is the disaster. "Do this in remembrance of me." We think in terms of the sacrament, but no, no, it is the remembrance that is the key.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai