God’s Kindness to His People
Reading through the Old Testament, we often see that the people of Israel continued to sin, rebel, and reject God’s designs and his revealed will for how they are to operate. He saves them from captivity (Exodus), takes them to the promised Land (Joshua), and after their leaders (Moses and Joshua) die, they reject everything when the new generation begins to grow. And the theme of the book of Judges is 17:6, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” So, what should God do to unjust, evil, rebellious, and idolatrous people of Israel? Be the God who just swept away the Egyptians by his hand and overtake them for their just deserving of death. But instead, God raises up another — Samuel. A prophet whom God would bring up to declare the goodness of God, the judgement of God, and the mercy of God to the people who have rebelled against him and deserve nothing but the sword of his wrath.
The Lord Reigns
In chapter one of 1 Samuel, the word ‘Lord’ in reference to God is used (in the ESV) 22 times in a text of 28 verses. This book starts out as the supremacy, preeminence, and centrality of the Lord. God reigns. This book, as all other books of his word are, is about him and what is going to accomplish.
And God is going to raise up a prophet amongst his people in the typical fashion of his ways. There was a man named Elkanah who had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Hannah was unable to have children, but Peninnah has been bearing children for her husband. During the time of no pensions or social security, your children took care of you. And Hannah, was unable to provide and do her ‘civil’ duties during the cultural desires and ideas. Why was she unable to have children, but the other wife able to do so? The Lord has chosen to ‘close her womb’ (v.5). God’s word is displaying his lordship over the universe down to the very personhood and body of each person. He upholds all of creation (Colossians 1:17), including our very bodies and functions! And in this, she was mocked and ridiculed by Peninnah (v.7-8).
God has designed this very event of her inability to conceive to produce the grieving cause by Peninnah to drive Hannah to plea to God and to ask of his hand to move and to act in the world. So, Hannah ‘prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly’ (v.10). We believe that God reigns, but we must often be placed into his furnace of affliction before our smoke of distress rises up to our Father. God’s mapping and planning of events is always done for his glory and to show us our complete dependency and need for his supremacy. If God is God, and he is truly sovereign and able to do all that he pleases (Psalm 115:3, 135:6; Daniel 4:35), then we can go to him in prayer because he is able to move, to work, to change, and to work in a world despite the fallenness of man, creation, the world, and any schemes of the devil and wicked men.
The Prayers of God’s People
Now we see that Hannah is praying near the temple (v.9) and in doing so she is spotted by Eli the Priest (v.12) who thinks she is drunk because she is praying ‘in her heart; only her lips moved’ (v.13). Hannah goes to God — she goes the the God who is able to move, to change, to operate, and to freely act in a world of broken people and places. We don’t have a timeline of events, but Hannah has surely been afflicted by her inability and has been ridiculed for a while seeing as the other wife has been able to have ‘children’ (as v.4 speaks of ‘all her sons and daughters’). So Hannah has been going to God repeatedly for years and years, pleading with God to open her womb that he has closed and for some mysterious reason, closed for his purposes. But Hannah prays to God to act; she has been ‘pouring out [her] soul’ (v.15). And Eli the priest, the mediator between God and the people, seems to intervene and to give her assurance of God’s action. Then, after Hannah and her husband worship they next morning, she conceives because the Lord ‘remembered her’ (v.19).
Hannah prayed and God granted her prayer in due time (v.27). So, what can we conclude simply from this passage? That God’s will and purpose in the world is accomplished by human means. Prayers move the hand of God. God carries out his desires and plans by his people’s prayers. There is real mystery between the sovereignty of God to do as he pleases, yet the will of man to act in such a way that God accomplishes all his will through his creature’s will and actions. Christian, you are called to worship God through prayer — to meet with him and to commune with the Lord of the universe who delights to work through our prayers, yet he solely is credited with all the glory and power to act. Often times, God’s designs in and through suffering are meant for us to stop hoping in things and to hope in God (Psalm 42:5).
The Cross, Suffering, and Prayer
In the reality of suffering and prayer, we see the climax of these things at the cross of Christ. Jesus, the eternal Son of God, became man that man might become sons of God (C.S. Lewis). He never sinned, yet he spent so much time praying and getting away praying to the Father (Matthew 14:23; Mark 6:46: Luke 5:16; John 17) and enjoying his time with God.
And on the cross, the sinless Son of God would cry out to God one more time and say, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). This time Jesus prayed, it was in agony that he called out to the Father — but this time, he did not call God his Father. God forsook his only precious, spotless Son in the deepest time of suffering and pain because of the sins that were placed on him.
“By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,” (Romans 8:3).
- Who’s sin was condemned on the cross? My sin.
- Who’s flesh bore it and took the condemnation of God for my sin? His flesh.
- Who condemned the Son in my place? God.
In the mind of God, the sins of everyone who would ever believe and turn to Christ were placed on him and condemned in Christ. Jesus’ prayer and cry to God was rejected and left out because he was forsaken. But, in the cross for those who have turned from their desires for sin and turned to God and trusted in Christ for their sins to be paid for, their prayers will never be left. God will always intimately be involved with his people for whom Christ died for.
In suffering, run to God. Draw near to him, and he will carry out his good pleasure and purposes through our prayers. Ask, plead, and call out to the God of all grace. He loves his people, he loves his children. Christian, at the cross we see that God truly does answer our prayers by forsaking his Son’s so that he might never forsake us — we see God’s intimacy towards us in suffering by bearing our eternal suffering and physically suffering in the world like us.