Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
Mark 7:24-37; 2 Corinthians 1:1-11; Psalm 98; 1 Samuel 1-2
Hannah has much to be joyful for as she prays (1 Samuel 2:1-10). As with the psalmist, God’s faithfulness and love give Hannah reason to shout for joy and burst into music (Psalm 98). The birth of her long-awaited son has left her downtrodden heart and deep anguish far behind. Then in her grief, and now in her joy, her focus is on the Lord. He could give her a child, if only that was his will. Peninnah’s proud provoking and arrogant aggravation deeply impacted her, but now Hannah thanks God for ‘weighing things’ (1 Samuel 2:3). The following examples show that this means to balance unfair things: those who stumble will be strengthened; the hungry will eat; and the barren, like Hannah, will bear children.
Hannah goes on to comment on God’s power over death. The idea of life after death and resurrection is not explicit in much of the Old Testament. Occasionally, as here, hints are given that just as God brings life and death, he can also raise people from the dead. This prayer does not claim that God causes each death, but that he has the power to overcome everything, even death. The context is one of God’s ability to reverse various adversities people experience. As Psalm 98 puts it, the Lord has done marvellous things. He, not human strength, will prevail, and reverse the depravation and humble origins that some find themselves in.
While Hannah rejoices as her lacking is filled, we are not given a guarantee of similar restorations. God can overcome death and sometimes it is his will to put people to death, as with Eli’s sons (2:25). In other situations, death takes its natural course as appears to be happening as Eli ages (2:22). God intervened to allow Hannah become pregnant (1:19), yet Peninnah had several children apparently as part of the natural way of things. We can be confident that God has power over life, death, illness and health, yet he chooses not to intervene in many situations.
When God does not remove suffering, he gives us opportunities to comfort those who suffer (2 Corinthians 1:3-7). He can intervene himself, but often he wants us to act. Peninnah failed in this, making Hannah even more miserable. Elkanah did what he could to compensate (1 Samuel 1:4), but God provided Hannah deeper comfort. The source of our pain or distress may not be removed, but we can still experience his comfort. Because we have suffered, we can empathise with others as they suffer. We can comfort them as they suffer because we know personally the comfort God can bring. Paul and his companions despaired of their lives, but knew that this would help them learn to rely on God, not themselves. They learned from suffering the same lesson Hannah learned in joyful circumstances. God works sometimes by bringing healing, and sometimes by not. The question is whether we will set our hope on him as our Rock (2 Corinthians 1:10; 1 Samuel 2:2).