Have you ever wondered why God created you in the condition that He did? Have you ever wondered why God gave you the personality type that He did, why you are not as academic as you’d like to be, why you have the body type that you do, why you are not as athletic as you’d like to be, why you’ve had to struggle with certain ailments, why God didn’t make you a little taller, why you were born in one geographical region rather than another, or why you can’t be more charismatic or outgoing? I have. There was a time when I tried to counsel God on how He might improve His “Andrew Paul Cannon” model.
The sovereign will of God is a key theme in this book. In fact, God’s sovereign will is the first prominent idea presented in First Samuel. If we are to have faith in God, what does this mean for us as we think about the human condition and about the condition each person is in today?
1 Samuel 1:1-8
Now there was a certain man from Ramathaim-zophim from the hill country of Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. He had two wives: the name of one was Hannah and the name of the other Peninnah; and Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.
Now this man would go up from his city yearly to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts in Shiloh. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests to the Lord there. When the day came that Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and her daughters; but to Hannah he would give a double portion, for he loved Hannah, but the Lord had closed her womb.
Her rival, however, would provoke her bitterly to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. It happened year after year, as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she would provoke her; so she wept and would not eat. Then Elkanah her husband said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep and why do you not eat and why is your heart sad? Am I not better to you than ten sons?”
Hannah’s womb (v. 1-5)
As we read the first five verses in First Samuel, we are introduced to three characters. Elkanah, Hannah, and Peninnah. Samuel has not yet been born and here we find out that his mother, Hannah, had no children.
Elkanah, who would be Samuel’s father, loved Hannah and would present her with what the Scriptures refer to as a double portion at the time of sacrifice. In worship to the Lord, Elkanah would present what is in the Law a peace offering to God. The purpose of a peace offering was general praise to God to Him for His provision. This offering could not sway God and Elkanah’s wife’s womb was closed despite his offering a double portion (or the choice portion) to her. The instructions for the peace offering can be found in Leviticus 7:11-17:
“Now this is the law of the sacrifice of peace offerings which shall be presented to the Lord. If he offers it by way of thanksgiving, then along with the sacrifice of thanksgiving he shall offer unleavened cakes mixed with oil, and unleavened wafers spread with oil, and cakes of well stirred fine flour mixed with oil. With the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving, he shall present his offering with cakes of leavened bread. Of this he shall present one of every offering as a contribution to the Lord; it shall belong to the priest who sprinkles the blood of the peace offerings. Now as for the flesh of the sacrifice of his thanksgiving peace offerings, it shall be eaten on the day of his offering; he shall not leave any of it over until morning. But if the sacrifice of his offering is a votive or a freewill offering, it shall be eaten on the day that he offers his sacrifice, and on the next day what is left of it may be eaten; but what is left over from the flesh of the sacrifice on the third day shall be burned with fire.”
We can be sure that this was the type of offering Elkanah is bringing before the Lord because the portions would be shared with the priest and the family to eat in the tabernacle, and the priest would later give a blessing of God’s providence (1 Samuel 1:17). The peace offering was made to worship God particularly for His providence (His providing of all things, v. 12). This means explicitly that the peace offering was not meant for the forgiveness of sins or to persuade God in any way. Elkanah recognized that, despite his wife’s baron state, God was to be praised for His sovereign provision. He gave Hannah the choice portion of the sacrifice because he loved her. Because he loved Hannah, he was praising God for providing her.
In the second part of verse 5, we read that even though Elkanah loved Hannah, the Lord had closed her womb. The blame for Hannah’s baron state is placed on God because God is sovereign and God is being praised for providing all things. This narrative begins, here, by emphasizing God’s provision in all things by telling the story of Elkanah’s peace offering. Samuel would be born miraculously by God’s provision alone. He would serve as the last judge by God’s provision alone. Saul would become king by God’s provision alone. He would later have the kingdom removed from him and given to David by God’s provision alone. It is no accident, here, that First Samuel begins with God being praised for providing all things, even though Hannah has been unable to have children.
Everything about us is by God’s design, even down to our ailments, personality types, body types, and mental capacity. God has created each person in his or her respective condition and state for God’s own glory alone. This is what we refer to when we refer to God’s provision in all things. When we give thanks for all things (Ephesians 5:20, 1 Thessalonians 5:18), we do so in exactly the sense that Elkanah did.
Throughout the course of my life, I have asked God on several occasions to take away my introvertedness and to give me a faster metabolism. God’s answer has always been the same,
“I made you this way according to my own design, son. I did this for my glory and the good of those who love me and are called according to my purpose (Romans 8:28). I designed you this way so that you would fit into the body precisely where I want you to be and so you can carry out the functions I want you to perform (1 Corinthians 12). You are fearfully and wonderfully made, My grace is sufficient for you, and my strength is made evident in your weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).”
The Bible teaches explicitly that God has provided all things in exactly the way that He has meant to provide them from the beginning. The truth of Scripture stands in stark contrast to the messages of the world that claim in some way we can convince God to do our will, move God to provide something for us, or get God to change something. God has placed us where we are like we are for His good purpose.
We might even consider what Jesus taught about our condition and state during His earthly preaching ministry.
As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him (John 9:1-3).
Jesus taught, according to John, that the condition and state of every person was provided by God so that God might receive glory, that His work might be on display. Elkanah recognized this in his peace offering. The whole of Scripture agrees on this, in both the Old and New Testaments. God provides all things. Who are we, oh man, to council god? We cannot say that God was wrong to make us the way that we are, whether introverted or extroverted, nerdy or geeky, scholarly or practical or a laborer, awkward or charismatic or eccentric. God created each person for His own glory and has designed each person for a place in His body. We never have to try and force ourselves to be like we think we ought to be. God has provided all things. This means that our responsibility before God is simply to be real with people. You don’t have to impress me and you don’t have to force awkward jokes to try and fit into some social group (everyone reading this knows what I mean). God has provided and we praise Him for that. I praise Him for you, every single one of you just the way you are.
How does this apply to our prayers for healing, comfort, safety, etc…? I do not think that it is wrong to bring our petitions before our God. When we do, we must understand that we have no power to sway God. Even in Elkanah’s offering, the purpose was not to move God. It was a praise offering, an offering of thanksgiving to God for God’s sovereign provision of all things. No matter our ailment or loss, the proper recognition is that God provides all things that He may be glorified. Scripture bids us thank Him for all things, just as we see in the story of Elkanah. (Ephesians 5:20, 1 Thessalonians 5:18). This is why the Scriptures instruct us to simply pray for God’s will and not to pray lengthy prayers because God knows what we need (Mathew 6:8, 10). This is one instance in which well-meaning Christians make a big deal out of something that does not actually honor God. It just seems spiritual, so we do it.
Biblically, then, what to do when people are sick? The only instruction we receive is in James 5:14-16:
Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.
There are two different Greek terms used for the word “sick” in these verses and both are used to refer to sickness or ailments in general. Sickness was connected closely with the state of sin. The prayer, here, had to do primarily with confession and the healing primarily was that of being raised. In addition, Paul gives some practical advice to Timothy:
“No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments” (1 Timothy 5:23).
So, when it comes to praying for the sick, we do so trusting in God’s will and we are concerned primarily with your spiritual health and your being raised. At the same time, we will encourage you to accept what God has provided in order that you may become healthy. Go see a doctor, take your medicine, get some rest, and do what you need to do to get better. God has provided all things.
Peninnah’s malice (v. 6-7)
If the Lord is responsible for closing Hannah’s womb, then the Lord is responsible for providing children to Peninnah. It is God who determined both the blessing and the curse. The blessing was used as an excuse to oppress another while the curse was used to praise God.
Hannah wept not primarily because she had no children, but because she was oppressed by her sister-wife. When we look forward to verse 11, we see Hannah promise to give her child up if she would only be permitted to have the child. Then her sister-wife would not be able to mock her barren state. Hannah grieved because she was oppressed.
In our grief, no matter the reason, it is difficult to see that God’s provision is working for the good of His people. In fact, as we see with Hannah, it is difficult to see God’s providence at all. Here, Hannah is bargaining with God even though she believes the same thing that Elkanah does regarding God’s providence. We are going to see her state this belief explicitly in chapter 2 when we get there. In her grief, she still wails because that grief overcomes her. Not only is Peninnah oppressing her, but her grief oppresses her as well.
In this part of the story, we see two different responses to God. When God sovereignly provides blessing, that blessing produced arrogance in Peninnah. When God sovereignly withheld blessing, that curse produced humility in Hannah. God, by His own provision, was working all things together for His glory and the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. God alone produces humility. Consider Peninnah’s character as compared to Hannah).
From the outset, we see both the doctrines of total depravity and unconditional election. If God has all providence, then there is nothing that we can do to provide anything for ourselves. Peninnah did not do anything that she would gain the ability over Hannah to have children. Hannah’s sin did not plunge her into childlessness. God is the one who closed Hannah’s womb and opened Peninnah’s. He did so according to His own will and for His own glory. That is what we mean by total depravity. God would also not choose Hannah because Hannah was somehow more worthy. God would choose Hannah because of His great mercy and according to His will alone. Hannah will make this recognition in chapter 2. This is what we mean when we refer to unconditional election.
Elkanah’s misunderstanding (v. 8)
When Elkanah came to his wife, he did not acknowledge Hannah’s oppression. He was concerned only with her childlessness by every indication of the text. His other wife was oppressing this one. This is one reason polygamy is just a bad idea, though in this part of the story the text neither condemns or condones it. Elkanah was trying to offer a fix for the effect of human depravity by reasoning with Hannah, “Am I not better than ten sons?”
We also often try and fix the effects of human depravity by all sorts of means. We will resort to human religion, relationships, worldly success, or cultural ‘progress’ in order to try and improve our state of existence or to stay the afflictions we experience. No matter how Elkanah reasoned with his wife, Hannah, her affliction would remain for some time.
Here we see another disconnect between the belief of the person and his or her outward actions. Elkanah, like Hannah, knew of God’s providence. He just made this peace offering in praise to God for God’s provision in all things. Yet, we find him trying to fix Hannah’s affliction when, by his own theological conviction, God was the only one who could be Hannah’s comfort and deliverer. Sometimes there is a disconnect between our recognition of what the Scripture teaches and the things we say and do as well.
God alone has the authority and ability to make us complete creatures. For those who belong to Him, He does so through sanctification. We see what sanctification looks like as we read Hannah’s story. God was sanctifying her through her grief. God was providing humility. God was providing endurance. God was making her a complete creature, as He does with all of His true children.
Here, consider your own life. What affliction is there that has been provided by God for your good and for your sanctification. I believe such in the sovereignty of God that I believe there to be no accidents, no happenings of chance, no sicknesses over which God lacks control, no death that God did not carefully oversee, no sin that surprises God, no personality type that doesn’t fit wonderfully and beneficially into God’s kingdom, no person who exists outside the purview of God’s providential watchcare, no dollar whose ministry is not overseen by God, and no poverty that isn’t directed by God. Where we lack joy and faith, it is most often because we have not recognized the providential nature of God from before the foundation of the world even though we believe and praise Him for His provision.
In what arena have you not trusted in God’s divine providence? How is God sanctifying you by the proclamation of His word today?