Over the last few weeks, we’ve been looking at what the Bible has
to say about growing Godly families. Because our families – our
homes – are incredibly important to God. As we saw last week, God
wants our families to mirror the relationship that he has with the
church. The Christian home is many ways an outpost of God’s kingdom
in our communities. But I’m also aware that there are people in our
church who have known the pain of seeing their children walk away
from Jesus. And the sad thing is – as far as the statistics go –
that a lot of children growing up in Christian homes will leave the
church. They’ll walk away. The stats I’ve got come from America 2
years ago – but I’m 100% sure that they’re much the same here.
Apparently, something like 70% of young adults drop out of protestant
churches. And after the age of 30, 34% don’t attend church at all –
not even every now and again. That’s scary stuff, isn’t it? And they
left, said 27% of them, because they wanted a break from church. 17%
had only been going along to please others. 22% said that they were
just too busy for church.
So if God wants us to grow Godly families – and he does, what
are we to do? If God wants our homes to be outposts of the kingdom –
places where the families are an extension of God’s family – what
are we to do?
This morning, we’re looking at the first couple of chapters from
the book of Samuel. Samuel’s a great book to read – it’s full of
drama and adventure and battles and romance and… it’s a great read.
And it begins with the story of Hannah, her husband Elkanah, and his
extended family. It’s about the birth of Samuel – a great prophet
of God. Even if you’ve heard the story before, try and listen to it
from a view of what God is saying to us about growing godly families.
The book begins by introducing us to Elkanah – son of Jeroham –
son of Elihu – son Tohu – son of Suph. Elkanah the father of
Samuel. To be honest, he’s not a very well-known character. He
doesn’t do much. Apart from a genealogy in 1 Chronicles 6, these two
chapters are the only place in the Bible where he is mentioned at
all. But mentioned him God does. His family line – expanded in
Chronicles – tells us that he was a descendant of Levi. He was a
priest of God. But just an ordinary priest, who lived out in the
hill country. So what makes Elkanah from Ramathaim so special? Why is
he mentioned? Simply because he was the father of Samuel, and because
he was a committed follower of God.
That’s it. That’s all that Elkanah does. He is the father of
Samuel. And a bunch of other kids. And he’s not a perfect man. By no
means is he perfect. His home was a mess. When he married Samuel’s
mother – Hannah – he did so for love. She was his first wife.
That’s why she’s introduced to us first. And Elkanah valued her love
and her commitment to him more than anyone else’s. Verse 8 – Hannah
– don’t I mean more to you than ten sons? But at the same time –
despite his love for Hannah – he couldn’t live with the fact that
Hannah was barren. No cries in the middle of the night disturbed his
sleep. He loved her – but his love for her wasn’t strong enough to
cope with not having kids. Back then, having an heir was the only way
that your family line could continue. He didn’t want to be the week
link in the family chain. And so he took another wife. He married
Peninnah – who bore him many children. He had his heir. Elkanah was
But his home was anything but happy. Wife number 2 – Peninnah –
made Hannah’s life a living hell. I suspect she knew full well that
Elkanah didn’t love her as much as Hannah. She was just there to have
his kids. And I suspect she resented Hannah. We’re told in verse 6
that Peninnah was Hannah’s rival. When they went to sacrifice at
Shiloh – Peninnah would provoke her and irritate her so much that
every year Hannah ended up pushing away her plate and crying the
night away. Elkanah would give her a double portion at the
thanksgiving meal after the sacrifice, but what sort of compensation
was that? Peninnah had her children there at the same table –
laughing, crying, whatever. Just her being there was enough to remind
Hannah that she hadn’t been enough for her husband. And Hannah got an
extra slice of the meat. Yeah – that’ll make everything okay,
Elkanah. Good one.
We’ve got to say that Elkanah wasn’t the perfect husband. But
despite everything, he introduces the book of Samuel. Because he was
a man committed to God. Year after year – without fail – he took
his family to sacrifice to God. This dad took his family to church.
Took them to worship God. Taught them to be faithful to God. He
wasn’t perfect… no parent is perfect. Not this side of Jesus’
return. But like Elkanah, we can live out our faith for our families
to see. We can make sure that they are involved in the church.
But back to Hanna. Verse 9ff tells us how on one occasion at
Shiloh, Hannah was – as usual – feeling down. Feeling useless. Her
soul was bitter. She felt the weight of her childlessness. She felt
the guilt of not having given Elkanah an heir. And it wasn’t fair! So
she stood up and made her way into the Lord’s temple. And she fell to
the floor and she wept. She cried her eyes out. She cried and cried
and cried. She prayed to the Lord. And she made a promise to God that
if he replaced her misery with joy – if he gave her a son – then
she would give him back to the Lord. She would dedicate that child to
God’s service for the rest of his life. Verse 12 tells us that she
kept on praying to the Lord. Her misery was welling up into prayer.
And you know the story, God remembered her pain – had compassion
on her – and she and Elkanah became pregnant. And she gave birth to
a son – Samuel. But jump back a bit to verse 13. We’re told that
Hannah had been praying to God in her heart. Her lips had been
moving, but nobody had heard what she had been saying. Eli – the
priest – assumes in verse 17 that she had been asking God
something. But he didn’t know about Hannah’s promise to give her
first-born son back to God.
It would have been so easy for Hannah to not mention that little
detail to anybody. It would have been so easy for her to not give her
son back to God. And yet Hannah doesn’t shy away from her promise to
God. As much as Hannah must have longed to keep Samuel with her, her
commitment to God – to the promise she made him – was what ruled
in the end. She told her husband about the vow she had made to God.
As soon as Samuel was physically able to leave home, he would.
And her husband Elkanah supported her in that decision. Agreed
that his child would go to serve God. Because like Hannah, Elkanah
knew the importance of putting God first. And he knew that God must
have a plan for little Samuel.
The years passed, and Samuel grew older. He would have known that
one day soon he would be going to live in the temple. His mother
would have explained to him how she had promised him to God. He
probably looked forward to it the way kids today look forward to
going to school. And the year came when he was old enough. Probably
somewhere between 3 and 5 – about average for weaning a baby back
then. And they went to Shiloh. As a family worshipped God. And left
Samuel there with Eli.
Which by the way must have been a bit of a shock for old Eli! All
of a sudden he’s being told that he’s got charge of a little boy. He
is to bring Samuel up to be a priest of God. And Eli was an old man.
His sons were well and truly grown. A couple of chapters from here
we’re told that Eli is just about blind. This old man of God has the
duty of bringing up this child.
But can you imagine the sort of emotional pain she must have gone
through that day at the end of chapter 1. That day when she left
Samuel behind at Shiloh. When she went home without her first-born
son. The son she had longed for for so long.
What do Hannah and Elkanah have to teach us about parenting? Three
things. First off, they teach us that children are a gift from the
Lord. Yes, Samuel was a special case – destined to do great things
for God. But all children are a gift – a blessing from God. We’re
told in 2:21 that God was gracious to Hannah, and she gave birth to 5
other kids. Psalm 127 tells us the same thing. 127:3 – “Children
are a heritage form the Lord, offspring a reward from him.”
But Hannah also teaches us that the right response to God’s gift
of children is to gift them back to God. Samuel literally grew up in
the church. But all parents can do what Hannah did. Even before
Samuel was conceived, Hannah dedicated his life to the Lord. All the
years he spent at home were in anticipation and preparation of his
going to live in the temple.
And even when Samuel had left home, Hannah still cared for him.
Each year, says 2:19, she made him a little robe and took it to him
when she went with Elkanah to offer their yearly sacrifice to God.
But most importantly, Hannah teaches us to put God first. She gave
up her most longed for son because God came first.
When you get home, have a read through the 2nd chapter
of 1 Samuel. Because alongside the godly family of Hannah and
Elkanah, we see a family where God is not put first. We see Eli’s
Eli – the head priest at Shiloh. A man of God. A man whose own
two sons were more important to him than God. And his two sons –
Hophni and Phinehas – were, says 2:12, wicked men. Because they had
no regard for God. Hannah and Elkanah honoured God so much they were
willing to give their son to God. Hophni and Phineas thought God was
a joke. They followed in their dad Eli’s footsteps and became
priests. But chapter 2 makes it clear they were only in it for the
fringe benefits. Good food. And a good time with the girls who served
at the entrance to the tent of meeting.
But we’re not talking about them. Suffice to say they went off the
rails. I guess some of you here might be able to emphasise with Eli.
Looking at his sons, and seeing how far they were from God.
Realising that despite his teaching them the ways of the Lord, they
weren’t there. Perhaps your own kids grew up in church, and haven’t
And Eli did try in verses 22-25 to speak them out of their ways.
But he loved his sons more than he loved God. They were stealing the
bits of meat that were supposed to be offered to God. And Eli would
eat with them. Says a prophet to him in verse 29, Eli, “Why do you
scorn my sacrifices and offering that I prescribed for my dwelling?
Why do you honour your sons more than me by fattening yourself on the
choice parts of every offering made by my people Israel?”
Eli was a man – a priest – who had served God faithfully for
many years. But when push came to shove, his children were more
important to him than God.
The first two chapters of Samuel tell us a story of 2 families.
One family put God first – despite the cost. The other put God
second. Godly families are those where God is put first. And yes, the
cost might be high. Hannah gave up her son. But God – Jesus –
deserves to be first.
In Mark 10:28, Peter said to Jesus, “We have left everything to
follow you.” 29“I tell you the
truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who
has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children
or fields for me and the gospel 30will
fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes,
brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them,
persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. 31But
many who are first will be last, and the last first.”