A Gift Received: A Gift Given

A Gift Received: A Gift Given
to receive God’s gift is to pass on God’s gift
1 Samuel 1: 1a, 2 – 28.
God’s gifts are to be passed on. They are to be shared until others have as much of the gift as we do. They may even have more of God’s gifts than us in the end.
This is completely opposite to what we commonly understand about gift giving. You give me a gift and it is mine to do what I wish with it. What is given to me is mine. I might let you share it, but it is to come back to me. The gift received is a gift possessed.  A child loves to receive a gift. They reflect our natural instinct. ‘What is mine is mine’, they say.  Nevertheless we encourage them to share.  We encourage them to give. When we analyse our gift giving we realise that it comes very close to being an exchange of similar priced goods. When we receive a gift we feel obliged to return a gift.  But it is not the same gift. It is same only in proportion to the one received. A larger gift might embarrass our friend. This gift-giving thing is problematic. It’s not wrong,  just problematic. We find it hard to accept another’s gift without wanting to do something in return. So on the one hand we treat gifts as ours to keep and do what we like with it, and on the other hand, we find it hard to receive a gift. 
The subtle and fundamental difference is that God gives us gifts that we cannot reciprocate with any equality. All God asks of us is to pass the gift on. God wants us to receive the gift and give the gift to others that they might benefit from it as well.  As much as our wisdom indicates that it is better to give than receive, we are very good at ensuring others don’t just give but receive back as well. I wonder if we don’t need to learn a little more about just receiving gifts?  But let us press the pause button on these musings and turn to our story.
She left him there for the LORD. [1 Sam 1: 28]  How moving is that? She, Hannah, left him there for the LORD.  Yes, it is Hannah who leaves her newly weaned child in the sanctuary with Eli the priest. This is Hannah’s first born. This is Hannah’s first child after years of being childless.  God’s gift to her of a child she gives back to God.  Of course she had promised that. She is keeping her side of the bargain. This must astound us. Would we do that?
Let’s us remind ourselves of the story again. Hannah is one of two wives of Elkanah. She is much loved by Elkanah, but is childless. Now for a woman to be childless in those days was a great shame. It lowered her status. A woman in our Western world up until the 19th Century would have had a diminished status outside her father’s or husband’s status and the children she bore. Certainly for the landowners having a son was essential, otherwise the property would go outside the family. How much more in ancient times, as in some parts of the world right now, did a woman’s status depend on her being married with children? Hannah is childless. Naturally the ancient text blames her – the Lord has closed her womb [v.6]. They knew nothing about the importance of the sperm’s motility or the timing of impregnation.  It was not a man’s fault but a woman’s fault that she was barren. But the story has a certain charm. Elkanah says to his disappointed and saddened Hannah, “am I not more to you than ten sons?” [v.8] Elkanah loves Hannah as his double portion given to her to sacrifice at the Shiloh sanctuary indicates.  Hannah does not lack her husband’s affection. She lacks the one thing that gives her status and dignity – a child and in particular a son.  As a childless wife she has little worth in the eyes of her society.
Hannah carries her suffering to God. She bargains with God. ‘Please give me a son and I will dedicate him solely to you’, she bargains with God. [v.11] This bargaining with God is not uncommon in the Bible. We find Jacob, Abraham and Moses bargaining with God. It is not uncommon with us. Who of us has not asked for something and offered something in return to God. We’ve used the language of ‘if you give me this I will do that’.  Bargaining with God is neither right nor wrong. It is part of the spiritual journey with God. It reflects our desperation and helplessness in the face of great adversity. It reflects the graciousness of God who journeys with us, leading us into God’s future.  To bargain with God is not the problem. The problem lies with our integrity with which we approach such bargaining. The wrestling with God is a legitimate part of the spiritual life. The wrestling and the argument with God is what helps us grow in our understanding of self and God. The problem with our wrestling with God is that we are so one sided in how we see things, and so unclear about the nature of God. By all means wrestle with God, but don’t rush to conclusions. Take time to take counsel with those who have gone before you.
Take Hannah’s example. She enters the sanctuary. She did not absent herself. She knelt and prayed. Her prayers were formed out of her deep pain, embarrassment and sense of loss. She was a loved woman, but in the eyes of her society she was worthless – a barren woman. She couldn’t really articulate her prayers. We never can when we pray out of deep despair.  So she moves her mouth but the words do not come out – at least not sensibly.
She is misunderstood by Eli, the head priest at the sanctuary. He misreads the situation. He interprets her inarticulate mumblings as a sign of drunkenness. Hannah rightfully protests her innocence. “No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the LORD.  16 Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.”  Eli in hearing her story blesses her. [vv. 12-18]
When we listen to each other’s pain we often stop at sympathising with the other. In sympathising we reiterate the situation. That is helpful only to a point. It is the blessing that is important. If we conclude, as Eli did, with God’s blessing and offer our prayers, which we will undertake on their behalf, the person will feel supported and encouraged. Sympathy is good, but not good enough.
Eli’s blessing transforms the situation. Hannah went away in a better frame of mind. She went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no longer. [v. 18]  Hannah had the priest’s blessing. What’s important is the part the blessing plays in Hannah’s situation, not the psychology of it. We see in this story that our ministry to others involves our blessing. And we have a right and a responsibility to bless others in God’s name. Ironically we may curse others by our silence and the withholding of God’s blessing. To say to someone, ‘God bless you’, is a gift to the other.
Hannah bears a son. What joy! She does not return to Shiloh for four years. I say four years because that seems to be the normal period it took to wean a child in those days. It was far healthier to breast feed into third and fourth year of a child’s life in those days. 
So from her breast she takes her son and gives him to God and into the care of Eli. When she had weaned him, … . She brought him to the house of the LORD at Shiloh; and the child was young. 26 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.  27 For this child I prayed; and the LORD has granted me the petition that I made to him.  28 Therefore I have lent him to the LORD; as long as he lives, he is given to the LORD.” 
This story of Hannah is the beginning of the greater story of God’s great priest-prophet, Samuel, who guided God’s people and anointed the first kings of Israel. The great prophet-priest had a great mother. Samuel’s mother, Hannah, had learnt the profound truth that to receive God’s gift is to pass on God’s gift to others.  God who is the creator of all things and the giver of all things gives to us blessings and gifts, which we are to return to God by sharing those gifts with others.. The underlying truth is that this world is not ours, but God’s. This world is not ours to take for our pleasure, but to use for the glory of God. If we could only live, even a little by this, we would be a much a richer community – a much a richer nation.
When Hannah gave her son, Samuel, she gave the nation of Israel one of its greatest prophet-priests. She gave God’s gift to her to the people – to the people of Israel and to us. Samuel is part of our story too. Hannah is remembered because she passed God’s gift to her on to others.
What are we doing with the gifts God has given us?  Are you a little too nervous to ask God for God’s gifts, because you don’t really want to share them?  No matter how small God’s gift to you is, once shared it will be a blessing to others.
Peter C Whitaker, Leighmoor UC:  17/07/2016
 / www.leighmoorunitingchurch.org.au