Sunday, July 6, 2014

Everyone is leading a difficult battle

In 1 Sam 1.9-17, Hannah goes to the temple to pray to the LORD. She is her husband's favorite of two wives, but she can't bear him any children because the LORD had closed her womb (1.5). It were bad enough to bear the cross of infertility, but she must also deal with her husband Elkanah's other wife, Peninnah, who used to provoke her severely, to irritate her (v. 6).

When her family meets together for dinner, Hannah instead weeps and refuses all food (v. 7). Her husband knows the problem, because he asks her, "Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?" (v. 8). Elkanah loved Hannah more out of the two wives (v. 5), and no doubt was sensitive to her struggles. But evidently his attempts at consoling her do not work, because she leaves and presents herself before the LORD at the temple (v. 9). When she is there, the burden on her heart is so great, and her grief is so deep, that only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard (v. 13). Hers is a grief and sadness that she can't speak in a loud voice with anyone -- not with her husband, not with God. She simply keeps quiet as she carries an unbearable weight on her shoulders.

But things just seem to get worse and worse for her. Eli is the priest of the temple, and he observed her mouth as she prayed (v. 12). Seeing that she was moving her lips but no words were coming out, therefore Eli thought she was drunk. So Eli said to her, "How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine" (vv. 13-4).

Imagine how Hannah must have felt! Not only can't she have any children; not only can't she bear her husband, who loves her very much, a son to carry on his name and memory; not only must she suffer the abuse of his other wife, who had children of her own -- now the priest of the temple, the representative of God himself, abuses her and accuses her of public drunkenness at a holy sight!

There is a lot to learn from all of this, but one especially important lesson is the following: you never know what kind of a battle the other persons you see are leading; you never know what kind of struggles they have, and what kind of pains they bear in their hearts. Consequently you ought to be careful what you say to them. You ought to be careful not to assume the worst, not to judge them if things do not seem all right.

Eli caused further unnecessary suffering to poor Hannah, who was praying to the LORD with sincerity and zeal. He broke her heart even further with his unfounded rejection and judgment. We are all liable to do the same thing, when  we see someone behaving in a manner we find strange or objectionable and automatically assume the worst. Rather we ought to think to ourselves, as we pass by others on the street or at the market or at school or at church, that behind the friendly or indifferent exterior may lie a tortured soul, bearing a burden far greater than we every may have imagined. This ought to inspire in us a merciful heart, a generosity of spirit which doesn't judge but only wishes well and prays for one and all alike.