Today’s selected reading continues in the first epistle of the apostle Paul written unto the saints which were at Corinth, and more specifically, is found in verses twenty-seven through forty of the seventh chapter. It is with this particular set of verses the apostle Paul concludes the seventh chapter of this first epistle written unto the saints which were at Corinth. Now that the entire chapter has been read in its entirety we come to the understanding that the apostle Paul essentially speaks of four distinct groups of individuals. On the one hand the apostle Paul speaks concerning marriage and that of a husband and wife entering into covenant relationship with each other before the Lord. On the other hand the apostle Paul speaks of that husband and/or that wife have separated themselves from each other, broken the covenant they entered into before the Lord, and agreed to divorce. There is a third group of individuals who are spoken of and suggested within this passage of Scripture and that is the widows among the congregation—those who entered into the covenant of marriage before the Lord, and yet whose spouse for one reason or another passed away, thus leaving the grieving spouse behind alone and needing to care for themselves. The fourth and final group that is mentioned in this passage of Scripture are those who have never known the covenant of marriage, nor have never known the heartbreak and pain of divorce. This fourth group of men and women never knew the tremendous sorrow, anguish and agony that surrounds the loss of a husband or wife to divorce. What is so incredibly interesting about this particular passage of Scripture is that of the four groups of men and women who were mentioned three of the four lived in a place of the absence of love. That single man or woman lived in the absence of the love of a husband or wife who they entered into covenant with. That man or woman who experienced the bitter hurt and pain of divorce found themselves living in the place of the absence of love as that one whom they entered into covenant with chose to walk away. That man or that woman who experienced the death of that spouse whom they enjoyed covenant relationship with also lived in the place of the absence of love because they found themselves alone and by themselves.
ALONE AND IN THE PLACE OF THE ABSENCE OF LOVE! It’s actually quite interesting to consider that that man or that woman who has never tasted or known the covenant relationship of marriage may very well have found themselves feeling alone and in the place of the absence of love. I remember when I was in Bible college and speaking with a friend of mine in my dorm room during my junior year. I remember that as he and I began praying, I senses a tremendous weight and burden which he had been carrying for an extended period of time. As we continued praying I felt that this particular individual was carrying the burden of living in the place of loneliness and in the place of the absence of love. I remember praying for this friend and getting the strong sense that he felt much like Hannah did when she knew she was barren and unable to conceive any children. In fact, while praying I actually referenced the account of Hannah and the tremendous sorrow, the tremendous anguish, the tremendous agony she felt within her heart and soul because of her inability to conceive and bring forth any children into the world. There is not a doubt in my mind that even though Hannah was loved by her husband Elkanah, she undoubtedly felt alone in the world, for she had not known or experienced the joy of bringing forth a child into the world, nor the love that is felt and expressed in raising a child of her own. What’s more, is that Hannah watched as her rival Peninah conceived and bore children to Elkanah, and how her rival essentially had something she herself desperately wanted. What do you do when you find yourself in this place? What do you do when you find yourself in the place when you want something so desperately and so badly that it actually causes you sorrow and grief? What do you do when you want something to desperately and so badly, yet that which you desire so much never seems to find its fulfillment within your life? What’s more, is what do you do when you see another—perhaps someone else rather close to you—enjoying the life you have always wanted and longed for? What do you do when that one who seems to be enjoying and living the life you have always wanted continually and repeatedly provokes you?
I feel it absolutely necessary to present the reader with the account of Hannah, Elkanah, and Hannah’s rival, for such a passage brings us face to face with the feelings and emotions that weigh upon our heart and soul, as well as the thoughts that might very well rage within our minds. Consider if you will the account of Elkanah, his one wife Penninah, and his other wife Hannah. Beginning with the first verse of the first chapter of the book of First Samuel you will find the following account of this “three’s company”:
“Now there was a certain man of Ramathaim-Sophie, of mount Ephraim, and his name was ELkanah, the son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Thou, the son of Zuph, an Ephrathite: and he had two wives; the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other Penninah: and Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children. And this man went up out of his city yearly to worship and to sacrifice unto the Lord of hosts in Shiloh. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and PHineas, the priests of the Lord, were there. And when the time was that Elkanah offered, he gave to Penninah his wife, and to all her sons and her daughters, portions: but unto Hannah he gave a worthy portion; for he loved Hannah: but the Lord had shut up her womb. And her adversary also provoked her sore, for to make her fret, because the Lord had shut up her womb. And as he did so year by year, when she went up to the house of the Lord, so she provoked her; therefore she wept, and Di not eat. Then said Elkanah her husband to her, Hannah, why weepest thou? And why eatest thou not? And why is thy heart grieved? And I not better to thee than ten sons? So Hannah rose up after they had eaten in Shiloh, and after they had drunk. Now Eli the priest sat upon a seat by a post of the temple of the Lord. And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore. And she vowed a vow, and said, O Lord of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head. And it came to pass, as she continued praying before the Lord, that Eli marked her mouth. Now Hannah, she spoke in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard: therefore Elia thought she had been drunken. And Eli said unto her, How long wilt thou be drunken? Put away thy wine from thee. And Hannah answered and said, NO, my lord,I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit: I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but have poured out my soul before the Lord. Count not thine handmaid for a daughter of Belial: for out of the abundance of my complain and grief have I spoken hitherto. Then Eli answered and said, Go in peace: and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of Him. And she said, Let thine handmaid find grace in thy sight. So the woman went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more said. And they rose up in the morning early, and worshipped before the Lord, and returned, and came to their house to Ramah: and ELkanah knew Hannah his wife: and the Lord remembered her. Wherefore it came to pass, when the time was come about after Hannah had conceived, that she bare a son, and called his name Samuel, saying, Because I have asked him of the Lord. And the man Elkanah, and all his house, went up to offer unto the Lord the yearly sacrifice, and his vow. But Hannah went not up; for she said unto her husband, I will not go up until the child be weaned, and then I will bring him, that he may appear before the Lord, and there abide for ever. And Elkanah her husband said unto her, Do what Shemeth thee good; tarry until thou have weaned him; only the Lord establish his word. So the woman abode, and gave her son suck until she weaned him. And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, with three bullocks, and one Ethan of flour, and a bottle of wine, and brought him unto the house of the Lord in Shiloh: and the child was young. And they slew a bullock, and brought the child to Eli. And she said, Oh my Lord, as thy soul liveth, my lord, I am the woman that stood by thee here, praying unto the Lord. For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him: therefore also I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord. And he worshipped the Lord there” (1 Samuel 1:1-28).
As I read the account of Hannah, Elkanah and Penninah, I can’t help but be completely and totally gripped by the account of Hannah within this passage of Scripture. The first thing we notice and encounter about. Hannah was that she was one of two wives of Elkanah, while we immediately discover that while Penninah had sons and daughters, Hannah had no children. As you continue reading this passage you will discover that when it came time for Elkanah to go up for the yearly sacrifice unto the Lord, he gave unto Penninah and her children a certain portion, yet unto Hannah he gave a worthy portion because he loved her. If there is one thing we cannot say based on reading this passage, it’s that Hannah was not loved by her husband. Scripture makes it very clear that Hannah was indeed loved by her husband, so there shouldn’t be any doubt in our minds that she spent her days not being loved. Despite the fact that she was loved by her husband, the Lord had shut up her womb and kept her from conceiving and bringing forth children. It wasn’t simply that Hannah had no children, or even that Hannah could bring forth no children, but that it was the Lord himself who had shut up her womb. One might ask the question why. Why would the Lord shut up the womb of a woman and thus prevent her from conceiving and bringing forth children into the earth? Hannah’s story isn’t the only one like this in Scripture, for we also understand that the Lord had shut up Sarai’s womb who was married unto Abram. What’s more, is the Lord had shut up the wombs of Rebekah and Rachel—Rebekah who was the wife of Isaac, and Rachel who was the wife of Jacob. Within the first three generations of the people of Israel there was barrenness found among the wombs of Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel—that was until the Lord opened up the wombs of each of these women. When the Lord opened the womb of Sarah, she conceived and brought forth Isaac. When the Lord opened the womb of Rebekah she conceived and brought forth Jacob and Esau. When the Lord opened the womb of Rachel she conceived and brought forth Joseph and later on, Benjamin. A similar account is found in the thirteenth chapter of the Old Testament book of Judges, for within this passage we find the account of Manoah and his wife who was also barren. Later on in Scripture—particularly within the four gospel accounts—you will find that Elizabeth was also barren and that the Lord had shut up her womb.
Sarah! Rebekah! Rachel! Hannah! Manoah’s wife! Elizabeth! Six different women, each in different generations, and yet each woman experienced the very same reality within their lives—barrenness. What marks the account of Hannah as even more unique and distinct from those of the other women is that we read in the account of Hannah’s life that not only was she barren, and not only did she watch as Penninah conceived and brought forth sons and daughters, but she was also continually provoked by her adversary. It’s actually quite intriguing that within the house of Elkanah there appeared to be competition and rivalry between these two women as Hannah was barren and unable to conceive and bring forth children. In fact, if you read this passage of Scripture you will read how Penninah—adversary of Hannah—provoked her sore, for to make her fret, because the Lord had shut up her womb. Moreover, Scripture records how this provocation continued year after year when Hannah would go up to the house of the Lord, for Penninah continued to provoke her sore. Penninah so provoked Hannah that Scripture records how not only did she wept, but she also did not eat. Hannah’s sorrow and grief was clearly evident to her husband Elkanah, and he clearly understood the nature and cause of her sorrow, and yet he responded by calling her attention unto himself. Elkanah asked Hannah why she wept and why she would not eat, and then proceeded to ask her why her heart was grieved. Elkanah would go on to ask Hannah if he wasn’t better to her than ten sons, thus completely ignoring and deflecting her grief and sorrow. It’s worth noting that while Hannah was loved by her husband, this particular passage of Scripture reveals how she was provoked by her adversary, misunderstood by her husband, and accused of being drunk by the high priest. As if being unable to conceive and bring forth children wasn’t enough, and as if the overwhelming loneliness Hannah felt wasn’t enough, she was continually provoked, continually misunderstood, and ultimately accused of being drunk in the house of the Lord.
There is something that strikes at the very heart of the account of Hannah within this passage of Scripture, and that is that even though she was married to Elkanah, and even though she was in fact loved by her husband, that didn’t seem to be enough for her. I would dare say that when speaking of Hannah—despite the fact that she was loved by her husband—there was still an overwhelming loneliness and despair that gripped her heart and soul. There is not a doubt in my mind that Hannah experienced a deep loneliness that gripped her heart and soul, and when you take that loneliness and join it together with being provoked by her adversary, you have the perfect storm for grief, for sorrow, for anguish, and the like. It’s worth noting that our own adversary always seems to find ways to provoke us in the places of loneliness within our lives. I am convinced there are countless men and women who right now have found themselves in a great place of loneliness within their lives, and within that place of loneliness they are being and have been provoked by their adversary. As if the absence of that which we long for the most wasn’t bad enough, and as if the tremendous weight of loneliness wasn’t enough, we have an adversary who continually and repeatedly provokes us within and from that place of sorrow and anguish. The accounts of Hannah goes on to reveal how her adversary provoked her sore, for as to make her fret, which reveals that her provocation was intended to wound and inflict severe damage within her heart and soul. Oh, I can’t help but wonder how many men and women are finding themselves in a place where their adversary continually seeks to provoke them sore, and so much so that they find themselves in a place of sorrow, anguish and despair. When seeking to understand the account of Hannah, it’s imperative that we recognize and understand that not only did she have to contend with the fact that she was barren, but she also had to contend with the fact that she had an adversary who continually and repeatedly sought to provoke her sore in order to make her fret. BARREN AND PROVOKED! LOVED, YET BARREN! It was true that Hannah was loved, but even in the place and presence of that love she was still barren, and still found herself continually and repeatedly being provoked by her adversary.
What I absolutely love about the account of Hannah is that while it was true that she was barren, and while it was true that she was provoked by her adversary, she continued to go up unto the house of the Lord year after to year to worship with her husband. There was a tremendous faithfulness that was found within the heart and life of Hannah that is worth making not of and examining, for her faithfulness was found—even in the place of barrenness and provocation. Let me ask you a question—Can you still be faithful even when and even though you’re barren? Can you still be faithful even when and even though you are being provoked? Can you continue to worship and serve the Lord within and from the place of your barrenness? I absolutely love that even though Hannah was barren, she did not let that barrenness keep her from going up to the house of the Lord and worshipping with her husband. What’s more, is that it was her barrenness, coupled together with her continued provocation that thrust Hannah into a place of desperation before the Lord. I can’t help but wonder and even consider the fact that the Lord might very well allow us to be in a place of barrenness, and even allow us to experience continued and repeated provocation in that place of barrenness in order that it might thrust us into a place of desperation before Him. We dare not be so naïve to think that the Lord was not only aware of Hannah’s barrenness, but also of her continued provocation at the behest of her adversary. I absolutely love that in spite of and directly in the face of her barrenness and provocation, Hannah thrust herself upon the divine goodness, the divine mercy, the divine grace of Almighty God. It was from that place that Hannah didn’t ask for vengeance against her adversary, nor did she utter a prayer toward or against her adversary. Instead, that which Hannah did was make a vow before the Lord, and declare that if He would remember her and give her a man child, she would turn the child back over to the Lord all the days of his life, and dedicate him unto the purposes of the Lord for the rest of his life. How many of us in that moment and from that place would pray a prayer against our adversary or foe, and yet that which Hannah did was go unto the house of the Lord and vow a vow before the Lord.
When I read the words of the apostle Paul in the seventh chapter of this first epistle unto the Corinthian congregation, I am gripped by the tremendous wisdom and instruction unto husbands to commit themselves unto their wives, and for wives to give themselves unto their husbands. I am gripped by the tremendous appeal to commitment that is found within this particular passage of Scripture, for the apostle Paul implicitly and clearly instructs husbands who are married to unbelieving wives to remain married to them, and wives who are married to unbelieving husbands to remain married to them. There is within this passage of Scripture a powerful call to commitment, for the apostle Paul appeals to husbands to remain committed and faithful to their wives, and likewise for wives to remain committed and faithful to their husbands. In fact, in the twenty-seventh verse of this chapter the apostle Paul speaks unto that man who is bound unto a wife and instructs him to not seek to be loosed from that place. Moreover, the apostle Paul speaks unto that woman who is bound unto a husband and for her to not seek to be loosed and freed from that relationship. The more I read this passage of Scripture, the more I am convinced that there is within this passage a powerful call to remain faithful and to remain strong in the midst of covenant and commitment. There is within this passage of Scripture a powerful call for husbands and wives to be so committed and so devoted to each other that they are unwilling to depart from each other. In all reality, I would dare say that this chapter is not only a call to single men and women, but also a powerful call to married men and women. This passage contains a powerful call for single men and women to honor God with their singleness, and to within and from their singleness care fore the the things which belong to the Lord, and how they might please Him. Moreover, this passage contains a powerful call for husbands and wives to honor the Lord their God in their marriages by honoring their spouses, and to remain faithful and committed to them. What’s more, is I would also state that within this passage is a powerful call to stand and fight in the midst of that which would seek to destroy a marriage. The question husbands and wives must ask themselves is whether or not they are willing to remain in the struggle and remain in the fight—despite how difficult and touch it might get.
As I continue reading this passage, I can’t help but be gripped with the thought of those who are in the place of loneliness—perhaps because they have never been married, or perhaps because they were once married and it ended in divorce, or perhaps because they were married and their spouse passed away thus leaving them a widow upon the earth. I can’t help but think of how many men and women—regardless of whether or not they have ever been married or not—are living in a place of loneliness right now. I am convinced there are a number of men and women who like Hannah find themselves looking all around them and seeing others living the life they want, or perhaps living the life they once had, while they are in a place of despair, sorrow and anguish. I can’t help but wonder how many men and women are in this place of sheer hopelessness—perhaps because they feel as though they might never find love, or perhaps because they once knew love, and yet that love seemed to fade away and be removed from them. What about you? Have you ever felt like that which you loved so much was suddenly and without warning removed from your life—perhaps even ripped away from you? Have you found yourself in a place of loneliness because that relationship, that intimacy, that connection, that love, that bond is no longer what it used to be, or perhaps even is no more. I know there are men and women who right now are living in a place where the love, the joy, the intimacy, the connection, the bond that was once there is nothing more than a trickle or an ember burning on the altar. How many men and women have loved and lost, and as a result of their loss have found themselves finding it difficult to move on and move forward from that place of pain and loss? How many men and women are isolated and alone and find themselves living on an island—completely separated from those around them? Such men and women can be in a room full of people, or even in a church building filled with members and yet still feel all alone, and perhaps even empty inside.
What is also so very much intriguing about this passage is the call to self-control, and the call to be able to manage one’s flesh, one’s desires, one’s passions, and one’s lusts. If you read the thirty-sixth and thirty-seventh verses of this chapter you will quickly encounter a powerful example of self-control within one’s life. Not only will you encounter an appeal for self-control within these two verses, but you will also find a powerful display of one who is not willing to violate the woman he has betrothed himself to. Consider if you will the words and language that is found in these two verses—“But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry. Nevertheless he that standeth steadfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin doeth well” (1 Corinthians 7:36-37)., These two verses are directly connect to and build off of that which the apostle Paul wrote earlier on in the chapter when he stated “Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:1-2). I absolutely love this particular chapter within the first epistle written unto the Corinthian congregation, for within it the apostle Paul not only seeks to guard intimacy, but he also seeks to guard marriage as well. In a day and age when both are incredibly scarce and so easily betrayed, the underlying question we must ask ourselves is whether or not we are willing to guard intimacy and marriage. Are we willing to guard intimacy within our own hearts and lives, and are we willing to look out for and guard the intimacy that is found within the lives of others? Are we willing to look out for and guard our own marriage, as well as the marriages of others? What’s more, is are we willing to not only guard singleness, but also guard marriage among us within our homes, our families, our communities, our neighborhoods, our churches, and the like? We cannot, we dare not, we must not pawn this responsibility off on to others, but must instead take full responsibility ourselves and do anything and everything we can to guard and protect and preserve intimacy and marriage, as well as singleness and celibacy.