Saturday, May 17, 2014
Give Up Your Child to God!
As we saw last week, giving up your child can have very different implications depending on whether you give the child up to an idol or false god or to the one true God. In Scripture we see two examples of these contrasting motives and outcomes.
Pressured by the demands of false religion, mothers sacrificed their infants to Molech, the fire god, in a barbaric ritual begun by neighboring pagan lands but enforced by Ahaz and Manasseh, kings of Israel (2 Chronicles 28:3; 33:6). As children were burned at the altar, drums beat incessantly to drown out the wailing of the infants and their mothers who may have realized too late the horrors of what they were doing.
Even King Solomon, wisest of all men (1 Kings 4:29-34), built altars to Molech to keep the peace with his pagan wives, and I assume he allowed his own offspring by these women to be tossed into the flames. In addition to this punishment, God’s judgment for this evil was the loss of Solomon’s kingdom (1 Kings 11:4-11). God considered this such an abomination (Jeremiah 32:35) that He demanded stoning for those who sacrificed their infants to Molech (Leviticus 20:2-5).
In contrast, Hannah, wife of Elkinah, “gave up” her son to true Jehovah God and was richly blessed in return. Although Elkinah loved Hannah far more than his other wife Peninnah and treated her far better, this could not assuage Hannah’s grief over being barren. To rub salt in the wound, fertile Peninnah taunted Hannah for bearing no children, and Elkinah meant well but couldn’t understand why his own love for Hannah was not enough (1 Samuel 1:1-8),
The story has many parallels to that of Jacob, who loved his wife Rachel far more than her sister Leah, even though Leah bore him children whereas Rachel was initially childless (Genesis 29:16-35; 30:1-25).
Hannah fasted, prayed fervently and wept, in “bitterness of soul,” that God would give her a son. Her faith was so strong that she promised to return that child to God in His service, by allowing him to assist the priest and train to be one even as a young child (1 Samuel 1:1-10-16).
Some might say that she was striking a bargain with God, which in my opinion would be a sin of pride and of unbelief. Essentially, offering something to God in exchange for a particular outcome implies that we know what we need better than God does, that He does not love us enough to do what is best for us, and that He needs something from us (Matthew 6:8,32; 7:11; Psalm 50:7-14).
Scripture is clear that those who make a vow to God must honor it or face dire consequences (Deuteronomy 23:21,23; Ecclesiastes 5:4), and that we should think carefully before making a foolish promise or one that we cannot or will not honor (Judges 11:30-40)
But rather than bargaining with God. I believe that Hannah had the faith to know God could answer her prayer for a son and that He is the source of all good gifts (James 1:17). She “vowed a vow” to consecrate that child to Him (Psalm 50:14; 66:13), in essence thanking Him in advance for granting her request (Philippians 4:6).
Eli, the priest who at first thought Hannah was drunk, ultimately recognized her profound faith and believed that God would grant her request. Further evidence of Hannah’s faith is that she came to the altar in utmost distress, yet after she poured out her soul, she left in peace, trusting God for the outcome (1 Samuel 1: 17-18). She conceived shortly after they returned home from the yearly pilgrimage to the Lord’s house, and appropriately named her son Samuel, meaning “God has heard.”
True to her promise, Hannah raised Samuel until he was weaned, then returned to the Lord’s house where she offered him to assist Eli and to be trained by him as a priest. She and Elkinah also gave a generous offering and worshipped the Lord for answering her prayer. How heart-wrenching it must have been for Hannah to “lend her son to the Lord” for as long as he would live, and to return to her strangely quiet home that was once filled with her toddler’s cries (v. 22-28).
But Hannah continued in prayer and in praise, singing a song of worship (1 Samuel 2:1-10) that many centuries later would inspire Mary to sing the Magnificat when she learned God had chosen her to be the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:46-55). Samuel served God under Eli’s supervision, and was a shining light in a priest’s house darkened by the evil deeds of his sons and by the spiritual weakness of the priest himself (1 Samuel 2:12-18; 22-25).
Each year Hannah and Elkinah faithfully returned to the Lord’s house for offering and worship, and each year she brought Samuel a new coat she had made to accommodate the growing lad (v. 19). I wonder if she kept a special chest filled with his outgrown garments as a memory of the son whose company she could not enjoy? But thankfully, she would soon need them, as Eli prayed that God would give her a child to make up for the one she had lent to Him (v. 20).
You can’t outgive God (Luke 6:38), so it doesn’t surprise me that God answered that prayer by blessing Hannah with three more sons and two daughters! (1 Samuel 2:21) She was doubly blessed, not only with a large family but with knowing that Samuel was growing in God’s grace and service (v. 26). Ultimately God spoke directly to Samuel warning him of Eli’s destruction to come and making him a great prophet (1 Samuel 3).
Not all of our children are called to be preachers or missionaries, but as parents who believe in Christ’s death, burial and resurrection as the only way to Heaven (1 Corinthians 15:1-4; John 14:6), we should lend our children to the Lord for whatever service He has intended for them. Yet we hear of children who want to go to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19) by going to forsaken parts of the earth to spread the Good News of the Gospel (Acts 1:8), and of parents who discourage them, out of fear or selfish motives of wanting to keep them nearby.
In truth, “our” children are His, not ours, and He has graciously lent them to us. May we encourage them by our example to trust in Christ alone, to pray, to study His Word, and to serve Him! God will reward us many times over!
© 2014 Laurie Collett