Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Days of Decline

Leslie Basham: Here’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: God has a plan. From our earthly, limited perspective, when things look the most hopeless—it doesn’t look like anything good is happening, it looks like evil is winning, as it may look like in your church or in your family or in your workplace or in our culture—remember that God has a plan.

Leslie: It’s Tuesday, January 8. This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

Do you ever look at the blatant sin in our culture and wonder if we live in the worst time ever? Actually, there have been some very sinful moments in history. We’re going to study about a mom who lived through one of those times.

This week we’ll learn how a parent can raise godly children in a hostile culture by looking at the life of Hannah. Here’s Nancy to get us started in a series called Hannah’s Prayer and God’s Power.

Nancy: If you’ve been around me any length of time, you know that most of my heroes and heroines are people who are no longer living.

There are a lot of people who are alive that I admire a lot, but I have chosen over the years to draw strength and insight and wisdom from people who have gone before, and their lives have been proven and tested and demonstrated to be faithful to the Lord. What makes somebody a really great man or woman is somebody who through the test of time is faithful to God.

A lot of the people I admire the most and who have helped me in my spiritual pilgrimage the most are people whose stories we read about in Scripture. So I love doing character studies in the Scripture.

We’re going to do one of those starting today with a woman I’ve read about. You’ve probably heard her story many times over the years.

Let me encourage you to be opening your Bibles to 1 Samuel 1, because that’s where we first meet Hannah. I had read this passage numerous times and thought I was pretty familiar with her story. I thought I knew a lot about Hannah, but as I got into the passage . . .

There’s something that happens as you meditate on the Word of God, as you spend time in a passage and don’t hurry past it but let it pour into your system and let yourself soak in a passage, which is what I’ve been doing over the past week or so, just soaking in these first two chapters of 1 Samuel in particular.

I have to say that in the hours I’ve spent immersed in those verses, a whole new portrait has emerged for me, and a lot of insight about the message of this woman’s life that I had never noticed before. I’m very thankful now for the privilege of sharing it with you in hope that you’ll be as excited as I have become about the life of Hannah as we move through this series.

Let’s begin in chapter 1 and verse 1. For those of you who have no idea who Hannah is, let me just tell you that she was the mother of Samuel, who was a great prophet of God. She’s the woman who desperately wanted a child. God gave her this son Samuel, and Samuel became one of the great leaders of Israel.

But there’s a lot more to the story than that, and we begin in 1 Samuel 1:1. “There was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim,” that’s where he lived, “of the hill country of Ephraim,” that’s the region, “whose name was Elkanah.” That’s a name that you want to note down because he’s one of the primary characters in this story.

Elkanah “was the son of Jeroham, [he was the] son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, an Ephrathite.” So there’s a little background, the lineage of Elkanah.

Verse 2: “He had two wives. The name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other, Peninnah. And Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.”

Now, you know as soon as I read that verse that we’ve got some problems. We’ve got some trouble. The fact that there are two wives, one has children and one doesn’t . . . well, this is a recipe for disaster. We’re going to get to that, but I want to give a little more background first.

Verse 3 tells us, “Now this man [Elkanah] used to go up year by year from his city to worship.” Notice that word worship because it will recur in this story. We’re going to see that the heart of this story is one of worship. The heart of parenting is one of being a worshiper yourself and then teaching your children to be worshipers of God.

This man set an example. He “used to go up year by year to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the Lord.”

We’re going to stop there. We’re actually going to spend quite a bit of time on those verses because I want us to get the background. It’s always helpful when you’re studying Scripture to say, “What’s the context of this passage?”

It’s particularly important to understand the times in which Hannah lived. In the next session we’re going to look at her family and her personal context, but first let’s look at the national and the cultural setting in which she lived.

I have to use—well, there are different words we could use, but one word that comes to mind is the word decline. These were not good days in the nation of Israel. It was the era of the judges.

This story fits into the period that you read about in the book of Judges, where “there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). It was anarchy, people just living any way they wanted to live.

If you care about dates, Samuel, Hannah’s son, was born in about 1100 BC. So about 1,100 years before Christ came on the scene, Hannah lived and prayed and served and mothered.

The events of the book of Ruth, by the way, which also took place during the judges, probably took place within the previous 20 years. So not very long before this was the story of Ruth, which immediately precedes 1 Samuel in the Old Testament.

We also know that following or during Samuel’s life and ministry, there will come a king named Saul, and then there will follow another king named David. So that’s a context biblically.

As a nation, Israel was struggling. She was being hounded by the Philistines, plagued by the powerful armies of the Philistines surrounding her. But most importantly, this was a spiritual low point in the nation of Israel. The nation had been in a 100-year period of spiritual decline. They had sunk to all-time lows.

There was still a form of religion going on, as we read in these first three verses. There was a tabernacle. It had a place. It was in Shiloh. Some people would go to worship and to sacrifice. There were priests.

But we’re going to see that the state of religion in this era was just a form; the heart was missing from most worshipers. There were many violations of God’s law and God’s Word in the practice of the people’s faith and religion.

If you’ll flip over a couple pages to 1 Samuel 3:1, you’ll read something that’s very important. It describes the times. It’s the second part of that verse. It says, “The word of the Lord was rare in those days.” There was very little revelation of who God is.

When we don’t have revelation of who God is and what He wants and His will and His law, then we’re going to live any way we want to live. We’re going to run our own lives. And that’s exactly what was happening.

So the people were corrupt. I mean, we’re talking about the people of Israel, the chosen people of God, the people He had redeemed out of the land of Egypt. They were corrupt; they were immoral, and there was a vacuum of leadership, both spiritual and national leadership. There were no great, godly leaders in the land, and there hadn’t been for a long time.

The days of Moses and Joshua were long past, and the people were just kind of on their own, sheep without a shepherd, if you will. To make it worse, not only were there no leaders, but the priests that they did have were greedy. They were arrogant. They were corrupt. They were immoral, by and large.

Eli was the last of a breed. He was kind of in-between. There were a lot of good characteristics in Eli’s life but some very bad characteristics. His sons that we just read about, Hophni and Phinehas, who were to follow as priests behind their father Eli, were wicked men.

Let me just have you leaf through a few verses here that will show you that. “Now the sons of Eli were worthless men” (2:12). Some of your translations will say they were “sons of Belial,” sons of the devil. They acted like the devil. They were “worthless men. They did not know the Lord.” These are the priests, the ministers, the pastors, if you will.

Verse 17 is in the middle of a paragraph that describes the greed of these sons. God had ordained that the priests should be able to eat the leftovers of the sacrifices. But instead of settling for the leftovers—I’m just summarizing a paragraph here in chapter 2—they would demand that the people give them the sacrifice right at the outset. They were greedy.

They were making a profit off the people. They were avaricious. They were plundering the people. It was the priests who were doing this! So verse 17 summarizes and says, “Thus the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the Lord, for the men treated the offering of the Lord with contempt.” That’s the pastors.

“Now Eli [their father] was very old, and he kept hearing all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and,” (now this is hard to imagine, but it’s right there), “how they lay with the women who were serving at the entrance to the tent of meeting” (2:22). This is talking about ritual fornication that was taking place right in the very vicinity of the tabernacle.

Do you know what the Israelites were doing? They were copying the practices of the Canaanites who had these pagan religious practices. The priests were actually having sex with the women, the temple prostitutes who came right outside the tabernacle.

We think things are bad today. It’s important to remember that there have been other eras in the history of the people of God where things went to very great lows.

“‘If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?’ But they would not listen to the voice of their father” (verse 25). Eli tried a little bit to correct his sons, but they wouldn’t listen. They had no heart for counsel.

A woman called me not too long ago, and she was very deeply burdened for some of the things that are going on in her particular denomination. She was weeping on the phone.

She and her husband are in a position of leadership in this denomination, but they’ve seen some things, and she said, “So many in leadership in our churches are motivated by personal gain, greed. There’s a lack of integrity.”

And I said to her, “Some things haven’t changed a lot, have they?” That’s what we read about in this passage.

Now, we have many wonderful pastors and ministers and churches today. But we can all point to situations that are really grievous, where we say, “What in the world is going on here?” So sad. Tragic. So we ask, “Where is God in those times? What is He doing?”

Well, as we launch into the story of Hannah, let me say, God is still on His throne, and God always has a plan. God has a plan. From our earthly, limited perspective, when things look the most hopeless—it doesn’t look like anything good is happening, it looks like evil is winning, as it may look like in your church or in your family or in your workplace or in our culture—remember that God has a plan.

God’s plan will not be thwarted. God always has a remnant. God always has some people who love Him and are faithful to Him regardless of what’s going on around them. There are people in your church, perhaps in your family, in your environment. You can be a part of that remnant.

God calls out that remnant, and He sets them apart as He did the nation of Israel, to be a light and to reflect His glory in the darkest times. We’re going to see how Hannah became a reflection of the glory and the light of God and how God used this one wife and mother to make a difference, to be a turning point in the nation of Israel.

Now, there are some good things to be said for this family. I think that’s always a good place to start because we come to the bad soon enough. But we do know from this passage that Elkanah was descended from the line of the family of Levi. He was a Levite, and he was one of the few in those days who really had stayed faithful to God, for the most part. He was a devout man.

Even though the priests were not faithful to God, here’s a man who basically said, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord [see Joshua 24:15]. We will worship God even if no one else does.” And very few were.

He went every year, possibly three times a year, which is what God had commanded Jewish males should do, to worship God, to offer sacrifices as the law commanded. And his family went with him to worship. That’s a minor point, but don’t overlook it, because it’s a significant point in the life of a family, for a family to worship God together.

Again, that’s why it’s so important (if I could just say to those of you women who are not married), that as you think about a life choice of a mate, you ask God to bring you together with a man who will be a worshiper of God so that you can worship God together. Don’t think of 16 other characteristics he has that you like if he’s not a worshiper of God. You want to be able to worship God together.

This man did, and he took his family with him. By and large, this was a godly family. This was a family whose life and seasons of the year centered around their relationship with God. They were faithful worshipers of God in the midst of an ungodly environment.

Now, we’re also going to see, looking for good things in this family, that Elkanah loved his wife Hannah. So Hannah had a husband who did care for her. He met her needs. He provided for her. She had a lot of things going for her in this family.

But, there were some issues. There were some problems. There was a big cloud over this godly little family in some respects.

I would just remind you that every family has its issues; even the families that you point to as maybe being spiritual leaders, and you think, “Boy, they really have their act together. That family gets along so beautifully. That family is so godly.” And they may be, in many or most respects; but I don’t care how godly a family is—they have their issues.

You think you would love to be married to that man, your pastor, some spiritual leader, or somebody you hear on the radio or on Christian television. I’m just telling you, you don’t live with that man. His wife does, and vice-versa.

We think of some women as being, “Oh she’s such a godly woman,” and we put these people on pedestals. You don’t know what goes on inside the four walls of a home unless you’re inside those four walls.

Every home has its issues. Every home has its sins. Every home has its failures. And every home has its heartaches. We need to learn to find grace, hannah, God’s grace in the midst of those circumstances and situations.

Isn’t it amazing that every woman has some cause for sorrow, something that makes her heart heavy, whether she can talk about it to others or not? Every woman sitting in this room, every woman listening to this program has something that makes her heart heavy.

It’s amazing to me how often those points of hardness and heavy-heartedness do have something to do with our family—marriage, children . . . that’s where a lot of our heartaches and sorrows reside.

One of the obvious problems in this family is that it was a bigamous marriage. Verse 2 tells us outright, and I’m glad the Scripture doesn’t hide these things from us. This man Elkanah, who was a worshiper of God—he loved God, he was devoted to God, but he did have a problem—he had two wives.

In Charles Spurgeon’s message on Hannah, he quotes the wise man’s advice to the sultan: “First learn to live with two tigresses, and then expect to live happily with two wives.” I think that’s an appropriate description. Living with two wives can be something more or less like living with two tigresses.

In this bigamous marriage, which we know was not God’s intent or God’s plan, though it did happen a lot in the Old Testament . . . It was not as God intended from the beginning. Jesus makes that clear in the gospels when He talks about multiple marriages and divorce and remarriage that from the beginning was not as God intended.

God intended one man for one woman for a lifetime, and wherever you find multiple wives in the Old Testament, you find trouble lurking not far behind. It’s not God’s way. Whether it’s two wives at the same time or one wife after another—serial marriage, divorce and remarriage—it is not God’s plan.

Now, God can redeem and overcome these situations; but we set ourselves up for trouble if we don’t do it God’s way, which is faithful, monogamous marriage for life.

In this case, the bigamous marriage was probably the result of Elkanah being married first to Hannah, who apparently was his first wife and certainly his favored wife. He definitely loved her, but she couldn’t have children. It was a childless first marriage.

In those days a man whose wife was childless would often take a second wife for the purpose of bearing him children to continue the family name and the family line. It was never sanctioned by God. It was not God’s intent or plan, but God did allow it to happen, and in many cases that we can think of in the Old Testament, God did end up bringing great good and glory out of it.

So in this family, ultimately this bigamous marriage led to competition, comparison, jealousy, tension, strife, rivalry. We’re going to pick up with that in the next session and see why all that came about and why God began to move in spite of this negative situation to accomplish His purposes.

But let me just stop here and ask, What’s the situation in your home? What’s the situation in your family that’s not ideal? It’s a cloud over what others may think is your happy, godly little family. What is the point of pain? What is the point of sorrow? What is the point of frustration?

You have a God who is willing and able to get involved with you in that situation and to bring glory to Himself out of it. It may have been through your own fault in sin, or it may have been circumstances over which you had no control; but God is able by His grace to redeem the most hopeless, helpless situation.

Now, He may not change all the circumstances. This marriage remains a bigamous one till the end. But God is able out of those ashes to bring something that is beautiful and will bring Him glory. That’s the hope in this story, and more than that, for you for right now. It’s the hope for your story.

Lord, thank You for Your grace. Thank You for Your mercy. Thank You for putting up with us. And thank You for how You overrule and redeem the losses that have been caused by our sins or the sins of others.

Lord, help us to make right choices so we won’t put ourselves in these kinds of situations. But when we find ourselves in them, help us to turn to You and to find Your purpose and Your plan and to find grace to redeem our lives and those around us. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

Leslie: Aren’t you glad God gives grace, allowing imperfect wives and imperfect husbands to love each other for His glory? Nancy will pick back up tomorrow with the story of Hannah, a woman whose marriage wasn’t ideal.

We hear from so many women struggling in their marriages, and we also hear about God’s power to improve and restore marriages. Nancy often asks listeners to take the 30-day challenge.

Here’s how it works: For 30 days you refuse to say anything negative (that means anything negative) to your husband or about your husband. And then be sure to say something encouraging to him every day.

Recently a woman wrote who’d been taking the challenge. She’d been married less than a year but wrote, “For the last few months I’ve been focusing only on the negative things about my husband, which has been causing me to regret getting married.”

She then described her participation in the challenge and said, “This is the best thing that could have happened for my marriage. I feel like I’m falling in love with my husband all over again. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this challenge. I even sent the challenge by email to several of my married girlfriends, and they love it.”

Well, I hope you’re up for this challenge and that you’ll write and let us know how it goes. Now think about this. We hear from women all the time telling us what an impact their words have on their husbands. Well, what would happen if you allowed God to encourage and speak to you every day for 30 days?

I hope you’ll find out and order a copy of Nancy’s workbook, A 30-Day Walk with God in the Psalms. Each day you’ll study a psalm, answer some questions to get a lot out of the passage, and then think through how it applies to your life and use the psalm as a springboard to prayer. It could be just what you need to invigorate your quiet time.

We’ll send you A 30-Day Walk with God in the Psalms when you make a donation to the ministry of Revive Our Hearts. Just visit ReviveOurHearts.com or ask for it when you call 800-569-5959.

Thank you to everyone who gave so generously in December. The end of the year is always a crucial time for us, and we always need to hear from you. Thank you for responding, for helping us meet our matching challenge, and for partnering with us as we move into a new year.

Well, does it ever seem to you like godly people struggle while sinners find great success? Why does God allow this kind of unfairness? We’ll talk about that tomorrow. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

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