The Marks of a Wonderful Mother

by Skip Heitzig

Would you turn in your Bibles, please, to the book of 1 Samuel chapter 1, 1 Samuel chapter 1. It’s in the Old Testament. If you’re at Genesis, keep going. If you’re at Isaiah, go backwards. 1 Samuel chapter 1. Our purpose today in gathering, first of all, of course, is to honor the Lord and to worship Him supremely. We always gather with the primary intent is to make Jesus great. He already is great, but we want to make much of Him.

Second reason that we gather is to encourage one another. There’s something about getting together and being in each other’s presence and singing the Lord’s music and speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs that brings a sense of encouragement to us. But a third reason we gather today is we want to honor the mothers that are in our midst on this very, very special day. We want to honor moms.

Motherhood is the oldest occupation in the world. There wouldn’t be a world without a mother. And I’m glad that 102 years ago, President Woodrow Wilson decided that this needs to be a national holiday, Mother’s Day.

But even before he did that, there was a woman named Anna Jarvis, who petitioned the celebration of Mother’s Day. And fittingly, the first Mother’s Day celebration in America took place in a church. I like that. And I think that that’s an important thing for churches to do, to honor those women who are mothers, and so we follow suit.

And of course, a mother’s love sets the standard, right. If you want to talk about different degrees of love, you don’t get much higher on Earth than a mother’s love. You’ve heard the old saying, “he has a face that only a mother could love.” Right? You’ve heard that before? That’s a put down. But it says a lot about how great a mother’s love is, right. I mean, mothers just love their children. And children feel special because of it. Of course, we relate to our mothers differently at different age groups. When you’re age four, you might think my mom can do anything.

By the time you’re 12, you’re thinking mom doesn’t know everything. By age 14, you’re already saying mom doesn’t know anything. At age 18, you’re saying mom is so out of step with the times. She’s so backwards. At age 25, though, you’re thinking, well, mom knows a few things. At age 35, you’re thinking, before we decide, let’s get mom’s opinion. At age 45, you’re saying, I wonder what my mom would say about this. And at age 65, you’re saying, I wish I could talk to my mom just one more time.

Some of you are having that feeling this morning. You miss your mom because she’s not on Earth any longer. And am I right? When you have your own children, you suddenly realize how appreciative you need to be to the parents who bore you? You want to call them and tell them, wow, you put up so much patience with me. And you showed so much devotion and so much love. And now, I realize the weight of responsibility of being a parent.

There was a mom pushing her shopping cart through Walmart. Her little girl was in the cart, screaming the entire time. And the mother was saying out loud, now, calm down, Ellen. And it’ll be all right, Ellen. And it’s almost time to go home, Ellen. So one of the Walmart store clerks said to the woman, ma’am, you are to be commended at how patient you are with little Ellen. And the mom looked back at the clerk and said, lady, I’m Ellen. She’s calming herself down. Calm down, Ellen. It’ll be all right, Ellen.

But you know, by the time you’re a grandparent, you look back, you think it was all worth it. In fact, if I would have known how fun it is to be a grandparent, I’d have had grandkids first. Aren’t they the best? Well, we’re in 1 Samuel chapter 1, and we want to look at certain things in this chapter. And let me just say that 1 Samuel as a book is about three great men. It’s about Samuel, the prophet; Saul, the first king of Israel; and David, the subsequent king, who is a man after God’s own heart, the greatest king of Israel. So it’s a book about three great men.

But the book begins with a woman, and a woman who is infertile, but eventually has a son named Samuel, who becomes this prophet. Somebody once said, when God wants to do a great work, He gets hold of a man. But when He wants to do an exceptionally great work, He gets hold of a woman. I like that. And I think there’s plenty of precedent for that, even in the scripture.

Israel’s deliverance from Egypt began with a woman named Jochebed, the mother of Moses, who had the faith to put that little basket with her son down in the river. That’s how it began, with a woman. The story of the lion of King David began with a woman by the name of Ruth. The miraculous preservation of the Jews in Persia was the story of a woman named Esther, who had the kind of faith that she put it on the line. And our salvation in the Gospels begins with a young Jewish woman, a virgin named Mary, who was visited by God.

Now, in 1 Samuel chapter 1, I’d like to show you three attributes of a great mother, three traits that are common to all great moms. And first of all, great mothers have great problems. That needs to be said more. Because sometimes, we think of Bible characters as perfect people without problems. They glow in the dark. They’ve got shiny halos. But people are people, and every life has problems, including her life, the mother of the one who would be the great prophet, Samuel. Let’s look at her problem.

First of all, in verse 1 and 2, she has a problem with infertility. It says, “There was a certain man of Ramathaim-Zophim, say that 10 times really fast, of the mountains of Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah, the son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. And he had two wives. The name of one was Hannah, the name of the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.”

There’s a lot in that verse. There’s a lot of emotion that is in that verse. She had no children. It was the hope of every Jewish couple to have children. It was seen as a blessing from the Lord, because the idea is that you live on in your kids. And they thought, back in those days, the more kids you could have, the better.

Psalm 127, “Children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Happy is the one whose quiver is full of them.” In fact, childlessness was such a terrible stigma that it was seen as an affliction, a curse from God. Look down at verse 11. In her prayer, she made a vow and said, “Oh, Lord, of Hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your maidservant and remember me, and not forget your maidservant but will give your maidservant a male child.” Notice how she talks about her condition. It’s an affliction.

In the book of Genesis, when Jacob’s wife, Leah, finally becomes pregnant, you know what she says. She says, “the Lord has looked upon my affliction.” And then, his other wife, Rachel, because she couldn’t have children but her sister could, says to her husband, give me children or I will die. So that was so ingrained into the psyche of parents thousands of years ago, that even the rabbis, as time went on, had certain sayings, not Biblical, not from the heart of God. But one rabbi even said, “There are seven people who will be excommunicated from God. The first is a Jew who has no wife. And the second is a Jew who has a wife but has no child.”

In fact, did you know if a woman couldn’t bear a son or a daughter, that was grounds for a divorce if within a 10-year period there was no child. Either a divorce, or the husband could be allowed in many of these cultures to marry a second wife. And that’s why we see this man with two wives. Because his first wife, Hannah, was unable to bear. And so Peninnah comes in, and she is able to bear. So we have Hannah, and her first problem is infertility. But she has another problem. She has a rival, and that is Peninnah.

Go back to verse 4. It says, “Whenever the time came for Elkanah to make an offering”, the previous verse tells us that once a year, he went up to Shiloh, where the tabernacle was, at that time the central place of worship, and had a festival, a feast, and made offerings. Whenever the time came for Elkanah to make an offering, he would give portions to Peninnah, his wife, and listen to this, to all her sons and daughters.

Now, just imagine being Hannah, unable to have a single child. And you’ve got another wife in the equation, who has many sons and daughters. It’s hard to even have a meal with the family. It’s hard to go to church with the family. And the worst time was this annual feast, was to be a time of rejoicing, but not for Hannah. It was a time of recoiling for her. It was a time where she felt the most rejected.

And then look at verse 6. And “her rival”, that is Peninnah, “her rival also provoked her severely, to make her miserable because the Lord had closed her womb. And so it was year by year, when she went up to the house of the Lord, that she provoked her. Therefore, she, that is Hannah, wept and did not eat.” Boy, Peninnah, the pest, not only can she have many sons and daughters, but Hannah can have none. And Peninnah goes out of her way to provoke her.

Now, it was obviously very bad for Hannah. But this does give insight into a common problem today, and that is infertility. Infertility affects more women than we might be aware of. It is estimated that one out of every eight couples cannot have children in our country. 12% of the adult population are infertile. That’s 7.3 million Americans. They’ve gone to doctors. They’ve had prayer, anointed with oil, no child. What that means is every Mother’s Day is not a happy day for them. They’re happy to celebrate for others, but there’s that tinge of burden that they carry because they’re infertile. They want it so badly. But they can’t have a child.

Now, I want to tread carefully here but I believe this. Childbearing is part of the sovereignty of God. I don’t know why some can have children and others cannot. I don’t know why there are so many pregnant teenagers while couples who want to have children are unable to in many cases. But I do know this. Your value to God is not based on your ability to reproduce. God loves you because you are made in His image, and you are of great value to Him, whether you can produce a child or not. And I also know this, you’re not alone.

In fact, if you are infertile, you’re in a long list of women of faith who are infertile. Here’s a little list, Sarah, Abraham’s wife was infertile; Rebecca, Isaac’s wife, infertile; Rachel, Jacob’s other wife, infertile; Ruth, the wife of Boaz, in her first marriage unable to produce children; Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s mother, infertile. Now, do you notice something here?

That in the scripture, the most childless women are often the righteous women, the matriarchs of faith, women of great faith while many of those who can easily conceive were not so righteous. So it doesn’t mean that if you have children, you are a better person or you’re godlier than somebody else, and that if you’re infertile that you’re not. In fact, if you’re unable to bear a child, it doesn’t mean you’re cursed. I believe it means you are kept. You are reserved for other blessings. Now, hear me out, I can think of a few.

Number one, God may still be preparing you right now to be a parent in the future. Just because the doctor says you are unable to have a child doesn’t mean you’re unable to have a child. You know how many babies I’ve dedicated from this pulpit for parents who were told, you’ll never have a child. And now they’re on their third or fourth. So God may be preparing you now, even though you’re not able to bear right now.

Second, He may be preparing you to be foster parents or adoptive parents. Folks, there are more kids needing parents out there than parents wanting children. And you would not even have thought that until an event like infertility comes into the relationship. And now, you are open to it and wonderfully so.

And then, number three, here’s a possibility. He may just want you available for a very specific work that having children would preclude. That is, it would be difficult for that special calling God has on your life if you were to have children. You don’t know that until the Lord reveals that to you. Great mothers, then, have great problems. That’s number one. That’s the first attribute, trait, character trait.

The second trait, great mothers keep great priorities. As we look at this woman named Hannah, we understand that her relationship with God and her husband and her son, whom she will have, are right on target. Let’s look at her priorities. First of all, with her God, verse 9. “So Hannah arose after they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh. Now, Eli the priest was sitting on the seat by the doorpost of the tabernacle of the Lord. And she was in bitterness of soul and prayed to the Lord and wept in anguish.

And then she made a vow and said, Lord of Hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of your maidservant and remember me and do not forget your maidservant, but will give your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head.” That’s a Nazarite vow, a special vow. And it happened. “As she continued praying before the Lord that Eli watched her mouth. And Hannah spoke in her heart. Only her lips moved but her voice was not heard. Therefore, Eli thought she was drunk.” Any good priest, right, would think that.

So Eli said to her, “how long will you be drunk.” He was so encouraging. “Put your wine away from you.” And Hannah answered and said, “No, my lord, I am a woman of sorrowful spirit. I have drunk neither wine or intoxicating drink. But I have poured out my soul before the Lord.” What a snapshot, her hot tears mingled with her heartfelt prayers. And some of you know what that pain is like. When there are tears in our eyes, there’s travail in our hearts. And this woman poured all of that before God, interesting.

There’s no record at all in the text that she complains to her husband. This is your fault, or give me children or I die. She’s not complaining to her husband. And there’s nothing in the text that says she’s wanting to fight back with Peninnah, her rival, who was provoking her, at all. But what she does is she takes her sorrow of heart, and she pours it out before the Lord. And look at verse 11, what she calls God, Oh, Lord of Hosts. That’s a frequent designation for God in the Bible.

Do you know what it means, the Lord of Hosts? It literally means, You are the master commander of heaven’s armies. She is appealing to God, based on God’s character of authority and sovereignty. He is powerful. And based on your power, as the commander of heaven’s armies, I ask you this. I give you this request. Notice, also, in verse 12, it said, “As it happened, as she continued praying before the Lord.” Mark that, this wasn’t a quick little popcorn prayer. Let me just shoot one up and then I’m done. She prayed and continually prayed and repeated that request before God.

And then, look at verse 17, Eli answered, and said, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition, which you’ve asked of Him.” Now, that’s a benediction. That’s a blessing. That’s a well-wish statement. In other words, I’m not saying you’re going to have children. But I hope you do. I hope God will bless you in that. Go in peace. Verse 18, “And she said, let your maidservant find favor in your sight. So the woman went her way and ate. And her face was no longer sad.” It’s interesting, isn’t it? She goes in sad. She comes out glad.

She goes in with sorrow of heart. She leaves that time of prayer with the peace that passes all understanding. “Let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts.” So all of that to say, here is a woman who has a real relationship with God. It’s not just a yearly offering. She’s not just going through the rituals of going to church and… no, no, no, this lady has a depth in her relationship. And can I just say, on Samuel’s behalf, what a great mom he has.

What a great heritage Samuel would have. He has a praying mother. And praying mothers do more than just about anyone else. Praying mothers are greater than any politician running for office. You wonder who’s going to change our country. Get a mother to pray. Get a group of mothers to pray. Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States, said no one is poor who has a godly mother. And he remarked, I remember my mother’s prayers. And they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life. And one of the prayers that I pray is God, give your church godly mothers. Why? Because you can’t pass on to others what you don’t have yourself. So here’s her relationship with her God, the priority of pouring out whatever’s on her heart in her life to God.

Let’s now look at her relationship with her husband. In verse 4, it says, “whenever the time came for Elkanah to make an offering, he would give portions to Peninnah, his wife, and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he would give a double portion for he loved Hannah, although the Lord had closed her womb.”

I’m going to have you skip down to verse 8. Then, Elkanah said, her husband, said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? And why is your heart grieved? Am I not better to you than 10 sons?” Now, I don’t know how helpful that last statement was. Honestly, there’s a little bravado in that statement, am I right. I mean, she’s just broken-hearted because she can’t have a child. And he comes along and says, baby, you got me. What could be better than that? I’m like better than 10 kids, maybe even 11 on a good day. OK, whatever.

But aside from that, I want you to notice, there is an understanding between Hannah and her husband, Elkanah. And there is great love between them. Verse 5 explicitly says, he loved Hannah, gave her a double portion. You know, in the Middle East, when you want to honor somebody, you give them more food. You give them a double portion.

You might remember that Joseph, when all of his brothers came to him when he was prime minister in Egypt, and little Benjamin, his little brother, was there, he gave Benjamin five times more portion of food than the rest of the brothers. It’s just an indication of love and of favor. Oh, by the way, gals, in the Middle East, in many Middle Eastern cultures, the larger the woman gets, the more there is to love. That’s how many cultures in the Middle East see it.

So it’s like, sweetie, I love you so much, have twice as much. Just remind your husband of that if you put on a couple pounds. Honey, there’s just more to love, OK, it’s Biblical. I better move on. Here’s a couple, they understand each other. Here’s a husband, who is dwelling with his wife with understanding, like Peter writes. Somebody said marriage is like a long trip in a tiny rowboat. If one passenger starts to rock the boat, the other has to steady it, or they both go to the bottom together. I think that’s good. I think that’s actually a helpful little picture of marriage. You’ve got to steady that boat.

You know, people say love is blind. Well, if love is blind, marriage is the eye opener. And you need to pour in understanding and love and stability for that relationship to go long-term. And there has to be a love for God and a love for the husband and wife. One teenager said, quote, “I wish my parents had known that unless marriage partners truly love one another, there is little they can teach their own children about the love of God or Christian living,” close quote. You know, I’ve discovered kids love to see their parents love each other. They might think it’s mushy and gross and all that.

But I remember, clearly, when I would kiss Lenya in front of Nate. And he would go, oh, that’s gross. And then he’d go, do it again. Kiss mom, go ahead. And he’d go, oh, man, you know. But they just love the idea. There is such a stability when those parents love each other. By the way, that’s the best gift that you can give your kids. Love God and love your spouse in front of them, in front of them. So great women have great priorities. And she has a priority toward God, toward her husband, and toward her family. Verse 19, “Then they rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord and returned and came to their house at Ramah. And Elkanah knew his wife, and the Lord remembered her.”

That is, they had physical, conjugal, marital relationships. “And so it came to pass in the process of time, that Hannah conceived and bore a son and called his name, Samuel, the Hebrew for hearing, God hears, Samuel, saying, because I have asked for him from the Lord. Now, the man Elkanah and all of his house went up to offer to the Lord the yearly sacrifice and his vow, but Hannah did not go up. For she said to her husband, not until the child is weaned, then I will take him that he may appear before the Lord and stay there, remain there forever. And Elkanah her husband said to her, do what seems best to you. Wait until you have weaned him, only let the Lord establish His word. So the woman stayed and nursed her son until she had weaned him.”

In those days, a weaning wasn’t a couple months or a couple years. It was several years, could be five to seven years or more. A child was weaned for a long time. And the idea of weaning isn’t just physical nurturing or breastfeeding. The idea, the word means “to deal fully with.” And it has the idea of spiritual training as well as physical nurturing, spiritual training. You remember that Paul wrote to Timothy, and he said, I know that you, from childhood, have been trained in the holy scriptures. You learned them from your mother and your grandmother. They weaned their children physically as well as spiritually.

So when God gave Hannah this little child Samuel, she was dedicated to raising that child, even though it took several years, even though that means no, I can’t go up and enjoy the feast. There’s a lot of hobbies I can’t do. There’s a lot of activities I am unable to do. Here’s a season in my life where I am dedicated to nurturing. It’s my priority to train my child. Why? Because she knows she’s going to drop him off at the tabernacle. And he’s going to live there and grow up there as a priest and a Nazarite.

But folks, it’s those first few years that are the most important. A British psychiatrist by the name of John Bowlby said the first five years of a child’s life are the most impressionable years. He writes, and I quote, “the young child’s hunger for his mother’s love and presence is as great as his hunger for food. Her absence inevitably generates a powerful sense of loss and anger,” close quote.

The Jews had a proverb that said God couldn’t be everywhere so He created mothers. I appreciate the sentiment. I don’t agree theologically. I know God is everywhere. But I love the idea that God’s representative everywhere are mothers. God couldn’t be everywhere so He created mothers. So here is a woman with great problems but with great priorities toward God, toward her husband, toward her family. And here’s the third trait. We’ll end with this. Great mothers make great plans.

So look at verse 24. “Now when she had weaned him, she took him up with her with three bulls, an ephah of flour, a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the Lord in Shiloh. And the child was young. And they slaughtered a bull and brought the child to Eli. And she said, oh, my lord, as your soul lives, my lord, I am the woman who stood by you here praying to the Lord. For this child, I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition which I asked of Him. Therefore, I also have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he shall be lent to the Lord. So they worshiped the Lord there.”

This is the launching. This is what she promised and planned she would do if the Lord gave her a son. I realize she said a child is on loan from God to me to parent, to nurture, to build, to train. And then, I will lend him back to God for His purpose. Now, here’s something you need to know, historically, contextually. In our English Bible, you have the Book of Judges, followed by the book of Ruth, followed by the book of 1 Samuel. So right before 1 Samuel is the book of Ruth, not in the Hebrew Bible.

In the Hebrew Bible, it’s the Book of Judges, followed immediately by 1 Samuel. In other words, 1 Samuel’s stage is the Book of Judges. It’s that period of time where Israel was at its lowest. They were the coldest spiritually. They were the most morally debauched. In fact, the end of the Book of Judges said there was no king in Israel, and everyone did what was right in his own eyes. During that period when Israel was at its lowest level, God’s plan and this woman’s plan with God was to have a child who would come on the scene as a prophet, be used as a priest under Eli, having taken a Nazarite vow, and impact the nation so that he would be the king maker. He would select Saul and then King David.

And she planned for it. She made a vow to dedicate her son to God. Hannah realized that nothing we have is really ours anyway. It’s not. You’re a steward of whatever you have. You might think you own it, but you’ll leave it to somebody. You’re just touching it now. And that includes your children. God gives us children that we might pour into them and then launch them. My favorite, or let me rephrase that, one of my favorites, because I will say “my favorite” about a lot of people, but one of my favorite Bible expositors is a guy named G. Campbell Morgan. He’s been, I think he died before I was born.

But I love his writings. I love his legacy because he taught through the scriptures to his congregation. He believed in that. And he was a great preacher. He was called the “prince of preachers.” He pastored a church in London. I’ve been to his church. He had several children, four boys, all of which became preachers. See G. Campbell Morgan, famous preacher, four preacher sons, as well as some daughters. At a family reunion, a friend asked one of the boys, who’s the best preacher in your family, thinking he might say my dad or me. He said, my mother.

She’s the best preacher in our family. Even G. Campbell Morgan, himself, said, my love for the Bible is maternal. I first learned Bible stories at the foot of my mother. And then, he would hear those Bible stories, he would go into his sister’s room, line up the dolls on her bed, and preach a sermon to the dolls, the text that mom taught. She was the preacher. Now, as we close here, and you consider these three things that great mothers have great problems, they have great priorities, and they make great plans. I want to leave you with three takeaway points, three things to linger in your hearts as you go. If you write them down, you’ll be better served.

Number one, you are a value to God whether you have children or not. God loves you for who you are, not for what you do. That’s first.

Number two, when you have pain, God has a plan. When you have pain, God has a plan. When you are at your worst, God is at His work. He’s up to something. You have to find out what it is.

Number three, this is where you come in. You need a set of priorities that you’re going to live your life with, personally toward God and relationally toward others. If you want your kids raised in a Christian home, then make sure that Christ is at home in your heart. Don’t be like that family who brought their child to be dedicated at church, their little baby.

And after the church service, they were driving home. Baby had been dedicated. And the oldest son, Johnny, in the backseat was crying, was wailing, and carrying on. Finally, his mother said, Johnny, what is wrong. And Johnny said, it’s that pastor. That pastor said that he wanted us to be brought up in a Christian home, but I want to stay with you guys. Oops, the honesty of a child preached a powerful sermon to parents.

Father, thank you for our mothers. Thank you for these women who are mothers. Thank you for those women who are not yet mothers but planning or hoping to be or soon to be. We pray a special blessing on those who have not been able to have children, that you would comfort and direct their steps and show them your promises and your plan. We pray for those who have lost moms. And we even pray for those dads who have lost a wife and have raised or are raising their children in that very unique capacity. Strengthen them and bless them, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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