Over the years, God has given me the privilege of listening to and counseling many people in their times of distress. I counsel more as a friend. I realize that I don’t always do it right for I am often full of my own opinions and judgments. I have also had the privilege of counseling my own children many times over the past two decades. I find that because I think I know them well, I usually come to a situation with my strong, pre-formed “mompinions” which are not always right because I usually want to fix their situations or even fix them. After all, I am the parent aren’t I? And isn’t it their job to listen to me anyway?
God taught me a good lesson through my BSF study this week. As I was reading Hannah’s story in 1 Samuel 1, I was amazed at Eli the priest’s attitude towards Hannah and I felt there were some lessons I could take away from his interaction with this extremely distressed woman.
After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.” 1 Samuel 1: 9-11
Hannah was a barren woman. Even though her husband Elkanah loved her dearly, she felt deep rejection by God and man. Her pain was real and her suffering consumed her body, mind and soul. Her tears were her food day and night. Yet, despite her pitiable circumstances where God seemed to have turned His back on her by not blessing her with a child, Hannah was at the temple, alone in her grief, weeping and crying out to the Lord God Almighty! She was very heartbroken but she didn’t get bitter and cynical. She didn’t go to friends or family. She didn’t even find comfort in her husband’s love and arms. Instead she went to her Creator to ask Him for mercy and made her heartfelt petition to Him alone (she didn’t even voice it aloud for others to hear).
Eli was a priest, a man of spiritual authority at Shiloh, the place where the Ark of the Covenant rested. The book records that Elkanah took his family annually to worship the “Lord of hosts” at this place. “Lord of hosts” refers to Yahweh, the self existent, redemptive God, the glorious King of Israel who commanded angel armies. He was Lord Almighty and Eli was His priest – a position of great spiritual authority and importance.
Step 1 Observation:
Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly…As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard.” 1 Samuel 1: 9b, 12.
Eli was seated near the doorpost of the temple of the Lord and he observed Hannah whose mouth moved without any sound. He made the natural assumption that she was drunk – which was not pleasing to God.
Step 2 – Confrontation and Exhortation:
Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman. And Eli said to her, “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.” 1 Samuel 1: 13b-14.
Eli made a judgement call that she was drunk with wine. As a leader, it was his spiritual responsibility to confront and call out sin in the house of God, so he talked to Hannah about it. Eli did not write her off as worthless, neither did he kick her off the temple premises and he definitely didn’t ignore her to rot in her sin and mess. Instead, he deemed her worthy enough to speak into her life. He chose to take the first steps and confront her with his judgement and wise words of exhortation when he asked her to stop drinking.
Step 3 – Listening:
But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.” 1 Samuel 1: 15-16.
Eli was wrong in his judgement call of Hannah. Instead of walking away in pride, he got off his priestly pedestal humbling himself and gave Hannah a chance to respond to his judgement.
Step 4 – Hearing:
Then Eli answered, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.” And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your eyes.” 1 Samuel 1: 17.
There is a huge chasm between listening and hearing. We might sometimes listen because it’s the polite thing to do or because it’s expected of us, but we often already have our opinions formed and our minds are running a mile a minute with our own thoughts and opinions while the other person is talking. We might feel we already have all the answers. But, hearing a person we are talking to requires us to step into their shoes and to actually feel their pain. Hearing requires a willing and humble heart. Hearing requires us to be in the trenches with the person we counsel. Hearing requires us to understand that we are sinners too, perhaps worse than the one we counsel and that it’s only the grace of God through His act of redemption by stepping into our trenches and giving His life up for us that we are set free. We might have listened but we have heard only when we actually understand what the other person is communicating to us and when we feel their pain. Hearing requires us to lay aside all judgments and to listen with the mind of God. Here Eli acknowledged that he was but a servant of the Almighty God who was the discerner of heart’s and he humbly heard what Hannah had to say. God used her sincere words to soften Eli’s heart. He acknowledged her pain of barrenness and saw her as a woman who was laid bare before her God. His humility vanquished all his judgments!
Step 5 – Blessing or Praying:
“Then Eli answered, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.” And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.” 1 Samuel 1: 17-18a.Eli turned his judgement into a blessing. He told Hannah to go in peace – a much needed comfort when a person is in utter distress. He recognized that peace was her basic need – peace with the Almighty God whom she had come to worship with her husband and whom she was pouring her anxious and aching heart to. Peace was an intangible that only Yahweh could provide for her in the midst of her storm. Eli then blesses her asking God to grant her petition. That simple!
It required great humility for this man of God to admit his wrong to God, to himself and to Hannah, a woman and to change his opinion to a blessing. But this act of humility was God’s way of channeling great blessing on the nation of Israel. God used Eli to bless Hannah who then bore a son, Samuel. She then true to her promise brought her son to be raised by Eli in the temple. Samuel was chosen and anointed by God and God used him to reveal His plans for Israel. Huge blessings flowed from a simple act of humility.
We see all around us how hard it is for those in spiritual leadership and authority (pastors, preachers, evangelists, ministry leaders, counselors, mentors, etc.) to admit their mistakes or misjudgments and willingly humble themselves to change. When a leader hangs tight to their opinions, they could possibly be blocking God’s work and blessings in a mighty way.
Every person has an influence on those around them. We might even have authority over others, perhaps it is our children. We like to always think that we are right. In the Indian context, we have often seen older people pull out the “elder” card requiring the younger ones to submissively accept their opinions. I pray that we will open our hearts to the Lord, repent of our pride and allow Him to soften us so we may humbly listen, hear and bless people around us. Let’s become conduits of grace rather than judgement!
May we learn from Eli so we can bless many Hannah’s bringing God Almighty much glory!