Grief, Weeping, Sorrow
1 Samuel 1:8–10
1st & 2nd Samuel Lesson #009
April 14, 2015
“Father, we are very thankful that we have the privilege of freedom that we’ve had in this nation for over 200 years to freely proclaim the truth of Your Word, to focus on Your Word, and for much of that time it was Your Word, the Bible, that laid the foundation for thinking, the foundation for society, the foundation for economics that established and provided for the prosperity of this nation. That is the basis for freedom – that those who are in line with reality can be free. But the more we drift from the truth of creation, the truth of Your Word, the more we drift into fantasy and into wishful optimism that is divorced from reality, the more we become slaves to our own neurotic and psychotic fantasies. Father, unfortunately we’ve elected a lot of people to public office who are psychotic in the sense that the old definition that the neurotic builds castles in the air and the psychotic moves in and the psychologist charges the rent and that is exactly what has happened. We have the inmates running the asylum. Father, we pray You’d protect us, provide good leaders.
“We pray that You’d provide sound military leaders that are fully aware of the kinds of things that are going on at our borders and can protect us because each year these events get more disturbing. But Father, our job is to focus on You. We are to be a light in the midst of a wicked and perverse generation. We are to be hopeful, optimistic, not unrealistic or irrational, but optimistic because we know that there is a plan and even though the short term may include some things that are not pleasant, in the long-term we have victory, and You will be glorified. Help us tonight as we study to focus on some challenging topics and things that people don’t always talk about or think about very clearly. Help us to think clearly and precisely and biblically. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
We’re in 1 Samuel 1, and we’re focusing on Hannah and her situation, condition, and emotional reaction to what is going on in her life in terms of the fact that she is barren. This isn’t something that just happened once. If anyone has ever been, whether you are a man or a woman, where you have dealt with infertility, this is something that goes on for any number of years. We live in a world today where there is a lot of technology to address these issues, but it still is stressful for a lot of people. They go through a lot of testing. They go through all sorts of different things medically; and by God’s grace, because of technology, often today they are able to have children. But that wasn’t the case in the ancient world. There was a focus, especially upon women having children, not because they were a sexist patriarchal culture, although that’s the women’s lib interpretation, the feminists’ interpretation of Scripture; but it is that when God created male and female, He created both male and female in God’s image, but He had designated roles for men and women, and they are not restrictive.
That has been abused and distorted a lot, but just because it’s been abused and distorted doesn’t mean you throw the baby out with the bath water and say there are no role distinctions, and there’s nothing significant about the difference between maleness and femaleness. God created them male and female. Part of the role of the female, especially since the fall, is to be the seed bearer. That term, as we saw, is a messianic term from the very announcement that God made in Genesis 3:15, that the Seed of the woman would defeat the seed of the serpent. That’s why you had these genealogies in the Bible. They’re tracing the Seed from Adam to Noah, from Noah to Terah, who is Abraham’s father, from Terah down through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and then the twelve sons. You see the other lineages that trace the line of Judah and trace the line of the Levitical priests. The line of Judah of course goes down to David. The line of David then through the kings is traced, and eventually to the birth of Jesus the Messiah. That’s the purpose of those genealogies that bore everybody. They are some of the most important Scripture because they trace the line of the Seed.
In Israel in each generation there’s this expectation that maybe this is the generation and that “the woman” is going to give birth to “a Son.” There is a Biblical, a spiritual, a legitimate pressure and a legitimate expectation there that women will be fruitful and perhaps give birth to the Messiah. When a woman was not able to have children, when she was infertile, this was a significant problem, and it is intensified with Hannah because her husband needed to have an heir, have children to whom or through whom his inheritance, his property in the Promised Land would pass on. This is all anchored in the language of Leviticus and the language of Joshua that the property rights, the ownership of the land that every Jew, every Israelite had, that ownership of land was not to go outside of the clan, outside of the family. This was extremely important. So Elkanah married a second wife so that he could have children. He loved Hannah dearly, but she is berated, ridiculed, and hassled all the time by her rival Peninnah. It’s interesting that word “rival” is also another word for concubine. A concubine was a rival, an enemy.
We see Hannah’s response that is mentioned several times. I ended last time bringing us up to the doctrine of the barren woman. But before we get there, let me just anchor us back into the flow of thought here that in 1 Samuel 1–7, the Lord is preparing to change the direction of Israel. It has been on such a downhill slide into apostasy, moral relativism and self-destruction (slide 3), that now they don’t even care about being delivered from their enemies. It is a lot like America today. In America, for the most part, many Americans are so concerned about their personal – as Francis Schaeffer said it 30 years ago – their personal peace and prosperity. They are concerned about their own stuff. They’re concerned about their iPhone working. They’re concerned about all the different details in life and the pictures and selfies they are taking, and all these other things, and getting a career and everything, that they are oblivious to what goes on outside of their immediate space. We have a nation like that, that’s oblivious to what is going on outside the boundaries, the borders of our state.
We’ve got leaders who have ignored and forgotten and have rejected the concept of a national entity and the importance of establishing borders. If you don’t establish your borders, then you lose your identity. Just bring it down to your house level. You’re living in your house. You’re just going to open the doors. Anybody can come in. Anybody can sleep upstairs, downstairs, sleep on the couch. Anybody can live here. Anybody can cook here. We’re just going to open it up to anybody. Well it doesn’t work on a microcosm, and it doesn’t work on a macrocosm. But when you have a culture that has completely lost its sense of absolutes and identity, and right and wrong, then they don’t care about those things anymore. Israel didn’t care about it. They didn’t even turn to God before Samson and say “Lord, deliver us” as they had under the time of Othniel, the time of Ehud, and the time of Deborah, and the time of Gideon, and the time of Jephthah. They had all cried out to the Lord for deliverance, but they didn’t do that with the Philistines. They were willing just to bow their head and take it. This is where we find ourselves.
But in contrast to the Israelites at that time, we see a distinction in Hannah; and in 1 Samuel 1–7, God is going to deliver them even though they haven’t cried out for it. And that is grace, as I pointed out last time. We see that the way He is going to do that is through Hannah (slide 3). He’s going to honor Hannah’s faith by answering her prayers. We see an elevated sense of who Hannah is here. She is held up. Things are said about her, and things that she does here in 1 Samuel 1 are distinctive. No other woman in the Old Testament does what she does. She is not pictured negatively because she is reacting emotionally and grieving and in sorrow and in distress of soul. We’re going to look at that under the doctrine of weeping and grieving and sorrowing as we go forward. The Lord is not berating her because she responds that way, because unlike everybody, else she’s got a problem of infertility. What’s everybody else in the country doing? They are headed off to the Baal and the Ashteroth, and they are going to the fertility gods and goddesses and using all the little pagan techniques to try to have children.
Hannah turns to the Lord of Hosts in order to find a solution to her problem. This is what we see here. The Lord opens Hannah’s womb in 1 Samuel 1:1–20. As we’ve gone through this, we’ve seen that He has closed Hannah’s womb to prepare the nation through a gracious miraculous birth. That is going to be the birth of Samuel. We see that she has a response (slide 4). Her rival would provoke her. She has serious people testing. Some of us go through serious people testing. They are trying to always push your buttons. Here they irritate Hannah, anger her, and so she is going to be grieved. Having grief, this concept of sorrow, is not in and of itself a sin. I just want to reiterate this. Some of us have got the idea that if you have certain emotions, they are sin. Let me disabuse you of that. Emotion isn’t a sin, and having certain emotions isn’t inherently sinful. The Bible talks about jealousy. Jealousy can be a sin if it is self-centered, but God also uses the same term to refer to Himself. Okay, so we have a lot of these terms that are used in certain contexts that can be sinful, and in other context they can’t.
The Lord Jesus Christ Who is absolutely perfect in hypostatic union – He never sinned, but He was tested in all points as we are. Yet one of the ways in which we are tested is by our own emotions. Having the emotion isn’t a sin. It’s responding to that test from that emotion that’s the sin. Jesus, (slide 5) on the night before He went to the Cross, is sorrowful, LUPEO (lupeó), a word that is used again and again and again to describe grief, sorrow, what we might even refer to today as depression and sometimes pain. In Matthew 26:27 (slide 6) as Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane, He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. There is a certain anguish of soul in the anticipation of the perfect Son of God bearing the sin of the world. That’s a preview of where we are going to get before the class is over with tonight. That brings us up to where we were last time, and then I want to cover the doctrine of the barren woman. I’ve covered this in the past. I’ve expanded it a little bit with some new information this time, so we’re going to go through these details.
The Doctrine of the Barren Woman (slide 7)
Bearing children was the sign of God’s greatest blessing in the Old Testament. Now some people may not like children. Some people may not want to be a mother or father, but the Word of God clearly states that it is God’s plan and purpose for marriage to produce children, that the family is the training ground for the next generation in a nation. If the family breaks down in terms of training the next generation, then the nation will breakdown. Consequently, if the marriage breaks down, and there are failures in the marriage, then the family will fragment, and then the nation will fragment. And when we push it back to the first divine institution of individual responsibility and people give up being personally responsible and accountable to God for their actions or even being responsible or accountable to anyone for their actions, then this is going to destroy the second divine institution of marriage. Hello? Do you see the connection? We’re breaking down, and we’ve broken down the first divine institution. The second divine institution has just been decimated, and that has led to the breakdown of family.
Now we’re getting into a situation where we are witnessing the redefinition of the family by legislative decree as we’re going to change the definition of marriage to include same-sex marriage. Once you change the definition of marriage by legislative decree, you necessarily and consequently will legally change the definition of the family, and the family will be defined by the government. Once the government starts defining what makes a family and who has responsibility for the rearing of children, then that will be the end of the nation because that will lead to the complete fragmentation and destruction of the next generation. This is already happening in Canada. It is happening in England, and it’s beginning to happen here in the United States. This is fundamentally legally what the problem is with redefining marriage. It is that you have a host of unintended consequences that will reverberate throughout society. This is something we all need to be very much aware of. But the Bible elevates having children.
Psalm 127:3 (slide 7) says, “Behold, children are a heritage (an inheritance, a possession) from the Yahweh, the fruit of the womb is a reward.” So we’re looking at children from a divine viewpoint as a reward. I see these little balloons over some people’s heads, and I can read those thoughts. They say, “my child’s a reward? Boy, I’m not so sure.” That’s because they are sinners, and we have problems with sinners. And we all have our individual volition, and that can be a problem. But the way God planned it is that those children are a reward. They are a blessing to a couple to prepare for the next generation. We have to look at this thing in the big picture. “The fruit of the womb is a reward.” God said this. I didn’t. If you quarrel with Him, you can take this up with Him, and you can go stand in the other line when you get to heaven. I think there are going to be three lines in heaven: Line 1 is going to be just a very short line and those are the people who want to talk to Jesus. Line 2 is going to be a really long line, and it’s really split into two parts. It’s the folks who have something to say to Adam and to Eve. It’s going to be all women in the Eve line, and they are all going to be talking to her and saying – you know what you did to us? Line 3 are the few people who want to talk to God about – “you know, there are some things like this that I am not quite so sure were really true in the Word – I just want to have a little conversation about this.” This could probably go on for the first couple of millennia before God straightens everybody out – anyway just joking.
Psalm 127:3b-4, “The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior.” Arrows are how the warrior impacts and destroys the enemy. The way parents should view their children is that they are training and rearing their children to send them out in war against the cosmic system and the culture around us that is pagan. That’s how you change the culture. You have children, and you train them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and then send them out into the battle. They are “arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth.” That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have children when you get old. That is not what this is saying. Don’t read things into this. Psalm 127:5, “Happy (blessed) is the man who has his quiver full of them; they shall not be ashamed, but shall speak with their enemies in the gate.” It gives prestige, power, and influence in the culture.
So with Hannah, her barrenness and the miraculous conception and birth would have reminded her of what happened with the matriarchs of Israel, with Sara, Rebekah, and Rachel – that God divinely intervened and changed the course of history through the matriarchs of Israel, and God is going to divinely intervene in her life and change the course of Israel’s history. As we look at this, we have to work our way through what some of the Scripture says. One problem some people have, and the disciples had this problem with the blind man in John 9, they said who sinned? This man or his parents? What was Jesus’ response? Neither one of them. He’s blind from birth for the glory of God, and then He healed him. We have this superficial view that if something isn’t the way it ought to be, if a woman isn’t able to have children, that this is somehow a punishment for their sin. That is not what the Scripture is saying. It is not that they did something wrong.
The first point (slide 8): The significance of barrenness is not some sin on the part of the woman who is barren. It is reflective of something much greater. There were certainly many other barren women in Scripture. The question we should ask is, why are these six that are mentioned in Scripture mentioned? What’s the significance of these six? There are a lot of interesting things we can say about them, but we have to remember a biblical framework here, and that is that “fruitfulness” was a divine command. It is a blessing from God according to Psalm 127:3-5, but fruitfulness was also a divine command. Before Adam and Eve ever sinned (slide 9), from day one that they were created, Genesis 1:22, “God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters and the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.’ ” That was related to man and the woman. They were to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. That was their original mandate. God intervened, as we’re going to see, in barrenness. God intervenes a lot in the reproductive cycle. God didn’t allow them to reproduce initially because it was time for the test. I don’t think the test took all that long. Frankly, I think they probably fell pretty quickly. We all want to read some time into there, but lengthy time periods in Genesis 1–3 never occurred to any theologians or Christians until evolution came on the scene and historical geology said that somehow we need to have a lot of time here. Before that, nobody really thought that there was a lot of time between Genesis 1 and Genesis 3. That’s just the influence of paganism.
Genesis 9:1, “Be fruitful and multiply.”
Genesis 1:22, “Be fruitful and multiply” is a command for the animals.
Genesis 1:28, “Be fruitful and multiply” is the one for the man and woman.
Genesis 9:1 and Genesis 9:7, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” So it is repeated again to Noah when they got off the boat. So they’ve got eight of them, and He said now go out, “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” He repeats it again. So twice in the Noahic Covenant God says, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” Did God say don’t do that anymore? No. What is the sign of that covenant? The rainbow. What else was in the covenant? Capital punishment. What else was in the covenant? Prime rib, steak, good stuff. You can now eat meat. As long as you can see a rainbow, we eat meat; we execute capital criminals; and we’re fruitful and multiply. That hasn’t been rolled back yet.
The second point (slide 10): In some specific cases God intervened and closed the wombs of some women. The Bible isn’t saying that whenever a woman is infertile, that God has closed her womb. You can’t extrapolate. That is a logical fallacy, to make that kind of extrapolation. What the Scriptures do say is that in these specific incidences, God did intervene and close the womb.
In Genesis 20:18, we have the case of Sara when Abraham said “,”this is my sister instead of my wife and she goes into the harem of Abimelech. We’re told that God closed the wombs of all the women in the harem. That is one way in which God got Abimelech’s attention. Nobody was getting pregnant. That meant she had to be there for a little while, not just a couple of days, because you have to be aware of the fact that nobody is getting pregnant anymore.
Genesis 30:2, “And Jacob’s anger was aroused against Rachel, and he said, ‘Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?’ ” The point of that verse is God is the One who closed the womb of Rachel. These are unusual circumstances, and those two, plus Hannah, are the only places in the Bible where it specifically says God closed their wombs, although providentially it’s probably true for the others as well.
In the third point (slide 11): Scripture makes an issue out of the infertility of six women: first, Sara, the wife of Abraham, Genesis 11:30.
Second, Rebekah, the wife of Isaac, Genesis 25:21. Third, Rachel, the wife of Jacob, Genesis 29:31. Those are the three matriarchs of Israel. What is going on here? Well as we’ll see, this is God showing that He is miraculously giving birth to the nation Israel. He is intervening in human history to bring forth new life in these dead wombs. What is involved in that is really remarkable, especially with Sara. I heard an obstetrician talk about this one time. Everything that would be necessary to rejuvenate a woman’s uterus if she had been far past the age of childbearing, gone through menopause, the elasticity of the womb, the elasticity of the skin, all the different things biologically that had to happen – this was just a phenomenal miracle for Sara to become pregnant. It was pretty close to that for every one of these other women. So we have Sara, Rebekah, and Rachel. The next time this is mentioned is with the mother of Samson and Hannah. As I pointed out in the introduction, there are a lot of interesting comparisons and contrasts made between Samson and Samuel and this is one of them.
Then with the mother of Samson, Judges 13:2, the Angel of the Lord appears and says, “You’re going to have a child and he’s going to be a Nazarite from birth.” This is a divine command. Hannah, in 1 Samuel 1, prays that God would give her a son, and she makes a vow that if God would give her this son, then he will be a Nazarite from birth. There is a contrast there. The child that is born to the mother of Samson, is a failure in his role as a judge; whereas, Samuel is a tremendous success and blessing, and is the one who transforms Israel. There is no other mention until we get to the New Testament and we have Elisabeth who is the wife of Zachariah, and the mother of John the Baptist, Luke 1:7, and she’s probably pretty close to past the years of childbirth herself, and Gabriel announces to Zachariah that she is going to give birth. She becomes pregnant, conceives, and gives birth to John the Baptist. Each of these individuals are significant in the history of Israel.
But I think there are some other elements to this that are going on, but those are the six that we have in Scripture. I think they are all types in some sense of the virgin womb of Mary because Mary has not had sexual relations with any man, and yet where there is no life, there is “the Life,” the One who is the way, the truth and the life, Who comes from her. They all depict the fact that God is the One who can bring life where there is no life.
Fourth: barrenness was considered a reproach (slide 12). We don’t quite understand that in our culture. You go back maybe four or five generations and you would, but we don’t quite orient to this anymore in our culture. Ever since the early 60s when the birth control pill came along, we’ve lost the sense of the importance of reproducing ourselves culturally, and the generation coming up seems to be even less inclined toward reproduction. When you study the demographics of the United States (U.S.), if it weren’t for the Hispanics, who are having four, five, or six children, and the Moslems in the U.S., who are having a lot of children, we would be in a negative population growth climb just like most of Europe is. We would be in self-destruction. That’s what happens when you are not producing enough children to even maintain your current population. Barrenness was considered a reproach.
Genesis 30:23, “And she conceived and bore a son.” This is talking about Rachel, “God has taken away my reproach.” This is the word cherpa, which means a reproach, a disgrace, or contempt. A woman who could not have children was viewed with contempt by people. She couldn’t fulfill her role. She was not who she should be. There was a stigma attached to that.
Luke 1:25, this is Elisabeth, “Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
Fifth point (Slide 13): the absence of barren women in Israel indicated a sign of Israel’s spirituality and divine blessing. By contrast, the presence of barren women would indicate Israel’s carnality and God’s judgment upon the nation. We have several verses here that are significant:
Exodus 23:26, “There shall be no one miscarrying or barren in your land; I will fulfill the number of your days.” This is the promise of God to the Jews at Mt. Sinai after they’ve come out of Egypt, that this is the way that God is going to bless them, that “there will be no one miscarrying or barren in your land.”
In Genesis 35:11 we read, “Also God said to him: ‘I am God Almighty. Be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall proceed from you.’ ” God is talking to Jacob, “shall proceed from you, and kings shall come from your body.” This is anticipating what will come from Israel. The command to Israel was to be fruitful and multiply. This is Israel doing their job.
(Slide 14) Leviticus 26:3–4, God gives the condition in verse 3, “If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments, and perform them, then I will give you rain (productivity, fertility) in its season, the land shall yield its produce (productivity, fertility), and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit (productivity, fertility). Leviticus 26:9 “For I will look on you favorably and make you fruitful, multiply you and confirm My covenant with you.” The productivity of the womb was a sign of God’s blessing in the nation.
Deuteronomy 7:14, “You shall be blessed above all peoples; there shall not be a male or female barren among you or among your livestock.”
In Israel, being barren was really a problem. This is a major issue, and it is a sign of the spiritual failure of the nation.
Sixth point (Slide 15): The barren womb in these women pictures the emptiness and lifelessness of Israel specifically, and mankind in general. It pictures them as being spiritually nonproductive, and spiritually barren. This is only going to be fulfilled ultimately in the kingdom. This is seen in prophecy in Isaiah 54:1, “ ’Sing, O barren, you who have not borne! Break forth into singing, and cry aloud, you who have not labored with child! For more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married women,’ says the Lord.” It is a prophecy related to their productivity in the kingdom.
Seventh (Slide 16); In each case of these six women, God miraculously brings forth life where there is death. This is a picture ultimately of regeneration. God can transform death into life. God can transform hopelessness into hope. God can bring light into darkness. But only God can do it. It is a great sign of hope for the nation when this takes place. When Hannah, who is barren, is able to conceive and give birth, this is a time of great rejoicing because Israel is barren spiritually. God is going to do a great work in them bringing life into Israel.
Eighth (Slide 17): The barren womb is a type of the virgin womb of Mary. There the solution to the barren womb is the new life in the incarnation of the God-man Jesus Christ. Maybe I ought to write that as the solution to the empty womb, the lifeless womb, because she hasn’t given birth yet – is in the new life in the incarnation of the God-man Jesus.
Let’s go back and look at our passage. We stopped around 1 Samuel 1:7, “So it was, year by year, when she went up to the house of the Lord, that she (Peninnah) provoked her (Hannah); therefore she wept and did not eat.” Was she wrong for weeping? There’s not a hint of disapproval, a hint of criticism in the text. This is a normal response. She weeps. I want you to notice the phrases that we have here in 1 Samuel 1:8, Elkanah says to her, “... why do you weep?” He says, “Why is your heart grieved?” The word there for grief is evil or bad, or you’re discontent. Why is your heart grieving? He asked her a rational question. Husbands, there’s a lesson here. Why are you grieving? He’s concerned, but as we are going to see here, emotion and emotional responses are not necessarily rational. They’re emotional. And the two are not the same. You are not going to get a rational answer because of an irrational and emotional situation. This is at dinner time, and Hannah just maintains her poise until she could leave; and when they finished eating and drinking, she goes and heads to the tabernacle. She recognizes the only solution is the divine solution. The only solution to her problem.
There are other things that she can do secondarily, but ultimately God is the only solution. He’s the only One who can solve this. There’s really no secondary option. Then she goes, and first we read in 1 Samuel 1:10, that she is in bitterness of soul. I would bet that every one of you almost have been taught that she was bitter. Is that true or false? That’s false. She’s not bitter. That’s not what bitterness of soul means. We’re going to look at that right now.
What does bitterness of soul mean (slide 18)? The clearest passages are in poetry because poetry uses idioms in synonymous parallelism that helps us to understand through the parallel what is being said. I can’t tell you how many people – somebody asked me this last week – I can’t remember afterwards who it was, but they said wasn’t she bitter? I know some of you, and I know what you’ve been taught; and some of you have been taught and have heard it said that she was bitter. That is not what this means at all. You’ve got to look at usage. In Job 3:20 Job says, “Why is light given to him who is in misery, and life to the bitter of soul.” Bitter of soul is a person who is in emotional pain, somebody who is in misery, somebody who is upset – not somebody who is bitter. It is a little clearer in Job 7:11, “Therefore I will not restrain my mouth;
I will speak in the anguish of my spirit.” Now notice, “anguish of my spirit” is parallel to “I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.” Bitterness of soul means you’re under anguish. You’re under pressure. It’s like the Lord Jesus Christ was under pressure and deeply distressed and under a heavy burden in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Job 10:1, “My soul loathes my life; I will give free course to my complaint, I will speak in the bitterness of my soul.” Bitterness of soul was someone who was grieving and distressed over the circumstances in their life and they felt hopeless because they didn’t see a solution to the situation and the circumstance.
We have this also in another passage, a similar concept in relation to the Shunammite woman in 2 Kings 4:27 (slide 19). This is a story where Elisha takes up residence with the Shunammite woman and her husband. She hadn’t been able to have a child, but she later had a son. And now this son – what happens with this son? He dies. She comes to Elisha, and she knows that he can come back to the house and bring life back to her son. So she comes back to Elisha and Gehazi there and caught Elisha by the feet, and Gehazi came near to push her away, but the man of God said, “Let her alone; for her soul is in deep distress, and the Lord has hidden it from me, and has not told me.” She’s grieving legitimately because of the death of her son. There is a legitimate role in life for grief over circumstances. Paul doesn’t say it’s wrong to grieve in 1 Thessalonians 4:13. He doesn’t say we don’t grieve. He says we don’t grieve like those who have no hope. We do grieve. These words are used again and again of legitimate emotional response throughout the Scripture. This means that we really have to understand what is going on.
When we look at Hannah, we need to think about this as a paradigm. It is a great paradigm because it shows that when you are going through this, even though you are going through a lot of emotional testing because of circumstances, that you still turn to the Lord, and He’s the One who provides the solution, and you don’t yield to those emotions to go the wrong direction of sin. What we see here is that so many people in various circumstances in life, at whatever age you may be in, you are going to face different difficulties, different levels, different kinds of adversity. As a result of that, you’re going to experience grief and sorrow over some loss. It may be the loss of a child. It may be the loss of a parent. It may be the loss of a spouse. It may be the loss of a job. It may be the loss of a home or it may be the loss of some dream, something you’ve always wanted in life and now you realize you are never going to have it. These hopes and dreams may be legitimate; they may not be legitimate, but when we experience loss, we’re going to experience grief.
Sometimes that period won’t last very long; sometimes it may last a long time. Especially if it is someone – a spouse, a husband, a wife that we dearly loved and you spent 25-30-35-40-45-50 years with, and now they have been taken home to be with the Lord. There is an emptiness there that won’t go away. It will gradually diminish. It won’t be as intense, but it will be there for the rest of your life, and there’s nothing wrong with that. What’s wrong is using that as an excuse to be irresponsible or disobedient to the Lord, or not trusting in the Lord. As far as we can tell with Hannah with everything that is said here, Hannah is right with the Lord, but she’s experiencing an ongoing grief and sorrow in her life that lasts for more than just a few months. This went on for several years as she’s been taunted by her rival. Throughout this time she is applying the Word to her circumstance and her situation, ongoing testing, and she’s growing spiritually. She understands various dynamics about the Lord. She turns to Him and Him alone for her sustenance, so she grows spiritually.
We live in a world of immediate gratification, and it is getting worse. Probably within the next two or three years we’re going to get to a point to where you’ve got a whim to get something, and you can get on the Internet and order it, and it will be delivered to your house within a couple of hours – instant gratification – and we’re getting used to it. We have so many comforts that we enjoy, and there’s nothing, nothing wrong with those things, but they have an impact on our thinking that we can have quick-fix solutions to life’s problems. But the spiritual life doesn’t work on quick-fix solutions despite what a lot of mega churches proclaim. The spiritual life takes time. Spiritual growth takes time. You can’t rush the growth of a plant. You can’t make a huge statuesque redwood no matter how much fertilizer you dump on it. You can’t speed up the process. It’s going to be the same no matter what. We live in this world where we expect a resolution. I’m hurting; I’m grieving. Get over it! No, you can’t speed it up. In fact, my observation, just my personal observation, that the longer you go trying to stuff or stop grief, the longer it’s going to last. You just have to deal with it.
Grief is grief. It’s not rational; it’s not a process that you can control, and you’re going to be at times fine, everything is going to be fine; you’re going to be with people, and all of a sudden like a wave, it hits you, and you are just overwhelmed by the sorrow of a loss. That’s the nature of grief, and then it will pass. The further you get away from the loss, the less intense those times are, but you can’t control it. You can only control how you respond and how you handle it – whether you turn inward, or whether you turn to the Lord. This is what we see when we go through times of grief. Too often also we’re very superficial in our theology. We think that when times are good, times are favorable, that God is blessing us; and we think that when circumstances are not so good, that God is angry with us. One woman complained that after years of struggling with something, she said I just wish I’d never been made. Her spiritually mature friend said “God is still making you.” Think about that.
Others of us are going to have this kind of conversation with the Lord. I ran across this little cartoon the other day. The first panel on the right you have Jesus with His arm around somebody. Y’all know that poem, “Footprints in the Sand,” where it says “Lord, I noticed that there is only one set of footprints when I went through hard times. Where were you?” And the Lord says “Well, that’s when I was carrying you.” That’s the poem. Here we have this cartoon and the caption says, “Where you see one set of footprints it’s where I carried you.” The other panel says, “That long groove is where I dragged you kicking and screaming.” Somebody took that way too seriously on some Facebook page where I saw this. God puts us through difficult times to teach us to trust in Him. That’s dragging us through kicking and screaming. It’s not forcing us against our volition. God puts us through difficult times so that we have to learn to trust Him. He doesn’t make us trust Him, but He takes us through those difficult times hoping that eventually we will wake up, and we will trust Him.
Here we have a situation where Hannah has got very difficult circumstances. It’s daily; it’s weekly; it’s annually. She has to learn to trust the Lord. Now we live in a superficial world, as I was saying, where people think that if things are going good, God is blessing you. But when things are not going good and God is testing us, God is blessing us also. We have to understand that. Hebrews 12 doesn’t say “whom the Lord loves He makes comfortable.” It is “whom the Lord loves He disciplines.” He teaches discipline too, and that is the growth process. God is focused on the process, and most of us are focused on getting past the process. We need to realize that the process is what matters, what brings it about. So before we wrap up, I want to get into this. This is going to take a little while. I want to think through these issues; they are very important.
Here we have a passage (slide 20) dealing with weeping, dealing with sorrow, dealing with grief. Is this legitimate or not? There is a proper role and place for this. So let’s understand the role of weeping and the role of emotions in life. We’ve got to understand it in life before we understand it in the spiritual life. We have to think about this biblically, and not think about it in terms of what makes us comfortable, or what makes us uncomfortable.
First of all we have to define emotion (slide 21). Emotion is a responder within our make up. I’m not saying where that is at this point. It is a responder that God has placed within our make up, and it’s something that responds to situations, circumstances, events, people, even our own thoughts and emotions. We have certain thoughts, and we react emotionally. Anybody whose been married has said something to their spouse (I’m the only one who hasn’t had this happen. Everybody else has had this happen) where you said something to your spouse, and all of a sudden they say something to you that’s a reaction. And you go “where in the world did that come from?” I know my wife has certainly experienced that a few times. Because you’ve got something going on inside your head, and somebody else interrupts that, and you’re kind of upset inside your head and reacting emotionally to whatever it is that you’re thinking about; and you spout off to somebody else. We react to our own emotions a lot. We have emotional reactions to our own emotions.
So emotion is a responder to circumstances, situations, events or even our own thoughts and emotions. When emotions are intense, we often express them through tears. Intense joy, we cry. And intense pain or sorrow or grief or loss, we cry. So weeping may be, it’s not always, but weeping may be a spontaneous automatic reflex to some intense emotion. It is not necessarily that way.
Some people can turn on the tears, and they become manipulative. That’s another category. We see that in the Scripture. Who manipulated with tears in the Bible? This is your Bible knowledge test for the day. Delilah. Right? Delilah. She’s manipulating Samson with her tears. I just want to give you some random observations. I thought about this a lot over the years. This is really important and a particular topic of investigation. That is, what is the role and relationship of psychology or counseling or psychotherapy to Christian life? We live in an era today that emphasizes relationship above almost everything else.
We also live in an era that’s been redefined by Sigmund Freud in the late 19th century to focus on psychology. Now if you look at books written before the late 19th century, even during the late 19th century when psycho verbiage hadn’t influenced society that much, you’ll read a great book by Franz Delitzsch, A System of Biblical Psychology.* You ought to read that. You’ll learn great personal insight. He spends the whole book talking about what does the word “heart” mean? What does the word “soul” mean? What does the word “spirit” mean? What do all these different words used that refer to the immaterial make-up of man mean? That’s what psychology meant before Freud came along. A lot of it had a biblical base. It is the study of the soul. What book that we know of claims to be the sole and exclusive authority, no pun intended, on the soul? It’s the Bible. The Bible tells us from the Creator of the soul what the make-up of the soul is, and what the issues in the soul are.
Everything else that is done by Freud, Hume, Maslow, everybody else, is all based on empiricism. The problem with empiricism is the next fact that you discover can upset the house of cards and tear down the house of cards you’ve built to that point. It is extremely fragile, and if they are ignoring certain data because it doesn’t fit their worldview, then the house of cards that they built is completely unstable. So we get into these issues. I’ve had to think about this since I was in seminary, and along the way, there have been other issues that have come up and other questions in classrooms, in theology, as a pastor, and as a professor, and as a student – to try to get to the heart of a lot of these issues. So I am just throwing out some of my random observations.
First of all, the term emotion or emotions isn’t a biblical term. That doesn’t mean it is not a biblical concept, but it’s not a biblical term. The term emotion as we use it is a general catch-all term that describes a lot of individual responses that people have – everything from joy to hate, to anger, to jealousy. But the Bible doesn’t use one general term as a catch all. It just deals with the specifics. It doesn’t have a universal category. Emotion as a universal category comes later, and that’s an extra-biblical concept. That doesn’t mean it is not useable as a term. It’s just that we have to remember that if you look emotion up in your concordance, you won’t find anything, because the word doesn’t exist in the Bible.
The second thing that I’ve thought about, is that emotions seem to be certain built-in responses, reactions that are frequently associated with either physical feelings or sinful responses. That word “feelings” is really an interesting word. We talk about our feelings. Feelings are sense data. It has to do with something tactile or physical.
Jay Adams, a significant guy in the late 20th century evangelicalism was asked to be a professor of pastoral ministry at Westminster Theological Seminary back in the 60s. He kept having his students come see him, and he said, “Yeah, I have all these students coming to me as a pastor and they want counseling.” Just as a little anacoluthon: one time I was talking to Lanier Burns, who was at that time the head of the theology department at Dallas Seminary back in the early 80s. I’d been a pastor for about a year or two, and I would come to these alumni meetings and trainings. Everybody was talking about how many people they were counseling, and this and that and the other thing. I had lunch with Lanier, and we got off on counseling, and he had about the same view that I did at the time. I think his view changed, but I’m not sure about that. But anyway, I said, “You know, Lanier, I don’t have anybody come to me for counseling.” He looked at me and said, “Well Robby that’s because they know what you’re going to tell them, and they don’t want to hear it.” I thought, okay, that problem is solved.
Counseling for the most part by a pastor is done from the pulpit. He teaches how to solve the problems of your life from the Word of God. Now there are times where people face specific circumstances and situations, and they need to sit down and have a little personal attention, especially if they are babies, because they haven’t had time to get a lot of doctrine into their soul yet, and that’s acceptable, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But this is not something that should consume a pastor’s time.
So emotions are these feelings, and I was talking about Jay Adams. Jay Adams came along and wrote a blockbuster book called Competent to Counsel that came out in the early 70s. He said what had been true for pastors for hundreds of years, for centuries. He said the role of the pastor is to teach the Word, and the role of the counselor is to challenge people in their life with what the Word of God says they are doing wrong. They don’t need to go to all these other schools and get degrees in counseling.
That’s what started happening in the late 60s and 70s. Pastors would say “I got out here and people came to me with problems that I didn’t know how to help them with, so I got to go get a degree in psychotherapy. And I’ve got to get a counseling degree, and I’ve got to have counseling classes in seminary because I don’t know how to help people.” You don’t know how to help people because you don’t know your Bible. That’s basically what Jay Adams said. He started this whole school of back to the Bible in terms of pastoral counseling that was very important. Jay Adams is one of the few people, and I’m bringing him up because this is important, who said emotions are not in the soul. Emotions are in the body. How many times do you have words related to emotion in the Bible that are body parts? When it says a person got angry, it says their nose burned. They don’t have an abstract concept.
When somebody has compassion, it’s SPLANCHNOIS. It has to do with their bowels moving, not like we use the term bowel movement, but something that hits them in the gut. They have a gut reaction to something, and they care about somebody. There is always a debate on this. Are emotions in the soul, or are emotions in the body? Another thought is that there is nothing inherently sinful in emotion, that it is what we do with them that involves sin. Therefore, we should think about emotions as a window to the soul. When we have certain emotions, we ought to say, hum, what is that saying about what I’m thinking and what I believe at that particular time? It opens us up to thinking about what is going on in our thought world – what we are believing about circumstances and situations, and it’s not just this simple reaction. We need to think a little bit about emotions, and we’ll come back and look at this some more next time and try to understand what the Bible says, pro and con, in terms of our emotions.
“Father, thank You for this time that we have to think through Your Word and reflect upon situations we’re all familiar with in terms of grief and sorrow, as well as being happy and joyous. And Father, we pray that You’d help us to think through these things in our own lives in terms of what Your Word reveals to us. And Father, above all we’re thankful for our salvation, thankful that God the Son has given to us His joy, so that no matter what our circumstances may be or how difficult life may be or how down we may feel at times, that it is still wrapped up in the joy that Jesus has given us, and help us to realize that on a day-to-day basis. And we pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
* A System of Biblical Psychology, by Franz Delitzsch (Author), Robert Ernest Wallis (Translator).