Long ago, barrenness was always seen as a curse. In ancient times progeny was a sign of blessing and a hope of establishing the parent’s memory beyond the grave. So to be childless was to be feared. Barrenness humbled to the lower rungs of society.
Such a woman was Hannah. She was the wife of Elkanah and shared him with a second wife. Elkanah's second wife bore him children, but Hannah remained barren. Hannah was ridiculed by the other wife because of her childlessness.
The family took an annual trip to the Israelite place of worship. During this trip, Hannah cried out to God in her sorrow, and begged for her humiliation to be removed. Her weeping was so deep that her lips moved before God but no sound was heard. This display caused the resident priest, Eli, to accuse her of drunkenness. She revealed her heart to Eli, and spoke of the prayer and vow she had made to the Lord. She had promised to give the child back to God, if He would give her a boy.
Returning home, she soon was with child. The son that was born would be known as Samuel and he would be a great prophet among God's people. After he was weaned, she took him back to the temple to be given into the care of the priest Eli.
Her return to the temple was accompanied by song. And it is this song in 1 Samuel (1 Kingdoms) 2:1-10 that becomes Ode 3 in the soundtrack of the Church.
The Church in her writings and humility draws 5 ideas from this hymn.
1. No one is Holy but God (vs. 2). No where is this more present than the Ode 3 hymns of Holy Week. For God alone can do what man cannot. He descends into the grave and destroys death.
When it saw you, who had hung the whole earth freely on the waters, hanging on
Golgotha, creation was seized with great amazement and cried, ‘None is holy, but You, O Lord.’ –Holy Friday Hymn
You opened out your palms and united things that before were separated, while by being closed in a shroud and a grave, O Savior, You loosed those who were fettered. None is holy, but You, O Lord.
2. God strengthens the weak. God strengthens and establishes those with no power, but to cry out to Him.
3. God exalts the humble. This phrase is common throughout Scripture, and presents a truth that is paradoxical. We are all weak in the presence of God, and that awareness brings God’s exaltation. A simple shepherd, considered the runt of his family, became
Only the prayer of Hannah, the prophetess of old, who brought a broken spirit to the Mighty One and God of knowledge, broke the fetters of a childless womb and the harsh insult of one with many children.
4. God makes the barren fruitful. The impossible becomes possible through the power of God. He is the God of the unexpected. Not only does Hannah image this, but multiple images throughout Scripture proclaim this truth such as Aaron’s rod that budded.
The rod of Aaron is an image of this mystery, for when it budded it showed who should be priest. So in the Church, that once was barren, the wood of the Cross has now put forth flower, filling her with strength and steadfastness. –from the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross
5. Life comes through Death. Only He, who was Holy, could destroy, and by doing so, He brings life, and forges a way through death to life. This gives humility its power, because it joins man to the Crucified One. On Easter, we sing of barrenness that became life-giving.
Come let us drink a new drink, not one marvelously brought forth from a barren rock, but a Source of incorruption, which pours out from the tomb of Christ, in whom we are established.
Humility is the major theme of this hymn. It the humble that God exalts and transforms through His power. Humility is the way of the Cross, and only through the Cross is resurrection possible.
Have you been humbled by life? How did God offer you hope? What do you do to stay humble?