Don’t Go with the Flow
1 Samuel 1-2 and John 16
To be a follower of Jesus means a life of swimming against the current. What does it mean to swim against the current? Think of a salmon. It is born in a river, follows the current out to the ocean when it is young and grows stronger and then with valiant effort it swims against the current up the river back to the spawning ground where it multiplies by laying or fertilizing eggs.
Followers of Jesus spend their lives swimming against the current in order to be fruitful and multiply by sharing the gospel and making more disciples. Disciples have to resist the forces of nature that want to carry us the opposite direction (along with the rest of the world) and resist the predators (for salmon it’s bears and fishermen- for Christians it’s the evil one and sinful temptations of the world.)
Because we are swimming against the current of society we often find ourselves doing the opposite of what everyone else is doing. Today’s story of Hannah gives a good illustration of one who was swimming against the current of her day. As you read the story it’s important to remember that parts of the Bible are descriptive and parts of the Bible are prescriptive. It’s like when you go to the doctor with a health issue. The descriptive part comes when you tell the doctor what’s going on…. where does it hurt, and when the doctor runs test to evaluate what is causing your symptoms. The prescriptive part is when the doctor tells you his recommendation of the best way to treat the problem. Take a pill, do an exercise, cut something out etc… In the story of Hannah one of the descriptive parts is that the man Elkanah has 2 wives- Hannah and Peninnah. The Bible is describing what was commonly practiced at that time- multiple wives. It is not prescribing polygamy, having many wives, as a good or right practice. It would be a mistake to read this story as giving sanction for the practice of polygamy today. Note that there are prescriptive passages in the Bible that clearly state that marriage should be between 1 man and 1 woman. It’s important to clear this up because many errors come when we confuse a descriptive passage in the Bible for a prescriptive one.
One can also note here why polygamy is not a good idea from a relational standpoint. One wife was fertile and able to have children and one was not. The fertile wife Peninnah bullied Hannah because of her infertility and this caused poor Hannah a lot of emotional pain. (Note in other descriptive passages in the Bible where polygamy is practiced it always includes jealousy and strife so we should learn the importance of monogamy by observing all the bad that comes when it is not rightly practiced).
Israel was a pretty immoral place at this time. This comes at the end of the period of Judges, if you recall Sunday’s devotion it was a time of lawlessness when “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” They carried over even in the realm of the sacred. The high priest, who at this time in Israel’s history lived in the town of Shiloh, had 2 sons who were thugs. They bullied people into giving them the best parts of the sacrifices, the parts that were supposed to go to God. They were also sexually deviant and used their power as priests in Israel to force young women to have sex with them. Meanwhile, their Father, Eli the high priest allowed his sons to carry on their immoral thuggery with no correction or consequences. They were pretty much all going with the flow, following the stream of everyone doing what was right in their own eyes like the rest of society.
Elkanah was going with the flow with his multiple wives, Peninnah was going with the flow by using her blessing and fertility as a weapon against her rival wife, Hannah. They were pretty much all flowing strongly away from God’s will and ways.
By contrast to all those going with the flow, swimming against the stream’s current like a good salmon, was Hannah. She came to Shiloh, she fervently prayed to God for help. She promised God that if He gave her a son she would give him back in service to God. She prayed with such emotion that Eli the priest thought she was drunk (she wasn’t, she was just passionately mourning her infertility and the abuse she was receiving while seeking God’s grace and mercy- people who are swimming against the stream are often mistaken for being drunk or crazy, think about the Apostles on the day of Pentecost, or Jesus, whose own family thought that he had lost his mind).
The high priest, Eli, came to Hannah and asked God to grant her the request. God was listening and “He remembered her.” Hannah gave birth to a little boy, she named Samuel, and as she promised, when he was old enough she gave him back to God. Samuel would grow up to be a priest and serve God in worship.
Hannah’s prayer in chapter two is a beautiful song of thanksgiving to God. From one who was swimming against the currents of her time, when everyone else was laughing, she was weeping. But now, God has heard her cries and pleading and God has visited her with blessing and turned her tears into songs of praise.
Jesus takes this same theme in some of his final words found in John 16. For three years Jesus has been teaching his disciples how to follow him. They are to take up their crosses daily. Jesus teaches them to take the narrow path that leads to life instead of the wide path that ends in destruction. Jesus teaches them how to be good salmon, swimming against the current of society on the way to judgment. Jesus warns them that they will be going through some painful times in the days ahead. While everyone else is celebrating his rejection, condemnation and crucifixion, they will be mourning. But Jesus also promises that afterwards, their sadness will be turned to joy:
“Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” – John 16:20-22
Friend, being a salmon can be tough. It requires a lot of effort. As Dallas Willard once correctly pointed out, salvation is free and cannot be earned, the gospel is opposed to earning, but it is NOT opposed to effort. It takes a lot of hard work to be a salmon and a disciple. Swimming against the current, when everything is working together to try to pull you in one direction can be painful and exhausting. Like Hannah and like the disciples of Jesus, when everyone else is celebrating, you could find yourself crying. But take heart and keep swimming against the stream, because one day your sadness will turn to joy, and no one can take that away from you. Following Jesus is the way that leads to life, true life, everlasting life and joy.