In the Eye of the Storm
Keeping our families off the rocks
Imagine a violent storm on the Mediterranean Sea some 2,000 years ago: a small wooden vessel desperately trying to stay afloat; sailors bailing out water, taking down the remains of a torn mainsail, rowing hard to reach their destination. In between the raging waves and angry clouds the hint of a coastline suddenly appears. It is both good news and bad news. Proximity to the coast means quieter waters and—hopefully—survival. It can, however, also mean treacherous rocks that may destroy the fragile boat and result in the loss of all life. The sea foams viciously; spray fills the air. The captain makes a desperate decision. Not knowing his exact position, he decides to let down the anchors in order to keep the boat from being crushed by rocks and reefs. Three, four sailors heave one, then two, finally three heavy stone anchors overboard. The ropes connecting the anchors to the boat tighten. Will they hold? Will the anchors keep the vessel from crushing into the rocks on the shoreline?
Ancient anchors are fascinating. They were heavy, they often contained inscriptions, and they served an important function in a time when maritime travel and commerce were vital to link regions that were difficult to reach by land. Some months ago I saw some Roman anchors at the site of Caesarea Maritima, the city built by Herod the Great on the coast of the Mediterranean, that got me thinking.
Elkanah knew storms—especially family storms.
After he had married Hannah, they had waited many years for the hoped-for child—but it never came. Without an heir and desperate to secure the future of his family, Elkanah finally took a second wife, Peninnah. She bore him children and constantly let Hannah, the first wife, know about it (1 Sam. 1:2, 6). At the same time Elkanah loved Hannah more than Peninnah (verses 4, 8). You remember the story: a recipe for stormy relationships and an unhappy family.
First Samuel 1 tells the story of the annual family visit to Shiloh, the place where the tabernacle was located and where every Israelite had to appear once a year to offer a sacrifice. We find Hannah sobbing uncontrollably in the sanctuary (verse 10). Eli, the priest serving at the sanctuary, thinks that she is drunk and strongly reprimands her (verses 13, 14). Soundlessly her mouth moves as she pours out her heartache before the Lord. And then it happens: “O 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, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head” (verse 11). In the midst of the storm Hannah throws out an anchor. Her vow is very specific and, considering Israelite law, needed to be ratified by her husband (Num. 30:7-9). I wonder what she felt as she heard the assuring words of Eli the priest: “Go in peace” (1 Sam. 1:17). Did her heart leap? Did hope let down a tiny shoot into the parched dry soil of her anguished heart? What did she tell Elkanah? We are not told—we know only that Elkanah did not veto her vow and that God did remember her (verses 19, 20).
At the end of every storm there is sunshine.
The birth of little Samuel (whose name means “God has heard”) must have brought sunshine and joy into Hannah’s and Elkanah’s life. God had truly heard their heart cry and they were ready to honor their promise. We are not too sure how long Israelite women generally nursed their children. According to ancient Near Eastern texts a child might not be weaned until 3 or 4 years old (cf. 2 Macc. 7:27).1 The years pass quickly, and Hannah spends her time judiciously with little Samuel. Pouring all her love and wisdom into a few short years, she lays a foundation that is rock-solid.
Hannah knew something about Shiloh that we, as readers, are only privy to know after she has delivered the child into Eli’s care at the sanctuary. As the narrative unfolds we are told that Eli’s sons—the next generation of priests—were “corrupt” men (1 Sam. 2:12-17).
Anchored in Love
How would you feel if you knew what Hannah knew about the situation at Shiloh? I think I would have tried to renegotiate the vow with God. After all, God cannot really be pleased knowing that a child will be subject to evil and wicked influences. Most likely Hannah could have negotiated a later date when Samuel was to come before the Lord. She could have even rationalized her way out of this vow using Bible texts.
And yet that’s not what she does. Since she has found her anchor in God and has spent three or four years building a solid foundation in Samuel’s heart, she returns her most precious gift to the Giver of all gifts. She seems to know—intuitively and by experience—that this was God’s child and that He would take care of him.
Yes, God gave her more children (verse 21). And yes, she would see Samuel at least once a year when she brought his new robe that she had carefully spun, woven, and tailored during the quiet months at home (verse 19). But this was God’s child, called for a special purpose and enrolled in a unique training academy.
These days families all over the world find themselves in heavy storms.
We keep so busy, and we never have sufficient time. We are so distracted and have a hard time understanding one another. We struggle to provide the best for our children and forget that our best has nothing to do with gadgets, cars, or costly vacations. We need an anchor that keeps us from crashing into the rocks surrounding our ship.
Hebrews 6:19 uses the anchor metaphor in an intriguing way: “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain” (NIV).2 This hope is not built on people or things or even our faith and commitment. It holds on to Jesus, our high priest, who has entered the sanctuary to plead on our behalf.
Hannah hung on by faith—even when she faced the prospect of putting her God-given son into the hands of a weak, albeit well-meaning, old priest in Shiloh. Our families, the good ones, the average ones, the problematic or even dysfunctional ones, can hang on because they can claim the Anchor that holds them together and keeps them away from the rocks that threaten to destroy the vessel.
It’s time to let the anchor down—and hang on.
1 David T. Tsumura, The First Book of Samuel, New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), pp. 128, 129. Tsumura mentions the Egyptian “Instruction of Any.”
2 Texts credited to NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Gerald A. Klingbeil is an associate editor of Adventist World. Together with his wife, Chantal, they enjoy watching their three daughters riding out the storms of teenagehood.