The Books of Samuel were originally one book—the scroll of Samuel, and the Greek translators called them the first and second Books of Kingdoms, a title St. Jerome later modified to "Kings." The Hebrew title, "Samuel," alludes to the leading figure in the first book who was responsible for the enthronement of David. These books are historical books demonstrating Israel was a covenanted people bound to Yahweh, Lord of the universe, by the ties of faith and obedience.The first book comprises the history of about a century. In 1 Samuel 1:1-20, we see a tender love story from the Old Testament.

In the ancient world men usually had more than one wife. Elkanah was no exception. He had two wives but one of his wives whose name was Hanna had been unable to give him children. This was a source of great pain and shame to Hanna. A barren woman was regarded with either scorn or pity because she was a failure in the one thing that counted. But Elkanah loved Hanna nonetheless even though she had not been able to have children. Every year Elkanah’s family made a pilgrimage to Shiloh to make offerings of thanksgiving and atonement. Elkanah gave his wives and children a portion of the sacrifice. But to Hanna he gave a double portion, simply because he loved her. He loved her for herself rather than for what she had done for him.

Is there any other kind of real love? Do we really love those who fill our lives with good things? Surely it is possible to love a person who also gives us what we need and want. But the test of real love often occurs only when a person we love can’t make our lives fuller and richer. What happens to love when a child goes wild? What happens to love when a friend betrays? What happens to love when a parent disappoints? What happens to love when a husband develops Alzheimer’s? What happens to love when a mate loses a job? For many people, love withers and dies when such things happen. But other people keep on loving, no matter what. That’s the kind of love that God has for us and the kind of love he asks of us. He expects us to love our enemies as well as our friends—to love no matter what.

Imagine yourself having the opportunity to attend a White House function and meet President and Mrs. Clinton. Regardless of our own political persuasion, we would want to be on our best at that occasion. We would wear our best clothes. If we were attending a state dinner, we would probably inquire about the proper protocols of addressing the President. In short, we would be at our best and try to make the best impression.

Some religions believe that we can only present ourselves to God when we are at our best. These religions require rituals of purification before we even approach the deity. Having purified ourselves of all ritual uncleanness, we then must approach the deity with all reverence and humility. For the best reception, we must come with gifts in hand to offer to the deity.

Biblical religion certainly urges reverence toward God and urges the supplicant for divine favor to come before God in repentance and surrender. But it does not require such deference and delicacy. God welcomes us into his presence in prayer and worship on any terms. We see such welcome in the story of Hanna who presented herself before the Lord each year at Shiloh. Each year she prayed that God would give her a child and each year she remained barren. On this occasion, she approached the throne of grace filled with bitterness. Her outpouring of emotion was so great that the high priest assumed she was drunk. But Hanna explained that she was pouring out her unhappiness to God. The high priest had the good sense to affirm her rather than shame her. He knew that God could hear an angry prayer as well as loving praise. GLP

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