I have been reading the first century Jewish work, Pseudo-Philo.
In the biblical Book of I Samuel, Hannah is barren, and she mumbles
before God at the sanctuary, asking God for a son. Pseudo-Philo
elaborates on this. According to Pseudo-Philo, Hannah did not pray
aloud because she did not want to give her enemies or the enemies of God
occasion to blaspheme. She realized that what was important to God was
not offspring, but rather doing God’s will, so she was open to the
possibility that God may say “no” to her request. But she did not want
to be public in asking God for a son, for then, if God answered “no,”
enemies would taunt her, and maybe even mock God in the process.
Consequently, Hannah sought to keep her request between her and God.
There are a lot of things that I keep between myself and God. There
is a place for testifying to God’s goodness—-for telling people about
prayers that we feel God has answered. We see that sort of thing in the
Book of Psalms. People can be encouraged to have faith in God when
they hear about answered prayer. When we were moving to the west coast
and were looking for a place to live, people at my church were praying
for us. Of course, I told them when we finally found a place to live!
That was an occasion to testify, and also to acknowledge their concern
But I am hesitant to testify to everyone about things. Unless the
event is earth-shakingly dramatic, a number of atheists can dismiss
one’s testimony as a recounting of coincidence, or luck, or something
that did not require divine intervention and could have happened anyway,
or with enough effort. There are people who may mock one’s faith when
things appear to go wrong, as Hannah feared. And some people who
suffer, or whose loved ones suffer, may not want to read or hear someone
trumpeting one’s good fortune. If one person’s father recovers from a
disease, for example, whereas another person’s father dies, would the
latter want to hear the former praising God for healing her father?
Something I should note is that, while Hannah wanted to keep her
request for a son between her and God, ultimately, the matter did not
remain between her and God. In Pseudo-Philo, the point is made that
Samuel would be a light to his people, Israel, a leader. Psalm 99:6,
where Asaph mentions Samuel, is taken by Hannah to be a prophecy about
Samuel’s birth—-and I do not entirely understand this, since my
understanding was that the Asaph of the Book of Psalms lived later,
during the time of King David, according to I Chronicles. Maybe
Pseudo-Philo thinks that Asaph lived for a long time!
I am not sure what to do homiletically with that thought that
Hannah’s request ultimately did not remain between her and God. One
reason that Christians may encourage testimonies is that they want us to
think beyond ourselves and things turning out well for us—-to consider
larger issues, such as more people coming to faith in God. I could
identify, though, with why Hannah wanted her request to be private.
Christians are often exhorted to testify, but maybe we do not have to
testify about everything we believe God has done for us. Maybe it is
sometimes all right to keep things between us and God.