Over the past several weeks, we have been focusing on people who have played a vital role in carrying out God’s plans even if they were not known in the past and are (nearly) completely forgotten in the present.
Those types of stories are not just from the Bible, however. One such story was made public a few years ago in the movie, Hidden Figures. In this story, a group of black women, who were mathematicians, played a key role in helping the United States take the lead in the space race against the Soviet Union. Three women in particular, who had to overcome not only their gender, but their race, were part of launching John Glenn into space as the first American to be sent into orbit. Incidentally, that launch took place on February 20, 1962, 60 years ago!
John Glenn is a hero. These women were forgotten. But without them, John Glenn’s name might not be remembered either. Such is the case of an unsung hero.
In the past couple of sermons for this series, we have reviewed a man named Hathach, who was the impetus for this series. That same week, we looked at an individual who was not only not named, but is referenced as the son of Paul’s sister. But both of those individuals played an important role in the greater story (Hathach with Esther and Mordecai and Paul’s nephew in saving Paul from being killed).
In the next sermon of the series, we looked at another unnamed man, but this one was well-known in his day for the wrong reasons. Ultimately, that reason was because he was possessed by demons (the demoniac in Mark 5). But, as I shared that day, it is very likely that it was his response to being healed by Jesus that led to thousands of people following Jesus as we find a few chapters later in Mark 8.
Today, we look at two more individuals. This time both are women. One is known a little bit, and the other may be another obscure name to you. The first is Hannah and the second is Huldah. Neither woman is as well-known as another key person in the story, but without their contribution, again mostly hidden to history, the way events unfolded could have been very different.
First, we have the story of Hannah. Again, her name is known by many people, but few would include her name in the first 20, or maybe even 50 names they mention from the Bible. But without Hannah, we do not have Samuel. And without Samuel, we have a very different set of circumstances for Israel before, and in the early days of Israel having a king.
So, if some people know Hannah’s name and story, can we really consider her an unsung hero? Let me turn the question? What was the name of George Washington’s mother? What about Abraham Lincoln’s? These two men are very important in the history of America, and yet we do not know their mothers’ names, nor their stories. That just makes them anonymous. Some people will know a bit of their stories, but the point is that nothing about them makes them heroic. Frankly, Hannah could have been just like them, another mother, whose son was famous, but it is what Hannah did to become a mother that makes her a hero.
Hannah was one of two wives of her husband. The other wife had children. I am certain this made Hannah jealous. In fact, 1 Samuel 1.6 says that the other wife provoked Hannah in order to irritate her.
Now, despite being barren, Hannah had the support of her husband. Verse 5 specifically says “he loved her.” But she wanted a son. And what makes her a hero is only partially that she prayed for a son. The real reason she is a hero is that she followed through on her promise made in the prayer.
Listen to the portion of the prayer that is recorded for us. Read 1 Samuel 1.11.
You may know that Eli, the priest, thought she was drunk, but that is not the emphasis today. What happened next is that the Lord heard her prayer and responded by giving her a son (vv. 19-20). But the point of this message is that she remembered her promise, and when Samuel was old enough, she took him and gave him to serve the Lord. (And her husband was in agreement (1.23; 2.11)).
The reality is that God hears many promises, but I wonder how many of the promises people make are kept? Of course, God keeps all of the promises He makes, but I would imagine that most of the promises we make to God to give us something, or to get us out of some mess, etc., are broken as soon as we receive, are delivered, etc.
Not Hannah. She wanted a son. She promised God her son would be given to Him. God granted her a son, and she did give the boy – at a very young age – to God. Why do we know the name of Samuel? Because Hannah gave her child to the Lord. If she had not given Samuel to serve the Lord, we would likely not know the name, and a lot of people, my son-in-law included, might have a completely different name.
What makes Hannah an Unsung Hero is not that she prayed (as important as that is). It is not that she dedicated her son to the Lord (as great as that is). No, what makes Hannah an Unsung Hero is that that she kept her promise to God when He honored her request, despite what it cost her.
Now, we turn to the next Unsung Hero today. This hero is another woman whose name also begins with an “h.” Her name is Huldah. We find her mentioned in both 2 Kings 22.14-20 and 2 Chronicles 34.22-28. This woman is not nearly as well known, but she was not just an ordinary woman; she was a prophet.
Some know about the prophetess Deborah, but few know about Huldah. Huldah, like the other Unsung Heroes in this series, is barely mentioned within the overall story of the Bible. Her role is not small, it is simply that what is mentioned of her in the Bible is small. She is credited with saying a few sentences as recorded in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles. The words she says are important, but the context in which she says them is what make her a hero.
This story begins with the reign of a new king – the eight-year-old boy named Josiah. Josiah followed a line of kings that were wicked before God, but Josiah sought to reform Judah. He ordered repairs to the temple, which led to the high priest finding the Law of Moses in the temple. No wonder the kings and people had become wicked…they did not have the commands of God to guide them.
When Josiah heard the Law read to him, he tore his clothes. He knew that Judah had rebelled against God and was far from living as God had commanded. So, the king sent the high priest and some other servants to inquire of a prophet to know what would happen. The prophet was Huldah.
Apart from the words of Huldah, we only know a couple of facts. First, she was married (and a brief part of her husband’s ancestors are noted). Second, and this is helpful for us, she lived in Jerusalem. For a prophet to live in Jerusalem would be hazardous to his/her health. God often gave His prophets harsh words to say about His people. To share God’s message could lead to people taking out retribution on the messenger. But Huldah did not waver in what she said. The message she delivered was that the people would face disaster and Jerusalem was to be destroyed.
Many people struggle to share what needs to be shared. For instance, have you ever needed to give someone some news, but knew it would hurt them and maybe hurt your relationship with them? When we face that situation, many will not say anything. So, imagine the people being told this news – they will be devastated and Jerusalem destroyed. Let me say that another way. God’s chosen people will face disaster, and God’s Holy City will be destroyed (and it was within about 40 years – within the lifetime of some who would have heard this message).
But Huldah did not back down. She delivered the message. Now, the message DID contain good news for Josiah. Because of his response (repentance), he would not live to see this devastation. He reigned another 12 years or so and continued to bring about reforms such as re-instituting the Passover. But after his death, Judah unraveled.
But for Huldah, she did what she was called to do.
It could not have been easy to say that the people would be decimated – especially saying it in front of the high priest who was to lead the people spiritually.
It could not have been easy to have neighbors who despised what you said.
It could not have been easy to go to the marketplace and interact with others, some of whom may have looked at you with suspicion, but most of whom looked you with disdain.
It could not have been easy to face all of this as a woman in a world dominated by men.
But for Huldah, she did what she had to do.
And that is why she is an Unsung Hero.
For both of these women, it would have been easy to not follow through. Both women could have wanted to do the right thing, but chose not to because of selfishness (not giving up your child) or safety (not causing others to despise you). It is like I have said so many times over these past couple of years, it is really the difference between good intentions and intentionality.
Like Hannah, millions (billions?) who have prayed a prayer to get something in the moment and make a promise to God as a part of the prayer. They have good intentions. But when the situation changes, they (I mean, we…I mean I) try to walk myself back, justifying myself in some way, and thus I prove that I am less than faithful to the One I claim allegiance. I have good intentions, but when I have the opportunity to act, I am not intentional. Hannah had good intentions. Then Hannah was intentional. And that is why we know the name Samuel. And that is why Hannah is an Unsung Hero.
Likewise, millions (billions?) of people often know what they are to say. Sometimes the message they are to share is directly from God. But unlike Huldah, people hold back for fear of hurting someone’s feelings or fear of being hurt themselves in an act of retribution. But Huldah knew that it was not her place to keep God’s Word to herself. She had a message that He wanted shared, and she was to share it. And she did share it. And that is why Huldah is an Unsung Hero.
What about you?
Have you made a promise to God that you need to keep? Don’t dismiss this idea even if it has been years. Maybe the situation has changed so much that it is literally impossible to keep the promise in the same way. OK. But that doesn’t mean that your promise is void. If you made a promise (a vow, 1 Samuel 1.11), you need to acknowledge it, and keep it.
Do you have a message to share? Have you shared it? If not, why not? Maybe it will not be pleasant for someone else to hear, but if they need to hear it, then it needs to be shared.
And with that, what about the message of the gospel? We are all commanded to share that. We are all to make disciples. A part of accepting Jesus as Savior and Lord is to fulfill a promise to follow Him and to share the message He has given us to share – the good news – the gospel.
No, most of us will never be known for our contribution. Our lives may be lived in obscurity, just like those women who worked at NASA and helped John Glenn become a hero. Many people considered those individuals to be the wrong race and the wrong gender, but their story could not be hidden forever.
Likewise, the work we do for God may go unnoticed by most people, but it does not go unnoticed by Him. Our name may not be recorded in the Bible, or even in the newspaper, but if your name is found in the Book of Life, God has something for you to do for His Kingdom and for His glory. Your service to God may be unknown to most people, but that doesn’t mean that you will not be a hero to others.