Like many women of faith in the Bible, Hannah’s life was also one of pain and tears. We understand from our own lives that these two elements seem to accompany the life of faith. In fact, faith seems to be born out of trials.
Of all the heroes of faith in the Bible, not one of them was born with the so-called silver spoon in their mouths. Faith, like sailing abilities, is not developed in calm times, but in the rough weathers of life. It is in these times that our character and our pleading to God is magnified. It is in these times we need to hang on to the tiller and rails and ride out the storm — the emotional rollercoaster of testing our faith.
If I spent time speaking to anyone of you, I would be told of hard times somewhere in life. Times that have wrought tears, pain, sorrow and even the loneliness that so often accompanies them, where you can't tell anybody, knowing they wouldn't understand.
Hannah had many of these times, brought on by her own yearning to bear her own child, just one child, and the anguish of seeing her husband ignore God’s intentions of having one wife (Gen 2:24) and take another to bear his children.
As we look into the life of Hannah, we will see a rich heritage of faith, birthright and lineage, and of some of Hannah’s hopes and actions as they open up to us.
Hannah (meaning ‘grace’) was married to Elkanah, a Levite of the honoured family of the Kohathites chosen to tend the inner holy things of the Tabernacle. This is the same tribe and family from which Moses, Aaron and Miriam came. Elkanah doesn’t appear to play a role in the work of the Tabernacle, but that of a normal Israelite. Ruth’s husband Boaz came from Bethlehem-Judah, and we find Elkanah’s ancestors also dwelt there before Elkanah’s branch moved to Mount Ephraim. (1 Chronicles 6:16-30). Joshua, Israel’s former leader, is meant to be buried in that same mountainous area, which is the location of Hannah’s story.
The spiritual environment in those days?
2 Samuel 2:11-36 show us those were the days of Hophni and Phinehas, natural sons of Eli, spiritual sons of Satan, yet robed in the priestly garments of God.
These two were always asking for more. Our story exhibits them as glutenous fornicators in priests robes, forcing the robbery of the sacrificial offerers, and laying with the women assembled at the door of the Tabernacle (1 Sam 2:22). They acted more like the avaricious Friars of the dark and middle ages than priests of the Lord. They were threatening overlords. Instead of the people arriving at the Tabernacle in the joy of the Lord with a willing offering, they were in great fear of having their offerings being plundered by the priests.
Despite the wickedness of the two brothers and of those around them, Elkanah’s family seemed to be devout believers attending the sacrifices and worshipping God. Annually, they would go to the Tabernacle in Shiloh (Josh. 18:1) to worship and faithfully bring their offerings. Despite the corruption of the priests' ministry, they were faithful in theirs.
These annual pilgrimages were not a time of joy for Hannah. As we read in Vs 6-7, the second wife who, like Hagar with Sarah, purposefully mocked Hannah every year of their tabernacle visits for her barrenness. V6-7 says,And her adversary also provoked her sore, for to make her fret, because the Lord had shut up her womb. And as he did so year by year, when she went up to the house of the Lord, so she provoked her; therefore she wept, and did not eat.
Many people have to face occasions which bring on fear and anxiety. In fact, sometimes weeks before such occasions apprehension and angst can bring on all sorts of emotional and physical reactions. No wonder the poor girl cried.
Is love, love?
Despite Elkanah’s love for Hannah in giving her extra portions at offering time, and saying he loved her, there is a love that is deeper than that.
To try and soothe her pain of barrenness, he said,am I not better than 10 sons?This typical man’s response was not a suitable replacement for her barrenness. His words were hollow to her and without substance. She wanted to be a mother. If he loved her, wouldn't he have resisted the need for a second wife, whom he didn't love, to bear his children, as if he had bought a cow? He could have had the faith of Hannah and remained childless pleading to the Lord on their behalf. I don’t think Elkanah quite understood the depth of Hannah’s grief, as his own needs of having children were already met. He could only sympathise but not empathise. Hence, his remark of“am I not better than 10 sons”now seems more flippant.
The vow and the desired pregnancy
On one trip to Shiloh, after they had completed their sacrificial duties, Hannah was seen by Eli the High Priest. At the time, the poor girl was distraught and crying her heart out. You know, when the agony is such that the tears are flowing and the mouth is moving but no words are coming out? From that desperate articulate speech of the heart came a vow. Hannah was at the end of her tether. The point she finally came to was her last bastion, that small part of her heart she didn't want the Lord to have — her motherhood and child. I feel her greatest desperation became so powerful within her it created a covetousness over the child. Such covetousness the Lord does not want to see in any of us.
God had brought her to the realisation he wants us all to come to on our faith journey. Job 3:25 states, "For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me." Hannah realised she had to give the child away to God in her heart first and then in real-time when he was born. As a true believer, she could have nothing in her heart that wasn’t God’s property.
Like Moses’ mother, and almost like Abraham with Isaac on the altar, Hannah had to give her child up for the adoption of the ministry.
Her silent vow?
O Lord of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head.
With her voiceless mumblings, Eli thought her to be drunk and challenged her in a gentle grandfatherly way. From that God-arranged instance, Hannah was able now to pour her heart out to Eli, God’s highest appointed person on the entire planet. Hannah begged Eli to find grace in his sight; something we are accustomed to doing ourselves with God. After hearing the story and seeing her authenticity, Eli blessed her. From that point of grace Hannah’s life dramatically changed, her countenance improved and her sadness changed to joy. Hannah's name meant grace, and indeed that is what she received.
It’s miraculous how the countenance is elevated upon hearing or experiencing good news, and how beautiful are the feet of him that brings it!
Also, here was the difference between Eli and Elkanah. Eli understood Hannah’s agony
I can just imagine Hannah and her swelling tummy in the marketplace, with stall owners and others congratulating her on her pregnancy. She would be smiling as she walked, stopping at her favourite stalls and witnessing about the power of God and of never losing faith in prayer through all the hills and valleys of emotion.
As with Job who suffered much and was doubly blessed after it, Hannah for her generosity and faith was blessed with five children (1 Samuel 2:21)
The Lord and his church: a parallel lesson
1 Samuel 1:22-23 shows us a key role of the church we could easily miss. But Hannah went not up; for she said unto her husband, I will not go up until the child be weaned, and then I will bring him, that he may appear before the Lord, and there abide for ever. And Elkanah her husband said unto her, Do what seemeth thee good; tarry until thou have weaned him; only the Lord establish his word.
We see Elkanah handing over the weaning of the child to Hannah, giving her free reign within a strict boundary. That boundary was‘only the Lord establish his word.”
Likewise, God does the same with Christ’s wife, his church. He says do what seemeth good — disciple whichever way you see necessary, but the outcome must be the same as I have in my mind, that my word, and nobody else’s, be established in those disciples.
So, the church weans the children and puts them on route to be established in their positions in the service of the Lord. Although a child is weaned it is still a child, but not on milk as its sustenance. In 1 John, the Lord addresses much of the letter writing to the children of the gospel, to ensure they don't remain children. In that process of discipleship, they are weaned from the church’s breast to take up their callings within the church, thus establishing the Lord’s word. We mature as milk-drinking children of the gospel to solids in the gospel, while we are still children spiritually. Then we move on to maturity to become saints in Christ.
Hannah’s prayer of 1 Samuel 2:1-10 is not only a testimony to her depth and understanding of God himself, but is one of the greatest prayers of exaltation we will see in the Bible. In this short devotion, we notice there is nothing that exalts Hannah, only her jubilation at what God has done. She doesn't talk about how strong her faith needed to be or how great her courage was through it all. She knew whose hand holds the tap of life and death, who turns it on at will.
If Hannah had not struggled to have her child, would she be written in the Bible as a woman of faith in her own right and not just the mother of Samuel the prophet? Or would she be like Moses’ mother of whom we know little?
You might be a long-time follower of Jesus Christ, a new Christian, backslidden, or just looking to fill that emptiness in your heart. Looking at the faith of Hannah who, through one long trial stuck to her God, tells us some things; that God exists, he is faithful, he hears our prayers and works individually with each of us.