You can read the story of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1 and 2. It follows right after the book of Ruth, which we studied in a previous post.
The book of 1 Samuel starts at the end of the time of judges, with Samuel as the last judge, transitioning into the time of the monarchy.
Elkanah is married to both Hannah and Peninnah. He loves Hannah very much, but she does not have any children while Peninnah has children. This family dynamic is a source of great sorrow for Hannah, especially because Peninnah likes to taunt Hannah about her barrenness. In the times of the Old Testament childlessness was seen as a failure and embarrassment to the husband. The remnants of this stigma are still evident in infertile couples today, but in those days children were part of the economic structure by being sources of labour in the fields and a retirement policy for parents in old age.
Elkanah would take his whole family on an annual pilgrimage to Shiloh to bring a sacrifice in the Tabernacle, according to the Jewish law. During these trips, Elkanah would give Peninnah and her children each a portion of sacrificial meat, and he will give Hannah a special portion. This made Peninnah even more jealous. Year after year they would take the trip and Hannah would be more distraught than the previous time. This annual tradition must have also served as a reminder for her of the passing of time without her prayers for a child being answered.
One year, after the sacrificial meal, Hannah could not eat due to her distress and made her way to the Tabernacle to pray. She found herself in deep anguish, crying bitterly and praying:
“O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, if you will look upon my sorrow and answer my prayer and give me a son, then I will give him back to you. He will be yours for his entire lifetime, and as a sign that he has been dedicated to the Lord, his hair will never be cut.”1 Samuel 1:11
Eli, the high priest sees Hannah praying and asks her if she is drunk. She explains to him that she is not drunk but discouraged and pouring her heart out to the Lord. Eli’s heart is softened, and he tells Hannah to go in peace and encourages her that the Lord will answer her prayers.
Hannah leaves the Tabernacle with her heart completely changed. She goes back to her family, eats with them and is at peace.
A few months later Hannah becomes pregnant and bears a son. She calls him Samuel because she “asked the Lord for him.” (1 Samuel 1:20)
After approximately three years, Samuel is weaned and Hannah and Elkanah take him back to the Tabernacle at Shiloh and present him to Eli. Hannah reminds Eli that she prayed fervently to the Lord and tells him that she prayed for a son. She explains the vow she made with God and presents Samuel to Eli to work in the service of the Lord.
Samuel grows up in the Tabernacle to become one of the greatest servants of the Lord as a judge, priest, prophet, and counselor. He guides Israel through an important time of transition as he obediently follows the directions from God. God uses him to anoint the first to kings of the Jews, Saul and David and Samuel is included in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11. We read in Samuel 3:19 that “As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him, and everything Samuel said proved reliable.”
Lessons from Hannah’s story
How to pray
Hannah prayed fervently for a son and did not give up hope. After her pleading prayer, her attitude changes completely because she prayed honestly and leaves her problems and desires with God. She is also encouraged by Eli which strengthens her.
The Lord actually blessed Hannah and Elkanah for their obedience when, after they submitted Samuel to Eli, Eli could encourage them with the blessing that the Lord would give them other children to take the place of this one they gave to the Lord. Hannah went on to give birth to three more sons and two daughters.
After the Lord grants her heart’s desire, she prays a beautiful prayer of gratitude in Samuel 2. As Hannah dedicates her son to God, she also dedicates her whole self to God as a sacrifice for the gifts He has bestowed on her. In this prayer, she celebrates God’s sovereignty with thankfulness.
Many scholars compare Hannah’s prayer with that of Mary in Luke 1:46-55 since both women had to sacrifice their sons for God’s glory. It is evident in this prayer that Hannah rejoices in God as her giver, instead of Samuel, the gift.
Some commentaries also theorize that Hannah prophesies about the Messiah in verses 11-26 when she mentions the kingdom that will be saved, enemies that will be ruined and the anointed one, which is probably a reference to Jesus Christ.
How do we pray to God? Do we give up hope after a few days, months or years? Do leave our pleas in God’s capable hands and allow our prayers to fill us with peace and calm? Or do we keep fretting and worrying about when or if the Lord will give us what we asked. This is very difficult but Hannah is a beautiful example of not giving up hope in our prayers, and allowing our fervent prayers to fill us with peace and confidence that God will do what is best.
God’s timing is perfect
I don’t think anyone likes waiting. Hannah is an example of waiting for a child, but our lives and battles of faith are all filled with periods of waiting on God to answer our heart’s desires.
Samuel had to be born at this specific time in history to guide the Israelites. He had to have the wisdom only gained through a lifetime in service in the temple, which only the desperation of Hannah to make a vow with God would have ensured.
God chooses and rejects people according to His sovereign purpose and will. He guides the lives of those he has chosen and those who are obedient to his word. His decisions are always just and right. What makes the process of waiting the most difficult is that we do not know what God’s plan is. We don’t know if he will answer our prayers with a yes, no or maybe.
We don’t know what the end of the wait will be, so all we can control is how we wait, and who we become. That is essentially why God uses waiting frequently to grow our faith – because the ultimate goal of our lives is who we become at the end of this journey and if we are fit to live in his eternal Kingdom with Jesus.
What do you take away from the story of Hannah’s journey of faith?
This post was part of a Bible Study series that I wrote to connect with my friends during the COVID-19 lockdown.
I am not a pastor, nor do I have theological training. I am a follower of Jesus and the daughter of my Heavenly Father that enjoys studying and discussing Scripture with others.
The resources I used for this study are listed below.
All colour illustrations are from www.jw.org