In Old Testament times, people considered a childless woman a failure. It was a social embarrassment for the husband. They believed large families were a blessing from God, and Hannah could not conceive for years. Hannah struggled with her self worth because of her infertility. But God had plans for Hannah to be the mother of a very special child at a specific time in history. We find the story of Hannah in the first book of Samuel, verses 1- 2:11.
Spiritual Meaning of the Name Hannah
Hannah’s name means “favor” or “grace.” She prays for a son and God favors her to be the mother of Samuel.
Hannah and Samuel
God keeps Hannah infertile. Verse 5 tells us the Lord closed Hannah’s womb. I struggled when I first read this.
I know in my heart that God is sovereign, and he alone knows our life’s story and purpose. But this hit me hard.
I worked as a Labor and Delivery nurse. I saw too many of what I deemed “life’s not fair” moments in that unit. It’s painful when you see people denied the deepest desires of their hearts.
I want to start Hannah’s story, however, with Samuel. It helped me to see the “why” in Hannah’s situation.
Hannah, Mother of Samuel
Samuel grew up to be a prophet. He served as a priest and a judge.
Some describe him as one of the noblest of men and having the purest of characters. Samuel anoints the first two kings of Israel- King Saul and King David, as instructed by God.
This answer-to-prayer child, whose name means “asked of, heard of God”, is a story of how God works out his sovereignty in the life of an intensely faithful, prayerful, spiritually mature woman.
God uses Samuel to establish the kingship in Israel, which was a momentous change for the Israelites. They basically told God that rather than using his protection and power, they wanted to be like their neighbors and have an earthly king that would do the same thing.
God agrees, which seems to me as misguided as denying someone motherhood, but because God is God and I am not, all works out for the good that God had planned. (Romans 8:28)
Looking back, we see God knew the exact timing, place, and kind of mother needed for Samuel to be born and fulfill his purpose. For Hannah, however, waiting was a heartbreaking situation.
Wives of Elkanah
The name of the other wife of Hannah’s husband, Elkanah, was Peninnah. (God did not ordain polygamy, as evidenced in Genesis 2:23-24. Man and wife are to become “one”, not “many.” The Israelites adopted this custom from their neighbors.)
Hannah and Peninnah
Hannah longed for a son. The other wife, Peninnah, had children, and cruelly taunts Hannah for not having any. She “provoked” Hannah “in order to irritate her.” (1 Samuel 1:6)
Elkanah loved Hannah and was very kind to her, but living with the taunts of Peninnah and her natural grief and sadness over her infertility caused her great anxiety and deep sadness.
How Many Years Did Hannah Pray for a Son?
Hannah’s infertility lasted “year after year.” She had a loving husband who also prayed and sacrificed to the Lord, but Hannah did not conceive.
Hannah and her family traveled to Shiloh each year for a festival. Elkanah needed to fulfill a requirement to present his annual sacrifice to God.
One year, after eating the festival meal, Hannah stands up and cries and silently prays to God about her situation. She promises God that if He would give her a male child, she would dedicate him to God “for all the days of his life.” (v 11)
Hannah and Eli
Hannah was praying “in her heart.” (v 13) Silent prayer was uncommon in those days. Prayer was almost always out loud.
The priest Eli, was sitting at the temple door. He sees Hannah’s lips moving, but hears no sound. Eli assumes she is drunk.
Hannah defends herself. “Not so, my lord; I am deeply troubled. I was pouring out my soul to the Lord.” (v15) Eli realizes his error and answers her, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.” (v 17)
Hannah leaves with peace of mind and hopeful reassurance.
The Birth of Samuel
Hannah conceives Samuel and when he was born; she keeps her word and promise to God. Until he was weaned, Samuel remained at home (approximately age 3.)
Hannah then took Samuel to the temple at Shiloh and brought the boy to Eli.
1 Samuel 1:27-28
Hannah says to Eli, “I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life, he will be given over to the Lord.”
Can you imagine being that faithful???
After giving up Samuel, Hannah prays a beautiful prayer of praise and thanksgiving (1 Samuel 2:1-10.) She tells of her overflowing happiness; not in the birth of Samuel, but for God, who answered her prayer!
Hannah’s song of praise gives thanks that God gave her a position of honor and strength. She declares His sovereignty in her life and gives descriptions of how He grants surprising reversals to dire situations.
Hannah and Elkanah visited Samuel each year when they went to the annual festival. Each time, Hannah brought Samuel a little robe she had made for him.
Eli would bless Elkanah and Hannah and pray to God to give them more children.
1 Samuel 2:21 tells us “the Lord was gracious to Hannah“; she subsequently gave birth to three sons and two daughters. And best of all, “the boy Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord.”
Lessons from Hannah in the Bible
●She had a powerful prayer life. She “poured out her heart” and soul to God.
●Hannah never, ever gave up hope. Peninnah provoked her “year after year”, still she remained hopeful that God would answer her prayer.
●We can learn much from Hannah’s story in the way she responded to the cruel taunts of Peninnah, and when Eli accused her of being drunk. Instead of responding harshly to her critics, she showed grace, humility, and restraint by not responding to Peninnah, and speaking firmly but respectfully to Eli.
●Hannah completely trusted God with her life’s dreams, wants, disappointments, and emotions. She gave it all to him, including her son.
●She recognized that her strength came from God and not from herself. Upon leaving Samuel with Eli, Hannah prayed, “My heart rejoices in the Lord! The Lord has made me strong.” (1 Samuel 2:1)
Faithfulness of Hannah in the Bible
Hannah’s great faithfulness and strength of character does not diminish the powerful emotions and desires she felt in wanting a child. God did not rebuke her for being discontent in her infertility.
God understood her feelings and heard her fervent prayers.
Laying our desires at the feet of God and trusting him can give us the comfort, hope, and peace we desire.
Hannah trusted God to work out the details of her life, and so can we.
Doesn’t God, the perfect father, also act in our best interest? Yes, always. There will be times in our lives when our prayers, unlike Hannah’s, go unanswered. We won’t always get what we want, when we want it.
I am also convicted that this life is but a tiny speck of our eternity and “what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.” (Romans 8:18)
We have the promise of living with God forever in a perfect world; just as he planned it in the beginning. The glory of that life to come can give us the patience and confidence of Hannah as we wade through the life we have now.
“No one is holy like the Lord! There is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.” 1 Samuel 2:2.
All Scripture is taken from the NIV unless specified otherwise.
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