Hannah’s Story of Infertility

  A few weeks ago I quoted Hannah in a blog post about our Rock.  I’ve never done a blog post on just one particular person from the Bible. I do know if they’re in the Bible, it’s for a good reason! I wanted to know more. As I started reading 1 Samuel, I remembered Hannah’s story of infertility and the sad, conflicted feelings it brought. Maybe I don’t want to delve into her story, I thought.

shadowed woman; hands lifted in prayer as she stands outside in a field, sky filled with clouds

The Bible story of Hannah is found in 1 Samuel 1- 2:11.

Hannah and Samuel

God keeps Hannah infertile. Verse 5 says, “The Lord had closed her 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 on 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. He is described by some as one of the noblest of men and having the purest of characters. Samuel anoints the first two kings of Israel- Saul, and 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.

Looking back, we see that 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.

Hannah and Elkanah

Hannah was one of two wives of a man named Elkanah. (Polygamy, by the way, was never ordained by God as evidenced in Gen 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. Her husband’s other wife, Peninnah, did have 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 left her in deep sadness and despair.

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 made sacrifices 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 sacrifice to God.

One year, after eating the festival meal, Hannah stands up and begins to cry and silently pray to God about her situation. She promises God that if He would give her a son, 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.  Eli the priest, 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

She does conceive Samuel and when he was born, she keeps her word and promise to God. Samuel lived at home until he was weaned (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???

Hannah’s Prayer

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 herself.  Upon leaving Samuel with Eli, Hannah prayed, “My heart rejoices in the Lord! The Lord has made me strong.” (1 Sam 2:1)

Faithfulness of Hannah in the Bible

Hannah’s great faithfulness and strength of character does not diminish the strong 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



2 thoughts on “Hannah’s Story of Infertility”

  1. I love the story of Hannah and Samuel. And can relate to a long period of infertility myself and years of prayer for a baby.
    I am going to write down those words: “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” What a wonderful way to start the day!
    Thanks, Ann

    1. Infertility breaks my heart! I learned so much from Hannah’s story, it certainly shows us how hard infertility is to cope with. I too love Samuels response. I need to write it down where I can see it in the morning!

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