Today’s Reading: 1 Samuel 1 & Psalm 67
1 Samuel starts with the story of Hannah, which I find in direct contrast to Naomi’s story. When Naomi found herself without her sons and without grandchildren, she felt sorry for herself and blamed God for the pain life had dealt her. What is missing from the book of Ruth is Naomi’s prayer life. Did she call on God? Did she ask God for the desires of her heart? Even after Ruth gave birth to Obed, we hear the women in Bethlehem praising God but the author leaves out Naomi’s praise. We know she found great joy in caring for her grandson but did she spend as much time thanking God as she had blaming God and taking pity on herself?
Hannah was just as grief stricken to be without children as Naomi was to have lost hers. But what we see in Hannah’s story is a woman who prayed to God and her prayers were answered. Her story teaches us how to pray and reveals the heart behind her prayers.
Hannah was barren and wanted to have a baby so she prayed to God. The exact description of her prayer is “out of great anguish and sorrow” (1 Samuel 1:16). I’ve read this story many times and have always been able to relate to Hannah’s heart because of my own struggle with infertility before I was healed. But one day, while again reading through this first chapter of 1 Samuel, God graciously showed me something different in Hannah’s story.
Each year Elkanah would travel to Shiloh to worship and sacrifice to the Lord of Heaven’s Armies at the Tabernacle…On the days Elkanah presented his sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to Peninnah and each of her children. And though he loved Hannah, he would give her only one choice portion because the Lord had given her no children…Each time, Hannah would be reduced to tears and would not even eat. “Why are you crying?” Elkanah would ask. “Why aren’t you eating? Why be so downhearted just because you have no children? You have me – isn’t that better than having ten sons?”
Once after a sacrificial meal at Shiloh, Hannah got up and went to pray…Hannah was in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed to the Lord. And she made this vow: “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 1:3-11
I have always thought Hannah wanted a child so that she could have a child. That makes sense to me. But then she gives him back to the Lord and is again without a child – a part of the story that has always confused me. Hannah’s intent was always to GIVE THE CHILD BACK TO GOD, not just in the way we do when we dedicate our children to the Lord, but to literally give her child to the Church and again be without him. If I focus on the annual sacrifice, I see the heart behind Hannah’s desire to have a son.
The portion of the meat Hannah was given to sacrifice was choice (some translations say it was a double portion) and it showed Elkanah’s great love for her, but it still reflected the reality that she was without children. She prayed for a child so that she would have something of great worth to give back to God. She could give the most incredible sacrifice a mother could ever give, her son. God saw Hannah’s heart – saw it was out of love for God that she asked for something God would see as priceless and beyond the value of any other sacrifice. God, who knew He would one day offer His own son as a sacrifice, understood the cost – He understood Hannah’s heart and answered her prayer.
God also saw the great faith that Hannah had. When Hannah explained the reason behind her great anguish and sorrow to the priest, Eli, he responded: “In that case, go in peace! May the God of Israel grant the request you have asked of him” (1:17). And that is exactly what Hannah did – she left with a peace and confidence that God would indeed answer her prayer. She went back and began to eat again and she was no longer sad (1:18b).
What great faith Hannah had! Her prayer had not yet been answered but she believed that God would grant her request and she allowed Him to fill her heart with joy again – even before her prayer was answered.
When Elkanah slept with Hannah, the Lord remembered her plea, and in due time she gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, “I asked the Lord for him.”
The next year Elkanah and his family went on their annual trip to offer a sacrifice to the Lord. But Hannah did not go. She told her husband, “Wait until the boy is weaned. Then I will take him to the Tabernacle and leave him there with the Lord permanently.”
“Whatever you think is best,” Elkanah agreed. “Stay here for now, and may the Lord help you keep your promise.” – 1 Samuel 1:19b-23a
And now we see the heart of Hannah’s husband. Let’s not miss the fact that he would soon be losing the son he loved so much. In fact, Elkanah could have forbidden such a sacrifice, but he instead affirmed and supported Hannah’s promise to God. Elkanah loved Hannah (1:5) and had seen her joy return in the birth of her son, but recognized the struggle that was ahead. They knew it would be difficult to give Samuel to the Lord and he prayed for help from the Lord. He recognized that the God they served could give them the strength to do exactly as Hannah had promised.
When the child was weaned, Hannah took him to the Tabernacle in Shiloh. They brought along a three-year-old bull for the sacrifice and a basket of flour and some wine. After sacrificing the bull, they brought the boy to Eli. “Sir, do you remember me?” Hannah asked. “I am the woman who stood here several years ago praying to the Lord. I asked the Lord to give me this boy, and he has granted my request. Now I am giving him to the Lord, and he will belong to the Lord his whole life.” And they worshiped the Lord there. – 1 Samuel 1:24-28
Hannah went from carrying a small sacrifice of meat to Shiloh to pulling along a three-year-old bull for the sacrifice. What a difference! She was traveling to Shiloh to give God her best – to loving place her son in the arms of the Church, and allow God to use his life for HIS kingdom. The bull represented the value of all God had blessed her life with and all she was looking forward to giving back to God. God had blessed her generously so that she could give back to Him. God had seen the desire of her heart!
Lord, give me the heart of Hannah – give me her PASSION to be generous with you and her great FAITH to trust you. Then give me the strength to do all you have called me to do and all I committed to you. I thank you from the depth of my heart for the three wonderful baby girls you have given me. I will never forget the great gift of motherhood you gave me and I commit to leaving them in your hands. Lord, give me the strength to let go of them completely when the time comes. I love you, Father God. Amen.