Hannah’s prayer aligned with God’s purpose and resulted in the birth of Samuel to lead the beginning of a new phase in the life of Israelites. She did not “know” God’s purpose to align with it by any deliberate human choice. Instead, the misery she felt from childlessness and her resignation to God as the only source of relief caused her to lift her spirit toward God, close enough to be guided to a spiritual understanding of her need that was consistent with God’s purpose. Based on her interactions with people and with God regarding the birth of Samuel, we learn about petitioning directly to God, respect for priestly authority, humility, and interacting with a fellow human being facing adversity.
Interactions regarding the birth of Samuel provide opportunities to learn about petitioning directly to God, respect for priestly authority, humility, and interacting with a fellow human being facing adversity. Hannah was grieved of childlessness and a feeling of loneliness due to people around her either seeking advantage from her adversity or asking her to accept the condition as a sentence to barrenness.
However, she did not succumb. Instead, she sought relief from God. In a moment of intensely focused prayer, she petitioned God directly and asked for a son that will be dedicated to serving God full time through all his life. Her prayer aligned with God’s purpose for a spiritual leader to unify Israelites through the next phase of their development. Though she petitioned God directly in the presence of Chief Priest Eli, when Eli scolded her for what he thought was drunkenness, she responded with humility and promise of obedience that moved Eli to join her prayer without knowing her prayer points. God granted her request in the form of the man we know today as Samuel.
Hannah’s Distress from Apparent Barrenness
Hannah was one of two wives of Elkanah, an Ephraimite. She did not have a child and felt she should have at that point in her marriage. Peninnah, the other wife of Elkanah, had several children. She taunted Hannah frequently, making her all the more bitter about being childless. Her husband sought to comfort her by showing love and trying to convince her to accept him as a consolation for the children that she didn’t have [1 Samuel 1:8]: “Then Elkanah her husband said to her, ‘Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? And why is your heart grieved? Am I not better to you than ten sons?’” Although her husband’s attitude conveyed love, he also conveyed acceptance of barrenness for Hannah.
But Hannah did not accept barrenness. She was frequently overcome with bitterness during their annual family trips to worship at the tabernacle in Shiloh. Furthermore, she must have felt alone in her bitterness because her husband’s other wife sought to take advantage of her and her husband sought to make her comfortable with barrenness. Her bitterness and loneliness motivated her to seek relief from God.
Hannah Petitions God
During one of the family trips to Shiloh, after they finished eating and drinking, Hannah stood up and focused her consciousness completely to God in prayer. She appeared lost to the world around her as she prayed and wept from her heart out of anguish. Even Eli, the chief priest, misunderstood and thought she was drunk [1 Samuel 1:12–14]: “And it happened, as she continued praying before the Lord, that Eli watched her mouth. Now Hannah spoke in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli thought she was drunk. So Eli said to her, ‘How long will you be drunk? Put your wine away from you!’” Hannah was not drunk. She was completely absorbed in intense and intimate communication with God.
And she made a vow [1 Samuel 1:11]: “O Lord of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head.” Hannah prayed for a son that she vowed will be dedicated to serve God, full time and all his life.
Alignment with God’s Purpose
We know through the benefit of hindsight that Hannah’s prayer fell in alignment with God’s purpose to bring up a new leader dedicated to spiritual and social leadership of Israelites.
The Israelites were up to this time led by judges in several uncoordinated groups. They were in a period of spiritual desperation and needed a uniting leader to protect them from both internal and external threat. God wanted to raise a leader that will hear him accurately, speak without fear or favor, and represent his intentions faithfully among the people. Therefore, Hannah’s prayer for a son that she will dedicate to serving God, full time and all his life, was consistent with God’s purpose for a uniting spiritual leader that would hear him and convey his message accurately to the people.
Hannah did not know God’s purpose to have aligned with it by any deliberate human choice. We believe the Holy Spirit guided her to an understanding of her need that was consistent with God’s purpose. The total and complete focus of her mind to God during the prayer took her to an intimate spiritual connection with God and guided her to ask for a relief consistent with the will of God.
LEAVE IT WITH GOD IN PRAYER Her demeanor after the prayer provides additional evidence of her depth of spiritual communication during the prayer. After the prayer, she “…went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad” [1 Samuel 1:18]. She took her need to God in prayer and left it with him.
Interaction with Chief Priest Eli
Hannah talked to God directly. Chief Priest Eli was present but was not privy to her intense conversation with God. However, notwithstanding her direct access to God, she was respectful of Eli’s authority as her priest. Her respect for Eli was evident in her response after Eli scolded her (in error) for drunkenness [1 Samuel 1:15–16]: “No, my lord, I am a woman of sorrowful spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor intoxicating drink, but have poured out my soul before the Lord. Do not consider your maidservant a wicked woman, for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief I have spoken until now.” Her humility and respect moved Eli to join her prayer without knowing the prayer points: “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition which you have asked of Him” [1 Samuel 1:17].
LIVING IN THE IMAGE OF GOD We know that God granted the joint prayer. We don’t know what would have happened if her response to Eli had been disrespectful. What we know, and all we need to know, is she was respectful to her priest, he joined her prayer, and God granted the prayer. Her interaction with Eli exemplifies living in the image of God.
Human Interactions During Adversity
Peninnah frequently sought advantage of Hannah’s childlessness by criticizing and taunting her: “And her rival also provoked her severely, to make her miserable, because the Lord had closed her womb” [1 Samuel 1:6]. Her taunting made Hannah more unhappy and she wept and starved: “So it was, year by year, when she went up to the house of the Lord, that she provoked her; therefore she wept and did not eat” [1 Samuel 1:7]. Understanding Peninnah’s attitude to Hannah is important because a person facing adversity has a need that God may place in another person’s path to help alleviate. Therefore, a person that encounters another in adversity may well have been placed in position to assist in dealing with the adversity.
As we discuss in a previous bible study under Call to Compassion, the person’s responsibility includes recognizing the need, caring about the needy, and committing to doing what he/she can to assist. A person earns blessing by fulfilling the responsibility in a call to compassion, or incurs punishment by declining the responsibility [Matthew 25:41–43]: “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat…’”
Peninnah’s attitude to Hannah was worse than declining a call to compassion because she sought to take advantage of Hannah’s adversity. Her attitude could be likened to picking the pocket of the man beaten by robbers in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. By placing you in position to be aware of another’s adversity, God provides you an opportunity to care and do what you can to assist. A person earns blessing by recognizing the need and fulfilling his/her responsibility; or incurs punishment by declining. Worse than declining is to be a Peninnah by attempting to take advantage of another’s adversity.
Summary of What We Learned
Based on interactions regarding the birth of Samuel, we learn about petitioning directly to God, respect for priestly authority, humility, and interacting with a fellow human being facing adversity. The lessons are drawn from Hannah’s interactions with husband Elkanah, his other wife Peninnah, and Chief Priest Eli; and her fervent prayer to defeat childlessness.