Hannah’s prayer. 1 Samuel 1:1-20

Follow the link for The literary structure of 1 Samuel 1:1-20

This morning we are starting into the story of Hannah found in 1 Samuel, and today we are in chapter 1. She is a strong and godly woman, as we will see, and we can learn much from  her.

Today we begin with –

Hannah’s prayer for a child

What I want to say is that she is an example to us of what to do when you have a really heavy burden. Do you have a heavy burden this morning? Is something weighing on your heart? Keep this in mind as we go through this story and let’s see what we can learn about how to handle these.

By way of orientation, the story centers around two places Ramathaim (Ramah), where Hannah and her husband are from and Shiloh, where the tabernacle of the Lord is at this time (Joshua 18:1). Remember this is before there was a permanent temple building in Jerusalem. These two cities were about 15 miles apart, or a journey of two days by foot with family.

Hannah’s difficult situation

1There was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim of the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, an Ephrathite. 2He had two wives. The name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other, Peninnah. And Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.

In v. 1 we get some background on Elkanah. (Based on the larger story of Samuel and other Scriptures [1 Chronicles 6:26-27, 33-34; Numbers 3:33] perhaps he was of Levite descent but lived in the area of the tribe of Ephraim.)

And then v. 2 gets to the heart of the issue – “he had two wives.” Polygamy was not forbidden in Israel, even though the Genesis teaching is one man and one woman. It wasn’t too common because a man had to be well off to support more than one wife.

In Hebrew it’s clearer that Hannah was the first wife. In this case Elkanah most likely married Peninnah to carry on the family lineage, since Hannah couldn’t have children. That’s why he has two wives.

If you look at the stories in the Bible that talk about polygamy, they certainly don’t glorify it. It caused problems and this is what we turn to now in our story.

3Now this man used to go up year by year from his city to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the Lord.

Here we see that Elkanah is a devout man, coming to the tabernacle at Shiloh each year to worship. This appears to be a voluntary pilgrimage beyond what was required by the Law (three visits a year for men on major festivals). So this was a yearly family event, like a “family vacation,” where everyone is together in close proximity. And it caused problems. (That never happens with us, right?) 

4On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters. 5But to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb.

Now meat was not too common for meals in the ancient world. But when sacrifices were made some of the meat and other items were given to the family for a feast(Deuteronomy 12:17-18). And how this was divided up highlights Hannah’s predicament.  Peninnah got more for “all her sons and daughters.” But she got less.

Elkanah did give her a double portion, because he loved her, which most likely means more than Peninnah got for just herself. But it reminded Hannah that she couldn’t have children.

The phrase, “though the Lord had closed her womb” (also v. 6) doesn’t mean that if you can’t have children God is specifically causing this. God allows much to happen in this world that is not his direct or preferred will. Although God may specifically be behind this in Hannah’s life, even here it might simply mean that God has allowed this to happen.

6And her rival used to provoke her grievously to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. 7So it went on year by year. As often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her.

So you can see the family dysfunction – Hannah is beloved but unable to have children. Peninnah has children but is feeling slighted by Elkanah, and so she torments Hannah. A vicious circle. Peninnah is Hannah’s “rival,” an enemy who is very cruel to her. (See the language of “rival wife” in Leviticus 18:18)

Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. 8And Elkanah, her husband, said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”

This was supposed to be a festive time of celebration, but it became a yearly time of suffering for Hannah.

This certainly wouldn’t be the first time that a husband tried to console his wife, without really understanding what she was upset about. In that day it was a real social stigma for a wife to produce no children. Others looked down on her. And who would take care of her in her old age? [The mention of ten sons is possibly a reference to the story of Jacob and Rachel, where he loved her more, but Leah, his other wife, had ten sons, with help from her servant (Genesis 29:31-30:22) (Bergen).]

Hannah’s prayer

9After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. 10She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly.

Different translations render it differently, but it appears that the rest of the family feasted, and when the party was over Hannah, too distressed to eat or drink (v. 7, 8, 15), slipped off to the tabernacle to pray.

The condition of her soul is emphasized, “she was deeply distressed” “and wept bitterly” as she prayed.

11And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”

Vows are voluntary commitments made to God. They are acts of devotion that go beyond what God requires. They often have a deal quality to them. God if you do this, then I will do this, and you can see that here.

Her vow is that if God gives her a son, then she will give that son right back to him to serve the Lord forever. And in fact, she places the son under a Nazarite vow for his whole life – a special state of consecration to the Lord, so that he can’t cut his hair as well as other restrictions (Numbers 6:5).

Notice the awareness of her lowliness. She is “afflicted” and she calls herself a servant three times. She knows that God listens to the lowly (Psalm 138:6). And she calls on the Lord to remember her in her lowliness.

12As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth.13Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman.14And Eli said to her, “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.” 15But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. 16Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.”

So she is involved in some really intense silent prayer. But Eli, who is overseeing the tabernacle, mistakes what’s going on. Since alcohol was a part of such festive celebrations (e.g. Exodus 29:40, Leviticus 23:13 and in our own story 1:24) he thinks that she is drunk.

Hannah is quick to correct him, for she did not partake in the family feast. Rathershe is praying desperately to God for help. (Notice the contrast – her condition is not from pouring out wine, it is from pouring out her soul.) (Notice the irony – while she is offering up her possible son to be a Nazarite, who cannot touch wine, she is accused of being drunk.)

Hannah’s faith

17Then Eli answered, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.” 18And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.

Eli speaks out pastorally – go in peace. And he prays that God will answer her. And this is enough for her. She comes to a place of faith and trust in God and so she can put away her sadness and finally eat. She has “prayed through” as the old phrases goes. Even though her circumstances have not yet changed, she has put her burden in God’s hands and has peace and hope.

This brings us to the end of our story –

Hannah’s prayer is answered

19They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the Lord remembered her. 20And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked for him from the Lord.”

God did indeed remember Hannah and gave her a son. She names him Samuel, which involves a word play  with the word for “ask” – which is how she got her son from the Lord.

This was a true miracle and it marked the child as special, someone from who great things will be expected. And as we know, Samuel doesn’t disappoint.

Encouragement for us

1. Hannah was in a very difficult situation . . . She wasn’t able to have children which caused others to look down on her and put her in a place of weakness socially. And on top of this her rival tormented her about this year after year. It was so bad that she wept bitterly and was deeply distressed and couldn’t eat. She felt afflicted and forgotten by God. She was troubled, anxious and vexed.

. . . what is your situation? We all go through deep waters that push us to the limit and more; where we feel forgotten and overwhelmed. What is on your heart this morning? What burden are you carrying?

2. Hannah took her problem to the Lord in prayer . . . She poured out her heart to God. She acknowledged her weakness and lowliness and dependence on God. She prayed boldly, even making a vow before God. She prayed so intensely that Eli thought she was drunk. She prayed and prayed until, through the words of Eli, she came to a place of faith and peace – that God would take care of her. She “prayed through.” She connected with God and was able to leave her burden with him and move forward in faith.

. . . we should too! Take your burden to the Lord, cast your care on him for he cares for you. Pour out your heart to God. Pray intensely. Pray boldly. And pray until you connect with God and come to a place of peace and trust, knowing that God has heard you and will take care of you.

3. God took care of Hannah . . . He did remember her, he did help her, he did save her from her situation by giving her a son. She gained a new future, full of hope and life.

. . . and God will take care of us. I can’t say how specifically. It’s not always what we think it will be. For instance, not every godly man or woman who has prayed for a child has received one. But we can say with full confidence that God will hear and act, and be faithful to us as well.

4. God brought something good out of her trial for others . . . God not only answered her prayer, but through her God acted for all of Israel by giving Samuel who will lead the people back to God and new life. It was through her difficulties and her faith that God accomplished this.

. . . God can use our trials to bless others. God can transform our suffering into something that will bless many, many people beyond us. God can bring much good out of our struggles. So don’t give up! Trust God and wait for him to act. He will not only take care of you, he will use your trials to bless others.

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