Had God forgotten Hannah? Was He just too busy with other, more important things? Maybe Hannah had sinned sometime in her past, earning her the punishment of childlessness…or at least had made some bad choices way-back-when that landed her here. She knew how the other woman looked down on her and wondered why she had the “woman’s curse.” Or worse. Maybe the LORD had just struck her barren for His own sick enjoyment, so He could laugh at her suffering and mock her childlessness, like her husband’s other wife, Peninnah, did. All the time.
Sure, Elkanah said he still loved Hannah…she might’ve even been his favorite wife. As much as a wife who can’t give her husband any children can be favored over the one who does, anyway. You know how men are. He probably just liked her more youthful figure, compared to Peninnah’s stretched-out, well-used one. But a husband’s love, while wonderful, just didn’t fill that void.
And then one day, just after the annual sacrifice at the tabernacle in Shiloh…Hannah lost it (again). She was frequently depressed and didn’t want to eat or be around the family. But this time, she was DONE. Cracked. Bat spit crazy.
Only this time, they were all out in public, for God and everyone to see. Pastor Eli was sitting right there, on the bench next to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. And Hannah just brazenly wandered right up to the Doorway of God’s Own House! By herself! She didn’t even notice Eli, what with all the sobbing and incoherent mumbling going on as she poured out her heart, directly to God, laying it all drenched in tears and snot, right on His front doorstep.
God answers her prayer and gives her a son, Samuel, whom she then gives back to the Lord to serve in His house. In the next chapter, she sings a song of thanksgiving.
Yay, Hannah! What an example of an effective prayer! You should pray like that if you really want to see results.
Actually, I think Hannah would be pretty horrified to hear our version of this story, the one praising her for her such a powerful prayer that God rewarded her by granting her plea for a son. What you need to do, then, is be like Hannah.
But she wasn’t given Samuel as a reward for being such a powerful pray-er, who managed to say just the right words and suddenly change the Lord’s mind about her barren state. And she wasn’t given a baby because she was just so pathetically desperate for a child that she promised she’d give him right back to God as her special gift to Him.
Hannah prayed to God, not because she thought her tears and sincerity would convince Him to do what she wanted and give her a child, but because she knew that He was the one from whom all good gifts come — including (and especially) the gift of children. She prayed to the LORD because she had a God who gives good gifts.
If her “pouring out her heart before the LORD” was anything like my pouring out my heart before the LORD, the world is probably better off not knowing what she said with all her groanings too deep for words. It’s bad enough being barren. Being barren with a husband who had another — very fertile — wife (who even mocked your childlessness)…that’s got to be a real special kind of torture.
Hannah probably told Him about Peninnah’s hurtful taunts and her utter hatred for her and all her stupid kids, and how it killed her to see her husband being fatherly with them. How she hated everyone for their polite questions and unhelpful platitudes, and their whispers and gossip. How she’d wait and pray and try-not-to-hope but couldn’t-help-hoping that this time it would happen…and then have those hopes-shattered-into-tiny-little-pieces as her period inevitably returned. Every. Single. Month.
Why God?? Why not her? Why all those other women? When would it be her turn? Didn’t He love her? What had she done wrong? She must’ve done something to deserve this shame-filled fate. She poured out all the doubts and fears and feelings that she had kept pent up for so long. ALL of them.
When she had confessed everything to the LORD, there was nothing left to get in the way of faith anymore. So she made a vow. Notice how this part gets recorded in Scripture, possibly because, unlike the sobbing confession, Hannah’s speech was now clear and quite lucid. “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.” (1 Samuel 1:11 ESV)
Oh, but there’s more! Hannah’s brazen faith didn’t even back down when, after watching the whole scene, Eli called her a drunk and told her to go sober up. She had just triple-dog-dared the LORD God Almighty to remember her and give her a son. It was nothing for her to now give His Holy Priest the what’s-what, explaining to him that she is not drunk (thank you very much), but that this is what a woman praying to her LORD “in anxiety and great vexation” looks like. The stunned Pastor Eli could only respond by sputtering out a perfunctory absolution and quickly sending her on her way.
And her faith Amen’d even that!
Whether God gave Hannah a child after this is beside the point. Hannah’s Canticle (foreshadowing Mary’s Magnificat) is not sung in celebration over her son’s birth or his being given to the Lord, but in praise of Her God, from whom all good gifts come. He doesn’t operate like other gods. In fact He does all sorts of things that Gods aren’t supposed do— even in the Old Testament! Hannah’s God is the One who strengthens the weak, feeds the hungry, gives children to the barren, and raises the poor from the ashes. He kills and raises to new life. He is the one who gave her barrenness and He is the one who gave her Samuel and his other brothers and sisters.