Hannah: Trust-filled Prayer

| I Samuel 1:1-2:10 | November 12, 2017

Week of November 19, 2017

The Point:  Christ-centered living chooses prayer, not hopelessness.

The Lord Rewards Hannah’s Faith:  1 Samuel 1:1-2:10.

[1] There 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. [2] He 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. [3] Now 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. [4] On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters. [5] But to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the LORD had closed her womb. [6] And her rival used to provoke her grievously to irritate her, because the LORD had closed her womb. [7] So it went on year by year. As often as she went up to the house of the LORD, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. [8] And 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?” [9] After 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. [10] She was deeply distressed and prayed to the LORD and wept bitterly. [11] And 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.” [12] As she continued praying before the LORD, Eli observed her mouth. [13] Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman. [14] And Eli said to her, “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.” [15] But 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. [16] Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.” [17] Then Eli answered, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.” [18] And 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. [19] They 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. [20] And 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.” [21] The man Elkanah and all his house went up to offer to the LORD the yearly sacrifice and to pay his vow. [22] But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, “As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, so that he may appear in the presence of the LORD and dwell there forever.” [23] Elkanah her husband said to her, “Do what seems best to you; wait until you have weaned him; only, may the LORD establish his word.” So the woman remained and nursed her son until she weaned him. [24] And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine, and she brought him to the house of the LORD at Shiloh. And the child was young. [25] Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child to Eli. [26] And she said, “Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the LORD. [27] For this child I prayed, and the LORD has granted me my petition that I made to him. [28] Therefore I have lent him to the LORD. As long as he lives, he is lent to the LORD.” And he worshiped the LORD there.

[2:1] And Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the LORD; my strength is exalted in the LORD. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation. [2] “There is none holy like the LORD; there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God. [3] Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. [4] The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble bind on strength. [5] Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn. [6] The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. [7] The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts. [8] He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s, and on them he has set the world. [9] “He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness, for not by might shall a man prevail. [10] The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven. The LORD will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king and exalt the power of his anointed.”   [ESV]

The Barren Wife [1:1-8].  The primary focus in Samuel’s birth is not on his father but on his mother, Hannah. We can often trace the faith of remarkable children to their remarkable mothers. So it is with this woman, who presents one of the most striking feminine characters in the Bible. Hannah was barren and was unable to bear her husband, Elkanah, any children. We are told in 1:5 that Hannah was barren because the Lord had closed her womb. There are many reasons why God brings trials into the lives of His people, often to stimulate our faith, but in the case of the mother of so important a figure as Samuel, the point has to do not with Hannah but with Israel. The Lord closed Hannah’s womb to remind Israel that He had also caused the people to be spiritually barren because of their idolatry and unbelief. What God shows us through Hannah is relevant for every Christian whose faith seems barren. It is true for barren churches who are bearing very little of the harvest of holiness and zeal for truth that God desires. As we continue in Hannah’s story, she will model for us the grace-seeking prayer that we need to offer to God. But in these opening verses we see another essential point. For in a time when Israel as a whole had forgotten the Lord, Elkanah would go up year by year from his city to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts at Shiloh [1:3]. Shiloh was the location of the tabernacle and the ark of the covenant in Elkanah’s time. Elkanah did what we must also do: he prioritized the place of God in his life and gave his attention to the Lord. However little Elkanah knew of true religion at a time like this, he knew enough to come as a sinner, seeking grace from God by means of the shed blood of a sacrifice. Elkanah took a second wife, Peninnah, probably because Hannah was unable to give him children, which threatened both economic hardship and the cutting off of his name and lineage. But Elkanah’s affections remained fixed on Hannah [1:5]. Polygamy always causes family conflict, but much more certainly when one wife receives affection and the other receives children. Hannah’s emotional distress over her barren womb would have been grief enough without Peninnah to goad her. Since children were considered a sign of God’s favor, childless women were often scorned in female society, depriving them of the emotional support they needed. While Hannah had Elkanah’s heart, Peninnah had his children, and she missed no opportunity to inflict misery on this account [1:6-7]. Even here at the beginning of her story, however, there are signs of hope for Hannah. The first sign of hope is the very statement about God’s involvement that many dread about their afflictions: the Lord had closed her womb [1:5]. Instead of resenting God’s sovereignty in our trials, we Christians should lift up our hearts. Our God has proved His faithfulness and love by sending His own Son to die for our sins. In Hannah’s day, He was known as the God who was faithful to deliver Israel from bondage in Egypt and who was mighty in securing for them the Promised Land. Rather than assuming some unholy, spiteful, or condemning purpose in God’s afflictions, believers need to remember that God is holy, so all His deeds are holy; God is good, so He intends our sorrows for good; and God is filled with mercy for the brokenhearted. God does not seek to destroy us through our trials but to save us through our trials. So if God is the One who closed the womb, we should take heart, since He can surely also open it. In Hannah’s case, God was using her plight to orchestrate Israel’s deliverance from the dark era of the judges. We may never know how God has worked through our most bitter trials to bring others to salvation. It equips us with sensitivity in ministry to others, or even to launch a significant gospel advance. But we do know God and His Word, so we can have confidence in God’s purpose in our lives. The second cause for Hannah’s hope was the tender love displayed by her husband, Elkanah [1:8]. Elkanah made to Hannah the essential point that he loved her very much and that her inability did not sour him toward her.

The God Who Hears [1:9-20].  In the midst of her weeping and sorrow, Hannah went to the tabernacle to seek the Lord in prayer. Her prayer is a model for us, starting with the simple fact that she turned to the Lord in her need. The second thing we should note is that, having turned to God in prayer, Hannah prayed knowing who God is: O Lord of hosts [1:11]. Hannah honored God by ascribing to Him all the power she needed, the might of the Lord of the hosts of heaven. She then asked God to remember her by giving her a son. Hannah calls on the Lord in a prayer of faith. Third, Hannah prayed knowing who she was. She referred to herself as God’s humble servant [1:11]. She did not demand of the Lord, nor is there any evidence that she complained about her particularly intense sorrows. She came not with her rights but with her humble request. This leads to a fourth item of note in Hannah’s prayer: she knew what she wanted and was not afraid to ask it of the Lord. It is true that our prayers should consist of more than a list of things we desire to receive from God. We need to worship God in prayer, to give thanks for our blessings, and to confess to Him our sins, seeking cleansing. But we must also realize that God invites us to make requests of Him, and that it honors the Lord when we do so. Therefore, we should come to God knowing what we are asking and then asking for it humbly and clearly. Hannah was able to pray confidently because she knew the God to whom she prayed. Fifth, Hannah also prayed with an eye to God’s will. We see this especially in the vow that plays such an important part in Hannah’s prayer [1:11]. Was this an attempt to bargain with God? We should consider the sacrifice involved in Hannah’s vow: she was offering to forgo the joys of parenting the child she longed to bear. She was also forfeiting the status that a child would bring in her society. So her prayer was not a bargain in which she offered something to God to get what she wanted. Rather, what she wanted was a child to offer to the Lord. She wanted to play her role in God’s plan of salvation, and she was zealous to play a most meaningful role: to bear a lifelong Nazirite who would wholeheartedly serve the Lord. In this, Hannah sets an example for Christian parents in that our chief desire for our children should be that they would be fully committed to the Lord and useful to His kingdom. A sixth and last thing to note about Hannah’s prayer is that she fervently opened her heart to the Lord [1:15]. She prayed with a mind that knew God and a heart that poured out in pain and godly desire. On the one hand, we need to realize that emotional passion does not make our prayers any better or more effective, as if we have to push our hearts onto the Lord. On the other hand, the passions that are in our hearts – our frustration, our grief, even our anger and doubt – can and should be brought to God in prayer. Hannah’s experience shows us two things that happen when God’s people pray to Him in faith. The first is that prayer changes us. We see this in her dramatic change of demeanor. Hannah entered into prayer shattered and depressed. But as she rose from prayer, she went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad [1:18]. She experienced the blessing of renewed faith. However God would answer Hannah’s prayer, the time spent with Him was rewarding, as it always is. To focus our hearts on God is to remember that the Lord who reigns is also the God of grace who invites us into His presence. He blesses those who trust Him according to His wise, holy, good, and sovereign will. If prayer only changed us, it would be worthwhile. But the second thing that happened was that God answered Hannah’s prayer. Not only does prayer change us, but prayer changes things. God is pleased to act in response to our prayers. The language of verse 19 is noteworthy: They 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. Hannah not only believed God’s answer to her prayer, but acted on the belief, going about her spiritual duties in worship and her conjugal duties in married life. The Lord remembered Hannah means that God was mindful of her prayer and ordered events to work in blessing for Hannah. This language of God remembering speaks of God’s faithfulness in hearing the prayers and meeting the needs of His people. The key to Hannah’s prayer is that she knew the Lord. She began her prayer by naming Him the Lord of Hosts, the Almighty God who is able to overcome every difficulty in answering prayer. But her experience in casting her burden on God in prayer and then trusting God caused her to know God even better. And 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’ [1:20].

Offered to the Lord [1:21-28].  Several characteristics are evident in Hannah’s keeping her vow to the Lord. First, it is clear that Hannah’s godly behavior is animated by gratitude to the Lord. We see this in her explanation in presenting Samuel to Eli: For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord [1:27-28]. Notice the sequence: Hannah is giving her child to God because God gave him to her. In just this way, all true Christian service and offerings are presented to God in thanks for His gracious provision to us. Hannah’s example shows that God’s grace rightly demands that we respond by giving back to the Lord. All that God gives us belongs to Him, and is intended for our good and for God’s glory. To receive God’s gifts merely for our own pleasure is to misuse them and despise the Giver, little appreciating God’s generosity and little realizing our dependence on His grace. Hannah was not only grateful, but also faithful in fulfilling her vow. Foremost in Hannah’s mind was her promise to the Lord and her obligation to see it through. Third, Hannah showed great generosity in her manner of offering up her son. Instead of doing the minimal amount to justify keeping her vow, she offered the most that she could manage [1:24]. Of course, Hannah’s greatest generosity was in offering her young son to the Lord [1:28]. Hannah recognized that the proper response to her answered prayer is the dedication of the child to the Lord’s service. The faith that receives God’s gifts also returns God’s gifts, using them to serve God’s cause and advance his kingdom. Like Hannah, believers today can trust the Lord by offering all that He has given us to His service, with no need to hold back or desire more worldly gifts for our own enjoyment and security. The final words of the chapter provide a fitting conclusion: And he worshiped the Lord there [1:28]. This was the great purpose in all that Hannah had desired and performed: that her son might worship and serve the Lord in His house. The purpose for our lives is no different.

Hannah’s Song [2:1-10].  None Like Our God [2:1-3].  The importance of Hannah’s Song extends far beyond its personal and sentimental value. Hannah offered intelligent, theological, and biblically informed praise to God at this great moment in her life. Hannah’s Song provides a forward-looking summary of what God was about to do in her period of history. We become especially aware of the importance of Hannah’s Song when we see how perfectly it corresponds to David’s song of praise in 2 Samuel 23:1-7. These two praise songs serve as a pair of bookends to encase the whole Samuel corpus that lies between them. The themes that Hannah saw anticipated in the birth of Samuel find their reprise as David looks back to see Hannah’s hope marvelously fulfilled through his own reign. For both Hannah and David, the God of Israel is their “Rock.” What Hannah foresees that God will do, David celebrates as accomplished in the faithfulness of God’s will. Hannah shows us what a difference it makes when we turn to God in time of need. The last time we saw her praying, her situation was very different. Hannah catalogues her transformation in terms of her heart, her horn, and her mouth. Her heart was sad [1:8], but now her heart exults in the Lord [2:1]. Her horn is exalted in the Lord. Those who lived in Hannah’s agricultural world knew that a beast holds its head and horns high as a symbol of victory and power. In this way, Hannah refers to the removal of her disgrace: now she can hold her head high because of what the Lord has done for her. Third, Hannah speaks of her mouth: My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation. Hannah now gloats to see the voice of unbelieving mockery silenced because of God’s saving grace. Hannah represented Israel in those barren and forlorn days; her salvation was designed to encourage all Israel to hope for a greater deliverance. It is of great importance that the source of Hannah’s joy and strength is the covenant of God Himself. She states: I rejoice in your salvation. Hannah rejoices not merely that she received something she had wanted. More significant in her eyes than the gift is the Giver: the Lord is her song and her salvation. Salvation is always of the Lord, and our praise should be focused on the Lord Himself rather than merely on the blessings He has provided. Hannah had not simply received a son but had received gracious help from the Lord, and the Lord is the solution for everything that Hannah and Israel needed. Just as Hannah earlier was a model of heartfelt prayer, so now she models godly praise, glorifying God first for who He is and then marveling at the salvation God has given. Hannah makes four statements about God in verses 2-3, all of which cause her to rejoice. Her thought first turns to the Lord’s holiness: There is none holy like the Lord [2:2]. This is entirely appropriate, because it is God’s holiness that comforts and encourages us in every situation. The holiness of God implies His separation from all His creatures, but it carries especially the notion of God’s moral perfection. Since God is holy, all His intentions for His people are holy. It is not possible for God’s motives to be perverse or callous or mean. Since God is perfectly holy, what truly matters is not what circumstances befall us in life but our relationship with the Holy One. Having praised God for His holiness, Hannah adds that there is none besides you [2:2]. Hebrew poetry often employs a parallelism in which one statement is followed by another that develops and expands the initial idea. Not only is the Lord holy, but God is so incomparable that no one else is even in His class. The Lord of Israel is the only true God; alone among all those worshiped as divine, Hannah’s Lord is truly God. Therefore, there is none to thwart God’s marvelous plans; the Lord’s will is always established. To this, Hannah adds a third statement that carries her prayer to its culmination. Not only is God the holy and only true God, but there is no rock like our God [2:2]. The image of God as a rock conveys His faithfulness to protect and establish His people. The Lord is the immovable rock on whom all our hopes are safe and secure. Hannah’s God-centered prayer sets a vital example for us. If we place a higher glory on the blessings that God gives than on God Himself, we commit idolatry, esteeming the creature above the Creator, and we engage in a folly that will ultimately spoil everything. Hannah is right: there is none holy like the Lord, none besides Him, no rock like our God. Therefore, like Hannah, we should always have as our chief glory and hope that we know God and have been accepted into His loving care through the atoning ministry of His Savior-Son, Jesus Christ. Hannah adds a fourth statement about God, couched as a rebuke to scornful mockers: Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by Him actions are weighed [2:3]. The wicked and arrogant should realize that God sees and knows all things, and knows how to respond to them all. When we read these two verses, suddenly we can understand this remarkable woman, Hannah. Hannah was absorbed with the Lord. Her heart was filled with the knowledge of God, her faith anchored on the glorious perfections of His character and attributes. This was the source not only of Hannah’s hope and joy, but also of her greatness.

The Lord’s Salvation [2:4-10].  This is not to say that Hannah did not rejoice in God’s wonderful actions on her behalf. We, too, should know and understand God’s saving works in order to love and praise Him as we should. Hannah praises God for what He has done in two groups of statements. In the first section, verses 4-5, Hannah reflects on what God has done for her, seeing a general pattern in God’s salvation. Then, in verses 6-8, she praises God for His actions toward the godly and the ungodly, respectively. The key to Hannah’s first string of praises comes at the end of verse 5: The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn. This relates, of course, directly to Hannah’s personal situation. She who was barren is exalted, while her haughty opponent is cast down by Hannah’s blessing. God is to be praised because He lifts up the lowly and casts down the arrogant and ungodly. According to Hannah, God’s salvation involves a reversal of fortune in which the proud and violent are humbled and the poor and meek are exalted. In verses 6-8, Hannah expands her thought to God’s salvation as it pertains to the ultimate issues of life and death. In a world such as ours, in which everyone is finally brought to death, God wonderfully lifts His people from death and destruction. When Hannah was downcast, God lifted her head; when she was barren, He brought life to her womb; when she was disgraced, He gave her an honored place. The Lord will do likewise, in ways and at times of His sovereign choosing, for all who humble themselves in faith and look to Him to be their God and Savior. These reflections led Hannah to a grand object lesson in 2:8-10. God is sovereign over all things, having created all that is and ruling over all with divine power. Those who walk before Him in faithfulness find that God will guard the feet of his faithful ones [2:9]. With this in mind, Hannah comes to the moral of her prayer, which is also the grand lesson of 1 and 2 Samuel as a whole: for not by might shall a man prevail, but by the Lord. Have you learned that God is the One who ultimately matters, to whom you must ultimately give account, and by whose grace alone you can hope to be saved?”  [Phillips, pp. 7-50].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What are some possible reasons why God closed the womb of Hannah? How did Hannah respond to her barrenness? Did she blame God? Did she lose her faith in God? Did she run from God and stop worshipping Him? Where was Hannah and what was she doing when the Lord heard and answered her prayer? How do you react to “bitter providences” that God brings into your life?
  2. How is Hannah’s prayer a model for us? List the various elements of her prayer. Who did she pray to? What did she know about God? How did this knowledge form her prayer? What did Hannah know about herself? What did Hannah ask of God? How did Hannah’s prayer change her? How did her prayer affect the nation of Israel?
  3. Analyze the contents of Hannah’s song (prayer) of praise. For what does she praise God? What does her praise show about her understanding of who God is? What can we learn from her song of praise concerning how we praise God?

References:

1, 2 Samuel, Robert Bergen, NAC, Broadman & Holman Publishers.

1 Samuel, Dale Davis, Christian Focus.

Twelve Extraordinary Women, John MacArthur, Nelson Books.

1 Samuel, Richard Phillips, REC, P & R Publishers.