1 Samuel 1 New Living Translation (NLT)
1 There was a man named Elkanah who lived in Ramah in the region of Zuph in the hill country of Ephraim. He was the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, of Ephraim. 2 Elkanah had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah did not.
3 Each year Elkanah would travel to Shiloh to worship and sacrifice to the Lord of Heaven’s Armies at the Tabernacle. The priests of the Lord at that time were the two sons of Eli—Hophni and Phinehas. 4 On the days Elkanah presented his sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to Peninnah and each of her children. 5 And though he loved Hannah, he would give her only one choice portion because the Lord had given her no children. 6 So Peninnah would taunt Hannah and make fun of her because the Lord had kept her from having children. 7 Year after year it was the same—Peninnah would taunt Hannah as they went to the Tabernacle. Each time, Hannah would be reduced to tears and would not even eat.
8 “Why are you crying, Hannah?” Elkanah would ask. “Why aren’t you eating? Why be downhearted just because you have no children? You have me—isn’t that better than having ten sons?”
9 Once after a sacrificial meal at Shiloh, Hannah got up and went to pray. Eli the priest was sitting at his customary place beside the entrance of the Tabernacle. 10 Hannah was in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed to the Lord. 11 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.”
12 As she was praying to the Lord, Eli watched her. 13 Seeing her lips moving but hearing no sound, he thought she had been drinking. 14 “Must you come here drunk?” he demanded. “Throw away your wine!”
15 “Oh no, sir!” she replied. “I haven’t been drinking wine or anything stronger. But I am very discouraged, and I was pouring out my heart to the Lord. 16 Don’t think I am a wicked woman! For I have been praying out of great anguish and sorrow.”
17 “In that case,” Eli said, “go in peace! May the God of Israel grant the request you have asked of him.”
18 “Oh, thank you, sir!” she exclaimed. Then she went back and began to eat again, and she was no longer sad.
19 The entire family got up early the next morning and went to worship the Lord once more. Then they returned home to Ramah. When Elkanah slept with Hannah, the Lord remembered her plea, 20 and in due time she gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, “I asked the Lord for him.”
21 The next year Elkanah and his family went on their annual trip to offer a sacrifice to the Lord and to keep his vow. 22 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.”
23 “Whatever you think is best,” Elkanah agreed. “Stay here for now, and may the Lord help you keep your promise.” So she stayed home and nursed the boy until he was weaned.
24 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. 25 After sacrificing the bull, they brought the boy to Eli. 26 “Sir, do you remember me?” Hannah asked. “I am the very woman who stood here several years ago praying to the Lord. 27 I asked the Lord to give me this boy, and he has granted my request. 28 Now I am giving him to the Lord, and he will belong to the Lord his whole life.” And they worshiped the Lord there.
This story of Hannah’s faithfulness is inspiring to us – what confidence she must have had in God’s power! Many believe that her situation, and her solution, inspired Mary, the mother of Jesus. Mary’s prayer, also known as the Magnificat, recorded in Luke 1:46-55, shares many of the same elements as Hannah’s prayer of praise that follows the above scripture (1 Samuel 2:1-10). It is the prayer Hannah prayed after she left her son Samuel with Eli the priest at the Tabernacle in Shiloh.
So we know that Hannah’s prayer was answered and we also know that Hannah kept her vow to the Lord. That is the rest of the story – knowing the outcome. But at the beginning of this episode, Hannah had no such confidence that her anguish would be relieved through answered prayer. I think we can all relate to being in situations where we can see no good way out and finally accept that whatever our problem or circumstance, we must give over control to God through prayer.
And this is exactly what Hannah did. In her culture a woman needed to have children; that was her goal in life. In order to be accepted as a true wife, a woman needed to produce children, especially sons. Here was Hannah, the favored wife of her husband, but childless. It was a sad situation – the less-favored wife Peninnah could give their husband children, but that did not gain her favored status. Elkanah’s heart belonged to Hannah. Neither woman was happy. Peninnah worked out her frustration by taunting Hannah, ridiculing her because she was not able to give their husband children like she could. Perhaps this was why she was so unsympathetic to Hannah’s situation. Hannah did not respond in kind; instead she went to God in prayer – a very specific prayer – Please give me a child, a son.
There was a time when we experienced a somewhat similar situation. Two of the members of a Bible study group we attended were a husband and wife, he was a research doctor and she was a graduate student in public health. She had a medical condition that made pregnancy unlikely, and there was a real possibility that she would not survive a pregnancy. Yet they asked our group to pray that she could conceive a child. Other members of the group, several of whom were doctors or nurses, shared with us that they could not pray for this outcome. They felt that if the couple were successful in becoming pregnant that the wife’s health was so fragile that either she would die or suffer severe medical consequences. They felt they just could not pray such a prayer. I was conflicted about how to pray, but I chose to pray for their success. Several months later they announced that they would be having a child. Everyone in the Bible study was cautiously optimistic, but that happiness was tinged with apprehension. We all continued to pray for a safe outcome. The rest of the story is that they were able to have a full-term, healthy baby girl. And interestingly, her pregnancy improved her medical condition. God answered their prayers in a powerful way.
Hannah did not have access to the many medical treatments of infertility that are available today. There were no medical journals for her to look at; her only source of help was prayer. And that is where she finally turned in sorrow and desperation. She was not timid in her prayer. She asked God for a son, and in that asking, she also gave a vow – if God granted her prayer for a son, she would give that son into God’s service. What faith that prayer must have taken!
After praying, she left the Tabernacle, and she was no longer depressed. She must have been confident that her prayers would be answered and that she would bear a son. How often we have prayed to God and made vows to serve God if only God would answer our prayers! We have heard examples such as: “If the test results come back negative, I will change my lifestyle to a healthier one.” Or “If I avoid an accident on the icy highway, I will go to church every Sunday.” We have all heard (and perhaps made ourselves) similar promises to God if only God will rescue us from some situation that is beyond our control.
But how often we have forgotten those vows made once our prayers have been answered. Such was not the case with Hannah. She willingly gave her son into God’s service as soon as he was weaned. Even though her giving up her son was done willingly, it was not done without heartache and pain. That took great strength of character as well as faith. There was no question in her heart or mind that because God had honored her prayer that she would honor God by keeping her vow. She was obedient and faithful to her word. That meant that she needed to tell her husband of her plan to give his son into God’s service. That must have been difficult for her to do and for her husband to accept. His son conceived with this favorite wife would not have favored status growing up in his household. Giving up a child to be raised by another is a heart-wrenching decision.
Hannah’s response to leaving her son at the Tabernacle shows again just how deep her faith was. Instead of asking God to help her grieve this loss of her son, she gives God praise (2:1-2). Again, how selfless her act was, just as was Mary, the mother of Jesus. Both women accepted God’s words and actions with faith. Their sons would impact people and nations, both while they were living on earth and throughout the ages. Hannah’s son, Samuel became a prophet, counselor, and Israel’s greatest judge. He was the one who would anoint David as king, David who was in the direct lineage of Jesus.
In today’s world we are called to give up and let go of those we love, not as completely as Hannah, but we all have had feelings of loss or worry or concern when we have had to let go of some influence over another. I remember Pastor Doug commenting when we registered our first child for kindergarten that this was the beginning of the end, the end of our almost complete responsibility for our son. We were giving over some control to teachers and others involved with the school system. We needed to trust that those new caregivers would treat him well.
Teachers also may have misgivings at the end of the school year for some of their students, hoping that they have adequately prepared each student to move on to the next level of instruction. When a couple marries, their families give over some control of their child to the love and care of the chosen mate. Implicit in all of this “giving over to another” is the faith that those others will love, cherish, and care for a the loved one. Even when a child chooses to go out on their own, faith to let go carries with it the hope that the child will remember lessons taught to them in earlier days by parents and others. There is also the hope that they will continue to trust in God’s leadership so that healthy decisions can be made. Giving up and letting go is hard, but if we can have confidence that God is still a big part of the decisions that are made, we can feel less worried about how well a child will react to all of the difficulties that are sure to come.
God has called each of us to be nurtured for a time, to learn and grow in faith, and finally then to become secure in our own faith and confidence in God’s leading that we can nurture others and help them to learn and grow in their faith so that they can, in time, nurture others. God has entrusted the work needed to be done in our world to us – God’s family. God lets us go so that we can do the things God desires for us to do. What faith and confidence and trust God has given to us in this “letting go.” At the same time, although we are given the freedom to prayerfully make our own decisions, God is ever beside us in the form of the Holy Spirit. We can know with certainty that God is always with us; we never have to make decisions alone. Thanks be to God!
-Pastor Joyce Donigian