Tonight we’re starting a new series on the book of 1 Samuel in the OT. In this series we’re going to continue looking at different people who God interacts with and records in the Bible, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for us to know. Only this time, we’re going to look at their story, then see how it anticipates Jesus and his story, and how it fits into the larger story of the whole Bible.
The first individual we’re going to encounter in 1 Samuel is Hannah, the mother of Samuel. Her story has to do with prayer, but more importantly about being a part of God’s greater plan of salvation. It’s about a movement from barrenness to life, from death to resurrection, as part of God’s great story of what he’s doing in time to save a people to call his own. So we’ll learn from this story how to pray, in a way like Hannah did, that God will use us and our life for his greater purposes.
READ 1 Sam 1:1-20.
To begin with a little background information on 1 and 2 Samuel, the books of Samuel tell the story of the rise of Israel’s kingship. 1 and 2 Samuel are going to show how Israel came to get her king. This idea of looking for a king will lay the motive behind what we look at in studying 1 Samuel and how it fits into the Bible as a whole. As we begin reading this story, we immediately encounter the story’s problem in verse 2: “Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.”
Verses 1-8: The Problem of Barrenness
Hannah was barren. This was a huge problem for a woman in ancient Israel’s society. Family and having children was extremely important in ancient Israel. In order to flourish in this time period, you needed workers, you needed extra hands, you needed sons. Sons were able to do the hard work; they were able to learn the family trade and ensure the survival of the family. Children would not only care for the land, work the crops, and someday take over the family land and farm, but they would also take care of the parents in their old age, and eventually inherit the land and carry on the family name and ensure their survival through many generations. Having children was necessary for economic and physical survival.
Families depended on women, in this time, to be this source of life. And Hannah was barren. A woman who was unable to bear children was seen as an embarrassment, she would be a source of humiliation, and she would represent economic loss and potentially even death for the family. In that day, the sole purpose of women was to bear children, so for Hannah to not be able to bear would be a huge problem for this family. The narrator wants us to know that her barrenness is through no fault of hers though, but that the Lord had closed her womb (verses 5, 6). We’ll begin to see in this story why her womb was closed and how God uses her for his own purposes.
This is very different from our day, where a family has children as a product of their love. Some Christians do so to be fruitful, and to be a part of extending God’s kingdom. Some non-Christians might do so selfishly to feel good about themselves, or some have children just because it’s just what you’re supposed to do. Women today though are not seen solely for their ability to bear children. A woman who wants children and can’t have them has options as well. There are fertility treatments and even adoption. But this was not the story in the time period we encounter here. Hannah could not have children and she did not have options. She needed to be able to bear children and she couldn’t. It might even have been the reason why Elkanah sought out a second wife in Peninnah. Today when a woman can’t have a child, the man doesn’t go out and get a second wife. That’s unheard of!
So, in the Bible there are instances of polygamy, especially in the OT, but it is never depicted in a positive light; it always leads to problems, like it does in this situation. Here in this story, we see the rivalry play out between the two wives. Each year when the family goes to Shiloh for their annual sacrifice to the Lord, Peninnah provokes Hannah (verse 6), in order to irritate her. It goes on year after year and Peninnah provokes her until she reaches a point of despair. She weeps and stops eating. It seems as if this tragic circumstance in Hannah’s life, and the ruthless teasing of her rival, is sending her into a sort of depression, where she weeps and can’t even eat.
To aggravate the situation more, Elkanah gives her a double portion every year. This emphasizes his love for her and to show that she means more to him than children. Elkanah’s gift to Hannah and love for her and favoring of her probably further inflames Peninnah’s taunting, because she knows that even though she can bear children, she is still not her husband’s favorite. He’s offering Hannah gifts and showering her with his love, but it’s not enough to pull her out of this depression, this funk, that’s causing her to feel she has no real identity and no real purpose in life.
Verses 9-16: Hannah’s Vow and Prayer
Moving to verse 9, we learn that on one particular occasion, when the family was in Shiloh, Hannah’s circumstances began to change. When the family had finished eating their meal, with Hannah presumably refusing to eat her double portion, she stands up. She arises and goes to the Lord in her need and despair. She had deep anguish in her soul and wept bitterly. In Psalm 6, David seems to echo these same feelings. He cries out “How long, LORD, How long?…I am worn out from my groaning. All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.” In this same manner, Hannah prays to the Lord and makes a vow to him. She says, (v. 11) “O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life and no razor will ever be used on his head.”
When Hannah prays this, she calls out to God in such a way, moving her lips but not speaking out loud, that the priest Eli, thinks she is drunk. But she’s not, in verses 15 and 16, she tells him she’s deeply troubled, pouring out her soul to the Lord from this great anguish and grief. She is a woman at her wit’s end, and she turns to the Lord for rescue from her situation.
At first, it may seem like Hannah is merely bargaining with God. Like how we’ll sometimes say, “Oh God, if only you’ll do this… for me, or if only I had this…, then I will turn back to you, or then I’ll start going to church again, or then I’ll follow you.” But Hannah’s prayer and pleading is different. It’s different, first of all, because she knows that it will take divine intervention to open her womb. It has been year after year that Peninnah has provoked her, year after year that she has been unable to conceive. Only God could open her womb. Secondly, her prayer is different, because it is not selfish. If her prayer were selfish, then she would want her child to be with her. The child would grow up in the house and help out tending the flocks. The family name would carry on and Hannah would have someone to care for her in her old age. But this isn’t what she’s seeking. She’s not asking for God to give her merely what she wants. If so, she wouldn’t have dedicated him back to God in such an extreme form.
In verse 11, when Hannah says “no razor will touch his head,” she’s not just making some weird promise that he will have long hair or a long beard. Instead, she’s vowing that her son will grow up in the Nazirite tradition. A Nazirite was a person who dedicated themselves to the Lord for a period of separation. During that time, they were not to eat or drink anything produced by the grapevine, not wine, not even fresh or dried grapes. They could not allow a razor to pass over their head, and they could not come into contact with a dead body. At the end of the time of separation, the hair would be cut off and offered up to the Lord as a sign of fulfillment of the vow. Other famous Nazirites in the Bible were Samson, with his long mane of hair, and John the Baptist. These men, as well as the future son of Hannah, were dedicated by their parents from birth to be Nazirites, rather than taking on the vow themselves. By Hannah making this promise, her son would be forever in God’s service rather than in the service of the family. Hannah would not have a child to care for her in her old age, the family would not have an extra set of hands. This boy would not be able to follow Hannah around, so that others could see that she was a true woman with a son of her own. No, Hannah’s prayer and vow were about much more than just satisfying her longing for a son and to feel fulfilled in life…
Verses 17-20: Peace with God
What was the purpose of Hannah’s prayer then? What was she doing and saying, if not the obvious, begging for God to give her her heart’s desire? Let’s look what happens after her prayer. Picking back up in verse 17, Eli sends her on her way in peace, granting that the Lord will answer her prayer. It reminds us of in the NT where Jesus sends people on their way, saying “Go in peace, your faith has saved you” (Luke 7:50). Hannah’s prayer evidences her deep faith in the Lord, not just to work a miracle in her situation, and it would have been a miracle, but we see in verse 18, that after his blessing, she went away and ate. “Her face was no longer downcast.” Her depression and inability to eat has gone away. She has a new outlook on life. Hannah has gone to the Lord in the midst of her trouble, she has gone to him, she has asked him to use her, to give her a son, not for herself, but for God: for His service. She’s not asking to have this son to satisfy her desire, but as an offering to the Lord. She has asked that the Lord remember her and use her. She has asked to be a part of God’s greater purposes. She has turned her life and her desires over to the Lord. She leaves the sanctuary and she has peace with God. She can eat again. Her face is no longer downcast. And God has not even answered her prayer. She finds fulfillment in the Lord alone, not in the answer to her prayer. She is fulfilled before she is given a son. I want you to notice that she has faith and peace even if God does not answer her prayer.
But we see that after she finds this peace in knowing she has turned to the Lord, then the Lord begins to work in her life. The family returns home. Elkanah lays with Hannah and the Lord remembers her. This doesn’t mean he had forgotten her, only that he now changes the circumstances, opens her womb, and takes action. God works a miracle in her life. Just like he had opened the barren wombs of Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, Rachel, and Samson’s mother, before her, God in this case too opens the barren womb of a woman to carry out his greater purposes. God uses her prayer to now carry out his own purposes. Her child, the one “heard of God,” the one “asked for,” Samuel, will bring about new life, not just for Hannah and her story, but for God and for Israel and for their story. The nation of Israel will get their last judge and a faithful leader in Samuel. God will continue the salvation story through Samuel and he will play an important part in setting up the monarchy that the book of Samuel is so concerned to lay out. The Lord gives the gift of a Son, newness of life, where there had existed none before for His greater purposes.
II. Connecting to God’s Greater Purposes
I want to move to looking at Ch. 2 now. In the first 10 verses, we find Hannah offering up a song of praise, a prayer, even a hymn that the nation of Israel might have sung at the sanctuary in Shiloh and which Hannah has now made her own.
Read 1 Sam 2:1-10.
In Hannah’s day, Israel was waiting for a king. In 1 Samuel that find that king in David. As the OT story expands though and they move beyond David, as later writers look back and as the people experienced different trials, they felt a greater longing for the Lord’s anointed one, one in the line of king David, who would be like him, but better. They would read verse 10, “the Lord will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed” and look beyond David to now the one to come who would be a super-David.
I lived in Philadelphia at the time of the last presidential election. Pennsylvania is a heavily Democratic state and many people supported Obama for president. His campaign slogan was about “Hope and Change.” Many people got excited by him and supported him because they saw him as the answer to the nation’s problems. He was going to come in, change the way government was done, right all the wrongs of the previous years, bring about justice, and end to the economic suffering. People looked at him as a savior. I could tell that they looked to him to deliver the country and the nation from its enemies, whether internal or foreign. People liked that Obama promised a new future for them.
So in the book of 1 Samuel, the people are looking for this king, a national leader, to save them. In the whole Bible, though, there’s a looking forward to the anointing of the Greater King who is to come, the Messiah. They were expecting someone who would look a lot like Obama, and what people thought he could do for our nation.
But God had something else in mind. Verse 6 hints at what the fullness of this Messiah will be. We know based on the whole story of the Bible who this Messiah is: Jesus. Verse 6 has more meaning for us when it says, “The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up.”
As we read more and more of the Bible, we begin to see the picture of the Messiah, and know that it was different than what they expected. Hannah’s story just anticipates that greater divine story of Jesus Christ. By the time we get to the NT, we begin to read in Luke about an angel coming to another woman, this time a virgin, and promising that she will be remembered among her people and that she will bear a son who will be named Jesus. Mary, too, is going to give birth divinely, but in the form of a virgin birth. When she hears this, she breaks out in song and praise, in what’s called the Magnificat recorded in Luke 1:46-55. Her song is patterned after Hannah’s own song and has many of the same themes. She too is glad to be remembered among the nation of Israel and to be a part of God’s greater plan.
We see that God used her and worked through her to bring about another miracle, the birth of this son, of God’s own son. The birth of the true anointed one. It was the birth of the Messiah, of the true king, of the one who is greater than David or even their expectations of him. So Mary’s, like Hannah’s, spirit rejoices in God, for he has been mindful of her. He has included her in his greater story. Hannah’s closed womb and Mary’s virgin womb became opportunities for God to divinely intervene and bring about life.
III. Our Connection to this story
But then how does this all relate to us? God’s mercy extends beyond Hannah and beyond Mary, though, to us too as we have this Messiah and Savior as well. We too get to be a part of God’s greater purposes as we become Christians. We are already a part of his story because we have moved from death to life through our conversion. The last 3 weeks, as we’ve been telling our testimonies, we’ve been witnessing to and telling how God has already brought about this great change from death (being without God) to life (being found in him) in our own lives. And, we continue on in God’s story as part of the church and as part of the people of God.
We must learn to find that peace with God that Hannah found before God answered her prayers. Hannah asked to be a part of God’s plan, but you are already a part of it. We must live into it then. We have to see our lives as bigger than just our current struggles. We too must learn to lay aside our personal dreams and desires that don’t fit with God’s purposes, to lay them at God’s feet in prayer, saying “here Lord, take this… Take me and use me for your glory.” God doesn’t want you to get so caught up in seeking that one thing in life that you think will make you happy: success, a career, a husband, children, that you forget that you are His. Don’t make these things the greatest things in your life. They are good things, but they must have their proper proportion in relation to God.
We need to see how our lives connect to God’s story. God wants you to be a part of his purposes in the world, of bringing his kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. The Lord’s Prayer, where this vision comes from and how Jesus teaches us to pray, tells what is God’s vision and plan for this earth and for you. You can learn about it more the more you learn about God, the more you study his Bible, the more you see how important even an obscure OT book, like 1 Samuel, can be.
I leave you with this: Pray that God will use you and your life for his greater purposes. Learn how to pray that God will use you and your life for his greater purposes.
Questions for Discussion & Application
- Share something that you have really been desiring and praying to God for at this time in your life.
- How can you move to peace with God about your prayer?
Next lesson on 1 Samuel by Keeley
(Didn’t find what you were looking for? Leave a comment and let me know what would be helpful for you.)
For your reference, I used the following resources in the development of this meditation:
- 1 Samuel-2 Kings (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary)
- 1 & 2 Samuel (NIV Application Commentary)
- First and Second Samuel: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching
- An Introduction to the Old Testament: Second Edition
- Dictionary of Biblical Imagery
- Cross Talk: Where Life and Scripture Meet
- “Hannah’s Prayer for Family” sermon by Timothy J. Keller