The Prayer Of Hannah
The righteous cry, and the LORD heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles. Psalm 34:17
The book of I Samuel covers 125 years, presenting the history of 3 men: Samuel, Saul, and David; with their stories overlapping in the book. I Samuel ch 1-7 gives the history of Samuel; ch 8-15 of king Saul; and ch 16-31 the life of David through the reign of king Saul. II Samuel then picks up with David’s life as King.
But there are also two transitions for the history of the Jews found in I Samuel. First, there is the transition of the period from the Judges to the Prophet-Priest Samuel. Second, there is the transition of government. The Jewish nation will make the transition from a theocracy, the direct rule under God, to a monarchy, when they chose Saul to be their king. Since the exodus from Egypt, Israel had known the direct leading of God. This was unique to this chosen nation. Men like Moses, Joshua, and the Judges were not “kings” who ruled over Israel. The were the voice and representative of God’s Word to the people.
The Spiritual Condition Of Israel At The Birth Of Samuel
At the time of the birth of Samuel, Israel was in period of great apostasy. Time and time again, God raised up a judge to liberate Israel from the oppression of its enemies in Canaan. But this oppression was the result of their disobedience to God. Israel failed to drive out the pagan inhabitants of their inheritance, Canaan. They intermarried with the pagan nations, turning to the gods of the Canaanites and forsaking the first commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3) At the end of the book of Judges in ch. 21:25 we read, “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”
And as a result of the spiritual decline of Israel, even good men like Hannah’s husband Elkanah was affected. In I Samuel 1:2 we read that the man Elkanah “had two wives”, participating in the pagan custom of polygamy. This shows us the danger of the apostasy and its influence. This failure was not just Elkanah’s but was common among the Hebrews, who forsook the ordinance of God for marriage established in Genesis with the joining together of Adam and Eve.
Elkanah probably married Hannah first, but because of her barrenness, married a second wife, Peninnah. No doubt Hannah would have been sorrowful at the absence of children if she had been Elkanah’s only wife. However, the failure rests at Elkanah’s feet. He allowed his circumstances, Hannah’s barrenness, to guide his decision, rather than trusting in the will of God. There is always a cost when we decide to go outside of God’s will.
The consequence of Elkanah’s sin, was a home of striving and tenstion because of the provoking of Peninnah against Hannah’s barrenness. I Samuel 1:6&8 reveal the burden of Hannah and the provoking of Peninnah left her so grieved that she would not eat.
“And her adversary also provoked her sore, for to make her fret, because the LORD had shut up her womb.” I Samuel 1:6
Another evidence of the falling away within Israel was the unfaithfulness of Eli the High Priest as both a spiritual leader and father. We read of three events in chapters 1 and 2 that reveal the fallen character of Eli:
First, Eli was not able to discern the burden of Hannah.
When we read of the first prayer of Hannah in ch. 1:10, the “bitterness of her soul” drove her to a posture of quiet agony before her God. It is apparent that Eli could not recognize the troubled heart of Hannah. Her type of praying was uncommon for that day. It was uncommon for Eli to witness devout and deeply moved worship in the house of God. He was not accustomed to observing someone who wrestling with a burden before the throne, was oblivious to external things.
It suggests that Eli himself was not accustomed to very close communion with God. He was not in the habit of coming into the presence of the Lord with a heart so burdened for his people that the prayer was too deep to be uttered aloud. The kind of worshiper Eli assumed Hanna to be must have been a common occurrence in the Tabernacle: “How long will thou be drunken? Put away thy wine from thee.”
Second, Eli did not stop his two sons in their sin.
In ch 2:12-17, the Bible tells us that Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were “sons of Belial, they knew not the LORD”, meaning they were worthless sons, and without any profit to the people they were to be serving. They both greedy and immoral, openly sinning in the Lord’s house.
“Now Eli was very old, and heard all that his sons did unto all Israel; and how they lay with the women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.”
Except for a verbal warning, Eli took no public stand against the sins of his sons, nor did he have the fortitude to remove them from their position in the temple. They certainly did not respect Eli’s admonition, “Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto the voice of their father, because the LORD would slay them.” It seems that Eli did not think much of them either. At the hearing of the death of his sons and the taking of the “ark of God” by the Philistines in I Samuel 4:17-18, there was no emotional response from Eli about the loss of his sons. It was hearing the loss of the ark of God that caused Eli to fall from his seat and brake his neck.
Finally, the Lord was not speaking to Eli.
I Samuel 3 gives the detailed event when the Lord calls to the boy Samuel as he ministered in the Temple. Samuel shared the message of the Lord to the priest Eli, but the Lord never spoke directly to Eli after the visit of the “man of God” in ch. 2:27. How long had Eli been without communion with the Lord? He was a man of transition from the judges to Samuel but instead of representing a remnant heart, he represented the failures and apostasy of Israel.
What is the best course of action for a troubled soul? Blessed Prayer!
David tells us in Psalm 109:3-4, “They compassed me about also with words of hatred; and fought against me without a cause. For my love they are my adversaries: but I give myself unto prayer.” The haitful words of Peninnah compassed the thoughts of Hannah, grieving her heart to such a depth that she could not hide her sorry from Elkanah. He sought to comfort his wife (ch.1:8), but even the best of human words and consolation are not enough to satisfy a grieving heart.
Only a firm confidence in the help of the Lord will bring peace. The Lord’s faithfulness and power will help when human words cannot. Martin Luther said, “Prayers and tears are the saints best weapons; their guns and their scaling ladders.”
Hannah approached the throne of God in the posture of humility. 3 times, she called herself the “handmaid of the Lord”. With a humble heart she offers to Heaven a vow which few mothers would dare to utter.
We must take a moment to understand the importance of vows in the Bible. The making of a vow is an institution that could only have come through divine revelation from God. Fallen an would have never established the custom of vows on his own. The vow of God was introduced to mankind through the promise of God to Noah in Genesis 9:13 to never again use a universal flood for the judgment of the Earth.
“I do set my bow in the cloud and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth.” Genesis 9:13
Hannah begins her prayer with a vow, a promise, even though she had not yet received anything from the Lord. In her prayer, she makes two pleas:
First, the plea for the Lord to “look on” me, “remember” me, and to not forget thine handmaid”. The heart of supplication, pleading for the Lords help and favor. It is the cry of help from the Lord that he would “give unto thine handmaid a man child”.
Second, the plea that she was willing to give up all her maternal rights to her son and commit him to the Lord. Hannah will make four promises to the Lord, about Samuel:
1. She will give Samuel to the Lord all the days of his life.
2. He will be a Nazarite. A nazarite was one who was separated solely unto the Lord.
3. In ch. 1:22 she states that Samuel will “appear before the Lord”. This was her appeal to the spiritual fellowship she hoped Samuel would have with the Lord.
4. And, that Samuel would “abide for ever”. His entire life given to the service of the Lord.
Notice that Hannah does not name her rival Penninah in her prayer. She does not call for the Lord to judge Peninnah but only speaks to the burden and sorrow of her own heart to have a son.
What do we learn from Hannah’s Prayer?
1. God’s faithful performance of His promises.
In Exodus 29:43 and Deuteronomy 16:11, God promised to meet Israel in the Tabernacle, in His house – “in the place which he should choose to place His name there.” Hannah chose to seek the Lord in His house. Hannah believed the divine Word of God that He would be in His house and hear her prayer.
2. God knows the secret troubles of the human soul.
There are some sorrows that can only be expressed to God. The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 8:26 that “… the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” God does not need the information expressed by our words and Hannah recognized this truth. It’s the same truth that David will speak of in Psalm 139:1-2, “O LORD, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off.”
3. Hannah recognized her obligation to God whether or not He granted her petition.
Hannah called herself God’s handmaid. She acknowledged she wsa a servant of the God of Israel. She was under an obligation to serve Him, whether He fulfilled her heart’s desire or not. Hannah does not make her obligation to God dependent upon her prayer being answered.
4. God cares for the individual.
God’s promises were to Israel as a whole but were also just as true to the individual Isrealite. Hannah’s prayer reveals that she knew the fact that the God of Israel not only knew the sorrows of the nation as a whole but that He had regard to the heart-grief of a single sorrowful woman among the thousands of Israel.
5. Hannah recognized the Divine working in and above natural law.
Hannah knew God was the only giver of natural life. She asked for a living child from the only Life-Giver of the universe. John 5:26, “For the Father hath life in himself…”
6. Hannah was dedicated to the desire of Samuel to be given to the service of the Lord.
The only way to receive true benefit in bringing a petition before God is to devote it to the glory of the Lord, to whom we ask it. By doing this, two things will be accomplished: (1) God will grant our petition, and (2) God will honor Himself at the same time.
The prayer of Hannah always reminds us of John Newton’s hymn Come, My Soul, Thy Suit Prepare.
Come, my soul, thy suit prepare,
Jesus loves to answer pray’r.
He Himself has bid thee pray,
rise and ask without delay.
Thou art coming to a King,
large petitions with thee bring,
for his grace and pow’r are such,
none can ever ask too much
With my burden I begin,
Lord, remove this load of sin!
Let Thy blood, for sinners spilt,
set my conscience free from guilt.
Lord! I come to Thee for rest,
take possession of my breast;
there Thy blood-bought right maintain,
and without a rival reign.
While I am a pilgrim here,
let Thy love my spirit cheer;
as my Guide, my Guard, my Friend,
lead me to my journey’s end.
Show me what I have to do;
ev’ry hour my strength renew;
let me live a life of faith;
let me die Thy people’s death.
– John Newton (1725-1807)