1 Samuel 1: Hannah’s Prayer

The books of Samuel and the Kings tell the story of the Israelite Monarchy. They are full of sweeping battles, conquests, and catastrophes. Larger than life characters and deeds fill their pages.

Yet the story of the kings begins with the story of a woman whom all but a few had written off.

She had no children. Her husband had taken another wife (who seemed to be a kid factory) in order to make sure his line continued on. Yes, he loved her, but what would happen when he was gone? Who would look after her?

And what’s more, why had God closed her womb?

I suspect the story of the kings begins this way as a stark reminder to Israel: You were not always this way. Political and military power are not the greatest forces in the world.

Sometimes, a broken woman’s desperate plea is enough to change the world.

A Dark Place

Listen to these words used to describe Hannah. What do you notice?

  • wept
  • would not eat
  • heart was sad
  • deeply distressed
  • wept bitterly
  • misery
  • deeply troubled
  • great anxiety
  • vexation

Now throw in a few of these.

  • Her rival used to provoke her severely
  • irritate her
  • as often as she went up to the house of the LORD, she used to provoke her

Hannah is not in a good place. When we first meet her, she is bullied and barren. For a woman in that culture, she is almost as hopeless as she can get. Luckily, her husband is a kind man who loves her. But even he cannot fill the hole in her life that a child would.

Priestly Sensitivity

What does it say about a priest that their first thought when someone comes to pray is that they are drunk?

Why did Eli think this?

Hannah wasn’t praying right. She was mouthing the words without really saying them. She was pouring out her soul but perhaps the words were just to dangerous or risky to say out loud.

And Eli interprets this as a drunken spectacle.

I don’t want to spend too much time on this, but come on people. Just because someone isn’t “doing it right” doesn’t mean they are crazy. There is always more to the story. Let’s asks questions before coming to conclusions, okay?

Giving Away the Gift

Hannah makes one of those “if-then” prayers that, to be honest, makes me a little uncomfortable.

O LORD of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazirite until the day of his death.

But to her credit, when God answered her prayer, she kept her end of the deal. She gave her son away for God’s special use.

What was that like?

She wanted a child so bad and then when God gave it to her, she gave it back. Her child was on lease.

This is how the story of the kings begins: With a desperate prayer and an unimaginable sacrifice.

Do you connect with any part of Hannah’s story? Which part? Why?

8 responses

  1. I ‘be always loved this story. God always seems to be working in desperate situations. I think He does this to remind us that life isn’t always easy. His followers don’t get a pass.

  2. I connect with so many parts. I am Hannah. And I have not been given the child I begged for, but I have been given a ministry and a platform… the question is, What will I use it for?

    So many things begin with brokenness. In fact, I think it fair to say that the things that begin broken are often the most valuable.

    • I agree Natasha. You word it so well though!

      Psalm 84:6-7
      When they walk through the Valley of Weeping, it will become a place of refreshing springs. The autumn rains will clothe it with blessings. They will continue to grow stronger, and each of them will appear before God in Jerusalem.

  3. This is so well-thought out and well-written, Ben. Thank you. Remarkable beginning to the historical narrative of kings and battles, indeed. I love Hannah. I don’t get the nature of her sacrifice – apparently it sang well in the days in which she lived. For me, it’s a toughie. But I love her — her sense that God is the one to help her, her faithfulness to her husband despite the pesky second wife, her care for Samuel as he grew up, and the fact that eventually, she had a full house of kiddos. I wish we saw more of her, to tell you the truth. But Samuel is pretty fascinating, too, and I love chapter 3 . . . a lot. (Eli is just generally pretty clueless, like a lot of pastors I’ve known in my time, even me, from time to time. Maybe like most people in general…)

  4. Knowing the pain of dreaming for a child since my first doll and finding it not happening as easy as I imagined for my hubby and I(now in yr 7 of marriage with no babies) I connect with her a little.

    God healed me of the pain of infertility – though yet there are no children – we believe there is a bigger picture promise.
    As God walked me through the healing and I looked at women like Hannah and like Elizabeth I realized that it takes a Hannah to birth a Samuel and it takes an Elizabeth to birth a John.
    There is something in their own struggle to motherhood tied with their relationship to God through it all, that meant those boys were born, raised and released to be who God wanted them to be for THEIR lives purposes. Even Abram and Sarai with Isaac, and others in the same boat who then produced children of promise…

    The heart stance of faithfulness even through the pain – of the parents – is very important. For e.g Elizabeth says that God took her shame away before MAN when she had John… People had given up on her but God hadn’t and she had not given up on God. No wonder John was who he was.. you know? Samuel the same!! they weren’t just ‘taught law’ but relationship and faith and faithfulness and godliness were modeled and lived out by their mothers/parents for them.

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