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Hannah—Faithful in Prayer

[To learn more about the annual Evangelical Sunday School Lesson Commentary, visit www.pathwaybookstore.com.]

INTRODUCTION

Many people become adept at crisis praying. You know the style: "God help me!" or, "God, if You get me out of this, I will . . ." followed by future promises with no previous lifestyle pattern to hint the promise will be kept. God in His mercy frequently stops in and assists. It is good to seek for God's help in times of trouble. There can be no greater source of aid than our heavenly Father. However, God desires an ongoing relationship with communication on a daily basis.

It's so easy to try to follow the prayer pattern of an individual whom we respect. Or, there may be some people who attempt to impose a form of legalistic prayer on us, such as praying for one hour a day. There is no biblical requirement for this time period. Yes, Jesus did say to His disciples, "Could you not keep watch for one hour?" But that was in a specific situation. And Paul directed the Thessalonians to "pray continually" (1 Thessalonians 5:17, NIV).

Prayer is crucial to the sustaining of a vital life in Christ for both individual believers and the corporate church. All of us need to work on the practice of prayer without being time-conscious. The issue needs to always be fulfilling our relationship. No reasonable person will say to his or her mate, "Well, we have to talk together 10 minutes," or "Our 10 minutes are up, so let's stop." Genuine communication doesn't come from clock watching. It develops when the necessary time is spent in prayer and meditation. The consistency of our praying makes the difference.

Sometimes it seems we need to pray in order to be in a position to pray. This may be because of disobedience separating us from fellowship with God and making communication strained. It could, however, stem from our not praying on a regular basis and thus being uncomfortable with our heavenly Father.

For most of us, faithful praying doesn't automatically come with the salvation package. It comes as a result of spiritual discipline. Sometimes it takes effort to fulfill this marvelous opportunity.

Today's lesson concerns Hannah's desperate prayer for a child. More than likely, the account for our study was not the first time Hannah prayed concerning her problem. The distinctive of her prayer is how that when it was answered, she faithfully fulfilled her vow.

I. ACKNOWLEDGE THE PROBLEM (1 Samuel 1:1-8)

A. A Polygamous Marriage (vv. 1-4)

1. Now there was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim, of mount Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah, the son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephrathite

2. And 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. And this man went up out of his city yearly to worship and to sacrifice unto the Lord of hosts in Shiloh. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni, and Phinehas, the priests of the Lord, were there.

4. And when the time was that Elkanah offered, he gave to Peninnah his wife, and to all her sons and her daughters, portions.

This book opens with a biographical sketch of Hannah's husband. He lived in the northern part of Canaan, specifically in the region given to Ephraim. By tribal descent, Elkanah was a Levite from the family of Kohath (1 Chronicles 6:22, 1 Chronicles 6:23, 1 Chronicles 6:27, 1 Chronicles 6:33, 1 Chronicles 6:34). Immediately following the genealogy we find his marital status—he was a polygamist. Usually only kings and the wealthy had more than one wife. Knowing Elkanah was not a king suggests he was a man of material means.

As seen in other biblical examples, this polygamous marriage had difficulties. The major cause appeared to be Hannah's barrenness. The prevailing thought was that barrenness was the result of sin. Even though Hannah was righteous, this stigma remained. Also, she had not brought honor to either her husband or herself by bearing children, specifically a son. Further complicating Hannah's situation was Peninnah's bearing children.

Elkanah stands out as a righteous man who faithfully took his family to Shiloh for the yearly celebration of Passover. The entire family - both wives and the children - went to the sanctuary (Tabernacle) for this significant worship time. Elkanah provided for each of the family so they could participate.

Without specifically stating it, the writer seems to point out a contrast in verse 3. Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of Eli, were the ministering priests. We see in 1 Samuel 2:22 how corrupt they were. That did not keep Elkanah from fulfilling what was right.

B. A Significant Problem (vv. 5-8)

5. But unto Hannah he gave a worthy portion; for he loved Hannah: but the Lord had shut up her womb.

6. And her adversary also provoked her sore, for to make her fret, because the Lord had shut up her womb.

7. And as he did so year by year, when she went up to the house of the Lord, so she provoked her; therefore she wept, and did not eat.

8. Then said Elkanah her husband to her, Hannah, why weepest thou? and why eatest thou not? and why is thy heart grieved? am not I better to thee than ten sons?

Hannah was constantly aware of her being the barren wife while the other wife was enjoying the privileged status as a mother of a number of children. The yearly visit to Shiloh provided an especially stressful point in the year. Elkanah's love for Hannah never was in doubt. He gave her double portion for sacrifice, regardless of her never having given birth to any children. Neither of them knew her condition was the result of God's divine action and purpose.

The reference to Peninnah in verse 6 as Hannah's adversary indicates a distinct point of conflict. It may have been when Peninnah made a point of offering a thank offering for being a mother and for her children. All Hannah could do was respond with weeping. Being so distraught, she could not eat.

Elkanah's love stood out as he attempted to comfort her. He had difficulty understanding her grief and heaviness of heart. Wasn't she cared for in a manner far beyond what 10 sons would be able to do? She could not be loved any more than she was right now. As a man he didn't know the sense of shame which she felt from the cultural concepts of being without a child. He also could not fully feel the tension and conflict of the visit to Shiloh as well as the rest of the year.

Hannah knew the problem with which she lived daily. She did not pretend it didn't exist and just go along as though everything was fine. Instead, we see a woman who bore such a heavy emotional load that she could not eat and openly wept.

II. POUR OUT YOUR HEART (1 Samuel 1:9-18)

A. The Vow (vv. 9-11)

9. So Hannah rose up after they had eaten in Shiloh, and after they had drunk. Now Eli the priest sat upon a seat by a post of the temple of the Lord.

10. And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore.

11. And she vowed a vow, and said, O Lord of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head.

Desperation dominates Hannah. After the family shares in a meal, she apparently leaves them and proceeds to a door of the Tabernacle. There she pours out all the bitterness and frustration of her situation. Her prayer is accompanied or even interrupted with intense weeping. Her burden weighs so heavily. She has only one respite—to intercede with God and hope He grants her greatest desire.

Hannah's desire for a child results in her entering an exceptionally sacrificial vow. It needs to be understood how seriously vows were to be taken. There never was the thought of "Well, I tried and just couldn't do it. God will have to understand." Not to fulfill a vow would have consequences. It would be a sin against God.

Also, any time a woman made a vow, the ruling male in her life determined whether or not she would be held to it. An unmarried woman would be under the authority of her father or other head of the family clan. A married woman would come under the authority of her husband (see Numbers 30).

More than likely, Hannah's vow took place without the knowledge of her husband, Elkanah. That was not a problem since he had the right to veto or to agree with it after the fact.

Hannah's vow contained several specifics. First, she asked for a son. To conceive and to bear a son would give her special honor in the eyes of the culture. Second, she vowed to give this child back to the Lord. He would be in the service of the Lord. We know this means taking him to live and work at the Tabernacle while still a young child (v. 24). Third, she committed him to follow the Nazarite vow. The specifics of this vow can be found in Numbers 6. A visible sign was no cutting of the hair. The person following this vow would not come in contact with the dead nor drink wine or any strong drink. The Nazarite vow could be taken for differing lengths of time. One year was a common length of time. In the case of Samuel, Hannah's son, and later account of Samson (Judges 13:2-7), this was a lifetime commitment.

B. The Rejection (vv. 12-16)

12. And it came to pass, as she continued praying before the Lord, that Eli marked her mouth.

13. Now Hannah, she spake in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard: therefore Eli thought she had been drunken.

14. And Eli said unto her, How long wilt thou be drunken? put away thy wine from thee.

15. And Hannah answered and said, No, my lord, I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit: I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but have poured out my soul before the Lord.

16. Count not thine handmaid for a daughter of Belial: for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief have I spoken hitherto.

When things couldn't be worse, suddenly it is for Hannah. In agony of soul, she prays at the door to the Tabernacle only to be observed by the high priest, Eli. This elderly priest's major difficulty isn't a loss of hearing or eyesight due to advancing age. Rather, he suffers from spiritual desensitization. He can't differentiate between drunkenness and a woman pouring out her soul to God silently. Yes, her lips move, but there is silence. She intends only God to hear the inner frustration of her condition and offered vow.

Verse 12 points to this prayer being of a longer duration. It isn't just a stop-and-go prayer. Apparently she lingers. Eli observes her and finally speaks. Having assumed her lips moving without sound are the mutterings of an intoxicated person, he pointedly charges her with drunkenness.

Hannah responds immediately. She is respectful while setting the record straight. She hasn't indulged in drink of any type which would produce drunkenness. Instead she is a woman in deep sorrow, carrying a heavy burden. Only God can change her situation.

Defending herself further, Hannah wants Eli to know she isn't a wicked woman ("a daughter of Belial," v. 16). All he observes stems from the depths of her struggle with being barren in this polygamous marriage. Regretfully, Eli is guilty of having jumped to a conclusion and speaking out of both ignorance and spiritual anemia. Notice the Scriptures do not indicate her blurting out the specifics of the situation. The spiritually insensitive Eli doesn't need to know the extent or details of the family situation. But he does need to know she is a wholesome person consumed with grief of her settings.

C. The Assurance (vv. 17, 18)

17. Then Eli answered and said, Go in peace: and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of him.

18. And she said, Let thine handmaid find grace in thy sight. So the woman went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad.

Give Eli credit for correcting his misjudgment. Confronted with his error, the high priest now offers his blessing. First, he tells Hannah to go in peace. There does come a point when, after we have poured out our heart to God, we must wait for His answer. In this case, Eli does know the God of Israel is capable of granting her request, whatever it might be. Also, Eli desires her prayer to be answered.

This point in the lesson deserves some thought. The question arises, When do we stop interceding and wait for God's response? There is no established time period. Sometimes the answer comes quickly. So, how can we know? A suggestion is to pray until we have the satisfaction of knowing peace about the situation.

Verse 18 indicates Hannah's acceptance of Eli's words. No longer does she refrain from eating. When she has peace, sharing in meals becomes normal. Her facial appearance changes as well. No longer does it bear the marks of sadness. Peace permeates her being. She trusts God in His sovereignty to do what is best.

Faithfulness in prayer goes beyond the time of speaking the words. It includes believing God hears our prayers and then sitting back in faith trusting Him to do in His time the best for us. Hannah demonstrates this.

III. PRAISE GOD FOR PROVISION (1 Samuel 1:19, 20; 2:1-10)

A. Samuel's Birth (1:19, 20)

19. And they rose up in the morning early, and worshipped before the Lord, and returned, and came to their house to Ramah: and Elkanah knew Hannah his wife; and the Lord remembered her.

20. Wherefore it came to pass, when the time was come about after Hannah had conceived, that she bare a son, and called his name Samuel, saying, Because I have asked him of the Lord.

Before returning home, the family worships. What an appropriate way to end the time spent and to begin what will become a new family dimension. After arriving home, normal family relations occur between husband and wife. God, in His mercy and sovereign will, enables Hannah to conceive. In this case, when the son is born the mother names him. The name comes from Hebrew words meaning "heard of God." She knows the child is a gift from God after her agonized prayer at Shiloh.

The rest of chapter 1 shows the events of the next few years. Hannah chose not to accompany her husband to Shiloh on the yearly pilgrimage until the child was weaned. In those days children were breast-fed until 2 or 3 years of age. The weaning of a child provided a time of celebration. It signaled a life point at which the mortality rate decreased.

The weaning of Samuel carried even more significance. After weaning of this special child, he would be given to the Lord at the next yearly trip to Shiloh. What a sacrifice! Hannah returned her only child, a son. Elkanah gave up his firstborn son of his favored wife. This is where the total picture must come into view: Except for God's intervention, there would have been no son and no opportunity to give him to the Lord.

When Hannah came to the Tabernacle, she identified herself to Eli (vv. 26, 27). She pointed to the event of several years ago when she prayed. Now she told him the distinctive request of that prayer and God's granting her request. In accordance with her vow, Hannah stood before the high priest ready to fulfill it. Have you ever wondered how surprised Eli might have been?

Verse 28 should be translated in terms of Hannah's returning or giving Samuel to God rather than "lending" him. One translation renders it, "So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord" (NIV).

Samuel grows up being part of the Tabernacle life under the direct supervision of Eli. It doesn't seem to be the most wholesome environment in view of the spiritual degradation of Eli's sons. However, God enables Samuel to grow up to be the godly man He intended.

B. Hannah's Praise (2:1-10)

(1 Samuel 2:3-10 is not included in the printed text.)

1. And Hannah prayed, and said, My heart rejoiceth in the Lord, mine horn is exalted in the Lord: my mouth is enlarged over mine enemies; because I rejoice in thy salvation.

2. There is none holy as the Lord: for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God.

How should we respond when God answers our prayer? With more than a simple "thanks." Praise and thanksgiving includes looking at the whole environment from which God delivers/provides.

As Hannah offers her praise, it flows from the depth of her heart in the same manner as her previous agony had been poured out. She displays a tremendous sense of joy. She sees the evidence of God's intervention in her situation. The enemy of barrenness and the slights of the other wife now are destroyed. However, before concentrating on them she emphasizes the nature of God himself. Not only does she understand He has been her salvation, but sees His holiness.

Verse 2 demonstrates an understanding of God's true nature. No one compares to Him. He supersedes any human and the concept of any false god. He stands as the immovable rock which readily becomes her fortress and refuge. This concept is seen frequently in the Psalms, including Psalms 18:2; Psalms 28:1; Psalms 62:2.

Because of God's intervention, Hannah now sees herself in terms of strength rather than weakness. Her reference to "mine horn" (v. 1) speaks of strength like an animal tossing its head with a sense of power. It is only through God's work for her that she now can speak instead of silently enduring the words of Peninnah. The miraculous birth of Samuel silences the words of pride and arrogance which surely had stung repeatedly.

The reference to warriors and their bows (v. 4) indicates how Hannah previously felt she was in a battle. The one who had been involved in a losing battle now stands with strength. No longer does she long to bear a child. Her desire is fulfilled.

In the latter portion of verse 5, Hannah speaks of the barren bearing seven children. Verse 21 records her bearing five more children after Samuel. Since these other children were not born at the time of Hannah's song, this can be seen as a prophetic statement of future births. Or, Hannah could have used the number seven in its sense of completion. Now having conceived and birthed a son, she experienced fulfillment as a wife having born a son.

In the final verses of Hannah's song of praise (vv. 6-10), we see the sovereignty of God. He lifts the very poor out of their condition and places them in positions of honor and authority. God can preserve the paths of the saints and destroy those who are the adversaries of Him and His people. No one can prevail against the great God.

Verse 10 contains a brief prophetic statement of the end times. God will "thunder" from heaven in the time of judgment, and "his anointed"—the Messiah—will reign over the earth.

CONCLUSION

In 1 Samuel 2:19-21, we read how Hannah would bring Samuel a coat she had made on her annual pilgrimage to Shiloh. She always found her son faithfully at his duties in the Tabernacle. Hannah's faithfulness to God was reproduced in Samuel.

GOLDEN TEXT CHALLENGE

"FOR THIS CHILD I PRAYED; AND THE LORD HATH GIVEN ME MY PETITION WHICH I ASKED OF HIM" (1 Samuel 1:27).

Hannah poured out her soul and made a vow to God. Then, after God's marvelous work in her life, we see the same heart faithfully pouring out words of praise in prayer. Her joy is captured in Psalms 113:9: "He settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children. Praise the Lord" (NIV).

While Hannah prayed for a child, you may have a different request that needs to be "birthed" in your life. Faithfully take your request to God in prayer, submitting yourself to Him and His holy purpose.

To learn more about the annual Evangelical Sunday School Lesson Commentary, visit www.pathwaybookstore.com.