HANNAH: DETERMINED DEVOTION

 

Week of May 14, 2006

 

Bible Passage:  1 Samuel 1:1-2, 6-7, 10-13, 15-18, 20, 27-2:2.

 

Biblical Truth:  People can maintain godly devotion both when they feel brokenhearted and when they feel fulfilled.

 

Background. Hannah’s name means “grace”. It’s a fitting designation for a woman whose life was crowned with grace and who became a living emblem of the grace of motherhood. A study of her life reveals the classic profile of a godly mother. Yet Hannah almost despaired of ever becoming a mother. Her experience strongly echoes Sarah’s. Like Sarah, she was childless and distraught over it. Both women’s marriages were plagued with stress because of their husbands’ bigamy. Both of them ultimately received the blessing they sought from God, and in both cases, the answers to their prayers turned out to be exceedingly and abundantly more significant than they had ever dared to ask or think. Hannah’s son, Samuel, was the last of the judges. He was also a priest – the one who formally inaugurated the true royal line of Israel by anointing David as king. Samuel became a towering figure in Israel’s history. Thus Hannah’s life often mirrored that of the original matriarch, Sarah. Most of all, she mirrored Sarah’s faith and perseverance. In a similar way, Hannah also foreshadowed Mary, the mother of Jesus. Hannah’s prayer of dedication in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 was the model for Mary’s Magnificat in Luke 1:46-55. Both Hannah and Mary formally dedicated their firstborn sons to the Lord [1 Samuel 1:24-28; Luke 2:22-24].

 

Do You Have a Desperate Situation?: 1:1-2, 6-7.

 

[1] Now there was a certain man from Ramathaim-zophim from the hill country of Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. [2] He had two wives: the name of one was Hannah and the name of the other Peninnah; and Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children. [6] Her rival, however, would provoke her bitterly to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. [7] It happened year after year, as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she would provoke her; so she wept and would not eat. [NASU]

 

Hannah was an obscure woman living in a remote part of Israel with her husband, Elkanah. Hannah and Elkanah made their home in the territory occupied by the tribe of Ephraim. 1 Chronicles 6:22-27 gives a detailed genealogy for Elkanah, showing that he descended from Levi by way of Kohath. The Kohathites were one of the three major lines in the tribe of Levi. It was an important clan and included Moses and Aaron as descendants [1 Chron. 6:3]. The sons of Kohath were assigned responsibility for the most sacred furnishings of the tabernacle, including the ark of the covenant [Numbers 3:30-31]. When Israel moved camp from one place to another in the wilderness, it was the Kohathites’ duty to disassemble the Holy of Holies and transport the ark and all the sacred utensils according to a strict procedure. Once Israel occupied the Promised Land permanently and the tabernacle was finally situated at Shiloh, the Kohathites seem to have devoted themselves to other priestly functions; especially leading music, prayer and praise in the tabernacle [1 Chron. 6:31-33].

 

Men from the tribe of Levi took turns every year, for a few weeks at a time, serving in the tabernacle. In those days, the tabernacle was situated at Shiloh. Hannah faithfully traveled with Elkanah to the tabernacle every year to worship and offer a sacrifice. Scripture portrays them as a devout family, yet living in a dismal period of Israel’s history. In a spiritually cold generation Hannah exemplified patience, prayerfulness, faith, meekness, submission, spiritual devotion and motherly love. In spite of her gracious character, Hannah’s home life was often troubled and sorrowful. Her husband was a bigamist, having two wives: Hannah and Peninnah. Apparently Elkanah later married Peninnah because of Hannah’s barrenness. But this situation caused severe tension in the family. Peninnah, who had children, deliberately provoked Hannah, goading her about the fact that the Lord had withheld children from her. Hannah was in constant anguish because of her own infertility. She was further tormented by Peninnah’s carping taunts. The burden and stress made life almost unbearable. Hannah wept bitterly, and she literally could not even eat at times. She longed to be a mother. This was her one ambition in life.

 

Do You Turn to the Lord?: 1:10-13, 15-16.

 

[10] She, greatly distressed, prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. [11] She made a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and a razor shall never come on his head.” [12] Now it came about, as she continued praying before the Lord, that Eli was watching her mouth. [13] As for Hannah, she was speaking in her heart, only her lips were moving, but her voice was not heard. So Eli thought she was drunk. [15] But Hannah replied, “No, my lord, I am a woman oppressed in spirit; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have poured out my soul before the Lord. [16] Do not consider your maidservant as a worthless woman, for I have spoken until now out of my great concern and provocation.”   [NASU]

Hannah obviously had a deep and abiding love for God. Her spiritual passion was seen in the fervency of her prayer life. She was a devout woman whose affections were set on heavenly things, not on earthly things. Her desire for a child was no mere craving for self-gratification. It was not about getting what she wanted. It was about self-sacrifice – giving herself to that little life in order to give him back to the Lord. Hannah begged God for one son who would be fit to serve in the tabernacle. If God would give her that son, she would give him back to God. Hannah’s actions proved that she wanted a child not for her own pleasure, but because she wanted to dedicate him to the Lord.

Despite her disappointment and heartache, she remained faithful to Yahweh. In fact, frustration seems to have turned her more and more to the Lord, not away from him. And she persisted in prayer. Constant, steadfast faith was Hannah’s distinctive virtue. Verse 12 speaks of her prayer as continual. She stayed before the Lord, even with a broken heart, pouring out tearful prayers. Her trials thus had the benefit of making her a woman of prayer. The value of persistent and passionate prayer is one of the central lessons from Hannah’s life. Notice how the passion of her praying is described in verses 10-11.

There were two parts to Hannah’s vow. One was the promise to give the child to the Lord. Subsequent events indicated that by this pledge she intended to devote him to full-time service in the tabernacle. The last part of Hannah’s promise entailed a vow never to cut his hair. This was one of three provisions of the ancient Nazirite vow [Numbers 6:1-9]. While it was not clear whether Hannah’s promise also entailed all the other provisions of the Nazirite vow, if it had, her son would have also been required to abstain from wine (or any product of grapes) and not come in contact with anything that would cause ceremonial defilement. These restrictions were signs of consecration to God. Both parts of Hannah’s vow consecrated her son for life to duties that normally would have been only temporary. Hannah obviously wanted her son to be a godly man, serving and glorifying the Lord all his life. These were not promises she made lightly, and when God finally answered her prayer, she did not recoil from the difficult duty her vow had placed on her as Samuel’s mother.

 

Do You Trust the Lord?: 1:17-18, 20.

 

[17] Then Eli answered and said, “Go in peace; and may the God of Israel grant your petition that you have asked of Him.” [18] She said, “Let your maidservant find favor in your sight.” So the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad. [20] It came about in due time, after Hannah had conceived, that she gave birth to a son; and she named him Samuel, saying, “Because I have asked him of the Lord.”   [NASU]

Hannah cast her whole burden upon the Lord and left her sense of frustration there at the altar. She did what she had come to the tabernacle to do. She had brought her case before the Lord. Now she was content to leave the matter in His hands. That demonstrates how genuine and patient her faith truly was. Scripture says, Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you [Psalm 55:22]. Some people will pray, “O God, here’s my problem,” and then leave His presence in complete doubt and frustration, still shouldering the same burden they originally brought before the Lord, not really trusting Him to sustain them. Hannah truly laid her troubles in the lap of the Lord, totally confident that He would answer her in accord for what was best for her [note the change that takes place in verse 18]. There is a real humility in that kind of faith.

When Hannah and Elkanah returned home after her encounter with Eli in the tabernacle, Scripture says, It came about in due time, after Hannah had conceived, that she gave birth to a son; and she named him Samuel. Hannah devoted herself solely to Samuel’s care for the next few years. When the time came to make the first step to Shiloh after the baby’s birth, Hannah told her husband she planned to stay at home with Samuel until he was weaned. Mothers in that culture nursed their children for about three years. She would care for him during his most formative years, while he learned to walk and talk. As soon as he was weaned, though, she was determined to fulfill her vow.

Do You Honor the Lord?: 1:27-2:2.

 

[27] “For this boy I prayed, and the Lord has given me my petition which I asked of Him. [28] So I have also dedicated him to the Lord; as long as he lives he is dedicated to the Lord.” And he worshiped the Lord there. [2:1] Then Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the Lord; my horn is exalted in the Lord, my mouth speaks boldly against my enemies, because I rejoice in Your salvation. [2] There is no one holy like the Lord, indeed, there is no one besides You, nor is there any rock like our God.   [NASU]

 

Hannah’s Song of Praise: 2:1-10. The prayer in which Hannah poured out the feelings of her heart, after the dedication of her son to the Lord, is a song of praise of a prophetic and Messianic character. After giving utterance in the introduction to the rejoicing and exulting of her soul at the salvation that had reached her [1], she praises the Lord as the only holy One, the only rock of the righteous, who rules on earth with omniscience and righteousness, brings down the proud and lofty, kills and makes alive, makes poor and rich [2-8]. She then closes with the confident assurance that He will keep His saints, and cast down the rebellious, and will judge the ends of the earth, and exalt the power of His king [9-10].

 

[1] The first verse forms the introduction to the song. Holy joy in the Lord at the blessing which she had received impelled Hannah to the praise of God. The heart rejoices at the lifting up of her horn, the mouth opens wide to proclaim the salvation before which the enemies would be dumb. My horn is exalted means my power is great in the Lord. The horn is the symbol of strength. The power was high or exalted by the salvation which the Lord had manifested to her. To Him all the glory was due, because He had proved himself to be the holy One, and a rock upon which a man could rest his confidence.

 

[2-3] God manifests himself as holy in the government of the kingdom of His grace by His guidance of the righteous to salvation. But holiness is simply the moral reflection of the glory of the one absolute God. This explains the reason given for His holiness: there is no one holy like the Lord, indeed, there is no one besides You. As the holy and only One, God is the rock in which the righteous can always trust. He is a God of knowledge who sees and knows every single thing.

 

[4-8] The righteous acts of God are described in verses 4-8 in great and general traits, as displayed in the government of His kingdom through the marvelous changes which occur in the circumstances connected with the lives of the righteous and the wicked. The Lord does all this because He is the creator and upholder of the world. Now as Jehovah, the God of Israel, the Holy One, governs the world with His almighty power, the righteous have nothing to fear.

 

[9-10] The Lord keeps the feet of the righteous, so that they do not tremble and stumble. But the wicked, who oppress and persecute the righteous, will perish in darkness when God withdraws the light of His grace so that they fall into distress and calamity. For no man can be strong through his own power, so as to meet the storms of life. All who fight against the Lord are destroyed. Thunder is a sign of the approach of the Lord to judgment. In the thunder, man is made to feel in an alarming way the presence of the omnipotent God. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth is a prophetic glance at the consummation of the kingdom of God. As certainly as the Lord God keeps the righteous at all times, and casts down the wicked, so certainly will He judge the whole world, to hurl down all His foes, and perfect His kingdom which He has founded in Israel. Hannah’s song of praise ends with a prophetic reference to the Messiah. He will give strength to His king, and will exalt the horn of His anointed. God will exalt the power of His anointed at the judgment of the last day by making all the enemies of Christ His footstool [Psalm 110:1].

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.   List the phrases describing Hannah’s distress. How did she dispel her grief? How do you explain the change that took place in Hannah described in verse 1:18?

 

2.   Read Hannah’s song of praise in 2:1-10. What does Hannah say about (a) God’s character, and (b) the way in which time and again He reverses the lot of men? What will be the final end as described in verses 9-10? What warning and what encouragement do you take from these truths?

 

References:

1 Samuel, Keil and Delitzsch, Eerdmans.

1 Samuel, Matthew Henry.

Twelve Extraordinary Women, John Macarthur, Nelson Books.