Elon, North Carolina
Last week, we looked at the introduction to the book of I Samuel. I Samuel is one of the most interesting chapters of the Bible. I Samuel is a book of thirty-one chapters and covers three great men (Samuel, Saul, & David) but this chapter is NOT about a great man. It is about a great woman. The main character in this chapter is a woman, not a man.
In fact, all the men in this chapter blow it. Hannah’s husband blows it in this chapter. He does not really understand Hannah and what she is going through. The high priest at Shiloh blows it. He does not understand Hannah either. He thinks she is doing something bad when she is actually doing something good.
I Samuel 1 introduces us to one of the greatest women of the Bible. Hannah was one of the greatest mothers of the Bible, the mother of Samuel. This is a famous story in the Bible. What is in this chapter? Most of us know the plot of the story.
The first part of the chapter deals with Samuel’s parents and their lineage. Elkanah was Samuel’s father and Hannah was his mother. They were ordinary people. They were not famous. They were not rich and powerful. They were just normal people who lived in the country (I Samuel 1:1). Elkanah’s lineage goes back five generations.
The home life is described. It was a RELIGIOUS home. They made an annual trip to Shiloh. They worshiped together. It was a POLYGAMOUS home. Elkanah is married to two wives. It was also an UNHAPPY home. You can have a religious home and still an unhappy home at the same time. It was a DYSFUNCTIONAL home.
The conflict in the home is described. It is a conflict between two women, Elkanah’s two wives. It is initiated by Peninnah. Hannah cannot have any children and Penninah provoked her and tormented her because of it.
The prayer in the Tabernacle by Hannah is described and her rebuke by the High Priest, followed by a blessing from the High Priest. Hannah leaves Shiloh, gets pregnant and has a baby.
Elkanah continues to make his yearly trip to Shiloh but Hannah refuses to go. She does not want to go to Shiloh and come back with Samuel until she can drop him off for good. After he is weaned, he is dropped off at Shiloh for a lifetime of service to the Lord
What does this story say to us today? This story about a barren Jewish woman three thousand years ago has a lot to say to us today. Some of these principles or applications may sound shocking to us.
Principles for Today
1. Good things can happen to bad people
As you look in the world today, you see that the wicked prosper. The Bible recognizes it. Read Psalm 73. Some of the most blessed people on the planet are the most wicked. They have lots of money. They live in a big house. They have a great reputation in the world and they live horrible lives.
As you read I Samuel 1, you can see an example of this. One of Elkanah’s wives was named Peninnah. She was not godly. She was not spiritual. She was jealous. She was rude. She was insulting. She was hurtful. She was cruel. She was mean. She was one of the biblical mean girls, but God blessed her. She not only had children, she had a lot of them, boys and girls.
2. Bad things can happen to good people
This is unpopular teaching. It doesn’t seem fair. You won’t hear it preached much in churches today. Some seem to think if you are spiritual and live a godly life, you won’t have problems. If you live the abundant Christian life, you won’t have any medical problems. You won’t have financial problems. You will not have any marriage problems. You won’t have car problems.
Jesus said, “In this world, you will have tribulation” (John 16:33 NIV). You will have suffering. You will have trouble. You will have trials.
If any chapter of the Bible refutes that theory, it is I Samuel 1. Hannah was a godly woman, but she had some problems. She had two problems. Her first problem was INFERTILITY. She struggled with infertility for years. She wanted to have kids and could not have any. God seemed to be blessing other people but not her and she was devastated.
That is not a problem today. Many parents today don’t like kids and don’t want them but Hannah lived in a completely different culture. In her culture, there was a stigma placed on a barren Jewish woman. Children were considered a sign of God’s blessing.
Psalm 127:3 says, “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him” (NIV). A woman with NO children was considered a CURSE. Women in that day found their identity in child bearing. That was how they got their identity. They got it from their ability to reproduce. A woman with no children felt like she had no purpose in life.
Her second problem was RIDICULE. Hannah had an enemy. There was someone who hated her and, what makes it worse is that this person was in her own family. There was hostility, strife, competition, and jealousy in the home.
Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. 7 This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. (I Samuel 1:6-7 NIV)
Not only is Hannah infertile, but Elkanah’s other wife, Penninah, teases her. She provokes her. She mocks her. She tries to make her feel bad about something that she cannot even control. She says to Hannah, “Why don’t you have children? God has blessed me with children. Why hasn’t He blessed you? What is wrong with you? Doesn’t He love you?”
Hannah is infertile, feels bad about it and Peninnah rubs it in. She pours salt in the wound, just to hurt her even more. Peninnah bullies her to make herself feel better because she was not the favorite wife. Hannah was. She got the double portion (I Samuel 1:5).
This goes on for years. It even goes on in church. It is pretty bad when you do not even feel safe from abuse in church and yet that is what happened to Hannah. The yearly pilgrimage to the Tabernacle was when some of this took place. Are there any Peninnahs in the church today?
What effect did it have on Hannah? It caused her to be sad and depressed. She wept. She got to the point where she could not eat but she did not stop going to church (where some of this abuse took place). She continued to pray and she continued to worship.
3. Some bad things come directly from God
This is also something that you will almost never hear in church. In church, you will often hear the exact opposite preached. Good things come from God (blessing, prosperity). Bad things come from Satan (suffering, sickness). What is the problem with this theory? It is FALSE. Samuel says that is not true.
5 But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb. 6 Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. (I Samuel 1:5-6 NIV)
Two times in the text we are told that God is the one who closes the womb. He is the one in charge of conception. He is the creator of life. It wasn’t an accident that Hannah could not have kids. She did not just have a medical condition that prevented conception. God stopped her from having kids. Hannah also says that trouble can come from God.
“The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up. The Lord sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts. (I Samuel 2:6-7 NIV).
That is a shocking verse. God sends poverty and wealth. He brings death and makes alive. He humbles and exalts people. Many other verses say the same thing. This may go against the theology of some people, but it is what the Bible teaches.
The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? (Exodus 4:11 NIV).
7 So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. 8 Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes. 9 His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!” 10 He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:7-10 NIV)
I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster;
I, the Lord, do all these things. (Isaiah 45:7 NIV).
4. Take your problems to God in prayer
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6 NIV)
How do you respond when you have problems? How do you respond when you have debilitating trials? Where do you go? What do you do? Hannah knew what to do with her problems. She knew where to take them. She took her problems to God in prayer. She was upset. She was hurt. She was sad. She was depressed. She was bitter but she prayed. She had a burden that no one else understood and she took that burden to the Lord.
Hannah was not the first woman in the Bible to struggle with infertility. She was the fourth. There were three women before her who struggled with the same problem (Sarah, Rachel & Rebekah) but she is the first one who prayed about the problem. The Bible says that Isaac prayed for his wife when she was barren (Genesis 25:21) but it never mentions Sarah, Rachel or Rebekah praying for a child. It does mention Hannah praying for a child. In fact, Hannah is the ONLY woman in the OT specifically said to pray about anything.
She could have blamed God. She could have become bitter and angry. She could have said, “I serve you faithfully. I keep your commandments. I come to your Tabernacle every year and offer sacrifices. Why haven’t You given me a son?”
She could have turned completely away from God, like many do today when bad things happen to them, but she didn’t do that. In fact, Hannah’s PROBLEM only led to Hannah’s PRAYER. Whatever problem we have, we can bring before God.
Instead of praying, she could have talked to friends. Friends are important but they could not solve this problem
Instead of praying, she could have turned to a psychiatrist to deal with her uncontrollable depression? Steven Cole says that “Hannah could have gone to a Christian therapist, who would have said, “You’re crying all the time. You’re depressed. You have an eating disorder. It’s obvious that you’re sitting on a lot of anger and suffering from low self-esteem.
You need to let out all of your rage toward God. Hannah, you’re co-dependent and you need to set some boundaries. You’re enabling your husband and this other woman to carry on. You can’t really love your husband until you learn to love yourself. You need to start looking out for your own needs for a change. Let’s get you started on Prozac.”
Instead of praying, she could have turned to a doctor. That is what we would do today. That is what we would do today. That raises this question. Is it wrong for a Christian to see a fertility specialist? No. God is not against modern medicine or doctors, but our faith should not be the doctors but in God.
God uses doctors today, but He is the one who is charge of conception. Instead, she prayed.
5. God answers impossible prayers
This chapter is a testimony to the power of prayer. It shows the power of prayer. It shows us the power of a praying mom. This prayer got God’s attention.
This prayer was not only answered but Hannah got more far than she asked. She prayed for a son, but she got a prophet. She gets a ruler. She prayed for a son but got one of the greatest men who ever lived. There is no evidence that Peninnah’s kids ever amounted to anything to did anything or did anything great in life. None of her sons were prophets but one of Hannah’s was one.
What is the Hannah Prayer?
What kind of prayers does God answer? He answers prayer like Hannah’s prayer. This chapter is all about prayer. Hannah’s prayer is one of the ten greatest prayers of the Bible. What was Hannah’s prayer like?
1) The Hannah Prayer is SPECIFIC
It was a very specific prayer. It was not general or vague. Prayer must be specific.
Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” Jesus stopped and called them. “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. 33 “Lord,” they answered, “we want our sight.” Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him. (Matthew 20:30-34 NIV)
2) The Hannah Prayer is BIBLICAL
It is a prayer consistent with the heart of God. God loves children. He created them. He blesses people with large families. Hannah was asking for something that was completely consistent and in line with the will of God. Jesus loves little children. He said, “Suffer the little children to come to me and forbid them not for of such is the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:14 KJV)
3) The Hannah Prayer is PASSIONATE
In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. (I Samuel 1:10 NIV)
Deeply hurt, Hannah prayed to the LORD and wept with many tears. (I Samuel 1:10 HCSB)
Genuine prayer does not have to be eloquent. It has to be from the heart. It has to be genuine, not fake. Genuine prayer is not rote. It is not mechanical. Many of our prayers are not passionate. They show little emotion. They have no power because we are not praying from our heart. You can tell a big difference between Christians who pray passionately and those who do not.
Hannah prayed from her heart. She prayed from the depths of her soul. Hannah’s prayer came out of pain. She prays in deep anguish. Her prayer was passionate. It was so passionate that Eli thought she was drunk. If she prayed the way most Christians pray today, he would have thought she was going to sleep.
This prayer came from Hannah’s heart. That is why it did not involve any words. Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. (I Samuel 1:13 NIV). It was passionate. It was intense. It was emotional. It involved many tears (I Samuel 1:10). She was sobbing uncontrollably. It was so passionate that she prayed like this in public and did not care what people thought of her. She was completely broken before God.
Jesus prayed the same way. During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. (Hebrews 5:7 NIV)
4) The Hannah Prayer is PERSISTENT
In this chapter, we only see Hannah pray one time, in the Tabernacle but this could not be the first time that she prayed. She was harassed for years and prayed for years. Even though she received no answer, she kept praying. She was persistent.
5) The Hannah Prayer is BELIEVING
Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk 14 and said to her, “How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.”
15 “Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. 16 Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”
17 Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.” (I Samuel 1:13-17 NIV).
Hannah prays. Eli sees it and thinks she is drunk. He had sen a few drunks in his line of work. Here Hannah is doing something good and Eli thinks she is doing something bad and rebukes her and even insults her, calling her a drunkard. Apparently even religious leaders (high priests) can judge people incorrectly. We need to be slow to judge people and avoid jumping to conclusions and immediately slandering other believers.
Hannah goes down as the woman who corrects the high priest. She does it respectfully. “Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. 16 Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.” (I Samuel 1:15-16 NIV)
Eli does not apologize to her, but he does pronounce a blessing on her. Eli says, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him” (I Samuel 1:17 NIV). Hannah took this as a word from God for her situation and went home happy. Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast. (I Samuel 1:18 NIV).
She entered Shiloh sad, but she leaves happy. Perhaps for the first time, she believed that God was going to answer her prayer. The next day, she worshiped, went home, made love to her husband and got pregnant.
Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the Lord and then went back to their home at Ramah. Elkanah made love to his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. 20 So in the course of time Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. (I Samuel 1:19-20 ESV).
6. The Hannah Prayer is SACRIFICIAL
Hannah did not just pray, she made a vow in her prayer. She is the only woman in the Bible to make a vow. She vowed that if God gave her a son, she would make him a Nazarite. There are three lifelong Nazarites in the Bible (Samson, Samuel and John the Baptist). God told John the Baptist parents and Samson parents that their son would be a Nazaire from birth. Hannah is the only one to choose for her son to be a Nazarite before he was born.
Hannah was the woman who kept her promise to God. She kept her promise to God, even when it was hard. Hannah had one prayer request. She had one desire in life, to have a son. When she finally gets the one thing she desperately wanted, she gives it back to God. She did not try to smother her children like many parents do today.
God blessed her for her faithfulness. She gives her firstborn son back to God, so God gives her five more. As many say, you can’t out give God. You can never give more to God than He gives back to you, in some form or another!
Should we make vows to God today like Hannah did? She made a quid pro quo vow (“something for something” in Latin). She said, “If you do this, I will do that.” She says, “If you gave your maidservant a son, I will give him to the Lord all of the days of his life.” Should we do this today?
It is not wrong, if it is done with the right motive. Hannah did not make a vow out of selfishness. The Bible talks about making vows to God in many passages. On the other hand, we need to be very careful. We don’t want to make a rash vow, like Jephthah did. If we make a vow, we need to keep it, like Hannah did.
Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.4 When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfill it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. 5 It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it. (Ecclesiastes 5:2, 4-5 NIV)