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The Blue Letter Bible

Mary Elizabeth Baxter :: Hannah—1 Samuel 1.

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It was in the times of the Judges; there was no king in Israel (Jdg 21:25), when a certain man of Ephraim, named Elkanah, took two wives. This was against the order of God, and necessarily brought trouble into the family. The name of Hannah, one, probably the first, of these two wives, means "gracious," and she was like her name. But Hannah had the humiliation, so deep among Jewish women, of being childless, while Peninnah, her rival, had children. Strife was sure to reign in such a household, and it was the habit of Peninnah to reproach Hannah as though she were under the curse of God, and she sought "to make her fret because she had no children." Peninnah was one of those women whose chief talent seems to lie in the power they have to wound others by unkind words. She signalised herself by her skill in making another suffer by adding to a sorrow which already existed. Such a woman is a disgrace to God's thought of womanhood.

Nevertheless, this was a godly household as far as light was given in those early days: Elkanah went up from his city year after year "to worship and to sacrifice unto the Lord of hosts in Shiloh." And Hannah, her heart bleeding with its open sore, went up with her husband to worship. There, in God's temple, alone with Him, she was at large.

But these were hard times for godly people. There was defection in the priesthood, and that necessarily gave the tone to the whole of society. When a minister of the Gospel looks upon his avocation just as another man does upon a worldly profession, as a means of gaining a livelihood, and he allows the customs of society, dinner parties and evening parties, croquet parties and garden parties, to absorb his time, just as though he were no teacher of immortal souls, that the children of God are "not of this world "-it is no wonder that the people take after him. "It shall be, as with the people, so with the priest." (Isa 24:2.)

It was the custom, when the yearly sacrifice was made, to give portions or presents to every member of the family, and Elkanah did not fail in this custom. "He gave to Peninnah his wife, and to all her sons and her daughters, portions: but unto Hannah he gave a double portion; for he loved Hannah." Yet her husband's love, and his manifest esteem for her, could not make up for the misery she suffered at the hands of Peninnah.

There was probably more than this;


called by the Spirit of God to bear upon her heart the burden of her people, and of the unrighteous priesthood in her degenerate days. The cause of God was dear to her, she mourned for the sin of the priests.

Hannah "wept and did not eat." Her husband sought to comfort her, and said:

"Why weepest thou? and why eatest thou not? and why is thy heart grieved? am not I better to thee than ten sons?"

But the void in Hannah's heart was deeper than human comfort could reach; it took a tenderer hand to heal the sore, and the instinct of her soul drove her to her God. There, before the tabernacle, probably within its courts, Hannah "poured out her soul to the Lord." She "was in bitterness of soul, and she prayed and wept sore. 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."

A straw will show which way the wind blows, and the tone of Hannah's prayers throws light upon the burden of her soul. She asked of God no son who should shine in the world, who should make a fortune, and become a great man, as regarded possessions, honour, or political power. She wanted a Nazarite, a consecrated and dedicated man, one who should be the Lord's special witness, to shine in the midst of darkness, to be a blessing where the priesthood failed to be so. Hannah wanted a prophet son, an interpreter of God; and by this we see how powerless her husband's comfort was to her.

Hannah's prayer was not audible; she was so deeply conscious of the presence of her God that she did not need to speak aloud; in the secret of His presence she knew she was heard. She spoke, in her heart; her lips moved, but her voice was not heard.

The high priest was sitting by the door of the tabernacle, and marked this woman, absorbed as she was in her communion with God, and by her deep grief, Eli thought she had been drunken, and said to her:

How long wilt thou be drunken? put away thy wine from thee."

Harsh judgment does not spring out of close communion with God. "God is love," and God enables His children to love the unlovely as He does. But Eli had grieved his God by not restraining his sons, and he had lost his spiritual perception, if he ever had any; he had not the quick scent which recognises at once a soul which lives near to God.

Hannah answered Eli in all graceful humility, without one trace of bitterness, or wounded personal feeling. She recognised him as her superior in ecclesiastical position, although in spirit she was far beyond the high priest.

"No, my lord; I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit: I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I poured out my soul before the Lord. Count not thine handmaid for a daughter of Belial: for out of the abundance of my complaint and my provocation have I spoken hitherto." (1Sa 1:15, R. V.)

Hannah had been dealing with God; but He chose to send an answer through human lips. "Eli answered and said:

"Go in peace: and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of Him."

There was a strong contrast between Eve and Hannah. Eve sought a son for herself; Hannah prayed for a son for God. In Eve's heart "I have gotten" was the expression with which she greeted the gift of God; but


was the thought in Hannah's heart.

Even before her child was born, Hannah's confidence in God was such that she acted as though she had already received the answer to her prayer. "The woman went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad." "What things soever ye desire when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." (Mar 11:24.) Faith in God can never be in vain; "The Lord remembered" Hannah, and gave her a son whom she called Samuel, i.e., "Asked," "Because I have asked him of the Lord." (1Sa 1:20.)

When the time came round for the yearly sacrifice, Hannah did not go up as usual. She waited until she could fulfil her vow, "I will not go up until the child be weaned, and then I will bring him that he may appear before the Lord, and there abide for ever." "What!" says some worldly mother, "did she make such a fuss and pray so earnestly for a child, and then decide so coolly to part with him when he was but a boy? Does that show a mother's love?" Hannah's love was an unselfish love; she loved God best, and she loved her boy for God, and not for herself. Not with the heroism of a Stoic, but with the consecration of a believing child of God, she kept her vow. And when her boy was weaned, she brought him to the tabernacle, and said to Eli:

"O my lord, as thy soul liveth, my lord, I am the woman that stood by thee here, praying unto the Lord. For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of Him: therefore I also have lent him to the Lord; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord."

A consecrated mother does not count it a trial, but an honour, to yield a child for the mission field; an unconsecrated mother counts it a gain to part with a son for India or for China if he has a chance of making a fortune there, but thinks herself much to be pitied if he leaves her to go to the mission field! A consecrated mother holds her son as God's property, and as hers only in partnership with God; an unconsecrated mother, in the spirit of Eve, says: "He is mine, and I must realise the benefit that will accrue to my son if I let him leave me." The consecrated mother is a helpmeet to her son; the unconsecrated mother, by her very example, teaches him selfishness. Hannah was a true prophet's mother-prophet blood flowed through her veins. The very essence of the prophet's spirit was hers. No wonder Samuel imbibed it.

Naomi and Ruth. Part 2—Ruth 1. ← Prior Section
Hannah’s Song—1 Samuel 2. Next Section →
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