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Hannah teaches us an important spiritual principle
The opening portions of First Samuel give us good insight into activity during that era in the history of Israel. The first three verses of 1 Samuel, Chapter 1, introduces us to a man from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah, and his two wives, Hannah and Peninah. Peninah had children by Elkanah, but Hannah bore no children. But, Elkanah loved Hannah and was a godly man. Chapter one records that he went up yearly from his city to worship at Shiloh to sacrifice to the Lord of Hosts. At that time, the tabernacle and Ark were at Shiloh and the high priest was Eli and his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, served as priests (1:3). For those who are truly righteous, these pathetic priests cast a dark cloud over genuine worship (see 2:12-17, 22-25).
We learn more of Hannah's situation, for when Elkanah sacrificed he gave portions to both his wives, but a double portion to Hannah because he loved her. The Bible says she was barren because the Lord had closed her womb. To the eastern mind, this was a terrible dilemma and a sign of the Lord's disfavour. In many parts of the world she would be looked upon as a murderess for it was believed that she killed her husband's living seed within her own body. We do not know why the Lord closed Hannah's womb, but we do know that everything God does is for His own glory. We also know that because she was barren for so long, her constant prayers for a son resulted in the kind of consecration which was necessary in order for her to raise Samuel and to make the promises which demonstrated her great faith regarding his future.
Sadly, as Hannah went up to the tabernacle year by year, her husband's other wife taunted and ridiculed her because she was barren. Hannah wept and prayed and did not eat (1:7). We see another magnificent principle here for, where we may be tempted to rant and rave at God for His failure to give us what we want, Hannah's despair drove her closer to the Lord; in her misery she trusted in God's true grace. Finally, we read in verse 111:
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.
She displayed marvellous faith in making a Nazarite vow for her son (1:11; cf. Numbers 6:1-21; Judges 13:2-7) who was not even yet conceived, and was in such agony as she prayed that, while speaking in her heart, her lips moved as she mouthed the words although no sound came. Eli, the High Priest, looked over from the doorway of the tabernacle, and seeing her, assumed she had been drinking. "How long wilt thou be drunken? Put away thy wine from thee," he scolded (v14). Overindulgence in the use of wine at the worship feasts may have been quite common at this time, but we get a glimpse of the spiritual nature of Eli who surely had no reason to jump to such a rapid conclusion that Hannah was drunk. The incident probably also shows that completely silent prayer was not yet common at this time. Hannah's prayer was intense, completely spiritual, and inward and not merely the performance of an outward ceremony. "Daughter of Belial" is an idiom meaning "very wicked," the same idiom which is used to sum up all the wickedness of the sons of Eli in 2:12-17. That gives us some insight into the spiritual qualifications of a High Priest who rebukes Hannah because he jumps to the conclusion that she is drunk, but cannot find it in himself to rebuke his own sons for the way they obtain their meat. Eli is reluctant to terminate the very system which sustains him and which kept him fat. He was supposed to be a man of God with spiritual discernment, but he was such an ungodly priest, and so spiritually undiscerning, that he could not even distinguish a godly Israelite woman praying earnestly to God, from one whom he believed was drunk with wine (I Samuel 1:15-161):
But Hannah answered him respectfully and explained: 'No, my lord, I am a woman of sorrowful spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but have 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 grief have I spoken hitherto.'
Eli, realizing his error, made a priestly reply (1:17): "Go in peace: and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of him." From that moment on, Hannah is able to enter into the worship celebration. She eats the meal, her face now radiating with joy rather than sorrow. Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son and named him Samuel. While scholars debate over the terms and their meanings, we are told what the name means to her and it is reasonable to accept the most likely meaning of his name: "heard of God."2 She knows that this is the child she asked of the Lord, and that he is the answer to her prayer (1:20). The name Samuel is a constant reminder of this child's origin and destiny. When Elkanah went up with his household to pay the yearly sacrifice, Hannah did not go but stayed home with her young son and explained (v22)1: "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."
After she had weaned young Samuel, who we assume was dedicated when he was about five years old, she went up to Shiloh taking with her a three year old bull and an ephah of flour. Here was a truly godly woman about to fulfill the vow she had made earlier. History is full of "foxhole" consecrations and un-kept promises. How often, when in trouble, we cry to the Lord for deliverance and make promises which we forget to keep when the difficulty is behind us. We promise Him that we will read the Bible daily, pray either daily or more fervently, or witness to someone every day if God will just get us out of this current difficulty. Scripture makes it clear that unless you plan to keep your vow, it is better not to make one (Ecclesiastes 5:5). Hannah's vow was not a "foxhole" promise and we can gain a deeper appreciation of the faith she demonstrated by examining the situation surrounding her at that time.
Probably nothing demonstrates this better than Hannah's psalm of praise to her Lord and God, for her flowing words also appear to reflect Israel's experiences with God in the past. Hannah speaks of God as her "rock" (v2; cf. Deuteronomy 32:30-31) and of God exalting her "horn" in (v1; cf. Deuteronomy 33:17). Hannah's psalm does not concentrate on her sorrow, her suffering, or even on her blessings, but on her God. Out of her suffering and exaltation, she comes to see God more clearly, and as a result, she praises Him for His holiness (v2), faithfulness ("rock," v2), omniscience (v3), graciousness (v8), omnipotence (v6), as sovereign, the great reverser of circumstances (verses 6-10).3 How much there is of God in these few verses! Hannah knows the history of her nation and uses the experience for, when she speaks of the weak and humble being elevated to power and prominence, we know she has the history of her nation as an example for this was clearly true of Israel at the Exodus. When she speaks of the hungry being fed we know this was also true at the Exodus and of the powerful being humbled we know that this was true of Egypt at the Exodus. Hannah's psalm is also prophetic and looks forward to the time when Israel will have a king (v10) where the word "anointed" is a translation of the Hebrew mashiah, "messiah." This is its first occurrence in the Old Testament and it is singularly appropriate for Mary's song of exultation, in Luke 1:46-55, which makes free use of the Song of Hannah by inspiration of the Holy Spirit for it is the fulfilment of Hannah's messianic prophecy and one of the reasons Mary's "psalm" has a familiar ring to us in her so-called "Magnificat." Hannah and Elkanah, like their New Testament counterparts, Zacharias and Elizabeth (cf. Luke 1), are childless. Both barren wives become the mother of a prophet, who designates the coming king. As Samuel designates both Saul and David, so John the Baptist designates Jesus the Nazarene as God's Messiah and King.
We also note that each year, for the next several years, mother Hannah is accompanied by another child, ending up with three little boys and two girls - six children in all, counting Samuel. Eli saw the tearful parting of Elkanah and Hannah (I Samuel 2:20-21) and pronounced a blessing on them, asking that God replace the child Hannah dedicated to the Lord. God answered, graciously granting them five additional children. Perhaps Eli also realized that, in place of his two worthless sons, God has given him a son to raise, a son who must have been a joy to this elderly priest's heart. More than mere sentimental feeling is communicated here, however. One might think that, since Samuel lived so far from his parent's home, Hannah and Elkanah have little influence on Samuel's life. I believe they have much influence on Samuel for when we read 1 Samuel 2:19 in light of the teaching of the Law on the priest's garments, then Hannah is not just sewing clothes for her little boy, she is sewing priestly garments for him. We can hear Hannah speaking to Samuel about the dignity and duties of the Levitical priests and instructing him about the high calling of his task and what the priestly garments are intended to convey? I believe Hannah has a tremendous impact on her son by the things she sews, and no doubt by what she says. We see that a practical act such as sewing can have spiritual impact and the result of this love is seen in the lives of Hannah and Samuel.
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