1Sam1v1to20: HANNAH'S PRAYER

(A) Introduction. (Read the passage.)

Human nature does not change. This is a story about favouritism, jealousy and verbal bullying. Penninah knew that her husband, Elkanah, loved his second wife, Hannah, more than her. She retaliated by taunting Hannah with her inability to conceive and have children. Human longing doesn't change either. Hannah yearned for a son. Finally, Hannah did what so many do in distress - she prayed to the God of heaven. I am going to consider the story under three headings:

(B) What drove Hannah to prayer.

Hannah was driven to prayer by the lack of a child. It was a great sorrow to her - as it is to many women. The maternal instinct is very strong. Beverley, a former pupil of mine, has three lovely blond haired children. I have to say that none of them exceed the beauty of their mother! Beverley told me that she still bursts into tears when she meets a heavily pregnant woman.

Hannah's disappointment was not made easier by the cruel remarks of her rival Penninah. It is a terrible thing to revel in the inadequacies of others. Enormous suffering is experienced by children at school who are 'different.' Only last week I read in the paper of the suicide of an eleven year-old boy who was bullied on the school bus for being a little plump and old fashioned. The hard-hearted tormenters when confronted with their brutal behaviour invariably say, "We didn't mean any harm. It was only a bit of fun." Hannah was so distressed by the jeers and sneers of Penninah that she stopped eating.

Perhaps, too, Hannah thought God was displeased with her. It is easy to feel like this when things go wrong and our prayers are unanswered. It is hard to experience the decline of the church you attend; to pray for years for the conversion of a son or a daughter without success; to be in a marriage that breaks down. Yesterday I preached in a church where there is a pretty, intelligent, thirty year-old woman who would love to be married. She said, rather plaintively, when I asked her if she had been on holiday, "I have no one to go on holiday with."

Unbeknown to Hannah, God was using her circumstances to drive her to a particular kind of prayer. God was with holding his blessing, not because he was displeased with Hannah, but because he held her in high esteem. God needed a special man to be a leader of Israel during a crucial period in the nation's history. He needed a child set apart and dedicated to the LORD's service, brought up to love the laws and worship of God's chosen people. Hophni and Phineas, Eli's sons, had turned out bad. Eli was to be given a second chance to groom a successor.

So we see why the LORD permitted the sorrow of Hannah. She was the ideal mother for God's servant Samuel. During the six years Samuel was in her care she moulded his character. She taught him to reverence the LORD; she set him an example of love and devotion to God; she laid the foundations of Samuel's piety and principled life. In this she was superior to Eli's wife and, later, the wife of Samuel himself.

Penninah wrongly assessed Hannah's worth. Hannah probably misjudged her own value. God makes no mistakes? He had the perfect measure of Hannah's potential as a good and godly mother.

God remains the same! He does not judge as men judge. God is not contemptuous of failure. Disappointments and discouragements are often part of his purpose and plan. It may even be that those who experience most set backs and frustrations are especially precious to him. Some of the choicest flowers grow in the harshest of environments.

(C) The prayer itself.

Hannah's prayer had four characteristics:

    (a) It was sharply focused.
    Hannah's prayer was direct. She prayed to God to give her a son. She left God in no doubt of what she wanted. Her request was unconditional. Any son would do! She did not pray for a beautiful son, or an intelligent son, or one that was perfectly formed.

    Most of our prayers are not unconditional. On many occasions I have heard church members pray like this for a pastor, "Dear LORD send us a man of your choice." The rider to that prayer is left unuttered: "But let us have the final say." Church members do have the final say! They invariably choose the man that they like. If Christians were honest they would actually pray for a pastor along these lines: "Dear LORD please, please, please, send us a man that we like."

    I am afraid that we pray along the same lines for a wife or a husband. When a man prays to God for a wife he does not do so unconditionally. He wants a beautiful wife between the age of 25 and 35, with a shapely figure, with whom he falls hopelessly in love. Unless we can ask God for a wife unconditionally it is better to use a dating agency.

    (b) It brought her misery to the LORD.
    She said in all honesty: "if you will only look upon your servant's misery and remember me...." Hannah told God how she felt. Some people are very poor at that. They bottle things up and never reveal their feelings. I realise that we don't always want to know how others feel. My friend and former colleague, Tommy Bamber, was a very popular teacher. He had an excellent relationship with most of the pupils in his care. Every teacher knows that you cannot win them all! One day a small scrap of a girl, blond haired and mouthy, said to Tommy, "Mr Bamber, I've always hated you." I suppose it gave Tommy the opportunity to investigate the causes of her hatred but knowing the vitriolic young Connie I doubt if she knew herself. On the whole it is a good thing to know how folk feel. It doesn't hurt to tell God when we are upset, disappointed or sad. I always do. I don't know what God thinks about it. I expect he would say that I complain a lot. However, it does restore my equilibrium. Hannah felt better after her prayer. We read that: She went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast. v18.

    (c)It appealed to God's grace.
    Hannah did not complain to God. She didn't say to God, "It's not fair! I am a good wife. Why have you given that Penninah children and not me? I deserve a baby too."

    The name Hannah gave her baby son reflects her dependence upon the grace of God. She named him Samuel, saying, "Because I asked the LORD for him." v20. All Hannah did was ask - the grace of God did the rest.

    God does not owe us anything. He sent us his own son to be our Saviour and Redeemer and we shall ever be in his debt for this indescribable gift. Whenever we petition God we must throw ourselves upon his grace. We should depend upon God's goodness and God's goodness alone for answers to our prayers. I very rarely asked my head teachers for anything during my career. Occasionally I asked for a piece of special equipment to facilitate the teaching of Geography. In such circumstances I usually considered my request merited a favourable response. It didn't always get one! On other occasions I would ask for time off to conduct a funeral. When I made these requests I appealed to the grace of the head. They were invariable granted with the utmost good will. God, too, is more likely to give us what we ask for if we rely soley upon his grace.

    (d) It addressed her master.
    Hannah was aware of the privileges of her relationship with God. She prayed: "If you will only look upon your servant's misery and remember me....." A faithful servant puts her Lord's interest first but a good master acknowledges an obligation of care to his handmaid.

    Christians are not only servants of God but also his children. Jesus says: "If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" Mt7v11.

    I know many fathers who cannot do enough for their children. My friend Keith would think nothing of a round trip of 400 miles to deliver his daughter and her luggage safely back to university. He drove 120 miles 2 or 3 times a week so that his son could attend cricket practices with Essex at Chelmsford. My poor old father could not do much in that way for me. He did what he could! He carried my heavy book-filled cases the 300 yards from the manse where we lived in Brockley to the bus stop for the London coach at the end of Mill road. My father then still had a strong right arm.

    We can depend upon God's strong right arm in time of real need. Unlike my father's it never loses its power to support the weak.

(D) Hannah's response to answered prayer.

    (a) She valued the gift.
    Hannah stopped at home for six years to wean her son. She would not even go up to the tabernacle for the annual feasting. Hannah devoted herself to preparing Samuel for what lay ahead. I wonder how often she told him that he was special - an answer to prayer and as such dedicated to the LORD.

    Almighty God has brought me safely through a turbulent teaching career that despite my high risk approach never ended in tragedy. He has brought me through to a peaceful retirement with the skills and time to work at this web site. I prayed regularly through the greater part of my time as teacher: "Lead me not into temptation and deliver me from evil." I am very grateful that God heard my cry and protected and preserved me. My retirement is a gift to be valued and used.

    (b) She gave her boy to the LORD.
    It is possible to receive a gift from the LORD without a blessing. It may be necessary to share the gift to receive the blessing. Hannah kept her promise and it is good to read the touching account of how she did it: After he was weaned, she took the boy with her, young as he was ........ and brought him to the house of the LORD at Shiloh. ..... they brought the boy to Eli, and she said to him, "As surely as you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the LORD. I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the LORD. For his whole life he shall be given over to the LORD." 1Sam1v24to28.

    Every year Hannah would go to the tabernacle to offer the annual sacrifice. She took with her a new robe for her dear boy. What a blessing it must have been to see how her lad: Continued to grow in stature and in favour with the LORD and with men. 1Sam2v26. Each year Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, saying, "May the LORD give you children by this woman to take the place of the one she prayed for and gave to the LORD." Then they would go home. And the LORD was gracious to Hannah; she conceived and gave birth to three sons and two daughters. 1Sam2v20and21. But none was as precious to her as the one she gave away!

    It is so important to share the gift to maximise the blessing. I had a colleague who was undoubtedly a good husband and father. His wife was extremely possessive and unwilling to share her husband with his friends. Eventually she lost the blessing.

    There are a lot of churches that are richly gifted with young people. Not all these churches share the blessing. They do not release their lively youngsters to minister to surrounding churches that are poorly supported. Just for a time my father, who was pastor of a small village church in Suffolk, had a fine flush of young male converts. He shared the blessing. My brother and three of his friends formed a singing group and went out some Sunday evenings to encourage neighbouring churches. My father would have liked those keen young men in his evening congregation that was by no means large - but he was willing to share the blessing.

    I love the story of Ruth sharing the blessing of her first born son with Naomi her mother-in-law. After the birth of Obed Naomi took the child, laid him in her lap and cared for him. The women living there said, "Naomi has a son." Ruth4v17. It reminds me of an incident that Pastor George Hogg recounted during one of his visits to my father and I. He and his wife were on holiday and like many other elderly couples enjoyed spending part of the day sitting and watching the world pass by. One afternoon a young woman sat on an adjacent bench with a very endearing toddler. The Hoggs took an interest in the mother and child. It was not long before the woman said to George, "Would you like to cuddle him for a while?" She shared the blessing and gave a lot of happiness to George and his wife.

    Do you share the blessing? I was always glad when my friends Carolyn and Richard were bringing up their children to share the blessing of a family home. Last week I looked round a lovely and productive garden of an elderly member of our congregation. He dug me up three roots of new potatoes and shared the great pleasure of eating potatoes fresh from the soil. If God has been good to us - there is a lot we can share with others.

    (c) Hannah kept her promise.
    Hannah, by keeping her promise and acknowledging God's grace, fulfilled God's purpose. She was made a blessing to the whole nation of Israel. Her boy was a great and godly influence; an abiding and permanent influence upon the Lord's people. Some would say that Hannah did not have a great work to do. She was like that other handmaid of the LORD, Mary, who brought blessing through her son. Many mothers have prepared their children for a great work for the LORD. It is a ministry that should never be despised.

    Hannah suffered because she was good. She suffered because of her great potential as a godly mother. She suffered so that eventually God could mightily use her in his service and bring blessing to the nation. Do not despair!

    For a touching sequel to this exposition: CLICK HERE

    This exposition prompted this e-mail:

    Hello. I came across your web site while perusing the internet. I noticed that you wrote about Hannah's prayer and about loneliness. I was curious as to your opinion on Hannah's prayer and how similar it is to a woman's prayer for, not a son, but a husband. There are many Christians who would attempt to encourage such a woman but some invariably say, "have you considered the possibility that you will be alone forever." The thing that gets me is that this is not what Eli said to Hannah. What do you think about this?

    Well I did think about this. Hannah's prayer is not the same as a man praying for a wife or a woman praying for an husband. Hannah had tried over and over and over again for a baby without success. She was probably infertile. She was praying as a last resort.

    A man who believes it is God's will for him to marry will surely take steps to find a wife. If all else fails he could join a Christian dating agency. I was talking to an old friend of mine last week about a friend of his called Harry. Harry is a retired stockman for the gentry. He specialised in redpoll cattle. Harry is 81 and has buried two wives but in December he will marry his third. Harry provided his details to a dating agency and got nine replies. He looked them all over and chose the one he liked the best. His procedure does bear a passing resemblence to buying a choice heifer at auction.

    Harry is a chapel man and doubtless he thought it was God's will for him to marry again. Now faith is active. It does not sit back and expect God to do all the work. Harry may have prayed to God about his predicament and then did what he could to achieve his end.

    I have sometimes prayed to God for a good Christian wife but then done nothing about it. This is not the prayer of faith and stands in stark contrast to how I acted after my father died and I needed to get back into work as a schoolteacher. I prayed then for guidance - should I go back to teaching or do something else. I knew almost at once what God's will was. I was sure I should go back to teaching. So what did I do? I decided to apply for any job going in Suffolk. I took a temporary post at a rough school for three months. Then I applied again for a permanent post. I secured a teaching appointment at a lovely rural school in Debenham where I was happy until retirement. I believe God in his goodness secured me that post - but I had to act in faith first.

    I have never acted in that way to get a wife. Perhaps, all I am praying for is romance - an idylic state that owes more to my imagination than reality. Perhaps, when it comes to a wife I haven't really got much faith in God at all. I don't want a wife of his choice. I want God to provide me with the wife of my choice. He won't do that - any more than he provided me with the school of my choice!

    I hope this is helpful to someone. We need to remember the words of James: What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? James2v14.

    I also received the email below which illustrates the truth that God sometimes waits for us to pray in line with his will before answering - as was the case with Hannah.

    I’ve been studying Hannah’s prayer today and ran across your post on the subject. After reading the email at the bottom of the post I decided to write and give you my story as well to inspire others.

    After two years of marriage I lost my wife due to infidelity on her part. Because of the backwards laws here in the States I was in fear that our little girl would end up being raised by her unfaithful mother and whomever she decided to marry in the future.

    At first my prayers were for God to return my wife to me. I would pray endlessly day and night. What I later learned was that God wants us to know his ways and follow his will. I did not know what his will was for my marriage, but I did know that he holds the protection of children higher than us adults. With this in mind I switched my selfish prayers to “Lord give my daughter a Christian mother.” Whether that mother be her biological mother with a changed heart or a step mother that God had planned for her was a thought in the back of my mind. God knew my heart and saw that my will was to submit to his will for my daughter.

    Within the next couple of months I met a wonderful Christian female friend who helped me get through my divorce and ultimately gain full custody of my daughter. We ended up getting married three years later and she has had a very strong influence on my daughter spiritually. This woman was a widow at the age of 26 with a daughter of her own only one year older than mine. The two girls were best friends in nursery and Sunday school months before my wife and I met. God took these two broken families and put them together like a puzzle that only he could have done, and I think it was because of my change in prayer.

    I am sure that was the case.

    ANY COMMENTS FOR JOHN REED: E-mail jfmreed@talktalk.net