Lesson 3: Hannah – Learning to Be Someone
It’s hard to put myself in Hannah’s mental space. Oh sure, I’ve wanted things so desperately that I’ve cried out to God. But, I can’t really empathize with something as uncontrollable as the creation of offspring being tied to my value (cultural and personal), place in society, and self-worth. As we’ve been exploring the “supporting cast” that have played relatively minor roles in the Old Testament, it is refreshing to revisit Hannah’s story and take another look at her dependence on God, strength, and unwavering faith.
Although God creates us as unique beings with distinct personalities and temperaments, experiences really shape and define who we are. After all, we know that trials and tribulations produce patience, perseverence, and finally, a hopeful character (James 1:3,4; Romans 5:3,4). This is what stands out to me about Hannah – her incredibly hopeful character.
As readers of the ancient texts, we are privy to thoughts, internal monologues, and the backstage dealings of God. Of course, Hannah probably thought her barrenness was God’s way of punishing her. After all, it is quite natural to look at your circumstances and, based on all the data that you have before, make the call that there is a certain causality connecting your present state and something else that has occurred in the past. Hannah’s husband showers her with love, compassionately cradling her in her misery. Regardless, that seems to go little way to actually assuaging the incessant taunting from her rival sister-wife. Often, we look to people, things, and position to settle us or to give us peace when the only thing that can fill the gaping hole is God and His absolute certainty. What’s interesting to note in 1 Samuel 1: 5, 6 is that God is attributed with “closing up her womb.” While it may seem as punishment, God seems to allow specific things to happen (or not happen) so that His name may be glorified (see John 9: 1-3). In this particular instance, God obviously had a plan. It is interesting to see how Hannah plays into this plan, not as a helpless whiner, but as someone who ardently sought the Lord in order for Him to do something about her situation.
Sad No Longer
1 Samuel 1:18 is perhaps the most awe-inspiring verse for me in this story. After pouring out her heart to God and making that momentous promise to give up the son that she so desperately wanted, Hannah spoke with Eli. He heard her out and promised that God would grant her request. At this juncture, there are several things that could have happened.
- “And she thanked Eli and went on her way, all the while questioning in her heart how he had known what her petition was and how he was so sure that God would answer it. Up until now, she had prayed every day for a miracle and nothing had happened.”
- “And she kept his words in her heart but worried about what God would do, if He chose to hear her. She contemplated the possibility of God giving her a son years from now, or the event in which God’s answer was ‘No’. These thoughts circulated in her head and weighed down upon her heart.”
- “And her heart leapt with joy at the words of the man of God, but she immediately squelched the hope with a healthy dose of reality. She was old, God was punishing her for something in her past, end of story.”
- “And she politely thanked Eli, all the while carefully backing up to get back to her group. He was just saying those things to make her feel better, she thought.”
Thankfully, the story takes a different turn:
“And she said, Let thine handmaid find grace in thy sight. So the woman went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more [sad].” – 1 Samuel 1:18
The words from the priest so settled her heart that she went back to the feast and ceased to worry or agonize over the situation.
Finally, Hannah’s promise to God is one borne from a faithful and pure heart. Hannah could have wheedled with God and tried to get out of her obligation when she finally had what she wanted. However, she was probably well aware of God’s omniscience and knew such a path would be futile. What’s crazy here is that all the socio-political/cultural/familial baggage of status melts away in the light of her commitment to God. It’s almost as if the entire world has disappeared and she is dealing with God one on one. Her song in chapter 2 is one of joy and a “knowledge” of God. Hannah loved her son – that much is obvious – but she loved her Lord more. Keeping her end of the bargain was ingrained in her being and she honored it just as God had honored His. I love that the Bible describes Samuel’s time at the temple as being “on loan” to God (1 Samuel 2: 20). Perhaps more than a coping mechanism, this possibly points to God’s acknowledgment that Samuel is still his mother’s (although he was God’s first). God honors Hannah’s steadfastness by enabling her to have 5 more children.
Hannah rises above the ashes of human standards – her character develops strength and resilience. Once depressed and weak, through her commitment to God and her faith in His power, her spirit was totally transformed into one that reflected trust and dedication. What a person to be!