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. (I Samuel 1:11 KJV)
The circumstances surrounding the birth of Hannah’s son Samuel teach us several important truths about prayer. Hannah had been barren for several years, and though she could depend upon the love and tenderness of her husband (whose other, less beloved wife had borne his children), she was grieved that God had not allowed her to take part in the childbearing aspect of Kingdom building. As one who knew the recent history of her people and their pattern of falling into sin and needing God to raise up a redeemer, Hannah wanted to be the woman who would bear the promised Seed who would redeem God’s people. Indeed, every faithful wife from Eve to Elizabeth longed for the birth of Him who would crush Satan’s head and break the bondage of sin.
Yet Hannah, unlike several of her counterparts (for example, Sarah), relies solely on God to grant her request for a child. Because her purpose is to build God’s house rather than to satisfy any selfish desire to build her own house or even to gain relief from her rival’s taunting, Hannah vows that if God would give her a son, she would dedicate the child to perpetual service. When Eli sees her engaged in earnest prayer, he thinks she is drunk and rebukes her. (As an aside, it is a sad commentary on the state of the Israelite nation that this priest was so unaccustomed to seeing fervent prayer that he did not recognize it!) But after Hannah explains her behavior, Eli acknowledges God’s work in her, and he prophesies that God will grant her petition. She leaves the temple in great joy, asking Eli to continue to pray for her. This request for the prayers of God’s priest shows that she fully understands her utter dependence upon God.
From Hannah’s example we learn first that God’s people should seek blessings only from His hand and only through His appointed means. Like Hannah, our response to repeated disappointment should be to bend our lives to God’s will while continuing to pour out our souls before the throne of grace. Perhaps she remembered the woe that came from Sarah’s decision to have her handmaid bear Abraham’s son.
From Hannah we also learn to rest in God’s word. Her response to Eli’s prophecy is to trust God so completely that even before Samuel is conceived, her sad countenance gives way to the joy of God’s promise. Hannah’s faith is also evident when she keeps her promise to dedicate her only child to God’s service. An extra measure of faith was required for her to entrust Samuel to Eli, whose own wicked sons regularly stole offerings that were intended for God. Yet Hannah trusts God to protect Samuel and to accomplish His purposes for him. And that is exactly what God did, as we read in I Samuel 3:19, “So Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.” Finally, the inspired prayer-poem, an Old Testament version of the Magnificat, which Hannah utters when she takes Samuel to dedicate him to altar service, demonstrates that our response to God’s blessings should be unbounded praise.
Hannah’s earnest desire to commune with God in prayer was the basis for the faithfulness of her son, who as a child heard the very voice of God calling him, at a time when such communion was rare. No doubt this godly mother remained in prayer for her son throughout his life. Her prayers were answered: through Samuel’s ministry the whole nation of Israel was blessed. Samuel anointed King David, through whose lineage would come the One whose Blessed Mother would also glorify the God who redeems His people.
A Prayer for Children and Parents
Heavenly Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and earth is named, bless we beseech thee, all children, and give to their parents, and to all in whose charge they may be, thy Spirit of wisdom and love; so that the home in which they grow up may be to them an image of thy Kingdom, and the care of their parents a likeness of thy love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(From The Pastor’s Prayerbook by Robert Rodenberry. New York: Oxford, 1960)