Hannah was a very ordinary woman who lived in an extraordinary time in Israel’s history. She became an integral part of that history though at the time she had no such thought. The time when Judges ruled over Israel was almost over and the Kings were coming. Hannah lived right before this transition occurred; in fact, her prayer helped to usher it in. Hannah was married to a man named Elkanah who dearly loved her but he also had another wife. The other wife, Pininnah, had children but not Hannah – “the Lord had closed her womb.” (1 Samuel 1:5) All of Hannah’s thoughts centered on being childless and her husband could not comfort her. She endured great provocation and ridicule from Pininnah for her barrenness and she continually sought the Lord to remove her reproach and give her a male child.
Each year Elkanah took his family up to Shiloh to worship God and offer sacrifices because there was a tabernacle of the Lord there and priests who ministered at the temple. One year during this trip Hannah had a divine appointment with her God. She entered into the Lord’s tabernacle to pray once again for her deepest need.
“And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the Lord and wept in anguish. Then she made a vow and said, ‘O Lord of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head” (1 Samuel 1:10-11)
Hannah’s Vow Remembered
Eli, the priest, observed her and saw such anguished behavior that he thought she was drunk and he rebuked her for it. When she explained that she was indeed not drunk but was pouring out her heart to the Lord, he said; “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition which you have asked of Him.” (I Samuel 1:17) Hannah left the temple “and her face was no longer sad” (verse 18) because she had given her all in prayer and had made a vow that would cost her the very thing she sought.
The Bible says that God then remembered Hannah; she did conceive and had a male child whom she named Samuel. Hannah also remembered the vow she made to the Lord and when Samuel was weaned she took him up to the temple and entrusted him into the hands of Eli, the priest who had overheard her prayer.
Hannah may have been an ordinary woman but Samuel was not an ordinary child. Even as a tiny boy Samuel began to hear the voice of God which the Bible says was rare in Israel at that time. He grew up and became the greatest prophet in Israel’s history. He was a Judge over Israel; he anointed Saul as Israel’s first king and then anointed David as king after Saul’s disobedience disqualified him in God’s eyes. Samuel’s influence and power cannot be overestimated; he was a giant of a man that God used as a bridge between two epochs in the history of his chosen people. Two books of the Old Testament are named after him.
From Ordinary to Extraordinary
So was Hannah ordinary after all? Her prayer was not ordinary was it? What made hers one of the great prayers of the Bible? Let’s examine that. First let’s look at Hannah’s barrenness. The Bible says that God had closed her womb. This was barrenness on purpose – God’s purpose. This was barrenness that would drive Hannah to the kind of desperation that few of us have. Hannah was so desperate that she did a remarkable thing. She made a vow to God. If God would give her a son she would give him back to God all the days of his life.
Hannah was willing to relinquish the very thing she was asking for. What a heavy price she paid. When Samuel was born she only had him to herself for a couple of years before giving him up to Eli. After that she only saw him once a year when she and Elkanah went up to Shiloh for the annual sacrifice. Was the outcome worth the price? Hannah thought so because as she released Samuel into Eli’s hands she prayed another poetic prayer of triumph exalting God. It begins this way:
“My heart rejoices in the Lord; my horn is exalted in the Lord.
I smile at my enemies, because I rejoice in Your salvation.
No one is holy like the Lord, for there is none besides You,
Nor is there any rock like our God.” (I Samuel 2:1-2)
I believe that Hannah’s prayer and resulting sacrifice paid the price for the anointing that was on Samuel over his entire life. She thought she was asking for a child for herself but Israel got a Judge and a Prophet of unparalleled character and worth. God closed Hannah’s womb to see what that would produce. Things could have turned out far differently. What if Hannah had chosen self pity when she found herself barren? How about discouragement leading to bitterness and bitterness to despair? She could easily have succumbed to resigned resentment or smoldering anger with God.
The Price of Desperation
Instead of any of those things, Hannah chose a kind of desperate prayer that produced a vow that captured God’s heart and also played into his master plan for Israel. As I look at Hannah I am reminded of the scripture from II Chronicles 16:9; “For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.” In Hannah he certainly found such a heart, didn’t he? Her desperate surrendered prayer is one of the greatest in the Bible.
When we look at Hannah we see a woman who paid a price few would willingly pay. Yet after Hannah gave Samuel up to God, the Lord visited her again and gave her three more sons and two daughters. She was abundantly fruitful in her life but it all started with barrenness.
Remember that each person recorded in the Bible is a living example to us, not a dusty old cardboard character long dead. There are Hannah’s in the world today and there are purposes of God yet unfulfilled. Maybe he has “closed the womb” for a purpose. Maybe he is looking for desperate ones. Maybe he is longing to release another Samuel on the earth. Barrenness may yet produce fruitfulness in any one of our lives. If we are as “ordinary” as Hannah we can partner with God to produce results that are extraordinary for our own times.