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Vol.  9  No. 9 September 2007  Page 13
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Priscilla's Page By Marilyn LaStrape *Editor's Note*

Bonnie Rushmore

Hannah: A Prayerful Woman

By Bonnie Rushmore

Character Study

1 Samuel 1:1-28

    Elkanah had two wives. Since 1 Samuel 1:5 states that Elkanah loved Hannah, we can assume that she was his first wife. Children were extremely important to Jews since Christ would come through the linage of the Jewish race. Moses instructed the children of Israel that upon the death of a married man who does not have children, the man’s brother would take the wife, marry her and fulfill the duties of a husband. The firstborn child would carry the brother’s name (Deuteronomy 25:5-6). Since Hannah was barren, Elkanah probably took a second wife, Peninnah, so that he could have children to carry on his name. Although many worthy and honorable men of the Bible are recorded as having more than one wife, we must remember that while God once over looked multiple wives, he never intended for man to practice polygamy (Matthew 19:3-9). As with the many instances of polygamy outlined in the Bible, Elkanah’s two wives did not live in harmony.

    Each year Elkanah traveled about 25 miles from his home in Ramah to Shiloh to worship God. This was one of the three feasts all male Jews were required to attend (Deuteronomy 16:16). Since only the male Jews were required to attend this feast, Elkanah could have taken his older sons and left the women and children behind. He chose to include all his family members in this period of worship.

    A part of this feast was to offer a thank offering to the Lord. In Leviticus 7:11-15, we read the details of this sacrifice. A portion of the sacrificed animal was offered to God and the remainder was to be eaten in its entirety that day “in a simple communion service” (Wycliffe). According to 1 Samuel 1:4-5, Elkanah gave Peninnah and her children their portions, but to Hannah he gave a “worthy portion; for he loved her.” The worthy portion may have been a double helping as is translated in the New King James and the American Standard versions. However, Matthew Henry suggests that “yet to Hannah he gave a worthy portion, the choicest piece that came to the table, the piece (whatever it was) that used to be given on such occasions to those that were most valued; this he did in token of his love to her, and to give all possible assurances of it.” Whatever Elkanah gave to Hannah was noticeably different from what he gave Peninnah and was intended to show to Hannah how much he loved her.

    The worthy portion was not a one-time act, but each year when Elkanah and his family went to Shiloh to worship God, Hannah received a worthy portion. Peninnah used this opportunity to torment and taunt Hannah about her barrenness. Oh, how cruel and unkind to provoke one to such distress while worshipping God. The place where one should have peace and tranquility was turned into despair and remorse. Although not recorded, I am sure Hannah prayed regularly for a child, and each year as they traveled to Shiloh to worship, in Hannah’s eyes, that prayer remained unanswered. Elkanah was aware of the actions of Peninnah, and he tried to comfort Hannah with added attention and consoling words.

    The words of Elkanah as recorded in 1 Samuel 1:8 were intended to console and gently rebuke. Elkanah reminded Hannah that while she may not be a mother to children, she had the love and devotion of her husband. Hannah accepted Elkanah’s rebuke and ate. Burton Coffman suggests that the phrase “‘After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh’…might mean ‘after their meal had started,’ and that Hannah interrupted her meal to make her appeal to God.” Hannah left the family meal to pray to God.

    The term “temple” used in verse nine is referring to the Tabernacle. The Temple and Tabernacle were places of worship during the Mosaic Age. God gave Moses the instructions for the Tabernacle while he was on Mount Sinai following the Israelites’ escape from Egypt (Exodus 25). The Tabernacle was to be a sanctuary and dwelling place for God in the midst of the people (Exodus 25:8). This structure was a tent that was taken apart and reassembled each time the children of God moved from one location to another during the 40 years of wilderness wandering. After the conquest of Canaan, the Tabernacle was assembled and left in Shiloh. Later, when David became king, he desired to build a permanent place of worship. However, because David was a man of war and had shed much blood, God chose David’s son, Solomon, to build the Temple (1 Chronicles 22:8-10).

    Hannah came to the Tabernacle to plead with God. Hannah was very upset and prayed a reverent, silent prayer. As she prayed, she moved her lips to form the words to God, but she did not audibly speak the words for others to hear. Her prayer was intended for God. Only God can answer our prayers, and God was the only one who needed to hear her request. In the prayer, Hannah begged God for a son. Then, she promised God that if he would grant her request, she would return him to the Lord.

    Eli, the high priest, was sitting in a chair by the doorpost of the Tabernacle when Hannah came to pray. Eli observed Hannah as she prayed. He saw her lips moving and heard no sound coming from her mouth. Since these were immoral times, Eli assumed Hannah came to the Tabernacle to pray while intoxicated with alcoholic beverages. Drinking alcoholic beverages was strictly prohibited in the Old Testament (Proverbs 23:31). Eli rebuked Hannah for what he assumed was her drunken state. Hannah quickly denied the accusation and explained she was broken hearted.

    Hannah’s demeanor must have conveyed to Eli the truthfulness of her words. Eli told Hannah to go in peace. He further suggested that God would grant her request. The Scriptures do not indicate that Eli knew what Hannah asked from God. Her behavior must have portrayed a godly woman worthy of answered prayers. Hannah accepted Eli’s words and left the Tabernacle. Upon returning to her family, she ate her meal with a renewed spirit.

    The next morning, Elkanah and his family rose early to worship God before their journey home to Ramah. Sometime later, God remembered Hannah and she conceived. God granted Hannah’s prayer for a son and Samuel was born. When time for the yearly trip arrived, Hannah asked Elkanah to excuse her from this trip. She had not forgotten her promise to God, but wished to wait until Samuel was weaned before attending another feast in Shiloh. She knew that when Samuel was weaned, she would fulfill her promise by leaving Samuel at the Tabernacle to serve God. Elkanah granted her request.

    From the genealogies in 1 Chronicles 6:33-34, we learn that Samuel was from the family of Kohath, a son of Levi. God chose the sons of Levi to serve him as priests (Numbers 3:6-8). Further, the sons of Kohath were to be in charge of the items within the Tabernacle (Numbers 3:29-31). “Samuel, as a descendant of the house of Levi, was the Lord’s property from twenty-five years of age till fifty” (Adam Clarke).

    When Samuel was about three years old, Hannah and Samuel traveled with the rest of the family for the yearly feast. Upon their arrival in Shiloh, sacrifice was made at the Tabernacle. Hannah reminded Eli of her petition to God at her last visit, acknowledged that the young boy was the answer to that prayer, and Hannah presented Samuel to Eli for a lifelong service to God in accordance with the vow Hannah made about four years previously.

    Since Samuel was a Levite, he already belonged to God. Hannah’s vow to “give him unto the LORD all the days of his life” was extending the duration of his service. Hannah promised Samuel from the time he was able to be useful until his death. First Samuel Chapter One concludes with, “And he worshipped the Lord there.” Jamieson, Fausset and Brown makes the following observation about this phrase, “And he worshipped…there—namely, the child Samuel, who was at an age capable of some external service; otherwise he must have been an incumbrance and a burden.” At a young age (verse 24) Samuel was capable of serving and worshipping God. The young age was about three years old.

    The first ten verses of Chapter Two record the prayer Hannah sang with rejoicing. This prayer was one of thanksgiving to God for fulfilling her petition for a son. It was also a prophecy of the coming Messiah and his church. At the conclusion of the feast, Elkanah and his family, minus Samuel, returned to Ramah. Hannah left her son in Shiloh to serve God. However, she did not forget about him. Each year when Elkanah and his family traveled to Shiloh to worship, Hannah brought a new coat for Samuel.

    Eli was aware of the devotion Hannah exhibited toward the son she saw once a year. Because Hannah kept her promise to God, Eli blessed Elkanah and Hannah and requested that God give them more children. God heard Eli’s prayer and blessed Hannah with three more sons and two daughters (1 Samuel 2:19-21). This is the last reference to Hannah in the Bible. However, her legacy lives on throughout all times. The simple prayer of a godly woman gave rise to Samuel, the last judge of Israel, one of the great prophets of the Old Testament and a priest to God.

Applicable Principles

Hannah was a worshipper of God.

    Only the male Jews were required to attend the annual feasts. Hannah accompanied her husband on the long journey to Shiloh each year to worship God. This trip was not an easy task. They traveled by foot or rode donkeys a minimum of 25 miles one way. This would necessitate a multiple day journey, probably sleeping in tents or in the open air. Restaurants were not available so that meant food and cooking utensils must be packed for the journey. Besides the difficult physical journey, Hannah had to endure the emotional pain inflicted by Peninnah. Oh, how much easier it would have been to stay home and worship God by herself in peace and solitude. Despite the obstacles, Hannah worshipped God at the appointed place and at the appointed time.

    Many times Christians must travel great distances to worship God at the appointed place and at the appointed times. It is not always easy. Advance preparation must be made to arrive on time. It would be easy to say, “It’s just too far. God will understand if we do not return for evening services. It is just too far. God will understand if we miss Wednesday evening Bible Study. After all, the children are in school all day; they have homework, and they have to be in bed early or they are tired for school the next day.” Does God understand? God commands that we worship him on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2). The writer of the Hebrew letter rebuked those Christians for missing the assembly of the saints (Hebrews 10:25). This verse still applies to all Christians everywhere. Advance preparation and planning will allow Christians to assemble at the appointed times and at the appointed place.

    Hannah did not let the unpleasant behavior of Peninnah keep her from worshipping God. Difficulties with other Christians can create a less than peaceful gathering of the Lord’s church. We cannot allow the attitudes and behavior of others to keep us from worshipping God at the appointed times. We must assemble with the saints for worship regardless of the emotional discomfort that may prevail.

    Are you like Hannah? Will you travel to worship God? Will you ignore the unpleasantness of the others to gather with the saints to worship God?

Hannah turned the other cheek.

    Peninnah was unkind, unjust and hostile toward Hannah. Instead of comforting Hannah in her barrenness, Peninnah flaunted her many children. Perhaps if Peninnah had treated Hannah better, Elkanah would not have openly shown his favoritism for Hannah at the yearly feast in Shiloh. Hannah did not respond to Peninnah’s taunts in an unfavorable manner. The insults from Peninnah caused Hannah to grow sullen, but she did not retaliate with unkind and harsh words or actions. She could have responded with her own insults and the fact that Elkanah loved her more than he loved Peninnah. Instead, she responded to Peninnah with prayer. Jesus taught in Matthew 5:39 to turn the other cheek. We should make a greater effort to ignore unjust treatment from others. Hannah turned the other cheek.

    Are you like Hannah? Do you walk away from those who are unkind or do you retaliate with unkind words?

Hannah accepted and applied criticism when received.

    Elkanah gently rebuked Hannah for her sullen disposition. He reminded her that while she may not have a child of her own she had his love. His love should be enough to make her happy. Hannah accepted this gentle rebuke. She made herself eat at least a portion of the meal then went to the Tabernacle to pray.

    As Christians, we sometimes receive just and unjust criticism. Some criticism is given with good intentions. Some criticism is given with malicious intentions. Some criticism is based on a misunderstanding of what was said or observed. We should graciously accept all criticism, evaluate the comments and make appropriate application as necessary.

    Are you like Hannah? Do you evaluate the criticism you receive and make appropriate application? Do you become insulted and upset when someone suggests that something you said or did was inappropriate?

Hannah was a prayerful woman.

    Hannah turned to God in times of distress and in times of rejoicing. When Hannah so desperately wanted a child, she prayed to God. Her prayer was specific and in a sense bargaining. She prayed for a son who she could give back to God. The moral fiber of the Israelites was evil. The time period of the Judges, with Samuel being the last judge, was a pendulum swing of good and evil. Lengthy periods of knowing and obeying God then forgetting and disobedience lasted for about 350 years. The sons of Eli, the high priest, were corrupting the Tabernacle with their evil ways. Perhaps one of the reasons Hannah so desperately wanted a son was to train a child in God’s Word in hope of bringing some morals back to Israel.

    Hannah prayed to God when she left Samuel with Eli at the Tabernacle. This prayer was one of rejoicing. She happily fulfilled her vow and realized the long-range impact her selfless act would have on times eternal.

    First Thessalonians 5:17 reminds all Christians to “Pray without ceasing.” Always have an attitude acceptable to prayer. Remember to pray morning, noon, night and at times in between. Pray in times of distress and in times of rejoicing. Thank God for the good times and ask him for guidance in times of distress. As we pray, we must be willing to accept the answer God gives. Sometimes we ask for things that are not in our best interest. We should always pray that God’s will, not ours, be done. God hears the prayers of the righteous (James 5:16).

    Hannah prayed a specific prayer. She asked God for a son, not a baby. She outlined what she would do if God granted her a son. We should be specific in our prayers to God and acknowledge to God our need for our request. If we would like a larger home, we could pray that God help us secure that home so that it would be easier to show hospitality. If we desire another car, we could pray that God help us secure a vehicle that will better serve providing transportation to others for worship services. If God grants the request, we better follow through with using the items as we outlined. Our prayers can be general in nature. When we pray that God will use us in his service, our prayer is general in that we have not been specific as to where or how God is to use us. When we pray this prayer, we need to accept the guidance he gives and follow wherever he leads.

    Do you pray as Hannah prayed? Do you only pray when you have a need? Do you remember God in prayer during the good times? Do you pray specific and general prayers? Are you prepared to accept God’s answer to your prayers? Do you accuse God of not answering your prayer when it is not answered according to your timeframe? Will you leave God and the church when God has not answered your prayer according to your desires?

Hannah kept her promises.

    Hannah prayed for a son and promised God that she would give him back to God. As soon as Samuel was old enough to be of service to God, she kept that promise. She left Samuel with Eli to serve in the Tabernacle.

    As Christians, we should keep our promises. Solomon taught in Ecclesiastes 5:4 that when one fails to fulfill a vow or promise to God, one is as a fool. Ecclesiastes 5:5 advises that it would be better not to make a vow than to make a vow and be unable to keep it. When we obeyed the Gospel, we were telling God that we would serve him. When we fail to serve God, we are failing to keep our promise to God. In addition, we should keep the promises we make to others. When we agree to something, we should make every effort to complete the agreed upon task.

    Are you like Hannah? Do you keep the promises you make to others? If you have promised God something, have you kept that promise? Are you like those, who in times of distress, bargain with God then fail to fulfill your end of the bargain when God grants the request?

Hannah taught Samuel how to worship God.

    “…And he worshipped the LORD there” (1 Samuel 1:28). Hannah must have taught Samuel about God and how to worship, since he worshipped God on his first trip to Shiloh. At the young age of three, Samuel knew about worshipping God. Samuel “ministered unto the Lord before Eli the priest” (1 Samuel 2:11). Samuel knew about serving God.

    Just as Hannah taught Samuel from a very young age, we need to teach our children from a very young age. Most congregations have Bible classes for infants and toddlers where they are taught about God. Unfortunately, many times we fail at teaching our toddlers how to worship God. Most children learn from what they observe. Toddlers can begin to learn the importance of worship by observing those around them. When they see adults and older children fidgeting, talking, looking around and making frequent trips out of the auditorium, they learn that worship is not important. When they see older children and adults singing, turning in the Bible to the Scriptures being read, bowing their heads in prayer and sitting attentively, they learn that worship is important. We need to train our children from infancy to worship God.

    Are you like Hannah? Do you teach your children the importance of worshipping God? Is your behavior during worship helpful or hindering to the young mothers trying to train their children to worship God?

Works Cited

Clarke, Adam. Adam Clarke’s Commentary. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1996.

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