December 2017 / January 2018 - Vol. 95
Hannah praying to God
Getting Real With God 
Hannah's Expectant Plea
By Jeanne Kun
Hannah stood expectantly before the Lord when she had nothing to give but her anguish. And God, who is rich in mercy, did not disappoint her..
Craig Morrison, The Word Among Us
Hannah was burdened with grief and sorrow: she longed to be a mother yet was childless (1 Samuel 1:2). Her infertility was a source of anguish and misery. Deeply distressed, Hannah was so spent with crying that she couldn’t even eat (1:7).

In a society in which infertility was a public disgrace, the failure to bear children was an especially terrible burden. No only did Hannah experience personal grief and heartache, but she also endured shame and the ridicule of Peninnah, Elkanah’s other wife. (Having two wives was a practice common and acceptable in the culture of that time.) Peninnah had borne many children and never let Hannah forget her childlessness, taunting and provoking her (1 Samuel 1:6). Yet Elkanah loved Hannah and treated her with compassion and tenderness (1:5, 8). Surely he would have wanted Hannah to bear a child, but he did not reject or upbraid her for not becoming pregnant. As Carmelite Scripture scholar Craig Morrison noted, “[Elkanah’s] reaction to her infertility is not typical for men of that culture. When Sarah was unable to conceive, for example, Abraham complained to God that he wanted an heir (Genesis 15). Clearly, Elkanah and Hannah have a unique relationship. Theirs is a love story. Still, Hannah wants to be a mother and cannot be consoled.”

Each year the whole family went to the shrine at Shiloh to offer sacrifice to the Lord (there was as yet no temple in Jerusalem). It was especially at those times, when Elkanah would give a “double portion” of the meat from the animal sacrifice to Hannah because of his love for her, that Peninnah—probably out of jealousy—would provoke her. Yet Hannah had not given up hope: this particular year, as she prayed to the Lord in her distress, she was also filled with determination. Weeping bitterly, she asked the Lord to look on her misery and to “remember” her. It was a request insisting that God listen, a prayer reflecting great faith. Then Hannah made an amazing promise: if the Lord would grant her a son, she would, in gratitude, dedicate the child to the Lord from birth and give him to God’s service (1 Samuel 1:11).

When Eli, the priest serving at Shiloh, saw how Hannah prayed, silently yet with her lips moving, he thought she was drunk. However, Hannah explained, “I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord” (1 Samuel 1:15). This image reminds us of Job, another who endured intense suffering and likened his anguish to his soul being “poured out within me” (Job 30:16).

Once Eli realized that Hannah was not “a worthless woman” but rather one earnestly speaking to the Lord of her troubles, he said, “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him” (1 Samuel 1:17). Then we read in verse 18, “The woman went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no longer.” Author Heidi Bratton points out just how striking this scene is: “Even more amazing than what Eli said is what Hannah did. She changed her attitude and embraced the peace that Eli had offered her.” Bratton continues,
Hannah’s encounter with God in the temple marks the height of conflict in her life story. To the temple she brings her greatest burden, childlessness, and basically throws it at God’s feet. Then without any tangible proof that God will positively answer her prayer, she walks out, leaving her burden behind. Hannah’s peace is restored, not because God has yet answered her prayer, but because, with the help of Eli, she has handed her burden to God and trusted him with it.

This is good news for those of us who are carrying great burdens! If we are as authentic with God as Hannah was in presenting our burdens to him and then leave them with God in faith and trust, we also can have the peace that Hannah experienced. (Finding God’s Peace in Everyday Challenges)
Although Eli didn’t know specifically what Hannah was praying for, his response to her—“the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him” 
(1 Samuel 1:17)—prophetically anticipated the meaning of the name of the son she would later bear. “Samuel,” as Hannah named her child, means in Hebrew “asked of God,” “heard by God,” or “name of God” (1:20).

After worshipping before the Lord, Hannah and Elkanah returned home to Ramah. Then, “Elkanah knew his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son” (1 Samuel 1:19). After Samuel was weaned, Hannah fulfilled her promise to the Lord by bringing the three-year-old child to live with the priest, Eli, at the shrine of the Lord in Shiloh: “For this child I prayed; and the Lord has granted me the petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is given to the Lord” (1:27-28). Hannah didn’t, as we might expect, grieve that she would see her child only once a year (2:19); rather, she proclaimed her joy and faith in God’s goodness in a canticle of praise (2:1-10). And, in the years to come as Samuel grew up “in the presence of the LORD,” God graciously blessed Hannah and Elkanah with three more sons and two daughters (2:21). We hear echoes of the Lord’s graciousness in Psalm 113:9: “He gives the barren woman a home, / making her the joyous mother of children.”

Hannah’s determined faith in God and the offering of her child to God’s service would greatly impact the course of Israel’s history—and our own salvation history as well. Samuel would grow up to be one of Israel’s greatest judges; it was he who would carry out God’s purposes for his chosen people by anointing Israel’s first king, Saul, and its greatest king, David. And it would be into the house of David that Jesus, the promised Messiah and Savior of the world, would be born.

Hannah found herself in a crisis that seemed to have no end. Yet instead of keeping a stiff upper lip and bearing this cross, she flung herself before the Lord and poured out her anguish to him. Hannah was not afraid to “get real” with God. She was completely honest, letting him know how deeply painful her situation was. Her honesty before the Lord gives each of us the courage and determination to bring our own heartaches, unfulfilled hopes, and disappointed dreams before the Lord. May we have the grace, like Hannah, to hand over our burdens to God and to trust in him, even when we don’t know how God will answer our prayers.

In the Spotlight

Is It Time to Let Go?

To whom do children ultimately belong? We think and speak of them as ours, but we know that people are not possessions. Though we view biblical women as daughters, sisters, wives, and mothers, we know that somewhere in the midst of that web of relatedness a person exists, solitary and simply herself. Not all cultures honor that personhood, but it is a fact of our humanity as abrupt as the cutting of the umbilical cord that began our independent lives, Family relationships, however dear and precious, are finally only roles in which we are called to participate. Jesus would teach this difficult reality with the hard words, “Who does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” He pointed to a deeper kind of kinship when he turned from his family outside the door and said, “My mother and my brother are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:19-21). It’s no surprise that these are among Jesus’ most unpopular sayings.

It is hard to surrender belongings, harder to let go of those who are as close to us as our own breath. How did Hannah, who wept and prayed for and dreamed of a child, ever hand that baby off to the priest of Shiloh? One thing seemed clear to her: Children are finally the property of their Maker, and so she pledged her child yet unconceived to the service of God. Wise parents still make this dedication, early and often, and teach their children by their own example.
Alice Camille, God’s Word Today

In the Spotlight

The Power of Prayer

In this story Hannah begins the tradition of private prayer. Hers is the first story of someone coming to a shrine, not for public worship or sacrifice, but simply to speak to God from her heart. She knows how to pour out her troubles to God and remain in God’s presence. She is not afraid to explain to the official religious representative [Eli] what she is doing. He is persuaded by her words and his scolding ends in a blessing. When she leaves the sanctuary Hannah’s prayer is already answered; God has given peace to her heart.
— Irene Nowell, Women in the Old Testament

Hannah is indeed the great example and teacher of prayer. Her prayer is the word of her heart (1 Samuel 1:13). It is poured forth from the innermost center of her personality, which has been torn open by her bitterness of soul (1:10). Nevertheless her prayer is not a mere drifting of the heart on waves of emotion. Her lips move (1:13), which means that her prayer consists of definite, formulated thoughts. Deeply significant is the way she addresses God: “O Lord of hosts” (1:11). This is the first time in the Scriptures that a prayer is directed to God under this name. It signifies God as the lord and master, the leader and commander of the universe. . . . Hannah’s petition ends in a vow through which she solemnly binds herself never to forget that the child is the fruit of her prayers. Although it has risen “out of the abundance of complaint and grief” (1:16), her prayer brings her already the assurance of God’s mercy. “So the woman went her way and ate and her countenance was no longer sad” (1:18).
— Damasus Winzen, Pathways in Scripture

Excerpted from Biblical Women in Crisis: Portraits of Faith and Trust, by Jeanne Kun (The Word Among Us Press, © 2017).  Used with permission. This book can be ordered online.

Jeanne Kun is a member of Bethany Association and a senior woman leader in the Word of Life Community, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.
1 Samuel 1:1-28; 2:18-21

1:1There was a certain man of Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham son of Elihu son of Tohu son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. 2He had two wives; the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.
3Now this man used to go up year by year from his town to worship and to sacrifice to the LORD of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the LORD. 4On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; 5but to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the LORD had closed her womb. 6Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the LORD had closed her womb. 7So it went on year by year; as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. 8Her husband Elkanah said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”
9After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the LORD. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the LORD. 10She was deeply distressed and prayed to the LORD, and wept bitterly. 11She made this vow: “O LORD of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazirite until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head.”
12As she continued praying before the LORD, Eli observed her mouth. 13Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore Eli thought she was drunk. 14So Eli said to her, “How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine.” 15But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the LORD. 16Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.” 17Then Eli answered, “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.” 18And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your sight.” Then the woman went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no longer.
19They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the LORD; then they went back to their house at Ramah. Elkanah knew his wife Hannah, and the LORD remembered her. 20In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, “I have asked him of the LORD.”
21The man Elkanah and all his household went up to offer to the LORD the yearly sacrifice, and to pay his vow. 22But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, “As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, that he may appear in the presence of the LORD, and remain there forever; I will offer him as a nazirite for all time.” 23Her husband Elkanah said to her, “Do what seems best to you, wait until you have weaned him; only—may the LORD establish his word.” So the woman remained and nursed her son, until she weaned him. 24When she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine. She brought him to the house of the LORD at Shiloh; and the child was young. 25Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child to Eli. 26And she said, “Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the LORD. 27For this child I prayed; and the LORD has granted me the petition that I made to him. 28Therefore I have lent him to the LORD; as long as he lives, he is given to the LORD.”
She left him there for the LORD.

2:18Samuel was ministering before the LORD, a boy wearing a linen ephod. 19His mother used to make for him a little robe and take it to him each year, when she went up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. 20Then Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, and say, “May the LORD repay you with children by this woman for the gift that she made to the LORD”; and then they would return to their home.
21And the LORD took note of Hannah; she conceived and bore three sons and two daughters. And the boy Samuel grew up in the presence of the LORD.

(See also 1 Samuel 2:1-11)


1. Note the adjectives and verbs used in 1 Samuel 1:1-18 to describe how Hannah felt about herself and her barrenness. How did Hannah respond to her infertility? What did she do about her deep disappointment and her strong desire to have a child?

2. What impression do you gain of Elkanah from 1 Samuel 1:3-5, 8, and 21-23? From 1 Samuel 2:19-20? How did Elkanah respond to Hannah? What does this show about his character? In what particular ways was Elkanah loving and supportive of Hannah?

3. Reflect on the progression of events in Hannah’s life and pinpoint her various postures throughout the course of these events. How would you describe Hannah’s disposition toward Elkanah? Toward the Lord? Toward Eli and his words to her?

4. How did Hannah come before the Lord to make her request to him for a child? What characterized her prayer? What did Hannah promise to the Lord if he would give her a male child?

5. What have you learned about Hannah from her prayers? From her actions?


1. When have you asked the Lord to “look at your misery” and “remember” you? What did God do in answer to your prayer? How have you experienced the Lord’s compassion, even if your prayers were not answered in the way you wanted?

2. Peninnah mocked and provoked Hannah, but Elkanah showed Hannah love and compassion. Have you ever suffered rejection or been ridiculed because of your hopes and dreams? Who in your life right now best understands your needs and desires and is supportive of you?

3. Imagine Hannah’s thoughts and emotions when she gave birth to Samuel—and then “gave” him to the Lord. Recall a time when you knew deep joy because of God’s graciousness to you. What did you do to express your gratitude to God for his kindness and mercy to you? Have you ever offered something precious to you to the Lord? What did this sacrifice cost you?

4. If you are a parent, what are you doing to bring your children up in the Lord and to help them know and follow the Lord’s ways? How do you feel as your children make decisions that shape the course and purpose of their lives? In what ways might Hannah’s example help you as a parent to “let go” of your children and entrust them to the Lord?

5. What have you learned from Hannah about “getting real” with God and expressing your true feelings to him? About faith and trusting in God? What qualities of Hannah would you most like to imitate? Why?


1. This story of Hannah gives us courage to bring our anguish and sorrows to the Lord. Reflect on how you handle the disappointment of unfulfilled expectations and longings.

At this stage of your life, what is your deepest longing and as yet unmet desire? What is your prayer or conversation with the Lord like regarding this desire? Complaining? Bold? Faith-filled? Self-pitying? Take heart, and trust in the Lord who loves, us, hears our cries, and “remembers” us.

2. Reflect on these additional instances of how God favored barren women with children: Sarah, with the birth of Isaac (Genesis 17:15-21; 18:1-15; 21:1-7); Manaoh’s wife, with the birth of Samson (Judges 13:2-3; 24); Elizabeth, with the birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:5-25; 2:57). Do you identify with these women in any way?


Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 anticipates Mary’s well-known Magnificat in the New Testament (Luke 1:46-55). Hannah acknowledged and “magnified” the Lord, who looked upon her lowliness and blessed her far beyond what she had expected or anticipated. As Scripture commentator Jean-Pierre Prévost notes, “While {Hannah] celebrates her own happy reversal of fortune as a new mother (1 Samuel 2:5), she testifies to a God who exalts the feeble, the hungry, the barren, the poor and the needy, who brings low the mighty, the satisfied, those with many children, the rich” (God’s Word Today). Mary echoes these same sentiments centuries later in her own prayer of wonderment, praise, and gratitude to the Lord.

Recall a situation or instance in which you were deeply distressed and you experienced God at work to “raise you up from the dust” (1 Samuel 2:8) and bless you. Now, using either Hannah’s canticle or Mary’s Magnificat as a model, write your own prayer of praise and thanks to God for his blessings and graciousness to you.

Biblical Women in Crisis by Jeanne Kun


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