Why the prayer of thanksgiving?
Not only has Hannah has just given birth to a child, a wonderful gift
from God, a gift in response to a prayer of total dedication to God.
Hannah gave all for God!
Samuel, of course, grew up to be one of Israel’s greatest leaders. As a
young boy, growing up in the temple, he was the first to hear God’s
voice in many years! Samuel was not only a godly priest, he was a great
prophet as well. When the people begged for a king, he gave them Saul.
And when Saul was no longer an effective, godly leader, Samuel anointed
David to be king of Israel, Israel’s greatest king!
But how did all of this get started? Let’s go back to the story behind Hannah’s joyful prayer of thanksgiving.
In ancient Israel (around 1100 BC), women were not valued very highly.
In such a culture, women received their value through their ability to produce
children, especially sons. Not being able to have children was a huge
The book of Samuel begins by telling us about a Levite family. A man
named Elkanah had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Some scholars suggest
that Hannah may have been in her mid to late 30s and Peninnah may have
been in her late 20s. It’s possible that Elkanah married Peninnah
because of Hannah’s barrenness.
Every year the family went to the temple in the city of Shiloh,
probably for Passover. Elkanah, as a Levite, would perform duties in
the temple. Each time he did, he would share the meat from the
sacrifices with his family. He would give some meat to Peninnah and her
children, but he would give a “double portion” to Hannah, his favorite
Peninnah tormented Hannah, especially each year as the family made the
trip to Shiloh, which caused Hannah much pain. In fact, Hannah’s pain
was so great that she was unable to eat, and she couldn’t stop crying.
Elkanah tried to console her: “What’s the matter, Hannah? Why aren’t
you eating? Why be so sad just because you have no children? You have
me—isn’t that better than having ten sons?”
One day Hannah goes to the temple to pray. In great
anguish, she cries and pours out her heart to God: “O LORD Almighty, if
you will look down upon my sorrow and answer my prayer and give me a
son, then I will give him back to you. He will be yours for his entire
lifetime, and as a sign that he has been dedicated to the LORD, his
hair will never be cut.”
Hannah makes a vow to God for the child, if he will grant her request.
Like Samson and possibly John the Baptist, Samuel had to live by the
Nazarite vow (well, Samson didn’t do so well, did he?). Nazarites
abstained from any product of the vine, including wine and fermented
drink; they didn’t cut their hair; they weren’t allowed to touch any
dead bodies; and they were completely set apart for God’s use!
In her prayer, she refers to herself more than one time as a
“maidservant” (a female slave). It reminds me of Mary’s response to the
angel: “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it happen as you have said.”
While she was praying, she was crying and pouring out her heart to God.
She was moving her lips, but she couldn’t get the words out. Eli, the
priest, was watching her and thought she must have been drunk. He
confronted her, but she assured him that she wasn’t drunk; she was
broken and felt oppressed.
Hannah gave her all for God. If God would bless her with a
child, she would give that child for God’s use. God granted her
request, blessed her with a son, and in so doing, provided one of
Israel’s great leaders!
Hannah leaves the temple with Eli’s blessing, and the family eventually
heads back home at the end of the festival. Soon, Hannah conceives and
during the next year has a son. She names him Samuel, which sounds like
a Hebrew verb meaning “asked.” Samuel represented to gift that God gave.
Later, Hannah fulfilled her vow to God by giving Samuel for God’s
service. Hannah stays home the following year when the family went to
the temple in order to nurse Samuel. But the following year (perhaps)
she takes Samuel and presents him to Eli, the priest. Samuel grows up
there in the temple. Hannah visits him regularly, bringing him clothes
that she makes for him.
When Hannah presented Samuel at the temple, she said to Eli, “Sir, do
you remember me? I am the woman who stood here several years ago
praying to the LORD. I asked the LORD to give me this child, and he has
given me my request. Now I am giving him to the LORD, and he will
belong to the LORD his whole life.”
The Bible is full of so many great stories. And the people in these
stories – some of them are great people, many of them are scoundrels,
many of them seem to be clueless, but all of them involve ordinary
people just like you and me. In all of these great stories, we learn
about God, and we learn about ourselves, too, as we enter the stories.
Would we have responded like Hannah? When we hear this story about
Hannah, we have to ask ourselves, Would we have done the same? Would we
pour out our heart to God when we’re at the end of our rope? Would we
be willing to give everything to God, even the greatest gift he would
Viewing this story in current culture, I’ve always been a little sad
that Hannah had to give up her child by giving him to the priest, Eli.
But I think you have to understand the culture and also Hannah’s heart.
It was a huge honor for your child to grow up to be a priest for God.
But more than that, Hannah’s heart was right. This was during the time
of the judges, when the people of Israel were going back and forth in
their allegiance to God. Hannah lived during one of those dry times; it
had been many years since their was a prophet, since anyone had heard
God’s voice. Hannah was willing for her child to become that voice.
I don’t think we take vows very seriously today. We glibly make
promises, and we break them all too easily. But vows are serious
things. In fact, Scripture says it’s better not to make a vow, than to
make one and break it!
What vows have you made to God? Are you living up to your promises and commitments? Are you serving God with all your heart?
What vows do you need to recommit to God today? Maybe you’ve forgotten
about the vows you’ve made? Or, maybe you realize today that you’ve not
taken your vows seriously?
Finally, what vow do you need to make to God today? Maybe like Hannah, you want to give your all for God?