Most of us are familiar with the Bible story of Hannah, mother of Samuel, and how, though barren and childless, she prayed and believed God would give her a son. Hannah is often held up as an example of a godly woman of faith, and rightly so. I wonder, though, how often we really consider the nature of her faith.
Hannah, as depicted in the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel, was both much more and much less than a wonderful godly woman who prayed and trusted god to give her a son. It is easy to focus on this one aspect and neglect looking at the total picture. So, let’s do a quick review.
First, Hannah desperately wanted a son, and knew who to turn to for help. When Hannah found herself in need, she turned to God, pouring her heart out before Him, in the tabernacle. 1 Samuel 1:10 says, “And she, greatly distressed, prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly.”
Hannah, however, was not perfect. She was as human as any of us, and she was not perfect in how she addressed God, or in how she prayed. The very next verse says, “And she made a vow and said, ‘O Lord of hosts, if Thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of Thy maidservant and remember me, and not forget Thy maidservant, but wilt give Thy maidservant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and a razor shall never come upon his head.'”
Hannah, in her desperation, tried to bargain with God, telling God, if you do this for me then I’ll do that for you. This is no way to address the creator of the universe! We don’t approach God with a bargain, as though we have anything to offer him that doesn’t already rightfully belong to Him!
What could Hannah have been thinking? She should have remembered from the story of Jephthah and his daughter, in Judges 11, that bargaining with God is generally not a good idea.
To make matters worse, look what Hannah used as her end of the barter, her first-born son. In Exodus 13:1 & 11-16, God made it perfectly clear that all first-born children were sacred to Him and belonged to Him, in a special way, because of His protection of the Israelites during the Passover plague of the death of the firstborn of Egypt. Hannah was offering to God, what God had already specifically claimed as belonging to Him!
Perhaps Hannah was thinking about the story of Samson, in Judges 13:5-7, where another barren Israelite woman was promised a son and was instructed to bring him up honoring the Nazarite vows from before his birth. However, there was a distinct difference. In the case of Samson, both the promise and the requirement of the Nazarite vow was initiated by God. In the case of Hannah and Samuel, Hannah offered the Nazarite vow in exchange for God granting her a son. Furthermore, while Samson was raised by his parents, Hannah gave Samuel to be raised by the priests in the tabernacle.
Now, think about that for a minute. Hannah kept Samuel at home until he was old enough to wean. We don’t know the exact age, but it is safe to assume Samuel was probably somewhere around three to five years of age when Hannah took him with her to Shiloh and left him with Eli the priest to be raised in the tabernacle.
After that time, Samuel only saw his parents once a year, when they came up to Shiloh, and brought him a new set of clothes.
Can you imagine? That scenario just doesn’t fit with our New Testament perspective viewed through modern western culture lenses. What parent would take their pre-school-aged toddler, drop them off to be raised by priests, and then just show up to visit once a year? What sort of parent would consider one change of clothes per year sufficient child support for their son? From my perspective, Hannah’s actions appear down-right irresponsible!
Samuel grew up seeing his family only once a year. He couldn’t have really known his parents. He never had a chance to know his older brothers and sisters, after he left home. Later Hannah had three more sons and two daughters. These younger siblings were raised at home, only seeing their older brother once a year, if then.
To make matters worse, the tabernacle was not exactly ideally suited for raising children, or at least not while Eli was priest. Eli’s sons were very wicked, stealing meat from the people’s sacrifices and sleeping with the women who served at the tent of meeting. What a bizarre environment for young Samuel to be raised in!
And yet, God honored Hannah’s prayers and Hannah’s faith! God’s hand was on Samuel, and Samuel became a prophet at a very early age. During his lifetime, Samuel was greatly used of God. He was the last of the judges of Israel, and ushered in the monarchy by anointing the first two kings of Israel.
To me, there is a great deal of comfort in this realization. As a father who has experienced divorce and accompanying child custody agreements, I know what it means to lie awake nights worrying about my children who are not in my home. I know what it means to grieve the loss of drastically reduced involvement in my young children’s lives. And I know how difficult it can be to learn to hand that over to God, and simply trust Him with my precious children being in a situation over which I have little knowledge and no control.
Knowing how much Hannah wanted a son, can you imagine how difficult that promise to God must have been to follow through on? Don’t you know she prayed incessantly for young Samuel, especially as news spread about the atrocious behavior of Eli’s sons, in the tabernacle?
Yet, for all her faults, Hannah trusted God, and Hannah prayed…the daily prayers of a loving concerned parent. And God honored those prayers!
God did not work in young Samuel’s life despite the bizarre childhood environment, but through that environment! He used those childhood experiences to work out His will and purpose in the life of Samuel, preparing him for the ministry which God had pre-ordained for him.
What situation is your child facing, today, over which you seem to have little or no control? Whatever it is, you can trust God…and you can know that God does work through the fervent prayers of a loving parent…even when we don’t know how to pray…