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Women in the Old Testament: Hannah

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The story of Hannah, found in the first book of Samuel, is both moving and inspiring. The wife of Elkanah, Hannah is forced to endure the humiliation of being unable to bear him a child. Added to this shame, Hannah also has to endure the ridicule of Peninnah, Elkanah’s other wife, with whom he has had children. “So it went on year after year; as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her.” (1 Samuel 1:7) Yet Elkanah would seem to have been a good and loving husband; he said to her, “Hannah why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”

On one of their yearly visits to the Sanctuary at Shiloh, Hannah went to the Temple and poured out her heart silently to God.  She did so with great emotion; so much so that Eli the High Priest thought that she may be drunk and questioned her. When he realised she was in earnest he left her saying that her prayer would be answered; “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition which you have made to him.” (1 Samuel 1:17) Her prayer, indeed her vow, was that she be granted a son and in return she would offer that child for service in the temple when it was weaned. We see in this vow, not only Hannah’s great faith in God, but also her selflessness. If God were to make her the gift of a child then she would make God the gift of that child’s service for life.

God does indeed grant her the gift of a child, whom she names Samuel, or son of God; a fitting reward for her faith, patience and perseverance in prayer. We understand from the Law in Leviticus that Hannah could have fulfilled her vow, upon reflection, by offering money for the support of the priests and the Temple at Shiloh. Indeed, she could have done less as her pledge was known only to God and her husband. However, Hannah with the support of Elkanah, honours her pledge literally and presents Samuel to Eli after weaning. “For this child I prayed; and the Lord has granted me my petition which I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives. He is lent to the Lord.” (1 Samuel 1:27-28)

But Hannah’s blessing did not cease there. God was to bless her further by giving her three more sons and two daughters. But perhaps the greatest blessing was to see Samuel ‘grow in the presence of the Lord’ and to become the last of Israel’s judges, a great prophet, and wise counsellor to its first two Kings, Saul and David.

Graham Hunt OP


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