[Note: This is the text to a sermonette I once gave about Hannah’s Story in 1 Samuel as well as Psalm 113.]
Have you ever felt despondent, unsure if God was able to understand your problem and give help? Or worse, if God even cared? Certainly we are all insignificant when compared to God, but sometimes in trials we can forget just how important to Him we really are. Today we will focus on a biblical person who suffered long in the trial of being unable to conceive a child. Even though her story may not be familiar to many of us, today we are going to tell Hannah’s Story.
Hannah’s story is told in the first few chapters of 1 Samuel, where we will be spending most of our time today. However, before we read about her it would be good to put ourselves in her shoes. Hannah was the beloved wife of Elkanah, a Levite who dwelled in the land of Ephraim. She was barren for many years, and it brought her much grief. 1 Samuel 1:1-7 introduces the family of Elkanah. In 1 Samuel 1:1-7, we read: “Now there was a certain man of Ramathaim Zophim, of the mountains of Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. And he had two wives: the name of one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children. This man went up from his city yearly to worship and sacrifice to the Lord of Hosts in Shiloh. Also the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, the priests of the Lord, were there. And whenever the time came for Elkanah to make an offering, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he would give a double portion, for he loved Hannah, although the Lord had closed her womb. And her rival also provoked her severely, to make her miserable, because the Lord had closed her womb. So it was, year by year, when she went up to the house of the Lord, that she provoked her; therefore she wept and did not eat.” Here we see that Hannah was the favorite wife of Elkanah, who had another wife. In a situation not unlike that of Rachel and Leah, the favored wife is unable to bear children, and hence she suffers ridicule from the wife who is able to bear children but is still not favored by their husband. Apparently this went on for years, and it must have made Hannah feel miserable.
In the next few verses, we find Hannah going to God in prayer, as we all should do when we are faced with severe trials. The moral situation was so bad in Israel that Eli, the chief priest at the time, thought Hannah was drunk because she was praying. Apparently he hadn’t seen anyone pray in the tabernacle for a long time. While praying, Hannah made an extraordinary vow in 1 Samuel 1:11. In 1 Samuel 1:11, the Bible says: “Then she made a vow and said, “O Lord of Hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head.” Hannah was promising, in other words, that her son would be a Nazirite all the days of his life, like Sampson was promised to be. Since Sampson and Hannah were nearly exact contemporaries, it appears that the Nazirite vow was not uncommon at this time for barren women to make to God. However, at any rate, that vow had to be approved by her husband Elkanah, who had the power to revoke the vow if he considered it rash. It is a measure of Elkanah’s respect and love for Hannah that he ratified the vow, and God granted Hannah the son she wished for. After the child, Samuel, was born, she did not go up to Shiloh until he was weaned, when she presented her beloved son as a gift to God for life. However, even though she gave up her son for lifelong service to God, she still cared for him. After all, 1 Samuel 2:18 states that Hannah made her son a little robe every year when she came to visit the Tabernacle. Also, 1 Samuel 2:21 states that Hannah had three more sons and two daughters. Her curse of barrenness was no more.
Praise the Lord
Hannah’s response to her great gift is noteworthy. She sang a psalm of praise to God to thank Him for His gift to her. Her hymn is recorded in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. Of interest to us in this Passover season, however, is the fact that the sentiments of her psalm, as well as much of the language, is repeated in Psalm 113. I would like for us to turn now to Psalm 113, an anonymous hymn of great importance in the Jewish liturgy. Psalm 113 is short, so we will read it in its entirety. The psalm says: “Praise, O servants of the Lord, praise the name of the Lord! Blessed be the name of the Lord from this time forth and evermore! From the rising of the sun to its going down the Lord’ s name is to be praised. The Lord is high above the nations, His glory above the heavens. Who is like the Lord our God who dwells on high, who humbles Himself to behold the things that are in the heavens and in the earth? He raises the poor out of the dust, and lifts the needy out of the ash heap, that He may seat him with princes—with the princes of His people. He grants the barren woman a home, like a joyful mother of children. Praise the Lord!” Here we see a hymn that praises God for his greatness, saying that the entire world, from the furthest east to the furthest west, will praise Him, and that He is far beyond earth and heaven in His power and glory. However, despite the fact that God is so high above mankind, he takes special consideration for the lowest elements of society. These would include the poor who scrounge around for their living in ash-heaps—landfills—as well as the barren woman without children.
Psalm 113 is important not only because it is strikingly similar to 1 Samuel 2, but also because it is part of the Jewish Passover ceremony. Psalms 113-118, as well as Psalm 136, are sung at various times during the Seder, what we would consider the Night to be Much Observed. This collection of hymns is called the Haggadah, and Psalm 113 and 114 are sung before dinner in order to begin the Passover ceremony on a note of praise to God for his deliverance. God’s deliverance is a present concern, not only a matter of historical record. God delivered the Israelites from Egypt, the theme of the Night to be Much Observed. Symbolically, God also, through the sacrifice of His son Jesus Christ, has delivered us from the death penalty placed on us for sin. However, God also delivers us in other ways as well. He takes concern for our trials and afflictions, just like He did that of Hannah. Whether we are poor or barren physically, God will give us blessings, if not now than hereafter.
In conclusion, I would like to review some of the ways in which we can gain comfort in times of trial from the story of Hannah. Hannah was the childless wife of a Levite who dwelt in the land of Ephraim. However, her relative insignificance to the outside world in the chaotic period of the late judges did not matter to God. She ended up being the mother of the last judge of Israel before period of the kings. Like Hannah, we struggle in our lives to deal with trials, wondering if we are insignificant and unimportant to God. However, none of us are insignificant to God, regardless of how things may appear on the surface. Finally, like Hannah, we too should praise God when He does act in our lives. Answered prayer is an important way to know that God is truly involved with us. God still has much to accomplish, and we should praise Him when He acts to benefit our lives. After all, who knows what God will yet do with us before everything is over?