1 Samuel 1:1-2:end
Hannah’s story is particularly significant when put in the context of the books of 1,2 Samuel and the wider context of the story, but our focus will be more on what we might learn about prayer. In that regard Tim Chester’s chapter in his “The Message of Prayer” (in the Bible Speaks Today series) is especially insightful.
Hannah’s Pain (1:1-8)
In the bigger context, Hannah’s woes seem almost representative of Israel’s woes at this point. It was the time of the Judges (1Samuel follows on chronologically from Judges), a time when God’s people were in a desperate state. Her childlessness was suggestive of the fact that God’s People were not enjoying the blessing God had intended for them (cf. Deut.7:14).
Hannah’s pain was made worse by the goading and gloating of her husband’s all too fertile other wife. This was especially true when the family made their annual trip to Shiloh to present their tithes, a time to celebrate and give thanks for all that God had given them, and yet a time when Hannah was made to feel even more keenly what God had chosen not to give her.
Hannah’s Prayer (1:9-20)
Hannah’s pain leads her not to turn on Peninnah, nor to turn against God, but rather to turn to the Lord. She pours out her soul to the LORD (v.15), which as Chester writes, is a great description of Christian prayer –
“Prayer is not the quietening of the soul. It is an expression in faith of the passions of the heart.”
The passions of her heart are obvious. We are told of her “bitterness of soul” and her weeping (v.10), and she speaks of her “misery” (v.11), and “great anguish and grief” (v.16). Such passions are not merely expressed to God, but expressed in faith.. So she asks for a son (v.11).
Chester notes how she doesn’t simply accept her situation, and resign herself stoically to the will of God, as though that is chiefly what prayer is about: submitting our will to God’s will. There are times when we must say, “Your will be done”, but Hannah challenges the will of God in prayer. She implores God to change the status quo, which he after all has brought about having “closed her womb (vv.5,6). He quotes P.T.Forsyth:
We say too soon, “Thy will be done”; and too ready acceptance of a situation as His will often means feebleness or sloth. It may be His will that we surmount His will….. Prayer is an act of will much more than of sentiment, and its triumph is more than acquiescence… Prayer with us has largely ceased to be wrestling. But is that not the dominant scriptural idea?… Resisting His will may be doing His will.
As part of her prayer (v.11) she makes a vow to dedicate her son to the LORD – not as a way of bargaining with God to get what she wants, but acknowledging that if she is given a son, then he will be God’s gracious gift and is therefore His in the first place. And true to her word, she gives over to God what He has graciously given to her (1:27,28).
Hannah’s Praise (2:1-10)
Heartfelt praise as well as heartfelt petition should mark our prayers, lest we be like the 9 lepers who never stopped to thank Jesus after he’d healed them. Hannah’s prayer is much more though than a mere “Thank you for my baby”; she is moved to reflect on and delight in the grace and character and purposes of God.
She has a bigger canvas in view than just her particular answer to prayer: the enemies of v.1and the taunts of v.3 refer not simply to Peninnah, for Hannah moves from her experience to reflect on God’s plan of salvation. In God’s dealings with her she sees a reflection (and foreshadowing) of God’s dealings with His people – and of course, the song looks ahead to Mary’s song (Lk.1:46-55), as the reference to the king and anointed one in v.10 looks ahead to Christ. Would that His many smaller gifts to us led us to delight afresh in the Gospel.
Notice all the different aspects of God’s character she delights in – chiefly that He is the God who both humbles and exalts (v.8). Notice who he humbles and who he exalts, and why we can trust he will do so, and the one through whom this great reversal will be accomplished.
Read 1 Samuel 1:1-20
Read 1 Samuel 2:1-10