The Story of Hannah

Mother of the Prophet Samuel
(1 Samuel  1-2)

Sometimes...when endless prayer and fasting seem to be of no avail
 in seeking God’s help for a particular, righteous purpose,
the Lord may be asking for something from us in return for His help—
and that is where making a vow can make all of the difference.

Hannah’s story began about 300 years after Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised Land.  Israel had become weak in political, military and spiritual leadership; but Hannah continued to trust in God and live the Law of Moses.  

Hannah is a Hebrew name which means “gracious,” and the name remains one of the most popular names for girls in modern Israel.  The English names Ann, Anne, or Anna have the same background.  A number of religious texts suggest that Hannah was also a prophetess.  

Hannah was one of Elkanah’s two wives.  During certain times in the Old Testament, God allowed some men to have more than one wife.  Barrenness was considered a curse, while motherhood was a great blessing in those days.  Hannah had no children, but without doubt had earnestly petitioned the Lord for many years to bear children; however, the scriptures say that “the Lord had shut up her womb.”  (1 Samuel 1:5)  

According to ancient Jewish law and tradition, if a man’s wife did not conceive a child during the first ten years of their marriage, he had grounds for divorce or permission to take a second wife.  Elkanah was kind enough not to divorce his barren wife, and probably took Peninnah as his second wife to bear children for him.  

Plural marriage places an enormous stress on some marriage relationships, as was evident in the marriages of Sarah and Hagar, and Rachel and Leah.  Peninnah could see the sorrow in Hannah’s face; but instead of showing compassion, she added to Hannah’s sorrow by deliberately persecuting her over her barrenness, trying to make Hannah feel inadequate and inferior.  Peninnah proudly flaunted the success of her pregnancies and the joy of her children felt by her and her husband—possibly to increase Hannah’s pain and to hide her own sense of insecurity in a marriage for posterity instead of love.  

Each year Elkanah took his two wives and his children to the House of the Lord inside the city of Shiloh to worship and to offer sacrifices to the Lord.  For 200 years Shiloh was the religious center of the Israelites where the tabernacle and the ark of the covenant (created as a visible symbol of the presence of God for the Israelites who wandered in the wilderness) were housed after the tribes conquered Canaan.  The sanctuary represented the dwelling place of God, the most sacred place on earth for the Israelites.  Before his death, Samuel would see the preparations for a beautiful temple which would be built in Jerusalem by King Solomon.  

Elkanah gave Peninnah and all of her sons and daughters portions of the sacrificial animal.  He also gave to Hannah a “worthy portion; for he loved Hannah: but the Lord had shut up her womb.”  Giving Hannah a worthy portion (larger or more choice) may have indicated that she was his first wife, and he wanted to show his love for her—a possible explanation of Peninnah’s resentment of Hannah.  

Peninnah, Hannah’s adversary, “provoked her sore, for to make her fret, because the Lord had shut up her womb.”   Elkanah noticed Hannah’s tears, her broken heart, and her fasting; and assuming it was because she was barren, he asked her, “…am not I better to thee than ten sons?”(1 Sam. 1:8)  Elkanah tried to show sympathy for Hannah’s sadness; but, he did not share her deepest sorrow and desire to bear her own children, possibly because he had children from another wife.  

After waiting patiently for many years to bear children, Hannah felt inspired to exercise great faith and go directly to the Lord to work out this problem.  She trusted the Lord to understand her sorrow and help her work through her problems. After her family had eaten, Hannah went to the temple fasting and made time to be by herself inside the temple, without the distraction of others, to make a vow with the Lord.  She was full of sadness and grief as she cried and prayed to the Lord for a son.  In anticipation and gratitude for this blessing, she vowed to sacrifice the opportunity to raise her son to manhood by returning him to the temple at the approximate age of three to serve the Lord for the rest of his life, as a Nazarite.   

“And she vowed a vow (made a promise), and said, O Lord of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head.” (1 Samuel 1:11)  

This was surely not the first time Hannah had petitioned the Lord for a child, but it was the first time she vowed to make a great personal sacrifice by returning her young son to the Lord.  She was a woman of great faith in prayer and her ability to communicate directly with the Lord.  We are never closer to our heavenly home than when we are on our knees or in the Lord’s house.  

In her prayerful vow, Hannah referred to herself as “thine handmaid” three times, knowing that she and all she possessed belonged to the Lord.  That knowledge enabled her to willingly return her son, and His son, to the Lord to serve him throughout his earthly life.  

How well mothers know that life is eternal.  Hannah knew that in lending her child to the Lord for this life, that beyond and down through the ages of eternity, he would still be her child, and she would be his mother.

Eli, who was the priesthood leader and a judge in Israel, observed Hannah’s lips moving; but he could not hear what she was saying because she “spake in her heart.” Eli immediately misjudged Hannah and reprimanded her, accusing her of being drunk.  

Hannah defended herself and explained that she had not had any wine to drink, but that she was silently praying from her heart to God.  

“I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit:  I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but have poured out my soul before the Lord…out of the abundance of my complaint and grief have I spoken hitherto.”  (1 Samuel 1:15,16)

Eli then corrected his erroneous judgment and blessed Hannah that she would receive what she had asked for.  

“Then Eli answered and said, Go in peace: and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of him.  And she said, Let thine handmaid find grace in thy sight.”  (1 Samuel 1:17, 18)

Hannah immediately felt her burden lifted off of her shoulders.  The Spirit either witnessed to Hannah that the Lord had heard and granted her petition, or she felt a great confidence in the promise given to her by the Lord through his servant Eli.  “So the woman went her way, and did eat (broke her fast), and her countenance was no more sad.” (1 Samuel 1:18)   (Eli was still in good standing with the Lord at this time—the Lord had not yet rejected him as His high priest.)    

The Bible Dictionary explains that under the laws of Moses, “The vows of dependent women (wives or daughters) did not stand unless ratified explicitly or implicitly by the husband or father; however, the vows of widows and divorcees would stand. (Numbers 30:3-16)  Vows and oaths were to be kept, unless a young girl’s father or a husband forbade it, at which time the Lord would forgive or release the girl or woman from her vow.  Elkanah obviously agreed to Hannah’s vow, because after they returned home, Hannah conceived a son. 

“Elkanah knew Hannah his wife; and the Lord remembered her.  Wherefore it came to pass, when the time was come about after Hannah had conceived, that she bare a son, and called his name Samuel, saying, Because I have asked him of the Lord.” (1 Samuel 1:19-20)   

After Samuel was born, Elkanah returned to the temple to offer “his vow. (1 Samuel 1:21)  He may have added his promise to Hannah’s vow, to return his son Samuel to the Lord.  

Hannah named her son Samuel which means “heard of God,” or “the name of God,” to remind him of the special circumstances and commitments surrounding his birth, and that his life’s purpose was to serve the Lord.  The birth of Samuel was a testimony that the Lord heard Hannah’s plea for a child, and accepted her vow.  The Lord fulfilled His part of the vow several years before Hannah fulfilled her part, knowing that Hannah would keep her promise to return her young son to the Lord to serve Him.  

Hannah was an elect woman of great faith and vision.  It appears that she chose to make a very significant, powerful vow with the Lord without first consulting with or including her husband; she chose her son’s future as a Nazarite; she also chose her son’s meaningful name; she is credited with taking the offerings of animals, flour and wine to the temple with Samuel; she addressed Eli at the time of her vow and in presenting her young son to Eli; and she sang songs of thanksgiving and prophecy.  Hannah was truly an instrument in the Lord’s hand, dedicating her son to God to fulfill the righteous purposes he had been foreordained to accomplish. 

Hannah and Elkanah only had a few years to teach and prepare Samuel’s mind and heart to love and obey the Lord and to be His faithful servant. 

Hebrew mothers usually nursed their children for three years.  Although Elkanah, Peninnah and her children returned to the temple the following year, “Hannah went not up; for she said unto her husband, I will not go up until the child be weaned, and then I will bring him, that he may appear before the Lord, and there abide for ever.”  Elkanah told her to do what she felt was right, saying “Do what seemeth thee good…” (1 Samuel 1:22-23)  Elkanah showed complete confidence in his wife’s decisions.    

Elkanah was of the tribe of Levi. (1 Chron. 6:16, 22-28)  This would have entitled his son Samuel, if worthy, to the right to perform some of the priestly functions by right of his birth, even without the special vows of his mother and his training with Eli.  The ordained adult male members of the tribe of Levi were in charge of the tabernacle of the congregation; they assisted the priests; they participated in the offering and slaughtering of sacrifices; they lived on the tithes of the people; and they did not receive an inheritance of land as the other tribes did.        

Hannah kept her vow and presented her son to the high priest Eli, who became Samuel’s guardian, and a man who would later refer to Samuel as “my son.” (1 Samuel 3:6, 16)   

“And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her (with meat, flour and wine) and brought him unto the house of the Lord in Shiloh: and the child was young (probably 3 years old).  And they slew the bullock, and brought the child to Eli.”  (1 Samuel 1:24,25)  

Hannah reminded Eli that she was…

“the woman that stood by thee here, praying unto the Lord.  For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him.  Therefore also I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord.  And he worshipped the Lord there.” (1 Samuel 1:26-28)   

Although Christ had not been born yet, all firstborn males of both mankind and animals were dedicated to the Lord as a constant reminder of the atonement of the Father’s firstborn son.  Firstborn children were redeemed by the parents through a sum of money and an offering at the altar.  Hannah did more than this—after Samuel was weaned, she not only offered a sacrifice, but she gave her son to the Lord and dedicated him as a Nazarite “all the days of his life,” meaning he would belong to the Lord and remain in the service of the Lord his entire life.  (1 Samuel 1:11)  That was a total consecration.  

Nazarites were separated from things that were unclean. (Numbers 6)  They abstained from wine and any contact with the dead.  They also let their hair grow as a sign for all to see that they were under a vow.  The length of their hair would also help others see the length of the vow, which might be lifelong, or for a short, specific period.  (Other Nazarites were Elijah, Samson and John the Baptist.)    

Samuel was dedicated to God to fulfill the righteous purposes he had been foreordained to accomplish.  That does not diminish Hannah’s great sacrifice in leaving her young son in the tabernacle, knowing she would only see him once a year, thus missing the daily blessing of nurturing him as a child and youth.  

Did the child Samuel cry when his mother kissed him goodbye and walked away?  
Did young Samuel cry himself to sleep after the sudden separation from his mother?
Was Hannah concerned about the negative influence of Eli’s rebellious sons?  

The Holy Ghost surely comforted and prepared both Hannah and Samuel who would only see each other once a year for many years to come.  Hannah loved and treasured each moment with her little son, and prepared both herself and Samuel for their separation.  Hannah would have taught her young son that the Lord loved him and would watch over him as he lived and served in the Lord’s house.  

Hannah revealed her faith, love and commitment to the Lord with her sacrifice.  She gave that which she loved most to the Lord who made it possible.  Instead of feeling great anguish as she parted with her son, she expressed her deep love and devotion to God.  She prayed and thanked the Lord for His many blessings amid her personal trials.  Hannah was richly blessed in knowing that she had given birth to a child who would not only live a righteous life in the service of God, but would also be with her throughout eternity.  

Hannah sang praises of gratitude to the Lord, rejoicing in the vow she had made, saying,

“My heart rejoiceth in the Lord, mine horn (power or capacity to bear a child) is exalted in the Lord: my mouth is enlarged over mine enemies (no longer feared her enemies); because I rejoice in thy salvation.  There is none holy as the Lord: for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God…” (1 Samuel 2:1,2)    

Hannah refers to God as the rock of Israel—firm, secure, powerful, the protector from evil, and a God of knowledge.  

Hannah was also a prophetess—she prophesied of the coming of the Messiah and his power to be exalted before men. (1 Samuel 2:1-10)   She knew He would remember those righteous saints who made and kept their covenants (verse 9).  Hannah’s song  also contained the first Biblical reference to the title Messiah (“his anointed”).  (1 Samuel 2:10)    Messiah is an Aramaic word meaning the anointed—the King and Deliverer whose coming the Jews were eagerly expecting.  

Hannah continued to make the annual journey to Shiloh “with her husband to offer sacrifices.”  She felt great joy and satisfaction as she observed Samuel’s personal and spiritual growth each year, knowing her son was being raised by the Lord in the Lord’s house.   

Hannah’s love and devotion to Samuel are shown in these simple words:  

“Moreover his mother made him a little coat, and brought it to him from year to year, when she came up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice.” (1 Samuel 2:19)   

The coat she made Samuel may have been the special garment called an ephod which was worn by an apprentice priest.   (1 Samuel 2:18)

Did Hannah wonder if Samuel would be her only child?  

“And Eli blessed Elkanah and his wife, and said, The Lord give thee seed of this woman for the loan which is lent to the Lord.”(1 Samuel 2:20)  

Hannah and Elkanah continued to bear and raise 3 more sons and 2 daughters. (1 Samuel 2:21)   Hannah’s family looked forward to their annual trips to Shiloh to worship, offer sacrifices and visit with Samuel, who surely anticipated these yearly visits also.   

The entire time Samuel lived with Eli,

“the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, the priests of the Lord, were there.”  (1 Samuel 1:3; 2:12-17, 22-36)  

The Lord was deeply displeased with Eli for tolerating the wicked behavior of his sons who were serving in the Lord’s House.  When Eli was very old, the Lord ceased speaking to His high priest (1 Samuel 3:1), because Eli allowed his sons to curse God.  The Lord then spoke directly to young Samuel who would soon be called to be the prophet.  

“And the child Samuel grew on, and was in favour both with the Lord, and also with men… And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground.  And all Israel from Dan even to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord.  And the Lord appeared again in Shiloh: for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the Lord.”  (1 Samuel 2:26; 3:1-21)   

The Lord always raises righteous leaders for His people (1 Samuel 2:35), although some of His leaders do not remain righteous.  Samuel became a righteous judge and a prophet of God who led the children of Israel to peace.  Under Samuel’s leadership, the tribes of Israel repented of their sins and indifference and became once again a mighty nation recognized as the greatest empire in the ancient Near East.  

Eventually, Israel desired to be led by a king like the other nations around them.  Even though Samuel warned them against having a king, the people insisted.  Theocracy is rule by God, and monarchy is rule by a king.  King Saul began well, but later became very wicked and died while Israel was at war with the Philistines. The prophet Samuel anointed both King Saul and King David as the first two kings of Israel.  

The Lord is patient—sometimes when we refuse to follow His counsel and insist on what we want, He will allow us to have a king or something else that will not be for our good.