Ordinary woman turned out to be extraordinary
For years I’ve been attracted to biographies and stories of famous women in the Bible, and to my surprise, there are quite a few. Some of them did great and mighty things and changed the course of human history.
For two weeks now, I have been studying the life of Hannah, mother of Samuel. Her story is found in 1 Samuel, and it is an interesting one.
In biblical days especially, it was important for women to bear children for their husband’s honor. Male children were considered a real victory, and women often prayed for a male heir to the family lineage. Hannah was no different. She wanted a child. She was married to Elkanah of Ramathaim Zophim of the mountains of Ephraim. He was the son of Zuph. Elkanah had two wives. One was named Peninnah, who had born him children since their marriage. The second was Hannah, the woman I have been studying.Hannah was barren. She had no children, but her heart longed for a son or a daughter. She knew the tender touch a mother could place upon a tiny infant and the guiding hand it took to teach and train an older child. She wanted badly to feel the joy of parenthood. She watched with an eager heart when the other mothers took their children out to play. She was helpful in preparing food and clothing for the children of others, but she had no child of her own.
As was the custom of the day, the male heads of households took their families with them to the city to the designated place where they would worship God and offer their sacrifices. We are told in Verse 3 of Chapter 1 of 1 Samuel, “This man, (Elkanah) went from his city yearly to worship and sacrifice to the Lord of hosts in Shiloh.” Verse 4 continues, “When 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.”
Later verses tell us that Hannah’s rival provoked her severely, taunting her because she had no child of her husband. Hannah wept and did not eat because her heart was grieving so. Elkanah noticed Hannah’s discomfort and lack of eating, and said to her, “Why won’t you eat, Hannah? Why is your heart grieved? Am I not better to you than ten sons?”
I’m certain Hannah loved Elkanah because of his kindness to her, but she still wanted to know the joys of motherhood. Hannah went to the tabernacle and knelt in serious prayer. Eli, the priest, was sitting where he could see her and assumed because her lips were moving but no sound was being made that she was drunk. He called out to her and asked why would she come to the tabernacle early in the day drinking or drunk. Hannah assured Eli that she had not been drinking and that she was praying to God for a child.
She further told Eli that if God would honor her earnest prayer and give her a male child, she would return him to the Lord where he would serve God for the rest of his life. Eli says in Verse 17, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition which you have asked of Him.” The couple left to return home and in time, she conceived and bore a son of her husband. His name was Samuel.
Having worked for pastors for a number of years, I often iterate outlines and sermons with common words and letters that can be easily remembered. I was delighted to discover 10 words, all beginning with the letter “b” that help to tell Hannah’s story. They are barren, begged, behavior, believed, bargain, barter, back, blessed, because, and the last believe.
She was barren and knew it without a doubt. She had no child, but wanted one badly. She begged God from a sincere heart to grant her petition. Her behavior in the tabernacle was misjudged by Eli the priest. He thought her to be drunk because her lips moved, but no words were uttered that he could hear. Hannah demonstrated her faith and believed with all her heart that God would hear and answer her prayer. She made a serious bargain (or vow) with God that if He would grant her wish, she would return her child to the Lord to serve God for the rest of his life.
When the time came to give Samuel back to God, Hannah did not wince or try to barter with God. She kept her end of the deal. When it came time to return to the tabernacle to offer sacrifice, she took her young son and gave him to the priest for service. Samuel’s life was blessed because his mother trusted God. Hannah was blessed because she kept her vow.
The last “b” word I include is believe. Do we as Christians have even a portion of Hannah’s faith? Are we willing to ask God for big things in our lives? If we make a vow, do we keep it? Do we in our own way give our children to God for service?
When each of my three children were born in Atlanta area hospitals, they did not go directly home as their first destination. Instead, we called ahead and made an appointment with the pastor and drove directly to our church. We placed each of them, DeAnna, Brent, and Nikki, on the altar and listened as our pastor prayed over each and as we dedicated them back to the God of Heaven who had given them to us. Later as each grew and left home for college, camp, or work, we had to learn to give them up all over again.
I pray that we will have the faith of Hannah in giving our children for service. It seldom gets easier, but hopefully and prayerfully, we’ll do the right thing and keep our vows made to God.
Brenda Cannon Henley is an award-winning journalist and writer living on the Southeast Texas Gulf Coast. Having enjoyed more than four decades in ministry, Brenda shares her columns with our readers and works with churches and faith-based programs nationwide. She can be reached at (409) 781-8788 or at brendacannonhenley [at] yahoo [dot] com.