In the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel, we meet a woman named Hannah. She was married in a man named Elkanah, of the tribe of Ephraim. They lived in the hill country, in a little town with a big name-Ramathaim-zophim.
As was common in that culture, Elkanah had a second wife-Peninnah. And, as is usually that case in multiple marriages, Elkanah’s home was full of tension and angst.
Hannah means “grace.” Perhaps because of Elkanah’s love-he favored her over Peninna (1 Sam 1:4-5)-Hannah felt graced much of the rime. It’s not a stretch, however, to surmise that every time Hannah saw the empty crib in her empty nursery, she felt cursed. For whatever reason, she was barren. Peninnah, meanwhile, had multiple children. As we might expect, these women became fierce rivals (1:6).
Kids can become a kind of currency or status symbol. This is not a new phenomenon. Children (in quantity or quality) can become a measuring stick, a way of keeping score. Peninnah, likely out of her woundedness and bitterness, gloated over her fertility. She actually took to taunting her “sister wife,” which was especially hurtful and humiliating to Hannah on the annual trips to Shiloh, where Elkanah’s not-so-happy family worshiped, offered sacrifices, and feasted before the Lord.
One year Hannah couldn’t take it anymore. She melted down, excusing herself from the sacrificial feast. Going back over to the tabernacle, she poured out her heart to God. In between her great, racking sobs, Hannah made a deal with God-or at least a vow to him. She swore that if he would give her a son, she would devoted the boy to God’s service. (Think of an ancient Jewish boarding school arrangement.) He would live a consecrated, alcohol-free life as a Nazirite.
As Hannah blubbered loudly and prayed fervently but silently, Eli the priest watched with dismay. Deciding this working-up woman must have had a couple of glasses of wine too many at the feast, he scolded her. “No, my lord,” responded Hannah, insisting she wasn’t inebriated. “I am a woman with a broken heart. . . . Don’t think of me as a wicked woman; I’ve been praying from the depth of my anguish and resentment” (1 Sam 1:15-16).
Satisfied she was sad, not sauced, Eli blessed her: “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant the petition you’ve requested from Him” (1 Sam 1:17). Sure enough, when she returned home Hannah conceived at long last. In accordance with the desires of her heart, she gave birth to a son She named him Samuel, which means “God has heard.”
After she weaned young Samuel, Hannah made good on her vow. She and her husband gathered up the boy, who was probably only four or five, and made the trek back to Shiloh. There they offered sacrifices to God and found Eli. Hannah told him to story of how God answered her prayer: “Please, my lord; she said, ‘as sure as you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the LORD. I prayed for this boy, and since the LORD gave me what I asked Him for, I now give the boy to the LORD. For as long as he lives, he is given to the LORD'” (1 Sam 1:26-28).
Leaving their young son with Eli so that he might began his religious training, the couple departed. Then, like a prophetess, filled with the Holy Spirit, Hannah worshiped God with a beautiful prayer (1 Sam 2:1-10).
God wasn’t done “gracing” the woman whose name means “grace.” He later gave her five other children: three sons and two daughters (1 Sam 2:21). But it was her firstborn, Samuel, who became a great prophet, a beloved and respected spiritual leader, and an influential adviser to Israel’s kings.
“I prayed for this boy, and since the LORD gave me what I asked Him for, I now give the boy to the LORD. For as long as he lives, he is given to the LORD.”– 1 Samuel 1:27-28