By Lydia Teh
Do you have a persistent problem that plagues you year after year and causes you to weep and lose your appetite? If the answer is yes but you have overcome it, then thanks be to God. But if you are still grappling with that predicament, take heart from one woman who went through a bitterly hard time but emerged victorious after many years of suffering.
This woman was Hannah. She longed for a child but she was barren year after year. As if dealing with her infertility wasn’t bad enough, she had to endure the provocation of her husband’s other wife who had children.
Though her husband loved her dearly, he could not assuage her yearning for a child. “Am I not better to you than ten sons?” he asked. No doubt this was meant to comfort her but if Hannah was in a snarky mood, she could’ve replied, “No, you are not better than one son, let alone ten.” But this is doubtful because Hannah came across as a woman full of restraint. She was likely the epitome of her name which means grace.
Her rival Peninnah constantly rubbed it in especially when it came to the annual yearly sacrifice at the tabernacle in Shiloh. Her provocations were severe enough to make Hannah miserable. The verbal barbs could have sounded like this: “So what if our husband gives you double portion? You have given him no offspring! Whereas I have given him sons and daughters! I’m a mother of many, you’re mother of none! Shameful woman!”
The scriptures did not say that Hannah retaliated against Peninnah, only that she responded with weeping and going off food. The bitterness in her heart needed an outlet. She went to the tabernacle and poured out her anguish to the Lord. She made a vow to God that if He were to grant her a son, she would give him to His service.
She was praying so fervently with her lips moving silently that Eli the priest thought she was drunk. But after hearing her explanation, he bade her to go in peace.
After that Hannah cheered up and ate. She no longer felt sorry for herself because she had petitioned God and trusted Him to answer her prayers. And He did. In due course she conceived Samuel.
In 1 Samuel chapter 1, no mention was made of Hannah praying until verse 10 when she poured out her anguish to the Lord. Presumably she would have prayed to God all those years of being barren and taunted by Peninnah. After all, she did make the annual pilgrimage with her family to the tabernacle in Shiloh to make offerings to God.
So what was different this particular year? This answer is in verse 11: “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 had longed for a child for her own selfish desires. For women of her time, “the noblest contribution a woman could make to a household in general and her husband in particular was to bear a son for him. Through childbearing a woman earned her place in life and her share in the household. Conversely, failure to deliver on this obligation was viewed as a curse and a shameful disgrace.”1
When Hannah turned the focus away from herself and on to God, she got what she asked for, and then some: three more sons and two daughters (1 Sam. 2:21).
James 4:3 comes to mind: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” No matter how big our challenges may be or how long we have endured them, let us turn our focus from ourselves to the Lord, just as Hannah did.
“Marriage and Family in Ancient Israel” by Daniel L. Block in Marriage and Family in the Biblical World, ed. Ken M. Campbell