by Steven Chan Steven Chan (with observations from Sis Peng Lee Lee)
2 August 2009
Have you ever been ridiculed or looked down upon by those around you? Have you ever felt depressed to such an extent that you had no appetite for food? The story of Hannah in the first three chapters of I Samuel should be of encouragement to you.
The Bible tells us that although Hannah was very much loved by her husband, she nonetheless felt very miserable because she was constantly being put down by the comments of her husband’s other wife, Peninnah (1 Sam 1:4) for not being able to bear any child for her husband. According to 1 Sam 1:7, “year by year, when she went up to the house of the LORD, that Peninnah provoked her; therefore she wept and did not eat.”
It is the way in which Hannah responded under such depressing circumstances that provide us with great lessons for our lives today.
In 1 Sam 1:10, the Bible records thus of Hannah: “in bitterness of soul, (she) prayed to the LORD and wept in anguish.” As our sister Peng Lee Lee observed: “When we are afflicted, to whom do we turn to? Is it to the mediums, feng-sui masters, the fortune-tellers or the false prophets? Isaiah 59: 1-3 tells us: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear.”
God wants us to learn from the example of Hannah that we must turn to God in our time of affliction. Do not take the advice of Job’s wife who said to him: “Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9) – to whom Job himself replied: “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10a) The Bible commended the good attitude of Job: “in all this Job did not sin with his lips.” (Job 2:10b)
In spite of her “bitterness of soul”, Hannah was faithful in worshipping God as “year by year… she went up to the house of the LORD” (1 Sam 1:7) together with her husband and family members (I Sam 1:3-7). From this example, Sis Peng Lee Lee asks: “Should we not encourage our family members and children to go and worship God on the Lord’s day?”
When in time of dire needs, it is not uncommon for some to make vows in exchange for deliverance by God – and such was the case with Hannah in 1 Sam 1:11: “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.” As was the case here, a vow is a “promise to perform certain things for, or bring certain offerings to, God, in return for certain benefits which were hoped for at His hand” According to Deut 23:21-23: “When you make a vow to the LORD your God, you shall not delay to pay it; for the LORD your God will surely require it of you, and it would be sin to you. But if you abstain from vowing, it shall not be sin to you. That which has gone from your lips you shall keep and perform, for you voluntarily vowed to the LORD your God what you have promised with your mouth.” In Eccl 5:4-5, the Bible says: “When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it; for He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed– better not to vow than to vow and not pay. So, a vow is a very important promise. Unlike some who simply make vows but subsequently conveniently forget or neglect to fulfill them, Hannah kept her vow. We should be careful about our promises to God as also advised in Eccl 5:6: “Do not let your mouth cause your flesh to sin, nor say before the messenger of God that it was an error. Why should God be angry at your excuse and destroy the work of your hands?” If we think we are not able to fulfill those vows then we should not make them in the first place. In Judges 11:30, Jephthah made a vow to God that cost him dearly!
While praying to God, Hannah was wrongfully chastised by the high priest Eli for allegedly being drunk: “And it happened, as she continued praying before the LORD, that Eli watched her mouth. Now Hannah spoke in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli thought she was drunk” (1 Sam 1:12-13). In addition to being already in deep despair, she was now wrongfully accused by a man of God for being drunk. But Hannah did not lose her patience even under such trying circumstances. She explained to the high priest: “No, my lord, I am a woman of sorrowful spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor intoxicating drink, but have poured out my soul before the LORD. Do not consider your maidservant a wicked woman, for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief I have spoken until now.” Then Eli answered and said, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition which you have asked of Him.” (1 Sam 1:15-18). One cannot miss the wonderful self-controlled attitude of Hannah when she explained to the high priest that “out of her abundance of grief she had poured out her soul before the Lord”. Having understood her situation, Eli supported her petition and request.
It is interesting to note that prayers are usually audible but not always necessarily so as in the case of Hannah: “she continued praying before the LORD, that Eli watched her mouth. Now Hannah spoke in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard.” Some have contended that prayers should always be uttered out loud – even in public restaurants during the giving of thanks for food; in fact some would argue that it should be especially so as a public testimony of our Christian faith – but the reality is that God can hear the prayers from our hearts – and Jesus taught in Matt 6:5-6: “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”
After having prayed to the Lord and poured out her soul before the Lord, the Bible tells us in 1 Sam 1:18 that Hannah “went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.” That’s really a great observation provided by God’s Word. When we have laid our anxieties, worries and requests before God, we should no longer have a disposition of downcastness or despair. We should no longer be sad. Phil 4:6-7: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” 1 Peter 5:7: “casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.”
God granted a son to Hannah after her petition: “So it came to pass in the process of time that Hannah conceived and bore a son, and called his name Samuel, saying, “Because I have asked for him from the LORD.”(1 Sam 1:20). Our Lord is almighty and is always merciful to the faithful (Matt 7-8).
According to 1 Sam 2:18-19: “Samuel ministered before the LORD, even as a child, wearing a linen ephod. Moreover his mother used to make him a little robe, and bring it to him year by year when she came up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice.” Hannah nurtured her son to serve the Lord. The question is whether we are also preparing our young to serve and minister in the Church work?
We learn also of Elkanah’s support for his wife’s vow and commitment. In 1 Sam 1:23, it is states thus: “and Elkanah her husband said to her, “Do what seems best to you; … Only let the LORD establish His word.” As a Christian husband, do you support your wife’s desires to serve the Lord?
As Hannah fulfilled her vow, the Lord blessed her abundantly: 1 Sam 2:21: “And the LORD visited Hannah, so that she conceived and bore three sons and two daughters. God gives more grace to the humble and faithful. We cannot out-give God. When we give to Him, He gives us more abundantly! Let’s learn from this beautiful story of faith of Hannah who gave Israel one of the most outstanding judges and prophet of God.