Big Prayers, Big Promises

Hannah, wife of Elkanah, barren, distraught, desperate woman, harassed in her grief, but tenacious in her request. Hannah, mother of Samuel, the prophet and priest who fought for Israel’s heart to be turned back to God. Hannah, a God seeker, who wasn’t deterred from praying big. Her story is found in 1 Samuel 1 and 2.

As Elkanah’s other wife, the barren one, Hannah suffered the humiliation and torment of Peninah, the wife who had several children. Elkanah, who obviously loved her, tried his best to comfort her, and make her forget her desire for a child. Eli the priest at Shiloh saw her praying and mistook her for a drunkard. She was misunderstood at every angle. But Hannah did not give up. Instead she prayed all the more fervently.

Recently I read an interesting suggestion on why Hannah was so persistent in her prayer for a son, that helps to explain her promise to give him back to the Lord. Perhaps Hannah was praying for a son that would be part of the spiritual solution for the wandering Israelites. Eli’s sons, who served as priests were wicked and bred wickedness among the people. But Hannah was a true worshiper. It must have grieved her heart to come to Shiloh every year to publicly worship God and see the irreverence of those in the office of spiritual leaders. Maybe her desperate plea for a son, was so she could give him back to the service of God.

Whether or not that is the case, Hannah did promise God that if he would grant her a son, she would dedicate him to the service of the Lord  at the tabernacle in Shiloh all the days of His life.  She prayed big, and she promised big.  And when God answered her prayer for a child, she followed through with her promise, taking Samuel to the tabernacle while he was still a very small boy and leaving him there to be raised by Eli.

I cannot wrap my mind around this kind of sacrifice. I cannot fathom this choice. Hannah who had begged for a child, gave him up when he was just a small boy, and to be raised by a guys whose sons were notoriously wicked! I might have rethought my promise, re-negotiated my obligation before God. But not Hannah. Even though she obviously loved Samuel very much, she loved the God who had given him to her more. And she trusted God enough to give back to Him the gift He had given her. This she did willingly and with great joy. 1 Samuel 2 records a poem of praise that Hannah offered to God, proclaiming his goodness and faithfulness. Now you might think this song came when Samuel was born. But no, Hannah prayed this beautiful hymn to God when she took Samuel to the tabernacle to leave him there. In it Hannah announces her own trust in God as the one who “will protect his faithful ones.” Hannah was not leaving Samuel in Eli’s hands, but in God’s hands, and she rejoiced to do so.

God answered Hannah’s big prayer. And Hannah responded in obedience and praise. I am challenged by Hannah’s level of trust. She not only asked God to do something amazing for her, she then continued to trust Him to do amazing things in and through her son. And, of course, God did. Samuel followed hard after God, and led the nation of Israel to do the same. One thing stands out to me: even though Hannah did not raise Samuel through his boyhood, he carried on her legacy of praying tenaciously. 1 Sam 12 records Samuel’s farewell speech to the nation of Israel. In it he proclaims, “God forbid that I would sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you.” Samuel felt it was his sacred duty to remain constant in prayer for his people. Hannah’s influence in prayer is evident.

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