For this child I prayed; and the LORD hath given me my petition which I asked of him:1st Samuel 1:27
The years of Jewish history which bridged the gap between the theocracy, when God ruled through Judges, and the Monarchy, when the Kings reigned, are dominated by one solitary figure, Samuel the prophet. He would lead the nation after the Ark of the Covenant was taken and during the subsequent decline of the priesthood with judgement visiting the House of Eli. Samuel would anoint Saul and David as the first Kings; and in anointing the shepherd the Messianic line was secured. Samuel, however, as he penned the history in which he was key player began with his mother Hannah. Everything he achieved was as a consequence of his praying mother. Even David’s accession to the throne could be traced back to this woman who presented young Samuel to Eli with these famous words “For this child I prayed”.
We must never underestimate the power of a mother. In literature and in politics mothers have long been recognised for their deep and lasting influence upon individuals, society and the world.
Samuel certainly followed in this rich vein of thinking, that has influenced billions, by commencing his own autobiography and his history of Israel in the days of Eli, Saul and David with the story of his mother Hannah, one of the most beautiful and gentlest women that we can read of anywhere in the pages of history. Hannah, however, was more than a good mother, a kind mother, a sacrificing mother; she was also a praying mother and it is this which sets the Christian mother apart in society and the world.
Hannah is an inspiration for the downtrodden, the oppressed, the misunderstood and misrepresented. Her story begins with a polygamous marriage where she failed to produce her husband Elkannah a son. She was taunted and teased by her husband’s other wife, Peninah, who was blessed with children. As she wept inconsolably troubled by bouts of depression her husband showed little understanding proclaiming himself better than ten sons! Hannah’s story is made for women who are struggling in home, bearing burdens which no-one understands.
In later years she would learn that these bitter providences were a consequence of a God who moulds and shapes us according to a loving plan. Her inability to produce children was not a consequence of random misfortune; the Lord shut Hannah’s womb. In this valley of deep affliction and shame Hannah learned to pray because she had nowhere else to turn. She would learn that God had a great plan through her trying circumstances, indeed Samuel would never have been born, she would never have been the character that she became without those struggles which brought her to God with very great faith.
Even when weeping and praying within the precincts of the tabernacle she was rebuked by Eli the Priest for being drunken; but despite this discouragement from one who ought have been her leader and pastor she held onto God. She not only prayed specifically for a son but she vowed to give the son to God, he would be a Nazarite – a special order of holy men devoted to service of Jehovah.
The prayer and the vow were transformative because that year Hannah conceived, giving birth to a son whom she called Samuel, because he was asked of God. The Lord opened her womb and as a consequence the history of Israel was altered for the better.
The spiritual darkness of these times is exemplified by Eli’s lack of spiritual perception, misjudging Hannah as she prayed. But there was a greater darkness still; Eli’s sons were abusing their position living immoral lifestyles as priests, living off the proceeds of their priesthood with their father refusing to intervene. Only a child born as a result of intense spiritual struggles, moulded in his formative years by a mother of equally intense spiritual vigour could turn the course of Israel. Hannah’s struggles were part of a greater story, one that she could not have been aware of; but she was taught one lesson in adversity – to trust and keep trusting.
Hannah, however, was destined to rise to greater spiritual heights years after the birth of Samuel. Her song, related in Ist Samuel 2, is beyond all doubt one of the highlights of Old Testament inspiration. It is an exceptional piece of Hebrew literature, which mirrors the Magnificat of the young virgin called Mary in the New Testament; both women were recipients of a miracle child.
Hannah’s song is a prayer of thanksgiving and is such a contrast from her weeping prayer in the previous chapter. She speaks as a prophet whom God had inspired. In motherhood her knowledge of God was sharpened; this was the woman who moulded Samuel, Israel’s kingmaker.
Her song was a bursting forth of praise after she gave the son, whom God had given, back to the Lord, as she had vowed so to do.
She praised God without so much as mentioning the name Samuel, yet he was the one whose little life had brought so much joy. This was because she had learned to focus on the giver, rather than the gift. This was why she could part with her little boy with such peace, because the God who gave can also take away. Through ever so much hardship she had learned to rest on Him. Learning to give up and step back; to sacrifice with peace is perhaps the toughest part of the mother’s lot. Hannah discovered contentment through committing her son into the hands of God.
Her song rose to great heights as she foresaw the Gospel age; that time when beggars would be lifted from the dunghill of sin and promoted to being princes within the heavenly kingdom. She too had come to God as a poor beggar, alone and defeated and now her son would be used in the constitution of a new kingdom.
She foresaw the arrival of the Messiah:
Moving from the present to the future she sees a King, who would be the judge of all the earth, the anointed of the Lord; Messiah and Christ. Her son for whom she prayed would find the young shepherd in the fields, calling him to be a shepherd of Israel – forever the Messiah would be known as the son of David. The spiritual insight of this woman once so despised is breathtaking.
With the benefit of hindsight she teaches us in her words the lesson; that all things are for a purpose, our God makes no mistakes:
The trials of mothers are many, their burdens and pain borne in love, are understood only by those who share the same sacred calling. Be encouraged by Hannah’s faith, strengthened in the crucible of despair, never give up praying and believing because God is in control. He has a purpose for every mother, father, son and daughter that we can’t realise or understand. From our little ledge on the precipice of time we cling on believing in the bigger picture, and the God who will complete His work with the brushstrokes of providential care.