Godly Hannah was not an ideal mother
We come today to the story of Hannah. And I find parts of her story to be very painful - perhaps because of my own boarding school experience. Though she was seeking to serve and honor God in her decision (and we want to acknowledge that), there is something strange about asking Eli (who was a lousy parent) to raise her son in an incredibly perverse environment. So we will look at both the good and the bad in her parenting.
I was actually not going to preach on her at all, but Mary Anne convinced me that this lady still is a wonderful model what it means to live by faith in the face of pain - great emotional pain. And even on the issue of sending her son into a super-bad environment, she did it with the purest of intentions and with a sacrificial desire to serve God. I'm sure it pained her just as much as it pained Samuel. So I can certainly understand where she was coming from just as I long ago came to peace with the purity of my parent's intentions and their very God-centered willingness to sacrifice their own personal desires. It was extremely painful for my parents to send us to boarding school - but the mission agency required it. In any case, it is important that we examine both the good and the bad in her decisions and to not judge her based on our hindsight. Hindsight is always greater than foresight. So I wanted you to realize that I am coming at this story from a slightly jaundiced perspective, but I have grown to really appreciate what Hannah did get right.
Who was Hannah? She was the mother of the prophet Samuel, who wrote three books of the Bible, anointed two kings of Israel, and founded the School of the Prophets. He was considered to be the last of the judges and perhaps the greatest of the judges. And because Samuel was so great, books tend to acclaim Hannah as a very ideal mother. I beg to differ. She did have some motherly functions that we can imitate. But before we look at the good, let's consider why giving her son to the tabernacle at such a young age was a very ill-advised plan.
How could an ideal mother send her child to be associated with the wicked Hophni and Phineas (1 Sam. 2)
First, the tabernacle of that day was filled with debauchery. It was a very bad environment for an impressionable young boy. Let’s spend a few minutes looking at how serious things had gotten in the High Priest's family, and hopefully each of these points will show why it was not a good idea to let Eli adopt Samuel. This comes from 1 Samuel chapter 2. We will be reading quite a bit of this chapter in a bit, but let me give you some highlights.
Verse 12 says that his sons were corrupt. The literal Hebrew for "corrupt" is that they were “sons of Belial,” with that phrase being a synonym for a very wicked untrustworthy person (2 Cor. 6:15; 1 Sam. 1:16; 2 Sam. 23:6). Other Bible passages make it very clear that you should never trust your children to hang around sons of Belial. 2 Corinthians 6:15 says, “And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever?” A son of Belial was a very sketchy person. And so it makes sense that verse 12 also says that they did not know God. They were priests, but they did not know God. They obviously knew about God because they were supposedly ministering on His behalf all the time, but they did not know God. There is a big difference between knowing about God and knowing Him. Apparently Eli had never reached his children’s hearts with the Gospel. And yet another child is going to be entrusted to his care. That's scary.
In verses 13-15 we see that his sons were self-indulgent. That doesn’t just start happening when you are an adult. The word “custom” indicates that this had been going on for a long, long time, and gives us a hint that the self-indulgence had started at a very young age. These kinds of patterns develop young.
These verses also show theft, abuse of office, lawlessness, and bullying. Look for example at verses 13-14:
1Samuel 2:13 And the priests’ custom with the people was that when any man offered a sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come with a three-pronged fleshhook in his hand while the meat was boiling. 1Samuel 2:14 Then he would thrust it into the pan, or kettle, or caldron, or pot; and the priest would take for himself all that the fleshhook brought up. So they did in Shiloh to all the Israelites who came there.
This was robbing from the people what was rightfully theirs. The priests were not supposed to get any of the people’s portion. They had their own portion, which consisted of the breast and the right thigh. The rest was offered to the Lord or eaten by the worshiper. But they were taking more than their fair share.
1Samuel 2:15 Also, before they burned the fat, the priest’s servant would come and say to the man who sacrificed, “Give meat for roasting to the priest, for he will not take boiled meat from you, but raw.”
This was wrong on three counts: First, they weren’t supposed to eat the fat at all. 100% of the fat was to go to the Lord (Ex. 29:13,22; Lev. 3:17; 7:23,24). Second, they weren’t supposed to take what was being sacrificed, but they did. Third, they weren’t supposed to take anything for themselves until after an offering had been made. To do otherwise completely spoils the symbolism of the Gospel in those sacrifices. It tore the guts out of the Gospel story. They weren’t looking to the Word of God for how they ruled the church. Verse 16:
1Samuel 2:16 And if the man said to him, “They should really burn the fat first; then you may take as much as your heart desires,” he would then answer him, “No, but you must give it now; and if not, I will take it by force.”
There was no accountability of these sons of Eli financially or socially. They did their own thing. And if you didn’t like it, they told you to pound sand. The average Israelite felt helpless, just as the kids at our boarding school felt utterly helpless in the face of abuse and bullying. Verse 17:
1Samuel 2:17 Therefore the sin of the young men was very great before the LORD, for men abhorred the offering of the LORD.
They hated coming to worship. They hated it. Things were bad. A similar reaction happened to Christianity among many of the missionary kids that I grew up with in boarding school. Rather than taking their troubles to the Lord, some turned bitter against the Lord and eventually abandoned the faith. I don't justify the overreaction of those missionary kids, but you can understand their reaction. It's an issue of association. They associated Christianity with all the horrible things that happened to them. It's tough to disentangle the emotions of one from the other. Well, that was beginning to happen to many Israelites here. They abhorred the worship of God because of the lifestyle of those who led in worship. Look down at verse 22.
1Samuel 2:22 Now Eli was very old; and he heard everything his sons did to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who assembled at the door of the tabernacle of meeting.
Adultery. And it was more than adultery - it was abuse; it was taking advantage of these women. I won’t keep on reading, but verse 25 indicates that they were so stiff-necked in their sin and rebellion that God wanted to kill them. It wouldn't surprise me if some of the women wanted to kill them. To put it mildly, the sons of Eli were a mess. How could Hannah have sent her just weaned child into an environment like that? It was a pornographic environment. It was a dangerous environment for Samuel. It was very dangerous.
How could an ideal mother place her son under the poor parenting of Eli?
Second, how could an ideal mother place her son under the poor parenting style of Eli? Yes, Eli was a godly man in many ways, but he was an absolutely lousy parent. And I blame Samuel's similarly poor parenting on the fact that he grew up learning those behaviors from Eli. What makes me think that Eli did not parent well?
Eli was blind to his son's problems but quick to criticize Hanna (2:22-23)
First, like many modern parents that I know, Eli was quick to be critical of other people’s sins, but was somewhat blind to his own children’s faults. And you will never have what it takes to restrain your children if you are like Eli in this regard. Just as Scripture calls us to be harder on ourselves than we are on others, I believe the Scripture calls us take the log out of our own family’s eyes so that we will be in a better position to take the splinter out of other families’ eyes. But Eli did not do that. And let me demonstrate that to you.
Without any investigation, he accuses Hannah of being drunk in chapter 1:12-14. He does that as soon as he thinks he sees evidence of drunkenness when she is actually engaged in deep travailing prayer. So he is quick to judge others. (In this case it was a misjudgment.)
Now contrast that with how he handles his sons. Chapter 2, beginning at verse 22:
22 Now Eli was very old; and he heard everything his sons did to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who assembled at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. 23 So he said to them, “Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all the people. 24 No, my sons! For it is not a good report that I hear. You make the LORD’S people transgress. 25 If one man sins against another, God will judge him. But if a man sins against the LORD, who will intercede for him?” Nevertheless they did not heed the voice of their father, because the LORD desired to kill them.
In verse 22 God says that Eli had to hear about it from others, and Eli himself admits how non-observant he was when he says in verse 23, “For I hear of your evil dealings from all the people.” And I find that phrase, “from all the people” rather interesting, because it shows two things: First, it shows that he was somewhat resistant to the reports when he first began hearing them. Otherwise he would have chewed them out before this, but he waited. It’s only as the reports consistently come in and there is a momentum that he finally does something about it. This is the nature of bureaucracies - it took forever for the sexual abuse in our boarding school to get exposed. Adults had a hard time believing it. They were in denial, and the kids who reported things were left even more vulnerable. Well, in the same way, Eli is somewhat resistant to the initial criticisms of his children until everybody got on his case.
The second thing that this phrase shows is how long it has taken for him to be convinced. If all the people have been reporting this behavior, there is a process of time. How many years has this been going on? It is clear that for a long time he had been oblivious to their sins. He had been overlooking their abuse. And how many young women were taken advantage of during those years?
He tries to reason with his children (2:23) rather than restraining his children (3:13)
A second major hole in Eli’s parenting was that he tried to reason with his children rather than restraining his children. This is a huge problem in modern fathering and mothering – even in the homeschool movement. Look at verse 23: In verse 23 he says, “Why do you do such things?” He’s obviously disappointed in his sons and he’s obviously trying to convince them that what they are doing is not right. But asking why a fool does folly is like asking why a circle is round. Proverbs 14:24 says, “…the foolishness of fools is folly.” You don’t need to ask why. You recognize it and deal with it. To reason with such children and hope for something better will not work. Instead, Scripture says that we must do two things: First, prayerfully apply the word of God to the child and pray that God will supernaturally change that child’s heart with the scriptures (that are sharper than any two-edged sword). And second, restrain their sin with loving discipline. Word and discipline have to go hand in hand. And the discipline should come from a parent - not a dorm parent. I will admit that some of us kids probably drove the staff at the boarding school bonkers, but they obviously didn't know how to discipline in the Word or in love. They disciplined in frustration, often leaving us kids bleeding and black and blue from foot to shoulder. That is criminal abuse. But Eli erred in the opposite direction - giving no discipline. That too is evil. And I should point out that God does not hold Eli accountable for their unregenerate heart; that's on them. He holds Eli accountable for failing to confront sin with the word of God and secondly for failure to restrain their sin.
And the rod of discipline has that goal. Proverbs 22:15 promises, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of correction will drive it far from him.” Whether regenerate or unregenerate, the rod of correction will drive it far from him. Only God can change the heart, but fathers can do much to bring the means of grace into the lives of our children and we can do much to drive folly far from our children with the rod. This was David’s fault as well in 1 Kings 1 – he never brought pain into his children’s lives. He protected them from pain. If the same can be said of you, it will be a miracle if your children do not turn out just as badly as David's and Eli's children - and Samuel's children.
When he blew up he had more bark than bite (2:23-35)
But that brings us to the third gaping hole in Eli’s parenting, which is shown in verses 23-25. He blows up at his kids and yells at them. He vents his frustration. But his sons ignore him. Why? They know from experience that dad has more bark than bite. Right? They are adults now, but they have probably been through this ritual many times in their lifetimes. They are probably thinking, “Dad couldn’t bear to see us kicked out of office. We’ll just ignore him like we always do, and it will be just fine.” So when Eli says, “No, my sons!” it has no impact on them. They have probably heard “No” a thousand times, and they have been able to get around it usually. "No" did not mean "No" to Eli – at least not in terms of his follow-through. And in case you think that he could not do anything to his adult sons, that is absolutely false. Under the next point we will read from Deuteronomy 21, and I will explain that. But here I just want to emphasize that any time you moms and dad’s demonstrate more bark than bite, you have already started the process of losing your children.
Blowing up at your kids is a sure sign that you have already lost the battle. It is a sure sign that you are weak and they are strong. It is a sure sign that you are neither in control of yourself nor in control of them. You cannot restrain the evil in your children if they know to only take you seriously when you get mad and yell. When that happens, eventually even your yelling will amount to nothing, as Eli experienced with his older children.
He honored his sons more than God (2:29)
The fourth gaping hole in Eli’s theology of parenting was that they had become more important to him than God. If you told Eli that you thought that, I’m sure he would contradict you and say, “No way. God is far more important to me.” But his actions showed otherwise. The text says that he honored them and their desires more than he honored God and God’s desires. Look at verse 29. God asks Eli, “Why do you kick at My sacrifice and My offering which I have commanded in My dwelling place, and honor your sons more than Me, to make yourselves fat with the best of all the offerings of Israel My people.” You might think that Eli didn’t have much choice. These were grown sons and there was nothing he could any longer do to them. But that was simply not true. He had the authority as the High Priest to remove them from office as being disqualified, and the elders would have backed him up on that. He even had the authority to take them to the civil magistrates for their crimes (and they were indeed guilty of crimes) and to have them receive some kind of punishment from the magistrate. Deuteronomy 21 is quite clear on that. It says this:
Deuteronomy 21:18 “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and who, when they have chastened him, will not heed them, Deuteronomy 21:19 then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city, to the gate of his city. Deuteronomy 21:20 And they shall say to the elders of his city, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Deuteronomy 21:21 Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death with stones; so you shall put away the evil from among you, and all Israel shall hear and fear.
Now, it would have been hard for Eli to do that because it would have been an admission of utter failure in his parenting. But it is hard as well because parents love their children and don’t want to see them die. It’s hard because parents long to have their children respect them and love them. But in Matthew 15 and in Mark 7 Jesus upholds this law (and a law that was even more rigid - the law that says you should take them to the civil magistrate if you cannot break them of the bad habit of cursing you) and Jesus said that because the Pharisees refused to implement this law with their children, that they were honoring man more than they honored God. Jesus is accusing the Pharisees of His day of being just like Eli in their parenting.
If Jesus says that we ought to honor God more than our children on even that Deuteronomy 21 worst-case scenario, how much more so when it comes to restraining our children long before that is needed? It does not honor God to have homeschool children who are holy terrors at church. It does not honor God when your children will be disrespectful to other adults and know they can get away with it. It is because fathers want their children to like them that they often refuse to restrain them. But we must be more concerned about what God likes than what our children like. If we don't close up that gaping hole in our parenting, it will become exceedingly hard to enforce a “No” by restraining our children.
He was overly driven by a desire to protect (2:25)
Related to this is the next gaping hole in his parenting – Eli was overly driven by a desire to protect his children from harm. Even when he rebukes them, he does it to warn them that they might receive God’s judgment. Rather than viewing God’s disciplines and his own disciplines as being a good thing and tool for training, he looks at discipline as only something to be avoided at all costs. You are making this mistake when you warn your kids, “You better not do that any more or you are going to get a spanking.” What is that saying? It is saying that avoiding a spanking is more important to you than first time obedience. If your goal is to keep your children from getting spankings, you have already missed the heart of the matter. You need to go to a parenting class with the Foxes. Eli was not a model parent.
He modeled compromise (2:29)
Though for the most part Eli was godly, he did model some evil to his children - and this is another gaping hole in his parenting. They picked up his small compromises and amplified them. And by the way, because Eli was Samuel’s adoptive parent, Samuel picked up Eli’s bad parenting habits as well. Do not idealize Samuel’s being taken from his birth parents and given to Eli. That was not a good thing. He picked up all kinds of bad habits, despite Samuel’s desire to please God. For example, in 1 Samuel 8 we find that Samuel followed Eli’s example of permissive parenting, and his kids turned out horrible – so horrible that the citizens insisted on impeaching them and throwing them out of office – which was actually a good thing; they needed to be thrown out of office. They must have been pretty bad. But it all started with Eli.
In verse 35 Eli was said to not be totally faithful in his priestly duties. There was a little bit of compromise there. In verse 29 we see that Eli modeled taking more than his fair share of the sacrifices, and modeled indulgence, and modeled that if it tastes good you can eat it, even though God had reserved the fat from the sacrifices for Himself. Verse 16 rebukes the sons for eating the fat that should have been given to God. But where did they learn it? It wasn’t just them. In verse 29 God rebukes Eli, saying, “…to make yourselves fat [notice that He is including Eli - and we learn from chapter 4 that Eli was very obese - to make yourselves fat] with the best of all the offerings of Israel My people?” They were all fat. The picture in your outline doesn’t reflect it, but chapter 4:18 shows that Eli was exceedingly heavy. And God here says that it wasn’t a hormone thing – it was a making-themselves-fat-thing. So Eli had a hard time restraining indulgence in his sons because he himself was indulgent. He had a hard time restraining their theft when he himself was taking things that God had not allowed him to take. He had a hard time restraining their compromises when he was compromised in some areas as well. I have seen Christian parents rationalizing their children’s petting and other sexual compromises by saying that they did it too when they were young, and things didn’t turn out so bad. Our own character is critical if we are to restrain evil character in our children. Our children will almost always amplify upon our compromises if we have not repented and trained them to do differently. It takes some humility to admit to sins and mistakes and encouraging our children not to repeat our sins and mistakes. So this was the sixth gaping hole in Eli’s fatherhood.
He failed to be God-centered (2:35)
But the last thing that I want to highlight was that Eli failed to be God-centered in his parenting. As part of God’s judgment on Eli, God says in verse 35: “Then I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who shall do according to what is in My heart and in My mind. I will build him a sure house, and he shall walk before My anointed forever.” There are two phrases that speak about this God-centered living. The last phrase, “he shall walk before My anointed forever” is not primarily looking at king David, but is at least in part fulfilled in Jesus, God’s anointed. And so it is equivalent to walking Coram Deo – walking constantly before the face of God. This was Calvin's goal in life. The other phrase, “who shall do according to what is in My heart and in My mind” also shows a God-centered focus of the next priest. But Eli wasn't that God-focused.
It's for those seven reasons that I say it was irresponsible for Hannah to dedicate Samuel to the tabernacle and to expect Eli to parent him. If I were Elkanah, her husband, I would have nullified her vow immediately (per Numbers 30 - you father's can nullify your wive's vows if you do it on the day that you hear about it). Elkanah had to have known what was going on at the tabernacle. So I don't think that he was a model father or that she was a model mother in dedicating her son to the tabernacle. Too many stories about Hannah gloss over this bad side of her and only focus on her devotion - and she was devoted; there is no question about that.
Her family background
Before we get into her devotion and her noteworthy characteristics that we can imitate, let me get into her family background a bit.
She was a pastor's wife (2:1 with 1 Chron. 6:22-27)
The first thing that I want you to notice about her background is that she was a pastor's wife. 1 Chronicles 6:22-27 gives Elkanah's genealogy and shows that he was a Levite who came from the important order of Kohath. So Elkanah may very well have helped in the tabernacle with some of the duties surrounding the festival. As a priest, he would be required to do so. But Moses ensured that the Levites were scattered throughout Israel in order to have preachers in the synagogues during the rest of the year. Every community in Israel would have a synagogue and at least one Levite who could preach in that local community's synagogue. We know that in later years, the Kohathites were especially used to leading music, prayer, and praise in the assembly (1 Chron. 6:31-33). They were trained musically. In any case, when Elkanah's grandfather, Zuph, was called an Ephraimite in 1 Samuel 1:1, it is because this Levite lived in Ephraim; he was stationed as a citizen of Ephraim. But he was a Levite. Levites became citizens of whatever state they lived in.
And the law stated that the people were supposed to financially help their Levitical pastor to attend at least three festivals a year to help with the distribution of the sacrament. But this passage indicates that he came up only once a year. According to the law, coming to the tabernacle was required so as to accompany his local synagogue (equivalent to our local churches - to accompany them) to Jerusalem to partake of the feast. His family was part of this flock, but not the only ones he would have been responsible for. He would have distributed the elements to his church. The point is, Hannah was a pastor's wife. And as a pastor's wife, she would have had a lot of extra responsibilities.
Her husband was somewhat compromised, though generally faithful
But there were some troubling aspects to Elkanah's pastoring or shepherding ministry as well. First of all, he was a bigamist. Pastors are only supposed to be married to one wife. That has always been God's intention, as we saw in the Song of Solomon and in the life of David series. But Elkanah was living in a time of downgrade when even the priests in the tabernacle were majorly compromised. So, by comparison, he may have thought that this was not a big deal. But polygamy has always been a big deal and without exception, all polygamous marriages in the Bible had problems.
Second, Elkanah showed favoritism to Hannah - which only made the conflict between the two wives worse. Favoritism - especially when it comes to the Holy Sacrament is not becoming of a pastor. He may have done this because he felt badly for her barrenness. But feeling bad is not sufficient reason to show favoritism.
By the way, there are two indicators that Hannah was married first and that Elkanah only married Peninnah to ensure that his line was not wiped out. Hannah is mentioned first in verse 2 and Peninnah is called her rival in verse 6. Leviticus 18:18 uses that language of a rival to indicate a second wife who now competes with you. So that's just a side-note.
The third area that shows that things weren't quite as good as they could have been in his pastoring is that Elkanah only came to Jerusalem once a year. It's implied in the first verses of chapter 1, but made explicit in verses 21-23. And this shows some compromise on his part. Exodus 23:14 commanded, "Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the LORD God." He failed to obey that command.
But compared to the compromises happening in the tabernacle (1:3; 2:13-16), Elkanah was a faithful pastor. He may have been demotivated from coming to the tabernacle precisely because of the corruption that was there. Chapter 2:17 indicates that the corruption made Israel abhor the offering of the LORD. Though it would be a few years before the word "ichabod" would be used, it aptly described the whole time in which they lived. The glory of the Lord had departed.
The positive things in Hannah's life
She and her husband had a deep love for the Lord
But now we come to some very positive things that we see in Hannah's life. First, she and her husband had a deep love for the Lord. You can have blindspots and still be a great Christian who loves the Lord. She loved the Lord. In verse 11 she calls herself the Lord's maidservant. The same verse shows that she was willing to sacrifice her child to the Lord by making him a Nazarite from the womb - perhaps inspired by a previous judge by the name of Samson. In chapter 2 we have the beautiful prophetic song of Hannah which is filled with good theology, solid worship, God-centeredness, trust in the Lord, commitment to righteousness and antithesis. I love that hymn of Hannah. It reflects a deep love for the Lord and trust in the Lord. And I hope I haven't painted such a negative picture of her to this point that you miss the good that is written in big letters across her life.
They had a deep love for each other
For example, it is obvious that Hannah and Elkanah had a deep love for each other. I picture Elkanah as having married her for love and having married Peninnah for children. Not a good plan, but there are plenty of evidences that he loved Hannah passionately and that her love for him was just as strong. Chapter 1 verse 5 says, "But to Hannah he would give a double portion, for he loved Hannah..." Yes it shows favoritism, which led to conflict, but it also reveals the fact that he loved her for who she was and not just for her children. She herself was precious to him. He wanted her to be secure in his love.
Verse 8 may seem like a strange way to cheer up your wife over her barrenness. I kind of cringed when I read it. And sometimes we men are not as sensitive as we should be. We need to learn emotional leadership. Look at verse 8. He says,
"Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? And why is your heart grieved? Am I not better to you than ten sons?"
That statement may seem insensitive and arrogant to Western ears. But consider this possibility: if she had repeatedly told him that he was better to her than ten sons and he is just reminding her of their deep love for each other, it reads a bit differently. And it must have cheered her up because prior to his saying it she didn't want to eat, and after saying it, verse 9 says that she did eat. So those words that made me cringe didn't seem to make her cringe. They cheered her up. So some commentaries see these words as a lighthearted way of trying to remind her that she hasn't lost his love and hopefully she still loves him the way that she has always said that she does. I'm not going to be dogmatic on that, but it is more likely than not that this was a positive thing that he said.
Hannah had a deep longing for motherhood
But one of the key things that everyone notes about Hannah is her deep longing for motherhood. The Bible makes this deep longing a good and godly thing. It is not natural to desire no children, and it is quite natural to feel great sadness and weeping when you have difficulty getting children. We need to weep with those who weep.
This is an understandable longing. Motherhood is a high calling upon women
Let me quote John MacArthur on this point because I think he says it well:
Of course, the Bible’s exaltation of motherhood is often scorned by our more “enlightened” age. In fact, in this generation, motherhood is frequently derided and belittled even in the name of “women’s rights.” But it has been God’s plan from the beginning that women should train and nurture godly children and thus leave a powerful imprint on society through the home (1 Tim. 5:10; Titus 2:3–5). Hannah is a classic illustration of how that works. She is a reminder that mothers are the makers of men and the architects of the next generation. Her earnest prayer for a child was the beginning of a series of events that helped turn back the spiritual darkness and backsliding in Israel. She set in motion a chain of events that would ultimately usher in a profound spiritual awakening at the dawn of the Davidic dynasty.
...Scripture frequently portrays marriage as “the grace of life” (1 Pet. 3:7 NKJV) and motherhood as the highest calling any woman could ever be summoned to. It is, after all, the one vocation that God uniquely designed women to fulfill, and no man can ever intrude into the mother’s role. Perhaps you have already noticed how the glory and dignity of motherhood stood out in one way or another as a major theme in the life of every woman we have dealt with so far. That is true of most of the key women in Scripture. Scripture honors them for their faithfulness in their own homes.
She was an earnest prayer warrior
Another good characteristic that we should imitate is that she was an earnest prayer warrior. She knew how to pray with intensity. And there are four points that show the God-centered and godly character of her prayers.
Because God is the giver of children (Ps. 127:3; Gen. 33:5), she prayed earnestly to God for a child
First, she recognized that God alone is the giver of children, and this leads her to intense prayer before God. Indeed, it was so intense, that some characterize this as the kind of prayer we looked at under the Anna of the New Testament - travailing in prayer. I'll read all of verses 8-18 again, and then dissect it.
1Sam. 1:8 Then Elkanah her husband said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? And why is your heart grieved? Am I not better to you than ten sons?”
1Sam. 1:9 So Hannah arose after they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat by the doorpost of the tabernacle of the LORD. 10 And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the LORD and wept in anguish. 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.”
1Sam. 1:12 And it happened, as she continued praying before the LORD, that Eli watched her mouth. 13 Now Hannah spoke in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli thought she was drunk. 14 So Eli said to her, “How long will you be drunk? Put your wine away from you!”
1Sam. 1:15 But Hannah answered and said, “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. 16 Do not consider your maidservant a wicked woman, for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief I have spoken until now.”
1Sam. 1:17 Then Eli answered and said, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition which you have asked of Him.”
1Sam. 1:18 And she said, “Let your maidservant find favor in your sight.” So the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.
Her prayer was a steadfast travailing in the Spirit (vv. 10-11; "continued" - v. 12)
Verse 12 says that she "continued" in prayer. The word for "continued" (rabbah - רָבָה) literally means to be strong, multiplied, great, or growing. It speaks of intensity and expansion of the soul in prayer. I personally believe that the Spirit of God Himself was stirring up her prayers for this child, and she was agonizing as she prayed in the Spirit. She was travailing and giving birth to some kingdom realities in her prayer. And in this she is a model - as was Anna. It is OK to weep and agonize with the Lord over things that are wrong in this world.
Her prayer was earnest and passionate
Next, she was so consumed with prayer before the Lord that she didn't even notice her circumstances. The intensity of her prayer caught the attention of Eli, who may have thought that she was acting like his drunken sons and like some of the other promiscuous women that his sons committed adultery with. Eli's insensitivity made him jump to a wrong conclusion rather than asking questions. She was praying with groanings that cannot be uttered. She was not doing this to be seen, or doing this out of ritual. Her heart was connecting with God's heart and the Spirit no doubt prompted this prayer.
Because her prayer was to God, she did not respond pridefully or with hurt. She just honestly told him what was happening (1:14-18)
Next, she was so focused on God in this prayer that even when falsely accused of horrible sin, she didn't take it pridefully and react in anger. Verse 15:
1Sam. 1:15 But Hannah answered and said, “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. 16 Do not consider your maidservant a wicked woman, for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief I have spoken until now.”
This shows humility and honesty without any prideful blowing up at him. He has just insulted her, and she calmly responds. It shows that she was focused more on what God thinks than on what man thinks. That's yet another good characteristic.
She was sacrificial
Another good characteristic of Hannah is that she was willing to sacrifice for the Lord. People who are sold out to the Lord like my parents were as missionaries in Ethiopia are willing to sacrifice what is nearest and dearest to their heart if they believe God has called them to do that. I appreciate that about my parents. I appreciate that about Hannah.
Her prayer was accompanied by a vow, which shows that this was not purely for selfish reasons (1:11)
And her willingness to sacrifice what is nearest and dearest to her heart can be seen in her vow. The vow by itself was not wrong. It is good to dedicate our children to the Lord. It was the specifics of the vow and how she chose to fulfill the vow that I find fault with, not the unselfish willingness to give this child to the Lord. That is commendable. It shows a transition from wanting a child to submitting this desire to God Himself. 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.”
It appears to be a Nazarite vow (Numb. 6:1-9) though this is not certain
This appears to be a Nazarite vow. We have only two other instances where a person was a lifelong Nazarite (Samson and John the Baptist). In both of those cases, God called for it, not the mother. For God to call a person to be a lifelong Nazarite is one thing, but for a mother to insist on it is another. But it seems she sincerely thinks this to be the right thing to do.
This may have been inspired by God's call of Samson to be a lifelong Nazarite
And given her time period, her vow may have been inspired by God's call for Samson to be a lifelong Nazarite.
Though Levite males were already consecrated to be at least pastors, this vow consecrated him to the tabernacle
She obviously wanted him to be a godly man who would serve God and glorify Him. That's a good thing, but she took it upon herself to declare what his vocation would be. And I'm not sure that a mother has the authority to do that - unless indeed this was prophetic. But the text doesn't seem to indicate so. In any case, I do admire her willingness to sacrifice the very thing that meant so much to her. She is giving to the Lord what is near and dear to her heart. And I appreciate that. And I appreciate the same sacrificial motivation of my parents on the missionfield. They were serving the Lord the best that they knew how.
She was a woman of faith
But I want to end with her being a woman of faith. Obviously the points we have already covered show her to be a woman of faith, but there is more.
As seen by Eli's prophesied answer (1:17)
That she was praying in faith can be seen by the fact that God hears and answers her prayers through a prophecy of Eli. I find great comfort in the fact that we don't have to be perfect for God to answer our prayers. Verse 17:
1Sam. 1:17 Then Eli answered and said, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition which you have asked of Him.”
God only answers prayers of faith. So this shows me that she prayed in faith.
With Eli's prophesied answer, she immediately believed (1:18)
Second, she believes Eli's prophecy before she is even pregnant. Hearing Eli's prophecy is all it took for her pain to disappear and for her to lose her sadness. She obviously has faith that God has answered her prayer. Verse 18 ends, "So the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad." This shows her faith. If God says it, He will do it. Oh that we would have that kind of faith - if God says it, we believe it, not matter how impossible God's promise might seem to be.
She has a child by faith (1:20)
Then, she had a child by faith shortly after this. Now, God is the One who gives faith when it is His sovereign time to act. We can't manufacture faith. Scripture says it is a gift of God (Acts 3:16; Rom. 12:3; 1 Cor. 12:9). But it is a gift that is given to those who approach His throne. You are much more likely to receive these kinds of gifts when you approach His throne in prayer. And I've been telling the elders and deacons lately that I have been convicted that I need to approach His throne more. Hannah and Anna are models to me.
She utters a prophetic poem that is a masterpiece of praise that flows from faith (2:1-11)
But the biggest evidence of her faith is in her prophetic poem that we will be singing afterwards. It is a masterpiece of praise that flows from faith. You could spend weeks preaching on this poem all by itself. It shows faith in a future Messiah (Jesus), and a faith that worships God presently as Savior, Creator, and Judge. She acknowledges God's holiness, goodness, sovereignty, wisdom, and power. And because of time, I won't say much more than a few words on it. But keep in mind that this was prayed as she is leaving her son behind. It is a prayer of rejoicing and faith despite a huge loss of something near and dear to her heart. But she seems to prophetically know that God is going to do mighty things through Samuel. Chapter 2, beginning at verse 1:
1Sam. 2:1 And Hannah prayed and said: “My heart rejoices in the LORD; My horn is exalted in the LORD. I smile at my enemies, Because I rejoice in Your salvation.
She is already walking above the persecution and the criticism that she had been receiving from Penninah. Verse 2:
2 “No one is holy like the LORD, For there is none besides You, Nor is there any rock like our God.
There is no one like God. He is incomparable. She is realizing that her baby is not her rock; her husband is not her rock; her own holiness is not her rock. Nothing can measure up to the Lord. She has had a huge transformation in her perspective. Verse 3:
3 “Talk no more so very proudly; Let no arrogance come from your mouth, For the LORD is the God of knowledge; And by Him actions are weighed.
When we come face-to-face with God we realize that we are nothing and the opinions of others is nothing. She knows that we cannot take credit for anything. Everything must be measured in light of Yehowah. He is sovereign, and as the next verses say, He sovereignly reverses human situations.
4 “The bows of the mighty men are broken, And those who stumbled are girded with strength. 5 Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, And the hungry have ceased to hunger. Even the barren has borne seven, And she who has many children has become feeble.
She acknowledges that God was the one who made her barren and He is the one who will multiply her children. He reverses these and many other fortunes of men and women. She has become OK with God's sovereignty. She can rejoice in His reversals. It takes faith to do that. Verse 6:
6 “The LORD kills and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and brings up. 7 The LORD makes poor and makes rich; He brings low and lifts up. 8 He raises the poor from the dust And lifts the beggar from the ash heap, To set them among princes And make them inherit the throne of glory. “For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’S, And He has set the world upon them.
Every phrase is absolutely packed with meaning. But it is clear that He is sovereign over every aspect of life and death. He blesses the disadvantaged and takes away the blessings of the arrogant. And by the way, this poem also shows that she was educated and skilled at poetry. Women in Bible days had a good education. Verse 9:
9 He will guard the feet of His saints, But the wicked shall be silent in darkness. “For by strength no man shall prevail. 10 The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken in pieces; From heaven He will thunder against them. The LORD will judge the ends of the earth. “He will give strength to His king, And exalt the horn of His anointed.”
The whole song tells of God's grace to undeserving people. Though she still has a rival in Penninah, Penninah's nasty jabs no longer make her bitter, which means that Penninah can no longer control her. Though she is dropping off her son, she exults in God's provision for them both. In fact, God has brought her to the place where He is more important to her than her son. This prayer is a prayer of surrender. She has surrendered the thing that had previously become more important to her than anything else - a child. She has surrendered Samuel to the Lord. Though there are other ways she could have done that, you have to appreciate her heart and her faith.
And her faith is infectious. It seems to have captured Samuel's heart. Though he will no doubt be sad with the separation as well, the last verse of chapter 1 says, "he worshiped the Lord there." The Hebrew is not "they" (as in the NKJV) but "he." It's masculine singular. Samuel didn't stop to feel sorry for himself. He worshiped even though he was going to be left behind. In chapter 2, verse 11 it says, "But the child ministered to the LORD before Eli the priest." He focused on his next tasks, and his next tasks involved ministering to the LORD in the tabernacle.
She and Samuel continued to grow in faith (2:18-21)
And verses 18-21 indicate that both Samuel and his mother continued to grow in faith and in God's grace.
1Sam. 2:18 But Samuel ministered before the LORD, even as a child, wearing a linen ephod. 19 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. 20 And Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, and say, “The LORD give you descendants from this woman for the loan that was given to the LORD.” Then they would go to their own home. 1Sam. 2:21 And the LORD visited Hannah, so that she conceived and bore three sons and two daughters. Meanwhile the child Samuel grew before the LORD.
What could have been a disaster was turned by God into growth for Hannah and growth for Samuel. And many in the boarding school that I went to were able to thrive in God's grace despite the difficult circumstances. When handed a lemon, make lemonade. Now, I don't want to be trite with that phrase because some at that school have had a huge difficulty making lemonade. You would too if you were sexually and physically abused. But God's grace can help us to grow through the pain. And I highly recommend Kay Arthur's book, Lord, Heal My Hurts, and her book, Lord, Only You Can Change Me. She went through horrible abuse and knows what it means to overcome the emotional pain, not through carnal weapons, but through the weapons of God that are mighty in tearing down strongholds. Satan can use a family member or other person like Penninah to bring great pain and to control our hearts until we learn how not be controlled. And Kay Arthur's two books are a great place to start.
Be very careful what you vow
And I will end with two more applications. First, be careful what you vow. It is important to fulfill our vows, but it is also important that we not make vows too hastily - especially in the heat of emotion. Numbers 30:6 warns against rash vows. Ecclesiastes 4:4-5 says,
Eccl. 5:4 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— 5 Better not to vow than to vow and not pay.
What should a person do when he has vowed something sinful - like many of the converted people at the Reformation had done when they were Romanists? Do we keep those vows? No. We repent of them. There is a whole theology of repenting of those sinful vows. I think that G. I. Williamson makes a great case for repenting of sinful vows in his book, Wine in the Bible and the Church. Yes, there is guilt for breaking even a sinful vow, but there is greater guilt in keeping that vow. Jephthah should have repented of his vow to sacrifice the first thing that came out of his house - which happened to be his daughter. He believe he was morally obligated to keep the vow. The Reformers believed that Jephthah was morally obligated to repent of that rash vow.
Setting your heart on something in creation can easily rob you of your joy in the Lord
The second lesson is that setting our hearts on something in creation can easily rob us of our joy in the Lord. That's what happened to Hannah at the beginning. She was almost consumed in an idolatrous way with having a child. Having a child became more important to her than anything else. It was only when she surrendered to the Lord the thing that was most dear to her that she found joy in God alone. And then God added blessing upon blessing, with five more children. When you have a steward's heart, He can trust you with more stewardship.
Let me make a clarification here on what it means to dedicate everything to the Lord. God can enable us to leave husband, wife, children, house, and lands without physical abandonment. What Mark 10 calls for is not husbands and wives to physically abandoning each other, but rather to give each other to the Lord. When we do that, God gives back your spouse and children as a stewardship trust. From that point on you relate to them as God's property and as God would have you relate to them. That's the best way to dedicate your children and your husband to God.
But the same passage says that when we do the opposite - when we put something in creation first and foremost, God has a habit of putting us last and making us miserable. He says, "But many who are first will be last, and the last first." The way to have your joy elevated as Hannah's was is to put God first and relinquish our idols. May each of us find great joy in doing so. Amen.
That there were synagogues in Moses day is affirmed by Scripture:
- “For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath” (Acts 15:21) Synagogues were a Mosaic institution.
- Psalm 74:8 “they have burned up all the meeting places [LXX synagogues].”
- See Lev. 23:3 for convocations or gatherings throughout the land.
- See 2 Chronicles 17:9; Deut. 18:6-8; Neh. 10:37-39
- Examples of bad synagogues (Judges 17:7; 18:30; 19:1)
Polygamy was a clear violation of Deuteronomy 17:17, which says of a king, “Neither shall he multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away…” The king was to be an example of monogamy just as an elder in the New Testament was required to be a monogamist (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:6). In Matthew 19:1-12 Jesus says that Genesis 2:24 clearly mandated monogamy – the two becoming one. David Stern points out that the Hebrew word for betrothal (kiddishin) means to be sanctified or separate from all others. This means that when a man betroths a wife, he is promising to be forever separate from all other women and devoted only to her. Solomon cannot be held up as a counter-example since Nehemiah 13:26 says that Solomon was in "sin" with his wives despite the fact that he was loved by God. Song of Solomon 8:6-7 shows that nothing but death should come between the two, and polygamy definitely comes between the two. True love reflects God's love ("flame of Yehowah" in Song of Solomon 8:6), and God's love is monogamous. See my sermon on Song of Solomon for numerous other proofs that it is a book promoting monogamy. ↩
MacArthur, John F.. Twelve Extraordinary Women (pp. 93-94). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition. ↩