I’ve read a lot of pastoral and scholarly treatments on 1 Samuel 2 that dive directly into the depths of Hannah’s prayer; I haven’t read so many that consider the significance of its timing. Hannah’s words of prayerful exultation don’t occur when she first finds out she’s pregnant, as with Mary’s. Nor do they happen just after she’s given birth, like Eve. Hannah’s prayer occurs several years after God has answered her previous prayer in giving her a son, when she’s preparing to honor her vow to God and give her son back.
In “Through His Eyes – God’s Perspective on Women in the Bible”, Jerram Barrs asserts that, through Hannah’s words, “we come to believe that Hannah gives up Samuel to Eli joyfully” (165). Later, he characterizes it, in contrast to her earlier prayer, as a “song of happiness” (166), a notion at which I arched one highly skeptical, perfectly sculpted lady eyebrow when I first read it.
Two years after I had cried myself to sleep over my singleness after my best friend’s wedding, I had finally walked down the aisle at my own, and was now laying in a hospital bed in the maternity ward, gazing at my new baby girl as she slept in a warm, padded crib next to me.
For the first nine months of her life, my daughter had lived under my heart, her body literally tethered to mine. For 24 hours a day, my body had given itself over completely to nourishing, strengthening, and protecting hers. Then the day came when my body pushed hers out into the world and away from mine. Now she slept, in peaceful vulnerability, all by herself.
My daughter was barely six inches away from me, but it felt like sixty miles. It was as though a piece of my heart had been torn from me and was clinging stubbornly to hers, still beating. The feeling faded with time, but has never entirely disappeared.
With each milestone of separation and independence that followed (for her and the two sisters who came after her) – the first night at home in her own crib, the first morning at preschool, the first sleepover, the first boy-girl party, the first driving lesson – it would return. If you ask most women with children, they’ll describe something similar – that whenever our children are out of the protective reach of our eyes and our arms, a piece of our heart goes with them.
The environment in which Hannah was leaving her barely preschool aged son was not one that was exactly primed for being raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Samuel was being handed over to the custody of a passive old man with failing eyesight, and his two grown sons who treated the house of God like their personal party palace. Aspirational models of biblical manhood they most certainly weren’t.
And let’s not forget the situation to which Hannah would be returning, after she pried her beloved son’s arms from her neck and and travelled back home to Ramah without him. We can hope that Peninah’s taunting might have abated in the wake of Samuel’s birth. But the noisy presence of her children would have served as a continual reminder of the son Hannah could see and hold only once a year. And Elkanah, the husband who could have intervened but didn’t, would probably have continued in his clueless confusion over why his wife was still crying.
It’s no wonder modern Bible translators go back and forth on whether Hannah says she is really giving her son back to God, or if he’s just on loan.
However much joy Hannah expresses in the opening lines of her prayer, it was most certainly a joy mixed with tears. But in this way, Hannah’s prayer models the attitude Paul exhorts the Corinthians to pursue in 2 Corinthians 6:2-10 of rejoicing in the midst of sorrow. Hannah’s words are the words of a woman who has learned through experience how to bear up under the trials and tribulations of life, not by pretending they don’t exist, nor by giving in to despair, but by leaning fully and continually on the One who has been sovereign over them.
The LORD is wiser and stronger than any adversary. (1 Sam. 2:1,3,10)
All the world’s resources in avoiding or overcoming adversity – strength, riches, power – are His. He grants them, and withholds them, as He sees fit. (1 Sam. 2:4-8)
The power over life and death is His. (1 Sam. 2:6)
All He requires is our faithfulness. (1 Sam. 2:9)
God had proven Himself faithful to Hannah in the trials of her past. He would be equally faithful to her, and to her son, in the future.
Hannah’s prayer is the prayer any of us can pray whenever we are standing in between God’s deliverance from adversity or trials in our past, and the prospect of adversity overshadowing our future.
When the job offer finally comes, or the abusive boss moves on.
When the medical report reads“negative”, or the pregnancy test reads “positive”.
When an LEO husband comes home safely from his shift.
Or an African American son comes home safely from a party.
When the job offer hasn’t come, and the abusive boss is still there.
When the medical report reads “positive”, or the next pregnancy test reads “negative”.
When your husband is deployed into combat, or your wife is being wheeled into brain surgery.
When your child starts preschool, or public school, or college on the other side of the country.
As you drive away from the rehab center, the prison, or the cemetery.
As a white woman hugs her husband or son goodbye before he drives to work.
As an African American woman does the same.
Through Hannah’s prayers, and what God both before and after them, we see how God was working to do abundantly beyond what Hannah could ever ask or think. In time, God blessed Hannah with other sons and daughters. But He did so much more than that.
The son Hannah had given to God, grew up to anoint the king through which an even greater King, the promised Messiah, would come. In his incarnation, life, death and resurrection, Jesus experienced everything to which Hannah testified. He suffered weakness, poverty, hunger, and persecution. He lived a fully human life of perfect faithfulness to God. He laid his life down and subjected himself to death. And now He sits, exalted, at God’s right hand, preparing to return to judge the earth and make all things new.
Hannah’s prayer models a way of praying over, singing about, and talking about God’s sovereignty and care in the midst of all of our circumstances – past, present, and future – because of the One who reigns over them all.