Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Revisiting of Hannah's Account

Happy Mommy's Day!

Pastor preached from the narrative of Hannah this morning, from 1 Samuel 1:1-28. As I observed the passage, it is one amazing account of the faithfulness of God.

Elkanah had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Peninnah bore Elkanah sons and daughters but Hannah was barren. Elkanah loved his wife Hannah with double portions, but God had closed her womb.

Year after year, Hannah had been bitterly provoked and exarcebated by Peninnah for being barren and it caused her deep sorrow - she'd weep and refuse to eat. Elkanah loved her so and tried to comfort her with his love.

One year, she was so distressed that as she prayed, she wept bitterly. She made a vow: "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 son, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and a razor shall never come on his head" (v.11).

Eli thought she was drunk but when she explained that she had poured out her soul before the Lord (v.15), Eli blessed her. Eli wished for her prayers to be answered but if the verb is parsed as an imperfect, he actually promised her that God will grant her request. (Klein, WBC, p.9). With that she went away, "her face was no longer sad" (v.18).

I have questions:

1. Out of desperation, a vow was made: what does it imply?

We need to know the context of vows in the ancient world. I quote The IVP Bible Background Commentary of the Old Testament (Walton, IVP, p.282): "Vows are voluntary, conditional agreements that are common in most of the cultures of the ancient Near East, including Hittite, Ugaritic, Mesopotamian and, less often Egyptian. In the ancient world the most common context for a vow was when a request was being made to a deity. The gift would most frequently take the form of a sacrifice, but other types of gifts to the sanctuary or priests would be options Fulfillment of a vow could usually be accomplished at the sanctuary and was a public act."

Vows were commonly made, and must be fulfilled. Vows were serious matters - very unlike in these times where vows are so lightly made, and forgotten the moment the petitions are fulfilled. Therefore in that sense, Hannah's vow was spectacular.

We must revisit our understanding of Hannah's account. Why was she so distressed? Is it because she does not have children? Is it because she was taunted and provoked?

I think not.

In my humble opinion, she was distressed because she was forgotten by God. In the ancient world, childlessness is viewed as a sign of God's punishment. It is a sign that God is no longer with her. I began to see that Hannah's concern is not so much being barren. After all Elkanah loved her so much. But she was distressed at the thought that God has discarded her, banished her. She could not live with it - she cannot live knowing that God had abandoned her.

As such, she had been searching for God's presence for many years - she prayed and wept. Until that one time, she decided that if God is willing to give her a son, as a sign of God's fellowship with her, she will offer her son back to God. If God would remove from her the ostracism, that God indeed had not forgotten her, she will give to God what will be most precious to her.

2. In Numbers 30:6-15, we learn that a woman's vow at that time can only be cancelled by her husband. If he said nothing, however, or did not oppose her, the vow had to be carried through (Klein, WBC, p.8). So why did Hannah still have to carry out her vow?

Now, Elkanah loved Hannah very much - he equated his love to more than that of 10 sons. So on that account, I believe he had cancelled her vows. There is no proof obviously, but imagine that he did and yet Hannah went on to give Samuel to God's service.

She loved God so much that she was willing to give him her one and only child. She now know that God loved her and had not abandoned her because God has open her womb. With that confirmation, she gave to God what is most precious to her in thanksgiving.

Does that not remind us of someone who did the same at the land of Moriah? Does that not remind us of God who loved us so much that he gave us His own Son?

So if you think at any time that God has abandoned you, or nobody wants you, or
life is about the worst it can get - remember that God gave you his Son.
I read Hannah's Song now in new light - more so that we live in the age of the already fulfilled promise of the coming of Messiah, looking toward the final fulfillment of the Kingdom of God, when God's presence is eternally with us in person.

Hannah's Song (1 Samuel 2:1-10)
My heart exults in the LORD;
My horn is exalted in the LORD,
My mouth speaks boldly against my enemies,
Because I rejoice in Your salvation.
There is no one holy like the LORD,
Indeed, there is no one besides You,
Nor is there any rock like our God.
Boast no more so very proudly,
Do not let arrogance come out of your mouth;
For the LORD is a God of knowledge,
And with Him actions are weighed.
The bows of the mighty are shattered,
But the feeble gird on strength.
Those who were full hire themselves out for bread,
But those who were hungry cease to hunger.
Even the barren gives birth to seven,
But she who has many children languishes.
The LORD kills and makes alive;
He brings down to Sheol and raises up.
The LORD makes poor and rich;
He brings low, He also exalts.
He raises the poor from the dust,
He lifts the needy from the ash heap
To make them sit with nobles,
And inherit a seat of honor;
For the pillars of the earth are the LORD's,
And He set the world on them.
He keeps the feet of His godly ones,
But the wicked ones are silenced in darkness;
For not by might shall a man prevail.
Those who contend with the LORD will be shattered;
Against them He will thunder in the heavens,
The LORD will judge the ends of the earth;
And He will give strength to His king,
And will exalt the horn of His anointed.

As I celebrate Mother's Day enjoying the company of my son, who has woken up by himself in the wee hours of the morning getting my gifts in the right places (like under my pillow), who came back from church and prepared the room as if I am checking into a hotel complete with butler service (yes, he is the butler attending to me now seated at the "Library Cafe" enjoying a coffee), I am being reminded and made to realise even more the immensity of God's love for us.

As I celebrate Mother's Day basking in the love of my son, I celebrate life being included in the grace and presence of God, through His Son, Jesus Christ.

As I celebrate Mother's Day with my son's "I love you's", I celebrate God with the dedication of my small little self - the offer of myself as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to Him, in my spiritual service of worship.


Photo © 2007 Gisela Royo


  1. Happy Mother's Day Pearlie - you rock! What a son you have.

  2. Happy Mother's Day Pearlie!!

  3. Wahlau, your son is really cute. Very thoughtful and creative of him. :) Happy Mother-ing Day!!

  4. Happy Mother's to you too Julia :) Your kids are just as great, and three portions of it too! Isn't it wonderful?!

  5. Thanks Melissa - yup, my Calvin loves doing such things :)

  6. Happy Mother's Day, Pearlie. I took my Mom to Swiss Chalet, upon request.

  7. Russ,
    Wow ... i bet you enjoyed yourself too :)

  8. Happy Mother's Day, Anooja :)