Hannah’s Prayer for a Son

June 16, 2024 / No. 4250M

Dear radio friends,

We studied Ruth in our last broadcast. She lived during the beginning of the period of the Judges. Now we study a woman named Hannah, who lived very close to the end of this period. The period of the Judges was one of great spiritual decay in Israel. Men did what was right in their own eyes, much like the society and church world today. Many families in Israel were living in worldly-mindedness. They thought little of the covenant God had established with them and their children. But there were also faithful families in Israel, men and women who understood their place in the church. These looked in faith for the coming of the Messiah. They were serious about their inheritance in the land of Canaan.

Two such people were Elkanah and his wife Hannah. This brings us to the account we consider today. We find it in I Samuel 1:9-18. These verses read:

So Hannah rose up after they had eaten in Shiloh, and after they had drunk. Now Eli the priest sat upon a seat by a post of the temple of the Lord. And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore. And she vowed a vow, and said, O Lord of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head. And it came to pass, as she continued praying before the Lord, that Eli marked her mouth. Now Hannah, she spake in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard: therefore Eli thought she had been drunken. And Eli said unto her, How long wilt thou be drunken? put away thy wine from thee. And Hannah answered and said, No, my lord, I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit: I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but have poured out my soul before the Lord. Count not thine handmaid for a daughter of Belial: for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief have I spoken hitherto. Then Eli answered and said, Go in peace: and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of him. And she said, Let thine handmaid find grace in thy sight. So the woman went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad.

What lay behind the events of this passage is that Elkanah, Hannah’s husband, had married two wives. The one Peninnah, and the other Hannah. Elkanah seems to have loved Hannah more than Peninnah, but God withheld children from Hannah. Peninnah, on the other hand, was given both sons and daughters. It was not that Hannah was in competition with Peninnah, but there was indeed strife between the two of them. Perhaps because Elkanah showed favoritism toward Hannah, Peninnah did not miss an opportunity to put in little jabs in order to hurt Hannah. Verse 6 tells us that Hannah’s adversary provoked her sore. It was in light of all this that the events of the account before us now unwind. They take place in the tabernacle in Shiloh, where the aged priest Eli judged Israel. This event is a bittersweet account that teaches us something about our children and mothers and fathers in Zion.

I.   A Grieving Soul

Every year Elkanah took his two wives and his children to the tabernacle in Shiloh to offer sacrifices and to worship. It was probably for the Passover Feast. When it was time for him to offer, he would give to Peninnah and her children their portions to be used to worship Jehovah. To Hannah he actually gave extra, for he loved her, we learn in verse 5. This was a time of joyous celebration for God’s people, but Hannah was not so caught up in the festivities of this feast day. We read in verse 7 that she wept and did not eat. In verse 8 we learn that her heart was grieved. In verse 10 we find that she was in bitterness of soul. Such grief was not caused for lack of love on Elkanah’s part. Neither was it the fact that Peninnah provoked her every time they went up to the tabernacle to worship, although this no doubt added to Hannah’s grief. It was like rubbing salt in her wounds. When we are hurting, to have someone mock us or make sideways remarks about what is bothering us makes matters all the worse. All of us can understand that. Peninnah leaves us a rotten example and exposes us for what we truly are when we follow her example: adversaries who provoke another. But Hannah’s pain was not even found in this constant provoking of Peninnah.

The cause for Hannah’s pain and grief, we are informed at the end of verse 5, was that “the Lord shut up her womb.” Hannah was barren. Striking, is it not, how many godly women in the Bible suffered from this same malady. Offhand, I can think of Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Elisabeth. Barrenness is still a malady many women today must deal with. Such women can certainly relate to the ache in the heart of Hannah. People today seldom think of the truth that it is God Himself that withholds the birth of a child. God gives and God withholds. God is in sovereign control of the birth of every child. With all the modern means of doctoring, as well as of contraceptives, man thinks he is in control of the birth or prevention of the birth of children. But it is God who gives us our children. It is God who controls conception, the development of the baby in the womb, and the birth of our children. And it is God too who prevents a woman and her husband from having a child. Hannah recognized that truth. Out of the grief of her heart and the bitterness of her soul she prayed unto the Lord. We read in verse 10, “And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore.”

But there is something more behind this bitterness of soul that caused Hannah to weep sorely and go into the house of God to pray fervently for a child. It was not merely the maternal instinct of a woman to have a child. We do not wish to discount this, of course. It is part of the creation of a woman, her very physical makeup, that causes her to desire to have children. Even the wicked of this world clamor over children.

So, there certainly is a natural desire on the part of a woman, with some exceptions, to have a child. But this was not the ache of Hannah’s heart, as is evident from her prayer and the subsequent actions of her life after the birth of Samuel. Hannah was motivated by her desire to bring forth children of the covenant. Mind you, at a time in Israel when this was far from the minds of many a husband and wife, this woman represented believing Israel! It is striking that when one reads through the Old Testament and the accounts of faithful women, one sees this attitude constantly. This was not true only of those women we cited: Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Elisabeth, but it was true of others too. Every believing woman in Israel was dedicated to giving birth to children who would represent the cause of God in the following generation. God had promised Abraham that His friendship, fellowship, love, and favor would belong with Abraham and his children after him in his generations. Israel was blessed of God in the generations of believers. These were God’s people, and they were His chosen children. It was truly this that motivated godly wives and mothers. Believing women in Israel took a vital interest in God’s covenant with His people. They were genuinely excited about their place in bringing forth the covenant seed of the church.

But there was more yet involved in Hannah’s bitterness of soul. We read in verse 11, “And she vowed a vow, and said, O Lord of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head.” Hannah specifically asked of God a man child. She wanted to have a son. No, that does not mean that a son is more important to parents than a daughter. Daughters, as we are finding out from our series of sermons, are just as important to the church as sons are. But the desire of Hannah was rooted in the Old Testament promises that were given to each family in Israel. You see, each family received its own inheritance in the land of Canaan. This inheritance was passed on to the sons of a man so that it would stay in the family. Mothers desired sons in order that their lot, their particular place within the inheritance of Canaan and within God’s church, was assured from one generation to the next.

But with this was also the conviction that the Messiah was coming—and that He was going to be born out of the line of the covenant. Believing women in Zion desired the coming of that Messiah. They longed for it. Out of that desire they also desired to give birth to a son. In this, especially, we find the application of God’s Word to the church today. Not that Christ has yet to be born, so that in faith we are looking for Him to be born out of our generations anymore. But that does not change our desire as believing parents. God’s covenant is established with us and with our children in our generations. The wicked, unbelieving world does not have such a noble cause to motivate them to have children. God’s people do! God’s people today desire to bring forth into the rank and file of God’s church those who will represent that cause in the generation to come. We firmly believe that God preserves unto Himself a church chosen to everlasting life. This church exists from the beginning of time to the end, when Christ comes again. It does so, because God preserves His church in the generations of believers who bring forth God’s people.

What a glorious calling God gives to men and their godly wives in the church today! There is nothing more glorious, even though the world frowns on it! A believer’s thought process is different from that of unbelieving husbands and wives. Our goals and desires are so much different than theirs! Our sights are on the church and its prosperity! May all those who love God in their hearts prosper and increase! That is our desire: that the cause of Jesus Christ and His church might continue in our generations! Such is the godly example Hannah now leaves for us.

II.  A Humble Vow

All this is evident in the vow she speaks to Jehovah. We already took note that every year Elkanah would take his wives and children to the tabernacle in Shiloh to sacrifice and worship. It was a time of festivity. Everyone would enjoy this time away from home in order to attend to the worship of God. But Hannah was in bitterness of soul. In that bitterness she made her way into the tabernacle where Eli, the aged priest, ministered. Eli observed Hannah as she prayed. Because of her fervency, Hannah, though silent in prayer, nevertheless mouthed her words with her lips. Eli thought she was drunk. Eli admonished her, and Hannah responded by telling him that she was fervent in prayer because of her complaint and grief. Eli, with understanding, now replied once more: “Go in peace, and God grant you your petition that you asked of him.”

What was her petition? That if God gave her a son she would dedicate him unto the service of God all the days of his life. This petition was in the form of a vow. A vow, as we found with Ruth, is a sincere pledge or promise made. Yet, it is more than a promise. It is a pledge that is unbreakable because it calls on God as witness—similar to an oath. Though Hannah does not call on the name of God as a witness, we can truly say this was a vow she made because she made it to God Himself. God was her witness. The content of the vow is humbling.

If God were to give her a man-child, a son, she would in turn give her son to the Lord all the days of his life. She adds, that there shall no razor come upon his head. This was the vow of a Nazarite—a person set apart by God to represent holiness and consecration to God. A Nazarite either took upon himself this vow or his parents did it for him. Sometimes a man was a Nazarite for a number of years, but others, such as Samuel now, was a Nazarite for life. A Nazarite did not cut His hair, did not drink strong drink, and did not touch a dead body. This was to show that he was separated unto God. No manner of uncleanness would characterize him. But this vow or pledge of Hannah included this: “If you will give your handmaid a son, I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life!” Again, Hannah believed that it is God who gives life. But she also believed this, that her son must be dedicated unto the Lord all the days of his life. For Hannah this meant that she would take her son, after he was weaned, to the tabernacle to dwell there and serve Jehovah there. In the rest of the verses of I Samuel 1, we find that she did exactly that.

A beautiful truth stands out for believing parents in the church in this vow Hannah made. When she said, “I will give my son to the Lord all the days of his life,” she recognized that this son belonged to the Lord. We say this because later Hannah told Eli, in verses 27, 28, “For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him: Therefore also I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord.” Hannah states, I have lent him to the Lord. Literally she said, “I have granted him to the Lord.” It was not as if she thought Samuel was hers and she would lend God her son to His service. The idea expressed here is that Samuel belonged to God, and she would do wholly what she must do to raise Samuel in the fear of His name. In other words, Hannah believed concerning children what David expresses in Psalm 127, that children are a heritage of the Lord. They are God’s inheritance. Children born into the church and covenant to believing parents are God’s children! He gives them to believing parents as a heritage! An inheritance is a property or possession that descends to an heir. Parents are heirs of God to whom God passes on His children!

They are not merely the next generation of believers, but we must view our children as a precious treasure that belongs to God, a treasure that He lends to believing parents for a time. That is the unique way a believer alone can view his children. What a privilege, what a blessing our children are to us as believing parents. They are God’s reward to a husband and wife of His church. Children bring joy! Do you hear that, believing parents? Mothers? Children are a gift of God in very truth! God’s reward to our marriages. No wonder Hannah grieved so much. No wonder she longed for a child.

We need to be reminded of that, don’t we? When tied down with children, unable to go places because of our responsibility toward the care of our children. Those children are the joy of our life because they belong to God and He has given them to us for a time. Happy is the man whose quiver is full of them! Children, a heritage of the Lord.

But this also speaks of our calling as parents. If our children are God’s, then He places on us the responsibility to raise them as His children. We must exhaust ourselves in instructing, admonishing, nurturing our children in the fear of God’s name. We must give them, dedicate them, grant them, to the Lord. In fact, we take vows on us too, do we not? When we have our little children baptized, we vow that we will dedicate our children unto the Lord. Our vows are upon us too. When God granted the request of Hannah, she paid her vow.

III. An Amazing Confidence

 It is striking that Hannah was confident God would grant this request. She must have prayed often to the Lord that He give her a son. Those requests were not answered in the positive. But now Hannah was content with this prayer she offered in the tabernacle. Perhaps it was in part because of what Eli said to her. But having made this vow before God in prayer, she left the tabernacle with the amazing confidence that God heard her request and would answer her in His grace. She left off weeping. She put the bitterness of her soul aside. Having made her complaint, she left the tabernacle. She got up and ate and was no more sad. Was she sure God would now give her a son? Probably not. But she was confident that God heard her prayer and that everything was in His sovereign hands.

God granted the request of Hannah. He gave her a son. She named him Samuel, which means “asked of God.” She raised Samuel for a number of years, then dedicated him to the service of the Lord in the tabernacle. God worked faith in the heart of His little boy. He grew to be the last judge in the nation of Israel. Truly God is good to us in giving us our children and working faith in their hearts according to His promise. We dedicate our children to Him.