1- HANNAH'S BURDEN
Read 1 Samuel 1:1-28
It is not always easy for us to understand the purpose and plan of the Lord God. Sometimes His blessings come in the midst of great trials and suffering. God's ways are not the same as ours.
As we begin the book of 1 Samuel, we meet a man by the name of Elkanah. Verse 1 tells us two things about Elkanah. First, he was from Ramathaim. Bible scholars seem to agree that Ramathaim is also known as Ramah, located in the territory of Benjamin. This is confirmed for us in verse 19 where it clearly states that Elkanah and his wife Hannah lived in Ramah. Second, Elkanah was a Zuphite. This reference is likely to the fact that Elkanah was the son of Zuph as recorded for us in verse 1 (see also 2 Chronicles 6:33-36).
Elkanah had two wives. The name of the first was Han-nah. His second wife was Peninnah. While Peninnah had children, Hannah had none (verse 2). We need to under-stand how difficult this would have been for Hannah. We will speak about this later.
Elkanah was a religious man. From verse 3 we see that it was his practice each year to go up from his town to worship the Lord in Shiloh. At this time in the history of God's people, Shiloh was the center of worship. Jerusa-lem would eventually take on this role but in the days of Samuel, Shiloh was where the ark of the Lord was located (see Joshua 18:1). The priest of the day was a man by the name of Eli. He was assisted by his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas.
Verses 4 and 5 tell us something else about Elkanah. He would provide his wives with portions of meat for sacrifice. It should be noticed that part of the sacrifice would go to the priest and the other part would be eaten by the person offering the sacrifice. While his wife Peninnah had sons and daughters to feed with this meat, Elkanah gave a double portion to Hannah who had no children. Verses 5 and 6 are quite clear as to the reason for this. Elkanah loved Hannah and felt her pain at not being able to have children. He wanted to encourage her and remind her of his love for her even though she had not given him a child.
There was another reason why Elkanah gave Hannah a double portion of meat. He did so because of the way that Peninnah treated Hannah. Peninnah kept provoking Hannah and irritating her. This may have taken the form of ridicule and mocking because Hannah could not have children. Peninnah was merciless in her irritation. Verse 7 tells us that every time they went up to Shiloh as a family, Peninnah would provoke Hannah to the point where Hannah would end up crying and would not eat. This grieved Elkanah because he loved Hannah. Again, the gift of extra meat was to show her that he was aware of her pain.
Elkanah was sensitive to Hannah and her pain. He would speak words of comfort to Hannah when Peninnah provoked her. He would encourage her to eat. He re-minded her of their relationship: "Don't I mean more to you than ten sons," he would say (verse 8). In saying this he was reminding Hannah that he loved her even though she could not give him a son. Obviously Elkanah's words were of some comfort to Hannah. In verse 9, we have record of her eating again.
On one particular occasion, after eating, Hannah stood up and cried out to the Lord "in bitterness of soul" (verse 10). That day she made a vow to the Lord. She told Him that if He would give her a son, she would give him back to the Lord for all the days of his life. She also told the Lord that his hair would never be cut. This is likely a reference to a Nazirite vow of separation (see Numbers 6:1-21).
As Hannah prayed, Eli the priest was nearby. He noticed that her mouth was forming words but there was no sound coming from her lips. This seemed strange to Eli and he began to wonder if she was drunk. He challenged her on this, accusing her of drunkenness.
It is hard to say why Hannah did not speak her words to the Lord out loud. It may be that her request was a very personal one. This prayer was really between her and God alone. It may also have been because of the intensity of her pain.
In verse 15, Hannah told Eli the priest the reason for her strange behavior:
I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the LORD. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.
This word from Hannah seemed to reassure Eli that she was not drunk. He backed off and blessed her instead saying: "Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him." There was something about this encounter that seemed to bring comfort to Hannah. Verse 18 tells us that she left Eli's presence, had something to eat and was no longer downcast. It seems that she had a peace in her heart that day about the request she had brought to the Lord for a child. Maybe she knew that day that God had heard her.
Something had happened when Hannah prayed to God that day. Her peace of spirit is indicated in the fact that she rose up early the next morning and worshiped the Lord before returning home to Ramah. Verse 19 tells us that God remembered Hannah. He answered her prayer and she conceived and gave birth to a son...