Passage 1 Samuel 1:9-11,
There is no question that God responds to the prayers of His children. Remember that it is the Lord who requires and expects us to pray. So we must never be surprised when God answers our prayers just as we had prayed. Rather we should rejoice and praise Him for His grace and kindness to us that He listens to worms like us, and undertakes for us by His great omnipotent hand. This way God is glorified as we learn to depend on Him, and trust Him. We also glorify Him as He graciously provides for us.
The prayer before us is that of a woman with a troubled heart. Hannah was married to Elkanah but she did not have a child, rather she had a taunting co-wife called Peninnah. Her problem is stated twice – from a human perspective and from God’s perspective: “… but Hannah had no children” (v2) This is how people saw her problem. But we also read, “But to Hannah he gave double portion, because he loved her, though the LORD had closed her womb” (v.5)
There is no doubt that barrenness is a terrible thing. Human beings display the image and love of God as they love their children and so when there is no avenue for doing this, there is discouragement. However, recognizing that children are gifts from God is very important. Children are not rewards from God should help us not to be like Peninnah who thought that her God-given gifts was a weapon that she could use to attack Hannah. This passage instructs then what to do, when children are not forthcoming in the marriage, whether for us or for others. We must pray, either for ourselves or for others. What lessons do we learn from this passage?
This broken world of sin is always trying to give you lemons that are so rotten that no lemonade can come from them. Difficulties at home make so that home is no longer home are the most difficult to handle because you are confronted by the same problem as you wake up and as you sleep. Marital problems are so prevalent today hence the high rate of divorce. Here we have a home that is not home for one of the family members. Hannah is finding everything difficult – no food was sweet to her taste buds because she lived in anguish.
As you notice Elkanah did a good job trying to comfort his distraught wife. Husbands, you have a lot to learn from Elkanah as to how you may show love to your wife. He gave her double portion and promised to be more than ten sons to her. But this could not do because if he were to be ten sons to her it will be at a cost of her husband! She could not be comforted by the husband, not because the husband was to blame but because of the sensitivity of the matter. Elkanah was only to blame for having two wives – for God only created one wife to Adam. Only Eve was the helper suitable for Adam also means that one woman is sufficient for a man, if the marriage is to be blissful.
Hannah was well-schooled in God’s instruction and so she took refuge in the Lord of her salvation who she called the LORD of Hosts – or Yahweh Sabbaoth. It is worth noting that this is the first record of this Name of God in Scripture. It means that all submit to Him, even Peninnah and her taunting and provocation. Two times we are told how she provoked her. Peninnah is called a rival. Such adjectives are used to describe the provocation – grievously to irritate her (v.6)! The result of this unwelcome home environment is that nothing was sweet to Hannah, and her eyes were always a well of tears. Her heart was sad, she was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. From the evidence here, we can say that Peninnah was also seen to be ‘a believer’ for they all went to Shiloh were the tabernacle was together as a family, showing unity and piety, and this made things worse for Hannah.
But thankfully she prayed and this is the great lesson for us. She did not tell her Elkanah to show his love for her by divorcing Peninnah, she did not threaten to divorce, she did not go to her mother or father to describe the difficulties in her marriage, she did not go to other women to gossip her co-wife. She prayed! She knew that the Yahweh, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the Father of all mercies and God of all comfort. She knew that God comforts us in all our affliction 2Corinthians 1:3-4). But she also knew that only the Lord could help no human being could. Could we not learn perseverance from Hannah – not to be so quick to give up and go back to the parents ladies?
While she accepted that her childlessness was bound up with the Lord’s providential ordering of her life (1:6), she did not think that she should glibly accept the circumstance and live with it. She boldly but with humility prayerfully came to Her Maker and made her requests to God. We notice that her prayer had a remarkable liberty – she freely poured out her heart to God. She did not keep anything from the Lord. With great humility she prayed,
“O LORD of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor will touch his head.” (v.11)
Clearly, here is a petition of a wounded woman. She comes with boldness to the Lord. Boldness does not mean brazenness, it does not mean that you blurt anything that you want, however you want. It is coming with the humility of a creature before its Maker. A true believer will always acknowledge the Creator-creature distinction and maintain it at all times. Here is Hannah who made her desire known to God in at least three ways we see her boldness to approach the throne of God:
1. The silence
“As she continued in praying before the LORD, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was speaking in her heart, only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman”(vv.12,13)
Only her lips was seen to move and in this she testified her belief of God's knowledge of the heart and its desires. Thoughts in the depth of our hearts are words to God. Nothing is hidden in the sight of the Lord. Hasn’t He indeed said that He will answer even before we call? Hasn’t God said that we pray without ceasing? Do we not learn of Nehemiah who prayed to the Lord of heaven before the king and did not say a word and yet the Lord heard him? Our God is not like those gods that must be cajoled and jump started and still fail to produce results. Here is a clear confidence in the Lord.
This was a secret prayer made in public, so it remained in a private closet. This is an indication of her humility and holy approach to God. She was not one of those who made her voice to be heard on high, Isa_58:4. Clearly she was not like the Pharisees who prayed to be seen by men. It is true that prayer is not a thing we have reason to be ashamed of yet we must avoid all display of prayerfulness as if parading our piety and spirituality. Let what passes between God and our souls be kept to ourselves, as Matthew Henry rightly observes.
2. The repetition
“…if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant and remember me and not forget your servant…”
This required a lot of boldness to approach the heavenly Father, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, reminding Him of her predicaments. God gives us freedom in prayer, not only to ask good things in general, but to mention that special good thing which we most need and desire.
Moreover, she pleaded with repetition upon repetition as if God can forget. She went on to tell the LORD to look on her affliction. Surely, the Lord does not need to be told to look – His eyes are everywhere every time, keeping watch on the evil and the good (Prov. 15:3). Besides, she repeats herself – “…remember me and not forget your servant… remember me and not forget your servant…” Are we not taught by the Lord, "And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words (Mat 6:7). Hannah is not interested in heaping up empty phrases, every word is well calculated. She is not a Gentile, you notice that she does not think that she will be heard by many words because the prayer itself is short, and furthermore she was not even uttering these words.
No prayer is exactly the same as the other and you must not try to imitate others in prayer. This is one of the errors of charismatic movement – people who are taught to prayer in the same way. At the bottom-line of prayer is a sincere, humble and contrite spirit, broken before its Maker. God is the justifier and we can trust Him in His own word that His ears are attentive to the prayers of His people. For we read, For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil." (1Pet 3:12)
3. We may make specific petitions
Her boldness is also seen in her petition. You notice that her prayer is very specific – she requested God to give her a son, not a daughter. It was not that she did not value daughter, but her heart’s desire was a son whom she was to give back to God for His service. In this petition a prayer of a believer who trusted God in His power to give good and perfect gifts according to His power and will. She did not shrink from asking her heavenly Father the desire of heart for the Lord has told us in His Word - Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. (Psa 37:4-5). Moreover, she prayed that the son given to be a perpetual Nazirite.
How shall we pray? Shall we pray in generality like the way children request their parents for a 3K car toy and hope that they can at least get 3hundred car if the father can afford or shall we actually pray for specific things? Can we actually pray – “Lord, please give me one of the maisonette houses in the Oyster Village?” Can we tell the Lord in prayer, “Lord, we are just about to do our exams and I pray that you may help me to get a first class honours second division”?
Here is not a license to teach us to educate God about the new car designs that Rolls and Royce have just released into the market. We all should appreciate that the Old Testament were all very physical and temporal. In the New Testament we pray for specifically spiritual things. For example, Paul when writing to the Ephesians, he told them how he has been praying for them that God may give them knowledge, what sort of knowledge did he pray for?
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Eph 1:16-23)
If this is not a specific prayer, then I do not what is.
We can look at how Christ prayed and see how specific He was,
"I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me…” (John 17:20-21)
This is a specific and measurable prayer – Christ prayed for a specific people – those who will (in future) believe in Him by the Apostolic preaching. He prayed for a specific thing for them – that they may all be one. What do you mean one Lord? They be one just as the Father is one with Him, that is Christ in the Father and the Father in Christ. That is they all be unitedly be in both the Father and in Christ!
4. We may make pledge to God
Hannah prayed that the Lord may give her a son so that she also may learn how to give to God. Her ‘rival’ used her children as weapons. She was going to teach what children are for – they are all for the service of the Lord who is the giver. Hannah’s pledge is not in bad taste because she was simply saying that this was an opportunity for her own sanctification in a manner peculiar to those with children. She knew why she needed the specific son she had requested, she did not ask for two sons, she asked for only one. She was strongly making a vow to God. The vow was to give her son to God for a lifelong service and No razor was to come upon his head.
The son would be by birth a Levite, and so devoted to the service of God, but he should be by her vow a Nazarite. It is possible that she had told Elkanah her intention before, and had had his consent. Vows made by women were not binding unless their husbands supported them. Vows of the parents to their children were bound to be followed by the children! Yet we see in this a pledge of gratitude. The prayer came from her heart, as the tears from her eyes but the product was a hope of thanksgiving. We would consider her prayer, particularly modest and reasonable because of the pledge, so that although she begged God to give her a son it was so that he might be fit to serve in the tabernacle. We learn here that it is fitting for parents to dedicate and even train their children for a certain vocation. In addition, it is very proper to bind our own consciences with a pledge especially in service to the Lord.
May this serve to improve our manner and content of prayer. We must not be legalistic when it comes to the manner of prayer because it is God who has told us to pray. Prayers that may appear weak and feeble may be the most important before the Lord. May the Lord give us the grace to pray, because the effectiveness of our prayer is in the Lord Jesus Christ who is our High Priest, through whom we have sure and certain boldness to come to the throne of grace to obtain mercy and find grace in times of need.
Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to Him.