Hannah's Prayer

by LA UBF   06/08/2008     0 reads



 Hannah’s Prayer

1 Samuel 1:1-31:13

Key Verse 1:27

“I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him.”

Tonight we are going to cover the book of 1 Samuel based on the key verse 1:27. A review of this book (as well as 2 Samuel) reveals that it was thanks to the role Samuel played that the Israelites were able to come out of the chaotic period of the judges and into the period of harmonious, peaceful, and united life under God’s beloved servant David. 

The question then is: "What (or who) shaped Samuel to be so special?" Obviously, the key verse answers the question: Hannah prayed for him. The verse tells us that Samuel is the fruit of Hannah's prayer. This then leads us to say, "It was thanks to the Hannah's prayer that the Israelites were able to come out of the lowest of lows into the highest heights! This observation motivates us to think about and learn from Hannah's prayer. Let us think about Hannah's prayer in two parts:

I. This went on year after year.

On reading the story of Hannah, particularly about her relationship with Penninah, her rival, we can easily see that Hannah did not learn to pray from the beginning. Rather, it was only after she suffered so much that she finally considered prayer as the solution. Look at 1 Samuel 1:6-7, "And because the LORD had closed her womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the LORD, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat." Here "this" refers to her barrenness, which her rival utilized to provoke Hannah. In addition, verse 7 says that "this" went on "year after year". We do not know how long this went on. Most likely it went on for many years, maybe even a decade. 

As we stand back and take a good look at her situation we can easily find that it took her a long time until she finally decided to resort to prayer for the solution to her problem. Obviously, since it was the Lord who closed her womb, it should be the Lord who also can open her womb. So prayer to the Lord is the solution. Yet, why did she drag her feet for so long in coming to the seat of prayer? Well, while it is anybody's guess, as we put ourselves in her position, we can say that a number of different reasons might have caused her NOT to come to the seat of prayer. For example, she might have said to herself, "I am not sure why I am born this way. Maybe something might have gone wrong with my reproduction system from birth." Or, "Maybe the Lord does not love me. So he intentionally withholds from me a baby." Or, "Oh, the Lord already knows what I want. So I do not have to ask the Lord for anything." Or, "Well, I can try a little more. Maybe next time I sleep with my husband, I may become pregnant." Or she might have read articles from women's magazines on the way to bear a son. So she might have tried special diets. But still nothing happened. 

Hannah's case reminds me of a fishing expedition I once went on. Once, while I was working in downtown LA, I went out to the Pacific Ocean for half-day ocean fishing along with two friends of mine at work. The fishing boat left Seal Beach around 6:00 a.m. The boat went out to the ocean for about an hour. On the boat there were about 20 plus anglers, all ready to make the catch of the day. The skipper found schools of fish. The boat stopped right above the schools of fish. People started catching fish. I also tried. But I could not catch anything. People standing on the left and standing on the right kept reeling in fish after fish. But no fish hit my line. I changed the location. But still no hit.  The sun already went up to the mid sky, and the skipper announced that it was about the time to close down and go back. All the while then all different thoughts hit me, such as, "Maybe it was not God's will that I come out to the ocean for fishing today." And, "Maybe the Lord wants to teach me how Simon Peter must have felt when he said to Jesus, ‘Master, we've worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.’ ” As a last resort I even prayed to the Lord saying, "Lord, enough is enough. Please let me catch something, even one mackerel." But still I could not catch anything. 

In our life's journey we encounter one problem after another of this sort. Like a frustrated fisherman, we eagerly desire to achieve something but things do not happen. We then look around ourselves. Then we quickly discover that others are doing far better than we are. It looks as if they are far ahead, and we are far behind. Then as we grow older we become anxious. So we try this and that. But still nothing works. 

Of course we know what the Bible says: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God" (Phi 4:6). But still we do not pray. Or like Jacob before crossing the Jabbok River, every once in a while, we do pray for the problem or problems at hand. But still, problems seem to be only getting worse. So we stop praying.  

Again, 1 Samuel 1:7 reads, "This went on year after year." Surprisingly, the problem (of not bringing the prayer topics we have in life to the Lord expecting a result) is commonplace among Christians. This is certainly true among us. We are missionaries. As missionaries to this land, we desire to be fruitful, especially in making disciples. So we try this or that. Every once in a while we ask God to help us bear fruit. We even go through special programs, such as Forty Days Early Morning Prayer. In so doing we recite Bible passages like John 14:14, "You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it," with many Amen’s! But still nothing happens. Then we stop praying. We start becoming cynical. Then the prayer topic to feed sheep or the command to make disciples of all nations gets burdensome. So in our mind, we brush them aside and spend time and energy on something else.  But in the back of our mind, we regret that we remain barren. And we are not happy. Is this normal?  

What did Hannah do in such a frustrating situation? Did she give up? No. What did she do? 

II. Hannah poured out her soul. 

Let us read 1 Samuel 1:9-18. This passage introduces us to Hannah’s prayer which serves as a model for us. Let us think about this model prayer in four ways: 

First, Hannah stood up (1:9).

Verse 9 reads, "Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up. Now Eli the priest was sitting on a chair by the doorpost of the LORD'S temple." In this passage the expression "stood up" stands in contrast with such words as "eating," "drinking," and "sitting". Technically, the expression "stood up" describes a physical movement, that is, Hannah standing up from the act of eating and drinking. In view of what she did in the following passages however we can see that this expression speaks of more than just a physical movement: it demonstrates her resolution to no longer deal with her problem through human ways. In the past she dealt with the problem through all other means except prayer. But this time it was different. She decided to no longer rely on any human solution. In the past she resorted to her own ideas, such as cheering herself up and nurturing a vague hope that her rival would behave better, or somehow that the Lord would come to her rescue. But finally she had enough; she was no longer going to take the hits. Thus she stood up and stomped to the presence of the Lord, to sue him so that she could put the matter behind once and for all.  

Second, Hannah made a vow to the Lord (1:10-11).

Look at verse 10 again. 1 Samuel 1:10-11, "In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD. And she made a vow, saying, "O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant's misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head."

One sister I know was asked to marry a man by faith. She never dated the man. Yet since she was a woman of faith, she decided to marry him. Then the day of the wedding quickly arrived. The wedding was set to happen at high-noon. But, all that morning, she did not see the groom. So she waited for the groom to at least make a phone call. It turned 11 a.m. Then 11:30, then 11:59, but still no groom. She was ready to march in. But there was no groom. Then around 12:10, the man showed up, but not wearing the tuxedo she bought for him, but wearing a regular suit he used to wear! She was really upset. But she did not make a scene. She walked into the wedding hall. Then the moment came for the couple to say, "Yes, I do." She took a glance at the man. Then she grew anxious. She was not sure whether or not this man would truly behave as a husband, but it was too late. In desperation she silently prayed to the Lord. In that emergency prayer she made a vow to the Lord saying, "Lord, if you protect this marriage, I will fully dedicate this marriage to serve you all the days of my life. Plus, in ten years we will go out to any country you want as a missionary family." Then the two exchanged marriage vows. The wedding was over. But for the first ten years of her marriage life, she did not divulge her vow and prayer topic to her husband. However, mysteriously, the Lord God answered her prayer. In exactly ten years the Lord opened the way for her family to come to the US.

Third, Hannah poured out her soul to the Lord (1:12-17).

Look at verse 15 again. “ ‘Not so, my lord,’ Hannah replied, ‘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.’ ” Let us take a good look at the passage. Let us pay special attention to the expression, "I was pouring out my soul to the Lord." Let us focus especially on three points: 1) pouring out; 2) soul; and 3) to the Lord. The two words "pouring out," especially the word "out," conjures up in our mind a picture of a man holding a bucket of water and then turning the bucket upside down towards another vessel so that the water completely empty into the vessel. We find a similar example in what Samuel did in front of the people of Israel in 1 Samuel 7:6, "When they had assembled at Mizpah, they drew water and poured it out before the LORD. On that day they fasted and there they confessed, ‘We have sinned against the LORD.’" Samuel drew water and poured it out before the Lord to demonstrate to the Israelites the kind of commitment they were making. Once you pour out a bucket of water onto the ground, there is no way to get the water back to the bucket. Likewise, Samuel prompted people to make a commitment to the Lord which is irrevocable. In the same way as Hannah poured out her soul, she made an irrevocable commitment to the Lord in regards to the vow she had made. 

On a deeper level, by pouring out her soul to the Lord, she fully committed herself to the Lord. She did not hold any part of herself back. The soul is the vessel to hold one's self. So pouring out her soul to the Lord is the same as emptying herself fully into the Lord, so that the Lord would accept her, and use her in however manner and for whatever purposes the Lord might have.  

In my opinion this is what prayer is all about. I say that this act of pouring out one's soul to the Lord (not to the ground or to anyone else) is the key essence of prayer. As we know, the Lord cannot contradict himself, for he gave each person the right to do whatever he or she wants to do with his or her life. For this reason the Lord is never going to infringe on our right to do whatever we want to do with our life. In order for him to be able to do any work he has to wait for his children to come to him and make themselves available for the Lord to work in and through them. Many people say, "I am the clay, you are the potter; I am the work of your hand; Lord, please do whatever you want to do with me." But they still retain a tight control over their lives. They never surrender themselves to the Lord for the Lord to work on them. 

Hannah used to live as her own woman, but not any more. For the first time she completely surrendered herself to the Lord. “ ‘Not so, my lord,’ Hannah replied, ‘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.’ ” Have you ever prayed to the Lord by pouring out your soul to the Lord? With what prayer topic or topics have you done so? 

Fourth, her face was no longer downcast (1:18).

Lastly, let us look at verse 18. "She said, ‘May your servant find favor in your eyes.’ Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast." Eli was unjustifiably harsh on Hannah. Although Eli trampled upon her sense of dignity, instead of being indignant, she showed Eli full respect, which suggests that through pouring out her soul to the Lord, she had already emptied herself and her ego was no longer in the way. Rather she rose from the seat of prayer with the attitude of an unworthy servant of the Lord. So she said to Eli, "Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief." Eli answered, "Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him." Then she said, "May your servant find favor in your eyes." Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast. This passage shows us that she no longer found herself as a worthy woman. The Lord set her free from the bondage to her selfish ambition. Finally, she was no longer her own woman. She came out as the Lord's humble servant, ready to serve the Lord purely for God's own glory.  Now that she humbled herself, the Lord found her worthy of the blessing, that is, becoming the mother of Samuel, one of the great prophets in Israel, plus having many more children. 

In conclusion, we learned that thanks to Hannah's devotion to the Lord in prayer, the Lord God blessed the Israelites through Samuel. Thanks to the Lord’s favor, Samuel in turn served the people of Israel with integrity as a judge and prophet, and just not any prophet, but a great prophet, for his stature is almost equal to that of Moses. Samuel's service elevated the Israelites from the lowest pit to the high plane of spirituality, all through one noble woman of prayer, Hannah, the mother of Samuel.

One word: Hannah's prayer

Class Exercise

1 Samuel 1:1 – 31:13

Key Verse 1:27

What does “Samuel” mean? ________________________________________________

1 Samuel 1:27 reads, “I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him.” 

Have you ever prayed for anything (or anyone)?_______________________________

What was the Lord’s response to your request? _____________________________  

After receiving Samuel, Hannah gave him back to the Lord. In what respect was it not easy for her to do this? 

How many children did the Lord bless Hannah with, after having Samuel?: (       ) sons and (      ) daughters.

[Homework # 1] Read 1 Samuel 1:10-18 along with James 4:1-10 and describe one thing you learned about prayer.

[Homework # 2] Read 1 Samuel 2:5. What does this passage indicate about the differences between the fruit of prayer and the fruit of the work of one’s own hands?