I Samuel 1 and 2
Narrator: There was a certain man whose name was Elkanah2 He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none. 3 Year after year this man went up from his town to worship and sacrifice to the Lord Almighty at Shiloh, where Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of the Lord. 4 Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. 5 But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb. 6 And because the Lord had closed her womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. 7 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. 8 Elkanah her husband would say to her,
Reader One-“Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”
Narrator: 9 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. 10 In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord. 11 And she made a vow, saying,
Reader Two-“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.”
Narrator-2 As she kept on praying to the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk 14 and said to her,
Reader 1-“How long will you keep on getting drunk? Get rid of your wine.”
Reader 2-15 “Not so, my lord. 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. 16 Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”
Man 1-“Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”
Woman 1-“May your servant find favor in your eyes.”
Narrator: Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast. 19 Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the Lord and then went back to their home at Ramah. Elkanah lay with Hannah his wife, and the Lord remembered her. 20 So in the course of time Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying,
Woman 1-“Because I asked the Lord for him.”
We can hear the heartache and emotional pain Hannah is experiencing in this opening chapter of I Samuel. You see in Hannah’s world a family’s prospect was completely tied to the number of children they had. Children meant income, status and security. The more children – the more hands to work the field; the more warriors to protect the village. On top of that, if you didn’t want to starve to death, you needed children to take care of you when you got old. The ancient Israelites didn’t have nursing homes or social security. Your only way to die securely was to have children, and practically speaking, if you wanted to have 3 or 4 live to adulthood, you needed to have at least ten. That’s how high the morality rate was. And so having lots of children was literally a life or death issue for a family and for a nation. And that’s why women who bore lots of children were considered heroes, and barren women, like Hannah, were considered failures. You see Hannah felt useless because her culture said, “if you don’t have children, you are nothing.” Hannah felt useless. Peninnah, the rival wife, told her she was useless. Her culture told her she was useless. And because of that, Hannah’s soul thundered with pain.
As we continue our focus on prayer and dissect the parts of Hannah’s prayer in I Samuel, I see some things about her approach and attitude in prayer which I believe put her in a position to see her prayers answered.
I want to suggest to you first that God hears prayers of the soul. Verse 10 says, “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord.” In verse 15 Hannah defended her expressive and demonstrative way of praying to Eli the priest. She said, “I was pouring out my soul to the Lord.” Soul praying is born out of deep sorrow and suffering.
This wasn’t just a brief conversation. It wasn’t a quick conversation. It wasn’t a matter of fact statement. This was a spiritual act which originated in the deepest part of her soul. She got emotional. Her heart was involved. Her heart was exposed. “In prayer it is better to have a heart without words, than words without a heart,” said John Bunyan, and that’s the way Hannah prayed.—Bible Exposition Commentary – Old Testament
She made herself vulnerable. She had a lot to pour out. She had been unkindly treated by Peninnah who reminded her constantly of her barren situation. Peninnah’s comments made Hannah cry. She was so “in Hannah’s face” that Hannah experienced a kind of depression where she couldn’t even eat. But Hannah never fought back. Hannah took the abuse year after year, the Scripture says, and grieved in her heart.
Her husband was a kind man, but even he couldn’t understand what she was going through. He asked her why she was crying and tried to give her a pep talk about the fact that he loved her and though they didn’t have children they had each other. She couldn’t pour her heart out to him. He didn’t understand.
But there is a Father, there is a Friend, there is Someone who understands what we are going through. When you can’t trust anyone else, when no one else seems to understand even though they may try, Jesus can be trusted with anything and will always “get it” when we are in despair. After all, Scripture tells us that Jesus is the “Man of Sorrows” who is acquainted with grief.
Pouring out our souls to the Lord is getting before Him honestly. Look at verse 15. Hannah was willing to admit she was “deeply troubled.” When you pour out your soul before the Lord, there are no pretenses. All walls are down. When you pour out your soul, it’s not a thirty-second, paragraph prayer. There is an intensity, an emotional commitment and an expending of some energy. Hannah let all of her pain come tumbling out. Isn’t it awesome that we are given that kind of permission by God? I Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all of your cares upon Him, for He cares for you.” You can spill it all, the good, bad, and the ugly. He has invited you to do so.
When we pour out our soul to the Lord, and empty out our bitterness and pain, we create a space for God to pour in His healing and help, whatever His answer is. “Prayer is exhaling the spirit of man and inhaling the spirit of God.” ~Edwin Keith
In Luke 22, we see Jesus in garden agonizing in prayer that He could somehow avoid the anguish of the cross that was yet ahead of Him. As He poured out His soul to the Father, the intensity was so great, so fervent, so emotional and passionate that drops of blood fell like sweat from Jesus’ brow. Forget the expression, “Never let ‘em see you sweat.” God hears the dark night of the soul, full of blood sweat and tears.
Second, God hears prayers of submission.
Submission is an attitude. Several times in I Samuel, Hannah called herself God’s servant. She was humble in her approach to God in prayer.
2 CHRONICLES 7:14 starts by saying, “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray ….”
Who is He talking about when He says, “My people?” He is talking about Christians. The first thing He tells us to do is to humble ourselves. Praying with a proud heart will not be the kind of prayer God hears. Praying with an agenda or manipulative heart will not be the kind of prayer God hears. We must be submitted to God and His plans. Our desire for God must be bigger than our desire for our request to be answered.
Submission was the attitude of Christ. Philippians 2 tells us we are supposed to have the same attitude. Jesus humbled himself. He became of servant of His Heavenly Father which took Him all the way to the cross. His attitude of submission, even though He was God, even though He as the Son of God is not less than the Father or the Holy Spirit and could have demanded His rights or chosen a different path, it was His attitude of submission which allowed the events the Father ordained to play out and ultimately win Jesus the victory and to win the victory for all of us. The Son never usurped the Father. There was always a Father/Son relationship.
You see, a humble and submissive attitude keeps God in His rightful place in our lives. If our kids would approach us and ask something of us with a “you owe me” attitude or an “I deserve” attitude, they wouldn’t get what they ask for. There are several reasons. One reason is that they wouldn’t be thankful for it or blessed by it. Another reason is they wouldn’t see it as the provision of a loving father or mother who desires to pour good things into their life, but they would view it as our response to their demands. That would place them in control. It would undermine the relationship God has established with us as the parents and them as the children. Do you see why our humility in prayer is so important?
Submission in prayer means we want God’s answer. It doesn’t mean we dismiss our desires. We do ask for what we desire, but ultimately what God wants is what we hope we’ll receive. Hannah asked for what she desperately wanted. She even got specific in her prayers. She didn’t just pray for a child, but for a son. But part of being humble in prayer is admitting that God’s answer is supreme. We recognize His sovereignty and perfect wisdom. We admit that left to ourselves and our limited wisdom, we’d be in trouble. Let’s face it, if God answered every prayer the way we wanted Him to, we’d be in trouble. Ruth Bell Graham has said If God had answered her every prayer, she would have married the wrong man six times. We need to be thankful that God stands Sovereign over our prayer lives. We should thank God for His protection in that He only answers the prayers that are for our good and His glory. Do you want God’s answer for your life? Pray with an attitude of submission.
Submission to God means acknowledging that we can’t but He can. It’s a humble thing to acknowledge you can’t do something. You can’t quit something. You can’t change something. If something is going to happen in your situation it’s because God is going to get involved. But, God can’t answer a prayer that we aren’t willing to pray. Hannah acknowledged that if she was going to have a son it was because God would give it to her. She knew she couldn’t conceive, and it was going to take the miracle of God if her prayer was going to be answered.
In our prayers, we might tell the Lord, “I can’t defeat the enemy on my own. But with You, I can.” By taking this position, we join the apostle Paul in saying, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). –Charles Stanley (http://www.intouch.org/resources/article-archive/content/topic/winning_your_battles_through_prayer_article)
Submission in prayer means waiting for God’s time. Verse 20 of chapter one says, 20 In the course of time Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. If you are truly walking with God, you can be assured that before you ask, He is at work. Yes, prayer changes things, but don’t think for a minute that the God of the Universe is limited in any way or dependant in any way on our prayers. His love for us compels Him to act in our best interest and that He is always doing. Before the Israelites as slaves in Egypt ever cried out to God for help, He was on the scene raising up Moses to lead them out of Egyptian bondage.
It’s interesting that the reason for Hannah’s infertility wasn’t a medical problem. Why couldn’t she have a baby? Verse 6 of I Samuel one says that “The Lord had closed her womb.” “Well, why would God be so cruel?” He wasn’t cruel at all. He had chosen Hannah for a special task, one she would be thankful for the rest of her life. He didn’t want her to have a son until a specific time.
You see, Hannah’s barrenness was a sign, a symbol of Israel’s barren spiritual condition. Eli wasn’t exactly a stellar priest and his two sons who served in the priesthood did evil in the sight of the Lord. There was a transition on the horizon. God was transitioning Israel from a period of the time of the Judges to a new kind of leadership, and He was going to use Hannah’s son to accomplish it. Samuel would be the last Judge and the first prophet/priest. You can see that with Samuel’s birth God was setting some things up, getting some things in place. I can even see the life of Christ at work in a bit of a parallel to Samuel’s birth and life.
When Samuel was born, he took away his mother’s shame. Jesus was born to take away our shame by placing it on Himself.
Though Samuel was from the tribe of Ephraim and not the tribe of Levi, he served as a priest. Though Jesus was from the tribe of Judah and not the tribe of Levi, He served as our “Great High Priest.”
Samuel was a prophet. Jesus was the “Ultimate Prophet.”
Samuel was a king maker, the prophet to anoint the first king in Israel. Jesus was and is the King of Kings!
Even Samuel’s mother sang a song of praise to God following his birth just like Mary sang a song of praise when the angel told her she was going to have the Son of God.
You can see how God was trying to awaken Israel to a new way of doing business with God, and He had a specific way to do it and a specific time to do so. Therefore, God closed Hannah’s womb until the time was right. The very thing Hannah was praying for was the very thing God had been planning all along! She didn’t have to talk God into anything, and it was her submissive attitude that qualified her to be a part of what God had been planning.
God always has a good reason for what He does. We need to realize that we are part of a greater plan, and that a delay to us may simply be God’s way of working out His plan.
God called me to be a senior pastor three years before this church called us to come. Other possibilities were explored, but God wanted us here. When I received my call from God to be a senior pastor, this church had a pastor. I had to wait until there was a need here, and God had to get you ready for the likes of me! And I know you well enough to know that for some of you, that was a tall order!
It may be difficult to wait on the Lord, but it’s more difficult to wish you had. You don’t want to rush ahead of God. Life is difficult enough. You don’t want a job if it’s not God’s choice for you, no matter what it pays. You don’t want a boyfriend or girlfriend if they aren’t God’s choice for you. It will be too much drama and too taxing on your schedule. You don’t want to get married if it isn’t God’s person for you. It will be a lifetime of push and pull conflict. You don’t want to make a large purchase if God hasn’t directed and okayed it. Many people get into bondage simply from not waiting on God’s timing.
- God hears prayers of sacrifice.
When Hannah prayed for a son, she prayed from a heart of worship. A heart of sacrifice is a heart of worship. Prayer and sacrifice went together in the Old Testament. Hannah said she would sacrifice her son back to the Lord if she would be blessed to have him. God knows what’s in our hearts. He knows when we are bargaining with Him or are just trying to flatter Him or when we really intend to consecrate every blessing back to Him.
When God knows we’ll turn an answer around and give Him glory, when God knows our heart is to serve Him through the answer, it delights Him to move in and through us. He could see right into Hannah’s heart and the purity of her request was dramatically seen in the sacrificial component of her prayer.
Sacrifice was a component of Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. “Not my will, but yours be done,” He said. In other words, “I’ll give my life. It is Yours for the taking,” was what Jesus meant.
God hears prayers of the soul, prayers of submission and prayers of sacrifice. I know that because Hannah’s prayer time brought her great solace. Simply, great peace came over her. Once she finished praying, she looked different. Her countenance changed. Her expression was no longer sad and burdened. She started to eat. Her whole outlook had changed. Why? Because God granted her request? No, her demeanor changed before she ever had the son God eventually blessed her with. Why the sudden change? How could she go back to her home, back to her rival, back to her situation with a different attitude and outlook? She could do so because she had been heard by God. She had met with Him. He did something for her through the act of her soul prayer, submission prayer, and sacrificial prayer. Getting face to face with Jesus for intimate, emotional, and intense times of prayer just make us feel better. When we know He has heard us, we can go about life differently.
The reality that God heard her prayer is reinforced by the name she chosen for her son. The Hebrew word sa-al means “asked,” and sama means “heard,” and el is one of the names for God, so Samuel means “heard of God” or “asked of God.” (Bible Exposition Commentary– Old Testament)
Is there barrenness in your life? Is there an emptiness? Something you are longing for? Something you are desperate for? Something no one else understands? Pour out your soul. Submit yourself to the Lord. Sacrifice the answer to your request in worship to the Lord and He will bring you the solace and comfort you need to move on. Whether what you are praying for is what God has planned all along or it’s something different than you had pictured, the God who loves you will hear you and He will answer your prayer in a way that brings healing and comfort and blessing into your life.