The first chapter of the first book of Samuel opens with the story of Hannah. Hannah was an ordinary woman of her day, married to a man who had another wife. The name of her husband was Elkanah and the second wife was Peninnah. Peninnah had sons and daughters, but Hannah had no children. Whenever Elkanah took his wives and children to Shiloh for worship, Peninnah would take the opportunity to harass Hannah concerning the fact that she was unable to bear children. On those occasions, Hannah would become depressed and overcome with crying and loss of appetite. Although Hannah was childless, Elkanah loved her and hated to see her unhappy. He tried to comfort her by expressing his love to her both verbally and by giving her double portions of the provisions he would provide Peninnah. Nothing Elkanah did could console Hannah as long as Peninnah made fun of her inability to have children (1Sam.1:1-8).
On one of these occasions in Shiloh, Hannah became so overcome with anguish and much crying that she could no longer bear the ridicule and humiliation of her provocateur. It was in a melancholy state that Hannah decided to take her troubles to God. She found a quiet corner in the house of God, and there she poured out her heart to God. Hannah asked God to take away her misery by giving her a son. She vowed that if receive her request, she would give the child back to the Lord (1Sam.1:9-11).
The following year, Hannah was unable to go on the pilgrimage to Shiloh with her husband because she may have been in the final months of her pregnancy or she was nursing a newly born son. God had answered her prayers. She promised her husband that she would travel to Shiloh with him the following year, at which time the child would be old enough to be left with the priest to serve in the house of God (1Sam.1:24-28).
When I was a young boy, I was fascinated with the name Hannah. My fascination arose from the fact that the name is the same when spelt backwards. Today, as a Christian man, I am intrigued by the life of this humble woman of the Bible. Though her name does not appear in the faith chapter of Hebrews 11, she is undoubtedly representative of a Christian woman whose life can inspire us to Godly living.
For me, Hannah displayed four character traits that distinguishes her as a godly woman.
1) Hannah was a humble woman
While Hannah was pouring out her anguish to the Lord and asking him for a son, Eli the priest noticed that her lips were moving but nothing audible came from them. He immediately assumed that she was drunk and proceeded to rebuke her sharply (1Sam.1:12-14). Although Hannah was in a state of mental disequilibrium from the trauma inflicted on her by Peninnah, she reacted to Eli calmly and with humility. She gently and respectfully explained her situation to Eli after which he did not even offer an apology but only expressed the hope that God would grant her request (1Sam.1:15-17). How often do we explode in anger when others misunderstand us? Hannah seemed to know and follow the words of Jesus spoken in Mat.5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” What a Christian approach from an Old Testament character who was not familiar with the teachings of Jesus!
2) Hannah did not seek revenge
At no time when Peninnah harassed her did Hannah respond in kind. She could have capitalised on her husband’s love for her, by persuading him either to get rid of Peninnah or to make her stay at home when they took those trips to Shiloh. When God eventually blessed her with a son she did not take the opportunity to parade him before Peninnah to get even with her. Hannah instead concentrated on praising and thanking God for removing her shame and misery. She blessed the Lord for his deliverance. Read her prayer in 1Sam.2:1-10.
Hannah knew how to let God do the avenging. Hannah was obedient to Rom.12:19 and 1Pet.3:10. These two verses instruct us to refrain from giving evil for evil but instead return good for the evil others may inflict on us.
3) Hannah endured and waited on God.
Hannah endured much taunting and provocation at the hands of Peninnah. Year after year she suffered. Crying and depression were her yearly experience while her rival gloated over her misfortune. But Hannah prayed and waited patiently on the Lord. The Lord heard and answered her prayer.
Sometimes we have burning issues that need resolving. Issues relating to marriage, children, our job, our friends and family that keep us awake at night. Give them to God as Hannah did. Tell your troubles to Jesus. Lay your burdens on him. The Psalmist said, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit; he put a new song in my mouth, …” Ps.40:1-3.
Regardless of the situation, we are encouraged to be patient in affliction and faithful in prayer (Rom.12:12). God will deliver us and reward us for being patient and steadfast.
4) Hannah kept her vow
Hannah promised God that if he gave her a son she would give him back to the Lord for all the days of his life (1Sam.1:11).
After Samuel was born, Hannah took care of him until he weaned. On one of her annual journeys back to Shiloh, she took the boy and dedicated him to the Lord’s service (1Sam.1:28). She left Samuel in the care of Eli, the priest who trained him to serve at the altar. Who would want to give up their only son who came through much agony and pain? It must have been hard for Hannah to hand over her son to Eli. Perhaps she struggled with the thought of breaking her vow. However, Hannah concluded that the pledge she made, she had to keep, so she went ahead and fulfilled her promise. This story reminds us of what God the Father did in giving up his only Son Jesus Christ that we could have eternal life.
So often, in our distress, we make promises to God that we refuse to fulfil. Many promised God that they would serve him if he healed a spouse. After the spouse improves, they forget their promise. The Psalmist in Psalm 66:13-15 said he would fulfil his vows he made when he was in trouble. God is faithful to his word. Hannah was devoted to her word. We too, ought to be reliable and trustworthy in keeping our promises.
Hannah suffered at the hands of someone who should have offered her compassion and understanding in her plight. Despite all she suffered, Hannah allowed God to direct her life rather than turn to pride, revenge and bitterness. In this present life, we often face difficulties similar to what Hannah encountered. By the grace of God and the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, we can endure patiently and see God work on our behalf as he did for Hannah.