Hannah - Faithful Amidst Unfaithfulness
Hannah lived in a very difficult time in Israel’s history. The nation had just come through a period when accountability was ridiculed and ‘every man did that which was right in his own eyes’, Judg. 21. 25, and when, through a series of judges, there were attempts to keep the people on a level spiritual track, but with mixed success.
The spiritual health of the nation was at a low ebb, and they were about to embark on one of the most difficult times in their history. In this atmosphere Hannah shows herself to be a woman of extreme spiritual sensitivity, and is used by God to bring about remarkable change. She would see the removal of a corrupt priesthood, and the nation governed by a man after God’s own heart, with the eventual introduction of David as King.
Hannah lived in difficult circumstances both domestically and spiritually, surrounded by some very unspiritual people, and yet she lived a life of commitment with high spiritual values and dedication to the Lord. Her story demonstrates what God can do with a life wholly yielded to Him, to His service, and the fulfilment of His purpose.
She lived in a home marked by divided affections and in which jealousy was the main driving force. Her husband did not seem to be on the same spiritual plane as she was. In 1 Samuel chapter 2, when Hannah was dealing with big spiritual issues and wished to remain at the temple, it is recorded that her husband went home. He was a man with divided affections, having two wives – Hannah and Penninah. He was a man marked by partiality – when distributing his portions and his favours he gave Hannah a double portion, thus stoking the fire of jealousy which lay in Penninah’s heart. He did not understand the issues Hannah was struggling with – the impact her lack of children was having on her at home – ‘Am I not better for you than many children?’, he declared.
Her husband’s other wife made life extremely difficult for Hannah. She had borne children and Hannah had none, and Penninah took every opportunity to taunt her with that fact. She poured out her spite continually and, in particular, at the time when the family were due to engage in spiritual exercise, ‘when they went to the house of the Lord’.
So, very much alone, in a home where there were some who tried to divert her from spiritual exercise and activity, Hannah maintained her deep desire to be what God wanted her to be.
In the Temple
In addition, the priesthood – the spiritual leadership of the nation – was in a parlous state. Eli the high priest was an old man and, while that in itself is no bar to spiritual leadership, his attitudes and actions were unworthy of the office. He was motivated by self-interest, 1 Sam. 2. 29 – ‘he made . . . [himself] fat from the offerings’. He lacked:
- Spiritual insight in that he misinterpreted Hannah’s actions, 1. 13.
- Spiritual character in that he refused to deal with the ungodliness and immorality in his family, 2. 29.
- Spiritual judgement leaving the priesthood in the hands of his sons who were patently unfit for the job, 2. 17.
He and his sons were also broadly responsible for the loss of the ark to the Philistines, 4. 11. Much could be said about the character of these men who took the lead, but they serve as warnings and examples of what leaders should not be, and to emphasize that spiritual leadership of God’s people requires the highest moral and spiritual character.
Despite the clear failure in her spiritual leaders, Hannah never let it affect her relationship with the Lord, and, in fact, it drove her closer to Him and to seek His presence the more.
Hence, from the negative aspects of her surroundings and the failure in the people around her, let us turn to the kind of person she was, how she acted, and the outcomes of her spiritual exercise.
Her knowledge of God
We should notice that she is a woman of deep spiritual insight and has a grasp of Divine purpose. Note the kind of things she says in her song, 1 Sam. 2. She understands and appreciates the glory of God’s grace and the righteousness of His judgements and His purposes for one who was yet to be born. Her understanding of how God works and of His purposes is clear and, in her song, she provides visions of events that go way beyond her own timescale and horizons.
Her experience of God’s sovereignty
She is in the Lord’s hands for the development of His purposes. The Lord had shut up her womb and, as a result, she turns to Him in her distress. The sacrificial surrender to Him of her body and its fruit enables the Lord to bring in a man of deep spiritual commitment. He will save the nation from its enemies, oversee the removal of a failed royal family, and the establishment of the man after God’s own heart, whose seed will hold the throne of Israel eternally. In the process, the corrupt spiritual leaders of the nation were removed and the king who was anointed would fulfil both kingly and priestly functions. Not only was she in the Lord’s hands for His purpose but she deliberately put herself there and in a very real sense fulfils the requirements of Romans chapter 12 verse 1.
Likewise, Mary, who may have derived some of her understanding from women like Hannah, simply put herself in the Lord’s hands to be whatever He wished her to be, and to be the vehicle for the fulfilment of His purpose. The incident serves to remind us of what God can do with a life dedicated and surrendered to Him. In addition, the way in which Hannah dealt with her son is a challenge to the mothers of today to consider what their families might achieve for God, if committed to Him in the same way. Who knows what potential for the blessing of God’s people lies in young lives brought up in the ‘fear and admonition of the Lord’?
Her humility of spirit
She refused to retaliate to the jibes and barbs directed at her. She responded with great humility, and dealt with the issues before the Lord, and refused to let the way in which she was being treated deflect her from her exercises before the Lord – she fulfilled her vows. How like the Lord, who ‘when He was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered He threatened not’, 1 Peter 2. 23.
Raising a man for God
It is clear that she knew what her son needed to become a man of God and to fulfil his service – the maintenance of his Nazarite vow, not temporarily, but for the duration of his life and service. Thus, the delivery of appropriate annual material provisions to enable him to continue his spiritual exercises. She presents the mothers and, of course, fathers of today with a challenge: how are we nurturing and caring for our young men and women? Are we ensuring appropriate provision for their spiritual development? The world will bombard them constantly with material and philosophies aimed at diverting them from a committed Christian life. Like Hannah, our task should be one of protection, and the introduction of positive spiritual ideals and principles – places they go, what they see, what they hear and listen to. All should be targeted at the development of their spiritual lives.
All on the altar
We notice that Hannah sacrificed her dearest and most valued possession for the work of God. It seems no price was too great for her to fulfil her vows to the Lord, and to ensure her place in the development of His purpose. We often ask those who don’t know Christ what it is that keeps them from trusting. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves what is there in our lives which hinders and blocks our usefulness for Him.
For Hannah there are two main outcomes of her actions. It would seem that the way in which she handled her difficult domestic circumstances broke down the barriers and created a harmony in her marriage, as year by year, following the dedication of Samuel, she and her husband continued to go to the House of the Lord to offer their annual sacrifice, 1 Sam. 2. 19. Also, her sacrificial giving up of her son ushered in for Hannah herself a period of fruitfulness in her own life – she was given a further three sons and two daughters. How true it is that no sacrifice for Him will go un-noticed or unrewarded! But there were greater and more wide-ranging consequences which would touch the people of God as a whole. As a result of her exercise and actions Samuel was born, the man who would see David introduced, the ancestor of Christ. Under Samuel’s guidance and influence, the word of the Lord would be given free course and its rightful place: ‘the Lord let . . . none of his words fall to the ground’, 3. 19. Moreover, the people were given a period of rest from their enemies and a restoration of territory which they lost.
All this because a young woman, in an act of personal sacrifice, gave back to God what He had given to her, to be used in His service and for the blessing of His people. What about us?