The road was dusty. Peninnah’s words were like little skewers in Hannah’s heart. It was as  if she grabbed the knobby end and twiddled it just to make sure Hannah felt the point. Elkanah  was a dear and tried his best to comfort her but he  was a man and couldn’t possibly understand what  it was like for a childless woman. Hannah wished  he had Peninnah’s respect and could prevent her  hurtful outbursts. She seemed to choose the trip to  the Tabernacle, when Hannah would have loved to  give herself up to considering the blessings of her  heavenly Father, as an apt time! It had hurt Hannah  that Elkanah had remarried when she remained childless. He said he was better than ten sons to Hannah but maybe he didn’t feel the same way about  her. Perhaps, he had married again to obtain sons.

A family divided

Hannah’s name means “favoured” or “grace” and  she is put first in 1 Samuel 1:2, suggesting she  may have been the first wife. She was certainly  the favoured wife and had her husband’s affection.  Maybe her childlessness was the reason for Elkanah  marrying again. He must have regretted his second  choice, when he compared Peninnah’s spiteful nature to Hannah’s gentleness.

The four words, “adversary”, “provoked”,  “sore” and “fret” (v 6) all have similar connotations,  highlighting the anguish Peninnah’s words caused  Hannah and the malice with which they were  delivered. Hannah felt tightness, affliction and  distress (“adversary”), she was grieved, vexed  and sorrowful (“provoked”), she felt the spite,  was enraged and troubled (“sore”) and felt violent  agitation, thundering and “roaring” (a similar  feeling to that of the Psalmist in Psalm 22:1 and  32:3) in her heart (“fret”). This may seem a little  extreme to us, but Hannah’s position as a childless  wife was a distressing one without being taunted  and this taunting was not a once off. Verse 7 says  that this happened every year: Elkanah gave  Hannah a “worthy” portion and Peninnah in jealous  response taunted Hannah as spitefully as she knew  how and Hannah’s heart was broken in pieces (a  meaning of “grieved” in verse 8) every year until  the fateful year in question.

The manner of the family’s worship was not  entirely according to the Law. God required males  to attend the Tabernacle three times a year. Elkanah  took his whole family, as Joseph took Mary and  Jesus, but only once a year. It seems they ended  with a peace offering as all the family were given  portions (Lev 7:11–36), Hannah’s being, it is  suggested, twice that of Peninnah’s.

Hannah’s character is shown to be gentle and  meek, even when provoked grievously. We know  that Elkanah loved her as it is explicitly stated (v5)  and the reasons are evident in the story. Hannah  wept and didn’t eat when provoked (v7). Mixed  with her sadness was also some anger, according  to the words in verse 6, but there is no record of  retaliation against Peninnah. She shows dignity,  grace and patience under emotional persecution.  This is an attitude clearly recommended by James  (1:2–4), where he exhorts us to allow the “trying  of [our] faith” to “work patience” that we might  ultimately be “perfect and entire, wanting nothing”.

Seeking God’s intervention

And now they were almost at Shiloh and Hannah  felt the same way she had for the last decade at this  stage in the trip. She had come to dread the journey  to God’s house and dread was not what she desired  to feel about worship at all! This trip was meant to  be a joyful time, where the family renewed their  personal relationships with Yahweh, not something  to be associated with harrowing hurt.

Hannah escaped from the noisy children and  Peninnah’s presence as soon as she could. She  retreated to a quiet place in the area allotted to  lay worshippers, to pray for help and comfort.  She knew God would listen. He cared about her  sufferings as He cared for every aspect of His  creation in infinite tenderness. It was then that Eli  approached, adding insult to injury.

Eli seems to have expected blasphemous  behaviour from worshippers in the Tabernacle;  at least, he doesn’t seem shocked. He knew what  his sons did and didn’t restrain them but seems to  have felt that it was important to restrain what he  fabricated (“thought”, v13) to be Hannah’s excess.  He couldn’t, of course, have been more wrong as  Hannah “continued” (v12) in prayer.

The contrast between these two families could  not be stronger. Elkanah was apparently a caring  and godly man, if a little weak of character. Hannah  shows strength of character, being remarkably  confident in God’s faithfulness in fulfilling her  request (v18). She turns to God in her trouble (v10).  She didn’t expect to be given blessings without  reciprocating; she wanted to give back to God  (v11). She also shows respect to Eli (v15) whether  he deserved it or not. Samuel means “heard of  God”, a clear reflection of Hannah’s appropriate  gratefulness. Ultimately, it was through Hannah’s  amazing faith and sacrifice that a child instrumental  to God was born. Samuel, it appears, was dedicated  and lived a Nazarite (v11), and we all know the  dedicated work he did for God in his adult years.

Contrast this with Eli’s family. His sons were the  ‘pugilist’ or ‘boxer’ (the meaning of Hophni) and  the ‘one with the mouth of a serpent’ (the meaning  of Phinehas). They spurned Yahweh, taking the  best for themselves from the sacrifices (that  which belonged to God), and mistreating women  worshippers. Eli was a weak-willed, and perhaps  lazy, man, who did not want to put himself to the  trouble of restraining his abominable sons. How  different a real respect for God can make a family!  Hannah’s heart was light and there was a serene

smile on her face. After her prayer to her loving  Father and talk to Eli she felt that Peninnah could  no longer touch her. She was protected by faith as  her shield. She knew God would have mercy on  her and walked away from the Tabernacle precinct  with a lively lilt in her step.

God remembers Hannah, and her son is born

It was nine months later and Hannah, radiant with  happiness, held little Samuel up for Elkanah to see.  She had been “heard of God” as she had confidently  expected, and God had remembered her. Now  she considered the vow she had made that day.  Obviously the baby needed its mother for at least  the first year or so and Eli wouldn’t want a toddler,  who needed constant care, not to mention toilet  training. She would wean Samuel at the normal  time and when he was about four and starting to be  able to run little errands she would entrust his care  to God’s hand. She considered the environment of  Eli’s household. Surely Samuel couldn’t turn out  like those sons of Eli: God wouldn’t allow that after  she had dedicated her firstborn to Him. She knew it  was in His control. God expected her to fulfill her  vow and He would ensure the best outcome.

It is lovely to see Hannah’s faith. She believed  straightaway that God would answer her prayer,  going home “no longer sad” (v18). This is an  example of the practical power of faith in one  woman’s life. True faith lends boldness to the  believer in the face of problems beyond their  control. Like Hannah we can be “more than  conquerors through him that loved us” (Rom  8:37). Another indication of Hannah’s faith was  her dedication of Samuel. It was similar to that of  the Levites under the Law (Num 8). The Levites were wholly dedicated to work for Yahweh, as was  Samuel and as we should be. Yet another indication  of her faith was leaving Samuel in Eli’s care.  Imagine leaving your precious son (at that stage  probably her only child) in the doubtful tutelage of  Eli and his wicked sons who “knew not Yahweh” (1  Sam 2:12)! This shows also that she was a woman of  her word. No matter the consequences, she trusted  God to support her in upholding her word. She was  prepared to swear to her hurt and change not (Psa  15: 4). She shows true courage in this.

Elkanah supported her in her decision. For the  next few years the rest of the family left Hannah  and Samuel behind during the annual trip to the  Tabernacle. Hannah made the most of every  precious moment she had with her son. She knew  that the first few formative years were extremely  important in directing Samuel’s adult life. If  she could start imparting God’s principles and  communicate her own love and thankfulness to her  heavenly Father, it would be a sure foundation for  his later development.

Hannah performs her vow

On the day of Samuel’s dedication, when it came  to leaving him behind “forever”, Hannah’s heart  felt leaden. She would miss her innocent, obedient, sweet Samuel. But this was what she wanted. It was  under God’s auspices. He could direct events until what she hoped for came to pass. If only Samuel could help reform the priesthood and strengthen the  worship of Yahweh among all the people of Israel.

Eli remembered her after all this time. She  spoke to him after offering the generous sacrifice  Elkanah could well afford. With tears in his eyes  the old man worshipped Yahweh, encouraged and  strengthened by Hannah’s faith and experience.  Seeing Eli’s emotion, Hannah’s spiritual mind  overcame her natural sadness at leaving her little  boy behind. Her thankfulness welled up and a song  to the Father with it.

Samuel grew in body and character and Hannah  saw him every year. She did what she could,  bringing clothes for him and love. Although she was  blessed with three more sons and two daughters,  Samuel would always be her special child, the  Nazarite to God.

Eli was encouraged by Hannah’s faith. He  remembered her from her visit four to five years  earlier and, seeing the answer to her prayers and her  whole-hearted response in giving Samuel to tabernacle  service, “he worshipped Yahweh there” (v28). Eli  seems to have done for Samuel what he did not do  for his own sons, perhaps as a response to Hannah’s  example and in order to redeem the rare responsibility  entrusted to him by Hannah and Yahweh.

A close personal relationship with God

Hannah’s depth of response to God shows her close  personal relationship with Him. She displays an  extraordinary spiritual mind and an understanding of  the future in her song (1 Sam 2). This song illustrates  the strong trait of thankfulness in Hannah: she did  not take God’s blessings for granted. Hannah rejoices  in the victory over her enemies “because [she says]  I rejoice in thy salvation” (v1). It is because she  delights in the coming Kingdom that she is heard.  As Christ said, “seek ye first the kingdom of God …  and all these things shall be added unto you.” The  reference to “enemies” is not specific to Peninnah:  Hannah looks forward to a time when even the last  enemy, death, will be destroyed (1 Cor 15:26), and  she refers to it directly: “He bringeth down to the  grave and bringeth up” (v 6).

Hannah’s song makes the first reference to the  “Anointed” (“Messiah”) as a title of God’s Son.  Verse 10 is a condensed version of Psalm 2 in  its content and message, prophesying of the time  when God will give the nations into the hands of  His anointed king, to set up his just and peaceful  reign. At this time God will take issue with His  adversaries and “shall mightily roar … even to the  ends of the earth; for Yahweh hath a controversy  with the nations” (Jer 25:30–31). Hannah knew it  was not for men to seek revenge. Justice will be  ensured by the just Judge at the appropriate time.

A powerful influence for good

It is interesting to consider the influence Hannah  had on others. Samuel was powerfully influenced  by Hannah, despite the limited time they spent  together. She was a careful guide in the first few  years of his life and would surely have used her  limited yearly visits with her son judiciously. The  results of this influence can be seen in Samuel’s  life achievements, from judging Israel wisely to  organising the Tabernacle services and training the  “sons of the prophets”. A second clear influence is  on Mary, the Lord’s mother. Mary’s song of thanks at  her meeting with Elisabeth shows clear similarities to Hannah’s words, revealing her admiration of Hannah  and her example (Luke 1:46–55).

Finally, what is the effect of Hannah’s  example on us? Hannah’s lovely spiritual prayer is  documented in full and we are given considerable  detail of her life, a rarity in Scripture. Why were  the elements of her example, her emotional depths  and heights, her extraordinary faith and confidence  in God’s guidance in the minutiae of her life,  preserved for us over 3,000 years? The difference  made by Hannah, an ordinary woman of Israel, can  inspire us, the ordinary people of this generation,  to do the same. It isn’t necessarily the remarkable  deeds in life that make the remarkable difference.  Bringing up a child “in the way he should go”,  truly believing God will ensure that “all things  work together for good to them that love (Him)”,  or displaying a thankful attitude: these all are things  ordinary people can do to make a vast difference  to the positive growth of the ecclesia. This account  was recorded for a reason.