A Godly Woman: Hannah
1 Samuel 1:1-20
May 13, 2018
Rev. Sandy Johnson
Many years ago, I traveled with my two older children, Calvin and Claire to Alaska to visit my brother, Jim. At the time he was working as the director of the Alaska State Parks and he was able to get us a beautiful cabin on a lake for a few days, up near Denali National Park. When we arrived, there were posted warnings for bears. Apparently, there was a mama bear with twin cubs that was hanging around the lake. We were warned to be on the lookout.
I didn’t pay much attention to the warning, figuring that they would be more scared of me that I might be of them. So, we headed out for a tour of the park, saw nearly all of the wildlife on the “list” – red fox, moose, bear (from a distance), Dall sheep, eagles, and hawks. It was a beautiful day.
And we enjoyed several breathtaking views of “The Mountain.” That’s what they call it in Alaska, “The Mountain.” And because it creates its own weather, it’s not uncommon for tourists to come all that way and not see the whole mountain. We saw it all.
Camping at the lake we kayaked, hiked, sat by a campfire and experienced one of the most beautiful places on the planet. The last morning. we were packing up to leave and as we came around the back of the cabin, heading toward the car, we came face to face with the two cubs, just meandering down the path.
Quickly I called Calvin and Claire to come back into the cabin with me and yelled for my brother, so he would be aware when he came back from the car. We watched the three of them head down toward the lake, I suspect they were headed down to catch their breakfast.
Inside the cabin I wasn’t really scared but recognized the danger of getting between a mama bear and her cubs. Author N.K. Jemisin says that “There is no greater warrior than a mother protecting her child.” And “while there are many characteristics that make up a good mother, protecting their young is a common quality that both human and animal mothers share. The mother bear has always been the quintessential example of a mother’s love, and this is mainly because of their fierce, protective nature.”
The bible is full of stories of loving mothers. There is Rebekah who we talked about last week who deceived her husband, to promote her son Jacob. Then we Leah and Rachel who mothered Jacob’s children and Naomi who was honored by her daughter-in-law, Ruth. Elizabeth was a patient mother who believed in miracles. The most important mother in our scripture is Jesus’ mother, Mary. Mothering is a role many women strive for and others repel just as fervently. One of my dearest friends, Beth counts her blessings that she made the right decision not to have children, especially when the group of women get together and we are talking about our children.
This morning I want to share about Hannah. Her story is one of “problems, prayer, promise and praise.” It has so much wisdom I felt drawn to share it. Hannah’s story is told in 1 Samuel. Hannah was married to a man who loved her very much, but unfortunately, unable to have children.
There was much disgrace in being unable to have children, because not only would their family lineage end with them, but she had no hope of being the mother of the messiah, which was every woman’s dream. It was common knowledge that a woman who was unable to have children was either being punished for some sin or was cursed by God. Verse 5 says that “the LORD had closed her womb.” We don’t know why that was, but if God had closed it, she prayed that God could open it.
And if not having children wasn’t bad enough, Hannah was bullied and harassed by her husband’s other wife Pe-nin-nah, who had children. Why she would be so mean to Hannah was hard to say. Was she just a mean person? Or was she jealous of Hannah because her husband, El-ka-nah demonstrated great love for her by giving her double portions of food and showing tenderness toward her. Her rival provoked her severely and irritated her because God had closed her womb. How unkind this other wife was, to provoke someone who has no control over their circumstance and yet the abuse went on for years.
Yearly the family would travel together to Shiloh, to the house of the LORD. Hannah often wept and wouldn’t eat, so heavy was her grief. Her husband tried to cheer her up, but I don’t know that it had much effect. “Why are you crying?” he said. “Really Husband? You don’t know?? Why am I not eating and why am I so sad? Gee, I don’t know Elkanah, why do you think?” Then he really tries to cheer her up, “Am I not more to you than ten sons?” “Well, actually, no.” I have to give him credit for trying, but I don’t think it helped. Hannah was justifiably upset, and she needed some time.
During one trip, after dinner, she approached the temple and presented herself before the LORD and prayed. She prayed passionately and earnestly, weeping bitterly she prayed,
“LORD Almighty, if you will only look on 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.”
She was praying so hard that her lips were moving but no sound came out so that the priest, Eli, thought she was drunk. “So Eli said to her, “How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine.” 15 But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord.”
Now, all mothers have problems, right? Some problems may be larger than others, but one thing we mothers hold in common is that we have problems. Hanna’s problem was she couldn’t have children and was routinely abused by her sister-wife.
But what is different about Hannah is what she did in response to her problem. She could have given up, she could have succumbed to the negative treatment and become a bitter, downtrodden woman. But instead she prayed.
Mothers are known for pouring out their souls before the Lord – praying for our children, those healthy, those ill, those who have made difficult choices and found themselves in trouble with the law, with their family. As mothers we put our children ahead of ourselves. As mothers, we are tough, we aren’t easily put down, and when someone crosses our children, watch out!
Hannah recognized her problem and did what she knew to do: she pray. She stood up for herself, assuring Eli that she was sober, and he then affirmed her prayer and said that God had granted her petition. She left the temple a changed woman, no longer was she sad because she believed that God would provide her a miracle, that God would open her womb and she would give birth to a son. She believed the promise that the priest Eli shared, that the God of Israel will grant her petition.
She spent the evening with her husband and felt joy for the first time in a long while. In the morning they arose early and worshipped God before they traveled back home.
I love that Hannah worshipped God, not in response to God’s blessing, but because that was what her relationship with God was like. She worshipped because she trusted God, trusting in the promise made by Eli and she worshipped to exhibit her joy in the hope she felt, the first bit of hope she had felt in many years.
Scripture says, in due time, Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son and she named him Samuel. When Samuel was weaned (most likely between 3-5 years old) Hannah honored the promise she had made to God. What a beautiful promise, she is a beautiful example of a godly woman. Hannah had problems for sure, but she prayed and promised that if God answered her prayer that she would give the boy back to God.
Hannah was a woman of her word and returned Samuel to the priest Eli to begin his training as a Nazarite, a member of a religious order of the time. Every year Hannah would travel to see her son and Eli blessed she and her husband, asking God to repay Hannah for the gift she gave God, the gift of her son Samuel.
We know from 1 Samuel 2 that God honored Eli’s blessing and Hannah and her husband had five more children. Hannah had been faithful and kept her promise. She returned her praises to God for his bountiful blessings.
Hannah was a woman of God. Her faith, prayer life and commitment to God is an example we all can follow. Her story reminds us that we all have problems and when the chips are down, we must never forget to bring our petitions to God and pray in faith that the prayers will be answered. And before we have a response from God, we can be like Hannah and praise God for the blessings we can see and those yet seen.
Our role as a child of God is to remain faithful when things are going well, and when we are in the midst of problems. It is most often through the problems that we see God most clearly, rarely do we find ourselves leaning into God’s arms when everything is smooth sailing.
My prayer this morning is for all of us to seek the type of relationship that Hannah had with God. That we would recognize just how much God loves us and how much God protects us, just like that mama bear and her cubs.
Let us pray: Gracious Lord, thank you for the mothers who like Hannah do their very best for their families. Women who, in the midst of their problems turn to God with passionate prayer, longing for God to transform them. Empower us to so that we might be faithful and fully committed to you O Lord. In Jesus name, Amen.