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Hannah: A Story of Giving
In the Old Testament we can find a moving story about a great woman of faith. Hannah’s life was full of disappointment and sorrow. She was married to a man who had two wives. That in and of itself couldn’t be easy. We learn in 1 Samuel 1, however, that her husband’s other wife, Peninnah was able to have children and Hannah wasn’t.
Peninnah wasn’t only able to have children, she was also Hannah’s rival who kept provoking her and irritating her. Not being able to have children in the first place is one thing, but having a rival who could and who would flaunt it before her would have been a terribly disappointing experience.
When we first meet Hannah in 1 Samuel, her disappointment was so great that she couldn’t eat from weeping.
“…Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
Many times we look to others to solve our problems. We expect them to fulfill us and ease our disappointments. How many times have you heard phrases such as:
- “If I could just find a man to share my life with, I’d be happy.”
- “If I was married…”
- “If I had children…”
- “If I had a job…”
- “If I could stay home…”
- “If my husband would just look at me when I talk to him…”
- “If… if… if…!”
1 Samuel 1:1-8
There are many women who can well understand the hurt, bitterness and disappointment that Hannah felt all those years. While I have three children and cannot relate to that specific disappointment, I think we can all relate to disappointment in general.
Not everything works out as we have planned. Some of us aren’t as financially blessed as others. Some of us are stuck in dead-end jobs or lousy neighborhoods. Sometimes the relationships in our lives can disappoint us. At this point in your life, maybe you’re even disappointed in yourself.
In all of Hannah’s disappointment, however, she did have something that her rival did not. She had the love of their husband, Elkanah. When she was so upset that she couldn’t eat, he tried his best to help her.
He tried to understand, but he couldn’t. He wanted to solve her problems, but he couldn’t. If he could have taken her problems away, he would have, but he couldn’t. Elkanah couldn’t solve Hannah’s problems, only God could.
There are some things in this life that we cannot control. The only thing that we can control is our response to them. We’ll see later in this story that Hannah didn’t let her bitterness and disappointment ruin her. We’ll see how she turned to God, allowed Him to take her problem and how He answered her prayer.
“Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.”
I Corinthians 4:5
1 Samuel 1:9-16
Hannah is so upset by her life’s disappointments that she went to the temple to pray. In her prayer, she wept “in bitterness of soul.” While she was weeping so hard and praying and pleading to God so fervently, Eli the priest comes in and accuses her of being drunk.
Poor Hannah. As if she didn’t have enough to worry about. She has a rival who provokes her, she has a husband whose children she can’t bear and now here she is, earnestly praying to God to fulfill her heart and the priest misunderstands her motives.
Have you ever been misunderstood? Have you ever done your best at something, or done something kind for someone only to have others question the heart behind the actions? How easy it is for others to judge us. Even those who seem to know us so well don’t always understand.
Only God knows our hearts. When we serve others with a giving Spirit, God knows. When we are hurting and no one else seems to understand, God understands. When we mess up and no one believes that we’ve tried the best we could, God believes in us.
Hannah’s world was full of people who could not help her. Peninnah, her rival, did everything she could to hurt her. Elkanah, her loving husband, wanted to help, but couldn’t. And Eli, the priest, thought her grieving soul was a drunken one.
No one knows our hearts but God. God is the only one who knows us inside and out. He is the only one to whom we truly have anything to prove. When you find yourself being misunderstood or unable to understand someone else’s heart, be patient. Be strong. Hang in there. Keep doing what is right. The rewards will come, God promises that to us.
“I tell you the truth, it you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
I Samuel 1:12-20
There are a lot of things about the story of Hannah that we don’t know. I have no doubt that Hannah had prayed for a baby for years. I’ll never understand, however, why God had “Closed her womb” (vs5). I do know this, something great happened to Hannah that day when she poured out her soul at the temple in Shiloh.
I don’t want to accuse her of not praying correctly during the previous years, especially since I’d have no way of proving it. However, I do want us to consider that on this particular day, she was especially grieved. She was at the end of her rope. She was broken. It was on this day that she completely gave her burden to the Lord.
After she prayed, after she spoke with Eli, verse 18 says “she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.” When she gave her burden to God that day, she didn’t keep any of it for herself. She gave it all and then went on with life trusting God to do what was best. That was the great thing that happened to Hannah that day.
Have you ever found yourself praying for God to help you, yet instead of trusting Him to help you, you kept worrying? Instead of having the faith that God will take care of things, you keep trying to figure out ways to make it work yourself?
A very important part of our relationship with God is trust. We have to trust Him to solve our problems. We have to trust Him to provide for us. He can do things so much better than we can.
Whatever you are struggling with right now in your life, whether it be a bad relationship, limited financial resources, a persistent temptation, a plaguing feeling of guilt, or the overwhelming responsibility of keeping your home and life together, give that struggle to God. Give it to Him, and don't keep any of it in your heart.
1 Samuel 1:21-28
After all that Hannah had been through. Disappointment, bitterness of heart, and fervent prayers, she receives what her heart desired most in the world and what does she do? She gave back the gift.
Of all the things that Hannah went through, this is perhaps the most difficult to understand. The very idea of it is so foreign in our culture today. She’d prayed for years for this child and then, after he was weaned, she took him to the temple and gave him back. (The footnotes in my Bible state that he may have been around three years old.*)
Hannah understood something that most of us have a difficult time grasping. She knew that Samuel wasn’t really hers to keep anyway. He was God’s. She had promised that if He gave her a child, she would dedicate his life to the Lord.
Human nature says it’s my money; I’ll spend it the way I want. It’s my time; I’ll use it the way I want. They’re my kids; I’ll raise them the way I want. He’s my husband; I’ll treat him the way I want.
As we grow in our relationships with God, we have to relinquish the control that we have and give it over to God. It’s not the way I want; it’s the way God wants. Think about how peaceful our lives would be if we spent our money, used our time, raised our children or treated our husbands the way God wants us to.
This whole story about Hannah is about giving. She gave her troubles to God and she gave her blessings to God. Why do we hesitate to do both?
Read the story of Hannah found in 1 Samuel 1. Make a list of all of your disappointments and worries, and then give them to God. Do the same with your blessings. Just as Samuel really didn’t belong to Hannah, our blessings really don’t belong to us either. Think of ways that you can honor God by giving back the blessings He’s given.