Women of the Bible – Hannah

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Hannah – her name means “gracious or favor”

Her story is found in 1 Samuel 1 & 2

Ideal Motherhood

Talk about irony. The Old Testament woman who most personifies ideal motherhood – Hannah – almost didn’t become a mother at all. Infertility tested her to the very core of her being. But when she was pressed to the breaking point, she got down on her knees and prayed. Nothing evil came out of her mouth. No complaints. No whining. No entitlement. Instead, we see a grateful worshipper of God who changes her own life (and her nation) with one heartfelt prayer.

Motherhood. A pretty thankless job. No little girl grows up thinking I can’t wait to change diapers, wipe snotty noses, constantly correct and teach and referee disagreements. But mothers are makers of men. – architects of the next generation. Hannah only had Samuel for three years but those three years set him on God’s path. Research says it is in the first three years that 90% of the the personality is formed – so mothers matter. Really.

A mother’s character (or lack thereof) shows up in the man she raises. It’s interesting to note that in the Old Testament many of those evil kings mentioned had ungodly, unbelieving moms; some of them even mentioned by name. But Hannah, a woman of prayer, raised a man of prayer who later said to his people,

“As for me, I vow that I will not sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you.
I will teach you the good and right way”.

Barren Women

“The Lord had closed her womb.” Hard words to read. Why would God deny a woman her heartfelt desire for children? Hannah was only one of several women in the Old Testament narrative who had to wait on God’s perfect timing to conceive. Her womb was empty at a time when her country was empty – gone was faithfulness, holiness had departed and godliness was a rare find. Even in the priesthood. Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phineas, were evil men who stole God’s offerings and slept with women who came to worship.

Hannah was LIKE some of these barren women of the Bible who came before her and yet she was also distinctly UNLIKE those other women who also bore famous sons. Let’s look at the differences.

Hannah v. Sarah

1 Samuel doesn’t say. We don’t know if Hannah encouraged Elkanah to take a second wife because of her own barrenness (like Sarah did) or if that was Elkanah’s idea? Either way, it doesn’t matter. Hannah handled the whole second wife problem way better than Sarah. She patiently endured her rival’s constant harping; demonstrating great self control. Sarah beat her rival and set her packing.

Interestingly, both second wives handled things about the same way. Penninah, like Hagar was not the beloved wife even though she was the one bearing children. Both Penninah and Hagar flaunted their children before the barren first wife instead of treating her with kindness. Both were haughty and proud instead of grateful for the gift of their children. Instead of seeking to become a godly woman – like Hannah – Penninah seemed to enjoy using her “gift of sarcasm” taunting her rival with unkind words meant to wound.

Hannah v. Rebekah

Like Rebekah, prayer was involved in Hannah’s conception. Scripture says that Isaac prayed for Rebekah’s barrenness to be removed. Unlike Rebekah, scripture records that Hannah went directly to the Lord and prayed for herself pouring out her heart to God. All her anguish. All her fear. All her pain. She openly and transparently talked to the One who truly understood her.

We learn some things about prayer from Hannah.  First, she went to the temple to kneel in prayer. She wanted to be close to God and in her day, that’s where He was said to reside. Second, she shows us that silent prayer (not the norm in her day) is just as effective as prayer spoken out loud. Even though Eli criticized her because her mouth was moving but no words were coming out, he ended up blessing her in the end.

Third, Hannah prays a radical prayer. She understands the sovereignty of God. She doesn’t insult Him by asking for a small favor. Her God is a rewarder of those who believe! He owns it all and she is asking for a real miracle. She doesn’t pray vaguely. She prays for a very specific request and her prayer ends up being a turning point in history. Samuel, born in answer to prayer, was destined to replace the corrupt leadership of his day.

What moved her to such a prayer? Suffering. Hannah’s wretchedness from Penninah’s goading was the catalyst for desperate, faith-filled prayer. After Eli’s benediction Hannah’s countenance changed. She was at peace. She believed even though she didn’t have what she desired yet. She had placed it all in God’s hands.

Hannah v Rachel

Hannah and Rachel were both loved by their husbands. Penninah and Leah, not so much. Of both Hannah and Rachel scripture says that God “remembered” them. God isn’t some old, doddering man in heaven who forgets He has children. When scripture says He remembered Hannah and Rachel it means that their problem of barrenness moved to the top of his To Do list, to the forefront of His mind. It was time for Him to act.

Unlike Rachel who railed at Jacob, “Give me children, or I die!” Hannah leaned against her husband’s chest and accepted his comfort as she wept. I always thought that his words “Why are you so sad? After all, you’ve got me.” were a tad insensitive, the words of a macho man. But maybe his words gently prodded Hannah’s spirit, turning her obsessive focus off what she didn’t have back to what she did have. Maybe her husband’s loving words were the wakeup call that sent her to the temple to pray.

Unlike Rachel, who demanded a child, Hannah was much more humble. She considered her child on loan from the Lord; a gift from God. She asked for a child selflessly – not to win a competition as Rachel did. Hannah determined to give this child back to the Lord. In the book of Numbers we learn that women could only make vows if their husbands approved of the vow. Elkanah obviously approved of Hannah’s vow since he allowed her to keep it. What a loving relationship they had – making life and family decisions together.

Hannah raised Samuel to let him go.  Technically, all moms have to do that.  She just had to do it earlier than most women. She gets what she asks for – a son – but is not afraid to keep her promise and surrender him. Like Jochebed placing her baby in the basket in a river full of crocodiles, Hannah releases her three year old to passive Eli and his evil sons. But God rewards such faith.  It is only after she gives up Samuel that she is able to conceive more children.

God is waiting for someone to truly believe Him. To take Him at His Word. Hannah did. Her faith freed God to abundantly bless her more than she could ever ask or think. From the verse where it says she made Samuel a little coat every year, most commentaries assume Hannah just got to see her son once a year. But Elkanah was a devout man. The devout had to report three times a year to the temple (plus his annual levitical service time) and they only lived some 15-20 miles away. It is quite probable that she got to see her son more than once a year. But more importantly, from the text we see that Samuel returns home when he is grown. His government seat is in Ramah. Hannah’s hometown. What she gave up willingly, returned to her.

How is Jesus Involved in the Story of Hannah?

Unlike most of the Bible Women who came before her, Hannah’s boy is not in the line of Christ. Yet Hannah’s life foreshadows the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Hannah gives birth to the last judge: a deliverer, a kingmaker. Mary gives birth to The Deliverer, The King, The Judge.

Scripture says very similar things about both Jesus and Samuel like: they both “grew up before the Lord.”Both women had to give up their sons. Both were women of prayer who knew God intimately. Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2 and Mary’s magnificat are very similar.  John MacArthur calls Hannah’s prayer “a masterpiece of theological understanding.” not mere academic knowledge but intimate knowledge of God a combination of love and wonder.

Questions to Ponder

  1. Where are you barren or experiencing barrenness in your life?
  2. Do you have someone who constantly taunts you as Penninah did Hannah? How do you react?
  3. Would you be willing to give up your three year old as Hannah did? If not, what is holding you back from total surrender to God?


There is no rock like our God! Lord of Hosts, help us to be like Hannah and turn to you first in prayer, not as a last resort. Thank you that you hear us and we can tell you everything that is in our hearts. You have made us strong. We rejoice because you delight to rescue us. No one is holy like you, O Lord. You will protect your faithful ones. Amen.

The Bottom Line

Things I learned from Hannah: Graciousness in suffering.

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