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The Beauty of Christ and the Withered Womb (1 Sam 1:1-2:11; Heb 10:19-25)

Updated: Oct 9, 2023

The story of Hannah in 1 Samuel

Elkanah would come to make sacrifices in the house of the Lord now and again. There was a day I could see something was troubling him. His mind was elsewhere. After I had assisted him with his sacrificial offering, he and I sat near the brazon alter by the outer veil, I asked him why he was downcast. “I have two wives”, he responded, “the one, Peninnah, has born me several children but she has also brought grief and disharmony to my household, mocking and provoking my other wife, Hannah, calling her ‘a withered womb’. I have spoken to her, but she has continued with her cruel words to Hannah. She has been like this for years. While Hannah has never born me children, she is my delight. Whenever I return from a sacrifice, I give her an extra portion of food. Yet, she does not eat, for when she comes to the House of the Lord, Peninnah provokes her mercilessly with her words, and Hannah weeps bitterly. I reassure her that she is worth more to me than ten sons, but she is still downcast.” There was a moment of silence, broken by Elkanah’s words of desperation, “What am I to do, Eli?” “I am sorry, brother, I am good at my sacrificial duties, but not very good in matters of the family,” I said, and then I forgot our conversation altogether.

Some days later while I was sitting on my chair by the doorpost of the house of our Lord. I heard a drunken woman sobbing with inaudible mumbling to herself. Annoyed, I arose and approached the drunkard and provoked her, “for how long will you be drunk? Put away your wine.” She continued to weep bitterly in deep anguish. Paying little attention to me, I could finally make out her groanings, her voice was barely heard. She was uttering a sacred vow, “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 brushed her hair aside, I could see her swollen broken eyes and trembling lips, “I’m not drunk, sir, I have not been drinking wine or beer, my heart is deeply troubled and I have been laying my soul bare before the Lord. Please don’t think me a dreadful person. I have been praying out of much grief and anguish.”

The pieces came together, this was the wife of Elkanah, the man I had spoken with just a few days ago? My heart pitied her, “Go in peace,” I said, “may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.” She wiped her tears, “May your servant find favour in your eyes.” She left and went her way.

The next day, they were there at the house of the Lord to worship, Elkanah and his two wives, and then left for Ramah, their home.

The Lord answered Hannah’s prayers because as the story goes, Elkanah made love to his wife Hannah (yes that is in Holy Scripture!). She was with child and gave birth to a son. She called him Samuel, the name in our Hebrew tongue sounds like, “heard by God”. Hannah fulfilled her vow and after weaning her son, she dedicated him to the Lord by handing him to me for service. Later, Samuel became my protégé and served in the house of the Lord.

Samuel would often recite his mother’s prayer, the one she prayed when he was born, and later he would record it in his historical writings. It began like this:

וַתִּתְפַּלֵּ֤ל חַנָּה֙ וַתֹּאמַ֔ר עָלַ֤ץ לִבִּי֙ בַּֽיהוָ֔ה רָ֥מָה קַרְנִ֖י בַּֽיהוָ֑ה רָ֤חַב פִּי֙ עַל־א֣וֹיְבַ֔י כִּ֥י שָׂמַ֖חְתִּי בִּישׁוּעָתֶֽךָ׃

Meaning, “My heart rejoices in the LORD; in the LORD my horn is lifted high. My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I delight in your deliverance.” And so, this heartfelt prayer goes on, it was a prayer of poetic beauty and theological depth.

* * *

And it is this prayer that I want us to explore.

God answered Hannah’s prayer, but we forget that in the end, she gave it all up to the Lord in devotion to him. She began her prayer by rejoicing in the Lord and delighting in his deliverance. Here she was likely thinking of her shame and the ridicule from Elkanah’s other wife.

Hannah was able to place her son, Samuel, into the hands of God only because she knew who her God is. Would you place your prized possession or child in the care of someone you barely know? I hope not! Hannah knew exactly what she was doing and who she was giving her son to.

She prayed:

“There is no one holy like the LORD;

there is no one besides you;

there is no Rock like our God” (1 Sam 2:2)

She knew that there is no being as holy, as the Lord her God. She understood the holiness of God as being distinct and separate from everything else, in his perfection and beauty, as well as his transcendence and awesomeness. And so, she proclaimed, “There is no one besides you Lord God”. Neither is anyone a rock like her God. He is steadfast, powerful, and secure, more than any other.

No doubt, Hannah had Peninnah in mind when she prayed:

“Do not keep talking so proudly or let your mouth speak such arrogance, for the Lord is a God who knows, and by him deeds are weighed.” (1 Sam 2:3)

Her prayer proclaimed that God knows all things, and he judges our deeds rightly. He also knows every situation we find ourselves in. Often when something does not go according to plan, my wife, Cath, says, “God knows”… Hannah and Cath get it right, God does know!

Hannah’s prayer is rather unusual in verse 5, she spoke about how those who are full hire themselves out for more food, those who are hungry will hunger no more, and those who are barren will have seven children (seven, of course, is the number of perfection), but those who have many sons will fade away. In other words, God alone satisfies those who lack. Sometimes he does this by answering our prayers—sometimes by some unimaginable means, and other times in our pain God teaches us that he is our greatest treasure, even when our prayers are not answered.

Whether God delivers and answers our prayers or not, Hannah, grapples with God’s sovereign nature and yet she knows that despite our pain and difficult situations, the Lord guards the feet of those who serve him. And so, she prayed:

The LORD brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up. The LORD sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor.

‘For the foundations of the earth are the LORD’s; on them he has set the world. He will guard the feet of his faithful servants, but the wicked will be silenced in the place of darkness.’ (1 Sam 2:6–9).

She ended her prayer identifying God as the Most High who thunders from heaven and judges the ends of the earth, and yet he also gives you and I strength (1 Sam 2:10).

There was no question in Hannah’s mind who her Lord God is, so she gladly entrusted her precious son into his hands. If she had confidence in knowing who her God is, so much so that she entrusted him with her precious son, how much more assurance do we have, for we have a great high priest, Jesus Christ.

The New Testament in Hebrews 10:19-25 calls us to persevere in faith. Because of Jesus’ blood, his suffering on the cross, you and I have the confidence to enter the Most Holy Place, to meet with our Lord. Jesus Christ who is the God-man is the great high priest over the house of God, not Eli or some other priest. He invites us to draw near with a sincere heart and full assurance because he has cleansed our guilty conscience, making us pure through his sacrificial death. In other words, making us holy as he is holy. We, therefore, profess a hope despite our pain and circumstances; God who promises is faithful.

Many among us are suffering, some have physical or emotional pain, others are struggling to make ends meet, and many have unanswered prayers. Some of us have asked, “Is God on mute” as one Christian author once put it. These are the realities of our Christian walk with God. But God is inviting you and I to know him like Hannah knew him. As a professional theologian, I am fascinated by him and so I dedicate my life to the study of God, theology, and his word, but that is not enough. He calls us to know him and to be in fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ—to experience him. You can only give your suffering, your pain, your unanswered prayers, and even your answered prayers to God if you have a relationship with him.

Let us learn from Hannah, her prayer, and Hebrews 10:19–25, and refocus on ourselves for a moment, and our beloved Lord Jesus Christ:

- Do you truly know his perfection, beauty, and majesty?

- Do you know him as your secure rock, steadfast and all-powerful?

- Do you find comfort that Jesus knows all things and that he identifies with your suffering?

- Do you know that he guards your feet and keeps you?

- Do you accept Jesus as the most high God and King, that he is the judge of all things?

- Do you believe that God is faithful in his promises, even when none of it makes any sense?

- And most importantly, is Jesus your greatest treasure despite your painfilled circumstances.

If your answer is yes, then you along with countless other saints have gazed upon the beauty of the crucified Christ. And if we allow him, his resurrected life will transform our withered wombs (our pain and disappointments) into glorious encounters with God. And if you answer is no, Jesus is calling you by name to come to him as you are.


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