She had trouble conceiving, yet she gave up a child for adoption. Not a typical combination. I was touched by the story of Hannah- so much so, that I think of her as a friend, even thought we have never met. I read her story anew this month in I Samuel 1 and 2, when I found out that Hannah was prevented by the Lord from having children. It wasn’t that Hannah was being punished, although I am sure it felt like that. It just wasn’t God’s timing… yet. He was in the process of preparing the circumstances for the unborn prophet that Israel needed to replace the immoral sons of Eli, the high priest. How could she know that her pain was a part of God’s plan to honor her forever in his Word, while he raised up the next mighty prophet since the time of Moses? How could she know that this son of hers would anoint and shepherd David, the greatest king in all of Israel’s history and in the lineage of the greatest king of all history? All she felt was emptiness and loss in the waiting.
Her torment came from many places. First, I am sure, it came from the longing in her heart for motherhood. Added to this, the sin of polygamy, although accepted by cultural standards in the day, was not without painful turmoil. She was tormented by her rival, the “other woman” with plenty of children, who seemed to enjoy goading her, perhaps out of jealousy for the abounding love husband Elkanah had for his beloved Hannah. Even Elkanah seemed a bit clueless about the pain Hannah experienced. To display his love, he gave her double portions. I imagine I might be thinking, “I don’t want two steaks. I want a baby. Nice try, but seconds won’t fix my problem.” Then, when she is devastated by the other woman’s cruel attacks, her husband comments, “Aren’t I better than a bunch of sons?” Real sympathetic Elkie. Your love, while wonderful, is not a substitute for someone whose arms ache for a child.
In response, she runs to the temple and pours out her heart to the Lord, even promising to give the son back to Him, if he will only give her a child. So many need to learn what she realizes. She knows her pain cannot be comforted by any human or earthly pursuit. Despite her amazing example, she is misunderstood yet again, and Eli, the high priest, thinks she is drunk. When she explains, he has compassion, however, and asks the Lord to grant her wish. Immediately, because of her trust, she experiences peace and returns to eat and take care of herself physically, now that her spiritual and emotional needs have been met. What a display of faith!
God gives her the son and she explains to Elkanah her plan to give up the child to serve at the temple once he is weaned. His answer is a phrase I find interesting. He agrees to the plan and says, “May the Lord establish his Word.” I Samuel 1:23. I find it interesting, because later, Samuel grows up to be known as a prophet who speaks the true words of God. I Samuel 3:19 says it this way, “The Lord let none of his words fall to the ground.” His father asks that the word of God be established among them, and then Samuel grows to be a man who has the true words of God established in his life. Much later in history, the Word would be established in the form of Jesus becoming flesh (John 1:14.) Don’t let the Word fall to the ground. Establish His word in you and in your home. He is the only one who has the words of life.
When the child is weaned, she brings him to the temple to fulfill her promise. That could not have been easy. How long had she waited for a child? Surely God would not expect her to give up her only child? And yet she was brave enough to trust God with his future. I find it curious that the previous great prophet, Moses, also had a birth mother. Before adopting, I would have thought of giving up your children as a cowardly act, but after meeting the birth mother of my youngest three, I finally understood what great courage it would take to make a decision that pains you, though you know it to be best for your child. I believe hardly a day went by that Hannah did not recall the virtual loss of her firstborn. She made clothing for him and visited him at least yearly at the temple- probably with the pain of goodbye resurfacing anew.
I can’t imagine what Hannah would have been feeling as she said goodbye and left her promised son at the temple. Could it have been what Moses’ mother felt as she returned Moses to the daughter of Pharaoh? Is it how Sarah felt when she watched Abraham go up the mountain with her son? How many in our church body know the pain of saying goodbye to a child, some even before the child was brought into this world?
Her heart must have been breaking, but she chose to rejoice, not in her circumstance, but in the Lord. Those who have found peace with the loss of their child, can do so because they entrust their child to the Lord. So she does the unthinkable. She worships. Her prayer is recorded in God’s Holy Word. A phrase “horn of salvation” from her prayer is quoted by Zechariah in the New Testament a mere 1,000 years later! Her prayer is also quoted several times by Mary, mother of Jesus in Luke 1: 46-55. What a fitting tribute to a woman well acquainted with both pain and love. May we, like Hannah, spend our lives bringing both to the Lord.