Who was Hannah in the Bible?

Hannah is best remembered for being the mother of Samuel, who served in the tabernacle, spoke as a prophet, and was Israel's last judge. In Hebrew, Hannah's name means "Grace" connoting mercy or favor, which is fitting because God showed her mercy and favor when He bestowed the gift (or grace) of her son, Samuel. Hannah was a righteous woman who remained faithful to God during both the hard times of suffering and the bountiful times of blessing throughout her life.

The book of First Samuel introduces Hannah as the beloved first wife of Elkanah, living in Ramah in the hill country of Ephraim (1 Samuel 1:1–2, 5). The couple regularly traveled to the tabernacle in Shiloh to present sacrifices to the LORD (1 Samuel 1:3). They were a righteous couple; however, Hannah remained barren, unable to have children (1 Samuel 1:5). In her culture, this infertility was a source of shame as people often associated it with God's displeasure. Elkanah's second wife Peninnah (meaning "Jewel" or "Pearl") had children, so the shame of infertility was Hannah's alone to bear. With the honor of having born Elkanah's children, Peninnah (like a bothersome grain of sand within a clam) would bully Hannah to the point that Hannah would weep and refuse to eat (1 Samuel 1:6–7).

In this time of shame and suffering, Hannah's faith in God did not waiver. In fact, she brought this painful situation to the LORD in prayer (1 Samuel 1:10). Explaining her circumstances to the priest Eli, Hannah said, "I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the LORD… all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation" (1 Samuel 1:15–16). Hannah exemplifies Peter's command in the New Testament to "humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you" (1 Peter 5:6–7). Hannah also chose not to act out of her vexation with Peninnah. Instead, Hannah trusted that, "the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed… the wicked shall be cut off in darkness… The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven. The LORD will judge the ends of the earth" (1 Samuel 2:3, 9, 10). Hannah's faith remained strong despite the private and public pain and shame she suffered.

During the impassioned prayer that Eli witnessed, Hannah promised God that if He gave her a son, she would return him to the LORD to serve in the tabernacle all the days of his life (1 Samuel 1:11). She would not expect to raise him to adulthood, for him to work his father's land, or for him to carry on the family legacy, but rather she would completely surrender her son to God's service. This promise of surrender showed that Hannah did not feel entitled to bear children, that she was not accusing God of being unfair, and that she recognized God's rightful position as supreme and worthy of all our worship. She exemplified the truth that "every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change" (James 1:17). If she bore a son, she knew that child would be a gift directly from God. Regarding her firstborn, Hannah also would have been familiar with God's command to the Israelites in Exodus 13:2: "Consecrate to me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine." Thus Hannah was promising God that after receiving a child and restored status in her community, she would continue to be faithful to Him and His Word.

God did grant her request "and in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son" (1 Samuel 1:20). Hannah's status as a wife and as a woman in that culture had been restored. Blessing had come. So often, in times of blessing, humans become prideful in our own abilities and neglectful in our worship of God. Hannah, however, remained humble and faithful. She began by choosing a name for her son that would remind her and everyone else of his origins. She named him Samuel, which in Hebrew sounds like the phrase "asked of the LORD." His name drew attention to the fact that this child was an answer to prayer (1 Samuel 1:27). Hannah also remembered her promise to God. She told her husband, "As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, so that he may appear in the presence of the LORD and dwell there forever" (1 Samuel 1:22).

Indeed, when the boy was weaned (most likely between the ages of three and five), Hannah brought him to Eli and said, "I have lent him to the LORD. As long as he lives, he is lent to the LORD" (1 Samuel 1:28). Samuel remained with Eli the priest to serve the LORD in the tabernacle in Shiloh and his parents returned home to Ramah without him (1 Samuel 2:11). Hannah, of course, did not forget her son. Samuel's "mother used to make for him a little robe and take it to him each year when she went up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice" (1 Samuel 2:19). Scripture records that "the LORD visited Hannah, and she conceived and bore three sons and two daughters. And the boy Samuel grew in the presence of the LORD" (1 Samuel 2:21). So even as Hannah received more children, she continued to leave Samuel to serve the LORD and she continued to worship at Shiloh faithfully year after year.

Hannah's faithfulness is an example for all who follow God. Her prayer of petition to the LORD as well as her prayer of thanksgiving are both recorded in Scripture. Her prayer of thanksgiving is similar to Miriam's worship in Exodus 15:21, Deborah's song in Judges 5:19–22, 31, and even Mary's Magnificat in Luke 1:46–55. The words of these faithful women are part of God's inspired Word (2 Timothy 3:16–17). May all who express faith in God follow the righteous model of these women, especially the example of Hannah who remained humble and faithful during both times of suffering and times of bounty throughout her life.

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