Bible Study

Hannah (1 Samuel 1 & 2)

“This chapter is a prayer that both remembers what God has done and reminds us of what God has promised.” by Major Valerie Carr

It has been said that the only constant in this world is change. There are times in all of our lives where we find ourselves in circumstances that we hope will shift or adjust. It’s in these times that our whole mind and existence seem to orbit this internal need for something to be different. We often choose to spend our time in spiritual practices, hoping and praying for a change. There is a chorus in The Salvation Army Song Book that says: “Prayer changes things in the morning, Prayer changes things at noon, Prayer changes things in the evening and keeps your heart in tune.” This month, as we continue our series on prayer, we are taking a look at a woman whose world was dramatically changed by God and her prayers in that situation. This month we will take a look at two prayers from Hannah in 1 Samuel and what they have to teach us about our own desire for change.   

In the opening chapters of 1 Samuel, we find a desperate woman. Hannah is barren and longs for a child. She is loved and spoiled by her husband (v 5), but her greatest desire has been denied her. She comes to a religious gathering with her family and begins to break down in bitter prayer (v 9-14). Hannah is so deep in prayer that she is mistakenly accused by Eli the priest of being drunk (v 14-15).

She vows to give her child back to the Lord in service if He would but transform her into a mother as she so desperately longs to be. The words the biblical writer uses to describe Hannah in chapter one are irritated, weepy, not eating, downhearted, deep anguish, bitter weeping, miserable, deeply troubled, great anguish and grief (v 6-16). This is a woman who is going through some stuff and having a lot of feelings about it! Hannah’s circumstances in chapter one felt dire, and she was desperate for change. A barren wife was shameful in those times, as she still can be in some cultures today. In Hannah’s situation, she provides an example of how even in our lowest points, prayer offers an opportunity to bring ourselves before God with our need for change. 

In our own circumstances where we are desperate for change, that list of descriptions feels incredibly close to home. There is a physical ache that we feel when we are longing for change. We desperately seek out anything that might offer relief for better or worse. We struggle with the sense of being stuck in a situation and are certain our voice is being ignored. We become impatient with others and ourselves. Our sense of emotional and physical well-being can dissolve into despair or depression, convincing ourselves that God is not listening and everyone around us is out to get us. Hannah’s example of seeking God in prayer begs the question: In those places that we are hoping for change, have we sought the Lord in our deep anguish? 

And then in verse 19, the Bible records that “the Lord remembered her plea” and she becomes the mother of the great prophet Samuel. Chapter two records Hannah’s response to God as she brings young Samuel to the temple to return him to the Lord as she promised. She has returned to the place of worship where she prayed for this child and is now giving him to the Lord where he will spend his life in service and worship (v 27-28). Hannah gives an example of what it looks like to pray desperately for something in our lives to change and then praise God for His transformational work in our situations. This chapter is a prayer that both remembers what God has done and reminds us of what God has promised. 

Hannah’s emotional state seems to have completely transformed because of the Lord’s work in her life. The opening lines of her prayer record her “rejoicing … boasting … [and] delighting” (v 1-2). God’s promise and provision changed her circumstances. As Hannah comes to return that which she had committed to the Lord, she is filled with praise. The prayer recorded in chapter two reminds the reader of God’s sovereignty over creation (v 6,8,10), sovereignty of the social order (v 7-9), and His power of transforming the lives of His people for the better (v 4-5). 

Theologian Walter Brueggemann, alluding to Hannah’s prayer as a song for future generations, writes: “She sings in the way singing is possible only among those who have felt the powerful invasiveness of [the Lord’s] newness where no newness was possible. She sings of the God who ‘brings life.’ She sings of the God who raises up. This is the God who lifts the needy. Hannah is the voice of all those who still have ashes in their hair and in their throats, who find themselves on the way to royal banquets and safe places.” Hannah’s second prayer is a prayer that is born of experiencing the reversal of fortune and the transformation that is only possible when we commit our deepest anguish into the hands of God. It is a prayer of praise for God’s work and hope for what that means for those still waiting on Him.

Hannah’s prayer is for us as well. It gives us a challenge to praise God for what He has done in our lives. In those places where we have called out to Him in desperate need and we have seen His miraculous work, Hannah encourages us to thank the Lord directly and to acknowledge what a difference He has made in our life. In those places where we are still waiting on God, we find solace in the rest of Hannah’s prayer. We recognize that “the Lord is a God who knows” and can be trusted to work out our situation for His glory and our good (v 3). Hannah’s is a call to trust God’s goodness over our present circumstances. You are encouraged to believe that even if what you are specifically praying for does not come to pass in your time here on earth, you can trust and serve a God in the business of redeeming all things, and for that He can be praised.

Hannah is a mother who prayed two prayers. The first for something in her life to change, and the second to praise God for redemption and transformation. Hers is a story that testifies that prayer changes things and keeps your heart in tune. As you reflect on Hannah’s prayers, where do you find yourself in her story? Perhaps you have a desperate longing and are petitioning God to move in your life in a specific way. Be encouraged to keep praying, graciously submitting yourself to His will and His call on your life. Perhaps you have received a miracle from His hand. Be encouraged to praise Him for the ways He has been faithful. Wherever you find yourself in the story, may your prayers learn to be as bold as Hannah’s ask and as humble as her response to the answer. 

Questions to ponder

  • Where am I praying for change in my life? My family? My community?
  • How can I praise God for His transformation in my life? My family? My community?