Welcome to the eighth week of our Summer Bible journaling challenge, Women of Valor. Today, we will be studying and journaling the story of Hannah from 1 Samuel.
This week’s reading: 1 Samuel 1, 1 Samuel 2:1-10
This week’s journaling focus: 1 Samuel 2:2
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Often, the women we have encountered throughout this study are called “Women of Faith.” This description is sometimes true, and sometimes less apt; but in Hannah’s case, she has truly earned the title. Like many women in our study, Hannah desperately wanted a child, but remained barren. Both in her barrenness and after her son’s eventual birth, Hannah turned to God to pray. Today we study those prayers and what they mean for us today. Join us in journaling with Hannah, the woman who prayed.
Hannah’s Story (in Two Parts)
Part One: A Prayer of Petition
In the hill lands of Ephraim lives a man named Elkanah and his two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Peninnah has children, and Hannah does not; due to the culture around having children at that time, the difference could make one wife seem more valuable than the other to their husband. But Elkanah loves Hannah, giving her double portions on the day he sacrifices (1 Sam 1:5). Her barrenness doesn’t matter to him, but it mattered to Peninnah, who uses it to taunt Hannah mercilessly year after year (1 Sam 1:6). The taunting hurts Hannah, causing her to weep and stop eating. Elkanah tries to comfort her, but she cannot not be comforted.
Elkanah and Hannah go to Shiloh to worship. One morning, Hannah rises and goes to the temple of the Lord to pray. The text tells us that “she was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly” (1 Sam 1:10). In prayer, she makes a vow, saying:
“O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”
Hannah is serious in her vow: her promise not to let a razor touch her son’s head reflects her decision to raise him as a Nazarite, or an Israelite who dedicates his life to the Lord by abstaining from drinking, cutting hair, and bodily defilement through the touching of the deceased (Num 6:1-21, with special attention to Num 6:5).
We also know that her prayer was is uttered in a passionless or dry way. Instead, she is wailing; “speaking in her heart,” moving her mouth silently in such a way that the priest Eli thinks she is drunk (1 Sam 1:12-13). When Eli berates her, she responds, “No, my lord, 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.Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.” (1 Sam 1:15-16). Eli says to her, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him,” and when Hannah leaves, she eats, no longer sad (1 Sam 1:17-18).
The next morning, Hannah and her husband Elkanah wake up and worship the Lord before returning home to Ramah. When they return, Hannah conceives and has a son, naming him Samuel: “I have asked for him from the Lord” (1 Sam 1:20).
Part Two: A Prayer of Thanksgiving
Some time later, Elkanah and his house make their yearly trip to sacrifice and make vows to the Lord. Hannah, however, does not join him. Instead, she says, “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 Sam 1:22). When Samuel is weaned, she takes him to the priest Eli, and says:
“Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord. For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.”
Her prayer is answered, and she keeps her vow. So, too, does Samuel, because as the text tells us, “he worshipped the Lord there” (1 Sam 1:28). But the story isn’t over. Before she departs, Hannah issues a prayer of thanksgiving.
“My heart exults in the Lord;
my horn is exalted in the Lord.
My mouth derides my enemies,
because I rejoice in your salvation.
There is none holy like the Lord:
for there is none besides you;
there is no rock like our God.”
Those of us familiar with Mary’s prayer of thanksgiving, known as the Magnificat, will hear echoes of that in Hannah’s first line. But the poem is Hannah’s own, and the imagery is rich and vivid. Just as her prayer of petition was fervent and passionate, this one comes from the heart. In good times and bad, Hannah turns to the Lord. That legacy lives on in her son Samuel, a godly man and Israel’s last judge.
Last week, our community studied the story of Ruth and Naomi, who found strength in their relationship with each other. This week, Hannah and Peninnah are in a similar situation; two women, bonded by chosen family, one of whom grieves the loss or absence of a child. We know from last week’s story that companionship lessens the burden of grief, and yet Peninnah chooses to worsen Hannah’s burdens by taunting her. How might Hannah’s story have been different if she had been able to find comfort, rather than pain, in her relationship with Peninnah?
Questions for Contemplation
- Hannah turns to God in prayer in both good times and bad. What is a time when you turned to God in prayer to ask for something? When was the last time you prayed to God in thanksgiving?
- Hannah is remembered as a woman of faith not because her prayer was answered, but because she remained faithful to God in both challenging and fulfilling seasons. What does it mean to you to be a woman of faith, even when you cannot see God’s hand in your life in this minute?
- Does Hannah’s example change the way you think about prayer? If so, how?
In her prayer of thanksgiving, Hannah says that “here is none holy like the Lord: for there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God” (1 Sam 2:2). This language reminds me of the verse and often-repeated phrase, “my rock and my redeemer.” For today’s journaling entry, we will focus on the imagery of God as rock and redeemer. How is God a “rock” in your life? You may wish to illustrate a mountain, a boulder, or an assurance-giving pebble in your pocket. Or you may wish to letter Hannah’s words however you wish. Whatever approach you take, let the words and imagery of Hannah’s story guide you as you journal today.
If you’d like to read more about Hannah and her story, please feel free to check out these resources. All links to Amazon throughout this post are affiliate links.
- “Hannah” in Women of the Bible: 52 Bible Studies for Individuals and Groups by Ann Spangler and Jean E. Syswerda, pages 144-151. This is a great book that I’ll be referencing a lot in this series. It reflects on 52 different women of the Bible and includes context, prayers, and reflection questions. This book is more faith-focused than academic.
- “Hannah: Seeking God” in Sara Laughed: Modern Lessons From the Wisdom and Stories o Biblical Women by Vanessa L. Ochs, pages 187-198. This is a beautiful book that has a lot to offer in terms of food for thought and modern application of Biblical stories. This book is more for personal reflection than for academic learning.