Imitate Their Faith
She Opened Her Heart to God in Prayer
HANNAH busied herself with preparations for the trip, trying to keep her mind occupied. It should have been a happy time; Elkanah, her husband, has customarily taken the whole family on these annual journeys to worship at the tabernacle in Shiloh. Jehovah meant for such occasions to be joyful. (Deuteronomy 16:15) And no doubt Hannah from her childhood had delighted in those festivals. But things had changed for her in recent years.
She was blessed to have a husband who loved her. However, Elkanah had another wife. Her name was Peninnah, and she seemed devoted to making Hannah’s life miserable. Peninnah had figured out a way to make even these annual occasions a source of acute pain for Hannah. How? More to the point, how did Hannah’s faith in Jehovah help her to cope with what often seemed like an impossible situation? If you face challenges that sap you of joy in life, you may find Hannah’s story particularly moving.
“Why Does Your Heart Feel Bad?”
The Bible reveals two big problems in Hannah’s life. She had little control over the first and none at all over the second. In the first place, she was in a polygamous marriage, with a rival wife who hated her. In the second place, she was barren. That condition is difficult for any wife who longs to bear children; but in Hannah’s time and culture, it was a source of intense grief. Each family counted on offspring to carry on the family name. Barrenness seemed a bitter reproach and shame.
Hannah might have borne her burden with fortitude had it not been for Peninnah. Polygamy was never an ideal situation. Rivalry, strife, and heartache were all too common. The practice was far from the standard of monogamy that God had set in the garden of Eden.a (Genesis 2:24) The Bible thus paints a grim portrait of polygamy, and the poignant depiction of life within Elkanah’s household is one of the telling brushstrokes in that picture.
You see, Elkanah loved Hannah the most. Jewish tradition has it that he married Hannah first and that Peninnah came along some years later. At any rate, Peninnah, who was deeply jealous of Hannah, found many ways to make her rival suffer. Peninnah’s great advantage over Hannah had to do with fertility. Peninnah produced one offspring after another, and her self-importance grew with each new child. Instead of feeling sorry for Hannah and comforting her in her disappointment, Peninnah played on that sensitive point. The Bible says that Peninnah vexed Hannah sorely “for the sake of making her feel disconcerted.” (1 Samuel 1:6) Peninnah’s actions were deliberate. She wanted to hurt Hannah, and she succeeded.
Peninnah’s favorite opportunity, it seems, came at the time of the annual pilgrimage to Shiloh. To each of Peninnah’s many children—“all her sons and her daughters”—Elkanah gave portions of the sacrifices offered to Jehovah. Childless Hannah, though, received only her own portion. Peninnah then so lorded it over Hannah and reminded her of her barrenness that the poor woman gave in to weeping and even lost her appetite. Elkanah could not help but notice that his beloved Hannah was distressed and was not eating, so he attempted to comfort her. “Hannah,” he asked, “why do you weep, and why do you not eat, and why does your heart feel bad? Am I not better to you than ten sons?”—1 Samuel 1:4-8.
To his credit, Elkanah discerned that Hannah’s distress had to do with her barrenness. And Hannah surely treasured his kind assurances of love.b But Elkanah did not mention Peninnah’s malice, nor does the record suggest that Hannah told him of it. Perhaps she saw that exposing Peninnah would only make her own situation worse. Would Elkanah really change things? Might not Peninnah’s spite for Hannah only deepen, and would not the children and servants of that spiteful woman follow suit? Hannah would only feel more and more like an outcast in her own household.
Whether Elkanah knew the full scope of Peninnah’s petty meanness or not, Jehovah God saw it all. His Word reveals the whole picture, thus providing a solemn warning to any who indulge in seemingly minor jealous and hateful acts. On the other hand, the innocent and the peaceable, like Hannah, can find comfort in knowing that the God of justice sets all matters right in his own time and in his own way. (Deuteronomy 32:4) Perhaps Hannah knew as much, for it was to Jehovah that she turned for help.
“Self-Concerned No More”
In the early hours, the household was bustling. Everyone was getting ready for the trip, even the children. The journey to Shiloh would take the large family across more than 20 miles [30 km] of the hilly country of Ephraim.c On foot, the trek would last a day or two. Hannah knew how her rival wife would act. However, Hannah did not stay home. She thus set a sterling example for worshippers of God to this day. It is never wise to let the misconduct of others interfere with our worship of God. Were we to do so, we would miss out on the very blessings that strengthen us to endure.
After a long day on winding mountain roads, the large family at last neared Shiloh. There it sat, on a hill nearly ringed by higher hills. As they approached, Hannah likely thought a great deal about what she would say in prayer to Jehovah. Once they arrived, the family shared a meal. Hannah pulled away from the group as soon as she could and made her way to the tabernacle of Jehovah. High Priest Eli was there, sitting near the doorpost of the temple. But Hannah’s focus was on her God. Here at the tabernacle, she felt confident that she would be heard. If no one else could fully understand her plight, her Father in heaven could. Her bitterness welled up within her, and she began to weep.
As the sobs racked her body, Hannah spoke within herself to Jehovah. Her lips quivered as she mentally formed the words to express her pain. And she prayed at length, pouring out her heart to her Father. She did more, though, than just ask God to fulfill her desperate urge to bear offspring. Hannah was keen not only to receive blessings from God but also to give him what she could. So she made a vow, saying that if she had a son, she would dedicate the child to a life of service to Jehovah.—1 Samuel 1:9-11.
Hannah thus set an example for all of God’s servants when it comes to prayer. Jehovah kindly invites his people to speak to him openly, without reservation, pouring out their concerns before him as a trusting child would to a loving parent. (Psalm 62:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:17) The apostle Peter was inspired to write these comforting words about prayer to Jehovah: “Throw all your anxiety upon him, because he cares for you.”—1 Peter 5:7.
Humans, however, are not as understanding and empathetic as Jehovah is. As Hannah wept and prayed, she was startled by a voice. It was Eli, the high priest, who had been observing her. He said: “How long will you behave drunk? Put away your wine from upon you.” Eli had noticed Hannah’s quivering lips, her sobs, and her emotional demeanor. Instead of inquiring what was wrong, he jumped to the conclusion that she was drunk.—1 Samuel 1:12-14.
How hurtful for Hannah, in that moment of anguish, to have to face such a baseless accusation—and that from a man who held such an honored position! Nevertheless, she again set a sterling example of faith. She did not let a man’s imperfections get in the way of her worship of Jehovah. She answered Eli respectfully and explained her situation. He replied, perhaps in a chastened and softer tone: “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant your petition that you have asked of him.”—1 Samuel 1:15-17.
What was the effect on Hannah of opening her heart to Jehovah and worshipping him there at his tabernacle? The account reads: “The woman proceeded to go on her way and to eat, and her face became self-concerned no more.” (1 Samuel 1:18) The Jerusalem Bible here reads: “Her countenance was no more sad.” Hannah felt relieved. She had, in a sense, transferred the weight of her emotional burden to shoulders infinitely broader and stronger than her own, those of her heavenly Father. (Psalm 55:22) Is any problem too heavy for him? No—not then, not now, not ever!
When we feel loaded down, overwhelmed, or overcome with sadness, we do well to follow Hannah’s example and speak openly to the One whom the Bible calls the “Hearer of prayer.” (Psalm 65:2) If we do so in faith, we too may find that our sadness is replaced by “the peace of God that excels all thought.”—Philippians 4:6, 7.
“There Is No Rock Like Our God”
The next morning, Hannah returned to the tabernacle with Elkanah. She had likely told him of her request and her commitment, for the Mosaic Law said that a husband had the right to nullify a vow made by his wife without his consent. (Numbers 30:10-15) But that faithful man made no such move. Rather, he and Hannah worshipped Jehovah together at the tabernacle before heading homeward.
Just when did Peninnah realize that she had lost her power to upset Hannah? The account does not say, but the expression “self-concerned no more” suggests that Hannah’s spirits rose from that time forward. At any rate, Peninnah soon found that her spiteful conduct produced no effect. The Bible never mentions her name again.
As the months passed, Hannah’s peace of mind flowered into unbridled delight. She was pregnant! In her joy, Hannah never for a moment forgot where this blessing had come from. When the boy was born, she chose the name Samuel, which means “Name of God” and evidently refers to calling on the divine name, as Hannah had done. That year, she did not join Elkanah and the family for the trek to Shiloh. She stayed home with the child for three years, until he was weaned. Then she gathered her strength for the day on which she would have to part with her beloved son.
The parting could not have been easy. Of course, Hannah knew that Samuel would be well cared for in Shiloh, perhaps by the hands of some of the women who served at the tabernacle. Still, he was so young, and what mother does not long to be with her child? Nonetheless, Hannah and Elkanah brought the boy, not begrudgingly, but gratefully. They offered sacrifices at God’s house, and they presented Samuel to Eli, reminding him of the vow Hannah had made there years earlier.
Hannah then uttered a prayer that God deemed worthy of inclusion in his inspired Word. As you read her words recorded at 1 Samuel 2:1-10, you will find the depth of her faith conveyed in every line. She praised Jehovah for his marvelous use of power—for his unmatched ability to humble the haughty, to bless the oppressed, and to end life or even to save it from death. She praised her Father for his unique holiness, his justice, and his faithfulness. With good reason, Hannah could say: “There is no rock like our God.” Jehovah is completely reliable, unchanging, and a refuge for all the oppressed and downtrodden who turn to him for help.
Little Samuel was certainly privileged to have a mother so filled with faith in Jehovah. Though he surely missed her as he grew up, he never felt forgotten. Year by year, Hannah would come back to Shiloh, bringing a little sleeveless coat for his service at the tabernacle. Every stitch bore evidence of her love and care for her son. (1 Samuel 2:19) We can just picture her putting the new coat on the boy, smoothing it out, and looking fondly at him while speaking kind, encouraging words. Samuel was blessed to have such a mother, and he grew up to be a blessing to his parents and to all Israel.
As for Hannah, she was not forgotten either. Jehovah blessed her with fertility, and she bore Elkanah five more children. (1 Samuel 2:21) Perhaps Hannah’s greatest blessing, though, was the bond between her and her Father, Jehovah, which grew ever stronger through the years. May the same happen to you, as you imitate the faith of Hannah.
a As to why God tolerated polygamy among his people for a time, see the article “Does God Approve of Polygamy?” on page 30 of the July 1, 2009, issue of The Watchtower.
b Although the record says that Jehovah had ‘closed up Hannah’s womb,’ there is no evidence that God was displeased with this humble and faithful woman. (1 Samuel 1:5) The Bible at times attributes to God events that he simply allowed to take place for a time.
c The distance is based on the likelihood that Elkanah’s hometown, Ramah, was the same place that came to be known as Arimathea in Jesus’ day.
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Two Remarkable Prayers
◼ Hannah addressed the first of the two prayers to “Jehovah of armies.” She is the first person in the Bible record to be quoted as using that title. It occurs a total of 285 times in the Bible and refers to God’s command over a vast array of spirit sons.
◼ Note that Hannah uttered the second prayer, not when her son was born, but when she and Elkanah offered him up for God’s service at Shiloh. So Hannah’s great joy lay, not in silencing her rival, Peninnah, but in being blessed by Jehovah.
◼ When Hannah said, “My horn is indeed exalted in Jehovah,” she may have had in mind the ox, a powerful beast of burden that uses its horns mightily. Hannah was, in effect, saying: ‘Jehovah, you make me strong.’—1 Samuel 2:1.
◼ Hannah’s words about God’s “anointed one” are considered prophetic. The expression is the same one rendered “messiah,” and Hannah is the first person in the Bible record to use it to refer to a future anointed king.—1 Samuel 2:10.
◼ Jesus’ mother, Mary, about 1,000 years later, echoed some of Hannah’s expressions in her own words of praise to Jehovah.—Luke 1:46-55.
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Hannah was deeply troubled by her barrenness, and Peninnah did everything she could to make Hannah feel worse
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Can you imitate Hannah’s example of praying from the heart?
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Though Eli misjudged her, Hannah did not take offense