Welcome to the Mountjoy Ministries Blog

This blog is authored by Bryan W. Sheldon, author and Bible teacher. His books are listed below. The studies in the blog are offered in the desire that they may be helpful in directing readers to the truths contained in the Bible.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Lessons from the Life of Hannah


Hannah, the wife of one Elkanah, is considered to be one of the most pious women in the Bible. Living at a time when piety was unfashionable, she became an instrument in the hands of God to move His purposes forward. Israel, destined to be a ‘kingdom of priests’, was sinking in a morass of spiritual ineptitude, unrighteous leadership, widespread wickedness, military weakness and pervasive unbelief. The problem is succinctly summed up in the last verse of the book of Judges:  In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25) But God was about to change that. His purposes would require:

(1)    a king on the throne who would love Him, love righteousness and obey Him.

(2)    a priesthood that would serve Him righteously (descended from Eleazar ben Aaron to replace the descendents of Ithamar ben Aaron) (The house of Eli of the family of Ithamar ben Aaron had brought the priesthood into disrepute).

(3)    a location where He could place His Name. (Shiloh, was never to be the permanent site of the Tabernacle – God had always purposed to use Mount Moriah where Abraham had offered up Isaac).

(4)    A prophet of the stature and calibre of Moses to convert Israel from a loose collection of warring tribes to a united nation under a king who acknowledged the over-riding authority of the Lord.

By God’s calendar, in the near future, Israel would be a united nation under David (his name means ‘Beloved’) who would be the anointed king of Israel seeking to serve God faithfully.  Zadoc (his name means ‘righteousness’), of the line of Eleazar ben Aaron, would be his High Priest, and Jerusalem would be the location that would provide the site on which the Temple would be built.

By God’s calendar, in the further future, great David’s greater Son will sit on David’s throne in Jerusalem and reign for a thousand years with the priesthood of Zadoc ministering in the rebuilt Temple.

But how would God bring about the transition? He first needed the prophet. He needs a Samuel, one of the stature of Moses (Jer.15:1), one who can hear His voice, one who will do His will. He is never caught unawares – He is always able to anticipate and act. He had already identified a woman in the faithful remnant of Israel by the name of Hannah that would serve Him and provide the man who will fulfill all His will.

Her Family Circumstances were not ideal

Elkanah was a good man. Even in the uncertain age in which he lived he still attended at the Tabernacle in Shiloh bringing his offerings every year. This would suggest that their home life would have been stable and godly, just as Hannah would have wanted, but he also had a second wife, Peninah. Peninah was very fruitful and had borne Elkanah several children while Hannah was (in the will of God) barren (1 Sam.1:5). For Hannah, as it would have been for most godly women, this was a reproach – made more unbearable because Peninah would use her fertility and Hannah’s sterility to verbally abuse her. To remain composed and fulfill the duties of a loving wife under such duress must have been difficult, but this she did to the satisfaction of Elkanah.

Yet God through Hannah was going to change the course of Israel’s history. His over-ruling sovereignty was to be displayed when He used one of Israel’s weakest and least significant individuals (a rural and barren woman) to change the culture and the future of the nation. Like Job, her trust in the One who engineered the circumstances of her humiliation, brought rewards that surpassed the pain she experienced earlier in her life and demonstrated the Lord’s awesome ability to bless anyone who possesses tenacious, risk-taking faith in him. Her experience stands in contrast to that of Deborah, another significant woman of Ephraim. Deborah was a political and military leader whereas Hannah epitomizes the principle “… that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty” (1 Cor. 1:26–27). True power is not dictated by one’s position in society but one’s posture before God.

For the Lord of Hosts was her God

For Hannah (her name means ‘Gracious Woman’), it began with the annual journey to Shiloh. She is the only woman of the Old Testament of whom it is recorded that she went up to the Lord’s House. At the door of the Tabernacle Hannah prayed a prayer and made a vow. “O Lord of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head.” (1 Samuel 1:11) This heartfelt cry came from the heart - that if God was gracious to her and grant her a son she would dedicate him to the Lord for the rest of his days. Hannah’s commitment required the support of her husband to enable her vow to be fulfilled, and he demonstrates his piety by being fully committed to his wife’s revealed purpose. Under Torah regulations he could have over-ruled her decision, but he also stands out as a man of honour by supporting Hannah in her course of action. The vow of Hannah stands in sharp contrast to the vow of Jephthah. Jephthah’s rash vow made his daughter a ‘burnt offering’ – Hannah’s vow will make her son a ‘living sacrifice’. While Eli (the High Priest) was unable to discern her anguish of soul, God marked her heart and indicated ‘here is a woman I can work with’.

Her faith also encompassed her yet unborn child, for the Nazarite vow (that is, someone dedicated fully to the Lord, in the terms that Hannah expressed) would need to be fulfilled by the child, the youth and the man. The regulations expressed in the Torah give the details (Numbers 6.2-21). The last thing she wanted was a Nazarite like Samson who regularly broke his vow by unseemly conduct.

Her prayer, out of bitterness of soul, displayed a knowledge of God that was surprising. She petitioned the Omnipotent Deliverer of those in distress as ‘the Lord of Hosts’. She is the first character in Scripture  ever to use this name of the God of heaven. She recognized that the Lord alone was the giver and sustainer of life. She also bowed in humility before Him, three times referring to herself as ‘your servant’. Her vow also stands out – since she is the only woman in the Hebrew narrative to make such a promise (Torah regulations permit it for a married woman). The narrative reveals that Hannah had a more intimate relationship with God (seven times she used His personal Name), than even Eli, the spiritual leader of the nation. Nevertheless, Eli, when made aware of Hannah’s true purpose fulfilled his office and offered a word of encouragement:“Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition which you have asked of Him.” ” (1 Samuel 1:17) Hannah left the area of the Sanctuary as an example of ‘faith triumphant’ - her tears had been wiped away - her spirit was elevated - and she was able to enjoy the festival meal in peace and hope.

The Lord rewarded her faith

In the course of time the son was born – what joy his birth must have brought – not only to Hannah who had waited so long for this blessing but also to Elkanah who now had a first born son from his most beloved wife. Hannah nurtured the child at Ramah until Samuel (his name means ‘asked of God’) was ready to be left in the charge of those who cared for the Tabernacle at Shiloh. The Bible summarises records the handover - “Then Elkanah went to his house at Ramah. But the child ministered to the Lord before Eli the priest” (1 Sam. 2:11). It must have been a great wrench for his mother but her godliness is evident in her explanation: “For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition which I asked of Him. Therefore I also have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives he shall be lent to the LORD” (1 Samuel 1:27–28). Hannah’s sacrifice was Israel’s gain and she must have felt compensated, certainly if she lived long enough to see him grow into a godly servant of the Lord at Shiloh.

Hannah’s Prayer of Thanksgiving

Hannah’s delight in the goodness of the Lord overflowed into a prayer of thanksgiving. One hundred and twenty words long it is composed something like a Psalm. It begins on a highly personal note describing her delight in the Lord. Set against the early background of Peninah’s taunts Hannah boasts of the Lord’s deliverance, although the object of her delight is neither herself, because she has overcome the reproach of barrenness, nor her son – it is the Lord who is the source of both her son and her happy circumstance. The most important section of her prayer describes the Lord’s actions. Some are extremely positive: he “makes alive” (v. 6), “raises … from the dust” (v. 8), “lifts … from the ash heap” (v. 8), “lifts up” (v. 7), causes people to “inherit the throne of glory” (v. 8), seats people “with princes” (v. 8), “makes rich” (v. 7), “will guard” (v. 9), “will give strength” (v. 10), and “brings up” from “the grave” (v. 6). In contrast, the Lord also “makes poor” (v. 7), “brings low” (v. 7), “will thunder” (v. 10), “will judge” (v. 10), and “brings down to the grave” (v. 6). Yet the Lord does not perform these actions indiscriminately. As judge of “the ends of the earth” (v. 10), he brings the worst against His “adversaries” (v. 10), while bestowing protection, strength, and exaltation to “His saints” (v. 9; Hb. ḥăsîdîm, “pious/godly”) and “His king”/“His anointed” (v. 10).

Whether Hannah knew the full import of her use of ‘king’ is not clear. However, Samuel was to be the vehicle which God would use to bring in the kingdom, and the throne. In addition, it is Hannah that first speaks of a Messiah, ‘His anointed’ and points to a future period when God’s Messiah, His King, would sit on the thone reigning in righteousness in the Messianic Kingdom.

Lessons from the Life of Hannah

1.      Circumstances of life may not be ideal, but they can be ‘in the Lord’s will’ and if our attitude to God is one of humility and faith, they can be used to His glory.

2.      First we need a walk with God. Hannah was a woman of prayer as is evidenced by her use of the personal Name of God.

3.      We need to have a faith like Hannah. Her God was able to accomplish anything – He is ‘the Lord of Hosts’.

4.      We need to be prepared to be used to move the purposes of God forward. We may not be the last link in the chain, but let us be a link somewhere in the chain.

5.      We need to know that God’s purposes will be accomplished with or without us, so let us get involved.

6.      We need to have perseverance. Not only to begin, but to continue right to the end. Do not get discouraged. While Samuel went on to be a sharp instrument of God, Hannah returned to Ramah and present Elkanah with more children, no doubt to raise them to love the Lord.

7.      In times of apostasy when less and less people believe in God, and fewer and fewer wish to live righteously, it is increasingly important to emulate Hannah and keep believing and keep following.

Keep us Lord, oh keep us cleaving,

To Thyself and still believing,

Till the hour of our receiving

Promised joys in heaven.

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