Mark Grasso

The Old Testament refers to more men than women. Men also had a more public position than women in the conduct of worship under the law (e.g. the priesthood was given to Aaron and his sons: Ex. 28:1) and in the administration of Israel’s affairs (as seen, for example, in the fact that the right to reign passed through the male line). However, neither fact suggests any bias for or against either gender. God loves every individual who has ever been born with the same love — ‘all are precious in His sight’, as the children’s chorus states. God shows the same grace and favour to all, irrespective of gender, race or any other characteristic of nature which might distinguish one person from another. While He has given men the primary responsibility in connection with the public testimony for Him on earth in all dispensations, this is part of His order for earthly things.[1] It does not carry any suggestion that God values men more than women or that He takes less pleasure in the service of women than that of men.

If anything, the Bible demonstrates God’s special regard for women and the Lord’s appreciation of their faithfulness and the spiritual insight which they possess, and which often seems to surpass that of men. Of all the impoverished people in the Middle East at the time, it was a widow to whom God sent Elisha (2 Ki. 4:1–7). Phoebe has the longest commendation letter in history (the book of Romans) because of her faithful service of the Lord’s people (Rom. 16:1). Mary of Bethany appears to have had the best understanding of the Lord’s statements concerning His death and resurrection during His earthly ministry.

Hannah exhibited similar qualities and sets a good example for all believers (male or female). The state of Israel in 1 Samuel 1 remained as it was during the time of the judges: no regard for God, and everyone doing what was right in their own eyes (this state having even permeated the priesthood as shown by 1 Samuel 2:12–13, 22 and 25). Hannah stands out as a godly woman, as the record of her life demonstrates. However, she was suffering — she had not had any children (children being rightly regarded by Israelites as a gift from God: Ps. 127:3); she was married to a man who had taken a second wife in disobedience to God’s thoughts (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:5) and probably also because he was disappointed that Hannah had not borne children; and she was mocked by her husband’s second wife. Although space does not permit every positive feature of Hannah to be highlighted, we should not overlook the way in which her attitude was the same as the Lord’s in this regard: although reviled, she reviled not (1 Pet. 2:23).

While her husband was regular in his annual attendance at Shiloh to offer a sacrifice (1 Sam. 1:3) and showed Hannah that she was favoured (the meaning of her name according to Strong’s Concordance) in his affections (vs. 5, 8), he does not appear to have had genuine sympathy for her situation or seen that she really wanted to be favoured by God. He also does not share her burden in taking it to the Lord in prayer.

More generally, prayer does not seem to have been the habitual resource of the nation at this time. We rarely read of Israel committing matters to God in Judges or in much of 1 Samuel. Indeed, even Eli the high priest did not even recognise that Hannah was praying when she was in the temple (vs. 9–15). How brightly Hannah stands out against the darkness of the day. It must have meant something to the heart of God to see individuals such as Hannah still taking advantage of Israel’s opportunity to approach His throne.

While there may have been some bitterness of feeling swept up in it, Hannah’s prayer was genuine, as demonstrated by her weeping and pouring out her soul as she uttered it (vs. 10, 15). She also knew that God deserved His due in everything. The vow which she made in verse 11 was not a petulant demand for a child, like Rachel’s in Genesis 30:1, or an attempt to bargain with God, let alone the selfish or even deluded way in which we might sometimes approach God, thinking that we deserve a blessing from Him or that, if He blesses us, everything will suddenly change and we will thereafter serve Him. The content of Hannah’s vow makes clear that it was selfless: she was asking God for the thing which was most important to her, but she was going to give her son to the Lord, and dedicate him to the Lord’s service, because that was what He was entitled to, and it was the best offering which she could make to the Lord in return for His favour in granting her prayer. While we can and should bring our needs before the Lord, and even cast all our care upon Him because He cares for us (1 Pet. 5:7), is our prayer life sometimes inappropriately self-centred? Do we ask for things solely because we want them, or are we prepared to follow Hannah’s example in putting the principles underlying Romans 12:1, 1 Corinthians 6:19–20 and other verses into practice?

When she was blessed, Hannah did not forget the one who blessed her like the chief butler did with Joseph (Gen. 40). She also did not attempt to rewrite her vow. She was faithful to it (1 Sam. 1:26–28). She also ensured that there would be a perpetual testimony to God’s goodness to her in the name which she gave her son (Samuel meaning ‘asked (or given) of God’), a name which is recorded in Scripture for all to read.

Finally, Hannah had a spiritual insight beyond that of her peers. She addressed God as the Lord ‘of hosts’ (v. 11) — the first time we read of God being called this name. The Lord Jesus (for He is Jehovah of hosts as Psalm 24:10 makes clear) is the Lord of an unseen army of heavenly beings. This name is not reserved for the Lord Jesus when His people are walking rightly and being faithful to Him (that is, for circumstances when we might have thought He would exercise His might for their deliverance or well-being). In fact, it is generally associated in the Old Testament with times of weakness on the part of His people, in particular spiritual weakness (see e.g. the uses of the name in Haggai). Even if His people are unfaithful, the Lord Jesus remains faithful as He cannot deny Himself (2 Tim. 2:13). There is always a great array of power at the Lord’s disposal. Hannah realised that she could take advantage of it.

Further, Hannah’s song of praise in 1 Samuel 2 shows a deep knowledge of God’s character (vs. 2–3) and His counsels concerning Israel and the earth (vs. 4–10). Hannah also sets a good example for us in that her expression of appreciation of God was not limited to what He had done for her but extended to worship for who He was and what He would do, even in things not concerning herself directly.

While Hannah’s song is prophetic and speaks of the Lord’s future blessing of Israel, there has been at least partial fulfilment of it. Verse 10 states that God will exalt His anointed. Samuel anointed David, the man after God’s heart (1 Sam. 13:14; 16:1–3, 11–13), and a type of Christ, the ‘anointed’. What a blessed reward from God to this faithful woman: her son had the privilege of bestowing God’s mark of choice and favour upon David, the man who was especially after His own heart, would go on to win great battles for Israel and, perhaps more important still, would provide rich and touching pictures of God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

[1] For the sake of completeness, and while God is free to act as He pleases because He is God, God’s order for early things has a principled basis, which can be discerned from Genesis 2:16–23, 1 Corinthians 11:8, 1 Timothy 2:11–14 and other verses.