Praying about something without seeing any results can be difficult. We pray, and we ask God for many things. But, at times, we do not see the result of our prayer. Sometimes, we take things too far if God did not answer our prayers as we “expect.” We then get frustrated, irritated, get angry at God, and tend to give up on prayer altogether.
Now, what this type of attitude indicates an apparent lack of faith in God’s power and His ability to answer our prayers.
In spite of many hardships, there is a person in the historical narratives of the Bible who did not give up on prayer!
She was mocked, belittled, insulted, and misunderstood. But, none of that pushed her away from her prayer, her faithfulness, and her hope in the “LORD of hosts.”
We all know that the account of Hannah (meaning – gracious or gracious one), is in 1 Samuel.
The story beings with a background information in 1 Samuel 1:1-8, to the events that would take place in 1 Samuel 1:9-28.
The narrative opens with Elkanah (meaning God has created or taken possession). He had two wives, “the first named Hannah and the second Peninnah” (1 Samuel 1:2).
It also further indicates the central issue of the immediate context, that Hannah did not have children, while Peninnah has Children. Even though Peninnah has children, Elkanah’s love for Hannah is evident; he gave her double portion compared to what he gave Peninnah.
The problem beings here.
Verse 6 states that “Her rival would taunt her severely just to provoke her because the Lord had kept Hannah from conceiving.”
Notice the intensity in the first clause: “Her rival would ‘taunt‘ her severely.” The verb used here is in the Piel form (in Hebrew), which is used to indicate an intense type of action. So, understood this way, Peninnah did not “pick on her” (in our terms), or simply made fun of her. But, she literally, purposefully harassed her to the limits. Now, the reason why Hannah was barren was that the Lord Himself closed her womb.
It seems, however, that Peninnah knew the reason why Hannah was barren. But yet, that did not stop Peninnah from harassing Hannah.
Year after year, Hannah went to the house of the Lord, and she wept and did not eat. Then Elkanah questions here saying – why aren’t you eating? Why is your heart grieved? (Seriously?) Elkanah, in stead of comforting her, he added more pain to Hannah. All this caused Hannah to pray to the Lord and cry in bitterness. Added to this was Eli’s comment in verse 13. Eli (a corrupt priest, and of course lazy), thought that she was drunk. So he says to her, “How long will you be drunk? Put your wine away from you.” But, after some time, hearing what Hannah has to say, Eli, in some way blessed Hannah.
Now, here is the turning point in Hannah’s life.
It is the type of “vow” she made. Hannah made a “conditional vow,” just like others in the Bible did.
In general, there are seventy-six vows listed in the Bible.
Let us look at some of the vows.
In Genesis 28:20-21, Jacob makes a vow. Look closely at the conditions he sets.
“Then Jacob made a vow: ‘If God will be with me and watch over me during this journey I’m making, if he provides me with food to eat and clothing to wear, and if I return safely to my father’s family, then the LORD will be my God.”
Now, let us break this down:
1. If God will be with me
2. and watch over me during this journey I am making
3. If he provides me with food to eat and clothing to wear
4. and if I return safely to my father’s family
5. “then” the LORD will be my God.
The end desire of Jacob was a good one, that is the LORD will be his God. But, notice the “type” of conditions. If you do these (all his conditions in points 1-4), then, that is when the LORD will be his God. The “type” of “condition” here is, let us say – if X, then Y.
Now, let us look at 2 Samuel 15:8.
In 2 Samuel 15:8, we see Absalom’s vow. He says, “For your servant made a vow when I lived in Geshur of Aram, saying: If the LORD really brings me back to Jerusalem, I will worship the LORD in Hebron.” Jerusalem to Hebron is about 20 miles.
Let us break this down:
1. If the LORD really brings me back to Jerusalem
2. (then) I will worship the LORD in Hebron
Absalom says, “if the LORD really” or “if the LORD indeed” brings me back. First, this a condition. Second, this is a condition with an uncertain expectation (Notice the word “really” or “in deed” [as in some translations]). Absolom was not even confident when he made this vow. Nonetheless, this is also an “If X, then Y” type of condition.
Now to Jephthah’s vow (which I think is an awful vow).
In Judges 11:31 Jephthah makes a vow:
“Jephthah made this vow to the LORD: ‘If you in fact hand over the Ammonites to me, whoever comes out the doors of my house to greet me when I return safely from the Ammonites will belong to the LORD, and I will offer that person as a burnt offering'” (CBS).
Let us break it down:
1. If you in fact hand over the Ammonites to me
2. (then) whoever comes out the doors of my house to greet me … I will offer that person as a burnt offering.”
It is the same situation here as in Absalom’s condition. Jephthah was not confident when he made the vow (Notice the word: in fact, or in deed). This vow is also an “if X, then Y” type.
Now, let us closely look at Hannah’s prayer.
1 Samuel 1: 10-11 indicates Hannah’s prayer – “Deeply hurt, Hannah prayed to the LORD and wept with many tears, Making a vow, she pleaded, ‘LORD of Armies, if you will take notice of your servant’s affliction, remember and not forget me, and give your servant a son, I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and his hair will never be cut.'”
Let us break down this vow:
1. If you will take notice of your servant’s affliction, remember and not forget me and give your servant a son
2. (then) I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life
Hannah was in utter pain and agony. She was belittled, hurt, insulted. She did not give up on her prayer; She did not give up on God because He did not answer her for a while. Rather, she continued to pray! She placed tremendous faith in God that He would grant her request. Hannah’s prayer is an example of a fervent prayer.
Look at the unusual condition she put in her vow.
If you give me a son, I will give him back to you!
This condition is NOT “if X, then Y.” It is “if X, then X.”
Why is Hannah’s prayer answered?
We can notice three things:
Hannah did not give up on God because of the pressure, pain, and insults. She dedicates her life to praying, trusting and believing God that He will answer her prayer.
Not having children in the ancient world was a different matter.
Bill T. Arnold in his commentary states:
In the ancient social setting, the most important role for a wife was to bear children. Men of financial means needed to have a male heir to continue the line, and barren wives suffered the embarrassment and shame of seeing another wife provided for their husbands, as Hagar did for Sarah and Bilhah for Rachel.”
She could have said – I am not pleading anymore because God is not answering my prayers. Or why should I even pray? Am I talking to a wall? Etc., etc. But, she did not. In stead, she continued to pray. She even went to the house of the Lord, “Year after year, when she went up to the Lord’s house,” and prayed there as well!
Based on the immediate context, we can see how faithful Hannah is in her life and prayer life. These two cannot be separated. She faithfully prayed, “believing” that God would grant her request. Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 21:22? “And if you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” Hannah believed that God would grant her request and He did. She could ONLY believe in God to provide her need if the God she believes is a faithful God in the first place. And He is. Notice what Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “Because of the LORD’s faithful love we do not perish, for his mercies never end. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
Hannah’s prayer was selfless, dedicated, persistent, and faithful. Her prayer was unique because of the nature of the prayer and the nature of the vow she made.
She requests, she receives, and she re-dedicated the same to the LORD. Wow.
If X, then X.
Hannah’s story is only on few pages of the Bible, but, it is a compelling story. It shows her pain, her struggle(s), her dedication to the prayer life, her faith in the LORD and the character-personality in which she vows and stands on that vow by re-dedicating the child that she “asked” of the LORD (Eli, the priest, made an interesting statement, after all, “Then Eli answered and said, ‘Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition which you have asked of Him’” (NKJV).” Ask – is an interesting word in this context. The verb used for “ask” is “šā·ʾǎl” and Samuel name begins with the same consonant as šā and ends with ‘l.)
The lesson is, Hannah completely depended on God. Don’t give up on God or on prayer just because God did not answer your prayer right away. Keep praying, and pray faithfully. Pray believing that God would grant your request(s).
Question: What other insights did you find in Hannah’s prayer?
 Bill T. Arnold, 1 & 2 Samuel, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 55.