Hannah – From Victim to Victory

Women’s Empowerment Bible Study Series



1 Samuel, Chapter 1: vs. 1-19

1 There was a certain man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite[a] from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. 2 He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.
3 Year after year this man went up from his town to worship and sacrifice to the LORD Almighty at Shiloh, where Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of the LORD. 4 Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. 5 But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the LORD had closed her womb. 6 Because the LORD had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. 7 This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the LORD, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. 8 Her husband Elkanah would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”
9 Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up. Now Eli the priest was sitting on his chair by the doorpost of the LORD’s house. 10 In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the LORD, weeping bitterly. 11 And she made a vow, saying, “LORD Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”
12 As she kept on praying to the LORD, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk 14 and said to her, “How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.”
15 “Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the LORD. 16 Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”
17 Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”
18 She said, “May your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.
19 Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the LORD and then went back to their home at Ramah. Elkanah made love to his wife Hannah, and the LORD remembered her. 20 So in the course of time Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel,[b] saying, “Because I asked the LORD for him.”
Hannah Dedicates Samuel
21 When her husband Elkanah went up with all his family to offer the annual sacrifice to the LORD and to fulfill his vow, 22 Hannah did not go. She said to her husband, “After the boy is weaned, I will take him and present him before the LORD, and he will live there always.”[c]
23 “Do what seems best to you,” her husband Elkanah told her. “Stay here until you have weaned him; only may the LORD make good his[d] word.” So the woman stayed at home and nursed her son until she had weaned him.
24 After he was weaned, she took the boy with her, young as he was, along with a three-year-old bull,[e] an ephah[f] of flour and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the LORD at Shiloh. 25 When the bull had been sacrificed, they brought the boy to Eli, 26 and she said to him, “Pardon me, my lord. As surely as you live, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the LORD. 27 I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him. 28 So now I give him to the LORD. For his whole life he will be given over to the LORD.” And he worshiped the LORD there.

The story of Hannah and her opponent “sister wife,” may be familiar to you. Hannah, the mother of Samuel, one of the greatest men of the Old Testament, is a woman whose name is often associated with prayer. In biblical circles, Hannah is referred to as a “praying mother.” This descriptive is certainly an appropriate title for Hannah; however, when we carefully study her story, we find the process of prayer and a deepening faith for Hannah was a journey, as it is for most of us.

Hannah’s story opens the 1st book of Samuel and we find a distraught and disturbed woman. The text begins as we discover that Hannah is one of two wives whose husband is named Elkanah. The text tells us that Hannah has no children and Penninah, the “other” wife has sons and daughters. As Hannah’s story continues, we are informed by the writer : “the Lord closed Hannah’s womb.” Penninah, the rival wife, aware of Hannah’s circumstance, taunts and provokes Hannah to the point of pure misery (Hannah wept and would not eat.)

The Hebrew word for “wept” in this context is “bakah,” which means to weep in grief and humiliation. Penninah, who realized that Hannah so desperately desires a child with their husband, uses Hannah’s situation of childlessness, to humiliate and torment her. Elkanah, who is aware his wife’s, seems clueless as the pain, grief, and humiliation caused by Hannah’s barrenness (“Why are you downhearted. Don’t I mean more to you than 10 sons?”).

From the text, we understand that Hannah is a believer in God and she does have a relationship with the Lord. In fact, the entire family, including Penninah, goes each year to make their annual sacrifice at the temple in Shiloh ( a type of religious pilgrimage). We also discovered that Elkanah loved his wife (Hannah) and gives her a double portion of meat. While this may not seem like a grand gesture to us, remember that food was extremely difficult for the ancients to come by, so this gesture would indicate Elkanah’s generosity, preference and affection for Hannah, despite her affliction. Perhaps, the knowledge and display of this affection and special treatment for Hannah drives Penninah to display such vicious and unsympathetic behavior towards her.

The story does not tell us how long Hannah remained childless; but, from the tone of the text, we can assume that it was quite a long time. It was long enough for Penninah to have “sons and daughters,” and for the text to indicate the taunting and viciousness went on “year after year.” The story moves on to let the reader know that Hannah decides to go alone to the Temple and petition the Lord by herself. Not only did Hannah made a promise to the Lord to give God her first son in service; but, she prays so fervently, (“praying in her heart”) that the priest, Eli, who was watching her, accuses her of being drunk. Hannah tells Eli she was “pouring out her heart to the Lord.” Consequently, Eli the priest blesses her and tells her to “go in peace and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of Him.”

Suddenly, we see a different woman. Her face, meaning her presence, is no longer downcast, and almost immediately after her prayer encounter with God, and the blessing from Eli, Hannah becomes pregnant with Samuel. She names her first son, Samuel, which means in Hebrew: “asked of God or “God has heard.” Hannah’s story ends with the promise fulfilled. The Lord grants Hannah what she has so desperately desires and fervently prays for – a son. Hannah names her son, Samuel. She fulfills her vow to the Lord and gives Samuel in service to the Temple.

The story of Hannah should move us, as contemporary women who believe in God and the power of prayer. Some of us have experienced the torment of other women who are determined to taunt, tease, and provoke us for sport or out of envy and jealousy. These contemporary Penninahs, we often call “Mean Girls.” Unfortunately, mean girls or bullies seem to be everywhere we turn: school, church, work, and even sometimes in our own family circles. We can relate to the anguish and grief of Hannah, who has to live with Penninah: her sharp tongue, and all of her mind games. Interestingly enough, we find in Hannah’s story that relief from Penninah comes not from Penninah’s change of heart; but Hannah’s own. Somewhere, in the journey of prayer and deeper relationship with God, Hannah’s mind and life are changed. It is not Elkanah who changes, and certainly not Penninah; but, instead Hannah. The power of fervent prayer and worship becomes the catalyst for blessing.

How are we to interpret this change in Hannah? How does this story inform us about Hannah’s change of heart and circumstance?

Let’s examine this story from the vantage point of the 4 Rs: RE-POSITIONING, REORIENTATION, REPLACEMENT, and REBIRTH.
How does Hannah “reposition” herself to receive from God what she has so desired for so long?
How does Hannah “reorient” her life to see herself differently and to achieve different results from God and from the priest, Eli?
What does Hannah “replace” in her life, which allows her to be open to blessing, and a completely different circumstance?
Finally, how is Hannah “reborn?”

In answering these questions above, I would like for us to think of a term which Lupita Nyong’o coined in a speech for Essence Magazine 2014: “The Seduction of Inadequacy.” This term means that oftentimes, as women, we are seduced and held hostage by playing the victim, and allowing our feelings of low self-esteem and self hate to trap us into a place where we do not see ourselves as God sees us. Until Hannah re-positions herself, reorients her life, and replaces priorities and emotions with worship, prayer, and self confidence, she suffers from “a closed womb.”

Authentic prayer and worship forces us to let go of our own self perceptions, distractions, and desires, and give everything we have to God. Until we do, we replay the soundtrack of self victimization over and over again. We cannot grow in faith or achieve a deeper relationship with the Lord by carrying the baggage of self-victimization and low self esteem. True prayer, then, is not about what WE ASK FOR; but instead what WE GIVE to the Lord: “a pouring out of our soul.” With prayer and worship, Hannah goes from fear to faith, anguish to assurance, and victim to victory. SO CAN WE!!!!!

As we consider the story of Hannah, her start and her new beginning, ask yourself these same questions:

How can you “RE-POSITION” yourself with prayer and worship to achieve a closer relationship with God?
How can a “REORIENTATION” of your priorities allow you to see different results in your relationship with God and others?
What can you “REPLACE” in your life, which will allow you to experience blessings for a new and different circumstance in 2015?
For your own life, what does the term, “REBIRTH,” mean to you?

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