Edited from a message given to women at the Heart-Cry for Revival conference April 2004, at The Cove, Asheville, North Carolina, U.S.A.
Studying the women of Scripture, we learn that what made them effective, powerful servants of the Lord was not any great ability nor great intellect nor great training nor great position they had. They were simple, pure-hearted, wholehearted women who believed God. We will look at one of those women, Hannah, of whom we read in chapters one and two of First Samuel.
Hannah’s day was the era of the judges. Israel during those days was plagued by the powerful armies of the Philistines who kept coming after them in relentless fashion. Israel was in a decade-long period of spiritual decline and was at an all-time spiritual low up to that point in its history. It had been a hundred-year period of gradual, subtle moving away from love and worship of God.
Verse one of chapter three of First Samuel tells us that in those days the Word of the Lord was rare. There was no frequent vision of God. The people of God were corrupt. They were involved in all kinds of idolatry and immorality, following pagan practices. For all practical purposes there was little difference between the people of God and the people of the world. Is not that what we are seeing today?
To make it worse, in Hannah’s day there were virtually no godly men in positions of leadership in the nation. These were the days long past Moses, Joshua and the great men who followed God and led the people to follow God. Eli, the priest, was an old man by this point. The other priests were corrupt. They were greedy and immoral, particularly the sons of Eli – Hophni and Phinehas. These two were in the ministry but they did not know the Lord. The sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the Lord, for they treated the offering of the Lord with contempt (2:17), wanting the whole offering for themselves instead of sacrificing it to the Lord.
In 1 Samuel 2:22 we read, “Now Eli was very old, and heard all that his sons did unto all Israel; and how they lay with the women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation….” Eli said to his sons, “If one man sins against another, the judge shall judge him: but if a man sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?” But the sons would not listen to the voice of their father.
We’ve seen things going on around us in our day that make our hearts heavy, things like people motivated by personal greed and gain, lack of integrity, etc. What are we supposed to do? Where is God in these times? From our earthly, limited perspective, sometimes things seem hopeless. Sometimes it looks like evil is winning in our church and in the Christian world and in our nation. In the era of the judges, God had called out and set apart the nation of Israel to be a light to reflect His glory to the nations. In our day God has called out the Church to be a light to reflect His glory to our world. Sometimes it seems the light of the Church is all but snuffed out. It seems like pagan religions and carnal, professing Christians are getting the upper hand in the control centers of the churches. It seems like people who are greedy for power are going to run it their way and they seem to be winning. This seemed to be true with Israel in First Samuel.
In the midst of days like this, God chooses and uses simple, ordinary people who trust Him and who are willing to let Him effect His plan in and through their lives. Often those people don’t realize what God is doing. They are looking to God in helplessness and desperation and saying, “Please, God, do something!” As these individuals surrender to God’s providence and God’s purposes, they become instruments through whom He can accomplish His purposes in the Church and in the world. God sees a bigger picture than we can see. He has a plan and He is going to fulfill it. In fact, He is in the process of fulfilling that plan. He is redeeming and making new this corrupt and fallen world, and it’s going to cause even the wrath of man to praise Him. He is a God who is still on His throne!
God Chose to Use Hannah
God often uses the foolish and the weak and the despised, and things you wouldn’t think would have any value, and people with little faith and without seminary degrees. In this case in First Samuel, God chose a woman named Hannah. Her name means “grace.” This woman became an instrument of God’s grace in an entire nation. But she didn’t start out as a woman who had great faith in God. She went through a long, hard process to get there, and that’s why many of us can relate to Hannah.
In 1 Samuel 1:1-2 we read: “Now there was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim, of mount Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah…and he had two wives; the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah: and Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.” This family lived in Ramah. This is about fifteen miles from Shiloh, which is where the tabernacle resided at the time. Hannah’s husband Elkanah was a Levite. He was devout and was faithful to God in an era when very few men were faithful, even few priests. Every year at the time God prescribed, Elkanah went to worship God and to offer sacrifices as the law of God said that they should. He took his family with him to worship. This was a godly family of faithful worshipers of God in the midst of an ungodly environment.
But though there were some positive things in the family, this family had problems. First of all, Elkanah was in a bigamist marriage. It was probably due to a childless first marriage to Hannah. In those days a man whose wife was childless would often take a second wife to bear him children. This was not sanctioned by God, and when we do things in a way not sanctioned by God, we end up with what this family ended up with – strife, tension, competition, jealousy and rivalry. Hannah was the first and favored wife of Elkanah, but she was despised by the rival wife, Peninnah.
Then we see Hannah’s barrenness, this unfulfilled longing in her heart. In those days barrenness was considered a curse of God, a sign that there was something in her life that wasn’t pleasing to the Lord. Scripture gives no explanation for why Hannah did not have children. God often gives no explanation for our heartaches. Sometimes what God does in His sovereignty doesn’t seem consistent to His Word and His ways. God had promised His people if they would obey Him, He would bless them with fertility. You read in Deuteronomy 28:11: “The Lord will make you abound in prosperity, in the offspring of your body and in the offspring of your heart and in the produce of your ground….” But in this case as is often the case in our lives, God had a plan that was bigger than Hannah’s, a purpose that was greater than her strong, powerful desire for a child. God had for Hannah a greater blessing in mind than she could imagine at this point of her life.
Your Unfulfilled Longings
What is it that you want, that you long for, that you’ve not yet received? You’ve prayed for something, you’ve cried out to God for it – but it hasn’t happened. There’s no explanation given. You wonder, did I do something wrong? Have I failed? Have I sinned? It never hurts to go and ask God, “Is there something in my life that You’re chastening me for?” Sometimes the answer will be, “This isn’t chastening; this is for My greater glory. I have a purpose. I have a plan and your unfulfilled longing is part of this purpose and plan. Can you accept it? Can you embrace it when you can’t see why nor can you see the bigger picture?”
Remember, your life is part of the bigger story than yourself. This story is not about us; it’s about God’s great redemptive plan, His plan to take over this earth that belongs to Him. “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof” (Psa. 24:1). The earth is a prodigal planet and God’s plan is to win this planet back to His heart, to reign and rule as king over this world. In the scheme of the whole planet, our unfulfilled longings which are so major to us, are not that big. God wants to take those unfulfilled longings and make them part of His purpose to conquer and rule and love this planet. The story of Hannah, as is so much of Scripture, is a call to trust the heart of God. It’s a call to surrender to the will of God even when you can’t understand it and even when it makes your heart ache. It’s a call to find our place in the plan of God.
Hannah’s Problem Intensified
As if Hannah’s own infertility is not enough, she also had to deal with the prolific fertility of the second wife, Peninnah. First Samuel 1:4 tells us Peninnah had sons and daughters. That means she had at least four children. Here is a situation over which Hannah has no control, but one that affects her every day.
Verse four tells that on the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters, but to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her though the Lord had closed her womb. In those days when worshipers went to the tabernacle in Shiloh to offer sacrifices, they would offer their peace offerings and their thank offerings to the Lord and that would be followed with a fellowship meal where the worshipers would eat a portion of what had been sacrificed. At these times her husband would express his love for Hannah, but that wasn’t enough for her because she was being denied of the thing that she most wanted, a child.
Verse five tells us that “the Lord had closed her womb.” Sometimes the greatest disappointment we feel deep down is that it is God who has let us down. We have no control over the matter but God does. Satan puts in our mind a shadow of doubt about the goodness of God. Does He really love me? If God really cared, wouldn’t He do something about this? The phrase is repeated in verse six as if for emphasis: “the Lord had closed her womb.” This was providence at work. We must surrender to God’s providence and love it and know that it is good and holy and wise, and it’s exactly what we would choose if we knew what God knows.
It’s not wrong to have longings. But we must be willing to bow to God’s sovereign choices and not demand our way. There is no solution except to come to the place where we bow the knee, and we say, “God, this is Your choice; You have purposes and plans. I can’t see them nor understand them, but I receive them. I embrace Your purposes. I surrender to sovereignty.”
Going back to Hannah, not only is Peninnah fertile and Hannah barren, but Peninnah becomes a cruel rival. Hannah’s rival “provoked” her grievously to irritate her (v. 6). The word “rival” is the word that is also translated “trouble.” Do you have a “troubler” in your life, someone who irritates and provokes you? Hannah’s wasn’t a one-time experience. Verse seven says it went on year after year. As often as she went to the house of the Lord, Peninnah used to provoke Hannah.
God can use prolonged suffering to expose what is in our hearts in a way that we wouldn’t get exposed with just a one-time occurrence. It’s through the prolonged suffering sometimes that what’s in our hearts really comes out – our motives, our self-centeredness, the narrowness of our heart and our vision, the realization that I’m in this life for me and my purposes andmy plans. Sometimes we don’t see that until we have prolonged disappointment and provocation. God uses prolonged suffering to purify and cleanse our hearts. God was bringing Hannah into submission to His sovereignty, into a God-centeredness. God knew it was going to take that pruning, purging, purifying process of prolonged suffering to bring that out in Hannah’s life.
Time is one of the ingredients God uses to fulfill His purposes in and through our hearts and lives. During those years God was changing Hannah, just like He’s changing you and me through those circumstances in our lives that hurt so badly and do not go away, no matter how hard we pray. Sometimes they get worse. God uses those times of prolonged suffering to direct our hearts, to prepare us for some future purpose of His, some part of His plan.
Year after year as Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, she learned of the perversion and debauchery. I believe that Hannah’s heart changed from a preoccupation with her own will and purposes and problems and became grieved for more than her own affliction. Her vision became enlarged to see beyond herself and her own longings. God began to put into this woman’s heart a vision for the kingdom of God. She began to long for something greater than her own purposes and goals, and that was for the glory of God. God was preparing and molding and shaping Hannah to be a mother of a leader who would lead the nation out of this sinfulness so the glory of God could be restored to the nation.
Verse seven tells us that at Shiloh, Hannah wept and would not eat. Elkanah her husband said 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?” But Hannah was deeply distressed. She wept bitterly (v. 10). She said, “I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit” (v. 15). Hannah had a husband who loved her and tried to console her, but he could not fully understand what she was experiencing with those empty arms and that mother’s heart that doesn’t have a child to love and to hold.
Ultimately Hannah’s affliction and distress drove her to the temple to pray. Ronald Wallace has written a book called, Hannah’s Prayer, and he says in that book that her affliction became a school of prayer for her and taught her how to pray. I think of Psalm 130:1: “Out of the depths have I cried unto You, O Lord.” Isn’t that when we cry out, when we’re so far down we think we can’t go any further down?
James 5:13 says, “Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray.” Prayer comes rising up out of our prolonged affliction. Had there been anyone else who was able to console Hannah in a way she needed to be consoled and longed to be consoled, she may have never come to the point of praying this prayer. She might have never, therefore, fulfilled God’s purpose for her life in that generation. There are times when no one else can meet our needs. There’s a deep part of our soul that no one understands but Jesus. When you get to the point that you have nowhere to turn but Jesus Christ, and He is all you have – then you find that Christ is all that you need.
In verse eleven we read that Hannah made a vow and said, “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 son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head.”
Hannah had been praying for a child for years, but her praying had been changing because she had been changing. She had been developing and through those years of unfulfilled longing, she had come to know God in a new way. She had become burdened with the things that burden God’s heart and so in this prayer, she acknowledged God as the “Lord of hosts.” It is a picture of worship, reverence, submission. She recognized God’s sovereignty, His control and His power. He is the commander of everything in heaven and on earth.
Then she acknowledged that she is God’s servant, His “maidservant.” It’s a picture of her saying, “I’m not in charge. This isn’t my story; it is Your story. It’s not my world; it’s my Father’s world. It’s not my plans; it’s Your plan, and all I live for is to fulfill Your purposes and bring You pleasure.” When we see God as the Lord of hosts, we say, “We’re just Your servants, and we exist to serve You, not to fulfill our own pleasure, our own plans, our own purposes, but to be instruments through which You can fulfill Your purposes in this world.”
Because Hannah saw that He is the Lord of hosts, and she is a servant, she pleads rather than demands. She pled with God to give her a child for His glory and for His purposes. She realized that children are a gift from God as is every good and perfect gift, and so she asked the One who is able to fulfill her heart’s desire.
Having prayed this prayer, she made a vow and this vow is what leads me to believe that she had had a massive change of heart in those years of waiting and unfulfilled longing. She wanted a son no longer for herself, but now for the glory of God. She wanted a son who would serve God with pure, wholehearted devotion. That’s what the nation needed – a prophet, a leader, a man of God. She made a Nazarite vow on her son’s behalf. Hannah knew that to have this prayer answered would require sacrifice and loss on her part as she gave the desire of her heart back to God.
Psalm 62:8 tells us: “Trust in Him at all times, O people. Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.” That’s a word for every hurting woman today. Trust in the Lord at all times, because God is a refuge for you. Psalm 62:8 ends with the word “Selah” – “stop and think about that.”
As Hannah was pouring out her heart to the Lord at Shiloh, Eli who was sitting outside the temple, took her to be a drunken woman. Hannah responded, “Do not take your servant for a wicked woman…I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief” (1 Sam. 1:16). Then Eli answered and said, “‘Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant your petition that you have asked of Him.’ And she said, ‘Let your maidservant find favor in your sight.’” The word “favor” means grace. Hannah wanted to receive God’s grace and to be an instrument of grace. She wanted to believe God to pour out His grace in her life so His purposes could be fulfilled in this world.
Hannah’s Faith and Surrender
In verse 18 it says of Hannah: “So the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.” Did she have a son yet? No. Had her longing been fulfilled yet? No. I think this is a description of a woman who is walking in faith and surrender. Isn’t that what it comes back to again and again? Trust and obey. She laid her burden before the Lord and then left it there before she had any visible evidence that her request would be granted.
Hannah was no longer sad. Faith in the grace of God makes all the difference. How do you deal with heavy-heartedness and sorrow and pressures? You get the grace of God, the desire and the power to walk with God and to trust Him even though you can’t see the outcome.
As we think about the mysteries of unanswered prayer, we can come to the place where our prayer is no longer, “God, fix it,” or “God, change it.” Our ultimate and deepest prayer can be like this: “God, Your kingdom come; God, reign and rule in this marriage; in this child; in this life or church or workplace. Your will be done. If it brings me pleasure, so be it, but what I care about is that it bring You pleasure, that Your glory be seen and known and felt in this world.”
While Hannah wanted a son, God wanted a leader, a prophet, a man to be His man in that day. God needed a mother to have that son. During all those years Hannah could only see that her prayers weren’t being answered, and her troubler was troubling her and provoking her. But God was shaping and molding and making a mother to fulfill His purposes, a mother who would raise a child for just the brief period of time she would have, to be a son who loved the kingdom of God and the glory of God and knew how to listen to the voice of God and would be a man of God in the nation. Would you be willing to wait for the answer if you knew that God had in mind to give more than you’ve ever dreamed of asking?
Worship – Evidence of Faith and Surrender
In verse 19 we see the expression of faith and surrender in the heart of this woman. “They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord…” Worship is the evidence of faith and surrender. You see it three times in this chapter: Elkanah went to Shiloh to worship (v. 3); the whole family worshiped, including this woman Hannah who had prayed but had not yet seen the answer to her prayer (v. 19); and we see that Samuel the child who was the answer to this prayer, as a small child probably three years of age, worshiped (v. 28).
Then in verses 19 and 20 we see faith’s fulfillment. The couple went back to their home in Ramah, and Elkanah knew his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. You may feel forsaken or forgotten or separated from God, but God remembers His children. God remembers His covenant and His purposes. “In due time” God fulfills His promises. When is that? It is in God’s time, at just the right time. “In due time” Hannah conceived and bore a son. God always remembers, though not always in the way or the timing that we would choose.
Fulfilling the Vow
In verses 21-23 Hannah fulfills the vow she had made: “The man Elkanah and all his house went up to offer to the Lord the yearly sacrifice and his vow. But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, ‘I will not go up until the child is weaned; then I will bring him, that he may appear before the Lord and stay there forever.’ So Elkanah her husband said to her, ‘Do what seems best to you; wait until you have weaned him. Only let the Lord establish His word.’ Then the woman stayed and nursed her son until she had weaned him.” This was probably about three years, according to the time Hebrew women typically nursed their children.
What did she do for those three years? How did she prepare him for a life of service to God? I believe she devoted those earliest years to preparing her son to do what verse 22 says,“to appear in the presence of the Lord and dwell there forever.” No one can replace a mother in this role in the life of little ones – preparing your children to know God and walk with God and serve God for a lifetime. It is so important that mothers be there doing this role during those most formative young years of a child’s life.
How do we know that Hannah was intentional about training her son? We know that she was a woman of worship. Verse 28 tells that her son, when she took him to the tabernacle, worshiped the Lord. She was a woman of prayer, and her son became known as a man of prayer. He had a heart for God that was tender and sensitive and responsive, and I believe God planted those seeds of faith and worship and prayer in his young heart as he was nursing at his mother’s breast. Mothers, there is no higher, holier calling than preparing your children for a lifetime of knowing and serving God.
Verses 24 and 25 say: “Now when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, with three bulls, one ephah of flour, and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the Lord in Shiloh. And the child was young. Then they slaughtered a bull, and brought the child to Eli.” The slaughtering of the bull was a picture of the sacrifice Hannah was making in giving her son to the Lord. It pictured the laying down of her life and everything that meant anything to her for the sake of God and His kingdom.
Hannah said to Eli: “O my lord! As your soul lives, my lord, I am the woman who stood here in your presence praying to the Lord. For this child I prayed, and the Lord has given me my petition which I asked of Him. Therefore I have dedicated him to the Lord; as long as he lives he is dedicated to the Lord” (vv. 26-28).
Your children are a gift from God. As a mother, your call is to give them back to Him, to dedicate your children to God, to say that they are His, for His purposes, for His kingdom and to let your children know that’s what they are for. My parents let us know from the time when we were very little, that we didn’t belong to them, that we belonged to the Lord.
Hannah’s Prayer of Praise
In chapter two we read that Hannah prayed and said: “My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in the Lord, my mouth derides my enemies because I rejoice in Your salvation.” Hannah had just made an enormous personal sacrifice, giving this longed for, prayed for child to God to go and live in this tabernacle where there were all kinds of horrible things going on. But she was in praise. She was not grieving the loss; she was rejoicing. Why? Because she is a woman who has come to live for the glory of God and the advancement of His kingdom. She knows that God’s purposes are being fulfilled so she rejoices. This is the same woman who had earlier been heavy-hearted and troubled and sorrowful.
Her focus had shifted from herself. It was on God – His character, His ways, His plan, His kingdom and His purposes in the world. So her grief had been turned to joy, depression to exultation. Her heart that was once downcast is now exulting in the Lord. Petitioning has turned to praise. This is a woman who has learned that true joy is found in nothing and no one other than God Himself. It is as if she is saying, “Lord, You are enough. My praise, my delight is in You, the giver, not in Your gifts. You are the source of my satisfaction.”
In 2:2-3 Hannah praises the character of God. In verses 4-5 she ponders the way of God being opposite to our ways. In verses 6-8 she proclaims the sovereignty of God. In verses 9-10 she prophesies the coming of the kingdom of God over all the earth and the judgment of God on all who resist His rule and His reign. Verses 9 and 10 say: “He will keep the feet of His saints, and the wicked shall be silent in darkness; for by strength shall no man prevail. The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces; out of heaven shall He thunder upon them: the Lord shall judge the ends of the earth; and He shall give strength to His king, and exalt the horn of His anointed.”
In these verses is a theme that runs all through Scripture – that God cares for and preserves His people. Then there is a second theme that runs throughout Scripture, and that is the final judgment of the wicked and the enemies of God. They will be cut off, the adversaries of the Lord will be broken to pieces. I believe that Hannah had come to the place of realizing how God feels about sin and she identifies with God’s heart against sin.
Then she says, “He will give strength to His king and exalt the power of His anointed.” This is the first Old Testament reference to a king who is God’s anointed one. The Hebrew word is “Messiah.” She prophesied the kingdom of God, the coming of Christ. She spoke words that God used and fulfilled generations later.
Hannah’s prayer was a turning point in her own life, a point of surrender, of yielding to the will of God. And it was a turning point in the life of the nation, a nation that for 100 years had been in a steady decline, much as ours has been. God answered her prayer, and began the process of restoring the heart of a nation to Himself. Oh, the influence of a woman’s heart and a woman’s prayers when she gets engrossed and engaged in what God is doing in the world!
Exchanging Your Unfulfilled Longing
God knows what the unfulfilled longing of your heart is, the thing that you’ve prayed for, longed for and wept for. He hears your prayers. He is using this time to change you, to give you a bigger heart than just a heart that cares about your own burdens. He is giving you a passion for something bigger and greater, a passion for God’s glory, a passion for His kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Let God change you. Let God direct your prayers. Keep bowing the knee. Keep surrendering to God’s sovereignty, and know that God has sent His anointed One. “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 11:15). Amen!
© Nancy Leigh DeMoss. Used by permission of Revive Our Hearts, P.O. Box 2000, Niles, MI 49120. www.ReviveOurHearts.com. To order a copy of this message on DVD, call 1-800-569-5959. Revive Our Hearts is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.