As we read the early chapters of 1 Samuel we, in particular, observe some things about Hannah and her prayer life as well as Samuel and the spiritual state of the nation.
Hannah’s and her prayer life.
In 1 Samuel 1:10 -16, we read, “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord… Hannah was praying with her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard.” Eli, the High priest, observing Hannah at prayer wrongly accused her of being drunk. To which she replied “I am a woman who is deeply troubled… I was pouring out my soul to the Lord… I have been praying here out of great anguish and grief.”
To put this into context one needs to read the preceding verses, where we find that Elkanah had two wives – Peninnah who had children and Hannah who was childless. Each year when they went up to the temple at Shiloh, Elkanah would give portions of the meat to Peninnah’s children. While, “to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb.” This fact is repeated, followed by the comment, “her rival (Peninnah) kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year… her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat.” Who wouldn’t be irritated? But observe what she did with this – “she wept much and prayed to the Lord.”
I am struck by the fact that “God closed her womb.” It reminds me of the story of the man who was blind from birth. (John ch. 9). When his disciples asked him “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus replied – “Neither… but this has happened so that the work of God may be displayed in his life.” God can be in the most unexpected things in a most unexpected way! His apparent delays are not easily or readily understood. God was preparing a Samuel!
Out of all the provocation, pain, weeping, grief and travail came a Samuel, whom Hannah then dedicated to the Lord, that he might serve the Lord in Shiloh all the days of his life. We read in chapters 2 & 3 that “the boy ministered before the Lord.” (2:11,18 & 3:1); “the boy grew up in the presence of the Lord.” (v.21); “the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favour with the Lord and with men.” (v.26); “The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel… recognised that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord. The Lord continued to appear in Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word. And Samuel’s word came to all Israel.” (v’s19-21).
The spiritual state of the nation.
Yet, putting it simply – Samuel spoke into the mess. Eli, the High priest had lost it; his priestly sons “were wicked men; they had no regard for the Lord.” (2:12) and “the sin of the young men was very great in the Lord’s sight, for they were treating the Lord’s offerings with contempt.” (1:17). Chapter 3:1 just about sums it up – “In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.” Over into the next chapter, we read of their death, the capture of the Ark of the Covenant – the glory had departed!
There are some lessons/parallels in intercession for us in this.
God can take things like the spiritual barrenness in the nation/church and enable us in intercession to carry something of that barrenness in our own spirits. In fact, God uses this identification to hone and intensify our intercessions. Like Hannah, we can experience this ‘heart prayer’, the anguish, the grief and the pouring out of the soul. Such things are not natural to us in prayer. This is God deeply working in and through us by His Spirit. Yet it is out of this pain and travail that the birthing takes place, to be dedicated to the Lord. By doing so, Samuel was able to be used by the Lord to bring His presence and deliverance to the nation.
What is the longing, the heart cry that God has put in the womb of your heart as you embrace the barrenness around you? It might be a family member, the youth of Ireland, the wrong covenants of 1912 & 16. If anyone had reason to complain, it was Hannah. Yet somehow with the grace of God she was able to release the pain and disappointment to God in prayer enabling the result of ‘birthing’ rather than ‘bitterness’ to come forth.
Lord, in our day, may we see the return of Your Glory. Amen.