1 Samuel 1:10 “And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the LORD, and wept sore.”
Do you find yourself stuck in a barrenness of soul or body that seems like it will never be filled? From my personal and pastoral observations, there are very few voids as painful to process as the persistently barren womb. As Hannah so wisely models, the only sanctified response to these sensations of significant deficiencies is prayer.
What can we learn from Hannah’s prayerful processing of barrenness?
God is acutely aware of the voids in our lives. (2b)
Often in the days recorded in our text (though it was never sanctioned by God), a man whose wife was infertile would take a second wife by whom he could bear children. This explains why Elkanah had two wives and why Hannah, the beloved but barren one, so fervently desired a son. Everybody, including Hannah’s affectionate husband, had moved on to “solve” the void without God.
But the God who inspired this first chapter of 1 Samuel had not moved on or forgotten. Without prayer, we tend to experience emotions and thoughts that reflect a pseudo-reality of divine amnesia or indifference toward our unfulfilled desires. Nothing could be further from the truth, and prayer reminds us of the perpetual fact that God is more familiar with our emptiness than we are. What we do after everyone else gives up, determines everything. Let prayer keep you locked in upon the God who is eternally locked in upon craving, yearning you.
God is intimately connected to the voids in our lives. (5b, 6b)
To understand how this barrenness must have adversely affected Hannah, we must understand her cultural framework. Because a Hebrew man’s posterity was bound up in his having a son to perpetuate his name, his wife’s inability to conceive a son was regarded in spiritually-charged manner. According to Deuteronomy 7:13–14, having children was a sign of God’s blessing. Conversely the Israelites considered the inability to bear children as a curse. This perspective helps us appreciate the assumptions about God that Hannah had to overcome in her own mind as well as through the opinions/assaults of others (v. 6).
While God is sovereign over every nuance of our lives included our voids, we must not allow our finite, fleshy perspective alone to distort our view of that relationship. Voids tend to skew our vision of God! There is more going on in 1 Samuel 1 and whatever zip code of want you are living in today- a perspective that is only maintained through daily supplications. You have to choose one of two options: do you trust enough to beseech God or will you blame God?
God is waiting for us to get serious with Him about those voids. (10-11)
Hannah’s only resort was to cast herself entirely on the mercies of God. The phrase used of Hannah conveys the idea of mental embitterment, deep disappointment. She vowed a vow. Her vow was twofold: lifelong Levitical service, and life membership as a Nazarite. Neither of these positions was necessarily permanent among the Hebrews. A Levite served until the age of fifty; the Nazarite’s vow was for a specific period of time. Only Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptist were dedicated to perpetual Nazaritehood from birth. What a serious vow on Hannah’s part! Now Hannah is getting serious with God-a posture that can only be reached and maintained through earnest prayer.
The question is not whether your prayers are sincere or not; the question is whether they are serious or not. This level of seriousness can only be reached when the void being filled is less about you and more about God. Prayer allows us to reach a level with God that we are okay with the final status of any deficiency as long as we know it is God’s gracious, definitive answer whether that be “yes, wait, or even no.” A serious request to God will always involve promised sacrifice on your part. Where’s the “vow” God is asking you to make before He moves heaven and earth to get glory in your previously barren life?
God answers with His best solution to every void verbalized in prayer. (19-20, 27-28)
“But the Lord remembered her”-what tremendous, stirring words! Because Hannah “asked,” she was “heard by God,” which can be connected to the root “hear” (Hebrew: shama˓) and the name Samuel. She literally called this baby who filled her womb and heart “Heard by God,” (meaning thereby, “God has heard my prayer, and has answered my request”). To get God’s full and wise answer, Hannah has to reach a point of contentment in simply being heard by God.
While I am not suggesting that every void is filled in the specific manner of Hannah, every void can be called “Samuel,” in other words, HEARD BY GOD. With God, to be heard is to be helped! It is key to note that Hannah, after Samuel’s weaning and “life-long lending,” rarely interacted with him. The true joy expressed in the 1 Samuel 2 has less to do with the relationship with the answer (Samuel) and more today with the Answerer (Jehovah). Could the reason your void persists is because you have made it more about you and less about God? Allow dependent prayer to refine this tendency out of your longing heart and soul.
According to Psalm 113:9, “He maketh the barren woman to keep house, and to be a joyful mother of children. Praise ye the LORD.” It may not happen on our terms, but prayer reminds us that God can and will ultimately fill every void in our souls, families, and eternity in His perfect way. Pray to Him. Praise Him, in advance, for giving us a God-shaped hole that only He can and will fill.