And Hannah prayed, and said, My heart rejoiceth in the LORD, mine horn is exalted in the LORD; my mouth is enlarged over mine enemies; because I rejoice in thy salvation . . .
A transformation took place in the life of Hannah beginning with her prayer to God in the tabernacle at Shiloh. She came to that prayer in tears with a heart breaking because of her own barrenness and because of the relentless taunts of Peninnah. She had poured out her soul with all of its bitterness in the presence of God, making a vow to dedicate the life of her son completely unto God if only He would grant her one. So passionately and unreservedly did she give herself over to this prayer that the high priest Eli watching her concluded that she was drunken. (Such was the day that drunkenness seemed a much more natural explanation of unusual behavior than any sense of dedication to God; and this was true even in the very tabernacle itself.) But when he heard her explanation, he- knew better. She was a woman deeply troubled at heart, and he wished for her an answer to her petition, saying, “Go in peace: and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of him.”
It was particularly this word of Eli that touched the heart of Hannah. He was God’s high priest. She realized that he did not know what her sorrow and what her petition had been; but that was not necessary either. When he spoke it was as though God was speaking to her through him. It was as though heaven was assuring her that her prayer had been heard. That was all that mattered. No longer did it even seem so very necessary that her petition should be granted. If God had heard her prayer, whatever He would bring to her would be well with her. Through prayer the sting of her sorrow was taken away.
When once again Hannah rejoined her family, it was as a different woman. There was a peace and confidence in her soul which had not been there for many a year. It must have seemed strange to everyone. Elkanah had tried so often in so many different ways to give this kind of assurance and joy to Hannah; but always his efforts had failed. Now suddenly it had come to her there at the tabernacle in a way which he did not completely understand. Peninnah had always found Hannah a very easy target for her pointed barb. It had become one of her chief pleasures in life. She suffered because of Elkanah’s failure to love her as he did Hannah, and she found a bitter joy in having her revenge upon Hannah. Almost unconsciously now, she was always giving forth with her cutting remarks designed to make Hannah grieve and hurt. But now of a sudden this was changed. There at the tabernacle, Hannah had suddenly received a complete immunity to the taunts of Peninnah. Now Hannah went about with a quiet spirit and an inner joy which Peninnah was no longer able to penetrate no matter how she tried. Hannah was a changed woman.
Early the next morning, Elkanah and his family rose to join in worship before the morning sacrifice of the tabernacle, and then they returned to their home. Soon it became apparent that Hannah’s new found confidence was not just a temporary lift in spirit; it remained with her day after day and week after week. A new strength and confidence had been added to her faith. It was then that God also answered her petition. Hannah conceived and bare a son. The name which she gave to him was Samuel, “Because,” she said, “I have asked him of the LORD.” We may well imagine the joy which this birth brought to Hannah and Elkanah. Here was indeed a gift from God. But the scars of polygamy were still there, and undoubtedly the hatred of Peninnah was only increased.
It was shortly after the birth of Samuel that the time came for Elkanah to go up to Shiloh again to offer their yearly sacrifices; but this time Hannah did not go. She had made a vow to the Lord, and she would not go to Shiloh until that vow could be kept. This child she had not asked for her own sake, but in love for Israel and for its future. This child was to be dedicated completely to the Lord. He was to be a Nazarite from his birth, untouched by the razor, strong drink or death. But he was to be marked by more than just these negative, typical signs. Hannah was determined that his life should be dedicated positively in service to God. Being from the tribe of Levi, he was eligible for service in the tabernacle. But with Samuel this was not to be just an occasional thing. Hannah had vowed to give him to the service of the tabernacle from the very first day at which he was capable of doing this, and she determined not to go to Shiloh herself until this vow could be kept. So she said to her husband, “I will not go up until the child be weaned, and then I will bring him, that he may appear before the LORD, and there abide for ever.” To this Elkanah answered, “Do what seemeth thee good; tarry until thou have weaned him only the LORD establish his word.”
It was perhaps three or four years later that Hannah finally felt that Samuel was ready. With her she brought an extra large number of gifts for the tabernacle, three bullocks, an ephah of flour, and a bottle of wine. Her child was fully prepared. From his first days of conscious comprehension Samuel had been made to understand that his life was dedicated to the tabernacle of God. As young as he was, he assumed this and went along willingly. It was indeed a very strange procession which finally came to the tabernacle of the Lord that year. First they approached the altar and presented a bullock in sacrifice before the Lord. Only then did Hannah bring her child to the amazed Eli and say, “Oh my lord, as thy soul liveth, my lord, I am the woman that stood by thee here, praying unto the LORD. For this child I prayed; and the LORD hath given me my petition which I asked of him: therefore also I have lent him to the LORD; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the LORD.”
We may well be inclined to wonder at this action of Hannah, why she should place a small child away from home in the tabernacle of God. We can only conclude that there must have been some real and useful function which a child was well able to serve in the services of the tabernacle. It perhaps reflected also upon the sad state of affairs into which the religious functions of the tabernacle had fallen. Considering that the tabernacle was the center and heart of all Israel’s religious activities, it was to be expected that Shiloh would have been a very busy and important place. But it was not. Through the long period of the judges, the spiritual life of Israel had fallen into a steadily lower ebb. No longer were there many Levites willing to leave their personal concerns and serve in the tabernacle as they were expected to do, and neither was there a great deal of need for them seeing so few worshippers even appeared any more. It was the type of situation in which a small boy could be quite helpful in running simple errands for an aged priest who was not overly busy to begin with.
To Hannah, nevertheless, the tabernacle was important. She was one of the few in Israel who considered the worship of God to be more important than anything else. Sor her to have her son received to serve within the tabernacle was more wonderful than anything else. The joy which she felt at this moment she gave expression to in a beautiful prayer in verse or song. She sang: *
My heart rejoiceth in Jehovah,
My horn is exalted in Jehovah;
My mouth is opened wide over mine enemies,
Because I rejoice in thy salvation.
There is none holy as Jehovah,
For there is none beside thee,
And there is no rock like our God.
Talk no more so exceedingly proudly;
Let not arrogancy come out of thy mouth;
For the Lord is a God of knowledge,
And by Him actions are weighed.
The bows of the mighty men are broken,
And they that stumble are girded with strength.
They that were full have hired themselves out for bread,
And they that were hungry ceased (to hunger);
So that the barren hath borne seven,
And she that hath many children hath waxed feeble.
Jehovah killeth and maketh alive,
Bringing down to Sheol and bringeth up.
Jehovah maketh poor and maketh rich,
Bringeth low and lifteth up.
He raiseth up the poor out of the dust,
And lifteth up the needy out of the dunghill,
To set among princes,
And he makes them to inherit a throne of glory;
For the pillars of the earth are Jehovah’s,
And he hath set the world upon them.
He will keep the feet of his favored ones,
And the wicked shall perish in darkness;
For not by strength shall a man prevail.
The adversaries of Jehovah shall be broken in pieces;
And out of heaven will he thunder upon them.
Jehovah will judge the ends of the earth,
And he will give strength unto his king.
This was indeed a remarkable prayer. Through her experience, Hannah had come to experience the battle which is known by the people of God in every age. It had happened in her relationship to Peninnah. Although a member of the nation of Israel, Peninnah was essentially a godless woman. Hannah’s song undoubtedly refers to her when it speaks of the one who talked exceedingly proudly and out of whose mouth arrogance came. This had been Peninnah throughout, a woman determined to show her own superiority to Hannah. As an Israelite, her only interest in the Word of God had been to use it as a means of belittling Hannah because of her barrenness. At her hands, Hannah had experienced the oppression of the wicked.
Nevertheless, Hannah in her song does not dwell exclusively upon her own hardships and sufferings. She was only a small part of a much greater picture. Some suffer from the bow of mightymen, some suffer poverty, some suffer sickness and death. The way of the people of God in this world is so often a way of hardship and pain. Often it is the wicked that appear to prosper more than they. It is this that lifts up the wicked in pride and brings their derision upon the meek and lowly of the people of God. Hannah had experienced this in the persecution of Peninnah. Of it she could sing with deep feelings as shared by God’s people in every age. She knew how cruel the wicked could be.
But in the end there is always the victory. Although at times God leads His people in hard ways, He never forsakes them. When they call upon Him, He returns to lift them up. The pride of the wicked is broken, and the people of God are made to rejoice. Hannah’s song is the song of all God’s people—
“My heart rejoiceth in Jehovah,
My horn is exalted in Jehovah;
My mouth is opened wide over mine enemies,
Because I rejoice in thy salvation. . . .”
*Translation by Rev. G. M. Ophoff.