Promises Made In The Pain

Today’s read was 1 Samuel 1-3, the story of Samuel’s birth.

[Hannah] said, “Oh, my lord! As your soul lives, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you, praying to the Lord. For this boy I prayed, and the Lord has given me my petition which I asked of Him. So I have also dedicated him to the Lord; as long as he lives he is dedicated to the Lord.” And he worshiped the Lord there. –1 Samuel 1:26-28

Everything we know about Hannah is contained in the first two chapters of 1 Samuel. She was married to a man who loved her, but who also had a second wife, Peninnah, a cruel woman who provoked Hannah bitterly, seeing her as a rival for her husband’s affections. Peninnah had several sons and daughters, but Hannah was barren, by God’s sovereign choice. The Lord had closed her womb (1 Samuel 1:6).

As Hannah’s story unfolds, we see three critical elements in her faith.

#1 – Hannah had faith to pray persistently and diligently.

Each year Hannah and her husband made the journey to Shiloh to offer sacrifices at the place of worship. Year after year, Hannah prayed diligently that God would grant her the ability to conceive. We see the depths of her pain in the way she prayed; she was greatly distressed and wept bitterly (1:10). Her heart was focused entirely on God, so much so that Eli, the priest, thought she might have been drunk as he watched her lips move, but no audible sound.

#2 – Hannah had faith to promise God what she knew would be painful.

On this particular year, Hannah makes a vow. If God gives her a child, she will give him back to serve the Lord all the days of his life. I don’t believe Hannah made this promise lightly. Having desired a child for so long, she fully understood what it would mean to give him back to God; she also knew God would give her strength if He answered her prayer.

God hears her prayer and grants her petition. This does not set a precedent to “make deals” with God, but God saw Hannah’s heart, and in His sovereign purposes, He honored her request. She conceives and bears a son, whom she names Samuel, meaning “name of God,” or “God hears.” Each time she pronounced his name, she would be reminded that this child was an answer to her prayers and that he belonged to God, not her.

#3 – Hannah had faith to fulfill her promise.

For the next few years, Hannah stays at home while her husband makes the yearly trek to Shiloh, savoring the time she has with her son. As a mother, I can only imagine what might have gone through her mind as she put him to bed each evening, knowing that she was one day closer to saying goodbye to him. However, Hannah never wavered in fulfilling the vow she had made to give Samuel back in service to God. It would have been easy to delay the parting, to justify another year at home, to find another reason why it was not the best time to surrender her child into the care of Eli and the other priests. But scripture is clear, as soon Samuel was weaned, she took him to the Lord in Shiloh, although the child was young (1:24). Without hesitation, though surely her heart grieved, she had faith to honor what she had promised the Lord in gratitude that He had heard and answered her prayers.

We see the core values of Hannah’s faith in the song of thanksgiving recorded just after leaving her son in Shiloh: My heart exults in the Lord…There is no one holy like the Lord, indeed there is no one besides You, nor is there any rock like our God (1 Samuel 2:1-2). Hannah’s faith was grounded not in the things God gave her, but in who God was in Himself. She trusted God because she knew He was good and holy and deserving of her sacrifice. She had faith that just as God had fulfilled her desire for a child, He would sustain her heart in giving that child back to Him.

God honored Hannah’s willing faith by giving her three more sons and two daughters. She learned a valuable lesson; God is faithful and trustworthy. When we entrust what is most precious to us to Him, He will give us more than we can imagine.

How about us? Have we prayed faithfully and diligently for what we need or desire? Have we sought God’s help, and made promises that we will serve Him in return if He rescues us? Have we asked for His provision, assuring God we will use what He gives us for His kingdom?

It’s easy to forget the promises we made to God in the hard times.

We need faith like Hannah to follow through with our vows even when it’s painful or difficult. May we not take His blessings for granted, but freely and generously give all things back into the capable hands of the God who loves us more than we know. He hears the persistent prayers of our hearts, and He is worthy of our trust when He answers.

Psalm 52:8-9 – But as for me, I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the lovingkindness of God forever and ever. I will give You thanks forever, because You have done it, and I will wait on Your name, for it is good, in the presence of Your godly ones.

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