Authentic :: Hannah

Barrenness is a popular theme in Biblical history, especially among strong female characters. The definition of ‘barrenness’ is ‘unable to produce fruit’, or in women, offspring, which makes me truly wonder if this theme isn’t about child production so much as it is about fruit and fulfillment of purpose. In Hannah’s time as in Sarah’s barrenness was not only upsetting, it was also shameful because a woman’s purpose was to produce heirs for her husband’s line. Thus the practice of polygamy—though not God ordained—became popular. The culture believed this would solve problems, but as always when we try to solve problems out of God’s will and purpose for our lives it often leads to more problems in the end.


This theme isn’t about child production so much as it is about fruit and fulfillment of purpose.

Sanctified in Her Sorrow

Hannah was married to Elkanah. As the favored wife, but also the barren wife, she was like Elkanah’s first wife. So it is really no surprise that Peninnah, the second wife, though she produced many heirs for Elkanah, did not treat Hannah well. In fact, between the two women there was much animosity and conflict. In 1 Samuel 1: 1-7 Elkanah, Hannah and Peninnah’s roles are clearly defined in the first few verses. It’s significant that Elkanah is obedient in sacrificing to the Lord and that he is honoring both his wives. However, by having two wives and showing blatant favoritism he is perpetuating conflict in his household.

Hannah’s character, however, is never questioned. Throughout the narrative, she remains sanctified in her sorrow, which leads to her supplication and ultimately her songs of praise. Because when desperation turns to prayer and worry to praise, God moves in miraculous and wonderful ways.


When we try to solve problems out of God’s will and purpose for our lives it often leads to more problems in the end.

1 Samuel 1: 8: This one verse says volumes. Hannah is sad that her prayers are unanswered ‘year by year’ and finally the sadness overwelms her and she breaks down into unappeasable tears. Having sobbed myself to sleep more than once in my own life, I feel a deep connection to the level of emotion Hannah is feeling–when you can’t be strong any longer, and all you can do is cry out to the Lord in your sadness, the tears are heartbreaking. And Elkanah, being a man and likely unfamiliar with this kind of soul sickness (not all men are unfamiliar, but I think we can agree that weeping in this way is  more common to women–especially in ancient cultures), asks, “Am I not more to you than 10 sons?”

Elkanah, unknowingly devalues Hannah’s sorrow, insisting that his favoritism should be enough for her. But, can one person ever fulfill your every need? No, of course not! Nor should they try, because people, no matter how wonderful they are, will eventually disappoint us. And besides, it wasn’t ever really about having children anyway. It was about feeling purposeless and useless–like your very existence is a disappointment to everyone around you, including God. It’s about feeling broken. It’s about that deep, gut feeling that you are supposed to be someone else, but you can’t do it on your own and because you can’t you feel as though something is wrong with you. That kind of emptiness and longing, quickly turns to desperation…and there are only two paths from desperation: bitterness or earnest supplication. 


Photo by Artem Kovalev on Unsplash

Fortunately, Hannah’s desperation turns to earnest supplication and prayer.  I love that verse 9 tells us Hannah rose. She knows only one person can truly fulfill her needs: the Lord. Giving over everything she has to God, she throws herself on his mercy and begs for the fulifillment she seeks.

While Hannah is praying in 1 Samuel 1: 12-18 she is being observed by the high priest Eli, but he is quick to judge her. Which, if we are honest, though we have all sought acceptance in the Lord’s house, many of us have experienced this kind of judgment there as well– a judgment that wounds instead of heals the brokenhearted. At least, I know I have. For years I avoided the church because of the wounds afflicted in a place that should have been so welcoming. 

Eli is more concerned about appearance than he is about the condition of Hannah’s heart. Instead of greeting her, or listening to her, he accuses her of being a drunk. You can almost hear the sneer in his voice as he prepares to kick her out of his perfect temple. 

But Hannah is wise. She is patient and respectful even though this authority figure has insulted her, she knows a soft response turns away wrath (Proverbs 15:1). Although it is tempting to reply in a snarky way, her humility wins the authority figure to her side–a lesson we could all stand to learn from time to time. 

Fulfilled in her Faith

1 Samuel 1 19-28 shows thatHannah’s request is fulfilled, but almost immediately she must give up the fulfillment of God’s promise…or does she?

Giving up her child when he is 2 or  3 years old to the service of the church seems counterintuitive, but if we go back to the definition of barren and we think about fulfillment—Hannah never really wanted a child to fulfill her. She knew that, just like with her husband, a child would not fill the longing and ache in her heart. No. The only thing that would truly fill the hole was production of fruit. As a teenager I always thought Hannah was making one of those deals with God that we all try to make from time to time that fulfill some kind of selfish desire. As an adult, I see that Hannah’s supplication and promise was not at all about making a deal, but was really about fulifilling a purpose. 

Not that it would be without challenge. Any time you give up something you longed for, you will struggle with feeling empty until you remember who really fills you. And that will never be another person. Only God. 

3) Skim through 1 Samuel 2: 1-11. What do you notice about Hannah’s song?

By the end of the narrative (1 Samuel  2: 12; 18-21: ), Hannah is restored, and I think it is important to note that she doesn’t abandon her firstborn son. Sure, she dedicated him to the Lord’s work, but every year she visited and brought gifts, making sure that Samuel knew he was loved and chosen for a special purpose. As a result, God honors Hannah with more children and greater purpose than she could ever imagine! After all, Samuel would be the priest who would guide, direct and minister to the greatest King Isreal would know, David. 

Heed Like Hannah

Life is never easy. It’s filled with sorrow, disappointment, and conflict. Sometimes we are in conflict with others based solely on the circumstances that surround us. Sometimes we are judged by authority figures—perhaps even unfairly. There is always a human factor involved in every interaction we have. Often we have a choice to get ourselves out of these circumstances, but sometimes we are stuck. Either way, how we handle the conflict is what defines us as either strong Godly women or whiny, manipulatively selfish women. 


Photo by William Farlow on Unsplash

It’s easy to believe that one thing will bring joy and fulfillment to our lives. We often fall into the trap of thinking ‘when I have that new pair of shoes, then I’ll be satisfied’ or ‘when I meet the right guy, that’s when I’ll really be happy.’ But, what happens when you get those things and they don’t meet your expectations? We either become embittered or we can take a lesson from Hannah who didn’t let her supplication rule her life, but focused on her own heart and motivation. If she hadn’t been so willing to dedicate her son back to the Lord, I wonder if he would have answered her prayer with so much grace and honor. I can’t say for sure, but I can say that the Lord is faithful, and we can learn a lot from Hannah’s heeding of his word. 

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