Once upon a time in Israel, well before the time of Christ, a young woman named Hannah prayed for a child, in particular, a son.
Hannah had expected to become pregnant soon after marriage to Elkanah, a very devout man. She didn’t. Months passed. A year, two years. Her husband began to worry. Would people think he was the cause? Who would carry on the family business? The family name? Hannah prayed night and day, “O Lord, take pity on me and send me a son. If you give me a son, I will dedicate him to you. His whole life will be spent in service to you.” (I Samuel 1)
Elkanah, like many men of his time, took a second wife. Enter . . . Penninah, a fruitful girl who magically produced six children. Elkanah’s life was complete – he had Hannah, the love of his life, and several children to carry on his name. Wife number two, though a good baby-producer, was cruel and malicious. She taunted Hannah, hissed insults at her when Husband wasn’t around.
Isolated, Hannah’s inability to have a child sat like a sorrowful rock on her chest. It woke her in the night and filled her eyes with tears during the day. Religious Elkanah took both his wives and his brood up to Shiloh once a year to praise God with sacrifices for his good fortune. A joyful time of thankfulness and eating. But not for Hannah.
Things came to a climax one day at Shiloh. Hannah was depressed and teary. Her husband said, “Why are you weeping? Am I not better than a dozen sons to you?” The answer, of course, was a big NO but Hannah could hardly tell him that. She left the feast and entered the temple to pray. She flung herself down and cried out a prayer of desperation. So full of angst was she that no words came out, only groans. (. . .the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. Romans 8:26.)
Eli, the priest, saw Hannah. He could have rested his hand on her back in a gesture of kindness and empathy. That would’ve been nice. Instead, he rushed over, pointed an accusing finger at her and said, “You should be ashamed of yourself for coming into God’s house drunk.”
Harassed by Wife Number Two, misunderstood by Husband and now accused of drunkenness by her priest. Hannah had reached the end. “I am not drunk, I’m a woman with a sorrowful spirit.” Cheers for her for finding her voice and defending herself.
Whether Eli really meant the next words he spoke, or if he said them to everyone who wept, we don’t know. We do know that he wasn’t the godliest man in Israel. He said to Hannah, “May God grant you the desire of your heart.”
Immediately on hearing these words, the sadness Hannah had carried for years lifted. She rose and with a light heart returned home with her husband.
A few months later, Hannah gives birth to a son. She calls him Samuel, meaning “God hears.”
If you, like Hannah, are praying in desperation, God has a message for you: “I hear you.”
Jesus said, “And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask then we also know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.” (I John 5:15).
Samuel’s birth ends Hannah’s childless years. She produces four more children. Her prayer of desperation becomes a prayer of praise: I’m bursting with God-news! I’m walking on air. I’m laughing at my rivals. I’m dancing my salvation (I Samuel 2:1 Msg).
God hears and answers desperate prayers.
A scriptural prayer of desperation: “Unto you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. O my God, I trust in you: let me not be ashamed, let not my enemies triumph over me.” Psalm 25:1,2
God hears you. “Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.” Jeremiah 29:12
P.S. The meeting between Eli and Hannah is magnificent for its irony. The self-righteous priest accuses a faultless woman of being drunk while his two sons, priests at the temple, are robbing the offerings, threatening the people and having sex with the women who work there. Eli knows this. He knows God isn’t pleased. But he doesn’t correct them. He reserves his corrections for people like Hannah. An even bigger irony is being played out. These two don’t know it yet but the reader knows that Hannah’s soon-to-arrive son, Samuel (God hears), will receive a message from God for Eli, a message of doom and retribution.
Rose McCormick Brandon is the author of many articles and several books, including Promises of Home – Stories of Canada’s British Home Children and One Good Word Makes all the Difference.