Cornerstone

“When I am tempted to strong-arm my circumstances, do I go back to prayer?”

In part one of our look at the biblical character of Hannah, we considered the cultural context of the time period that helps set the stage for Hannah’s desperate plea for a child. We left off the story as Hannah leaves the temple, satisfied that her request has been heard by the Lord. Miraculously, God mends the barren womb of this Favored One, allowing her to conceive a son, just as she asked. After the child is weaned, Hannah completes her vow and brings little Samuel to the temple to begin his life of priestly service. At the conclusion of Hannah’s story, we read her poem of praise to the Lord. What Hannah says in the story is the second tool we can use to better understand not only her, but also the God that she worships.

It’s not clear whether the theology Hannah presents in chapter 2 is a result of seeing the Lord answer her prayer from chapter 1—or if perhaps her belief in these truths is what motivates her actions in the story—but in a culture where small home fertility gods were prevalent, Hannah instead turns to the Lord. Other women in her culture would have all sorts of mystical solutions for infertility, but Hannah makes her request to the one true God. By Him, she sings in verse 3, her actions are weighed.

The whole of Hannah’s prayer is a lovely meditation on the nature of God, and I encourage you to go back and read it a few more times. Write down as many traits as you observe, then one by one, go through your list and consider ways in which these truths that Hannah observed about God thousands of years ago also ring true in your own life or the life of someone you know today. Here are just a few of mine:

God is the owner of the earth and the source of Hannah’s blessing. Not by her own might is Hannah able to conceive. God honors the barren woman, one considered useless in the eyes of the world, because he evaluates inner character over outer appearances. While this story doesn’t promise an easy solution (even for Hannah, the fulfillment of her petition comes with some harsh realities), it does remind us who is really in control. When I am tempted to strong-arm my circumstances, do I go back to prayer? Do I see God in His rightful place as the good owner and ruler of all?

God has control of this upside down world—those in power are brought low and the feeble are strengthened according to His will. Today, we rely on science to give us reasons and solutions for struggles like infertility, but Hannah’s predicament was impossible to explain and must have seemed terribly hopeless. Certainly, the constant derision from Penninah would have felt like an inescapable fate. But this world has a strange way of breaking with expectations. (Ecclesiastes, anyone?) When I struggle against the fallen realities of this world, where do I turn for answers? Where do I turn for hope?

God lifts up the crown (horn) of his Favored One, wrapping our humble Hannah in His power and radiance. Earlier in the story, Hannah pleads that God would look on her affliction, a word that can also be translated poverty. And though Hannah is clearly not financially destitute, she feels worthless in her role as wife. She is poor in family contribution, poor in worldly significance. And yet God bestows his favor upon her, like a crown of strength. She cannot win favor with physical or social power, but in humility she asks and receives.

Hannah is a woman that the world passed by. Even though she had the devotion and care of her spouse, Hannah struggled against cultural condemnation. She probably fought jealousy and bitterness like the rest of us, yet also longed to participate in growing God’s kingdom. Because barrenness was considered a curse, some might have even wondered what she had done to earn it. This can be difficult for us to wrap our minds around, but a close comparison may be the modern concept of the “American Dream.” Our culture suggests that if you work hard, you will grow in wealth beyond the status of your parents. This idea is so rooted into the fabric of our society that lack of achievement drives us to therapy. We have trouble with the idea of systemic injustice because it contradicts our “truth” that a person should be able to dig their way out of poverty with a little hard work. We are suspicious when trials come, wondering what we did wrong when hard work doesn’t produce the outcomes we expect.

But, instead of looking to our culture to understand our circumstances, Hannah’s song offers the opposite view. While it may be tempting to try to pick out exactly how “good” or “bad” each of Hannah’s actions are, her story is not meant to point us to Hannah as an example to follow or a cautionary tale. Instead, Hannah’s song reminds us to rest in God’s evaluation of our character. More importantly, even when the favor he bestows on us doesn’t take miraculous forms of conception, we can ultimately trust in His character, no matter which way the wind blows here under the sun.

Read Part 3 >>

Meredith Storrs

Meredith serves Cornerstone with the Women’s Ministry and as a Global Liaison.

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