Hannah—a lesson in tears, joy and not jumping to conclusions

[This imagined dialog includes events found in 1 Samuel 1.]

“Hannah came to the Tabernacle today,” I told my wife, Dinah.

“Hannah your cousin, the one who’s married to Elkanah? And how is she this year?”

“The same as every year. She is distraught over being without any children while Elkanah’s other wife, Peninnah, has given him many sons and daughters.”

“That is hard,” Dinah said, looking down at the robe in her lap as she mended a seam that had pulled apart. “Remember how long we waited for a child?”

“Yes, but now we have a daughter and another child on the way.” I looked at her swollen belly and smiled. “Perhaps this one will be a son so I won’t be outnumbered in my own house.”

“Your daughter adores you. Her first word was abba, remember.”

“Yes, and she grows to look more like her beautiful mother every day.”

“You are the kindest husband.”

“Elkanah is kind as well,” I said.

“How so?”

“He gives Hannah a double portion of the sacrificed meat every year, and speaks words of comfort to her.” I paused to pick up our daughter as she ran into the room. “I don’t know if it will ever make up for the ridicule she receives from Peninnah for being barren.”

“Peninnah speaks from a jealous heart,” Dinah said.

“Perhaps.” I blew into our daughter’s ear, making her squeal as I set her down on her feet. She ran into the kitchen to play. “I was delivering wood for the altar fires as Eli the priest sat beside the door.”

“He always sits and let’s his sons do the work.”

“Yes, but it was good he was there. Good for Hannah.”

“How so?”

“He comforted her in her distress.”

“You saw this? I would not believe it if anyone else told me.”

“He did. Well, eventually he did.”

“I’m all attention, my love.” She set her mending in the small basket on the floor at her side. “Tell me.”

“Elkanah and the rest of the family were loading up to return home, but Hannah stood at the Tabernacle and did not join them. I could see her lips moving but no words came out. Then Eli said to her, ‘How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.’”

“No!”

“Yes. I was embarrassed for her. And for him.”

“Did he think she’d been spending her time with his sons? Getting drunk at the Lord’s house is more like something they would do.”

“Now, now, please. These are the Lord’s priests.”

“Yes, they are,” Dinah said. “And you know I’m right.”

“True. They are the type, aren’t they? But in any case, that is what Eli said.”

“How did she respond to his accusation?

“She told him she was not drunk, but praying out her heart to God.”

“Did he believe her?”

“He did. In fact, he gave her a benediction and told her he hoped for God to grant her prayer.”

“Good man.” Dinah picked her mending back up and returned it to her lap. “I wonder what she prayed for.”

“I asked her.” Our daughter ran into the room, gave my leg a quick hug, and ran back out.

“Rather bold of you, isn’t it?”

“She is my cousin, and we’ve always been each other’s favorite. So I asked … .”

“Of course you did.”

“Do you want to hear or not?” Her teasing always delighted me, but I put on the best scowl I could.

“Please, go on,” she said, waving a grand gesture with the hand holding the needle and thread.

“She prayed for a child.”

“Oh, yes.” Dinah looked at the robe, paying it more attention than was warranted. Her voice quieted. “I remember the same prayers.”

“She told God that if he gives her a son she would dedicate him to the Lord.”

“That is a good prayer.” She looked to the kitchen where our daughter played. “All of us who are blessed with children should dedicate them to God.”

“Not just dedication,” I said. “She means to give him to service in the Lord’s house to serve alongside Eli.”

“That old man? Has she seen the job he did raising his own sons?”

“I thought the same and asked her if this was a wise promise to make. She told me it was the prayer God placed on her heart.”

“Your cousin is a righteous woman. If this is the Lord’s leading, I’ll not question her choice.”

“Nor I.”

***

A year had gone by. Elkanah, Peninnah and their children returned for their annual sacrifice, but my cousin Hannah did not join them. We didn’t see her for another three years, in fact. Dinah and I were passing by Eli sitting on his chair at the door to the Lord’s house when we saw Hannah approach, a servant leading a bull following behind, as she walked beside a donkey piled with provisions and a young boy, a toddler with long flowing hair, sitting atop the luggage packed on the donkey’s back.

“Hannah!” Dinah ran to her and wrapped her in her arms. “We heard you had a son. Is this your beautiful child?”

She introduced us to Samuel, who grinned broadly and reached out a hand to touch ours as we said hello.

“I am your cousin, Samuel. Have you come for a visit?” I asked.

His smile faded slightly as he shook his head. Hannah started to reply for him when Eli stood from his chair.

“I remember you, my daughter. It has been a long time now, hasn’t it?”

Hannah nodded. “Pardon me, my lord. As surely as you live, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord. I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.”

Samuel dedicated by Hannah

Samuel Dedicated by Hannah at the Temple, Frank W.W. Topham (1838-1924), Wikipedia

Dinah gave a little gasp, her breath caught in her throat. I saw her swallow hard and then she said, “So it is true. You are giving your son to Eli to raise.”

Hannah looked at Dinah and, with the most peaceful expression I’ve ever seen, smiled upon her. Our little group seemed entirely covered by the Spirit of the Lord in that moment. We let Hannah speak further with Eli and crossed the road with Samuel to where our daughter sat playing with her little brother. We introduced the three little cousins to one another and Samuel joined in the playtime.

“I understand,” Dinah said. “I actually do understand now.”

“Understand what?”

“This is from the Lord. All of this is from the Lord.”

“All of …”

“Hannah and Samuel. You and me. Our children. All of this is from God,” she said as she looked upon the children. “It is perfectly right to return it all to God. We all belong to the Lord anyway.”

Hannah and Eli had completed their talk, and she waved at us from across the road. I helped Dinah collect the toys.

“You are not suggesting we give our children over to Eli as well, are you?”

“No. That is the Lord’s plan for Hannah and Samuel. God has not laid that on our hearts.”

“What has he laid on our hearts for our family?” I asked. I lifted Samuel in one arm and our son in another.

“To raise our children well. What that means, we shall see. And I pray God’s wisdom for us both in doing so.”

“I think God has already provided me with wisdom,” I said, leaning over our daughter who had stepped between us to hold both our robes, as I whispered my words into Dinah’s ear.

“Do you now?” she whispered back. “And what is that?”

“God has given me you, and you are the wisest woman I know.”

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