"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path". Ps 119:105
WOMEN OF FAITH: Hannah
It is evident that in the Bible men and women play different roles. This is in sharp contrast to the present world in which the equality of the sexes is presented as a worthwhile ideal. God has created men and women, their similarities and their differences, in order to teach us about His purpose. In His wisdom, He established male and female and their relationship, to teach us about the relationship between Christ and his bride, the saints. [Ephesians 5.23] Similarly, God arranged for us to have families so that we can learn about Him as our Father in Heaven. Viewed in this light the breakdown of family relationships in the world today is an indication of how far the world is straying from God's way.
In this new series of articles entitled Women of Faith, we will try and see how the examples of women in Bible times powerfully demonstrate the wisdom of God.
Bearers of the Seed
In the beginning, when the most basic fundamentals were established, Eve was created out of Adam as a suitable companion for him. They were therefore of the same substance and nature. We see at once the important relationship between Christ and the saints in so far that they were also of the same nature. When Adam and Eve sinned they came under a similar curse. Adam was to till the ground, to plant seeds and to obtain food to sustain life through toil ‘in the sweat of thy face.’ [Genesis 3.19] From this he learnt that life was a precious gift from God and salvation from death required some considerable effort. Eve was told that she too would have to struggle and that she would bare children from Adam’s seed through ‘sorrow.’ But the life she would produce would eventually provide salvation from death. [Genesis 3.15]
We understand that the seed of the woman that would overcome sin was Jesus Christ although we do not know how much of the future Adam and Eve understood at the time. It is not surprising that great importance was given to the production of children in which the hope of the promises of God's salvation lay. The fact that in the Bible the purpose of God often involved barren women like Sarah, Rachel and Hannah, was not coincidental but is to demonstrate that God's purpose will prevail and to Him alone is the glory due.
Hannah was barren. As such she considered herself as a failure and this was exacerbated by the fact that her husband Elkanah had another wife Peninnah who had children. The family was God-fearing and faithful and went annually to the tabernacle that was at Shiloh to present their sacrifices. Like many servants of God, Hannah approached God in prayer. She vowed to dedicate her firstborn son to the Lord and the High Priest Eli, promised her that God had heard her prayers. So Hannah received her child of promise and called him Samuel, which means ‘asked of God.’
As a Levite, Samuel would have been eligible to serve in the temple and to be redeemed as a firstborn child by gifts to the temple in the normal way. However, Hannah had promised to bring him up as a Nazarite and to dedicate him completely as soon as he was weaned. This wonderful act of self-sacrifice was eventually rewarded by Samuel becoming not only a Nazarite but also a Judge over Israel, a Prophet and although not in the line of Aaron, the High Priest of Israel.
A Woman of Faith
Consider how strong was the faith of Hannah. She prayed earnestly for a child. Her faith made her realise that God controlled her life and it was up to her to accept God's will and to learn the lessons. When her long awaited hope was realised she not only dedicated her son to be a Nazarite but she gave him to the High Priest for the temple. She trusted God completely. As God had given her the promised son, then God would also protect and guide him in the difficulties of his temple service. This display of faith and trust in God is exactly like Abraham who received the long awaited child of promise but was willing to give him back to God as a sacrifice.
This attitude of complete trust in God is really faith in God's ultimate purpose, or a faith in the resurrection, for it makes God's ultimate purpose more important than the transient things of this life. Like Abraham, the father of the faithful, to whom the promises were made, Hannah demonstrated her complete trust in God. No doubt her faith will also be accounted to her for righteousness. Hannah is not included in the list of the faithful recorded in Hebrews chapter 11 but her famous son Samuel who followed her example of service to God is included:
Women of faith in general, are however included in this list of the faithful (See Hebrews 11.35). There are many examples of such women, who bore many sorrows in their role of bringing forth the children of God. There was Rachel who was barren for a long time in contrast to her sister Leah. Eventually, in a parallel with Hannah, she gave birth to Joseph who, like Samuel, was also a type of Christ.
In New Testament times there was Elisabeth who was barren until ‘well stricken in years’ [Luke 1.7] before she produced John the Baptist. Then of course there was Mary the mother of Jesus who was Elisabeth's cousin. Both of their wonderful children of promise died at an early age in service to God. Mary was sustained in these trials of her faith by strong belief in the resurrection, as the prophet Simeon said to her:
The thoughts and trials of some of these faithful women will be considered in later articles. When we think of the faith exhibited by women like Hannah, we realise that they indeed held their treasure of truth, in weak earthen vessels that gave glory to God, as Paul reminded the Corinthians:
They were indeed the weak of this world who were strong in faith.
Children of Promise
We are not told much of Hannah and her family after Samuel was born, though we do know that she had three more sons and two daughters (See 1 Samuel 2.21). Mary, the mother of Jesus, also had further children. James, Joses, Simon and Judas are mentioned (See Matthew 13.55). Both Hannah and Mary recognised that their children of promise had a special role in God's purpose. Mary found Jesus in the temple at the age of 12 when he said ‘…wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?’ [Luke 2.49] We do not know at what age Samuel was considered weaned and was taken to live at the tabernacle in Shiloh, but we do know that Hannah kept in touch with him and made him a special garment every year. [1Samuel 2.19]
This reminds us of the special ‘coat of many colours’ made for Rachel's child of promise, Joseph. [Genesis 37.3] That coat may have been a priestly garment as he was Rachel's eldest child. Of course he was not the firstborn of his father Jacob, but he was the first child of the wife Jacob loved most. He was chosen of God and was a type of Christ and he had the double portion of the firstborn through his sons Ephraim and Manasseh. He became the ruler of all Egypt, second only to Pharaoh.
Samuel just like Joseph was the firstborn of his father's beloved wife. Samuel was not permitted under the Law of Moses to be a priest as he was not in the Aaronic line. He was a Levite in the line of Kohath. But Samuel was chosen of God and was a type of Christ. He became the High Priest as well as a Prophet and a Judge over Israel for forty years. We see in these chosen sons that God can overrule the details of the law for His own purpose, just as He overruled the condemnation of Christ when he was hung on a tree.
Jesus also had a special garment like Joseph and Samuel. This robe was made in one piece [John 19.23] and could possibly have been made by Mary. We can only wonder at the similarities of these three men; each had a special garment and each were children of promise. We can rest assured that Rachel, Hannah and Mary were aware that the only covering acceptable to God is a garment of righteousness, but perhaps the garments they made were a reminder to their sons of their special privilege and responsibility.
Hannah's Prayer of Thanksgiving
In her joy at the birth of her son, Hannah sang a song of thanksgiving which was a prayer to God. [1 Samuel 2.1-10] A millennium later Mary sang a similar song of thanksgiving that has great parallel significance. [Luke 1.46-55]
Looking at the two songs we see that they run with a similar theme until the last few verses. Hannah finishes with a prophecy about God's purpose, including for the first time in the Old Testament, the fact that the anointed Messiah would be a king. Of course, Israel did not have a king other than God at that time. Mary's song finishes with a declaration that God will keep all his promises to Abraham. No doubt she was aware that Jesus was the fulfillment of Hannah's prophecy also.
An outline of the two songs covers the following points:
The final verses of the two songs are quoted so that the differences can be seen:
Hannah is making a prophecy about the Messiah. Mary follows the same initial six points but then closes with the words:
Mary is invoking the promises to Israel spoken by God to Abraham. This was a divine covenant to be established through a descendant of Abraham, through whom all nations of the earth would be blessed. The promised seed was Jesus Christ, Israel’s Messiah and the future king of the whole world.
The record about Hannah and her prayer of thanksgiving forms only a small portion of Scripture, but she was one of those women of faith whose lives were pivotal in the purpose of God. The lesson for us is that God requires faith to be exhibited in our lives too, as we read in the letter to the Hebrews: