When our only daughter turned 18 months, I found I was pregnant with baby number two. I quickly lost the baby due to an ectopic (tubal) pregnancy that nearly took my life and put me in the hospital for days.
I survived, but my dreams of a houseful of children didn’t.
There was no repair possible for my internal damage, in vitro fertilization wasn’t an option, and three adoption attempts fell through. All signs pointed to my husband and me raising an only child.
So I’m well acquainted with the desperation Hannah felt in 1 Samuel 1:1-28 and 1 Samuel 2:1-11. The favored wife of Elkanah, reviled and berated by her rival Peninnah (wife number two), Hannah’s pain became her catalyst to pray.
She could’ve easily lashed out at her rival, berated Eli the high priest for daring to accuse her of being drunk, chastised her husband for misunderstanding her plight, or railed at God for her barrenness. But she did none of those things. Instead, Hannah left the feast and went straight to the tabernacle where she knew God would hear the cry of her heart.
Sometimes God allows in His mercy what He could prevent with His power. Sometimes His greatest mercy can only be found in His deepest test. And sometimes, the richest fruit comes from the barren tree.
With boldness and a broken heart, Hannah silently wept and prayed a secret, holy prayer in a time when silent prayer was uncommon. She believed God heard every anguished word her heart expressed. Hannah had such an intimate relationship with God she knew He would hear her plea right there at the door of the tabernacle. Hannah’s prayer was not selfish. Desperate, yes, but not selfish. She wanted a son, but she vowed to give him back to the Lord for all the days of his life.
Hannah’s barrenness had a purpose and I believe it was on purpose.
The Bible clearly says, “the Lord had closed her womb.” Her barrenness caused desperation so deep it drove her to make a vow to give her child back to the Lord for all the days of his life if only He would allow her to conceive. Hannah harbored holy unrest in her spirit which would find no comfort until she poured her heart out to God.
Was God waiting for this? Did her passionate plea and promise lay the foundation for the anointing on Samuel’s life, leading him to become the greatest prophet and judge in the Bible? Did she know God would use her son to do a brand new thing in Israel, removing the old order of judges and inaugurating a new order of kings?
Hannah walked in humble submission, her prayer relinquishing the very thing she most desperately wanted. She reminds me of both Sarah and Rachel. All three deeply desired children, but only Hannah went to the Lord in prayer.
When Eli the priest finally acknowledged she wasn’t drunk as he thought (which indicates the sorry state of worship at the tabernacle in those days), he blessed her and prayed the Lord would grant her petition. That’s all she needed to hear. Her outlook on life completely changed before her circumstances did because she chose to trust. She returned to the feast with a countenance no longer sad because Hannah believed the Lord and found comfort in Eli’s prayer.
Eventually, Hannah found she was pregnant, gave birth and named her child Samuel, meaning “God Has Heard.” And in due time she made good on her vow to return to God the very gift He gave her. In fact, she’s the only woman in the Old Testament who made and fulfilled a vow to the Lord. The only one.
The time arrived for Hannah to return to Shiloh, honor her vow and give her son to Eli the priest, never to live with him again. Yet it’s in the time of giving up that Hannah poured out her song to God, a beautiful heartfelt song of praise, rejoicing in God even more than in the gift of her son.
Her prayer expressed deep certainty in the sovereignty of God, pouring out praise and thanksgiving for her blessings, bridging a period of everyone “doing what is right in their own eyes” to a new era of peace and order. Israel was now to be ruled by kings — the first two, Saul and David, anointed by the son she desperately prayed for! Do Hannahs still exist today with destinies in God yet unrealized? Is God looking for desperate ones to raise up a great man or woman in the earth?
For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him. 2 Chronicles 16:9 NKJV.
When trials come that devastate, we don’t see His mercy, only devastation. We might not see God in it, but He’s there and feels everything we feel and sees every tear. His mercy is real, and no matter what we experience, eventually, we will see His hand.
In my own struggle with infertility, I realized the hard way that His ways are not my ways but are much higher than mine. His mercy seemed severe at the time and not much like mercy at all. But when the dust settled, the fog lifted and years passed, it was easy to see God’s mercy indeed, just not in its nice Sunday wrapping. He transformed my understanding of mercy, and I learned, His greatest mercy is sometimes wrapped in His deepest test.
Pictured Above: Matt, Francesca, Wyatt, Kate, Audrey, Eli, Mike and Isaac