What a contrast in today’s Bible reading between Hannah and Eli’s two worthless sons! One the one hand we have a weak, powerless woman who is being tormented by her husband’s other wife and on the other, the strong, powerful sons of Eli who are tormenting those who bring sacrifices. The tormented and the tormentors – this is very much a story of polar opposites and it is fascinating to see how God deals with each.
The most striking difference between the two parties is that Hannah had faith in the Lord (in yesterday’s reading, we see that she ‘vowed a vow’ to God), whereas Hophni and Phinehas, despite being temple priests ‘did not know the Lord’ (v12). This is the root of their divergence and subsequent fate.
Let’s have a look at Hannah, first. At the beginning of Chapter 2, she is thanking and praising God in a magnificent prophetic prayer, known as Hannah’s Song. This is the point at which she has honoured her promise to God and handed over her young son, probably only around three or four years old, to Eli, to minister to God. Despite having just left the child she most desperately prayed for and desired, she glorified God with this beautiful outpouring. The prayer foreshadows the Lord’s prayer and is echoed in the ‘Magnificat’, the prayer of Mary, the mother of Jesus, when she visits her cousin Elizabeth in Luke 1:46-55. Hannah shows great humility in all her dealings, even down to imploring Eli not to misjudge her in chapter 1, when he falsely accuses her of being drunk. She answered his rebuke with honesty and integrity. Hannah is portrayed as a woman of great faith, who has a close relationship with her husband.
In contrast, Hophni and Phinehas were ungrateful to God. They defiled his Holy Sanctuary with their malpractice and, although Eli didn’t address their sins directly when he rebuked them, they still ignored what warnings he did give them. They had no faith and poor morals – they even slept with the female worshippers at the temple.
Hannah gave back to God the most precious gift she had, her son Samuel. It was a sacrifice, which she gave willingly out of lack – at that point he was the only child she had, but she gave God her very best.
Eli’s sons, however, stole from God. They took individuals’ sacrifices, often by force, to the extent that people didn’t want to go to the temple to make offerings any more. Despite God’s full provision for their office of priest in the Law, they cheated God in their greed. They required the meat before it was boiled (possibly to sell it on), which included the fat of the meat- the very best bit which should have been designated to God as a burnt offering.
Hannah kept her promise to God and was honoured in return with tremendous favour over her life. She went on to have five more children – a blessing she never could have anticipated in those dark days of barrenness – and God raised up her son Samuel as a faithful priest, with blessings on his house (v35). Hannah says that her ‘strength is exalted in the Lord’ and she achieves victory over her former tormentor. Hannah is remembered in the Bible for her great faith and wonderful song.
Hophni and Phinehas, contrarily, were removed from a position of honour and their family was plagued with early death amongst males (There shall not be an old man in your house for ever – v32b). Their disrespect for God led to them being defeated and fatally wounded in battle in chapter 4). Effectively all they had was taken away, including their very lives and their family became the least of all.
Hannah’s story is a great model of a prayerful life. Remaining faithful despite many years of hardship and persecution, Hannah finally saw her prayers answered and her situation completely turned around. Her response of thanks and praise to God is so powerful and heartfelt – it is a measure of how much she suffered beforehand, that her prayer is so lavish! When we go through tough times, we can become isolated and depressed, but God may be teaching us how to trust in him and depend on him, so that, like Hannah, when our answer to prayer comes, our lives will be transformed beyond measure and we will be overcome with thankfulness to our remarkable God!