Wouldn’t it be wonderful if God sorted all our problems and difficulties instantly? Feeling irritated by something? A quick prayer, and it’s gone! Is someone provoking or annoying you? Another quick prayer, and they’ve stopped. If only life were that simple. Of course, God may on occasions answer such a prayer immediately, but that wasn’t Hannah’s experience here. Elkanah, her husband, had two wives, and only one of them, Penninah, had children. It seems Elkanah favoured Hannah (v4, 5), and Penninah retaliated by ‘provoking Hannah in order to irritate her’, presumably by taunting and mocking her for being childless. Poor Hannah endured this cruel unkindness ‘year after year’ (v6, 7), to the extent that she would weep and not eat. Elkanah, every bit as sensitive and sympathetic as most men(!), couldn’t understand her grief and sadness (v8). ‘Why do you want a son, when you’ve got a husband like me?’ D’oh! Year after year – poor Hannah!
One year, however, their trip to the sanctuary at Shiloh was different. Out of her deep anguish and bitterness, Hannah made a vow to the Lord (v11): ‘Lord, if you give me a son, I’ll give him back to you.’ Eli the priest is apparently more used to seeing drunkenness than prayer (v12, 13; surely another ‘D’oh!’ moment), so Hannah tells him of the great anguish and grief that caused her to pour out her soul to the Lord. Presumably this wasn’t the first time Hannah had prayed such a prayer, but this time, in the goodness and wisdom of God, her prayer was answered (v17, 18). Hannah senses that God’s time is coming, for now she eats, and her face is no longer downcast. Early the following morning she joins her family in worship, and in due course she gives birth to Samuel. The Lord has remembered her, and granted what she asked of him.
Hannah didn’t go with Elkanah on his next trip to Shiloh (v21, 22). In those days (before Cow & Gate!), a child wasn’t weaned until 2 or 3 years old, so Hannah wanted to make the most of having Samuel to herself until the time came for her to fulfil her vow. Eventually, though, the time came, and she faithfully gave her son back to the Lord who had given him to her (v28). The Lord had granted her what he asked of him (v27).
Jesus promises in Matthew 21:22 (see also Jn. 14:13-14), ‘If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.’ Now, we need Biblical wisdom here. These promises are not a magical formula (‘name it and claim it’) to be used selfishly or foolishly, but they certainly encourage us to come before God with boldness and confidence in prayer. There are no limits to God’s goodness or his power. ‘I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him.’ God can bring life out of our barrenness, and worship out of our anguish and grief.