A bible study by Simon Khayala, Youth Pastor, Kenya

1 Samuel 1 - 2: 21

Hannah like many women in the bible is afflicted with a misfortune which actually besets both husband and wife, but is typically attributed to the women: I am talking about infertility. No biblical story tells of an infertile man, but there are many of the misery and social disgrace of the childless women. This is not strange to most African traditions; infertile men are never known, because the communities they belong to, do everything possible to cover up their status. One of their brother or cousin normally is allowed to sleep with the wife of the infertile man secretly to seer children for the brother. This is done secretly and only a few elders know; but before such a decision is arrived at the women bear all the blame.

In Hannah’s time to live in a childless marriage meant not to live up to the creator’s demand to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28). Hannah’s time therefore entails years of futile waiting and disappointment, but also public humiliation and shame. In her situation she was deeply depressed and prayed to the Lord, wept bitterly and made a vow (1. Sam 1:10-11)

What we learn from Hannah

Hannah prays before the face of God at the temple without an intercessor. She makes her vow independently without asking her husband. By doing this she violated the Law of Moses (Num 30:7-8). Thus full participation of women in the rituals and God’s acts of liberation confirms that society’s enforced regulations and orders do not last forever.

Hannah is courageous; she addresses Yahweh, the same God who had caused her barrenness (1 Sam 2:5-6). She is wise because she knows exactly who to address.

Hannah is independent; Hannah makes personal decisions. She made a personal decision of praying to Yahweh and she doesn’t need an intermediary to connect her to her creator.

Hannah is positive minded; her vow was an extremely risky vow to take, she vows that the son of her womb will be preserved for obedience only to Yahweh. What if Samuel became a scoundrel and disregarded the ways of the Lord? Hannah had no time to think about negative things but positive ones. She has a strong faith, she believes Eli, she does not doubt; that there would be fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.

Hannah is open; she pours all her painful feelings to the Lord. She is also sober and that is what she told Eli she is, when he mistaken her to be drunk. The word sober means “one of strict conduct”.

Hannah is thankful and faithful as well; in offering her thanks giving, she is aware of the amazing sequence by which her barrenness has eventuated in birth. Her offer of the boy is faithful counterpart to her vow. 

Jan Victors, Hannah giving her son Samuel to the priest Eli, Staatliche Museen, Berlin, 1645

Jan Victors, Hannah giving her son Samuel to the priest Eli, Staatliche Museen, Berlin, 1645

The story of Hannah highlights a certain ambivalence regarding the role of women. Women face two possibilities depending on whether they take Hannah or Peninnah as their model. They may act like Peninnah, Elkanah’s second wife blessed with many children (1 Sam 1:2), who is both victim and accessory to the rule. She supports the patriarchal and insults Hannah in her misery. This violation of female solidarity is a very bitter and the same time very realistic to Hannah’s story. Domination and suppression are not just enforced from outside but carried out by the very people who should know better.

A call to the church

The church is urgently called to hear the cry of the childless women and the difficulties encountered in marriages as one of it’s calling; because like Hannah they are not useless but have some special gifts to teach the church. The society on the other hand should come to grips with it’s cruel treatment of the childless women. What these people need desperately is a ministry of reconciliation through encouragement and incorporation.