We are a couple of months into the new year and by now, for some of us, the resolutions we made are a distant memory. Often times, upon hearing a powerful message or perhaps receiving the answers to our longtime prayers, we make a resolution with God but soon forget about it. At the beginning of the book of Samuel, we find the story of humble beginnings for a small family, living in the hill country of Ephraim and their resolutions with God that changed Israel’s political landscape.
The Birth of Samuel
Elkanah belonged to the priestly clan of Levi and was well versed with the laws and traditions of Israel. Every year, he would take his family to the holy city of Shiloh to worship and offer sacrifice to the Lord almighty. However, this ‘righteous’ man had two wives which was the reason for the friction in his family. Throughout the first chapter of Samuel we find instances that suggest that Elkanah and his family knew what was required of the law and always tried to obey God. However, they missed one basic law that God taught Adam and Eve. In the book of Genesis we read that God instructed man and women to be united and be one body. God never said a man and his wives together be one body. But men took for themselves several wives on the pretext of having sons to continue the family name. It’s quite possible that the barrenness of Hannah caused Elkanah to marry Peninnah to continue his lineage.
6 Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. 7 This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and she would not eat. 8 Her husband Elkanah would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? …… Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” 1 Samuel 1:6-8
We cannot begin to imagine the heartache Hannah would have felt seeing her ‘rival’ conceive and give Elkanah descendents while the Lord had closed her womb (1 Sam 1:6) . Hannah would be comforted by Elkanah who would remind her that he still loved her. But the Jewish laws clearly stated that the first-born from the wife that the Husband did not love, is still the rightful heir. (Dt 21:15-17). Hannah had all this pent-up emotions inside her, and on one of her visits to Shiloh, spilled her guts before the altar of the Lord. She made a vow of separation for her unborn son and that he would be dedicated to the service of the Lord for all his life.
All the days of the vow of his separation, no razor shall come upon his head; until the days are fulfilled for which he separated himself to the Lord, he shall be holy. – Numbers 6:5
Eli, who was observing her from a distance, mistook her for a drunkard, babbling before the altar of the Lord. He rebuked her not knowing the real reason she was weeping before the altar. Often times, when we are in our most intimate moments with God, we are distracted by the ones around us intentionally or unintentionally. Anyone can act as a distraction and here we find the great Priest of Israel interrupting the time Hannah was spending with the Lord. But our God loves when we come to him in our most desperate hour.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted And saves those who are crushed in spirit. – Psalms 34:18
After receiving the answer to her prayers from God and the confirmation from Eli, Hannah had peace in her heart. She did not doubt this peace and believed that the Lord will deliver her from her problems.
So in the course of time Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel,[b] saying, “Because I asked the Lord for him.” 1 Sam 1:20
Hannah Dedicates Samuel
21 When her husband Elkanah went up with all his family to offer the annual sacrifice to the Lord and to fulfill his vow, 22 Hannah did not go. She said to her husband, “After the boy is weaned, I will take him and present him before the Lord, and he will live there always.”[c]23 “Do what seems best to you,” her husband Elkanah told her. “Stay here until you have weaned him; only may the Lord make good his[d]word.” So the woman stayed at home and nursed her son until she had weaned him. 1 Samuel 1:21-23
During the family’s annual trip to Shiloh, Hannah decided to stay back as she wanted to wait till the boy was grown up before she dedicated him to the Lord. Was Hannah wavering on her promise to the Lord? Or did she think that, what use will be there for a toddler in the house of the Lord? Is the Lord not capable of taking care of a toddler? Lets look deeper into the above verses.
- Elkanah was going to Shiloh to fulfill his Vow (Verse 21). It could have been the vow his wife made or something not mentioned. The whole story revolves around Samuel so it must be the vow to give Samuel to the Lord.
- Hannah made a vow saying that she will give Samuel to the lord all the days of his life.
- Even if Hannah wanted to give Samuel to the Lord after a few years, why was she not going with her family for the annual trip to Shiloh? Why did she want to wait till the boy was weaned to even offer annual sacrifices to the Lord? Did Penninah not go with Elkanah year after year. (Verse 7)
- There were laws concerning vows married women made to the Lord, for which the ‘release clause’ was that the Husband must forbid his wife from fulfilling the vow. (Nu 30). But Elkanah gave Hannah the full freedom to make her decisions and reminded her that may the Lord make good your word. (Dead Sea Scrolls, Septuagint and Syriac replace his with your in verse 23. )
There is no way we can say for sure whether or not Hannah had doubts in her mind about dedicating Samuel to the Lord. But she was human, and surely the thought would have crossed her mind. After Hannah had weaned the boy she did present him to Eli along with the offerings that were required for a special vow (Nu 15:8-10) . Eli would bless the couple and Hannah would have further five children after she dedicated Samuel to the Lord. In our spiritual lives, we also look for loopholes to get out of the commitments we have made. We should understand that even if we have made a resolution with God, it is still He who helps us follow through on them. We need God to help us keep our resolutions to Him.