Hannah means ‘graciousness’, a name that suggests delicacy and a compassionate character. Hannah, whose story is part of the Book of Samuel, changed the face of Jewish prayer.
Hannah was one of the two wives of Elkanah. His other wife, Pnina, was a fertile woman while Hannah remained childless. It was known that Elkanah loved Hannah the most, despite her barrenness.
Hannah was extremely upset that she couldn’t give Elkanah a child, even though she knew she was his favorite. No matter how much Elkanah tried to reassure Hannah of his unconditional love for her, she was determined to conceive: “Elkanah … said to her, ‘Hannah, why are you crying? And why aren’t you eating? Why are you so downcast? Am I not more to you than ten sons?’ ’’(Samuel 1:8)
Pnina made life very hard for Hannah, emphasising her infertility and inadequacy. Hannah decided that on the family’s annual trip to Shiloh, the sanctuary of the Lord, she would ask God personally to bless her with a child.
Upon arriving at Shiloh, Hannah and her family had the traditional meal and sacrifice, after which she remained behind in preparation for her prayer: “Hannah’s soul was deeply pained and she prayed to God, weeping bitterly. She made this vow, ‘Oh God of Hosts, if you would only notice the misery of your servant and remember me. If you will not forget your servant, and give your servant a son, then I will dedicate him to God, for all the days of his life’. ”(Samuel 1:9-11)
It is said that the High Priest, Eli, found Hannah, and she appeared to be talking to herself. Her lips were moving but he could not hear her voice. He concluded that Hannah was drunk from the feast beforehand.
In fact, Hannah was in a devastated state, pleading to God in the only way she knew how. Hannah’s personal prayer, from the bottom of her heart, is the only prayer written by a woman in the Hebrew Bible. As this was not the usual Jewish method of praying, the Eli’s initial reaction was suspicion. Once he learned of her sincerity and grief, he blessed her in the hope that God would answer her prayers.
Approximately one year later, Hannah gave birth to a son. She fulfilled her promise, and when Samuel was old enough, Hannah brought him to Shiloh to begin his service to God. Before she left her son in the hands of the priests, Hannah prayed once more to God to express her eternal gratitude at His provision. This prayer has been recorded as an example for all those who follow her.
Hannah’s personal prayer is symbolic of the determination of one woman to continue her lineage and belief in God and His laws. Instead of offering a blood sacrifice at the sanctuary, Hannah gave her heart and promise to God.
Hannah’s prayer began a new prayer tradition in Judaism called hitbodeduth (self-seclusion). Bypassing all the boundaries of structure and form, Hannah used her own words to connect with God on a deeper level. Hers is a story of challenge and persistence. Hannah’s utter faith in the Lord kept her gracious despite her circumstance, eventually enabling her to be the mother of four sons and two daughters.
Hannah’s is a remarkable story of how one woman’s determination to shape her own destiny has the power to transform a system. Her tale emphasises the place of the personal, which is often neglected in the service of God.