Have you ever received a gift, and being so overjoyed with that gift, turned and given it away?
That seems to be how the book of 1 Samuel, found in the Old Testament of the Bible, begins. We meet in these opening pages a woman named Hannah. She is the wife of a man named Elihu-but she isn't his only wife. She has what v6 refers to as a rival, her husband's other wife, Peninnah. And beyond being her rival, Peninnah is prodigiously gifted in what would have been the measure of a woman some 3100 years ago: she's very able to bear children. Hannah, on the other hand, is barren.
This causes Hannah great distress, for although her husband loves her (v5), one imagines that love has a hard time holding up in the face of how fruitful his other sexual union has been. What is she to do?
She turns to the One who hears prayer. Verses 9-18 chronicle Hannah's prayer, and her following interaction with the Priest Eli. She asks the Lord to look on her affliction, to remember her, to not forget her, and to give her a son. She comes in a sense of deep desperation, and lays her bold request out before the Lord.
A Longing Fulfilled
And he hears her. He not only hears in the sense that God hears everything, but he hears with an attention that v20 refers to as remembering, and her Heavenly Father grants Hannah her earthly desire. She is given a son. But here is where the story becomes a head-scratcher for the modern reader. Back in v11 Hannah had promised to give her son to the Lord, if the Lord were so gracious as to bless her with a son to give. And most people (at least today) would chalk that up to a rash statement made under stress, and not put too much stock in it. But Hannah follows through.
The rest of the chapter, verses 21-28, tell us of Hannah bringing her son Samuel to the Lord. She received God's blessing. But she received it with an open hand. Some of us like to open our hands for a gift and then clinch down once that gift is given to us, holding on for dear life. That gift might be children. Financial security. A job you love. A particular relationship, or perhaps some material item. The gift that we asked for becomes the thing we "need."
Hannah seems to realize the folly of this. She desperately wanted a son. So much that she even promised to "lend" him to the Lord. And instead of backing out on that promise, saying, "but God, don't you understand?", she lets him go. The Lord gave, and she gave back. Not out of pride, but out of gratitude. Do I receive like that?