- Bible Reading: 1 Samuel 1:9-11, 19-20; 2:1-10
- Free Resource: Act It Out (Kids (3rd-6th) – NL)
- Unit Theme (September 13—October 25): Promises Made, Promises Broken
- The Point: God hears the prayers of everyone.
Hannah is commendable for many things in her short time in the biblical narrative, but most of all for her powerful proclamation of God’s Great Reversal.
The people of Israel—freed from slavery in Egypt—eventually are allowed to settle in the land God had promised their ancestors. Eventually, because they were naughty and had to be in a time-out for 40 years. A cycle of God’s deliverance, the people’s sin, the suffering that results from it, and the people crying out to God is evident throughout the period of the Judges, which is when Hannah’s story takes place.
Hannah: Biblical Hero?
As we begin the Book of 1 Samuel, we encounter not the book’s titular character, but his mother, Hannah. As the matriarch Sarah before her, Hannah was unable to bear children. This weighed heavily on her; she experienced grief, loss, and depression. That this suffering was due to societal judgment is a subject for a different blog post.
Hannah’s inclusion in Scripture is significant, as she is one of the few female characters raised up as heroes of the faith. However, even here she serves the male narrative. One of the purposes her character serves here is to demonstrate the miraculous nature of Samuel’s birth. Is she a hero of the faith because she bore a son of immense significance?
Prayer of the Outsider
No. While her birthing of Samuel is undoubtedly the reason why her story is included here, she is a full character herself. In a society where women were valued mostly as mothers, she was an outcast. She—like many before and after her—pleaded with God to remove her social shame. Here, God fully and clearly answered her prayer. That God would answer the prayer of a childless, suffering (so-called “unimportant”) woman demonstrates that God listens to all people.
Give and Give Back
Hannah had made a bargain with God, that if God gave her a son, she would give the son back to God in service. This doesn’t make complete sense because the importance of birthing a son was so he could protect and provide for her when her husband died. She seemed to want a son for the joy of bearing one and the ability to give that son to God’s service.
While it is commendable that Hannah prayed fervently and then believed the word of Eli the priest, that is not fully what makes her special. I’m sure she was not the only woman in Israel who was experiencing childlessness and who prayed fervently to God. God may or may not have provided them with children as well. What I see as the most praiseworthy action that Hannah did was the prayer she prayed after dropping off Samuel with Eli.
Hannah’s prayer goes far beyond a typical “Thank you, God, for all you have done.” No, she is not just praying, she’s preaching. She is proclaiming God’s reality, which would later be called the kingdom of God. God’s plan is subversive; it is a great reversal of the way our world works. She finishes with a messianic prophecy.
Bad News, Good News
As we will later see in the Gospel of Luke, the proclamation of the kingdom of God is bad news or good news, depending on your circumstances. It is good news for those who are weak, hungry, childless, or poor. God will lift them up and give them strength, plenty, joy, and security. But what if you are not any of those things? The coming kingdom of God is bad news for those who “have” in their current life. The mighty will be weakened, the full will go hungry, those with many children will mourn, the rich will be made low. God will provide for those who lack and take away from those who now lack nothing.
So, is Hannah’s proclamation good news or bad for us? Well, where are you sitting? It is good, hope-filled news for those who suffer. But those of us who have all that we need (whether or not we consider ourselves “rich”) stand condemned if we are not using the resources available to us to love our neighbor as ourselves. With what we have, we are to be bringers of the kingdom and raise, strengthen, comfort, feed, and provide for those who do not have those resources.
Living the Proclamation
How do we teach this? First, it is good and helpful to focus on the story in chapter 1 (though I would suggest at least summarizing the passages the Narrative Lectionary skips. Storytelling is an important part of faith formation, as is hearing the stories of others. Second, briefly explain the Great Reversal in Hannah’s proclamation. Focus first on the good news of God’s loving provision. Third, challenge people to see the blessings they live with and determine how to use those in a manner that helps others. Especially significant to Americans at this time, this includes the power we have in our vote.
The first step in faith formation is learning the story. Our free activity “Act It Out” this week encourages this with a fun way to use our “lowly” socks as puppets to tell the exalted story of God’s work. This activity comes from our Living the Word: Kids (3rd-6th – Narrative Lectionary) curriculum, which I have adapted for intergenerational in-person, online, and home-based use.
In God’s love,
Gregory Rawn (Publisher)
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