The birth of a LONG awaited child begins a new chapter in his family’s story. He will only be involved in a small part of it. For he will be surrendered to the Lord.
Hannah does something that I can’t imagine ever doing. She is going to physically give her son back to the Lord. In some of the cultures around Israel this ‘giving back’ would probably involve killing him as a sacrifice to their gods. What Hanna does is give him to another to raise in the house of the Lord.
Thinking about what she did reminds me a bit of surrendering a child to the adoption process. A mother who is unwilling or unable to care for her child gives him/her to another in hopes of a better life. There is a BIG difference here though in that Hannah wanted to keep her son and had the means to provide for him if she so chose, but she had made a promise to the Lord and wouldn’t go back on it. Let’s join our family where we left them last time. They had just presented the babe for circumcision and named him.
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Samuel was a MUCH loved babe. He filled the hole in Hannah’s heart. His father even took time to look in on him as he ate at his mother’s breast or slept in his cradle. He would even occasionally hold him if Hannah asked because she was busy.
Elkanah’s attention to Samuel hurt Peninnah as he had not interacted with her children until after they were weaned. She didn’t think it strange as her children were growing up because that was the custom of the day. The babe was reliant on its mother alone until weaning. What kept that pain from festering into another open wound in her heart was the fact that she knew Samuel would not be staying in the household once he was weaned. This was Elkanah’s only time with his and Hannah’s child.
Hannah’s joy had returned to her with the birth of Samuel. She could be found singing softly almost any time of day. She had uprooted completely the bitterness that had once consumed her heart and mind. Her reaching out to Peninnah had broken down the walls that had been built between them. Peninnah even allowed Hannah access to her own children. Peace reigned in the household once again. It wasn’t perfect but it was a far cry from where it had fallen over the years.
When Samuel was only a few months old it was time again for the trip for the annual sacrifice at Shiloh. It was a full day’s journey from their home. There were always exciting sights to see and interesting people to meet along the way. The family looked forward to it each year. Elkanah was especially glad this year as he would be bringing a family no longer divided but united.
Two days before the annual trip was to take place Hannah told Elkanah that she wanted to stay home this year. This surprised him as he expected she would want to show Samuel to all her relatives in attendance. He also expected her to offer the required sacrifices for a son, a firstborn child and herself. These were things that had to be done according to the Law.
“I want to wait until the babe is weaned before bringing him to the temple. I promised the Lord that I would return him to Him. ‘As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, so that he may appear in the presence of the Lord and dwell there forever’ (verse 22). I will offer all the sacrifices required by the Lord at that time.”
“Do what seems best to you; wait until you have weaned him; only, may the Lord establish His word” (verse 23b).
Elkanah already paid the redemption price when Samuel turned a month old. Holding off of the rest of the sacrifices should not be a problem. So long as they are not neglected. He loves Hannah and knows her heart towards the Lord is pure and that she will honor her vow to him.
It seems strange to be traveling without Hannah. Peninnah and her children make sure it is not too quiet this year. Peninnah is glad to have Elkanah to herself for once. She is still feeling a bit insecure about her future since Hannah has been able to conceive. This is her chance to talk to Elkanah about her concerns.
“My lord, I have something I wish to discuss with you. It concerns your children.”
Elkanah turns his face to regard Peninnah. “Which children are concerning you my wife?”
“Your eldest five my lord. I would know of your intentions towards them now that Hannah has born you a son.”
“My intentions have not changed towards them. They shall receive the inheritance due them upon my death.”
“And would you place Samuel in the position of ‘firstborn’ as he is of your first wife?”
“No. My firstborn son is your second child. His position is secure. Samuel will not remain with our family. His inheritance will be from the Lord.”
“And what of me and my position my lord? Will you continue to visit my bed only to sire children? Or will I become a servant in the home instead?”
“You will continue as my wife. You will not become a servant in my home. As for siring further children with you, this is something I do not know at this point. I desire additional children but the toll they have taken on you is heavy. I would that Hannah provide more children to me but that is something that is in the Lord’s hands.”
“My strength remains with me and I would bear more children for you if you wish. My only wish is that those children be borne out of love instead of duty.”
Elkanah stops short and looks directly at Peninnah. “Have I treated you so badly that you doubt my love for you?”
“Please forgive me my lord, but I had not known if you truly do love me. I know you have valued my ability to provide you with children and that you appear to love the children we produce. But I have not felt cherished in a long time. I know without a doubt that it is Hannah that you love.”
“It is true that Hannah is and has always been the other half of my heart but I cherish you also. I am sorry that I seem to have caused you to doubt that. I will endeavor to demonstrate my commitment to you in more tangible ways.”
Peninnah’s heart beats with joy to hear that she is cherished by Elkanah. She is glad she finally found the courage and place for this conversation. She knows she will never replace Hannah in his heart nor even truly compare to her but she feels secure now in her place within Elkanah’s heart and home.
Sacrifices are offered at the festival and praise given to the Lord before the family returns home to Hannah and Samuel. Peninnah returns with a much improved confidence and countenance. She is ready to fully embrace sisterhood with Hannah.
The years roll by and two more festivals pass before Samuel is weaned. The boy will be a little over three years old at the next festival. Hannah has extended her time with him a little more than is customary for nursing but she knows she has to release him to the Lord. That day is almost here.
Samuel has been told of his future from the time he was first born. His mother began telling him how he would one day serve the Lord and become a mighty man of God while she held him each night. Hannah prepares him for the changes that are about to take place. He has never known anything outside of the shelter of home and family. He likely doesn’t even understand the depth of changes his life is about to undergo. But he is an obedient son and Hannah KNOWS that the Lord will watch over him when she can no longer do so.
Hannah askes of Elkanah a bull of three years to match Samuel’s age as part of the sacrifice she wants to present at temple for Samuel, her personal gift from the Lord. She also brings an ephah of flour and a skin of wine to complete her sacrifice. These items she carries and leads herself. She wants the Lord to receive these items from her own hand as it was His own that rescued her soul from death.
As the family makes its way to Shiloh for this very special journey Elkanah is wondering at the condition of Hannah’s heart. He knows of her determination to complete her vow to the Lord but he wonders at the impact it will have when she walks away from Samuel. “Will she be able to truly release him into the Lords hands? Will she mourn the loss of him? Will she have joy over her actions? How am I to support her? Only time will tell.”
The first place Hannah wants to go when they reach the city is to the house of the Lord. Elkanah convinces her to wait until morning though because it is late and they have been traveling all day. “Rest tonight my wife. Let the boy meet his future in the morning. This will give him one last night with his brothers and sisters.”
Hannah consents to one final night together. Her heart is torn between wishing it were 1,000 more nights and completing her vow immediately. She is grateful beyond words for the gift the Lord has given her. She will gladly sing His praises for the rest of her life. She wishes though that it didn’t hurt so much to complete her part of the covenant vow. “If I didn’t love him so much it wouldn’t hurt to so deeply. But I can’t not love him. He belongs to the Lord, no matter the cost to me.”
Morning dawns and the family makes its way to the house of the Lord. Hannah is excited and resolved as they wait for their turn with the priest to present their sacrifices. As soon as her bull is slaughtered and offered to the Lord she looks around for the priest she met the last time she was here. It is he that she will present Samuel to. She sees him standing to the side observing the proceedings. She knows that he is the high priest Eli and prays that he remembers her and the conversation they had four years ago.
Hannah takes Samuel’s hand and walks to the place where Eli watches from. She places Samuel in front of her and waits for Eli to acknowledge their presence. When Eli turns his attention to Hannah the joy in her heart propels the words from her mouth as if they are a mighty rushing river.
“Oh my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord. For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted my petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord” (verses 26-28). Hannah pushes Samson towards Eli as she makes her last statement.
Eli is awed by her act. It takes him but a moment to call up her face from his memory. He sees so many people come and go through these gates. Most of them are here to pour their heart out to the Lord. But most, once they receive their answer, don’t return and give proper thanks to the Lord. He remembers her earnestness when she confronted him with the truth after he made his false accusation against her. He is overjoyed that the Lord saw fit to reward her petition. And even more in awe that the thing she petitioned the Lord so fervently for, she is willing to release back to His care. Eli reaches out a hand and lays it on the boy’s head.
“Hello by boy. What is your name?”
“My name is Samuel my lord.”
“Welcome Samuel. Welcome to the house of the Lord.”
Eli looked up to heaven and praised the Lord for the young boy. “Blessed be the Lord who hears and answers our petitions. May His name be praised in all the nations. May He make His face shine upon this woman and return to her even more than she has returned to Him. May He guide this child in His ways and the hands of this old man that he may teach him of His truths. Blessed be the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who will also be Mother, Father and Lord for this young man Samuel.”
Hannah looks on as Eli confirms her heart’s decision. YES! She can and will release her son, her gift from the Lord, back into His capable and open hands.
(to be continued)
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Father God, I don’t know if I could have done what Hannah did. I LOVE YOU with ALL my heart but I have a hard time turning loose of my children as it is. I don’t know how she made herself walk away that day. I don’t know how she even started the walk to Shiloh without breaking down in sobs. She knew what lay ahead. I wonder if she wished Elkanah would have nullified her vow. He had the authority to do so yet he chose to uphold it and she chose not to argue with that decision.
You surrendered Your child. His fate was MUCH worse than Samuel’s would ever be. His life changed more lives than Samuel’s would either. Thank You for Your sacrifice!
Thank You for each of my children and the years I have got to spend with them. I pray there are MANY MORE to come!