“I asked the LORD to give me this child, and he has given me my request. Now I am giving him to the LORD, and he will belong to the LORD his whole life.” And they worshiped the LORD there. - 1 Samuel 1:27-28
Promises made in times of intense anguish sometimes fade from the memory once the anguish has been assuaged. God, a man might pray, if you’ll only bring my wife back home, I promise I’ll never abuse her again. Or, Lord, if you help me find a job, I promise I’ll never touch a drop of liquor again. Or, Father, if you’ll only get this plane down safely, I’ll devote the rest of my life to being a missionary or a monk or something. Just so long as we land safely. We’ve all heard prayers like this—or prayed them ourselves!
The problem with promises like these is that they are rarely born of conviction—they tend more to be matters of convenience. As we don’t like to be inconvenienced, we resort to various techniques to avoid it, even to the point of striking an empty bargain with the Almighty. But paying the dues, or fulfilling our part of the “bargain,” can become another source of inconvenience. So payment is often rationalized into oblivion. Granted, there are exceptions. Martin Luther, having survived an encounter with lightning, followed through on his promise and did become a monk! But such men are the exception rather than the rule.
Hannah was another great exception. In her deep desire to bear a child, she prayed earnestly and promised, “O Lord Almighty, if you will look down upon my sorrow and answer my prayer and give me a son, then I will give him back to you. He will be yours for his entire lifetime” (1 Sam. 1:11). In her case, the dedication of her boy to the Lord would be more than a brief ritual. He would leave home and be placed in the care of an old priest whose own family was a dysfunctional disaster (2:12-17). Hannah could have found many good arguments for reneging on her promise, but she faithfully followed through. So as soon as he was weaned, Samuel left home and took up residence in the temple.
Elkanah, Hannah’s husband, was not the most sensitive human being (1:8). But he showed appropriate concern for his wife and her monumental decision to keep her promise when he told her, “May the Lord help you keep your promise” (1:23). That was the key. If the promise was made to the Lord and the Lord had done what was requested, then the Lord would enable her to do her part of the arrangement. As she was faithful, he, too, would be faithful.
Making a deal with God under duress may be a questionable deed. But making a solemn vow, as Hannah did, is not. What is questionable is the attitude that regards a promise made to the Lord as nonbinding. Better not to promise than to promise and renege, and better still to promise and perform.
For Further Study: 1 Samuel 1:1-28
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