1 Samuel 1:27 says, “I prayed for this child and the Lord granted what I asked of Him.” Hannah yearned for a child; she prayed desperately that God would take notice of her and answer her prayer. And God did. He blessed her with a child who would become a spiritual leader in the nation of Israel. But, it does not always turn out like this; sometimes the prayer for a child is not answered like you want.
To a young couple that is just starting out life together, having a baby is a joy and a big spiritual responsibility. But, what about that couple facing infertility? What about the one who has faith in God to answer prayer, but who is losing hope in the chance to have a child of their own? The book of 1 Samuel tells us the story of Hannah and her struggle with infertility. Let's take a deeper look at the meaning of this Bible verse and how it can bring us hope.
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Who Were Samuel and Hannah?
The two books of Samuel were originally written as one book, to preserve the history of the nation of Israel. There are several theories as to the authorship, but scholars cannot agree on who wrote the book, so the author remains anonymous. 1 Samuel serves as a transition book between the time of the judges and the time of the kings of Israel and provides us with detailed information about Samuel, Saul and David. Scholars believe that the time of the writing was around 900 BC and covered the time period of 1150 – 1000 BC.
The book begins with the birth story of Samuel. Samuel was a Godly man who would eventually serve as the last judge of Israel. His mother was Hannah and his father was Elkanah. They lived in Ramah, in the hill country of Ephraim, and Elkanah had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Peninnah had children but Hannah was barren. Some scholars believe that Elkanah may have taken Peninnah to bear him children after Hannah was unable to do so.
1 Samuel 1:1-7 tells us about the relationship between the two wives. Peninnah was a difficult person to get along with and provoked Hannah for years, taunting her about her inability to have children. Even though Peninnah made fun of Hannah’s barrenness, she did not fight back and never told her husband. Her behavior was one of grace and perseverance.
Each year when the family would travel to Shiloh to worship and present a sacrifice at the temple, the discord between the wives seemed to escalate. Hannah prayed hard and was desperate for a child because, for a Jewish woman, the stigma of being barren was great.
After a particularly trying time with Peninnah, Hannah became so distraught that she stopped eating and went to the temple to pray. 1 Samuel 1:10 says that she was in anguish and cried bitterly without verbally uttering a word before the Lord. As she cried silently, her body must have swayed and shook with emotion because Eli, the priest, thought that she was drunk with wine. He questioned her asking why she would come to the temple drunk. Hannah assured the priest that she had not been drinking but was very discouraged, pouring out her heart before the Lord. She was desperately looking for an answer. Hannah did not think that she could take it anymore and tried bartering with God.
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Can We Make Deals with God?
When a deal is made, it typically follows a bartering system where one person barters or trades for something, while the other party does the same. Both sides are getting something they need. Hannah tried to barter with God for an answer to her prayer. 1 Samuel 1:11 says that she made this vow to the Lord:
“O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, if you will look 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, and as a sign that he has been dedicated to the Lord, his hair will never be cut.”
In order to barter, both parties must want or need something from the other party. As for making a deal with God, how can we barter with Him who created, owns, and controls it all? Everything is His, so what do we have to barter with? How can we make a deal for something that He owns?
Hannah told God that if He would answer her prayer for a child, she would give the child back for a lifetime of service to the Lord. In essence, Hannah took a Nazirite vow for the child. Numbers 6:1-21 tells us that a Nazirite vow was one where someone dedicates himself to the Lord and His service and is signified by not cutting his hair for the length of the vow.
Just as we may dedicate our children to the Lord in a formal church service, thanking God for entrusting us with the care of the child, asking Him for wisdom and giving our trust and faith back to God for the child’s care, Hannah did the same for Samuel, even before he was born.
After hearing the anguish of her prayers, the priest Eli showed mercy on her plight and blessed her saying, “may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him” (1 Samuel 1:17). Upon hearing this, Hannah immediately had faith that God had heard her prayer. She rose and went on her way, no longer downcast.
The Lord did bless her and, in due time, Hannah gave birth to a child. She named him Samuel which means, “I asked the Lord for him” (1 Samuel 1:20). Hannah honored her promise to God and after the child was weaned, she took him to the temple and gave him over to the service of the Lord (1 Samuel 1:22). God had honored her request and remembered her.
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The Personal Pain of Infertility
I personally know the hurt, the disappointment, and the grief that comes from wanting a child of my own. Soon after I married, I began to yearn for a child, to carry a baby, prepare for the birth, decorate a nursery and raise a child who was part of me. For years, I held onto my faith and belief that God would intervene in my barrenness.
I fasted, prayed and, like Hannah, sought God’s blessing on my prayer. I read the book of 1 Samuel, holding fast to the answer that Hannah received as she poured out her heart to God. I used wisdom and sought all of the medical interventions that God has provided for infertile couples. I underwent surgery, medication, injections, etc., all while having faith that God would open my womb for a child of my own. I struggled for 17 years without success until I had to have that final surgery that would end my hopes for a child. God did answer my prayer for a child, but His answer in all of His wisdom, was No.
Coming out of surgery, I was grief stricken, knowing that there was no chance now of ever having a child. God had spoken. I never had a definitive reason why I could not conceive, and I believe that that in itself made it more difficult. Why me? Why were babies being born into abusive homes with parents who would not love and take care of them? Why did God in all of His sovereign wisdom choose to close my womb? It did not make sense and I struggled with grief, anger, rejection, depression, and always the question, why me?
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God Will Fill the Missing Piece
Hannah prayed. God opened her womb and blessed her with children. That was God’s plan for Hannah. It was not God’s plan for me. It was heartbreaking, but looking back, it was a good plan, it was His plan, and God knew best. As time passed, God gave me clarity and I began to see that His hand had been working through it all. It was difficult, but God slowly calmed the storm inside and began to heal me from within. But even with that healing, I still had a baby-sized void in my life that needed filling. God knew.
God used several things to fill that need and the void that I carried. I was able to spend a great deal of time with my baby niece and nephews, doing the fun things that we do with children. He filled it with allowing me to minister to orphans and homeless children and giving me a job working with children who have special needs. God saw, God understood and He saw the future.
Today, I am married to a man with two wonderful children and we – yes, we – have six wonderful grandbabies. God saw my heart and He filled the void, as He saw fit. I see life from a much clearer vantage point now and have learned many lessons about the struggle of infertility along the way. Looking back, I believe the steps that helped me the most while seeking God in a challenge such as infertility are to:
- Pour out your petition before God, knowing that He hears your prayer
- Ask Him for strength in the journey and patience as He works
- Hold strong to your faith, knowing that He is able
- Ask for wisdom and guidance in how you walk through the challenge before you
- Listen intently for His voice and follow His instructions fully
- Then rest in His sovereign wisdom, giving glory to God because He watches over you and because He knows best.
God knows the pain of barrenness. Believe in the God of 1 Samuel 1:27, because He is able to completely answer the prayer for a child, but you must trust in His answer, because He is sovereign, faithful and He knows best.
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A Prayer for Peace Amidst Infertility
I pray over couples that are yearning for a child of their own. I pray for the mother, who yearns to conceive, to carry a baby and feel the movement of life within her. I pray for the father, who yearns for a child of his own, one that he can raise up in a Godly home to become a spiritual warrior. I pray that you would grant them wisdom to know the next steps that they should take, the faith that You, in your sovereign wisdom, have a plan for their lives, and for peace as they cast their cares on you and release it to the one who knows and understands. I pray for their finances as they search for answers, for their emotions as they work through all that comes with this battle, for their marriage as they move through the process together and for the grace that they will need as You answer the prayer of their hearts in a way that will be best. Best in your eyes, for You know our future.
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