Whenever I think of mothers in the Old Testament, I always think of Hannah, the mother of Samuel. There are many mothers mentioned in the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament, but Hannah has all the characteristics that make her a special mother.
Let me explain why I believe Hannah is the example of a great mother. First, Hannah was a woman who really wanted a baby. Hannah was barren and unable to conceive.
To women, barrenness was a disgrace and it was considered by many Israelites as the harshest punishment with which the Lord could visit a female. Sarah attributed her barrenness to God. She told Abraham, her husband: “The LORD has kept me from having children” (Genesis 16:2). The writer of Samuel wrote that Hannah was barren “because the LORD had closed her womb” (1 Samuel 1:6).
The view that barrenness was a punishment from the Lord may be derived from an erroneous interpretation of biblical statements saying that the blessings from God would exclude barrenness.
For instance, in Exodus 23:25-26 Moses promised the Israelites if they worshiped the Lord then his blessings would be upon them “and none will miscarry or be barren in your land.”
Moses also promised that if the people obeyed God’s commands, his decrees and laws, then “you will be blessed more than any other people; none of your men or women will be childless” (Deuteronomy 7:14).
Hannah was barren, unable to have children, but in her heart she desperately wanted one. There are women who really want to be mothers but cannot. There are women who are mothers by accident and they hate it. There are other women who want to be mothers for convenience: they believe if they have a child then the men in their lives will marry them.
Hannah was different: she wanted a child because she knew that as a woman her very nature desired to feel the feelings of being a mother.
Second, Hannah prayed to God and asked for a son. Hannah’s prayer to God shows two important things about her: it shows that she was a woman of faith. She believed that God could perform a miracle in her life and give her a son. Hannah’s faith is a good example to mothers everywhere because it teaches that mothers should teach their children to have faith in God. Her faith is also significant because every mother should teach her children to love God.
Hannah’s prayer also shows that she was a woman of prayer. The text shows Hanna praying for her child before the child was born and it reveals Hannah’s commitment to pray for her son as long as she lived. This is the reason Samuel was one of the greatest men of faith in Israel. Samuel was a faithful judge, a faithful priest, and a faithful prophet because he had a praying mother.
Third, Hanna was a woman who recognized that she was a steward of a precious gift God gave to her. In her prayer to God Hannah said: “O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life” (1 Samuel 1:11).
Hannah asked God to give her a son, but she was willing to give her son back to God. The son God gave to Hannah was a special gift of grace: it was God who formed that child in her womb; it was God who gave life and health to her baby. Hannah was the mother, but that child belonged to God.
So, as a faithful mother, Hannah kept her vow to God. After Samuel was weaned, probably at the age of two or three (1 Samuel 1:22), Hannah fulfilled her promise. When she came to the house of the Lord at Shiloh, she told Eli the priest:
“As surely as you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the LORD. I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the LORD. For his whole life he will be given over to the LORD” (1 Samuel 1:26-27).
There are three interesting statements in Hannah’s story as a mother: Elkanah’s statement about Hannah’s situation, Hannah’s statement about her condition, and the writer’s statement about Hannah’s blessing.
When Elkanah, Hannah’s husband, saw how unhappy Hannah was because she was barren, Elkanah would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” (1 Samuel 1:8).
The answer to Elkanah’s question was never given, but the reader almost can guess the answer.
Elkanah’s effort to try to comfort his wife was in vain. To a childless woman, a husband
really was not “better than ten sons,” because the joy of motherhood is different from that of conjugal happiness, and especially to a woman in Israel who had hoped to be delivered from her barrenness. After all, one could always find a husband but only the Lord could give a son.
After Hannah was blessed with her deliverance from sorrow and desolation, she sang a song of thanksgiving: “My heart rejoices in the LORD” (1 Samuel 2:1). Hannah’s outburst of joy came as a result of the divine favor she received in answer to her prayer. In her joy Hannah said: “She who was barren has borne seven children” (1 Samuel 2:5).
The expression “the barren has borne seven” expresses the joy that makes a barren woman the
mother of seven because it is the Lord who takes away barrenness: “The Lord settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children” (Psalm 113:9).
Since seven represents completeness and perfection, seven becomes the representation of a perfect number of children, and a mother of seven is the happiest mother in Israel. When Ruth gave Naomi a descendant, the women of Bethlehem expressed Naomi’s joy in terms of seven sons:
“He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him” (Ruth 4:15-16).
“The barren has borne seven.” Hannah was the happiest mother in Israel.
The Writer’s Statement
Now that “the barren hath borne seven,” Hannah understood that God had performed a miracle and that he could give her more children. Although at present Hannah had only one son and that son was given back to God, she hoped for more children and she was not disappointed.
“And the LORD was gracious to Hannah; she conceived and gave birth to three sons and two daughters” (1 Samuel 2:21).
The story of Hannah is the story of a woman who in her barrenness earnestly prayed to God with the longings of a mother’s heart, asking for a son. The experience of this mother who was bowed down and oppressed by her situation is an inspiring story to mothers everywhere on this Mother’s Day.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary