Hannah: Devoted Handmaid of the Lord

“Hannah: Devoted Handmaid of the Lord,” Ensign, Mar. 1998, 46

Old Testament


Devoted Handmaid of the Lord

The story of this stalwart disciple testifies to the importance of faith and commitment.

“Behold the handmaid of the Lord,” said Mary, mother of Jesus; “be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38). Just as she exemplified total submission to God’s will, so Hannah, a sister in the gospel more than 1,000 years earlier, walked a similar path of commitment and trust. Her life, as recorded in 1 Samuel, testifies to all dispensations that the Lord blesses those who put their trust in him and yield their will to his.

While chapter 1 provides little detail about Hannah’s background, we learn she was one of two wives of Elkanah, residing in Ramah (see 1 Sam. 1:19), a city not far from Jerusalem. At the time of the record Hannah had been grieving deeply over her barrenness, an affliction shared with many great women in the Old Testament. According to one scholar, in Hannah’s day this trial merited additional concern, since each Hebrew woman hoped for the Messiah to be born through her family line (see Adam Clarke, The Holy Bible … with Commentary and Critical Notes, 6 vols. [1827–31], 2:207).

Hannah’s sorrows were further magnified by the reproaches of Elkanah’s other wife, Peninnah, who had borne him many children (see 1 Sam. 1:4). Certainly each child Peninnah bore would have deepened Hannah’s anguish over her own apparent barrenness. To make matters worse, Peninnah “provoked her sore” for being barren (see 1 Sam. 1:6).

Hannah’s husband was a religiously devoted man, and he observed his covenants in the required yearly sacrifices and offerings (see 1 Sam. 1:3). He deeply loved Hannah, honoring her at the yearly feast with a “worthy portion” (1 Sam. 1:5), a term which may have meant either a larger share or a more choice part of the sacrifice (see Clarke, Commentary, 2:206). He did not blame her for their lack of offspring, and his love and faith must have comforted Hannah and reinforced her own faith.

Throughout these circumstances Hannah’s character and strength of testimony were revealed. The feast associated with Elkanah’s peace offering to the Lord symbolized the divine fellowship enjoyed by the offerer and his family, a celebration of their peace with God and fellowship with one another (see Bible Dictionary, s.v. “Sacrifices”). Yet it is significant that Hannah did not partake of the feast (see 1 Sam. 1:7). She was upset by Peninnah’s verbal abuse, but it seems that she did not appeal to Elkanah for protection or defense (see 1 Sam. 1:8). As painful as the insults must have been, Hannah chose neither retaliation nor use of Elkanah’s love as a shield. Instead, she appealed to the Lord.

Hannah’s refusal to eat may have been a symptom of emotional distress, or perhaps Hannah’s integrity made her reluctant to participate, since she was feeling neither joy nor fellowship with Peninnah. It is also possible that Hannah was fasting, because receiving an answer to her prayers resulted in both a change of countenance and a desire to eat (see 1 Sam. 1:18).

Hannah understood that the Lord was her true source of help and therefore took her appeal directly to him. She left the feast to enter a different area of the temple. There, in deep anguish, she wept and prayed, referring to herself as the Lord’s handmaid, one who was committed to fulfilling his will. She humbly petitioned for a son, making a sacred promise to subsequently dedicate him to the Lord “all the days of his life” (1 Sam. 1:11).

This was no idle appeal nor selfish bargain, since it meant Hannah would have only a short time to enjoy her child. Her pledge that “there shall no razor come upon his head” (1 Sam. 1:11) apparently was a reference to the Nazarite vow, a promise to consecrate a man for either a temporary period of time or, as in Hannah’s prayer, his entire life. He would then be set apart in a special way to prepare to serve the Lord and fulfill his purposes (see Bible Dictionary, s.v. “Nazarite”).

Since Hebrew mothers tended to nurse their children for about three years, Hannah would have been with her child only until weaning, when she would have taken him to the high priest at Shiloh. There he would receive his spiritual training, remaining forever in the Lord’s service (see C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, 10 vols. [n.d.], 2:2:26). Hannah’s vow would have required that she yield back to the Lord the one blessing she had earnestly sought—surely one of her greatest tests of commitment.

Eli, the high priest at that time, witnessed Hannah’s anguished prayer in the temple. However, since she prayed silently, he mistook her for being drunken and rebuked her accordingly (see 1 Sam. 1:12–14). Again Hannah’s character was revealed, for she took no offense at his accusation, replying with great humility and respect for his office. She identified herself as his servant and meekly explained the reason for her sorrow, assuring him of the purity of her motives (see 1 Sam. 1:15–16). She had done all within her power to be worthy of the Lord’s blessings. The Lord honored this commitment, inspiring Eli to say to her, “Go in peace: and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition” (1 Sam. 1:17).

In due time Hannah bore a son and gave him the name Samuel, which is derived from a Hebrew phrase meaning “heard of God.” The name would remind both mother and child of her vow (see Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 2:2:25).

The years leading to the fulfillment of her vow must have passed swiftly. Once Samuel was weaned, Hannah did not delay their separation but took him directly to Shiloh. The simple words “and the child was young” (1 Sam. 1:24) portray the significance of Hannah’s offering to the Lord. How tender those few years with Samuel must have been as she ministered to his needs and nurtured his sweet innocence! What righteous mother could unclasp a hand yet so small and place it in another’s grasp? Only a mother whose every fiber burned with a sure knowledge of the one requiring such a sacrifice.

The Spirit must have whispered of eternal bonds at the moment of separation, since Hannah declared to Eli, “I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord” (1 Sam. 1:28; emphasis added).

Even more revealing was Hannah’s song of joy in chapter 2. Instead of reacting with anguish or bitterness, she proclaimed, “My heart rejoiceth in the Lord,” and she praised him for granting her the power to rise above the affliction of barrenness. She taught the key to power over afflictions by exclaiming, “because I rejoice in thy salvation” (1 Sam. 2:1; emphasis added). Her total submission to divine will was honored by the Lord, and in a fulness of joy she bore solemn witness of him.

Hannah then manifested a further gift of the Spirit when she prophesied of the future Messiah. In mentioning a “rock,” she alluded to the one who would protect Israel against evil (1 Sam. 2:2; see also Matt. 21:42–44). Later, she testified of “his anointed,” a reference to Jesus Christ, whose power would break to pieces all “the adversaries of the Lord” (1 Sam. 2:10; see also Old Testament: Student Manual, Genesis–2 Samuel [1981], 268).

Hannah’s devotion to Samuel continued even past his weaning. Each year she would make a coat for him and present it at the time of the feast offerings (see 1 Sam. 2:19).

As the Lord promises all his children, once a test is fully met, the blessings are then bestowed, whether in this life or the next (see D&C 58:3–4). Hannah was likewise blessed once the commitment to her vow had been fully tested. Not only did Samuel become a great prophet, serving the Lord all his days, but also Hannah’s yearnings for more children were fulfilled. Through Eli the Lord praised Hannah’s commitment to her vow, then blessed her with the promise of more children. Hannah was eventually granted three more sons and two daughters (see 1 Sam. 2:20–21). At last her cup truly overflowed with blessings of great joy.

Hannah’s testimony reaches across dispensations to our time, and her story is an invitation to apply the same principles of righteousness. Through doing so we, too, might rejoice in the Lord as we experience his innumerable blessings in our lives.

First, we must choose to abide by our covenants, whatever our circumstances, until the end of our mortal probation. Samuel the Lamanite explains this accountability by stating, “Ye are free … to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free … that ye might choose life or death” (Hel. 14:30–31).

We are not excused from honoring our covenants in even the most trying situations; however, we are promised that a way will always be provided for us to fulfill the Lord’s commandments (see 1 Ne. 3:7). The scriptures declare, “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able, but will … make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13). In fact, the weaknesses we feel during affliction are designed to bring us to the Lord. By turning to him, we can receive power to endure each trial, and our weaknesses can thereby become strengths (see Ether 12:27).

Hannah understood this principle. When she could no longer endure alone either the grief caused by her barrenness or its accompanying persecutions, she went to the Lord, receiving strength through the outpouring of his Spirit. Likewise, we can be strengthened by the gifts of the Spirit through a similar commitment to righteousness (see D&C 11:12–13).

The Lord has taught that “all they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness … shall be filled with the Holy Ghost” (3 Ne. 12:6). To hunger and thirst implies more than a mere attempt to obtain what we want, but rather a sincere and diligent commitment to fulfill the Lord’s will. This diligence results in the companionship of the Holy Ghost, who influences us to forsake our mortal desires and submit as a child to whatever the Father requires (see Mosiah 3:19). Each succeeding trial thus furthers our progression until, like Jesus Christ, our will becomes totally “swallowed up in the will of the Father” (Mosiah 15:7).

Hannah’s tests involved progressive degrees of sacrifice. Her blessings, like ours, did not come until after her trial of faith (see D&C 58:4; Ether 12:6). Her blessing of motherhood came only when she had sufficiently proven both her righteousness in adverse circumstances and her willingness to submit to a divine decree of barrenness. She received her powerful testimony of the Savior only after she had fulfilled her vow to consecrate Samuel. And finally, the promise of additional children came only as she continued faithful without receiving further posterity.

Like Hannah’s, each of our tests can lead to greater blessings and deeper spiritual maturity, for the Lord promises that “all things wherewith you have been afflicted shall work together for your good, and to my name’s glory” (D&C 98:3). And his glory is nothing less than “the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). Whether given in mortality or thereafter, these promised blessings, contingent upon our faithful endurance of our trials, will more than compensate for any losses. Indeed, we cannot even comprehend the reward that awaits us if we are worthy (see D&C 58:3).

Sacrifice is an essential part of progression, determining our worthiness of the blessings of eternal life. The Lord assures us that “whoso layeth down his life … for my name’s sake, shall find it again, even life eternal. … I will prove you in all things, whether you will abide in my covenant, even unto death, that you may be found worthy” (D&C 98:13–14).

This principle was again emphasized when the Prophet Joseph Smith explained, “From the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things” (Lectures on Faith [1985], 58).

A crucial requirement in achieving exaltation must be our ever-deepening discipleship of broken heart and yielded will, a consecration of self resulting in the blessings of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Gal. 5:22–23). Only then are we worthy to unite with Hannah and other true disciples of Christ, proclaiming with them, “My heart rejoiceth in the Lord, … my mouth is enlarged over mine enemies; because I rejoice in thy salvation” (1 Sam. 2:1).

  • Linda M. Campbell serves as Primary president in the Fort Myers First Ward, Fort Myers Florida Stake.

Illustrated by Paul Mann

Detail from Hannah Presenting Samuel to Eli, by Clark Kelley Price