THE DAY HANNAH GAVE HER SON TO THE LORD
In her pain and bitterness of soul, Hannah had not only prayed for a son, but had made a vow to God, promising to give the child back to God all the days of his life (1 Samuel 1:10-11).
Do we make vows to God today? Surely, any promise to God, any statement to God in worship and prayer has the force of a vow. God takes our words so seriously that he expects us to mean them and stand by them.
This is why Jesus condemns empty words in prayer (Matthew 6:7) and even warns that we will be judged for every idle word (Matthew 12:36-37). When we pray, we’d better mean what we say.
We also vow to God in song. When we meet together and sing a hymn to God, we had better pay close attention to what we are promising to him. Do we mean it when we sing, “Take my silver and my gold, not a mite would I withhold?” Or “All to Jesus I Surrender?” Or “Have Thine Own Way, Lord?” If not, who do we think we’re fooling? God? We dare not try his anger. Those around us? Then we are the worst hypocrites. Ourselves? Then we are self-deceived.
Surely none of us on our own can perfectly keep his vows to God; our flesh is willing, but our spirits weak. But we must mean what we say; we must intend to keep these promises with God’s help.
Hannah kept her vow with the help of God. But what are we to make of this vow to abandon Samuel to the care of an old priest? Did Hannah simply want the joy of a child without the responsibility? Is her vow a lack of love for Samuel? No. She is not abandoning her son but giving him to the care and service of God. Hannah knew what all parents should know. That our children do not belong to us. Here is what she did with this truth.
The man Elkanah and all his household went up to offer to the Lord the yearly sacrifice, and to pay his vow. But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, “As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, that he may appear in the presence of the Lord, and remain there forever; I will offer him as a nazirite for all time.” Her husband Elkanah said to her, “Do what seems best to you, wait until you have weaned him; only—may the Lord establish his word.” So the woman remained and nursed her son, until she weaned him. When she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine. She brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh; and the child was young. Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child to Eli. And she said, “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 me the petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is given to the Lord.”
She left him there for the Lord (1 SAMUEL 1:21-28 NRSV).
Hannah demonstrates her understanding of the parental situation in a dramatic fashion. Instead of waiting until her child is eighteen or twenty-one to “send him out on his own,” she literally entrusts him to the care of the Lord after he is weaned (perhaps around three years old). She keeps her vow to God by giving him what she treasures most.
Our children do not belong to us. We dare not pretend that they do and try to make them our clones or try to achieve the success we desire through them. All children are gifts of God, entrusted to the care of loving parents but still ultimately children of God alone.
God of love, may we give all whom we love, even our children, into your gentle care.
DR. GARY HOLLOWAY
Gary Holloway is Executive Director of the World Convention. Holding degrees from Freed-Hardeman, Harding, The University of Texas, and Emory University, he has written or edited thirty books, including (with Douglas Foster) Renewing God’s World: A Concise Global History of the Stone-Campbell Movement from ACU Press. He is married to Deb Rogers Holloway.