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Grace Aguilar

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The time of the story

In the history of the Jews, by Josephus, the story of Hannah is mentioned as taking place before that of Ruth. We prefer following the arrangement of the Bible, although it is not improbable that Ruth and Hannah lived much at the same time; for we find the son of Hannah, when a very old man, visiting the grandson of Ruth, then in his prime, to choose from his household his youngest born as the anointed of the Lord. The period of the existence of these two beautiful female characters is in itself of little importance; but it is interesting to trace the intimate connection of their descendants, thrown together as they were so closely in after life.

The place of polygamy in the Bible

There was a certain man, living in the city of Rama Sophim of Mount Ephraim, an Ephrathite by descent, named Elkanah, who had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. It is a remarkable fact, that this is the very first mention of a man having two wives, since the days of Jacob. Joseph, Moses, Aaron and his sons, Caleb, Othniel, Lapidoth, Manoah, Elimelich, Chilion, and Mahlon, all had but one wife; a striking confirmation of our former assertion, that though polygamy was permitted, from its being an immemorial usage, it was not, in the early days of Israel, considered a necessary part of their domestic policy; and that almost every great and good man selected by the Eternal to work His will, before the monarchy, had but the one wife for whom the Laws were given; and so evinced, in their own persons, the incipient dawnings of that more refined and elevated state of being and society, which in the natural progression of humanity would undoubtedly ensue.

The abuse of the permission to have more than one wife without transgressing the Law, which grew to such an awful height during the continuance of the monarchy, is no evidence of the degrading nature of the Law, but is the literal fulfilment of the threatened wrath of the Eternal, when the people insisted upon having an earthly king to rule over them, like other nations. That he would not only take unto himself their store and their fields, and their olive-yards and vineyards, but even their sons and their daughters to minister to his service and his pleasures: and, of course, the licentious conduct of the sovereign would be followed by equal license in his subjects.

But before the monarchy, though the people were ever in rebellion and disobedience, still no such domestic abuses had existence. Even when there were two wives, as in the case we are about to consider, we find the beautiful laws, instituted for domestic equity and peace, entering and guiding a man’s household, as the Eternal had intended in their bestowal. Yet even these, while they prevented all injustice on the part of the husband, could not entirely do away with the evils of a divided household, which Sacred Writ never fails to record for our warning.

‘And Elkanah, with his wives and household, went up out of his city yearly to worship and sacrifice unto the Lord in Shiloh,’ then the residence of God’s holy ark, and of his priests, - a practical confirmation of the law so to do, which we have already noticed. At these times, ‘he gave to Peninnah his wife, and to all her sons and daughters, portions, but unto Hannah he gave a double portion; for he loved Hannah: though the Lord had not granted her any children,’ – loved her for herself, even above Penninnah, though she had given him a goodly progeny, and Hannah had but her own gentle virtues, which were sufficient for her husband.

She did not complain

But in Israel the denial of children was considered too sad a reproach, too painfully a proof of individual unworthiness in the sight of God, for the meek spirit of Hannah to endure it without bitter grief [but this idea was not true]; a grief painfully aggravated by the provocations of her more favoured rival, whose unkind reproaches increased with every year that diminished Hannah’s hope. Still, Holy Writ tells us of no complaint on the part of Hannah against Peninnah. As the more beloved by her husband, had she told him of the continual provocations she received, she might have been sure of such interference as would have effectually shielded her from them in future, though at the expense of alienating Peninnah from her husband, and causing domestic strife.

But such a course of acting was not according to Hannah’s character. It was easier far to suffer than to complain; sweeter far to endure herself than seek revenge upon another.

Each visit to Shiloh excited anew the reproaches of Peninnah; and as this took place some years before Elkanah noticed the deep grief of his favourite wife, we may in a degree suppose the extent of Hannah’s gentle forbearance. Hers was no trial of a day, or even a month, but of years; and can we imagine anything more trying to the heart and temper, than to live with one whose tongue was ever bitter with reproach? Because it is not likely that it was only during their visits to Shiloh that ‘Peninnah provoked her sore, to make her fret,’ and provoked her for no fault; for nothing which Hannah herself could remedy, but simply for being less favoured by the Lord.

And yet, how many are there like her? How many love to reproach instead of soothe, as if sorrow and disappointment were the fault of the sufferers, not the loving sentence of the Lord. How many there are who thus make daily life bitter to their fellows, instead of, as they might do, rendering grief less sad, and inexpressibly heightening joy.

Worship was not enjoyable

Their visits to Shiloh must have been fraught with deep suffering to Hannah. It was not only the signal of Peninnah’s aggravated unkindness; but the very sight of all her fellow-countrymen flocking to the temple of the Lord,[1] with their goodly show of sons and daughters, must have made her pious heart shrink deeper and deeper within itself in its own unspoken woe: and it is shown in her spirit’s sad but unmurmuring inquiry, ‘Why had the Lord whom she loved and sought to serve, so reproached and forsaken her.'

That this was really the case, and her grief was never spoken, never found vent in reproachful words, we know by Elkanah’s gently reproving address. ‘Hannah, why weepest thou?’ he said, ‘why eatest thou not? and why is thy heart grieved? Am not I better to thee than ten sons?’ Here there is no reference to anything but Hannah’s visible sorrow, and to Elkanah’s natural supposition as to the cause of her grief; and in perfect accordance with the meek enduring beauty of her true womanly character, she makes no complaining answer.

It would have been easy for her to exculpate [vindicate] herself for too repining sorrow [her discontent] by invectives [laying the blame] against her happier rival; but she who had borne so much and so long, was far too spiritual for such petty revenge.

Answer to man, save such as affection would dictate, the struggle to smile and be happy for a loved one’s sake, she made none; but sought relief, where alone it might be found, at the footstool of her God – woman’s best and surest refuge. For how may man, even when most loving, most beloved, so know the secret nature of a woman’s heart, as to bring the balm it seeks, and give the strength it needs? Elkanah's words reveal the extent and truth of his love; and had it not been for the daily provocations of Peninnah, he might indeed have been to Hannah ‘better than ten sons:’ but she had griefs and trials of which he knew nothing, – peculiarly her own, as what woman has not? – and these, in childlike faith and voiceless prayer, she brought unto her God.

The freedom of women

The condition of married women amongst the Jews, in the time of the Judges, must have been perfectly free and unrestrained. We find her rising up after they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, and without even imparting her intentions to her husband, much less asking his consent, going perfectly unattended and unrebuked to the temple of the Lord. There, in bitterness of soul weeping, she prayed unto the Lord of Hosts; and, in perfect accordance with the Mosaic Law, which expressly provided for such emergencies, she vowed a vow that if the Eternal would in His infinite mercy remember His handmaid, and grant her a male child, she would devote him unto the Lord all the days of his life, and not a razor should come near his head.

But she prayed not aloud, nor in any stated formula of prayer; she prayed merely as the heart dictated: ‘she spoke in her heart,’ as we have it in the touching language of Scripture, – only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; and Eli, the high priest, who sat beside one of the posts of the temple, marked her mouth, and hearing no word, combined with the agitated figure before him, believed she was drunken, and reproaching her bade her put her wine from her.

It must have been an aggravation of her sorrow to find herself so misunderstood by one who, as high priest, she might with some justice believe would have required no explanation on her part, but, in the name of the Eternal, have proffered her relief at once.

Still we find nothing in her touchingly beautiful reply to evince a failing in the firm faith which brought her there. ‘No, my lord,’ she answered, ‘I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but have poured out my soul before the Lord. Count not thine handmaid for a daughter of Belial [Satan]; for out of the abundance of my grief and complaint have I spoken hitherto. Then Eli answered and said, God in peace, and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of Him:’ and, without doubt, without question, Hannah simply answered, ‘Let thine handmaid find grace in thy sight,’ – meaning, to remember her in his prayers, – and then ‘she went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad.’

The birth of Samuel

The exquisite lesson and consolation which these verses contain (1 Samuel 1:9-19) we will defer to our concluding observations, now merely narrating the history itself. At the conclusion of the festival, Elkanah and his family returned to Ramah, where the Eternal in His mercy remembered His faithful servant, and taking from her her reproach, in due course of time granted her the son for which she had so earnestly prayed; and in joyful acknowledgment that it was in answer to her prayer he had been given, she called him Samuel, or ‘asked of the Lord.’

The time again came round for Elkanah and his family to make their yearly offerings in Shiloh; and by the allusion to a vow of Elkanah’s (see verse 21) we may infer that Hannah had of course imparted to him her vow, and received not only his unqualified sanction [agreement], but that he was anxious, in his next visit to the temple of the Eternal, himself to confirm it.

We find, too, as we ought previously to have noticed, the day after Hannah had been to the temple, that they (probably herself and her husband) rose up in the morning early, and ‘worshipped before the Lord;’ a worship, possibly, of thanksgiving and rejoicing on the part of both; on Elkanah’s that his beloved wife was no longer sad, on Hannah’s that her prayer was heard; for that it was heard, it is evident she never entertained a doubt, long before she could have had proof that it really was so. That this early worship had to do with the vow is, however, of course a mere suggestion: the Word of God is open to all; we would not compel the adoption of any suggestion, to which both reason and feeling cannot give reply.

The choice was hers

Hannah, however, when the time of the yearly sacrifice arrived, refused to go up, saying to her husband, ‘I will not go up till the child is weaned; and then I will bring him, that he may appear before the Lord, and there abide for ever:’ a resolution freely approved of by Elkanah. ‘Do what seemeth thee good,’ he replied; ‘tarry until thou hast weaned him.’ This incident is a striking confirmation of all which we brought forward in the Second Period of our history, regarding the appearance and the non-appearance of the female part of a Jewish household in the Temple at the times appointed.

The history of Elkanah and his family illustrates this law exactly. That women as well as men were to appear in the house of the Lord, and join in His worship, is proved by both Hannah and Peninnah, with the latter’s children attending their husband to Shiloh; and that the law to go up thrice a year was only binding upon males from the many causes which might prevent females, particularly mothers, from so doing, we perceive by Hannah’s tarrying till her child was weaned, and having her husband’s free permission so to do.

The third year

The time at length came when, in obedience to her voluntary vow, Hannah must part from her boy, and deliver him up to the service of the God whose mercy had bestowed him to her prayer. Her only one, precious beyond all price! yet we find no hesitation, no thought of delay, no idea of forgetting that which she had vowed, though the nature of her vow, nay, that she had vowed at all, was unknown to all, even to the high priest, who had promised that her prayer should be granted without knowing what it was.

Without listening to the maternal anxieties that must have engrossed her, we find her, directly the child was weaned, taking him with her to Shiloh, and three bullocks, and one ephah of flour, and a bottle of wine, – offerings from the store, and the field, and the vineyard, – all in exact accordance with the written Law, and coming unto the house of the Lord; and they slew a bullock there, and brought the child to Eli. ‘And she said, O my lord, as thy soul liveth, my lord, I am the woman that stood by thee here praying unto the Lord. For this child I prayed, and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of Him, and therefore also have I lent him to the Lord: as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord. And he worshipped the Lord there,’ – rather an obscure phrase, but probably signifying that Eli worshipped the Lord, in acknowledgment of His divine goodness, in thus permitting his words to come to pass, and giving the woman that which she desired.

The hymn of praise

The prayer, or rather hymn, of thanksgiving in which Hannah poured forth her gratitude to her God in a strain of the sublimest poetry and vivid conception of the power and goodness of Him whom she addressed, is a forcible illustration of the intellectual as well as the spiritual piety which characterized the women of Israel, and which in its very existence denies the possibility of degradation applying to women, either individually, socially, or domestically. Their intellect must have been of a very superior grade; while the facility of throwing the aspirations of the spirit into the sublimest poetry evinces constant practice in so doing, and proves how completely prayer and thanksgiving impregnated their vital breath.

It is useless quoting this beautiful song of praise, when the blessed Word which contains it is open to all classes and ages of readers; but we would beseech our young friends not to be satisfied with this uninspired notice, but to turn to the Word themselves, and mark the soul-felt clinging piety throughout.

It is as exact a transcript of the swelling gratitude of a truly pious heart, as her prayer before had breathed its bitterness of grief. Some there are who gladly come to their God in sorrow, but quite forget that the seasons of joy should be devoted to Him as well. Hannah was evidently not of these; but one of the most perfectly spiritually pious characters of the Bible.

There was no self-exaltation in her song of praise; no supposition that for any individual worth her reproach had been removed; or even that any peculiarly meritorious fervour in her prayer had wrought reply. No; all was of the Lord. All came from His exceeding mercy – His omnipotent power. It was He who had made bare His holy arm, and to the barren given children. He who gave strength to those that stumbled, while the arms of mighty men were broken – He who maketh poor, and maketh rich – He who bringeth low, and lifteth up – He who killeth, and maketh alive – for ‘by strength no man shall prevail.’

Nor was it only because she was permitted thus to rejoice, and behold the power she exalted, that Hannah so magnified the Lord, and believed in His wisdom and love to do all that He willed. She must have known and felt all her hymn expressed in her time of grief, else we should not have seen her in lowly supplication, prostrate in the court of the Lord’s house – beseeching His relief. She must have believed, else she could not thus have prayed.

Back home again

Lonely and sad must have been the feelings of this true Hebrew mother when she returned to her house at Ramah, leaving her beautiful boy with the high priest, and knowing that but three times in the year might she behold him; and then not to receive from him the service and caresses of a son, but only to look on him as one devoted to his God and to His service! How must her heart have yearned for the engaging prattle, the caressing playfulness, the lovely looks of clinging love, which had so blessed her since his birth! What a blank in her existence must have been his absence! and what but spiritual trust and devoted love to her God could have brought her consolation?

The feelings alike of her human and spiritual nature are so exquisitely portrayed by that beautiful delineator of woman’s spiritual character, Mrs. Hemans, that we can but refer our readers to her pages, convinced that it will aid them to enter into the full beauty of Hannah’s character, and the extent of her trial in parting from her boy.[2]

The protection of the LORD

Licentiousness and sin had crept into the very bosom of the temple, through the conduct of the high priest’s sons. Yet, in the midst of impurity, under the too indulgent control of an aged man, whose laxity of parental discipline exposed him to the anger of the Lord, – still was the child Samuel kept pure and undefiled even as he left his mother’s roof, and, while yet a child, ministered before the Lord. His so doing explains and confirms the Law of the Nazarite, and singular vow, to which we alluded in our Second Period, as implying devotion to the Lord’s service, which even children might perform (see Leviticus 27:6) by some personal service.

It is thus we so repeatedly find the Hagiography, or historical parts of the Bible, containing the practical illustration of the theoretical statues, exactly as  Moses gave them, and so rendering the holy Scriptures in very truth the verified transcript of the Eternal will. Moses’ instructions to the elders regarding the practical obedience to the law must have been in exact accordance with that which, being written, was, and is still, open to our perusal; or we should have found some traces of its difference in the manners and customs of our ancestors.

All, therefore, in Modern Judaism, which is accused of contradicting the spirit of the eternal holy Word, cannot have had its origin in either of the laws, oral or written, transmitted by Moses. We are anxious always to notice, as forcibly as may be, those portions of the Bible containing the practical confirmation of the written laws of Moses, because we have heard (though we can scarcely believe it) that the written Word of the Eternal is pronounced by some as imperfect and incomplete. The promulgators of such a fearful doctrine are not perhaps aware that by so doing, and so depriving our females and youth of both sexes of their only stay, and strength, and consolation, they are opening a wider avenue and offering a greater temptation to embrace Christianity than was ever proffered by our opponents.

The word of God is all embracing

To guard the women of Israel from such insidious danger, we are tempted to wander from our main subject, whenever the opportunity offers, to give them refuge and strength by the conviction that for them, at least, the Word of the Most High is all-sufficient, containing, as it does, in the historical books the practical illustration, and in the prophets the spiritual explanation, of the whole Mosaic system, whether imparted by word of mouth or dash of pen.

Of the delivery or non-delivery by the Eternal of an oral law [extra to the Bible], we write not at all, as it is a subject much too learned and too weighty for a woman; and we are ready and willing to submit our opinions on all points to the wisdom and piety of our venerable sages. We only affirm, what we think no Hebrew will contradict, that as the God of Israel is a God of changeless truth and wisdom, He would not have desired Moses to write that which speech was to deny; in other words, that each law must be so perfect and so exact a counterpart of the other, that in our present captive state, the Bible, provided through the eternal mercy for this very emergency, must be the key to both laws, and so perfect in itself.

Trust in God

Though the evil conduct of the sons of Eli was well known, Hannah does not appear to have entertained a fear as to the effect of their example upon the tender years of her child. It was not likely that she who, in all her individual joys and sorrows, came to her God in prayer, should neglect that holy duty for the welfare of her boy. She had experienced too consolingly the effect of faith and prayer to doubt them now; and as a mother, a Hebrew mother, one whose whole heart was love and praise to God, we may quite believe that, day and night, her meek and humble orisons [prayers] arose for her boy that he might become all that would make him indeed a faithful servant of his God; for in being such, he would be all her heart could wish.

Some mothers, indeed, there may be who, when they send their children from them, and provide them with all things needful for temporal welfare, think they have done sufficient, and only remember them with mere human, and consequently perishable, affections; rejoicing in their prosperity, anxious when ill, desirous for them to ‘get on’ – an emphatic though not elegant phrase for the world’s success. And if they do all they can to forward this ‘getting on,’ in the way of education and lavish expenditure, what more could be required of them?

Some will answer, ‘Nothing;’ others may feel, as Hannah must have felt, that though their children may no longer be beneath their roof – though all of human means is done to further their advancement, what will it all avail without the blessing of the Lord? And how may such blessing be attained, save with faithful and unceasing PRAYER? – prayer that unites us in spirit alike with our beloved ones and our God.

Love in prayer

Oh, is there one who really loves, be it as a parent, wife, child, betrothed, or friend, and can yet rest secure and happy without prayer? If we have never prayed before, we must when we feel love. Can we love in any single relation of life, and yet not feel the craving, the desire, the absolute necessity to pour out our hearts to our God for our beloved ones, and in them for ourselves?

Can we rest quiet, incapacitated, perhaps, from active service by circumstances, and not at least seek to serve by fervent prayer? And if in every relation of life this must be the effect of love, oh, more than any other must we find it in a mother for a child! What love can be like hers, so watchful, so changeless, so unwearied? And how may she still the anxious throbbings of her heart, when divided from its earthly treasures, save by simple trust and fervid prayer?

And when we look back on the character of Hannah, as it has already been displayed, can we doubt that such were her feelings that she could have supposed merely to leave her child with the high priest was sufficient – that nothing more depended on herself – she who in all things had prayed? No; prayer must have sanctified her offering, not only when offered, but when apart from him. She had naught but prayer for him on which to rest.

And might it not have been, nay, was it not, that mother’s prayer which retained her boy in such pure and lowly piety, in such singleness of purpose, and faithfulness of heart, in the very midst of the licentiousness reigning around? Long before Samuel could have prayed for himself must Hannah’s prayers have ascended for him and in his favour, both with the Lord and with men – she had her answer.

A practical mother

Every time of her visit to Shiloh, we find Hannah bringing a little coat or robe for her child, the work of her own hands, which had fondly lingered on the task from month to month in the periods of absence; and Eli blessed Elkanah and his wife, and said, ‘The Lord give thee seed of this woman, for the loan which is lent to the Lord.’

Now, though not put till several verses after the narration of Hannah’s address to the high priest when leaving Samuel with him, these words were most probably spoken when he first accepted the offering of the child; and the Lord did visit Hannah, and granted her three more sons and two daughters, thus powerfully proving that the Eternal ever returns double, and more than double, that which we devote to Him, be it the affections, the intellect, the will, or that more active service, charity and good works.

She gave her only son

Hannah devoted to Him her all, her only one, caring not for the conquest of self which this resignation of her treasure must have demanded; and the Eternal, in His infinite mercy, granted her five in the place of one. And what was it which had originally turned aside her reproach and inclined the Lord towards her? No great work, no mighty sacrifice, no wealthy offering; it was none of these, but simple faith and heartfelt prayer.

The perfect child

With the information that she became the mother of five children, Holy Writ concludes the history of Hannah; but knowing the longevity of Scriptural characters, we are justified in inferring that she was spared to feel to the full all the happiness which her first-born’s matured character must have excited.

We hear of not one failing from his earliest childhood. We read of his unvarying integrity and single-minded obedience to the word of his God, from his first repetition to Eli of the Eternal’s awful sentence to the conclusion of his career; interfering as that obedience so repeatedly did with his own private feelings, alike towards Eli in the selection of a king, and in all his conduct towards Saul.

If Hannah lived until the monarchy, she must indeed have been blessed in the innate goodness and love, and in the popularity of her child, and have felt that in nursing him for the Lord she had indeed received ‘her wages.’

Some general thoughts

The history we have been regarding, though brief in itself, is yet so fraught with importance to us as women of Israel, and as women in general, that we trust we shall be pardoned for dwelling upon it in all its bearings at some length.

Forcibly as the stories of Naomi and Deborah marked the real position of the Israelitish women, and proved their powers alike of intellect, judgment, and spirituality, as well as the deferential light in which they were regarded by their countrymen, the history of Hannah brings their perfect freedom and equality, even in the marriage state, yet more distinctly forward.

Deborah was inspired to do the will of the Lord; gifted extraordinarily and expressly to judge and deliver her countrymen. Naomi was a widow, unshackled by either conjugal or household duties, and with no relation whatever to interfere with her proceedings. Hannah was one of two wives, her husband living, and the head of a wealthy household, consequently she must have had all her part of the domestic economy to look after and perform; yet there could not have been the very smallest restraint upon either her temporal proceedings or spiritual feelings.

She does not even ask her husband’s acquiescence, much less depend upon his consent to seek the house of God. Her very going to pray must have excited remark and even scandal, if such had not been the common custom of the nation. And if women were not permitted to pray for themselves, Eli would have rebuked her presumption, and desired her to send her husband as the only chance of her wishes being granted; instead of which, when once convinced she was praying with earnestness and in sorrow, he bids her ‘go in peace,’ for God would hearken to her.

Again, had she not possessed perfect freedom of will and action, she could not have vowed her child to God. Unless she had been perfectly sure that her husband reposed sufficient confidence in her, to abide by her decision, she could not have so devoted him, without, as it were, mocking the majesty of the Lord, by making a promise which she had not the power to perform.

That her vow was subject to the approbation [agreement] of her husband, we believe, because such deference was commanded in our law. But Elkanah’s full acquiescence throughout clearly proves the high esteem in which he held her. She does not ask even his permission to remain at home, till her child were old enough to be left with the priest.

In all relating to Samuel, Elkanah was completely secondary.

Even in the bullocks, flour, and wine, provided for the offering, it was Hannah who brought and offered them; Hannah who addressed Eli; Hannah who chanted the song of thanksgiving to her God; and Hannah who devoted her child. The husband and father had no more to do with it, than the simple acts of acquiescence and approval, which he would not have so unhesitatingly bestowed, had he not possessed the most perfect confidence in the judgment and actions of his wife.

Not just rituals

That no severe restrictions as to the time, form, or words of prayer, existed in the time of Hannah, is proved by her seeking the Temple to pray when it was not the appointed time of service, when there was no one there but the high priest and herself; by her speaking in her heart the words which sorrow and entreaty dictated, without any regard whatever to instituted forms, which, though indispensable for public service and national interests, will not give all that is needed to individuals. Eli marked the lips of Hannah move, but he heard no voice, for she spake in her heart, and as her heart dictated. And in her song of thanksgiving, though she prayed aloud, still it was from the heart alone.

That forms of prayer were not needed in the time of Hannah, as they are now, we acknowledge; and also with all our heart and soul do we reverence their institution, and acknowledge their full value, both nationally and individually. Many and many a one, from incapacity to frame words of prayer, would be fearfully and painfully bereft, did they not possess the invaluable treasure of words of prayer, framed by good and learned men expressly for their use, and hallowed by long years.

We are no advocate for the abolishment of established forms; for fully and heartfully we hold their sanctity and value. We would only beseech our young sisters to accustom themselves sometimes in their private hours, to pray and to praise from the heart, not always to depend on printed words; not, indeed, to neglect the latter, but to hallow and add to them, by individual petitions from individual hearts.

Self-knowledge must be their first step to such secret prayers; for by self-knowledge alone can they discover their natural sins, their greatest temptations, their most secret weaknesses, their favourite faults. Self-knowledge alone can teach them where they are most likely to fail, and where to be unduly elevated; and display, broadly and unsoftened, the true motives of their every action. Self-knowledge alone can teach them their true position with regard to eternity and God, and for all these things it is, that every individual needs individual prayer, wholly and utterly distinct from established forms; not, as we said above, to take the latter’s place, but so to be added to them, as to give them life and breath.

Through faith alone

The history of Hannah is all-sufficient for us to be convinced, that such individual and heartfelt prayers are not only legal, according to the laws, but acceptable to the Lord.

No restrictions of man can alter or interfere with that which is divine; and, therefore, nothing which may be told concerning the inefficacy of individual prayer, unless guided by certain rules, forms, and words, can do away with the consolation and example afforded us by the history of our sweet and gentle ancestress, alike in the manner of her prayer and its reply, and in her unhesitating, unquestioning, and all-confiding FAITH.

We are thus particular, because we would at once remove the foul stigma flung by scoffers on our blessed faith, that her female children have no power to pray, and are, consequently, soulless nonentities before their God; and bring forward, from the Word of God itself, the unanswerable assurance, that woman’s prayers are heard, and are acceptable to Him, needing nothing more than childlike faith in His power to hear and answer, and a loving heart to dictate the imploring words.

It is idle for us to say that we cannot pray, for we know not how appropriately to address the Supreme; His awful attributes appal us, and prevent all connected words. Such may be the sentiments of those who keep the Eternal far from them; but not of Israel, His first-born, first-beloved, whose very sins have no power to separate him from his God, if he will but repent and believe.

‘What nation hath God so near them as Israel, in all we call upon Him for?' were the precious words of Moses, confirmed by the whole after records of the Bible. Hagiography [historical books], Psalms [song books], Proverbs [wise sayings], Prophets [teaching books], all and every one teem with the same consoling truth, proclaim our God as LOVE, the hearer and answerer of prayer, its gracious receiver, whenever it comes from the heart, and is offered up in faith.

 ‘Call upon Me, and I will deliver thee.’ is the blessed assurance repeated again and again, in different modes of expression, in every part of the Bible. It is folly, it is guilt, to keep away from prayer, under the misleading plea, that God is a Being too pre-eminently holy to be approached. Did we but really love Him as He commands, with heart, and soul, and might; did we but trust in Him, as Abraham did, when ‘his faith was accounted righteousness,’ we should find words enough wherewith to pray and praise. Love would bring us to Him, believing and rejoicing in that inexhaustible love which would in such infinite mercy bend down its reviving rays on us, and lift up the wearied spirit, till it found rest on the healing sympathy of its all-compassionating God.

Hannah's relationship with God

It was thus that Hannah came to Him, loving Him, trusting Him, yet more than she loved and confided in her husband, the nearest and dearest tie on earth. She did not think herself too unworthy to approach and beseech Him, because she knew that the Law which she obeyed, and the whole history of her people, teemed with His invitations so to do, and His promises to answer.

She came to Him, because she knew He loved her, and would have compassion; and because she so loved Him, that it was far easier to pour into His gracious ears her silent sorrows than breathe them unto man.

She came to Him because she not only loved, but believed with such a pure and childlike faith, that when the high priest bade her ‘go in peace, and God grant thee thy petition,’ she returned to her own home so calmly, so trustingly, that she ‘did eat, and her countenance was no more sad:’ – words that convince us how fully she must have believed when she prayed, and not only then, but through her lifetime, for faith is of no instantaneous growth. It is a plant so foreign to this cold, sceptical, questioning world, that it must be nursed and tended into life; it must be a habit, not a feeling; it must attend our every prayer, our every spiritual aspiration, or when most needed, it will fail us, and plunge us into gloom.

How to do it now

But it may be asked, in what need we have such perfect and constant faith? Hannah’s position will not bear upon us now, as we have neither high priest nor Temple, nor any visible manifestations of the Eternal’s interference in human affairs. We have not, indeed; but we have still HIS WORD, the BIBLE, wherein so to learn His attributes, His promises, that during our captivity we need no more; for if we disbelieve that Word, no priest, no temple, no apparently visible reply, would give us the faith we need, and which Hannah proved.

We need faith to believe that God is love, and our souls immortal; that every precious promise in His Word is addressed as emphatically to us individually as to us nationally; to feel that there is another and brighter World, where ‘eye hath not seen, neither hath ear heard, what He hath prepared for those that love Him.’

Faith to know that we are individually objects of His love and care, as surely as that every blade of grass and invisible insect are alike the work of His hand, and the constant renewal of that power which at a word called forth creation.

We need faith, to discern the workings of an eternal Love and infinite Goodness in the History of Man, Past and Present; to mark through the evil which is often alone visible, the furtherance of that Divine Will and Perfect Good, which runs as a silver thread through the darkest web, and links this world with heaven – man with God.

It is for all these things we need Faith; that faith which, instead of banishing Reason, welcomes and rejoices in her as her companion and handmaid. Faith may exist without reason; but let reason attempt to exclude faith altogether, let the materialist and scoffer laugh and mock at all things which cannot be substantially proved, and on his bed of death what shall support him? Let him explain, if he can, birth and death, the beginning and the end; and then, and not till then, may he contemn and deride those who, contented to be less wise and less inquiring, walk calmly and happily through this dark valley of earth with the angel, Faith, at their side; sending up their lowly petitions on his aspiring wings; and calmly sinking, when the tale of life is done, secure, through faith’s simple readings of the Word of God, of that everlasting bliss which awaits him in another and purer world.

The end of the Third Period - the time of the Judges

With the history of Hannah our Third Period concludes; and from the length with which we have treated each separate notice, we have little further to add, save the earnest hope that an impartial and unprejudiced study of all that we have brought forward, will convince our readers, that no law for the degradation and heathenizing the Women of Israel could have had existence from the Exodus to the Monarchy; that therefore all statutes to that effect, which may be quoted, must be Human not Divine, and cannot be charged to the Law of God, or regarded as characteristic of the manners and customs of His people.

To us, as women, the whole of the Third Period teems with guidance and consolation, and, as Women of Israel, must satisfy us with the confirmation of our equality and elevation.

Shall we, then, feel ashamed of the faith which provides such laws, and the lineage which counts such characters as Deborah, Naomi, and Hannah amongst our ancestry? Shall we prefer listening to the mistaken zeal which would persuade us that, as Hebrew females, we are lowered and degraded, and can only become spiritually free by deserting the faith of our ancestors [and joining a professed Christian church]; to looking through the Word of God, and tracing our privileges there, make it our glory to reveal them, through our faith and conduct, to the whole Gentile world?

Oh, will not every woman nerve her heart to prove that her religion comes from that God of Love and Truth, whose words once spoken will last for ever, whose Law once given will know no change; that she has in that faith enough to give her strength to live, and hope to die; ay, and to glory in that blessed ‘Law which cared for woman first, and will care for her for ever.’

To Ancient SDA's ............  To "What's New?" ....... To an Index of the Women

[1] Though that house of God which we are accustomed to regard as the Temple was not built till the reign of Solomon, the residence of the Ark of God was always called the Temple. – See 1 Samuel 1:9.

[2] See Mrs. Heman’s Poems, vol.4., p.169.



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