Video: Hope when all seems lost – meditations on Hannah’s story

In these tough times, Ian Adams invites you to explore the theme of hope, through the story of Hannah in the book of 1 Samuel.

Ian is mission spirituality adviser for Church Mission Society and he presents this series of four short videos, mining Hannah’s story for hope for our times.

You can find the text of each reflection below each video, and you can also download this as a pdf.

If you would like to download the videos, press the Download from Vimeo button – you’ll need to select each video in turn to get to the screen where you can download.

I

These times continue to be a challenge.

Every potential glimmer of hope seems to meet some cold dark dose of reality.

It can be hard to be hopeful.

It may be that the story of Hannah from the book of 1 Samuel has gifts for us in this endeavour.

It’s an old story, describing events from over 3,000 years ago, and told ever since.

So at times it will seem strange to us.

But we will recognise its central theme – of hope when all seems lost.

Hannah is one of two wives of a man called Elkanah.

The other wife has children – and she taunts Hannah because Hannah has none.

Hannah longs for a child.

Hopes. Taunts. Disappointments.

The pattern continues.

For years.

And if hope fades, that fading is not gentle; for Hannah it cuts ever more deeply.

So Hannah weeps, much of the time.

She is, according to her husband, heart-sad.

But Hannah does something. She presents herself to the Lord.

Hannah goes to the temple. She makes herself present.

And there Hannah gives voice to her despair.

Her bitter weeping is her prayer.

She will explain to the priest Eli that as a deeply troubled woman

she pours out her soul to the Lord.

She speaks, she says, out of great anxiety and vexation.

We can surely each identify with this.

So here might be a first gift for us as we seek to live as hopeful people of God:

It’s important that we name what we hope for;

and express any sorrow surrounding the lack of hope’s appearing.

Let’s be real.

II

But then Hannah bargains with God.

If only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazirite until the day of his death…”

Again the story becomes somewhat uncomfortable for us.

This bargaining with God may not be something recommended.

But at least Hannah has engaged in a form of dialogue.

The unfolding story shows: this bargain will come at great cost to Hannah.

She will give up her son for service to the Lord (and with him possibly her hope for grandchildren.)

But, in God’s grace, the bargain will bring about great gift to God’s people.

(And in time Hannah will be blessed with more children – three sons and two daughters.)

Perhaps this can be another learning for us:

Could it be that our hope must not be solely for ourselves, but always have an outward momentum, a gift for others?

How might our hopes bring some measure of healing to those around us?

In Hannah’s story the realisation of hope comes through another.

Eli the high priest sits at the door of the temple of the Lord.

We feel for Eli.

He is a man whose love for God and for neighbour is deep.

Even if his sons’, despite being priests, is not.

Eli is faithful.

And he sits at the door of the temple.

He notices the distraught woman.

A conversation begins. Eli recognises what is happening.

He blesses Hannah with words of peace, and with assurance that she is heard by God.

Another gift for us from Hannah’s story:

Whatever the state of our own hope,

we can be prayerfully present to the hopes of others.

We can be like Eli sitting at the door of the temple,

looking out for those around us, encouraging them, praying for them, blessing them.

So it may be that we can be, in God’s grace, agents for hope to become reality.

III

Have you noticed how hopelessness can exert a hold over us?

Well, Hannah takes the bold step of setting aside her sadness.

Then the woman went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no longer.

Hannah eats and drinks again – she resumes normal life;

she worships the Lord with Elkanah,

they return home,

and they know each other – they make love.

Perhaps another lesson for us:

Hope realised is not wholly external to us or independent of us.

In God’s interesting ways we are involved in the bringing about of the hopeful change that we seek.

Hannah let go of her sadness.

What might be the bold and faithful step we take towards hope?

The story continues with perhaps one of the most beautiful lines in the Old Testament:

and the Lord remembered her.

What a gift that line might be for any of us who are hanging on in hope for something or for someone.

You are not forgotten; you are remembered.

And a child is conceived in due time.

What is this due time?

The story suggests it is the Lord’s time,

in the waiting for which we are held in God’s memory, and held in God’s love.

You are not forgotten; you are remembered.

The child is born.

Time passes; and Hannah is true to her word.

She brings the weaned child to the temple to enter service there.

And she leaves him there for the Lord.

What a tough – by our understanding quite inappropriate – thing to do with a young child.

But in the context perhaps we can begin to understand it.

And the leaving of the child for the Lord implies great trust in that Lord.

The child whose name means something like “asked of God”, “heard of God” or even “name of God” will surely not be forgotten or ill-treated by the Lord into whose service he is returned.

And for Hannah this is another act letting go – first of her sadness, now of her child.

Another learning for us: If God is good, God can be trusted, and we can let go of our fears.

IV

In chapter 2 of 1 Samuel we come to Hannah’s bold prayer of rejoicing.

There are echoes of the song in various of the Psalms, and it can be seen as forerunner to Mary’s wonderful song of triumph in Luke’s Gospel, the Magnificat.

Hannah’s prayer is exultant! Rejoicing in the hope of God.

“My heart exults in the Lord;

my strength is exalted in my God…”

But its triumph is perhaps tainted a little by its taunt to the one who has taunted Hannah.

“My mouth derides my enemies,

because I rejoice in my victory…

The barren has borne seven,

but she who has many children is forlorn.”

Like the football chant “You’re not singing any more”, to taunt the one who taunted her is understandable, but again this may (or even should?) make us feel uncomfortable.

Perhaps this is one of those moments when it helps to remember that this is a story from the Bronze Age. It represents an early understanding of how God is and how God wishes us to be.

But if it is early it also rings true.

We can easily find ourselves rejoicing at the downfall of those who have lauded it over us.

A reminder of our call to be people of grace, mercy and peace.

The big theme of Hannah’s prayer is the trustworthy character of God.

All is held in, and held by, God.

“For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,
and on them he has set the world.
He will guard the feet of his faithful ones…”

A final gift from Hannah’s story:

all our hopeful yearnings are to be seen in this bigger picture.

And if we grasp this reality anything becomes possible.

“He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honour.”

So this old story of Hannah continues to speak to us now, encouraging us to remain hopeful, rooted in God’s love and faithfulness even in the toughest of times.

And with Hannah, with Eli and with the child Samuel,
may you discover the hope that is within you.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Peter 1:3–5

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