As a kid, I despised Hannah—the one from the Bible, that is. I could not understand her weepings and disliked this legacy she had passed to me in the form of her name. My namesake, in my arrogant little mind, was almost a crybaby, and thus I missed all the important parts—her faith, her insight, and her beautiful prayer of thanksgiving.
Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD…
Psalm 127:3 ESV
The gist of Hannah’s story is this: Hannah, a barren woman, goes before the LORD in distress, praying and vowing, “O LORD of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and… will give your servant a son, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life…” (1 Sam 1:11 ESV). Eli, the high priest, mistakes Hannah for a drunk and rebukes her, but when Hannah explains her purpose, he blesses her.
God gives Hannah a son, Samuel, and, in due time, she presents him to Eli at the temple. Eli glorifies God—for how often does a priest in the time of the Judges meet such faith and devotion?—and Hannah prays a prayer.
And Hannah prayed and said…
1 Samuel 2:1 ESV
When was the last time joy and thanksgiving so filled you that you could not do anything else but pray?
Here Hannah is, giving away her only son, and she bursts into joyous prayer. There is a purely thankful heart in this act. God had given her a son, so she was ready to give him back.
“My heart exults in the LORD” (v.1 ESV)
God is my joy.
“My horn is exalted in the LORD” (v.1 ESV)
God is my strength.
“My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation.” (v.1 ESV)
God is my victory.
Years later, David reflected Hannah’s thoughts in his psalm:
“The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psa 27:1 ESV)
If God is your light and your salvation, man is nothing, because God is, well, God–good and almighty, an ever-present help.
This unshakable confidence in God constitutes the heart of thanksgiving:
There is none holy like the LORD:
for there is none besides you;
there is no rock like our God.
1 Samuel 2:2 ESV
If there is no one like God and none beside God, then God is the greatest. If God is the greatest, then He is King. That He is a good King is the best thing of all. He is the giver of blessings and the source of hope, overflowing with grace and abounding in love. He sustains the weak and upholds the humble. He redeems the slave and forgives the criminal. He is Judge, terrifying the wicked, and He is Sovereign, working all things for the good of those who love Him, those whom He has called to Himself (Rom 8:28).
If this indeed is our God, then what can we do but fall down and worship?
This is the heart of thanksgiving: that God is God, that He is King.
Hannah dedicates the rest of her prayer to this foundation.
“The bows of the mighty are broken,
but the feeble bind on strength.” (v.4 ESV)
Notice that Hannah states that the feeble “bind on” strength. In other words, they “put on” strength. When you “put on” something, it means you received it from an outside source—it is not from yourself, it is from God.
When God gives us strength, He is not helping us find our “inner strength” or “divinity,” because as the Bible establishes repeatedly, we do not have “inner strength.” We are broken and sinful people, incapable of seeking Him out (Rom 3:10-18). Instead, God works in us and strengthens us with His strength, as Paul writes, “But he [Jesus] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness…’ For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:9-10 ESV). This is the strength Hannah is talking about. God is the source of all our strength, wisdom, love, and righteousness. We are simply undeserving receivers, so let us thank Him for that.
“The barren has borne seven,
but she who has many children is forlorn.” (v.5 ESV)
Hannah is not gloating over Peninnah. Rather, she is making a crucial point.
Remember, children were understood as blessings from God. The more children one had, the more blessed one was by God, and if one did not have children, one was typically scorned and rumored to have sinned for God to withhold this important blessing—after all, God had commanded mankind to be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:51). While many might not have expressed it as explicitly as Peninnah, this logic certainly flourished in many people’s minds (Luk 1:25; Jhn 9:2).
“The barren has borne seven” is straightforward: God has blessed those who are shamed and reproached. He has uplifted the humble.
“but she who has many children is forlorn” is less straightforward; if Hannah is not mocking Peninnah, how can one blessed by God be forlorn? Hannah demonstrates a valuable understanding of worldly prosperity: No matter how you are blessed by God, if God is not encompassing all of it, it is all worthless. You can have millions of children and millions of dollars, but in the end, you will still be unhappy because you do not have God. Without knowing and appreciating the God behind the blessings, children, money, and the like will never satisfy you. You can express thankfulness for family, friends, and food, but if God is not in the equation, it’s all superficial, because who then are you thanking?
Only with God can you appreciate God’s blessings properly, and only then can you truly be thankful!
“The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces;
against them he will thunder in heaven.
The LORD will judge the ends of the earth;
he will give strength to his king
and exalt his anointed.” (v.10 ESV)
Hannah expresses trust in God and His plan for her, her people, and the world. Even before the prophecies of the Messiah, of judgement, and of deliverance, Hannah knew God had some plan—the plan He had briefly outlined to Abraham and Adam—through which He would bless the world and crush the devil. She did not know the details yet, and she did not know her place in the plan, but she had faith that God had it all worked out.
Thanksgiving is less of just “giving thanks” for things and more of recognizing with joy and thanksgiving God working through it all.
Even before the prophets and the kings and the Messiah showed up, Hannah understood the heart of thanksgiving: thanksgiving is less of just “giving thanks” for things and more of recognizing with joy and thanksgiving God working through it all. And just as beautiful is her faith and her willingness to give completely to God what He had given her. That is a legacy worth following.
Have a wonderful, God-filled Thanksgiving!
Hymn: Great Is Thy Faithfulness, Let All Things Now Living
Challenge and Verse Spotlight:
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.