Hannah and Zechariah
Hannah was the beloved first wife of Elkanah, from the tribe of Ephraim. He was a wealthy landowner, and a devoted husband. However, scripture explains that though Elkanah loved his wife, and though both were godly and devout, the Lord had prevented Hannah from conceiving children.
Elkanah took on a second wife, Peninnah, who was gratifyingly fertile and bore him many children, both sons and daughters. Was it jealousy that prompted Peninnah to drive Hannah to tears, again and again, about her barrenness and Peninnah’s bounty?
Finally, one day, Hannah dissolved into tears at the yearly feast in Shiloh, and couldn’t eat. Even though her husband spoke compassionately and lovingly to her, she had to excuse herself, and went the Lord’s house to pray it all out.
God answered her heartfelt longing with a son, Samuel, the following year. Knowing Samuel was a gift from God, Hannah took him back to the Lord’s house after he was weaned, prayed over him, and dedicated him to the Lord to be raised up in God’s house by the high priest. Perhaps she was remembering Moses’s story, who was raised up in Pharaoh’s house by the Egyptian Princess.
Hannah prayed and said,
“My heart exults in the Lord;
my strength is exalted in my God.
My mouth derides my enemies
because I rejoice in your victory.
There is no Holy One like the Lord,
no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God.
Talk no more so very proudly;
let not arrogance come from your mouth,
for the Lord is a God of knowledge,
and by him actions are weighed.
The bows of the mighty are broken,
but the feeble gird on strength.
Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
but those who were hungry are fat with spoil.
The barren has borne seven,
but she who has many children is forlorn.
The Lord kills and brings to life;
he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
The Lord makes poor and makes rich;
he brings low; he also exalts.
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 honor.
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,Hannah’s Prayer 1 Samuel 2:1-10 (NRSV)
but the wicked will perish in darkness,
for not by might does one prevail.
The Lord! His adversaries will be shattered;
the Most High will thunder in heaven.
The Lord will judge the ends of the earth;
he will give strength to his king
and exalt the power of his anointed.”
Zechariah, and his wife Elizabeth, both from the tribe of Levi and descended from Aaron’s high priestly line, also knew what it was to have no children, though they were godly and devout people who would have loved to raise a family. Then Zechariah was visited by the angel Gabriel to tell him the astonishing and glorious news that the aged Elizabeth would now conceive. Zechariah expostulated in disbelief (which earned him the Lord’s silencing for the next nine months!).
Perhaps Zechariah began to think about the other couples who had experienced this same favor from God – Abraham and Sarah, Elkinah and Hannah. Because, by the time John was born, Zechariah had fully repented of his disbelief and, carried along by the Spirit, prophesied over his son, recognizing what a miracle he was.
Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,Zechariah’s Prophecy Luke 1:67-68 (NRSV)
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty savior for us
in the house of his child David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors
and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
in his presence all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give his people knowledge of salvation
by the forgiveness of their sins.
Because of the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to shine upon those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”