God had a plan and that plan was set in motion by Hannah’s impassioned prayer for a son. Hannah didn’t submissively pray, “Help me be content with my barrenness.” She didn’t simply ask for a child, whether boy or girl. She specifically asked God to give her a baby boy.
When Eli sobered up to what was happening, he encouraged Hannah with these words (1:17):
“Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant the request [i.e. “the thing asked for”] that you have asked of him” (NET, emphasis and explanation mine).
Eli didn’t chide her for making an unreasonable request. He didn’t say, “If it is God’s will…” He confirmed Hannah’s brokenhearted prayer by saying, “May God say ‘Yes!’ to your request for a son.”
When Hannah conceived and gave birth to a baby boy, she confirmed the reason for her newfound fertility with these words (1:20):
“Because I have asked him of the LORD” (NASB, emphasis mine).
When Hannah weaned Samuel and gave him to Eli, she reminded the priest of her vow (1:27):
“I prayed for this boy, and the LORD has given me the request [i.e. “the thing asked for”] that I asked of him” (NET, emphasis and explanation mine).
In typical Hebrew fashion, the storyteller repeats specific words to make his point clear. And what was his point in this story? Samuel was given to Hannah, who then gave him to Eli, because Hannah had asked God for a son.
prayer made all the difference in the world to Hannah, and it made all the difference in her world. Even more significantly, her prayer made all the difference in Israel’s national history.
As heretical as it may sound, I believe that if Hannah had not prayed, Samuel would not have been born.
Now, I do believe that God is sovereign and that he has a specific purpose for giving us life. Of course I agree with Jeremiah that God’s plan for us is formed before we are even conceived. But I also believe that God responds to prayer and that certain things do happen because we pray and that certain things do not happen because we do not pray.
This position makes us uncomfortable because we assume—in the Western world—that two conflicting beliefs cannot both be true at the same time. It must be either one or the other. As a former anal retentive accountant I prefer everything to be neatly lined up as either a debit or a credit. However, if we are honest with the scriptural evidence we must leave this unreconciled. God is sovereign and yet prayer impacts history. It is a mystery.
This position also causes us discomfort because of the significant responsibility it places squarely on our shoulders. If prayer really plays a part in bringing God’s plan to fruition, then perhaps we ought to pray more passionately for his kingdom to come and his will to be done in our lives and in the lives of those around us.
What a Difference!
Likewise, I believe that prayer absolutely made a difference in our Hannah’s life. If Ann had not prayed from her desperate, broken heart, then we would not have a girl named Hannah (and a boy named Matt).
Sometime after God said, “Yes!” to Ann’s asking, she framed one of Hannah’s baby pictures with these words written underneath:
“I prayed for this child,
and the LORD has granted me
what I asked of him” (1 Samuel 1:27).