Elkanah had gently reproved Hannah for her inordinate grief, and here we find the good effect of the reproof.
I. It brought her to her meat. She ate and drank, 1 Sam. 1:9. She did not harden herself in sorrow, nor grow sullen when she was reproved for it; but, when she perceived her husband uneasy that she did not come and eat with them, she cheered up her own spirits as well as she could, and came to table. It is as great a piece of self-denial to control our passions as it is to control our appetites.
II. It brought her to her prayers. It put her upon considering, “Do I well to be angry? Do I well to fret? What good does it do me? Instead of binding the burden thus upon my shoulders, had I not better easy myself of it, and cast it upon the Lord by prayer?” Elkanah had said, Amos not I better to thee than ten sons? which perhaps occasioned her to think within herself, “Whether he be so or no, God is, and therefore to him will I apply, and before him will I pour out my complaint, and try what relief that will give me.” If ever she will make a more solemn address than ordinary to the throne of grace upon this errand, now is the time. They are at Shiloh, at the door of the tabernacle, where God had promised to meet his people, and which was the house of prayer. They had recently offered their peace-offerings, to obtain the favour of God and all good and in token of their communion with him; and, taking the comfort of their being accepted of him, they had feasted upon the sacrifice; and now it was proper to put up her prayer in virtue of that sacrifice, for the peace-offerings, for by it not only atonement is made for sin, but the audience and acceptance of our prayers and an answer of peace to them are obtained for us: to that sacrifice, in all our supplications, we must have an eye. Now concerning Hannah’s prayer we may observe,
1. The warm and lively devotion there was in it, which appeared in several instances, for our direction in prayer. (1.) She improved the present grief and trouble of her spirit for the exciting and quickening of her pious affections in prayer: Being in bitterness of soul, she prayed, 1 Sam. 1:10. This good use we should make of our afflictions, they should make us the more lively in our addresses to God. Our blessed Saviour himself, being in an agony, prayed more earnestly, Luke 22:44. (2.) She mingled tears with her prayers. It was not a dry prayer: she wept sore. Like a true Israelite, she wept and made supplication (Hos. 12:4), with an eye to the tender mercy of our God, who knows the troubled soul. The prayer came from her heart, as the tears from her eyes. (3.) She was very particular, and yet very modest, in her petition. She begged a child, a man-child, that it might be fit to serve in the tabernacle. God gives us leave, in prayer, not only to ask good things in general, but to mention that special good thing which we most need and desire. Yet she says not, as Rachel, Give me children, Gen. 30:1. She will be very thankful for one. (4.) She made a solemn vow, or promise, that if God would give her a son she would give him up to God, 1 Sam. 1:11. He would be by birth a Levite, and so devoted to the service of God, but he should be by her vow a Nazarite, and his very childhood should be sacred. It is probable she had acquainted Elkanah with her purpose before, and had had his consent and approbation. Note, Parents have a right to dedicate their children to God, as living sacrifices and spiritual priests; and an obligation is thereby laid upon them to serve God faithfully all the days of their life. Note further, It is very proper, when we are in pursuit of any mercy, to bind our own souls with a bond, that, if God give it us, we will devote it to his honour and cheerfully use it in his service. Not that hereby we can pretend to merit the gift, but thus we are qualified for it and for the comfort of it. In hope of mercy, let us promise duty. (5.) She spoke all this so softly that none could hear her. Her lips moved, but her voice was not heard, 1 Sam. 1:13. Hereby she testified her belief of God’s knowledge of the heart and its desires. Thoughts are words to him, nor is he one of those gods that must be cried aloud to, 1 Kgs. 18:27. It was likewise an instance of her humility and holy shamefacedness in her approach to God. She was none of those that made her voice to be heard on high, Isa. 58:4. It was a secret prayer, and therefore, though made in a public place, yet was thus made secretly, and not, as the Pharisees prayed, to be seen of men. It is true prayer is not a thing we have reason to be ashamed of, but we must avoid all appearances of ostentation. Let what passes between God and our souls be kept to ourselves.
2. The hard censure she fell under for it. Eli was now high priest, and judge in Israel; he sat upon a seat in the temple, to oversee what was done there, 1 Sam. 1:9. The tabernacle is here called the temple, because it was now fixed, and served all the purposes of a temple. There Eli sat to receive addresses and give direction, and somewhere (it is probable in a private corner) he espied Hannah at her prayers, and by her unusual manner fancied she was drunken, and spoke to her accordingly (1 Sam. 1:14): How long wilt thou be drunken?--the very imputation that Peter and the apostles fell under when the Holy Ghost gave them utterance, Acts 2:13. Perhaps in this degenerate age it was no strange thing to see drunken women at the door of the tabernacle; for otherwise, one would think, the vile lust of Hophni and Phinehas could not have found so easy a prey there, 1 Sam. 2:22. Eli took Hannah for one of these. It is one bad effect of the abounding of iniquity, and its becoming fashionable, that it often gives occasion to suspect the innocent. When a disease is epidemical every one is suspected to be tainted with it. Now, (1.) This was Eli’s fault; and a great fault it was to pass so severe a censure without better observation or information. If his own eyes had already become dim, he should have employed those about him to enquire. Drunkards are commonly noisy and turbulent, but this poor woman was silent and composed. His fault was the worse that he was the priest of the Lord, who should have had compassion on the ignorant, Heb. 5:2. Note, It ill becomes us to be rash and hasty in our censures of others, and to be forward to believe people guilty of bad things, while either the matter of fact on which the censure is grounded is doubtful and unproved or is capable of a good construction. Charity commands us to hope the best concerning all, and forbids censoriousness. Paul had very good information when he did but partly believe (1 Cor. 11:18), hoping it was not so. Especially we ought to be cautious how we censure the devotions of others, lest we call that hypocrisy, enthusiasm, or superstition, which is really the fruit of an honest zeal, and it is accepted of God. (2.) It was Hannah’s affliction; and a great affliction it was, added to all the rest, vinegar to the wounds of her spirit. She had been reproved by Elkanah because she would not eat and drink, and now to be reproached by Eli as if she had eaten and drunk too much was very hard. Note, It is no new thing for those that do well to be ill thought of, and we must not think it strange if at any time it be our lot.
3. Hannah’s humble vindication of herself from this crime with which she was charged. She bore it admirably well. She did not retort the charge and upbraid him with the debauchery of his own sons, did not bid him look at home and restrain them, did not tell him how ill it became one in his place thus to abuse a poor sorrowful worshipper at the throne of grace. When we are at any time unjustly censured we have need to set a double watch before the door of our lips, that we do not recriminate, and return censure for censure. Hannah thought it enough to vindicate herself, and so must we, 1 Sam. 1:15, 16. (1.) In justice to herself, she expressly denies the charge, speaks to him with all possible respect, calls him, My lord, intimates how very desirous she was to stand right in his opinion and how loth to lie under his censure. “No, my lord, it is not as you suspect; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, not any at all” (though it was proper enough to be given to one of such a heavy heart, “much less to any excess; therefore count not thy handmaid for a daughter of Belial.” Note, Drunkards are children of Belial (women-drunkards, particularly), children of the wicked one, children of disobedience, children that will not endure the yoke (else they would not be drunk), more especially when they are actually drunk. Those that cannot govern themselves will not bear that any one else should. Hannah owns that the crime would have been very great if she had indeed been guilty of it, and he might justly have shut her out of the courts of God’s house; but the very manner of her speaking in her own defence was sufficient to demonstrate that she was not drunk. (2.) In justice to him, she gives an account of her present behaviour, which had given occasion to his suspicion: “I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit, dejected and discomposed, and that is the reason I do not look as other people; the eyes are red, not with wine, but with weeping. And at this time I have not been talking to myself, as drunkards and fools do, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord, who hears and understands the language of the heart, and this out of the abundance of my complaint and grief.” She had been more than ordinarily fervent in prayer to God, and this, she tells him, was the true reason of the transport and disorder she seemed to be in. Note, When we are unjustly censured we should endeavour, not only to clear ourselves, but to satisfy our brethren, by giving them a just and true account of that which they misapprehended.
4. The atonement Eli made for his rash unfriendly censure, by a kind and fatherly benediction, 1 Sam. 1:17. He did not (as many are apt to do in such a case) take it for an affront to have his mistake rectified and to be convinced of his error, nor did it put him out of humour. But, on the contrary, he now encouraged Hannah’s devotions as much as before he had discountenanced them; not only intimated that he was satisfied of her innocency by those words, Go in peace, but, being high priest, as one having authority he blessed her in the name of the Lord, and, though he knew not what the particular blessing was that she had been praying for, yet he puts his Amen to it, so good an opinion had he now conceived of her prudence and piety: The God of Israel grant thee thy petition, whatever it is, that thou hast asked of him. Note, By our meek and humble carriage towards those that reproach us because they do not know us, we may perhaps make them our friends, and turn their censures of us into prayers for us.
5. The great satisfaction of mind with which Hannah now went away, 1 Sam. 1:18. She begged the continuance of Eli’s good opinion of her and his good prayers for her, and then she went her way and did eat of what remained of the peace-offerings (none of which was to be left until the morning), and her countenance was no more sad, no more as it had been, giving marks of inward trouble and discomposure; but she looked pleasant and cheerful, and all was well. Why, what had happened? Whence came this sudden happy change? She had by prayer committed her case to God and left it with him, and now she was no more perplexed about it. She had prayed for herself, and Eli had prayed for her; and she believed that God would either give her the mercy she had prayed for or make up the want of it to her some other way. Note, Prayer is heart’s-ease to a gracious soul; the seed of Jacob have often found it so, being confident that God will never say unto them, Seek you me in vain, see Phil. 4:6, 7. Prayer will smooth the countenance; it should do so.