Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Prayer of a Righteous Woman Availeth Much

[Note: because of the questions and discussion on the former post, I thought that this article might serve to help in the area of prayer, providence and miracles ~rlp].

She was a godly woman as far as the scriptures say, and she was married to a godly man. But like her forebear, Sarai, she went for many years without bearing any children for her beloved Elkanah.

Some have recently called upon the story of Hannah as evidence or proof that God works supernatural deeds today. Never mind the fact that the events of 1 Samuel 1 occurred during the days that God admittedly worked through supernatural acts, are the events recorded about the conception and birth of Samuel examples of God's supernatural intervention in human affairs? Regarding most of the events detailed the answer to this question is no.

The story of Hannah should encourage every faithful child of God to fervently pray for God's blessings, but it does not teach that God always answers prayers supernaturally. In fact it teaches the opposite view: God's answers to prayers are usually (today always) answered by His working through the natural laws He ordained at the beginning of time.

Samuel records the events that led up to his birth in the first chapter of 1 Samuel. Hannah was one of Elkanah's two wives. The other wife, Peninnah, had no difficulty bearing children for her husband, but despite Elkanah's greater love for Hannah, she bore him none.

Samuel writes that "the Lord had shut up her womb" (1 Sam. 1:5). We do not know if this means that the Lord specifically caused Hannah to be barren, or (more likely) if it simply means that God allowed her to be so (cf. Job 2:3). Whatever the proper interpretation, however, there is no reason to assume that God employed supernatural power to cause her to be without child. The scriptures often describe things done by the Lord that must be accomplished through natural means (Acts 16:14).

During one of her annual pilgrimages to Shiloh to worship with her husband, Hannah bowed herself in fervent prayer to God that He might grant her request for a son. Eli, the high priest and judge over Israel at the time, at first thought she was drunken and rebuked her, but when he learned her true state of mind, he proclaimed, "Go in peace: and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of Him" (v. 17).

This grant gave Hannah peace after many long years of concern, so she was no longer sad. Though it would still be a little while before Samuel was conceived, and even longer before she had any physical evidence of that conception, she believed the words of Eli, and was comforted (v. 18).

Next we read that "Elkanah knew Hannah his wife; and the Lord remembered her" (v. 19). Then, just as Eli said, "when the time was come about after Hannah conceived," Samuel was born to the faithful woman who prayed a fervent prayer.

Now, just what events in this story give evidence of God working supernaturally? Must God work a miracle to answer her prayer?

As mentioned above there is no reason to believe that it was supernatural that Hannah's womb was closed for so many years. Many women have gone without the ability to have children, and there are commonly recognized natural reasons for such to occur.

Was Hannah's prayer endued with supernatural power? Surely not! The prayer she offered differed little from prayers we might hear ordinarily every day.

How about Samuel's conception; was it supernatural? Not according to the text—it occurred in the ordinary way when Elkanah and Hannah shared the marriage bed. But someone might say that in Hannah's case it must have been supernatural, because she had gone so long without the ability before. There are thousands of documented cases, however, where this occurs naturally today. There is no reason to assume a supernatural event, and since the presumption is always in favor of natural law, we should not assume anything other than that.

Was there anything supernatural about Samuel's gestation? Again the answer is no. Samuel was born "when the time was come about" just as every other healthy human child is born.

The only supernatural act that occurred in this story in as far as the record is concerned is the pronouncement of Eli that Hannah's prayer had been granted even before Samuel was conceived. How was it that Eli could know this? Only by the supernatural (miraculous) power of God that worked within him.

All of the other events occurred in complete conformity with nature's laws.
What does this mean fohe knowledge that God can and does work within the laws of nature to answer our prayers. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man [… or woman] availeth much" (Jas. 5:16).

~ Gil Yoder