As we slow down and be present with Hannah in her trauma, it is difficult to avoid deep respect for her. It’s really fascinating to see Eli’s response to her.1 His brief encounter, based on what he observed, led him to think she was a drunk. That is a serious error on his part, as a human, and as a leader. The very last thing Hannah needed at that moment was to be attacked.

Her situation, and his initial response, echoes that of countless victims of abuse and other traumas. Having suffered abuse year after year, abuse that is continuing, Hannah is deeply distressed, and her distress is used to attack her character. Eli was the senior religious leader at the time – he ought to have been role modelling the kind of empathy and presence Hannah needed. But he failed her.

Thankfully, Eli did have the humility to be open to new information, and changed his stance.

In Hannah’s lasting distress – where was God? We can hardly fault her in her efforts to seek him. She prayed deeply, with vigour, openly.

I am a woman who is deeply troubled, 2

she said to Eli.

I was pouring out my soul to Yahweh. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief. 3

But in those years of pursuing God, where was his answer? Why did he not answer her prayers? It’s easy for us as readers: we can skip to the end in a matter of minutes. Was he even listening?

As we see a glimpse of Hannah’s earlier prayers, we hear her say to God,

If you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son… 4

This is an expression of her relationship with God in the midst of trauma that lasted years. And – silence.

No one took the time to be really present with Hannah – not as far as we can see in the story. She is isolated, literally crying out to God to see, to remember her. It’s heartbreaking. And so many people can relate to her experience.

So, just as Eli had a responsibility as a human being, we have responsibilities to have empathy. We have our failings and limitations, each of us, but part of the hallmark of the Christian life that followers of Jesus are called to is love.

Hannah somehow made it through those years. She is an incredible person and deserves our admiration. Honestly – Eli could have learnt from her.

Then, after Samuel is weaned, one of the most beautiful lines in Hannah’s prayer is this:

Yahweh is a God who knows. 5

I have no idea why God took so long to answer Hannah. Possibly she never got an answer to that question. But her wisdom out of that time of torture, when she was completely isolated and begging God to see her, when no one knew her world, is that God knew. He knew. He saw her. He was present with her, and he knew.

When Hannah goes on to talk about her situation, her barrenness, her need, her enemies, she says,

by him deeds are weighed 6

That God didn’t only see her: he saw what was going on around her.

Living with abuse can be the most terrible torture, and one of the most common tactics abusers use is to isolate their victims. The Bible shares with us the distress of so many people who struggled to find God in those times. Who asked him, not always politely, where he was. Did he care? We are invited to pray those prayers if we resonate with them.

But Hannah does offer this precious hope, that no matter what else is going on, he does see and know. It would be glib and false to claim that means every victim of abuse will be set free. I do believe he wants us to also see and know, and do what we can to stand with those who suffer. To

Remember those in prison as though in prison with them. 7

Steve Wade

In the midst of abuse that lasted year after year, Hannah was deeply distressed. Her distress was used to attack her character. Eli, the senior religious leader at the time, failed her. Click To Tweet




  1. 1 Samuel 1:12-14
  2. 1 Samuel 1:15
  3. 1 Samuel 1:16
  4. 1 Samuel 1:11
  5. 1 Samuel 2:3
  6. 1 Samuel 2:3
  7. Hebrews 13:3


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