Do you recognize these lyrics to the chorus of a song made popular by Phillips, Craig and Dean in the early 1990s?
Mama liked to burn the midnight oil
Down on her knees in prayer
If you asked why she did it
She said she did it ’cause she cared
Now Mama always talked to Jesus
When she knelt by her rocking chair
Oh, I’m glad my mama was willin’
To burn the midnight oil in prayer
The song is “Midnight Oil” and is about the commitment to prayer a mother had for her children. As the song develops, the listener hears the story of a grown man thankful for the impact his praying mother had on his life. There is no doubt the mother portrayed in the popular Christian song was a godly woman.
The story of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1-2 presents the persona of ideal motherhood. She faithfully came before the Lord in prayer, asking for a child, because she was not able to conceive. She vowed to God if she bore a son, the son would be given back to him for his service.
Hannah’s sorrow (1 Samuel 1:1-2, 10)
Hannah was married to Elkanah. She was not the only woman of the household because Elkanah had another wife named Peninnah. The Old Testament permitted such an arrangement because “Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none” (v. 2).
In this day and time, women were expected to bear children for their husbands. The fact that she could not bear a child challenged Hannah’s sense of worth and dignity. Peninnah more than likely paraded her children (v. 6) before Hannah physically, as well as verbally. Each time this occurred, Hannah’s yearning for a child increased.
“In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord” (v. 10). The type of sorrow Hannah experienced can only be understood by other women who have longed for a child. When the burden, the grief and the sorrow are too much to bear, the best solution is to take it all to the Lord in prayer as Hannah did.
Hannah’s supplication (1 Samuel 1:11, 17-18)
Elkanah loved Hannah very much. He tried to console her by saying, “Don’t I mean more to you than 10 sons?” For him, it did not matter she could not bear a child. The deep sorrow in Hannah’s soul moved her to pray in the temple where the priest, Eli, was on duty at the entrance (v. 9).
Hannah burned the “midnight oil,” praying with so much emotion Eli assumed she was drunk. In her lengthy time of prayer, she vowed, “O Lord Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life” (v. 11).
In the Old Testament, when a person made a vow, it involved a promise of a gift to God if he intervened. The gift would have to be something of significant worth. A vow was not something to be offered lightly.
Hannah made her vow properly by approaching God with an attitude of servitude. She vowed to give her son to the Lord’s service for his whole life. Hannah demonstrates for us that praying to God is not just asking but includes offering ourselves to him.
Parents, how would your prayer life and relationship with Christ change if you prayed fervently like Hannah? What would happen to your own children if you prayed for them with an attitude of servant-subject?
The best discipline a mother or father can have raising children is to spend much time in prayer.
Hannah’s sacrifice (1 Samuel 1:21-28)
Hannah did conceive and have a son. “She named him Samuel, saying, ‘Because I asked the Lord for him’” (v. 20). After Samuel was born, it was time again for the family to “offer the annual sacrifice to the Lord” (v. 21), but “Hannah did not go” (v. 22) to the temple with Elkanah. Was she backing out of the vow she had made to the Lord?
Hannah had no intention of not carrying out her commitment to God. Her motherly instincts told her Samuel must first be weaned in order to fulfill her vow. What would Eli, who was very old, have done with Samuel if he had been presented as a newborn?
Elkanah and Hannah shared a very trusting relationship. Elkanah could have forbidden Hannah from presenting Samuel to Eli for the Lord’s service. Scripture indicates he had made a vow as well (v. 21). Elkanah trusted Hannah’s decisions about their son’s future because he experienced God answering her prayer for a son. He supported her in fulfilling the vow to God.
Hannah gave up what she wanted most, a son. As soon as Samuel was weaned, Hannah presented Samuel to Eli for life long service to God (v. 28). What types of gifts should we give to the Lord?
Hannah gave her most beloved possession, her son. God wants our gifts of sacrifice. After all, that is what the Lord has done for us.
Hannah’s song (1 Samuel 2:1-2)
Even though Hannah had given away her son, she did what all followers of the Lord must do when he blesses or answers prayer. God is to be praised. Hannah praised God.
She was at peace when she made the vow, and she was at peace when she fulfilled her part of the vow. God acted upon her life and her prayer or song of worship is recorded in 1 Samuel chapter 2.
A family is blessed when a mother burns the midnight oil in prayer for God’s will to be done in the lives of her children.