Hannah was one of the two wives of the Israelite Elkanah, a woman whose story is a lasting testimony to sacrifice and blessing (1 Samuel 1-2). Although she was loved by her husband, Hannah was childless and was tormented by her co-wife, Peninnah, who had borne children to him. Every year Elkanah went up to the sanctuary at Shiloh to offer sacrifices, and it was on one of these occasions that Hannah went into the sanctuary and prayed before God while the High Priest, Eli, was sitting nearby. In her anguish Hannah prayed silently yet fervently for a son, promising that she would give the child back to God, as a lifelong servant, if He would answer her prayer (1 Samuel 1:10-11). Such was the fervor of Hannah’s prayer that Eli thought she was drunk and rebuked her, only to change his correction to a blessing when he realized the truth of the situation.
As 1 Samuel shows, God heard Hannah’s prayer and blessed her with a son; but true to her word, after she had weaned the young boy, she returned to Shiloh and presented him to Eli for the service of God. Notice Hannah’s words: “I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the Lord…” (1 Samuel 1:27-28). But a more literal translation of the last part of this passage might be as follows: “I also have given back what was asked [i.e., prayed for] to God …” The more literal translation puts focus on the fact that Hannah had given back a gift from God – which meant a great deal to her – and returned the gift to God, despite the fact that it was doubtless a great emotional sacrifice.
We see two things regarding this returning a gift to God in the story of Hannah. First, that God often blesses those who give back His gifts to Him even more than before. After sacrificing her beloved only son to God’s service, God blessed Hannah with more children (1 Samuel 2:21) and, doubtless, happiness. The other lesson we learn from the story of Hannah is that God often uses the gifts which are true sacrifices in very powerful ways. Of course, Hannah’s son Samuel grew to be one of the greatest prophets of ancient Israel and God’s leading servant in that time. We see this pattern in the lives of a number of biblical figures – that those who are dedicated to God and sacrificed to His purpose perform great deeds, as we see repeatedly in the lives of individuals such as Samuel and Samson and in no less a person than Jesus Himself: the greater the sacrifice, the greater that which is accomplished through it.
God’s word shows that He does honor the sacrifice of what He gives; just as He honored the sacrifice of Hannah’s only son, God honors what we sacrifice and give back to Him, also. We have all received gifts from God (James 1:17), and if we are willing to give some of them back, God will not only bless us, but also will often use those gifts to an extent we might not even expect.