Troubled, Anxious, and Vexed

1 Samuel 1:12-20
12As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman. 14And Eli said to her, “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.” 15But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. 16Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.” 17Then Eli answered, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.” 18And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.19They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the Lord remembered her. 20And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked for him from the Lord.”

This scene between Hannah and Eli opens up very easily in the imagination. A lone woman, bent in silent, fervent prayer and an elderly priest, observing from the sidelines. He reaches a rather startling, and presumptuous conclusion about her actions and calls her out for public drunkenness – during worship, no less. He is 100% wrong.

There have been many, many times during prayer when my lips have moved with the intentions of my heart without vocalization. It is, for me, a very helpful way to pray because it lends focus to the activity. When you are speaking our thoughts, it is much harder for the mind to wander. But not adding sound to the prayer allows you to move faster and remain private. I find this particularly helpful during group prayer. I totally understand Hannah’s prayer stance. Her heart is completely engaged in her prayer and fervent is the only word that suffices to describe this time of communion with God.

Despite the fact that Eli misunderstands what is happening with Hannah, he does believer her when she clarifies what is going on with her prayer. What she doesn’t do is tell he what she’s praying for! Read verse 15 again. I had to go back and check. She doesn’t hit him with a barrage of words to describe her plight. She just says that she is troubled in spirit and speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.” Don’t you love that!!? She is troubled, anxious, and vexed; and she’s telling God all about it. That’s just brilliant. Eli doesn’t need to know the details of her angst. What he needs to know, he learns from God. Her prayers have been heard and answered – in the affirmative. Hannah takes Eli’s words seriously and leaves the prayer closet with faith. God has heard and God has answered. She’s good to go.

From Hannah’s silent prayer with moving lips, Eli misjudges her to be drunk and upbraids her for it. Hannah’s words in reply are very carefully chosen. She had poured no alcohol into her mouth; instead, she was “pouring out” her soul to Yahweh. Her strange behavior came from what was inside her—but not because she had put something inside herself. Hannah’s reply contains a nice play on her name, which means “favored” (or “she who has been shown favor, grace”). “Hannah” (חַנָּה, annah) asks that she find “favor, grace” (חֵן, en, 1:18) from Eli. Hannah appears to have understood Eli’s blessing as a promise from God through his servant the high priest. Not only did she receive the blessing in faith, but she also lived in that faith as her entire outlook and behavior changed. Now she ate and no longer appeared dejected. Hannah was trusting in the Word of God as delivered through the office of the high priest. Jesus would later give similar authority to his church when he said, “If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” (Jn 20:23). Luther understood this well and teaches that “when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.
Steinmann, A. E. (2016). 1 Samuel. (p. 55-56). Saint Louis, MO: CPH.

We all know that God doesn’t always give us a “yes” to our requests. But He does always hear them. More importantly, He hears our hearts; He wants to listen to you when you are anxious, troubled, or even vexed. Hannah’s prayers were born out of a life-long relationship with God and she was talking with Him as you would with your dearest Friend. This is a beautiful example of what a prayer life looks like – absolutely beautiful and inspiring.