By Ernst-August Bremicker
Many readers of the Bible know the story of Hannah and Samuel as it is told to us in 1 Samuel 1. Hannah had prayed for a son, and God answered her prayer. Therefore she named him Samuel, meaning “heard by God.” For a time, until he was weaned, Hannah kept him at home with her; then she fulfilled a vow she had made by bringing Samuel to Eli the priest at Shiloh. It was there that Samuel was to appear and remain before the LORD (v.22).
Let’s see what we can learn from Hannah with regard to our children. I would like to refer to the great objective of a biblically oriented upbringing and then point out four steps to this goal. In doing this we do not merely want to see Hannah as a picture of a mother who is a believer, but we want to consider what she did and apply it to us who are parents or youth workers.
The Great Objective Of Biblically Oriented Upbringing Of Children
Hannah had a great desire: Samuel should be brought into the house of God and there appear before the LORD. He should remain and be useful. Hannah’s desire was fulfilled and Samuel became a servant of the LORD, worshiping Him at Shiloh. Samuel also became a prophet, through whom God spoke to His people and who spoke to God on behalf of the people.
In the New Testament, God demands that we bring up our children “in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4 NKJV). This instruction is given especially to fathers for they bear this responsibility before God, but of course it applies to mothers as well. Bringing up children has various objectives. Naturally we would like to see them learning what is useful for living here on earth. General knowledge, specific skills and social competence are all indispensible for life. Virtues such as thankfulness, courtesy, kindness, diligence, orderliness and punctuality should not be missing from the teaching program. That we should be examples in these things goes without saying. But this is not the most important objective. The story of Hannah and Samuel teaches us what matters most about our children:
- They should be brought to the Lord Jesus. When the Lord Jesus was here on earth He said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them” (Mt. 19:14). We have the lovely task of bringing children to Jesus, causing them to come into contact with Him early and be blessed by Him. This is our first and most important objective. Our children should receive Him as their Savior, yet each child must get saved personally. As parents we can either support and help them, or – for example, by unloving, selfish behavior – be a hindrance or stumbling block to them.
- They should remain with Him. If our children have received the Lord Jesus as their Savior they should get to know Him better. To remain with Him means to learn to know and treasure fellowship with Him. We should guide our children to read God’s Word and carry on a personal prayer life. Thus they will get to know Him more and more.
- They should be useful for Him. The service of God has two major aspects. First of all, there is the aspect of worship in the narrow sense, meaning that our children learn to worship the Lord. Samuel already was doing this at an early age (1 Sam. 1:28). While children learn what worship is during meetings of the local church, the principal place of such learning is at home in the presence of their parents. Secondly, service for God consists of being useful instruments for Him, at His disposal for whatever tasks He may give. Our children and young people should not just come to know Jesus as their Savior; they should also know Him as their Lord, whom they follow and serve.
Hannah’s longing was fulfilled. The Scripture says, “And the child Samuel grew in stature, and in favor both with the LORD and men” (2:26) and, “Now the boy Samuel ministered to the LORD before Eli” (3:1).
Four Steps To The Goal
We may now ask how Samuel’s parents reached their goal of having their son become a man of God. At the same time we fully understand that God had His hand in the matter. For Samuel to become what he became was pure grace. If our children’s upbringing shows the result we desired, this is nothing but grace. We did not do even one thing to merit it. But may we never use grace as an excuse not to live up to our responsibility. Let’s look at Hannah and her responsibility, for it is no different with us:
- Hannah nursed her son (1:23). This is nothing unusual of course, but at that time this was the only possible way of nourishing a little child. In application to ourselves we learn that spiritual nourishment is absolutely necessary for our children. We cannot begin too early to acquaint our children with the “pure milk of the Word” of God (1 Pet. 2:2). Only then can they make spiritual progress.
Let’s keep in mind that mother’s milk is something that has first been formed within the mother herself. We don’t give our children “spiritual canned goods.” Instead, we want to give them what has become important to us and that we are happy to practice ourselves. We do not give the food meant for them to another, having carefully provided the right amount, adjusted to the child’s age and appetite.
- Hannah weaned her son (1:23). Important as nourishing children with their mother’s milk may be, it is equally vital that the time come when they are weaned from it. Children must learn to eat by themselves. Applying this practically we must pay attention that our children not only learn to do their daily tasks by themselves, but they must learn as early as possible to establish their own relationship with the Lord Jesus. It is good for us to help them pray and read the Bible for themselves as soon as possible. Even if they have not yet been saved, this is ever to be desired. Weaning the child should not be done abruptly, but it should be a process over a period of time.
- Hannah accompanied her son (v.24). The day came for Samuel to leave his parents’ home to stand on his own two feet, but Hannah went with him. As parents we know such moments in our natural lives. We remember our children’s first school days, first workdays and their wedding days. The time comes when we must let go bit by bit. This is not always easy, but in this way we help our children to become independent.
It should not be different in their spiritual life. The moment when children receive the Savior and want to serve Him, the time has come in which they start to lead their own spiritual lives and make their own experiences with the Lord. Let us encourage them in this and attentively walk with them. Going along with them on the one hand consists of giving counsel and support, and on the other hand of praying for them. We find something similar in the lives of Moses’ parents. They committed their son to the protection of the little basket – a picture of the Lord Jesus who alone can take care of our children – but at the same time they did not neglect to keep a watchful eye on it (Ex. 2:1-10).
- Hannah let go of her son (1 Sam. 1:28). We can easily imagine how difficult it must have been for Hannah to leave her son behind at Shiloh as she had promised God. Children are not given to us as an end in itself. They are a wonderful gift of God – but only for a time! We cannot keep them for ourselves. Therefore let us gladly give them to Him, even if it is difficult for us. When Samuel no longer was living at home, Hannah did not forget her far away son. She regularly looked in on him, bringing a new garment year by year (2:19). When he was still little, she had nursed him and had provided for his inner growth; now she was mindful of the testimony that he bore outwardly. May we let go of our children when they get older, yet at the same time continue to care for their well-being.
After we read of Samuel’s beginning his service before God and for God, Hannah eventually disappears fully from our view. In 1 Samuel 2, besides her annually making a robe for Samuel, only two things are mentioned about Hannah: her profound prayer (vv.1-10) and the fact that God gave her five additional children (v.21). The Lord did not let this faithful woman’s faith go unrewarded. Then we read no more about her. We should not lose contact with our grown children, nevertheless we should step back and fully let them go when the time has come that they are leading their own independent spiritual lives.
To Sum Up
What Hannah did she did out of love. She had a clear perspective with regard to her son, and what she had promised God she kept. Her love for her son was expressed in carefulness, wisdom and self-denial.
God identifies Himself with this God-fearing woman and His actions give us direction. May He still grant us as parents and youth workers this perspective as we consider the children and young people He has placed in our care!