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Transactional Prayer The Hannah Example

Created: Tuesday, 23 April 2024 16:06
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Ebere NwankpaEbere NwankpaThe transaction under reference here is not the perfunctory everyday kind. Indeed, it is not rooted or grounded in the temporal sphere. Even though it includes and encompasses certain human elements, the ultimate outcome is divine and spiritual. Admittedly, the mere idea of a transaction suggests a minimal and procedural engagement that has little meaning beyond the transaction itself. The earthbound and material nature of many a transaction, the fact that it is mostly about the exchange of things of physical or sentimental value between two or more parties makes it rather unsuited for the fulfillment of spiritual ends, it would seem.

 

According to Dictionary.com, the contemporary and ordinary meaning of the word ‘transact’ is to carry on or conduct business, negotiations, or activities to a conclusion or settlement. The business and mercantile purchase of the word is strong and prominent. However, the English derivation of the word depicts a commercial bias that was not originally intended. The original Latin word transactus means to ‘carry out’ or ‘accomplish’. The prefix, trans speaks of movement and progression ‘across, beyond, or through’, while the suffix actus is about motivation and direction – ‘to drive, lead’. It is a word that is more than a word. It is a deliberate and emphatic idea of vision, direction, initiative, action, perseverance and accomplishment. 

 

Even so, the particular contextual and atmospheric background of the negotiation we are about to discuss singles it out as epic, seminal, and exemplary. The antecedents of Hannah’s encounter with Yahweh at the tabernacle in Shiloh present us with a surfeit of teachable and instructive moments that amplify the power of prayer and supplication in an uncommon and singular way, with a powerful and availing transaction and negotiation at the center of it. It is my belief and conviction that this is a pattern and template for people of prayer upon whom the hand of the Lord has alighted in election. This discussion might also shed some light on the possible reasons for certain scenarios of frustration, delay or sorrow in the place of prayer.

       

BARRENNESS?

 

The heroine and protagonist of this piece is introduced in the second verse of the first chapter of the true and historical book of 1 Samuel. It was not a singular billing. Hannah shared the space and mention with Peninnah. They had similar designations and a relationship in common. They were the two wives of a godly, observant and prosperous gentleman by the name of Elkanah. However, a shared space or relationship is not always a shared destiny as we shall soon apprehend. These two were different in one notable way, Peninnah had children, Hannah had none.

 

This divergence in childbearing fortunes was not insignificant. Indeed, it was destiny defining. Notably, at first, Hannah was defined by who she was not, and what she did not have. Not only was this so, she was confronted everyday by a close associate, someone who had proximity and contact with her, who had an abundance of the very thing she lacked. Hannah, by contrast to Peninnah was not a mother for the lack of children. If Peninnah was not so front and center, it might have been possible for Hannah to obtain a form of relief from her situation.

 

Furthermore, Hannah was isolated. She was the odd one out of the three principals in the same family. Observe that the two women were married to the same man. One of them had multiple children, and the other did not. Clearly, both Elkanah and Peninnah were fertile. Hannah was decidedly in the minority, and on the negative extreme of fertility spectrum. Whereas the other two had children in common, Hannah was alone. In an era when childbearing was one of the major measures of womanhood, Hannah’s life must have seemed empty and unfulfilled.  

 

From the foregoing, Hannah’s situation would seem like a straightforward case of barrenness. All the natural indices pointed in that direction. But then, the natural and rational thesis was upended and foreclosed in this case owing to the double referenced clauses in verses five and six of 1 Samuel chapter one – “the Lord had closed her womb”. That half sentence occurs twice in the two verses mentioned above, for certainty and emphasis. Hannah’s childlessness was an act of God. She had a capable womb that was under divine interdiction. She was not barren. Far from it. The hand of the Lord was upon her.

 

ELECT

 

God’s intervention in the matter was rather emphatic and deliberate, as referenced above. It was an act of sovereign intervention that suspended the normal biological process of the emergence and flowering of life in the womb. The position God took precluded Hannah’s knowledge or permission. It would appear that Hannah’s womb could not receive seed for the period during which the Lord closed her womb. Some may view this as capricious, intrusive and meddlesome. There may be a rational argument for gainsaying the dealings of God in this particular.

 

Where such a tendency exists, the rest of the narrative would provide an effective and necessary corrective. As it turns out, there was a grand plan afoot. And, in the course of time Hannah would come to acknowledge and enjoy her part in it. However, that would not be for a time yet. The bias of human expectation is implicated here. Our thoughts regarding God’s interventions overwhelmingly tends to be tied to material advantage, to the exclusion of any discomfort. The intervention in this narrative asserts a different but necessary divine perspective.

 

Our comfort does not always have the priority that we would prefer where the will of God is concerned. The same can also be said of our need to know, and even our choices and preferences. Think of it this way, God’s sovereignty would be in great jeopardy if our natural disposition is allowed to interfere. It would amount to very little if it was subjected to our finite knowledge or variable preferences. In the meantime, Hannah swam in the tidal wave of her ignorance and frustration.   

 

However, in this bleak and restive condition a powerful and distinctive designation emerged. The reason why God was invested in Hannah’s womb, the rubric under which God intervened in such a decisive and destiny defining manner, was election. Hannah was divinely selected and set apart for a purpose critical to the plan of God for the nation of Israel. Her predicament, isolation and delay was merely the measure of being elect. Divine election is disruptive. It sets one apart from others in very consequential, public and uncomfortable ways. Even so, there is no clear indication in the narrative that Hannah knew or understood her election for many a year. Election can be a mystery to the elect, for a time.

   

PROVOCATION

 

The antagonism animating Hannah’s situation went beyond discomfort. It wore a more active and malevolent aspect. It was virulent and consistent. Peninnah was vocal, expressive and abusive. It was quite clearly a massive provocation and oppression. Far from being sympathetic, accommodating or polite, Peninnah went out of her way to make Hannah’s life miserable. She took every opportunity to remind Hannah of her predicament. She was unrelenting, calculating and piercing. Weirdly, it would seem that Peninnah derived more malicious enjoyment from tormenting Hannah than she did from having children. As a matter for contemplation, and situational awareness, this kind of election can expose one to ridicule and embarrassment.

 

It is unclear why Hannah was, and remained especially vulnerable to Peninnah’s constant attacks. One would have thought that with time and experience, Hannah would have developed some coping mechanisms, or evolved a tougher skin to deal with the taunts. Perhaps, Hannah’s problem was deeper than her abject vulnerability. Her ignorance was a more fundamental and injurious issue. If she had been able to apprehend the hand of the Lord upon her, and the fact that what was at stake was bigger than her existential circumstances, her disposition might have been rather different.

 

Dear readers, persistent provocation of this sort requires spiritual enquiry. If you are in this or a similar situation, consider taking time out to enquire of God. In a situation where ignorance was a vulnerability, Hannah was essentially defenseless. Conversely, knowledge and revelation can be a viable defense against provocation and ridicule. Where provocation persists, the associated misery can drive one inside oneself and away from the answers one desperately needs. Don’t let this be you. 

 

Peninnah was not the only actor in this turbulent and toxic scene. Elkanah, Hannah’s husband loved her and sought to ameliorate her embarrassment and distract her. He did so with limited success. Elkanah’s piety and prosperity made it possible for the entire family to make the yearly pilgrimage to Shiloh. Spiritually and strategically, these yearly trips presented Hannah, at least potentially, with an opportunity to enquire of God regarding that situation. However, the negative and malicious impetus of provocation was also at work at the very same time. Curious.

 

Verse 7 of 1 Samuel chapter one reveals that the provocation was well timed to coincide with when Hannah went up to the house of the Lord. The timing here is key. It functioned as a drag on Hannah’s spiritual health and made her less spiritually aware, perceptive or engaged as she should have been. Her spiritual sensitivity was effectively short circuited and disengaged by the emotional turmoil arising from the provocation. Heightened negative emotionality and spiritual perception seem to be at odds with each other. Whereas, ignorance and vulnerability make great bedfellows. This happened year by year. While ignorance may cause delay, enquiry and revelation may save time. May we not delay enquiry to indulge our emotions.   

 

TRANSACTION

 

It is unclear exactly for how long the preceding situation persisted. Blessedly, it did not last forever. At some point Hannah realized her problem did not reside in the provocation of Peninnah, nor did a solution lie in the bosom of her loving husband. Indeed, the issue had little to do with human agency or involvement. It was a matter of divine intervention, therefore, proper recourse was to God. Whatever the origin, provenance and pendency of a matter, recourse is always to God. She arose after having a meal and went into the temple. A proper alignment and focus is a critical antecedent of this kind of transaction.

 

Even at this advanced stage of resolve and divine engagement, Hannah was still emotionally challenged. Descriptions of her state of mind across several biblical translations run the gamut from greatly distressed, and anguished, to, distressed of soul, bitter, and weeping inconsolably. God can handle any range and depth of emotions. Bringing our emotions to God beats indulging them alone. In fact, emotions might have spiritual value if they necessitate, and or precede divine engagement. Despite the powerful emotions on display, Hannah’s prayer is remarkable for several reasons.

 

She was direct, straightforward and simple. She asked God to remember her and look upon her affliction favourably. Prayer is communication and fellowship with our loving heavenly father. Our afflictions and troubles are legitimate fodder for prayer. However, prayer would not be very effective if it is only, or mostly about how we feel. Hannah quickly transitioned from her affliction and hit the high point of negotiation and transaction. She was specific and deliberate. She asked God for a son, and pledged to give him back to God as a permanent Nazirite.

 

 For someone desperate for offspring, this was a pretty steep price to pay. However, it appears that as Hannah prayed, or perhaps as she prepared to go to the temple, she became aware of the spiritual and prophetic intelligence that was key to her matter. Her promise and undertaking before God went right to the heart and bottom of the matter. Transaction and negotiation with God is unlikely to be a long drawn out affair, once critical revelation is obtained. God wanted the first fruit of Hannah’s womb. Once Hannah acquiesced, the deal was sealed.

 

The key role of revelation here cannot be overemphasized, or frankly, downplayed. The knowledge of God’s interest in the matter brought about a quick resolution in Hannah’s case. Merely praying to be gifted a child is unlikely to have worked in this case. In other words, if Hannah’s prayer had consisted only of what she wanted, it would not have been effective in the circumstance. A transaction with God cannot be primarily about our need. God’s interest, as obtained through revelation must be reflected. This is the essence and highpoint of a transactional prayer. It takes a fair measure of selflessness and sacrifice to get there.         

 

IMPARTATION

 

Once Hannah hit that highpoint, there was a reaction. However, before we get to that, let us set the scene. The travails of Hannah occurred during the tenure of Eli, the high priest. His two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were principal priests in the tabernacle. Eli was a lax and indolent father. His sons were degenerates who profaned the sacrifices made to the Lord and committed sexual immorality with the women who served at the entrance to the tabernacle. Among the many observations God made about Eli and was he honoured his sons more than God, and that they fattened themselves with the choicest part of every offering of the Israelites, as depicted in 1 Samuel chapter two, verse twenty-nine.     

 

As a result of the laxity of Eli, and the profanity of his sons, the reverent and holy atmosphere of the tabernacle was polluted and comprised. This pervasive state of affairs must have had consequences for the quality of worship and prayer obtainable in that sanctuary. It was not a conducive environment for qualitative engagement with God. Eli himself was old, and apathetic to the moral and spiritual decay generated by his sons. By this point in time, his eyes were growing dim. By inference, his spiritual sight was similarly impaired. This was the dire state of the priesthood, and of the tabernacle that Hannah had come to.

 

But then, Hannah’s dealings with God had reached such a critical point that the divine engagement she had tapped into temporarily changed the atmospheric conditions of the tabernacle, and woke Eli from spiritual torpor. Thus, Eli observed Hannah moving her lips and praying inaudibly, and thought she was drunk. Eli’s misapprehension speaks volumes. Even so, Eli, as the anointed high priest still had the God-given power of impartation and blessing, despite his derelict spiritual condition. Apparently, a deficient and lapsed spiritual state did not make Eli entirely irrelevant. He still held down an important role in God’s economy.

 

When Hannah clued him in, Eli, now in the full power of office, pronounced a blessing and benediction. His words were well judged and effective. First, he said, “go in peace”. Going by the emotional turbulence and storms afflicting Hannah, this was the first order of business. She needed a divine and calming infusion of peace and tranquility to quiet the storms within. Even God’s blessing and intervention requires peace to be effective. Second, he affirmed that the God of Israel will grant her petition. The effect of Eli’s words on Hannah was immediate. She left the tabernacle no longer sad, or troubled. The transaction had been concluded successfully.

 

VISITATION

 

Almost as if that transaction was what the family was waiting for, the next morning, they worshipped before the Lord, and returned home, traveling twenty-four kilometers west to Ramah. I have a premonition that from that time on, Peninnah’s jibes and provocation did not have the desired effect anymore. Hannah emerged from that transaction in God’s presence a stronger and more confident person. Her vulnerability to provocation and psychological triggers dissolved in God’s presence.

 

When they got home, Hannah and Elkanah resumed normal service, and God remembered her. She conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying “because I asked for him from the Lord”. Hannah was now a mother. The reproach of childlessness had been lifted after many years of frustration. However, for Hannah, motherhood was way more than a natural phenomenon, or a social event. It had become a prophetic endeavor. Soon, the whole of Israel, and the world, would realize the sheer scope and gravity of Hannah’s travail and transaction.

 

Meanwhile, Hannah busied herself with nursing and weaning Samuel in preparation for his presentation at the tabernacle. She was focused and conscientious, declining to make the annual pilgrimage until Samuel was weaned and could be taken to Shiloh. When Samuel was weaned, Hannah took the young Samuel together with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour and a leather bottle of wine to the tabernacle in Shiloh. She was well prepared and spared no expense in her presentation. God had rightly reckoned that Hannah was the kind of person who kept her promises, even if it cost her dearly.    

     

TRANSFORMATION

Then Hannah lifted up her voice, and prayed in exaltation and ecstasy. She proclaimed “My heart rejoices in the LORD; my horn is exalted in the LORD. I smile at my enemies, because I rejoice in Your salvation”. She exclaimed further, “The LORD makes poor and makes rich; He brings low and lifts up. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the beggar from the ash heap, to set them among princes and make them inherit the throne of glory. For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s, and He has set the world upon them” – 1 Samuel 2:1, 7-8.

 

Recall, dear reader, the Hannah who came into the tabernacle only a few years before, a psychological and emotional wreck. Recall too the antecedents of vexation, frustration and provocation that she endured year after year during the yearly family pilgrimage. Recall also the desperation, tenor and content of her prayers at the time. Compare this to the Hannah that stood praying with confidence and enthusiasm, now. Hannah had undergone a complete and utter transformation.

 

She was eloquent, expressive, and bold. She had developed an impressive range and capacity for prayer. She was emotional too. Full of irrepressible joy and gladness. She prayed from a place of depth and cognate experience. Her knowledge of God had grown geometrically. It was more than a prayer. It was a song of hope, triumph and accomplishment. An ode of heartfelt thanksgiving and gratitude to God. It was also a warning to the proud and arrogant that God is able to humble them expeditiously. The same woman who was defined by her vulnerability could now smile at her enemies.

   

In subsequent years, when Hannah and Elkanah went to the tabernacle for the yearly sacrifice, Eli would bless them and proclaim that the Lord should give them more children. The Lord visited and blessed Hannah accordingly. She conceived and gave birth to three sons and two daughters for a total of six children, Samuel included. The hitherto childless woman was now a mother of six. Glory. It was a new season. Cumulatively, Hannah’s life can be divided into three distinct seasons. The first, a season of childlessness and provocation. The second, a season of remembrance and visitation, and the third, a season of transformation and multiplication.

 

This is how reality changes. If you encountered Hannah in her season of transformation and multiplication, when her children were running around her screaming “mummy, mummy”, it would take some doing to convince you that this was the same woman who endured years of childlessness and intense frustration, in her first season. Seasons change, and reality with it.

 

Consider a prayerful transaction with God today.

 

About The Author

Ebere graduated from the University of Ghana with a Bachelor’s Degree in Law and English. He also has a Master's Degree in Public Administration from Regent University in the United States. He has more than twenty years of experience in governance, legal, and administrative matters in the public, private, and non-profit sectors. He was a former Special Assistant to the President of Nigeria on Council and Legal Matters during His Excellency Goodluck Ebele Jonathan's presidency.

Ebere Nwankpa is a pastor, administrator, and businessman with a concerted and abiding interest in God’s prophetic counsel for Nigeria, Africa, and the world's nations. He is a member of Intercessors for Nigeria (IFN), and Intercessors for Africa (IFA). His books include Joseph - Prince of Egypt and Esther - Queen In Deed.

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