In the opening chapters of my historical novel, “A Voice Within the Flame,” the character of Hannah suffers under a terrible burden. She has one desire and she is obsessed by this desire. Hannah is able to function in her day-to-day world, able to care for and love those around her. But the one thing she wants most dominates her heart and remains illusory.
After years of being denied her one hope, the agony Hannah suffers becomes too great to endure. Nothing brings her comfort. Not the doting attention of a loving husband, not material luxuries, not food or drink, not personal sacrifice, not worship or prayer. Nothing can raise Hannah from the dust of her despondency.
Yet Hannah is bold enough to call upon God to look upon the “bitterness of her soul.” Through tears, she makes a vow. If the Almighty would give her a son, she would give him back to the Lord “for all the days of his life.”
It would be easy to be critical of Hannah. She is desperate and foolish to make so rash a promise. Contemporary culture does not understand an ancient time that placed such a high value on having a child. And yet, if we have lived long enough on this planet, we all have experienced times of desperation. We all know what it is like to obsess over a desire of the heart. And whether we want to admit it or not, many of us have made those bargains with God or the universe or another human being.
This is what gives us empathy for Hannah. Our individual circumstances can be much different, but the human heart is a great equalizer, and we understand the pain that brought Hannah to this place of last resort…the vow—a thing promised. Now imagine the pain she would feel if the Almighty agreed to the terms of her vow.
There were some “escape clauses” when it came to making vows (Numbers 30). But in the novel and in the biblical account, when it came time for Hannah to keep her end of the bargain, she chose not to take an option that would nullify the vow.
What great courage. What depth of character. When Hannah could not know the consequences of her decision, she kept her vow. The power of such dedication to one’s word can have a ripple effect across space, time, and history.