Mothers and Prophets Who Prayed

By Sigrid Fowler

All writers in Op Ed are here to inform and acknowledge issues of importance to our communities, however these writings represent the views and opinions of the authors and not necessarily of The Advertiser.

​The Bible describes some notable mothers who asked God or one of God’s servants for help. Sometimes the answers came after a long wait, sometimes they were immediate. It’s not always possible to study the prayers because many detailsare omitted. One woman who prayed was Hannah, the mother of Samuel. He was the last of Israel’s judges and a major prophet, the one God chose to anoint Israel’s first two kings. But his mother, like many of the memorable women in the Bible, had a long wait before her son was born, we don’t know how long. Elkanah, an Ephramite (1Sam 1: 1) had two wives—Peninnah, who bore children, and Hannah, who did not. Elkanah took his family up to Jerusalem every year to worship, and “So it was, year by year, when [Hannah] went up to the house of the LORD, that [Peninnah] provoked her; therefore she wept and did not eat” (1 Sam 1: 7). 

​What happens next is one of those little biblical dramas that bring the record to life (1 Sam 1: 9-18). In the temple, Hannah prays for a son and the priest Eli notices her: “Now Hannah spoke in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard. Therefore, Eli thought she was drunk” and saidso. But she was “a woman of sorrowful spirit” who “poured out my soul,” she said, “before the LORD.” Hannah didn’t say why she was praying, but Eli told her, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition” (1 Sam 1: 17). Half the next chapter is taken up with Hannah’s prayer of praise and gratitude when Samuel is born. The powerful outpouring of Hannah’s heart will echo in the prayer of Mary after she hearsfrom the angel, “You will bring forth a son and shall call his name JESUS” (Luke 1: 31, 46-55).

​We don’t have the prayers of other women who were unable to conceive and must have prayed. Sarah, who bore Isaac to Abraham “in his old age” (Gen 21:2); the mother of Samson (Judges 13: 2-3); Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist (Luke 1: 36); and the Shunammite woman, who welcomes the prophet Elisha into her home (2 Kings 4: 14-17), are other examples of women who greatly desiredchildren, who certainly must have prayed. In each case, the answer was a long time coming. However, both the Shunammite and a widow who appealed to another prophet, this time Elijah, also received quick answers to petitions.

​The Shunammite accused Elisha of lying to her when he said she would have a son (2 Kings 4: 16). Her son was bornas Elisha said, but then the boy becomes ill and dies. Elisha is away, she goes to him, he returns with her, prays, and the child lives. The details are to be found in 2 Kings, the middle of Chapter 4, vv. 18-37, and well worth reading. The sweep of the narrative creates a tone of breathless haste, and though seemingly insurmountable difficulties forecast a sad outcome, the child revives as soon as Elisha prays.

​In a parallel story, Elijah prays when the son of a widowdies. This child was no “miracle baby” like Isaac, or the Shunammite’s child, or Hannah’s Samuel, or Samson, or John the Baptist, but much loved, it’s clear. God has told Elijah to go to Zarephath to this widow; she will feed him in the faminecurrently ravaging the land. He goes, finds the widow, and asks for food. She says, “As the LORD your God lives, I do not have bread, only a handful of flour in a bin and a little oil in a jar; and see, I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son that we may eat it and die” (1 Kings 17: 12). Surprisingly, Elijah says, “Make me a small cake first.” If she does, neither her oil nor her flour will run out. The drama progresses, the oil and flour last, and all seems well. Then the widow’s son becomes ill and dies. She seeks help from Elijah, who prays earnestly, as does Elisha in the parallel narrative. The boy lives, and his mother speaks her gratitude and renewed faith: “Now by this I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is the truth” (I Kings 17: 24 NKJV and all references above). The answer she sought came as soon asElijah prayed. Soon or late, God chooses the timing.

​James notes that “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours” and adds: “A prayer of a righteous person when it is brought about can accomplish much” (James 5: 6 NASB20).Whether prophet or mother, the seeker receives. “Ask and you will receive,” Jesus said.