In Bible times, to be barren or childless was a shame and disgrace. Children were seen as God’s blessing; childlessness was seen as His curse or punishment. Culturally, it meant that the family line would die out, a terrible fate.
Hannah’s husband loved her, but she felt the shame and disgrace because she had been unable to bear children. Peninnah, the other wife, flaunted her own sons and daughters and taunted Hannah, upsetting her so much that she couldn’t eat. Hannah was probably aware that she was in good biblical company—Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel before her had struggled with childlessness—but she still grieved. We’re told that her closed womb was part of God’s plan for her (v. 5) and for Samuel. In faith, she took the desire of her heart to the only One who could bring it to fruition. Though His answer was not immediate, she continued to trust in His lovingkindness.
Summarizing the conversation between God and Hannah from our perspective is easy: She prayed and He answered. But there was nothing easy about it from her perspective. Hannah prayed with wordless passion for a child, so fervently, in fact, that Eli judged by appearances and thought she was drunk.
Her vow to dedicate the child to the Lord was not bargaining (as we saw with Jacob) but additional evidence of the seriousness and spirit of worship with which she prayed. The mention of no razor being used on his head is a reference to the Nazirite vow, in which long hair symbolized special dedication to the Lord. She explained what she was doing to Eli, and accepted his response as a promise that God would grant her prayer (v. 17). The Lord did indeed give her a son, whom she named Samuel, or, “because I asked the Lord for him” (v. 20).