In the Old Testament narrative, Hannah was one of two wives of Elkanah, son of Jeroham, who lived in the hill country belonging to his tribe of Ephraim. Elkanah's other wife, Peninnah, bore children to him, while Hannah remained childless. Nevertheless, Elkanah preferred Hannah. Every year Elkanah would offer a sacrifice at the Shiloh sanctuary and give Hannah twice as big a portion of it as he would to Penninah. Hannah prayed for a son while the tabernacle priest Eli listens, thinking her to be drunk. Hannah continued praying for a son while the tabernacle priest Eli listens, thinking her to be drunk.
Envious of the love Elkanah showed to Hannah, Peninnah continually ridiculed and provoked her because of her childlessness. Peninnah's cruelty became particularly intense on those occasions when the family made the pilgrimage to Shiloh. This persecution was so intense that it caused Hannah to weep and refrain from eating.
Desperate for a son, Hannah prayed in tears at the tabernacle. In her prayer she begged for a child and promised to dedicate him to God's service at Shiloh. She also promised to raise him as a Nazirite, strictly following the laws of the Torah and never cutting his hair or allowing him to drink wine. (The story here follows a similar pattern to that of Samson in the Book of Judges and John the Baptist in the New Testament.)
Eli, the High Priest, was sitting on a chair near the doorpost of the tabernacle and noticed the unusual passion of Hannah's prayer, in which she mouthed her words but did not utter them. Thinking her to be drunk, he reprimanded her. "Not so, my Lord," Hannah replied. "I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord... I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief." (I Sam. 1:15-16). Realizing his error, Eli blessed her, saying "may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him."
No longer downhearted, Hannah remained one additional night at the tabernacle and returned home the next day with her family. Soon she realized that she had become pregnant. As promised, when the child was born, she named him Samuel. With Elkanah's agreement, after Samuel was weaned, she brought him to Eli where he entered the service of the Shiloh priests. Her messianic hymn of praise for his birth—the "Song of Hannah"—is recorded in 1 Samuel 2, it reads, in part:
"My heart rejoices in the Lord; in the Lord my horn is lifted high. My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I delight in your deliverance...
He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor...
The Lord will judge the ends of the earth. "He will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed."
After Samuel was weaned, and with Elkanah's agreement, Hannah brought the child to Eli and Shiloh, where he began to serve as a priest at young age. Each year at pilgrimage time, she visited and brought him a new robe. Samuel eventually took the place of Eli's own sons as his spiritual son, since they were corrupt and unworthy of the priesthood. He went on to become not only the chief priest, but a great prophet, judge, military leader and kingmaker. More than any other figure in the period of judges, he unified the tribes of Israel. He also identified, anointed, and officially appointed the first two of the kings of Israel: Saul and David.
It is no exaggeration to say that in the biblical tradition, the kingdom of Israel was born from the faith of Hannah, the mother of Samuel.