Why did Eli think that Hannah was drunk?
Hannah was a wonderful, godly woman. She greatly desired to have children and that was the distress of her heart. Why did Eli think Hannah was drunk? The answer will follow a brief introduction.
Hannah was the wife of a man named Elkanah who actually had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah (1 Sam. 1:1-2). Peninnah had given birth to sons and daughters, but Hannah had none (1 Sam. 1:3-4). Hannah greatly desired to give birth to some children, but she was not able to give birth. Peninnah, her rival, knew this and would intentionally provoke her in order to irritate her. Hannah would respond with a flood of tears (1 Sam. 1:5-7).
Peninnah did this to Hannah every year as they went up to the house of the LORD to worship. Every year Hannah would cry and not eat because she wanted to give birth to some children so greatly (1 Sam. 1:8).
During one of these visits to the house of the Lord in Shiloh, the priest Eli observed Hannah. Her husband had just comforted her and so she had eaten, but she was still in great emotional distress. Here is what follows.
Then Hannah rose after eating and drinking in Shiloh. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat by the doorpost of the temple of the LORD. And she, greatly distressed, prayed to the LORD and wept bitterly. And she made a vow and said, “O LORD of hosts, if Thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of Thy maidservant and remember me, and not forget Thy maidservant, but wilt give Thy maidservant a son, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and a razor shall never come on his head.” Now it came about, as she continued praying before the LORD, that Eli was watching her mouth. As for Hannah, she was speaking in her heart, only her lips were moving, but her voice was not heard. So Eli thought she was drunk. (NASB) 1 Sam. 1:9-13
Hannah was praying when Eli saw her. Hannah spoke out loud while she was praying when she asked God to give her a child. Hannah continued praying silently about her situation. Eli had heard the sound of her voice while she was speaking, but apparently did not consider that she was silently praying. Eli saw her moving her lips and heard nothing. That would look very unusual to most of us. Eli thought she was drunk.
Then Eli said to her, “How long will you make yourself drunk? Put away your wine from you.” But Hannah answered and said, “No, my lord, I am a woman oppressed in spirit; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have poured out my soul before the LORD. (NASB) 1 Sam. 1:14-15
Hannah was a spiritually beautiful woman. We are never told that she became angry with Peninnah. We are simply told that she would cry, not eat, and pray about her situation. How did God respond? He answered her prayer. Did you notice that her prayer was both spoken and silent? She was speaking with heart to the Lord and He fulfilled her desire. What a wonderful godly woman. What an example!