1 Samuel 1:2 And he had two wives; the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah: and Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.
Why is it so significant that Hannah had no children? Because children are a blessing of the Lord. So in the Bible when a woman has no children, it is as though the Lord has withheld His blessing from her for one reason or another.
It is very easy to sympathize with Hannah. She constantly suffered ridicule for her barrenness, she was falsely accused of drunkenness, she took her burden to the Lord, she honored the Lord when He miraculously answered her prayer, and then He honored her with even more children afterward.
The Ugly Side
Let’s look at Hannah as a fallible woman for a minute, for indeed none of us is perfect. Why did Elkanah feel as though he needed to bend over backwards to comfort his wife? Did she call undue attention to herself? Did she pine and mope and make a noisy fuss over being barren? Was she inconsolable because she had no children? It wasn’t Elkanah’s fault; the Lord had shut her womb. I get the impression by reading this passage that before Samuel was born, Hannah was a habitually unhappy woman and very hard to please, and it had very little to do with the teasing she got from Penninah. Her husband obviously treated her as the favorite wife, but it did not help her cause. In fact, it may have made matters worse, for it likely provoked Penninah to jealousy. Perhaps Elkanah’s favoritism toward Hannah was the cause of Penninah’s mocking rather than the effect. Why did Elkanah give a “worthy portion” to Hannah? Out of the kindness of his heart? Or was it perhaps to assuage an inconsolable wife? Women, we need to be careful what we ask for, because we just might get it, and it might come with undesirable consequences.
The Satirical Song
When the Lord answered Hannah’s prayer and gave her a son, instantly her melancholy turned to rejoicing, and she sang a song that was recorded in Scripture for all time. It is a beautiful song that gives praise to the Lord. But let’s face, it’s full of satire, for the “enemy” spoken of here is her sister-in-law, the other wife who had so mercilessly mocked her all those years for her barrenness. Now she is jabbing back at her, saying, “Look who has a child now. You can’t mock me anymore because my reproach has been lifted. So there!” But as you read it, for I have recorded it below, you will see that God can take our imperfection and make something beautiful out of it. Hannah’s song is just that: a trophy of grace that gives glory to God.
And Hannah prayed, and said,
My heart rejoices in the LORD,
my horn is exalted in the LORD:
my mouth is enlarged over my enemies;
because I rejoice in Your salvation.
There is none holy as the LORD:
for there is none beside You,
neither is there any rock like our God.
Talk no more so exceedingly proudly;
let not arrogance come out of your mouth:
for the LORD is a God of knowledge,
and by Him actions are weighed.
The bows of the mighty men are broken,
and they that stumbled are girded with strength.
They that were full have hired out themselves for bread;
and they that were hungry ceased:
so that the barren hath born seven;
and she who has many children is waxed feeble.
The LORD kills, and makes alive:
He brings down to the grave, and brings up.
The LORD makes poor, and makes rich:
He brings low, and lifts up.
He raises up the poor out of the dust,
and lifts up the beggar from the dunghill,
to set them among princes,
and to make them inherit the throne of glory:
for the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s,
and He has set the world upon them.
He will keep the feet of His saints,
and the wicked shall be silent in darkness;
for by strength shall no man prevail.
The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces;
out of heaven shall He thunder upon them:
the LORD shall judge the ends of the earth;
and He shall give strength unto His king,
and exalt the horn of His anointed.
1 Samuel 2:1-10
The Prayer of Faith
Why did I present the weaker side of Hannah? To smear her name in the mud? No way! But I think now that just as a diamond is more brilliant in a dark setting, so you will see her faith demonstrated much more vividly than ever before.
Elkanah took his family to Shiloh every year for the feasts and the sacrifices at the temple, and it was here that he would give a “worthy” portion to Hannah to comfort her in her barrenness. One day she could stand her grief no longer. Unable to eat, she left the feast and went alone to the outer court of the temple to pray. Kneeling down, she poured out her heart to the Lord. Tears streamed down her face, and her lips moved as she uttered the words, though her speech was not audible to anyone but God alone. Eli the priest saw her there. Assuming she was drunk, he rebuked her sharply. But she turned her sad eyes to him and said, “No, my lord, I am not drunk, only grieved, and I have just told the Lord my complaint.” Then Eli softened, and said, “The Lord will grant you your request.” He didn’t even know what it was, but God did, and that’s all that mattered.
Hannah rose to her feet, wiped the tears from her eyes, then returned to the feast with a smile on her face, a spring in her step, and a “rumbly in her tumbly” (to quote Winnie the Pooh). Why? Because she believed God. She knew He had heard and answered her prayer. And sure enough, Hannah and Elkanah wasted no time in taking God at His word. By that same time the next year, Hannah was a mother! She named her son Samuel, which means “asked of God.”
We never hear of Penninah mocking Hannah anymore from this moment on. No doubt everyone saw the change that had come over Hannah from the moment she returned from her private prayer session at the temple. Either Penninah decided to leave her rival alone, or the jibes no longer bothered Hannah because she had learned to rest in the peace of God that passes all understanding. And there is no suggestion that they became friends after this, but it is conceivable. After all, with God all things are possible.
The Godly Example
Psalm 113:9 He makes the barren woman to keep house, and to be a joyful mother of children.
Seeing God work firsthand in Hannah’s life changed her completely. She became pleasant, peaceful, cheerful, joyful. And she devoted her time and energy to the training of this precious young life that God had entrusted to her. After all, she had vowed to give him back to the Lord all the days of his life, and she was determined to keep that vow.
Eli was the high priest, but he was not much of a spiritual leader, and his two sons were even worse. I won’t go into detail here, but I will sum up by saying that the Lord judged them for their wickedness, and He judged Eli for refusing to discipline his sons. It was into this environment that Hannah entrusted her young son at the tender age of about three, which is when children were weaned back then. But she wasn’t giving her son to Eli; she was giving him to the Lord, and that made all the difference. In fact, she had already given him to the Lord before he was conceived. And she had spent three years teaching him what he needed to know about Jehovah, and it stuck. Samuel remained sensitive to the voice of the Lord all the days of his life and was not negatively influenced by the wickedness around him.
The Lord rewarded Hannah even more after she followed through on her vow to give Samuel back to Him, for He blessed her with three more sons and two daughters in addition to Samuel. Isn’t God good!
The Trophy of Grace
Hannah’s life is a trophy of grace, as depression turns to delight, despair to hope, and despondency to joy. God gives her faith to believe that He will grant her desire, and her faith just keeps growing and growing as the Lord continues to prove Himself faithful.
What about you? Are you like the before-Hannah? Or the after-Hannah? Let’s be women of faith. Let us prove God, take Him at His Word, and see His faithfulness at work firsthand in our lives, just like Hannah did. Because God is able!
2 Corinthians 9:8 And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.
❧ ❧ ❧
Next week: Manoah’s Wife
Photo courtesy of estall of Pixabay