But to Hannah [Elkanah] gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. And her rival used to provoke her grievously to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. (1 Samuel 1:5-6 ESV)
Every time I study Hannah’s life or read her story, my stomach clenches a little. For many years, Hannah lived with not only a broken heart, but also a sister-wife who delighted in poking a stick into the wounds. Samuel, writer of Hannah’s story, repeatedly uses words like rival, provoke, and year after to year to pull the reader into the emotional firestorm Hannah frequently experienced. In the middle of a worship celebration, Hannah reaches her breaking point.
Perhaps you are Hannah, weary of trying to respond in a Christ-like way to a never ending dripping faucet of behavior and words designed to destroy any hope of experiencing peace and joy. You want to be a faithful follower of Jesus so you examine your heart. You ask a trusted friend if you brought this hurt on yourself. You wrestle with whether you deserve treatment that attacks your identity as a child of God. You feel guilty for your anger and desire to strike back. You search for Scriptures that encourage you to turn the other cheek, to love instead of hate. Maybe you write out those Scriptures to carry with you when you know you will see the person who relentlessly tries to destroy your peace of mind. Nothing changes. You’re tired of trying to be good, or maybe you are like Peninnah. Discontentment and jealousy fuels the bitterness eating up your soul. You cannot enjoy life because someone else has what you want.
Whether you are Hannah or Peninnah, the Scriptures offer help and hope.
When we meet Hannah, she is childless in a culture that highly valued the bearing of children. Though God condemned polygamy, Jewish men often married more than one woman so they would have children to carry on their names and build their legacy. It’s interesting that when we read stories about polygamous relationships, the Scripture writer lets the consequences of such choices speak for themselves. Hannah’s story is no different.
Hannah’s husband, Elkanah, adored her. Yet, perhaps because she was childless, he marries a second wife, Peninnah, who easily bears numerous children. When you read 1 Samuel, you cannot help but notice Peninnah was the second choice, Hannah’s rival. No matter how many children she bore for Elkanah, she could not take Hannah’s place in his heart. Peninnah reacted as any second-choice woman. Her jealousy over Elkanah’s love for Hannah ate into the pleasure she might have experienced mothering her children. Year after year Peninnah taunted Hannah, attempting to destroy any joy or peace in life Hannah might experience with their shared husband. Hannah is on a pilgrimage, and when we meet her, she is desperate for help and hope.
Treasured by Him,
Hannah’s story gives us a glimpse into the hearts of two women on a pilgrimage filled with potholes and 24/7 emotional and spiritual pain. Help yourself prepare to soak in this agonizing but hopeful story by reading 1 Samuel 1 and 2 and allow Hannah’s journey to open your eyes and heart to the meaning of lamentation and intimacy with our heavenly Father. As you read, remember the writer is Samuel, Hannah’s son. This is Hannah’s story.
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