Peninnah – Life-Taker?
And her rival used to provoke her grievously to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. So it went on year by year. As often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. (1 Samuel 1:6-7 ESV)
Catch the words of conflict in Today’s Treasure: her rival, provoke, grievously irritated, so it went on year after year, she used to provoke her. Hannah’s response to Peninnah’s taunting was to weep (one source says the word for weep can be interpreted as wailing as though someone is dead). Hannah would not eat. Hannah’s lack of appetite reminds me of my inability to get even a piece of toast past my lips in the early days of deep grief over the deaths of our son and his friend.
Peninnah had an opportunity to be a life-giver to Hannah. Surely Peninnah understood Hannah’s infertility was viewed by their culture as a curse from God. As a woman, Peninnah must have known that not only did Hannah want a child because of her maternal longings, but also because her infertility brought into question God’s love for Hannah. Peninnah could have been a source of encouragement and comfort to her sister wife. Instead, Peninnah poured salt on the wounds so persistently and hatefully that Hannah sometimes wept as though for someone who had died.
Why was Peninnah so mean-spirited? My heart aches a little for Peninnah because she had her own life crisis to bear. Peninnah is the second wife to a man who adored his first wife. It’s clear from Scripture Elkanah’s love for Hannah trumped his love for Peninnah. No matter how many children Peninnah bore for Elkanah, he would not love her more than Hannah. What a terrible place for Peninnah to live every day of her life. Peninnah found self-worth and pride in her ability to bear children when Hannah could not. But she could not bear being second to Hannah and jealousy took over her heart and showed up in her mean-spirited words.
Before we totally condemn Peninnah, we must ask the Lord to show us if we have ever behaved similarly. Have I ever judged another woman harshly? Have I drawn a conclusion based on little information and an incomplete understanding of that particular woman’s life journey? Have I made nasty remarks to others about her life choices or how she ended up in a troublesome place? How often has my own discontent or insecurity been the root of my hateful words? Have I avoided offering help and hope to a hurting woman because of my own inadequacies? The spirit of Peninnah lives in each of us.
The older I grow, the more aware I am I am not anyone’s judge and jury. My mistakes, and yes sinful judgments, have taught me to be slow to draw conclusions about another person’s life because I do not know the whole story, or what he or she is experiencing. Most important, I am not the Judge.
May God open our hearts and minds to those painful times in another person’s life where we can offer comfort, pushed through the grid of Jesus’ love for us. May the presence of Jesus in our hearts push out discontentment and jealousy. May our heart’s desire be to experience God, transforming those dark places in our souls, with the cleansing forgiveness and grace Jesus offers.
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