The Major Players
1 Samuel 1:1-20
1 There was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim of the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, an Ephrathite. 2 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. 3 Now this man used to go up year by year from his city to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the Lord. 4 On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters. 5 But to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. 6 And her rival used to provoke her grievously to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. 7 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. 8 And Elkanah, her husband, said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?” 9 After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. 10 She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. 11 And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.” 12 As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman. 14 And Eli said to her, “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.” 15 But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. 16 Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.” 17 Then Eli answered, “Go in peace and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.” 18 And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad. 19 They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the Lord remembered her. 20 And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son and she called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked for him from the Lord.”
With the first verse (and a long list of unpronounceable names) we are introduced to the family of Samuel’s father and mother, Elkanah and Hannah. In the Old Testament, it was important to know the family of the person you are dealing with because that told you a little bit about who they were and what you could expect from them. The lineage listed for Samuel begins with his parents who live in the land of Ephraim, but are descendants of Levi. This means that they are from the priest class. While the father, Elkanah, appears to be a godly man, obeying the ritual worship laws, we do not see him acting in the temple as priest. He probably fulfilled his “turn” in that role, but it is not important to the story, so that detail of his life is not mentioned. Elkanah has two wives, Peninnah and Hannah.
Perhaps we should discuss briefly the practice of polygamy amongst God’s people at this time. This was not a practice sanctioned by God, but tolerated. Here we have a perfect example of the culture pressing in on God’s people and them not standing up for what they had been taught but instead adopting the mores of the times. God tolerated this practice but in no way did He ever say this was good in His sight. His plan is mirrored in Adam and Eve – one man, one woman, together in marriage. The Old Testament is rift problems that arise as the result of polygamous marriage. The story of Hannah and Peninnah is no exception to that rule.
Hannah and Peninnah become rivals, for Peninnah has children and Hannah doesn’t. Children were seen as the crown of a woman’s life and proof that she was blessed by God. Childlessness was seen as a curse and proof that God had no use for you; as a result neither did the people around you. Hannah’s life is miserable. But, Elkanah loved her and treated her well. He even gave her an extra portion to sacrifice when the time came to help make up for her barrenness. (Women were given a portion of an animal to sacrifice for themselves and for each of their children. So the more children you had, the greater your sacrifice.) What we find in Hannah is someone with determination, kindness, gentleness, and most of all godliness. She took her problem to the Lord and did not relent. She continued to beg Him for a child despite the fact that it looked like it was never going to happen. God relents and gives her was she so desperately wants.
Hannah serves as an example of what it means to hang in there in prayer, beseeching God for the desires of our hearts. “I have been speaking out my great anxiety and vexation.” That word vexation isn’t one you see too often in the Bible. But you have to love the honesty that goes along with it. “I’m not happy here and I’m going to tell God all about it.” That is perfect! What a great example of what it means to love God and have a real relationship with Him. For Hannah, God is all-powerful and all-approachable. She didn’t label her feelings as inappropriate and so not share them with God. Nope – she got honest before the throne and that is exactly where we need to stand as well.
Today, let’s take a note from Hannah and let God hear what’s really going on with us and how we actually feel about it! Go ahead, He can take it!