When We Have to Wait

1 Samuel 1:3-8
3Now 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. 4On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters. 5But to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. 6And her rival used to provoke her grievously to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. 7So 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. 8And 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?”

Hannah’s story of childlessness is heartbreaking. We all know of women who have struggled to achieve pregnancy and we have the benefit of living in a time when modern medicine has a myriad of procedures and treatments that can help. (Although some of them walk alarmingly close to a very slippery slope.) Just imagine living at the time of Hannah and her family. Basically all they had was superstition. A barren woman was believed to be cursed by God. So while her prolific sister wife was pouring out children, Hannah remained empty. What she does not do is give up her cause before the Lord. She continues to go regularly to the house of the Lord to plead her case, while Peninnah continues to taunt Hannah and make her life miserable. A happy home, this was not. And I must also add, Elkanah’s response to Hannah’s suffering was tone-deaf.

Elkanah’s frustration blinds him in two ways, as revealed by his questions to Hannah. His first two questions depict him as unaware or unmindful of the tension between his two wives and especially of Peninnah’s role in heightening and perpetuating Hannah’s anxiety. However, his third question, though not intended to be insensitive to Hannah’s state, displays how he is unable to sympathize with Hannah. “Aren’t I better for you than ten sons?” (1:8) is found on the lips of a man who has sons—and daughters too! Had Elkanah been monogamous, he would have felt the sting of childlessness much more sharply. However, polygamy has placed him in a position that creates an emotional distance from his first wife, and he seems to be oblivious to it. The very act of taking a second wife and producing children with her makes it impossible for him to fully realize his vocation as husband to Hannah, no matter how hard he tries to express his support for her.
Steinmann, A. E. ©2016. 1 Samuel. (pp. 53–54). Saint Louis, MO: CPH.

We know the story. While Hannah does eventually receive a child, she is forced to wait for years – years. I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever waited for anything that long. So I am impressed by her great tenacity. She continues to hold onto God even when it looks like she’s wasting her time. Even as her rival taunts and tortures her, she goes to the Temple to beg God to mercifully grant her a child. It’s interesting that Elkanah is at least willing to appease her need for a child by giving her a double portion of the sacrifice to take before the Lord, as if God is able to be bought. Be at least her husband is sympathetic to her plight, I guess. Elkanah is a Levite – a member of the priest class. We know this from the very first verse, as he and his wives are introduced. If anyone should have God’s ear, it should be this family. But, God cannot be manipulated or bought.

The dynamics of this family are interesting as well. Hannah is Elkanah’s first wife and as such, would have a higher standing in the community. But since she has failed to produce children, Peninnah is elevated to that spot, as she has apparently produced several children, both male and female. The detail of Hannah receiving a double portion to sacrifice points us to the fact that Elkanah’s love for his first wife is not diminished by her barren state.

Again I am moved by the fact that these are real people dealing with real life issues. God doesn’t paint an unrealistic picture of His people. The Bible shows us God's people, warts and all. We may have to wait for God and actually, there are no guarantees that we will always get what we ask for. This story could have ended with Hannah dying childless. St. Paul asked that his “thorn in the flesh” be removed and God said “no”. (See 2 Corinthians 12:7-10) While we wait, sometimes the lesson is that we must continue to wait. The trick is to wait with faith; not faith that God will ultimately give us what we want, but that He is still God and knows what is best for us. That’s a tough go, I’m not going to lie. But the strength that comes from that time of trial is invaluable.