November 16, 2007

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Biblical women: Peninnah and Hannah

John F. Fink(Sixteenth in a series of columns)

No man should have two wives. It always seems to lead to trouble. But, as we’ve seen in this series, it wasn’t unusual during Old Testament times (1Sm 1-2).

Elkanah was one of those men with two wives—Peninnah and Hannah. And wouldn’t you know, Peninnah had children but Hannah didn’t. And don’t think that Peninnah didn’t rub it in to Hannah. She constantly reminded Hannah that the Lord had made her barren. For her part, Hannah was quite sensitive about the matter, weeping and refusing to eat.

During these days before David conquered Jerusalem, the Israelites worshiped at Shiloh, in the hill country of Ephraim a little south of modern Nablus.

Once, when Elkanah, Peninnah and Hannah were there, Hannah went to the temple and prayed her heart out, weeping copiously. She promised God that, if she would have a son, she would give him to the Lord and that he would live as a nazirite, never drinking wine or liquor or having his hair cut. Her lips moved as she prayed, but her voice couldn’t be heard.

It happened that the priest Eli was there at the time. As he watched Hannah’s lips moving, he thought she was drunk. So he admonished her to sober up and stop making a spectacle of herself. Hannah assured Eli that she wasn’t drunk, just unhappy and pouring out her troubles to God. Eli told her to go in peace.

Sure enough, Hannah conceived a child and bore a son whom they called Samuel. Once the child had been weaned, they kept the promise Hannah had made and took him to the temple. Hannah approached Eli and reminded him who she was. She told him that she was the woman whom he thought was drunk, who was praying for a child. Her prayer was answered so she was now giving him to the Lord. She left Samuel with Eli.

Then Hannah prayed a great prayer about the greatness of God that is similar to Mary’s Magnificat. She prayed, “My heart exults in the Lord, my horn is exalted in my God. I have swallowed up my enemies; I rejoice in my victory. There is no Holy One like the Lord; there is no Rock like our God.”

Other parts of her prayer say, “The bows of the mighty are broken, while the tottering gird on strength. The well-fed hire themselves out for bread, while the hungry batten on spoil. The barren wife bears seven sons, while the mother of many languishes.”

As Samuel grew up, Hannah naturally didn’t forget him. She made clothing for him that she would bring each time she and Elkanah went to Shiloh to offer sacrifices. Each time, Eli would bless the couple saying, “May the Lord repay you with children from this woman for the gift she has made to the Lord!”

God did indeed repay Hannah. She gave birth to three more sons and two daughters while Samuel grew up in the service of the Lord. †

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