Elkanah tried to bring his whole family together in worship, but Hannah needed something more
Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. 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?” (1 Samuel 1:7b–8)
I have traveled with some people whose company I was less than thrilled to share. However, I have never traveled with anyone who deliberately taunted and provoked me like Peninnah did to Hannah. The trip to Shiloh was a yearly event that brought Hannah to tears and made her lose her appetite. She must have dreaded the journey to the feast each year, listening to Elkanah’s fertile wife. I can hear Peninnah with an overly sarcastic tone going on and on about how perfect her children were, how favored she was to have children, how very sorry she was for poor Hannah. No wonder Hannah could not eat.
Hannah is one of many women in the Bible who struggled with infertility. If she lived today, statistics would inform her that she is among a group of over 10 percent of the population of child-bearing-age women. Even with today’s medical knowledge, having to emotionally process the diagnosis of infertility can be devastating to a woman. At the time Hannah lived, society placed great expectations on wives. Those who could not have children were looked down upon, and in the case of Hannah, sometimes verbally ridiculed.
The journey Elkanah made with his family was to be a joyful journey.1 For Hannah however, the trip only emphasized what she lacked. The question her husband Elkanah posed to her, “why is your heart sad?” is better translated, “why are you resentful and angry?”2 A part of me wants to commend Elkanah for his obvious love for Hannah, but there is another part of me that wants to say, “Really?” I am not quite sure how to take his response, “Aren’t I more valuable than ten sons?” I know he was trying to comfort her, but in my opinion, he missed the mark.
This time, family did not help. Peninnah deliberately pushed Hannah’s hot button on motherhood and Elkanah, though he tried, did not really understand. Hannah internalized the pain she felt from the helplessness and hurt brought on by her situation.
To her credit, Hannah looked to the Lord for help. God opened her womb and gave her a son whom she would hold in her lap only a few short years until she sent him to grow up in the service of the Lord. God could have healed the hurt in Hannah’s heart in a way other than the birth of a child. He knows what is best regarding all our personal struggles. Elkanah tried to bring his whole family together in worship, but Hannah needed something more. Just as the family altar is important today, it does not replace our personal relationship with, and devotion to the Lord. Hannah’s hope did not come from anything other than her dependence upon her sovereign and faithful God.
Read Psalm 13. What do you learn from this psalm about praying when things are difficult and challenging? How might this psalm translate into a prayer for someone struggling with infertility? Pray this prayer today for someone who is having a hard time becoming a parent.
Prayer for the Journey
Lord, “I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me” (Psalm 13:5–6). Amen.
1 Deuteronomy 12:17–18 provides guidelines for the festival.
2 Temper Longman III and David Garland, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: 1 Samuel-2 Kings (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 47.