“Year after year this man went up from his town to worship and sacrifice to the LORD Almighty at Shiloh, where Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of the LORD. Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the LORD had closed her womb. And because the LORD had closed her womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her.” 1 Samuel 1:3-7
It was the children’s voices that did it. Hannah had determined that she would come before the Lord this year in focused worship, walking in joy to the place of sacrifice. She would accept her lot in life and rejoice in her blessings. After all, God had given her Elkanah. Elkanah proved to her over and over that he loved her first and best of his two wives. She blushed to think of the double portion of the sacrificial meat that year after year he placed before her – and in the presence of Peninnah and Peninnah’s children. Oh how she wanted his love to be enough. She despised her own heart for the grief it brought to Elkanah when he found her deep in tears and mourning over her empty womb. She would never forget his poignant question last year after he placed the double portion before her and she dissolved into sobs – “Hannah why do you weep? Why won’t you eat? Why is your heart breaking to pieces? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” Grief upon grief.
Those voices. She delighted in the sounds of the children as they played and squabbled and sang songs of praise on the day long journey to Shiloh. They ran freely between her and Peninnah, telling tales and asking questions or eager to show her a flower or a rock. “Aunt Hannah, Aunt Hannah, look what I found!” echoed often through the hills that marked their upward trek to the place of sacrifice. But inevitably another voice echoed as Peninnah poked and prodded at Hannah’s heart provoking anger and deep pain. “Children, children – leave Aunt Hannah alone! She doesn’t need the five of you to interrupt her peace and quiet! She’s not used to dealing with so many children – leave her to her worship! Perhaps your father would like to see that flower!” Peninnah’s words cut into her like the thorns just off the path cut into the children’s feet when they strayed. They festered and dug deep birthing more pain.
Hannah thought back to when Peninnah came to the home that she and Elkanah had so recently established. She couldn’t help but think of all of the family stories told about the men of God who had married many wives. Even from Elkanah’s tribe of Ephraim, the son of Joseph, who was the son of Jacob there were stories of the joys and sorrows and rivalries in families with multiple wives in the household. At first Peninnah lived in such a way as to overcome Hannah’s doubt. She truly was a pearl of great beauty like her name implied and nestled into the family endearing herself to Hannah. Hannah even found it in herself to rejoice when Peninnah first became pregnant, keeping her tears and sorrows to herself. Newborn this first little boy was brought to Elkanah as Hannah stood by watching. The delight and love on his face as he gazed at this little one pierced Hannah’s heart. Elkanah turned to Hannah with this full-faced joy before she could settle a smile on her own face. In that brief moment he saw the depth of her pain and his tender heart for her responded by stepping up his demonstrations of love. Peninnah’s disappointment in remaining in ‘second wife’ status even though she had met the greatest need of both Elkanah and the tribe of Ephraim by producing an heir was acted out daily in resentment and anger that defined her relationship with Hannah. Peninnah, irritated and hurt by the love of Elkanah for Hannah in turn irritated and hurt Hannah until to Hannah her closed womb seemed the only thing that mattered in life.
And so Hannah prayed and waited and tried to trust the Lord. Hannah knew that the Lord closed and opened the womb. Hannah knew that the Lord had purposes she could not discern. As his tiny infant daughter lay on his knees, Hannah’s father was the one who named her, a name which meant favored. And she was favored – favored with beauty, favored with a winning disposition, favored with a deep love of her Lord and now favored with a husband who clearly loved her. Why, oh why, did all of that blessing and these wonderful gifts feel like ashes in the fire of her infertility? Again, stubbornly, Hannah swallowed her tears and prayed a prayer of submission. “I will trust You Lord, I will rejoice in blessings from Your hand. I am Your handmaiden, be it unto me as You chose.”