Hannah and Peninnah (and Elkanah) – 1 Samuel 1:1-8

02 Feb

[Photo from Revealed: A Storybook Bible for Grown-Ups By Ned Bustard. The artist is Erin Cross]

1 Samuel 1:1-8 NIV
[1] There was a certain man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. [2] He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none. [3] 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. [4] 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. [5] But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb. [6] Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. [7] This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. [8] Her husband Elkanah would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”

Dear God, the first time I journaled on this story, I remember journaling about Elkanah’s ignorance of how women feel and how important things like this are. His question, “Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” is absolutely foolish, but he really just didn’t know any better.

But the artist for this story is giving me something else. There is a focus on the meanness and vindictiveness of Peninnah that I’ve never spent much time with. And it’s interesting that I just used the word “vindictiveness.” Why did I use that word? Why does that word fit this story?

It is easy to make Peninnah the villain in this story, but in a lot of ways, as I sit here and think about it, she was really set up for failure. Was her attitude towards Hannah really that different than Sarah’s towards Hagar? Or probably Hagar towards Sarah for that matter. Marriage to multiple wives must have created some terrible dynamics. In this case:

  • Elkanah felt bad for Hannah so he gave her extra portions. Hannah was also probably more available to him because she didn’t have any kids impeding her life, so that might have helped her to be a favorite to Elkanah as well. Then there is Elkanah’s obvious need to be appreciated, as is evidenced by his last question.
  • Peninnah had the children, but she didn’t have Elkanah’s favor. And he apparently made that clear. The artist shows this with Peninnah holding the children while Elkanah holds a despondent Hannah.
  • Then there is Hannah. In a time when worth for women was measured by an ability to have children, she had no worth in society’s eyes (but she still had at least one thing in Peninnah’s eyes that Peninnah didn’t have), and Peninnah used Hannah’s weakness to get a little revenge for the pain she felt. Elkanah could not be everything Hannah needed.
  • In my own life, I see rivalries among coworkers, children, siblings…in fact, they are all around me. We all look for some sort of validation that affirms our place in the world, but rarely do we just look to you for that.
  • I used to think I could be everything my wife needed and I thought that she could be everything that I needed. I entered marriage in a very needy way, and it was oppressive to my wife. She could never meet all of my insecure needs. Then I started to figure out (I’m still learning) how to tap into you and derive my peace and joy from you. What would it have looked like if Peninnah and Hannah had been able to do the same? How much better will I be when I have completely learned to dive into you?
  • Father, help me to be sensitive to the motivations of others. When I see someone acting like Peninnah, help be to see the reason for their vindictiveness and not just assume they are evil and mean. Show me how I might take that knowledge and use it to be your minister to them and heal the hurts that are down deep. And help me to also examine my own heart when I find myself wanting to lash out. Show me the hurt that needs addressed and then help me to take that hurt, give it to you for your complete healing, and then strike back in love.
  • In Jesus’ name I pray,
  • Amen

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    2 responses to “Hannah and Peninnah (and Elkanah) – 1 Samuel 1:1-8

    1. Gordon Ward

      June 8, 2019 at 8:19 pm

      We have just finished this Sabbath discussing married life in all its aspects with, a d without God in the heart of each spouse and the problems that arise within the marriage…..i am working on a Sermon of Hannah – Pinennah and this was very helpful….thank you and blessings to you…

      • John D. Willome

        June 8, 2019 at 8:50 pm

        That is very encouraging. Thank you. I am currently finishing a sermon I am giving tomorrow about the Holy Spirit, and I really appreciate this encouragement.


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