Everybody has a least one. That person who knows exactly how to make you feel worthless and hopeless. Whether you live in Indiana or India every society somehow finds a way to produce this kind of person. They use words, actions and even gestures to cut you to the very core of your being.
For Hannah, that person was Peninnah. In modern lingo, they would have been called Sister Wives. They were married to the same man, but there was a huge and culturally embarrassing difference – Peninnah had children but Hannah did not.
Ancient scholars believe that Hannah was the first wife of Elkanah and was his most beloved. It was common in those days that if a marriage did not produce children within ten years, it was incumbent upon the man to take another wife in order to fulfill the commandment to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28). Additionally, many believe that Hannah herself encouraged the second marriage in order to allow her husband to have children and in the hope that God might witness her sacrifice and bless her with children of her own.
Whatever the exact circumstances, we know that Peninnah became a deep source of emotional pain and anguish for Hannah. It seems she never missed an opportunity to insert the proverbial knife – and twist. During an annual festival, when the sacrificial meat was handed out, Hannah’s portion was smaller. While this appears logical, in that she had no children to feed, it became a graphic reminder of the “failure” she was to her husband and community.
As if this public humiliation was not bad enough, Peninnah taunted and made fun of her year after year until Hannah was in tears. Elkanah tried to comfort his wife, but as men too often do, he made it more about himself than he did about her, “Why are you crying, Hannah? … Why aren’t you eating? Why be downhearted just because you have no children? You have me—isn’t that better than having ten sons?” (1 Samuel 1:8) Can anybody say “clue-less?”
One year, Hannah was crying franticly. She began to pray inwardly to God about her plight. Seeing her lips moving, but hearing no sound, Eli, the High Priest, assumed she was drunk and chastised her. She defended herself, saying that she was not drunk, rather was pleading with the Lord. Eli was satisfied and conferred a blessing upon her that she might receive her request.
A short time later, Hannah’s greatest dream was realized. She was pregnant! After the boy was weaned and some time had passed, Hannah fulfilled her promise to take the child to the Tabernacle so he might spend his life in service to God. Each year Hannah made and delivered a coat to her son Samuel as he served in God’s house.
As always, God was more than enough. Not only did he give Hannah her son Samuel. The boy grew up to be one of the greatest Priests in all of Hebrew history. God used Samuel to reform worship after clearing the priesthood from the evil sons of Eli. Additionally, God gave Hannah more sons and daughters.
In a bit of what might be called prayer pay-back, Hannah said,
“Stop acting so proud and haughty!
Don’t speak with such arrogance!
For the Lord is a God who knows what you have done;
he will judge your actions.
4 The bow of the mighty is now broken,
and those who stumbled are now strong.
5 Those who were well fed are now starving,
and those who were starving are now full.”
What would have happened if Hannah had been content in her circumstances? How might things have been different if Peninnah hadn’t pushed Hannah into the arms of a delivering God?
How should you deal with your Peninnah? Let them push you to your knees and then look up, because your Deliverer is at work in ways you can’t even begin to imagine.