Hannah of 1 Samuel 1:1-28
1 Samuel 1:1-28: Reflecting on Hannah and Elkanah
On reading 1 Samuel 1 I am always moved by the conclusion that Hannah was a wise woman. Her distinctiveness is in the fact that through faithful prayer she clung to faith in God during dark days of suffering. She was diligent to pray during daily life, not failing to pray even in times of celebration.
Though Elkanah apparently loved her to the best of his ability, he actually may characterize the fairly typical follower rather than a strong leader. But since he was a good provider and he was actively doing good within their community’s culture it’s doubtful that many suspected anything could be amiss in his life.
Hannah and Relationships
Hannah’s recorded example for Christian women has earned her a prominent place in history and I have been so thankful for the record of her faithfulness even when heartbroken. I’ve not had her particular difficulty, but the specifics of her trial are not the main point of the passage for us.
It is her response to her suffering that women throughout the ages have gained the most from, and the only fair way to reflect on all that the passage offers us is to say that no human being can sustain the burden of trying to be the all in all to another.
No husband or wife can meet all of the needs of their spouse, no parent can for their children. Developing our relationship with God according to His Word is the only way we can make progress in our journey to completion.
By keeping her focus on God, Hannah made such huge strides in her journey that her name has been recorded with honor. Being satisfied in Him gives us a standpoint from which we can know where to get help for life’s difficulties.
It is imperative to search out what God has to say about our relationship to Him, yet this hub is taking a look at the record of a particular man and wife’s relationship complicated by circumstances that are bizarre to most who read it from today’s vantage point.
Looking at Elkanah
History tells us that Elkanah, an Ehraimite from the tribe of Levi, was obedient to the law that the people of his day lived by and that he followed their traditions. Sadly, the two were sometimes mingled until even the leaders no longer knew the difference.
In great part, Elkanah was the father of Samuel because of Hannah’s faithfulness. Understanding her story in the context of the society she lived in will surely make your heart beat with compassion for her suffering because her husband had married two women.
For all the upstanding deeds that earned him respect with people, in some of his responses to both of the women chronicled as his wives he does not portray the image of one who feared God more than most (Nehemiah 7:2). Elkanah’s example should give Christian men serious pause for thought.
Whether he ever tried to reason with Peninnah (his other wife) about her insulting abuses to Hannah is not recorded as far as I know. It’s reasonable to think he might have done so, but some of his behavior makes me think maybe not.
Elkanah’s Behavior Toward Hannah
Elkanah displayed love and care for Hannah in many ways, but his thinking was flawed from the beginning. All human beings are imperfect and husbands are no exception.
We need to give them the benefit of the doubt whenever possible, for that is how we would like to have people respond to us. However, two wives was not how God designed marriage.
There’s more to that aspect of his life, and Elkanah’s reactions to the situation he was responsible for have in some instances, I believe, been misinterpreted with the best of intentions. A practical look at his behavior reveals classic problems.
How typical it is of those who are not seeking the mind of the Lord for the resolution of a problem to approach it by trying to throw money at it. This is a common human problem, and Elkanah’s response shows he had not risen above it.
In his self-satisfaction he did not understand the scope or the complexity of Hannah’s problem. Note the double portions he gives her and his question about whether he was good enough to her when you read the passage.
What can the poor woman say to this husband? It isn’t that she doesn’t love him or appreciate his special gifts to her, and it certainly isn’t that she thinks he has the power to give her a child.
He simply does not grasp what her need is and I can find nothing that says he really tries to. He is, after all, a busy man.
He does not reflect a humble attitude regarding this matter, nor is there an indication that he thought he might be part of the problem, though it would be inequitable to say that he never felt true compassion for Hannah.
Hannah’s Blessed Response
The shining light in these awkward-at-best circumstances is Hannah’s relationship with and utter trust in God. She had made it her business to understand what she knew about her Creator. She spent time in prayer and He increased her faith through that communion.
She did not understand why through no fault of her own she was suffering so, but she knew God well enough to be unafraid to be honest with Him about it. She knew that as with everyone else she was not worthy of God’s good gifts, but she also knew she was not less worthy.
Most of all, she had a glimpse of His merciful character toward those who would bend the knee at His throne of grace. Through her desire to know Him and trust Him she had gained some understanding of His infinite knowledge and power.
God proved Himself faithful to his child who was in the bondage of her humanity and in the grip of her culture. He sustained her for “just such a time as this,” as with Esther (Esther 4:14). It was God’s intention to do a great thing through her faith and the bitter circumstances did not prevent His plans from being fulfilled, nor did He let her faith fail (Luke 22:32).
Hannah’s torment and long awaited answer to prayer had great purpose even though she could not see how there could be any benefit in the problem at the time. To cover all of the facts about her situation is impossible here, but the record is there and it reaches into the future.
Her prayer of praise for His help acknowledges God’s omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. Without reservation she pours out her heart to God in thanksgiving by rehearsing what she knew of His character and authority.
Her faithfulness in the trial magnified God, and it brought blessing to herself and her people. Her God-centered diligence not only ended her torment, but it did so in a way that highlighted God’s Name and Word for all of time and eternity.
Peninnah’s sons grew up and were installed as priests, likely increasing her mockery of Hannah’s aging childlessness, but Hannah’s miracle son became a true prophet of God. Still, his amazing life’s story, as with all of God’s people, is filled with brokenness along with victories.
In reading through the record of Hannah’s son’s life we see the golden thread of redemption sewn with the strength of God’s sovereignty over mankind, displaying that not even the failures of the best or worst men and women can prevent Him from actualizing His plans.
Eli, the High Priest
Eli was a mere man who had been given the great privilege of his office. He was not as careful as he should have been with his own sons, though we do have the record of his warnings to them. Without assuming too much, we know enough to know that Eli was no more perfect than other people.
He tried to faithfully attend to his service, gaining experience with human nature as he performed his duties. He had become skilled at recognizing behaviors for what they were. Profiling is an age-old technique that community leaders use in dealing wisely with people who are conducting themselves badly.
It’s not fool-proof, though. It must be used with truth as its frame of reference and that requires some knowledge of the situation and the person involved. In Hannah’s case Eli was initially mistaken and I can easily imagine that his integrity allowed him to apologize to her.
To his credit, once Eli understood the problem he displayed appropriate compassion for Hannah. Eli’s choice position before God that enabled him to help her is a mystery to me. The fact that I am puzzled, however, has nothing to do with God’s decisions or His power to accomplish what he decides.
It’s important for us to realize that He does not need our permission to work as He wills. I am thankful to know that He is compassionate to those who will come before Him with a humble heart seeking His mercy and it is enough that I have my own experiences with Him that have increased my faith.
A daily walk with Him according to His Word results in assurances for the future. The acquaintance that comes through close fellowship and a growing understanding of His work throughout history allows me to know His mercy and experience His grace as Hannah did so long ago. Though He has given me more, that is enough for what my today holds.
Eli knew this, too, and he displayed a settled conviction that God was not only in control, but that He cared deeply and that He had the power to answer any matter. Eli’s record shows that he humbly submitted to the way God was responding even to his own life and in his own family.
The final chapter was not his original expectation, but He knew there was one best response--rejoice in the fact that God is God and that He promises to work out our disappointments and failures if we will seek His help to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him (Micah 6:8).
Peninnah Compared to Hannah
This wife had no mercy for Hannah and there is no record of repentance for her lack of it. Her name has literally gone down in history. Peninnah stands as a reminder to all of us, men and women alike, that God commands us to love mercy.
I’ve wondered what Peninnah's thoughts must have been when Hannah returned from her prayers for a child that day. To see joy and peace shining through her eyes, to see her enabled to rejoin the celebration having lost the sorrow that had been her longstanding companion surely must have perplexed the cruel wife.
It may be that Peninnah’s heart was so hardened that she could not begin to comprehend what it meant for Hannah to enter into the worship free of her burden. Rejoicing with Hannah would have been out of the question for the arrogant heart of this other wife.
She had no concept of how easily the tables could have been turned on her. Nor did she give any attention to the truth that in mercy God will allow people to go their own way, giving many chances for repentance, but that He says “only so far” in all cases.
As the antagonist in the situation she didn’t grasp who she was dealing with--it wasn’t Hannah. By being Hannah’s enemy she was dealing herself a heavy blow. Her blindness was that which Proverbs 4 warns us about.
Everything I read about Hannah’s character says that she probably tried to be kind to her husband’s other wife throughout the years, in spite of Peninnah’s maliciousness. It would have been difficult and probably subdued in the face of the abuse she received, and she probably had to keep her distance.
Now, though, that same kindness could be given from a heart full of the peace that only God can give a truly distressed mind. To my shame I cannot say that I have always sought and waited patiently on God’s timing to solve problems. Every time I look at Hannah’s life I am encouraged to become more like her example.
It is an extreme honor to be able to take God at His Word through the miracle of faith. Having the whole counsel of His Word filled with examples to follow when troubles come is a life-giving blessing. When all we see are ashes, impossibilities, and unbearable circumstances we need to continue praying for help until it comes.
To be able to pray with a humble heart like the prophets, with the honesty of Hannah, the courage of Esther, and the faithfulness of Abigail is to display faith. To persevere like the widow in the parable (Luke 18) with the humble trust of the centurion (Matthew 8) is to receive answers--but reading the Bible record shows us that answers do not always come like we expect.
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Closing Thoughts on 1 Samuel 1:1-28
The answer to our prayers may not be like the answer another receives, but God is much bigger than our expectations can ever be. We have examples of people who had quick answers to their prayers, and others like Hannah who waited long years. She teaches us to look for God's hand at work when all seems said and done--even finished.
We may have to push through the temptation to give up on a hopeless situation, but at all times He asks us to yet trust Him, He urges us to run to Him as our Stronghold and lean hard on Him, to ask Him honest questions with our hands open before Him. He wants us to ask Him for help even in our deepest distresses, when we think there is no help, when all seems lost and everything we know tells us that nothing can salvage a situation.
If we are confronted with the black hole of facing the end of our hope, faith can help us hold on as we trust God's way and timing. Don’t I think, though, that there could be more to Hannah’s life’s story than what I’ve put together here? Yes, of course. God’s Word is full of truths that we should pray about and take to heart because its wisdom is fathomless for those who trust Him through His Son.
I don’t pretend to have perfect understanding of this passage, nor can I explain why God leaves room for faithless people to misinterpret the bad behavior recorded in the Bible so they can twist it and say God condones it because it is in His Word. I’ve given consideration to Hannah’s life because my desire is to increasingly manage my responses to difficult situations the way she did.
Thankfully, with His help, I can do all things through Christ (Philippians 4:13). It is a wonderful thing to see the Redeemer’s work from Genesis to Revelation, to know that it encompasses time and eternity. The thought that this work includes the affairs of my individual life is phenomenal, speaking of the infinitely encompassing largeness of God.
Hannah lived close to nature and saw God’s hand in creation on a daily basis, she watched His hand at work in the affairs of humankind, and she embraced what she learned from the record of His Word with all of its promise for the future. She did not suppress the truth by demanding more proof from God, (Romans 1:18-19) but she fully turned to Him with a meek embrace (James 1:21) of what she did know, thereby gaining the help she needed for her righteous request.
Passages like Luke 18:1 and 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 explain that Christians ought to pray with resolve, despising and disregarding hopelessness when it creeps in, as we give thanks and praise for fellowship with God and confidence in His promises of help. For a crushed, heartbroken, desolate person to be thankful for this instruction is for that one to have hope secured with promise. We may not be able to fully comprehend the difficulty Hannah dealt with, but we can, as she did, turn to God in faith and persistently seek His help for our needs.
Two Poems Drawn from Suffering
• Poetry drawn from the valley of suffering.
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