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?”
(1 Samuel 1:6-8)
Yesterday we learned that Hannah was unable to have children because the Lord had closed her womb. But that wasn’t her only problem.
The family faithfully went to the tabernacle at Shiloh each year to offer sacrifices to God. This included Elkanah, Hannah (his first wife) and Peninnah (his second wife) and all of Peninnah’s children. And because Hannah had no children, Peninnah (her rival) kept provoking her in order to irritate her. As if not being able to have children wasn’t bad enough, Hannah had to endure the snide remarks of her husband’s other wife. And this went on year after year. For many years Hannah had to endure this humiliation.
Elkanah clearly felt for Hannah. On these annual occasions he gave Hannah a double portion of food as a way of demonstrating his love for her, even though she was unable to bear him children [1 Samuel 1:5]. He also used words to try to cheer her up. Despite this, each year Hannah was provoked until she wept. Nor was she able to eat.
Peninnah certainly knew she was less loved than Hannah and that her marriage to Elkanah was one of necessity (to bear children) rather than one of love. Seeing Hannah get better treatment from their husband caused her to lash out. The whole situation is dysfunctional because the people involved have taken it upon themselves to deal with it as they see fit, rather than as God would command.
Elkanah disobeyed God by taking a second wife when his first did not have children. It’s tough enough to be married to one spouse. How much tougher it is to be married to two, especially considering the circumstances. And, of course, Peninnah’s behavior is unacceptable. But it was born out of the obvious favor Elkanah showed towards Hannah.
Here we see that this family – despite being very devout – had problems. Even though this family was very godly in a culture that was ungodly, they were not exempt from trouble. Everyone has problems, whether they are God’s children or not. Problems are a part of life.
We should never conclude that any problems we face indicate that God does not love us. On the contrary. God gives problems to those He loves [Proverbs 3:12; Hebrews 12:8]. Even Jesus learned obedience through his trials [Hebrews 5:7-8]. Difficulty is God’s gracious way of teaching us to seek Him. We make our problems worse by seeking our own solutions apart from Him.
Both Peninnah and Hannah had problems. Peninnah was unloved by her husband. Hannah was mistreated by Peninnah. But their reactions to their problems could not be different. Peninnah dealt with her problems by tormenting Hannah. As they saying goes, “hurting people hurt people”. But as we’ll see over the next few days, Hannah dealt with her problems by taking them to God.
Life doesn’t always – if often – go the way we would expect. Here we see a woman who not only wants to have children but is suited to being a mother. Yet she has none. On the other hand, the other woman in this story is mean and uncaring yet she has been blessed with children. We see this type of thing in the world all the time.
Some of the most ungodly people in our culture – think entertainers – are some of the most wealthy. And some of the most godly people are barely able to make ends meet. If God distributed His blessings according to who was most worthy, we’d see a very different situation. But God’s goal is not to reward people in this life. His goal is to draw people to Him and to teach us what is important in this life. How He deals with each individual person is up to Him and His eminent wisdom.
Those who are God’s children are not exempt from problems. As we learned yesterday, God gives us problems for the purpose of drawing us to Him. It is His hope that we will bring our problems to Him rather than trying to solve them on our own. This is exactly what we will see the godly woman Hannah do as we continue our study.
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