Hi everyone! Welcome to my series “Woman, who art thou?”, exploring the lives and stories of women in the Bible. To discover how I came to begin this series, then take a look at my very first blog entitled “Woman, who art thou?”.
This blog is the fifth in the series and I’m going to be looking at the life of Hannah in the Old Testament who was the mother of Samuel. I have split the blog into two sections, Part 1 and Part 2, for ease of reading.
Samuel was the last of the judges and also a priest. He was the best example of what a good judge should be, governing the people by God’s word and not by his own impulses. He formally inaugurated the true royal line of Israel by anointing David as king. He became a towering figure in Israel’s history.
In ‘Twelve Extraordinary Women‘, John MacArthur describes Hannah as a ‘portrait of feminine grace’. Hannah’s name means ‘grace’. Grace is the undeserved favour of God exemplified through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for our salvation. John MacArthur says that this is a very fitting name for Hannah because her life was crowned with grace and she became a living emblem of the grace of motherhood. Looking at Hannah’s life reveals the classic profile of godly mother.
The Godly Mother
Hannah was the wife of Elkanah. He also had another wife, Peninah. It was not uncommon for Old Testament leaders to have more than one wife. However, if we look back at Genesis 2:24 we find that this was not God’s original plan for marriage. Genesis 2:24 states that in marriage two people become one flesh. Polygamy existed to produce more offspring to help in the man’s work and to ensure the continuation of the man’s family life. Having lots of children was seen as a symbol of a man’s status and wealth. In societies where many young men were killed in battle, polygamy became the accepted way of supporting women who otherwise would have remained unmarried, and very likely, destitute. Nevertheless, polygamy often caused serious problems, understandably! And we see this in the story of Hannah.
We read in 1 Samuel 1:6 that God had “closed her womb”. Hannah was unable to conceive. In those days, a childless woman was considered a failure. Barrenness was seen as a social embarrassment for the husband. Children were a very important part in the economic structure of society because they were a source of labour for the family and had a duty of care for parents in their old age. If a wife could not bear children she was often obligated by ancient Middle Eastern custom, to give one of her servant girls to her husband to bear a child for her. We see this tradition observed in Genesis too when Sarah was unable to bear a child for Abraham, so he took her servant Hagar to bear him a child. Legally, Elkanah could have left Hannah and even divorced her if he’d wanted too because civil law said he could divorce a barren wife. However, Hannah was his first wife and he loved her. He remained lovingly devoted to her despite social criticism and his rights under civil law.
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?”
1 Samuel 1:3-8
How cruel Penninah is to Hannah. How clueless Elkanah is as the husband! Penninah has been torturing Hannah for a long time and he wonders what is wrong with Hannah and why she cannot eat?!!
“Elkanah her husband 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 1:8
Elkanah really seems to not be seeing what is going on here at all. Hannah knew her husband loved her, but the words he speaks are not bringing her any comfort at all. I mean, come on!…. “Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”……this is not going to help. This reminds me of the ‘Men are from Mars, women are from Venus’ idea. Hannah did love Elkanah but the love she felt for her husband is a different type of love that she would feel for a newborn child, the unconditional ‘agape’ love. I imagine Hannah must have felt at rock bottom, a failure as a woman not being able to undertake one her most natural roles as a woman, aware of how people would have looked at her and judged her for not being able to produce an heir for her husband.
I imagine Penninah enjoyed rubbing salt into the wound and lording it over her what a failure she was. Hannah’s self-esteem must have been battered! Penninah’s words would have kept chipping away at any self-confidence that Hannah had left. I’m sure that Penninah did this out of her own insecurities as a woman because in her heart she knew that Elkanah loved Hannah and not her in the same way. Maybe Elkanah should have paid Penninah a little more attention then maybe she would not have taken out her jealousy on Hannah. Hannah had his heart. Jealousy can poison our hearts and minds can’t it? It can cause us to behave in the most terrible ways. Penninah allowed her emotions to rule her behaviour at a time when she could have been a good friend and comfort to Hannah in her time of suffering, showing some female solidarity perhaps instead of knocking a woman when she’s down. Hannah had good reason to feel the way she did. She was unable to bear children. She shared a husband with a woman who abused her. Her husband could not solve her problem. Even Eli misunderstood her motives:
10 In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. 11 And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”
1 Samuel 1: 10-11
13 Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk 14 and said to her, “How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.” 15 “Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord.
1 Samuel 1: 13-15 NIV
Instead of retaliating or giving up, Hannah prayed. She was honest about how she felt and poured her heart out to God. That was probably difficult to do. It would have been all to easy for her to lose faith in God because she was feeling so ineffective. But Hannah discovered that prayer opened up the way for God to work. She stopped focusing on her problem and gave it to God. She exchanged self-pity for hope.
Some final thoughts….
- We cannot always see God’s plan for our lives but that does not mean that God is not working or going ahead of us; God fulfills His plans in His perfect timing – sometimes we have to wait;
- In prayer, we can pour out our hearts to God. We can leave our problems with Him;
- Through prayer we can exchange self-pity or a sense of discouragement for hope;
- Nothing good can come from jealousy. It is like a poison that spreads and infects many different areas of our lives if not dealt with and can cause others pain;
- As women in Christ, we need to spend time together, support and encourage one another, not knock each other down like Penninah did with Hannah, out of jealousy;
- As women and mothers in Christ we should be passionate in worship and effective in prayer – praying for each other, praying for our children and families, praying for our communities etc – like Hannah was, a true godly mother/woman;
- We should not judge our worth by earthly measures whether it be our job, bank balance, whether we are single or married, whether we have children or not. Instead we should find our worth in accepting our full identity as daughters of Christ.
Thank you for reading. God bless, Ali x