We are going to meet a very special woman. One who is so desperate for a baby that she makes a deal with God. And that deal means she will only see her child once a year.
Our woman’s name is Hannah. She will ultimately give birth to the greatest prophet since Moses. But before that day she is in emotional torment! She is infertile; unable to get pregnant. We met two other women with this issue a while back. Their names were Sarah and Rachel. All three of these woman longed for a child with ALL their being! All three women would be tormented again by women in their personal sphere of influence over not being able to bear children. And all three would also ultimately have that longing fulfilled by God. Sarah had to wait the longest as she was 99 years old before she bore her child. Hannah doesn’t have to wait that long.
Our story is more reminiscent of the story of Rachel and Leah than that of Sarah. Jacob’s two wives feuded throughout their childbearing years and competed for his approval by providing his with children. They used every means at their disposal to win his favor in this area. But their deepest competition stemmed from competing for his love. I believe this is at the root of the problem between Hannah and Peninnah too. Let’s join our couple, Elkanah and Hannah early on in their marriage.
♥ ♦ ♥
Elkanah loves coming home each night to the waiting arms of his new bride. She is truly the love of his life! She is beautiful both inside and out. She completes his life like no other could. Their home is full of joy as she goes about the task of caring for their abode with a smile and a song.
Hannah thrills to the sound of Elkanah’s voice as he nears their home each night. She never thought it possible that just the sound of a man’s voice could set her heart to racing. His strong arms offer immeasurable protection and safety. Everything he does is blessed by God. Whatever he sets his hand to prospers.
Elkanah is a righteous man. He follows the Law set down by Moses as best as he is able. He had Hannah attend Synagogue every Sabbath. He faithfully pays his tithes. He makes the annual journeys to the temple at Shiloh to offer sacrifice to the Lord. And he leads his home as the Lord commands of the husband. Yet something is missing.
Hannah is also a godly woman. She honors her husband with her whole heart. She is reverent and respectful of all the Laws. She is diligent in caring for her home. Her actions bring honor to her husband. Yet there is a place of emptiness.
Elkanah and Hannah have been married for six months. They are very much in love. Together they are building their future. Elkanah the prosperity of their fields and vineyards, Hannah the reputation of their home and together their future generations. But for six months now there has been no blessing from the Lord in the way of children.
Hannah is concerned but her mother reassures her that sometimes it takes a while to conceive. Hannah is faithful in tracking her cycles and the purification rituals following them. Every month she waits in hope that this month her flow will not begin yet each month she is disappointed with its arrival. Elkanah is patient and puts no pressure on Hannah. He reassures her too that the Lord will bless them in His time.
Elkanah and Hannah continue in their love for one another as another year and a half passes. By now both are concerned about their inability to conceive. It has been two years of faithfully trying every possible remedy to their childless state.
Elkanah needs an heir. He has gained much he wants to pass on to his children. He has decided it is time to look at other options. He decides to take another wife. NOT because he loves another but because he believes this is the way the Lord will increase his name. He has already chosen a woman who he feels will make a good addition to his household. She is a young woman who Hannah can train in the care of the home and comes from a large family. He believes this should make her chances of conceiving a child even better. She also has experience in helping raise her younger brothers and sisters. Her name is Peninnah.
Elkanah tells Hannah of his plans. As a good wife she does not argue with him. His words are like a blow to her heart and it feels as if it has sustained a small crack. She longs to give him a child but if this is how the Lord will bless them with children, she will accept it. She will love his children as if they are her own and help in the care of them.
Peninnah enters the marriage with hopes of being loved and cherished. She knows that not every marriage is one born out of love but she prays her husband will grow to love her at least. She certainly adores him, or at least the idea of being the wife of such a loving and successful man. She has seen him about town and knows of his success. She has also heard of his great capacity for love in the stories of how he has treated Hannah, his wife. She prays he loves her as extravagantly.
Peninnah’s wedding week is glorious! She spends all her time with Elkanah. Her every wish is his command. The feel of his skin against hers and the intimacy they share is beyond what she ever imagined. She prays she pleases him half as much as he pleases her.
After they emerge from the wedding tent Elkanah occasionally shares his attentions with Hannah. Peninnah is happy that he is spending most of his nights in her bed. Hannah and Peninnah work well together in the home. They have similar temperaments and are skilled in the kitchen. The early weeks roll by with ease.
Within the first month Peninnah discovers her flow is absent. As overly sensitive as Hannah is with the ways of women she notices too but she remains silent. Both women wait with baited breath until the second cycle also fails to appear. Peninnah finally comes to Hannah with the news.
“I am with child!”
“I am SO happy for you my sister! When do you plan on telling Elkanah?”
“I would like to do so after the evening meal. Maybe we could make something special for the occasion.”
“I know just the thing! He LOVES honey cake. We have all we need to make it. It will be perfect for this joyous occasion.”
Hannah and Peninnah work all day making the perfect meal and getting the house perfect for this joyous announcement. When Elkanah returns home he is met with two smiling wives. By the looks on their faces he knows something is up.
“Tell me of your news before you both burst” he chides. “I can see that there will be nothing else take place until you have unburdened yourselves” he says with a smile.
Hannah puts a hand on his chest and teases him a little. “We will give you only a hint for now. You will have to wait until after dinner for the full story.”
Hannah looks to Peninnah who holds up a large square linen fabric. “Here is your clue.” She has a smile a mile wide on her face.
Elkanah has a puzzled look on his face as he surveys his ‘clue.’ “Are you making new napkins?”
“That is all you get, for now” says Hannah as she takes him by the hand and leads him to the table.
Elkanah tries unsuccessfully to pry the answer out of the women but they have sealed their lips. He has learned long ago of the determination of Hannah when she sets her mind to a thing. He supposes Peninnah must be just as stubborn. He can’t help but be amused by their faces as they move through dinner without uttering a word.
“Now if I were a cruel man I would forbid you to tell me your news at all. A man could get used to the quiet in here with both of you refusing to speak.” There is a twinkle in his eye so the woman only pretend offense.
FINALLY the meal is over. Peninnah is ready to burst! She hadn’t realized how difficult it would be holding her silence when they made their plans earlier. She is the one who will present Elkanah with the cake as she is the one carrying his child. Hannah clears the table and stands to the side of Elkanah. She nods to Peninnah to begin the presentation.
Peninnah returns from the kitchen area carrying a beautifully prepared honey cake. Elkanah’s eyes go wide at the sight of it. Before he can reach for it Peninnah blurts out the news. “I am with child!”
Elkanah’s mouth drops open in surprise. He looks between Peninnah and Hannah as if searching for confirmation. Both women are nodding and smiling so wide it looks painful. Elkanah quickly rises from where he is sitting. He goes to hug Peninnah but stops before crushing the cake she is holding. He removes it from her hands and places it on the table. He then hugs her deeply. After he releases Peninnah he turns to Hannah and hugs her just as deeply. When he releases Hannah he takes both of the women’s hands and offers a quick praise to the Lord. “Blessed be the Lord God of Heaven and Earth who has seen fit to show His favor to our home with a child. May he, or she, grow to be worthy of His name.”
After the announcement Elkanah stopped visiting Peninnah’s bed. He still frequented Hannah’s though. Peninnah figured it was because he feared injuring their child but she missed his presence. As Peninnah’s time progressed she began to notice other little differences in how Elkanah treated her and Hannah. Where Hannah was greeted with a kiss, Peninnah was greeted with a hug. If Hannah received a hug, Peninnah received a word. Hannah was also the first one consulted when there was a decision to be made regarding the household and she had the final word in most instances. Peninnah attributed this last to the fact that she was ‘first wife’ and that status came with authority. But the other differences felt like little barbs. Peninnah believed that they were unintentional and probably not even noticed by the Hannah or Elkanah. Maybe she was making too much of it as her condition seemed to heighten her emotions and cause them to swing wildly up and down seemingly at random.
Hannah had noticed changes too. These changes were in herself and she didn’t like them. She had noticed a seed of jealousy beginning to take root. She truly cared for Peninnah but she longed to be the one carrying Elkanah’s child. Watching Peninnah blossom beneath her robe or utter a startled cry when the babe kicked or even complain because her feet were swollen reminded Hannah of the experiences she had been denied. She tried living vicariously through Peninnah by letting out her robes if they became too constricting, asking to lay a hand across her middle to feel the babe move, and even bringing water and oils and caring for Peninnah’s swollen feet. All these things she did with a smile, even if it didn’t reach all the way to her heart of hearts.
Elkanah also was aware of changes and he attempted to mediate them. He saw the pain in Hannah’s eyes when she thought no one was looking. He saw how Peninnah displayed her condition for Hannah’s ‘benefit.’ He loved Hannah dearly and longed to give her this experience too but the Lord had not seen fit to do so for her. For his part he made certain she felt loved in spite of this heartache. Elkanah was never cruel or neglectful of Peninnah, he just made certain Hannah knew she was still much loved, even above Peninnah and what she provided for him.
The rift in the family widened slowly over the course of this first pregnancy. By the time the babe made her appearance Hannah and Peninnah were no longer inseparable. They were not unfriendly towards one another, just not as close as they once were. In the beginning Hannah offered to care for the babe often but was rebuffed at each attempt. Peninnah would say things like, “She prefers her mother’s arms and doesn’t settle well in another’s” or “I need this time to bond with my child.”
Hannah hoped this would change as the babe grew but it didn’t. More rebuffs were added to Peninnah’s litany as each new stage of development brought joys Hannah craved sharing but was denied. “It would confuse her if too many people give her instructions. It is best if I teach her myself.” Not even the addition of a second child into Peninnah’s life loosened her hold on the tasks of motherhood. Hannah found herself on the outside looking in.
Peninnah and Hannah’s relationship deteriorated day by day. Hannah tried to keep the root of bitterness that had begun to grow during Peninnah’s first pregnancy from establishing a firm hold. By the time Peninnah’s third child arrived that root had grown into a small bush. Peninnah watered it daily with her treatment of Hannah. Comments regarding things that “only a mother would know” were poured into Hannah’s ears daily. Hannah was deemed ‘unsuitable’ or ‘inexperienced’ to even offer opinions or suggestions when it came to the care of the children. She wasn’t even allowed to prepare meals for them as ‘their stomachs are sensitive and can’t tolerate anyone else’s cooking.’
In the beginning Peninnah wasn’t intending to be cruel or even to exclude Hannah. She treasured the time with her child and wanted to spend every minute with her she could. After she was able to rejoin the household she noticed that Elkanah’s favor of Hannah was still very obvious. When returning to the home in the evenings Elkanah always greeted Hannah first and with more affection. He also shared the day’s activities with her. On occasions when he brought gifts to his family Hannah’s were always more expensive and personal. Even on occasions which should have resulted in gifts only for their child, Hannah received something special for herself. Never did Peninnah receive a gift alone. Elkanah also made it quite evident that he preferred Hannah’s bed. He came to Peninnah’s bed only for one purpose; to sire children. If Peninnah was with child or nursing Elkanah was absent. Once a child was weened he returned until the ‘task’ had been accomplished. There was tenderness in the act itself but it was clear its purpose.
Peninnah used her children as a means to repay Hannah for stealing Elkanah’s affections. When she saw the pain in Hannah’s eyes at being denied the task of changing a diaper or rocking the babe she felt vindicated, at least a little bit. They were small hurts inexpertly delivered in the beginning but as Elkanah’s hurts compounded in Peninnah’s heart, her hurts towards Hannah became more deliberate and expertly crafted. By the time Peninnah was carrying her fourth child she could reduce Hannah to tears with a single look.
Elkanah was very aware of the growing rift between his two wives. Yet as a man it was not his place to manage the affairs of his wives. As long as they did not interfere with his business or stray from the covenant of marriage, he left them to work out their own differences. This was the way of men. Yet his heart loved Hannah more than life itself and it broke each time he looked into her eyes and saw pain. He was unable to give her the very thing she craved and the one woman who could have shared that with her refused to allow her in. Elkanah watched as Hannah’s heart broke a little more each day. And as angry as he was with Peninnah’s treatment of Hannah, he still cared for her and their children. He also wanted a large family and she was the only one capable of providing him with that. He would not cut her off from his home no matter how much it hurt.
What he would do though is shower Hannah with love and with gifts. He would make up for the missing elements in her life. He would be more to her than TEN sons! She would KNOW that she was loved above all else he had. He would NOT neglect Peninnah or his children but to Hannah belonged his heart.
The annual journey to Shiloh was always a bit stressful. Elkanah brought the whole family on these pilgrimages. Elkanah brought a sacrifice for the whole family. He made certain there was enough for all to receive of it. Once the sacrifice was cooked he gave Peninnah a portion for herself and each of his children their own portion. But he gave Hannah double whatever Peninnah received. To him this was another way he could show her how much she was loved and as compensation for her pain of barrenness. This isn’t how he voiced it to her but it is how his heart justified the discrepancy between the treatment of his two wives.
The year Peninnah was carrying Elkanah’s fifth child their trip to Shiloh was extremely memorable for Hannah. It had been thirteen years since Hannah and Elkanah had been married and eleven since Peninnah joined their family. Elkanah currently had two sons and two daughters with Peninnah while Hannah remained childless. Hannah was concerned that her childbearing years were coming to a close. If she had ANY hope of having a child the Lord would have to act SOON! She did NOT want to be like Sarah who was well into her old age when the Lord finally opened her womb. Hannah didn’t believe her heart would survive that long. It was already bleeding profusely from the wounds Peninnah inflicted daily.
When the family was sitting down to enjoy the sacrifice Peninnah took that opportunity to ask for an additional gift for the FIFTH child she was carrying. This was the first Hannah or Elkanah had heard of her happy news. Of course Elkanah was happy with the news of his growing family but Hannah felt one more spear pierce her soul. Hannah’s head drops to her chest and she begins to weep silently. She tries to hide her tears as the sight of them usually provokes Peninnah into even more spiteful comments.
Elkanah finally notices that Hannah has not touched her meal. Even though she has tried to be discrete in her sorrow, Elkanah has noticed her tears. Gently he places his finger beneath her chin and tips her head up until their eyes meet. “Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?” (verse 8).
Unable to speak for the bitterness in her heart Hannah merely nods her head. She tries to eat but ends up pushing her meal around her plate instead. Elkanah leaves her in peace as he has nothing else to offer her as words of encouragement. Peninnah is content with the damage she has caused and therefore turns her attention to her children and Elkanah. The meal continues without Hannah’s input.
While sitting in the courtyard with her family Hannah begins to silently pour her heart out to the Lord. Her lips are moving but not a sound escapes. Her family knows nothing of her pleas to the Lord. “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head” (verse 11). This is just a portion of the pain that was poured out from Hannah’s soul as her family sat at table.
Hannah rises from the table and excuses herself for a break. She has no idea that she has been observed by anyone, especially beyond her own family. Eli the priest saw her and is disgusted by what he witnessed. He believes he is observing a woman who is disgracing herself and her family with her drunkenness. He surmises that she is on her way out to either relieve herself or procure more strong drink. He is disgusted by her display in the courtyard of the Lord and he intends to speak his mind to her.
As Hannah passes by Eli speaks up. “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you” (verse 14).
Hannah is taken aback by his words. “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation” (verses 15-16).
Hannah’s words shame Eli. He judged her harshly without knowing the truth of the matter. He endeavors to make amends through his next words. “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him” (verse 17).
Eli’s words do more for Hannah that he knows. They give her hope. She latches onto them as the very words of the Lord Himself. “Let your servant find favor in your eyes” (verse 18a) she says. With a renewed spirit she returns to her family where she actually joins them in the feast. No longer is her head hung low. No more tears flow from her eyes. And a smile once again resides upon her face.
Elkanah and Peninnah both notice the change in Hannah but choose not to confront her with it. They complete their meal and leave the courtyard. They retire to their accommodations for the night. They have one more day left of their visit and it starts early.
The next morning they get up early so they can worship before the Lord. This is their last offering to the Lord before they return home. Hannah’s face is filled with joy instead of pain. Peninnah is a little angered by this but refrains from inflicting any more pain while in the presence of the Lord. She does not want to earn His wrath while carrying another of Elkanah children.
The family finally makes its way home. During the journey Peninnah attempts a few well-placed barbs with Hannah but she fails to respond. After a while Peninnah tires of it and contends herself with her children’s welfare.
Everyone is glad to be home at last. It has been a long day of traveling. A quick evening meal is prepared as the children clean the dust off their clothing and feet. Peninnah is in charge of their meal. Hannah sees to Elkanah’s needs. One of those needs he informs her is her company this night. Hannah smiles and nods her head in acceptance. She is ready for the Lord’s miracle. She will wait on His timing but is certain that He has heard her pleas.
Three weeks later Hannah is surprised by the absence of her womanly flow. It is already three days late before she even realizes it. She has always been so regular, never late by even one day. Hope surges in her heart. Is this finally the day she has been waiting for. She decides to wait a bit longer before becoming too excited.
Another week passes, then another, and then a full month goes by before she breaks her silence. The first person she will tell is Elkanah. She wants to share her joy with Peninnah but doesn’t know how Peninnah will respond. “Surely she will be happy for me” she supposes but their relationship still causes her to wonder.
Hannah decides to make a honey cake for Elkanah wondering if he will guess her secret because of it. She hasn’t made him a honey cake since the one she and Peninnah baked for her first announcement. He heart was wounded too deeply that year. She wonders if Peninnah will know the reason for the cake.
Elkanah comes in from the vineyard greets his family. Peninnah has the children readying for the evening. They usually eat before Elkanah returns in the evening. The children have noticed the tempting aroma from the cake but their mother has not offered them any of it. Neither has Hannah, yet. Hannah has decided she will make her announcement right away instead of waiting until after the evening meal. This way she can offer the children a portion too.
Hannah excuses herself while the children gather around Elkanah and share bits of their day. Peninnah divides her attention between her children and Hannah. When Hannah emerges from the kitchen with the honey cake on a platter her face falls. “NO! It can’t be!” she screams inside her own mind. This was the one place she could outshine Hannah. If Hannah is with child then Peninnah’s place is lost. She pastes a smile on her face instead of shedding the tears she really wants to let lose.
Elkanah looks up and sees Hannah standing before him with a goofy grin on her face and a plate of cake in her hands. At first he is confused. He is happy to see the cake but he doesn’t understand why she is offering it as she is. Then his mind clicks back to the day Hannah and Peninnah told him he would become a father for the first time. His eyes light up and his hands still. “Hannah, is there something you are trying to tell me?”
Hannah nods her head still wearing that goofy grin. Finally she says, “The Lord has heard my pleas! I am with child!”
Elkanah hands the cake to Peninnah and wraps Hannah in a hug. Their eyes meet as he pulls back from her a little. There are tears in both their eyes. After a moment he realizes they are standing in the middle of a dumbstruck family. He turns first to Peninnah and graces her with a gentle smile. Then he looks at the faces of each of his children. “I am truly a blessed man!”
Peninnah releases the breath she has been holding. It doesn’t appear as though Elkanah will send her away now that Hannah is finally with child. She feared she would become as Sarah’s maid Hagar. She prays that Hannah won’t send her away either. There is a HUGE rift to be mended before she will feel secure again.
Hannah looks over at Peninnah where she stands holding the honey cake. She decides that today that ‘tree of bitterness’ is coming down. “Would you serve the honey cake Peninnah? I believe the children would enjoy a slice, if you would allow it.”
Peninnah recognizes Hannah’s olive branch of peace and chooses to accept it. She has no illusions that Elkanah’s affections will be divided any more evenly than they had been all along. She chooses to move past the hurt to ensure the safety of her children. It will take time but she will do her part to rebuild the friendship she once shared with Hannah.
Both Hannah and Peninnah blossom during their pregnancies. Peninnah is two months further along than Hannah so they will be able to help one another during deliveries. Hannah is very experienced at this as she served Peninnah each of her previous deliveries. Their relationship has improved but it is nowhere near what it originally was by the time both sons are born. Yes, BOTH women add to Elkanah’s list of heirs. He is exceedingly pleased.
The day Hannah’s son entered the world she tells Elkanah of her vow to the Lord. Her vow that if she had a son she would give him to the Lord. Elkanah didn’t dismiss her vow. He had the right to as her husband but he chose to affirm it as his son was a gift from the Lord. An answer to his mother’s prayers. When the day of his circumcision arrived his father proudly gives the priest the name his mother selected for him. “His name shall be called Samuel, for his mother asked for him from the Lord.”
(to be continued)
♥ ♦ ♥
Father God, thank You for giving me a heart for Peninnah too. This is the first time I have read this story and thought about life from her side of the story. Both these women were hurting in their own way. I believe that You healed both their hearts but I don’t know that for certain. We see no more of Peninnah in Your stories. I have little doubt that Elkanah made Hannah and her children his favorites as Jacob did with Rachel’s. Jacob didn’t disown the children from his other wives and I pray that Elkanah followed in that example too.
Thank You Father God that I never knew the pain of barrenness. I longed for children and You answered my prayers quickly. I can’t imagine that longing lasting all those years. I pray for every woman who faces that pain today. I pray You will reach down into their lives and satisfy that longing, in YOUR timing and perfect plan.
I also pray for every woman who is in a loveless marriage. Where they are treated as objects of use instead of cherished for who they are. I know this pain personally from my past marriage. I know how it can dull the heart to all feelings. How it can grow a tree of bitterness of its own. I pray You will show each of the women today who are hurting what their true worth is in You. I pray You will give them beauty for ashes. That You will show them that they are Your Jewel.
For the men who find themselves unable to fulfill the longing of their wife’s hearts or unable to demonstrate the love their wife so richly deserves, I pray Your hand will guide and direct their hearts. Elkanah probably wept in secret at the state of his home. He didn’t know how to fix either issue and simply did the best he could with the tools he had. For the men following in this example, give him tools beyond his understanding. Also help his wife meet him half way with the love he also richly deserves.
May we EACH see each other as You see us. May we love as You love. What YOU have joined together, let man not destroy.