Monday, October 26th 1 Samuel 1:1-8

There was a certain man of Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham son of Elihu son of Tohu son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. He had two wives; the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children. Now this man used to go up year by year from his town to worship and to sacrifice to the LORD of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the LORD. On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; 5but to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the LORD had closed her womb. Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the LORD had closed her womb. So it went on year by year; as often as she went up to the house of the LORD, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. Her husband Elkanah said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?” 1 Samuel 1:1-8

I woke up this morning thinking about this story. I have no idea why. In so many ways, it is a very brutal story. But it is also breath-taking. This week we will revisit the birth of Samuel.

Immediately we are confronted by the vast cultural divide that separates us from the characters in scripture – polygamy (having multiple wives) was a cultural norm in the days of Elkanah and his two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Today it remains a normal practice in some places in the Moslem world where men who can afford it are permitted to have up to four wives. Most of us would ask, “Is this marriage or is it indentured servitude?”

Although polygamy is illegal in the United States it is still practiced in some cultish corners. Texas made the news this year with a raid on a complex of a religious community where girls as young as 12 were “married off” to much older men at the command of the community’s leader – making the call from the prison cell where he is serving his sentence for abusing children. Most of us would ask, “Is this practice the real reason for the establishment of this community in the first place? Is it anything other than ‘socially accepted’ child abuse?”

So it is that we enter this story. We might not understand polygamy but we immediately make a connection to the characters. Hannah is the wife who has not been able to have a baby. For years now her pain, her deep sense of loss, has been particularly difficult, not only to see other women with their own children, but to have to live in it up close and personal with Peninnah and her brood.

Elkanah is the husband who is hurting because his wife, Hannah, is hurting. He wants her pain to go away.

And Peninnah is the resentful wife who knows that, while she lives with the support of the father of her children, she doesn’t live in his heart. So she lashes out in the manner that resentment does, constantly provoking, teasing and hurting Hannah.

This scene is like biblical reality TV. The Bible meets Jerry Springer.

Meanwhile, and this is very mixed news, God is intimately involved in the whole scene. For God is up to something big in this family’s life. God hasn’t forgotten them.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, through every age people seek you. In very different places, very different cultures, people seek your will, people seek your favor. Often it seems that you are hiding, that you are up to something that we cannot see. As we enter this strange world of Elkanah, Hannah and Peninnah, we pray that you guide us in seeing what is helpful to us in their story. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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One Response to “Monday, October 26th 1 Samuel 1:1-8”

  1. sandra Says:

    Are you sure that Elkanah did not love Peninnah? Perhaps he loved them both.

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