We meet another family in this story – the family of Elkanah. It is a family devoted to the Lord, for they come often to the shrine at Shiloh to worship and offer sacrifice. Elkanah has two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. His wife Penninah – the second wife – has numerous children while the first wife – Hannah – does not. It may be said that Hannah’s inability to have children may be the reason her husband has two wives.
A woman’s value to her family, husband and society was in her ability to have children. When a woman had no children, she was considered to have lost God’s favor for some reason. The second wife Penninah made Hannah’s life less bearable, for though Hannah was loved by her husband, even though she was childless, Penninah castigated her for her lack of children. This was particularly apparent when the family went to Shiloh to worship, for the husband gave each wife some of the offering to sacrifice.
In Hannah’s grief she goes to the altar alone and begins to plead with God to give her a child – a male child – and she promises that she will give the child to the Lord to serve him at his temple of Shiloh. The priest, Eli, mistakenly accuses Hannah of being drunk, not recognizing that Hannah’s prayers are the prayers of a desperate woman. Hannah confronts Eli, telling him of her grief at being childless. Eli then blesses her and prays that God will fulfill Hannah’s request.
Before the next visit to the temple Hannah has given birth to a son. It is touching to read that” when Elkanah had relations with Hannah, the Lord remembered her. She conceived…” When the child is weaned she brings him to the temple to spend his life in service to God. Later Hannah has five more children – three sons and two daughters.
There is a canticle of Hannah – a song – during which she praises God for His goodness and what He has done for her. She speaks of Penninah’s arrogance toward her and says that Penninah is no longer powerful, but because God favored Hannah, she is now powerful.
After a time – we are not told how long – Samuel is called by God. The call comes in the night when all are asleep. The Bible tells us that “the lamp of God was not yet extinguished“. It would have been extinguished at dawn. At first Samuel thinks it is Eli who is calling, but Eli finally recognizes that God is calling the child and tells Samuel that he should answer the Lord by saying “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”
The Lord tells Samuel that He will punish Eli because his sons are wicked and do not respect God or the people. Though Samuel would keep this news to himself, Eli demands to know what the Lord said to Samuel. After Samuel relates the Lord’s words, Eli says: “He is the Lord. He will do what He judges best.” Eli must have been, at least at one time, a true disciple of the Lord, for how would you know that.
In reading and studying these passages, I can imagine how difficult it was for Hannah to give up her son. Even Eli tells her that he hopes she can keep her vow. But Hannah is true to her promise. She was a brave woman. How many nights did she lie awake in tears over the loss of her little son? God blessed her for the fulfillment of her promise with more children. So often we hear that God cannot be outdone in the gift department. He is a generous giver.