“And Peninnah had children but Hannah had no children … And her rival used to provoke her grievously 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.” (1 Samuel 1:2b, 6-7)
Can you feel Hannah’s pain? Anyone of us who has ever had a deep desire to have children surely can. And how much more so the woman who has struggled to conceive. And if that wasn’t enough, to have a rival provoke you year after year is unimaginable. If only Elkanah had followed God’s plan for marriage – one man, one woman. (Genesis 2:22-24) How could Peninnah do this to Hannah? How could anyone add insult to injury? While there is no excuse for her behavior, could her behavior have stemmed from her own hurt, from her own unmet desires? While Peninnah received a portion, Hannah received a double portion from Elkanah because he loved her despite the Lord closing her womb. He loved her unconditionally. Peninnah did not have the love of Elkanah that she most likely desired. And when she didn’t get her desire, she provoked her rival. What do we do when we don’t get our desires? Hannah did not retaliate against Peninnah. She became depressed because she didn’t have the desire of her heart. “Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat.” I can relate. How about you?
“And Elkanah, her husband, said to her, “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?
It’s tough for a husband to see his wife depressed. It must have broke Elkanah’s heart to see Hannah weeping. As my husband and I were discussing their story, he shared that had the Lord decided not to bless us with children, he would have been content because he had married me to share life with me. But he would have been heavy hearted for me because my desires would have been unfulfilled. When I think about Elkanah’s response, I wonder if he felt that way as well. Was his desire for a relationship with his wife first and foremost and that was enough for him? I always thought that Elkanah’s response was that of a man who didn’t understand his wife. And maybe it was that in part. But, as I’ve been reading this passage afresh, I read these words between the lines – “Am I not enough for you? Are you not content with me?” Now I’ve had some unfulfilled desires as you all have and often when I share with my husband, he will show me my lack of contentment with what I have. He doesn’t do that to diminish my desires but to help me to deal with them. Maybe that was Elkanah’s desire – to help his wife deal with her depression as best he knew how.
How did Hannah deal with her depression? I believe her words to Eli describe what she did after her husband brought forth his questions that may have been a help to move her forward. “I have been pouring out my soul before the LORD.” “I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.” There is no better place to go when we find ourselves dealing with our unmet desires. In that place, Hannah made a vow. I read this week that this was not a bargain with God. This was a surrender of her desire. What she most desired, she gave back to Him. I also read that the Eli’s blessing – “Go in peace and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him” – was considered prophetic so Hannah’s spirits were lifted. Would they have been if she had not received that word? That matters not. There is a peace that is available to us whether we receive or don’t receive. Paul speaks of this peace and so does Isaiah.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on you,
because he trusts in you.
No matter our unfulfilled desires or our circumstances, we can have a peace that passes all understanding. A peace that comes from our Sovereign God.
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
( Horatio Spafford – It is Well with My Soul)