One story in the Bible that I have always loved and speaks straight to the heart of this topic is found in the first two chapters of I Samuel. If ever there was a woman who had every reason to feel insecure it was Hannah. She was the first wife of Elkanah and Peninnah was his second wife. Even though this arrangement was common in that culture and time, and still is in many countries and religious groups, it led to a rivalry between these two women. What was the root cause of this conflict? Hannah was unable to have children - she was barren. My heart goes out to women who struggle with this heart-wrenching pain. I have known some of these precious individuals personally and it is a very difficult experience to endure.
In Hannah’s culture and time being barren was a source of humiliation, embarrassment, and disgrace. Bringing a son into this world to carry on the family name was of great importance in the Jewish culture. Today it is still of utmost concern to many women in their particular culture, religious circles, or family group. It led Hannah to feel “downhearted”, “in bitterness of soul”, in “misery”, “deeply troubled”, in “anguish and grief” (NIV). Other versions use words such as “sorrowful spirit”, “distress of soul”, “affliction” (Amplified) and “discouraged” (NLT).
To further complicate matters, wife number two made a special point of taunting Hannah until she was reduced to tears. Since Peninnah had children already, she added insult to injury and basically harassed Hannah. There is a possibility that Peninnah was very jealous of Hannah as we observe from this scripture passage that Elkanah’s love for Hannah was no secret. When they travelled annually to Shiloh for the sacrifices, he would give Hannah a double portion of the sacrificial meal because he loved her. No mention is made of his love for Peninnah. He was also very attentive to Hannah and her sorrow, weeping, and refusal to eat disturbed him greatly. He said to her, “Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” (v.8) Somehow, I don’t think this really comforted Hannah too much! Later on, we discover that Elkanah was very supportive and affirmed a crucial decision Hannah made. Even if Hannah felt the security of her husband’s love, which we can only assume, it still was not enough for her. I’m thinking she probably felt a great degree of unworthiness and lack of self-esteem due to her childlessness.
While some women identify personally with Hannah’s pain of being without children, others are able to relate to her struggles from a different perspective. Perhaps you feel unworthy because you bear the brunt of criticism, accusations, or other unkind words. Maybe you share the emptiness of unfulfilled dreams or expectations. Still others may long for a soul mate and wonder why God has not brought that special person into your life. I believe we can all find ourselves in Hannah’s experience on some level and feel some of her pain and insecurity.
So, how did Hannah respond to all this? It is clear she had a very strong faith in God. Through her tears and anguish, she prayed to the Lord, pouring out her heart and soul to Him. I love her prayer which was a vow to her God,
“O Lord Almighty, if you will only look upon 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.” (v.11) This latter statement refers to the Nazarite vow found in Numbers 6:5.
What impresses me most about this dear woman is her humility. She refers to herself four times in this first chapter as a “servant” or “handmaiden”. Her prayers sound very much like those of the virgin Mary in Luke 1. In James 4:10 we read, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.”
Since our time is gone for today, we will look next week at how God indeed lifted Hannah up and restored her feelings of self-worth and security. May you find comfort this week from the Lord Almighty!
Until next Sunday,