For the third week, I wanted to study Hannah. If you have missed last week’s study of Rachel and Leah, you can find it here.
Hannah is married to Elkanah. Elkanah comes from both the lines of Levi (1 Chronicles 6: 27, 34) and Ephraim (the son of Joseph) (1 Samuel 1:1). He also has another wife, Peninnah, but Hannah was his favorite.
This was evident by the way he treated them when they came to Shiloh, where they worshiped annually. In Deuteronomy 21:15-17, the law states that if the man has two wives, and the unloved of the two has the firstborn son, then he should receive a double portion of all the husband has. But whenever Elkanah, Peninnah, and Hannah would worship at Shiloh, Hannah was the one that received the double portion!
I’m not sure if this sparked the rivalry between the two wives, but I’m sure this special treatment didn’t help! Peninnah would provoke her to the point that she couldn’t eat. And Elkanah was hurt that he couldn’t be enough for Hannah, that he couldn’t compensate to the extent that Peninnah’s jabs at her infertility could be withstood.
So here we find Hannah, weeping, mouthing her prayers to the Lord. Promising her firstborn son to him, to set him apart for God by not putting a razor to his head, just like a Nazirite. Eli, the priest who was at the door post, sees her and thinks she is drunk. But she says, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord…I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.” (I Samuel 1:15-16).
It’s Eli’s response that I want to key into here. Instead of giving advice or telling her to toughen up, he simply says, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.” And her reaction was that “her face was no longer downcast.”
In my journey through pregnancy loss, I have met a lot of other women who have shared their own experiences with infertility and loss. And I think every one of us has a story of a person in our life who made the journey harder and who made it easier.
We have the Elkanahs who try to fix things in their own way, wanting to be that thing that will pull us out of the darkness. It could be advice or suggestions that end up being more harmful than helpful. A few weeks ago, I was waiting for a therapy appointment when a woman came up with her husband. They were also waiting for an appointment with the same therapist. I told them she was a good one, and that I saw her because of recurrent pregnancy loss. She responded with advice, that I should make sure that the doctors perform D&Cs after my miscarriages because if I’m not “cleaned out” it could cause future miscarriages. When I explained further that I had stillbirths in my last two losses, and not miscarriages, she asked if I had considered adoption. At this point, I made some short answer and found something on my phone to be interested in. Unfortunately, these kinds of conversations happen a lot to a lot of women, and it isn’t always a stranger that is giving the advice.
And then we have the Elis. They don’t always say the right thing first. Sometimes they will make inaccurate assumptions. But they listen. They are willing to hear what the woman is saying and respond with grace and humility. Notice there was no advice, no suggestion, only “may God grant your request.” Maybe in today’s language that could be, I’ll be praying for you or I’m here if you need me. Or it’s simply sitting in silence with a friend or just listening to them talk about everything else going on in their world. I know I have friends who have been there with a sonic drink in hand willing to sit and be silent, or talk about the weather, or even talk about my daughters, honoring my girls with their words. But they are willing to listen before they speak. And it makes a world of difference.
Hannah goes on to have Samuel, and true to her word, two years after that prayer, Hannah brings her boy to Eli. She remembers Eli, remembers his words, and she says, “I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of Him.” Hannah goes on to have three more sons and two more daughters for her obedience to the Lord. And Samuel grows up to be the man who anoints kings.
I don’t know where my story will take me, and I also don’t know the journeys that other people walk, but I do know that an encouraging word can make a huge difference in the downcasted face. And the greatest encouragement is that we don’t walk our paths alone. We can be there for each other, strengthening one another, just as God strengthens us.