Hannah was an ordinary woman in a male dominated society. Even though she was the first wife, her childlessness pushed her to second place.
Her predicament was devastating because her rival, Peninnah, made sure that she felt thoroughly humiliated. Their husband, Elkanah, did his best to reassure her with kind words, but Peninnah lost no opportunity to press home the point that Hannah’s barrenness was an irreversible misfortune.
Twice we read that because the Lord had closed her womb, her rival continually provoked her: “And her rival used to provoke her grievously to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. 7: 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.” (1Sam.1:6-7).
Peninnah remained unrepentant. While they went for worship year after year, and she kept having more sons and daughters, she made it her regular business to provoke Hannah grievously and irritate her. For years, Hannah’s response was to cry and to refuse food. That was a response of self-pity and helplessness. Satan loves to see God’s children feel helpless. When we cry Satan gets his opportunity.
In the course of time, however, Hannah found a better way to respond. One year, she decided to take the matter to the Lord. Whenever we murmur, cry or complain, we give Satan a chance to laugh at us. But when we decide to pour our hearts to the Lord, even if it means crying before Him, it puts us on the path to victory. God understands the language of bleeding hearts. By taking her pain to the Lord, and focusing on Him, she took the first step of moving from yearly shame to everlasting honour.
The Priest, Eli, who should have been a consolation, at first became something of an aggressor. Yet Hannah’s faith remained unwaveringly focused on the covenant God of Israel, to whom she addressed her grief: “And Eli said to her, “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.” 15: But Hannah answered: “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. 16: Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation” (1Sam. 1:14-16).
As it turned out Heaven saw and heard more than Hannah‘s pain and distress. What she felt at a personal level was actually a picture of the spiritual barrenness of the nation. Her cry went before God and God answered beyond her expectation. God saw the faded glory in the land and the son born to Hannah became the divine vessel for the restoration of the backslidden nation. Even though Hannah testified in verse 27: “For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to Him,” God gave both her and the nation beyond what they expected or asked. Are there praying mothers, today, who will turn their tears to prayer? The distress that gives way to prayer can also give birth to national birth. So, let it be in our time and location. Amen!
• Most Rev. (Dr.) Emmanuel A.S. Egbunu, Bishop of Lokoja