Elkanah, a man in ancient Israel, had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Peninnah had sons and daughters, but Hannah, Elkanah’s favorite, lived with the intense emotional pain of childlessness.
Back then, married women were expected to produce children. Otherwise, people wondered what they might have done to invite God’s disfavor. Childlessness brought anguish and humiliation.
Peninnah, the second wife, was particularly cruel to Hannah. She scorned her to her face and made snide comments and stinging verbal jabs at every opportunity.
Elkanah tried to console Hannah. He asked her, “Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” This reassurance did not ease her sadness.
Each year, Elkanah, Hannah, Peninnah, and her children would travel to a place called Shiloh, to worship. At one of their visits Peninnah’s abuse was particularly disturbing. During one mealtime Hannah wept, left her food uneaten, and went to the tabernacle nearby to pray. She would pour out her distress to Jehovah.
“Jehovah,” she prayed, “if you will look with mercy upon me and give me a son, I’ll return him to you for all the days of his life . . .”
The aged priest, Eli, sitting nearby, saw her lips moving but heard no audible voice as she prayed. He rebuked her, thinking she was drunk. She corrected him, and he blessed her.
Returning to the table she had left, she ate and her spirits lifted. She believed that the Almighty God of Israel had heard her prayers and that he would answer them.
In time, the special son, Samuel, was born. And so, in keeping with her promise, soon after little Samuel was weaned she surrendered him to the care and training of Eli for temple service “all the days of his life.”
Every Sunday School child has heard the outcome of Hannah’s vow to Jehovah: Samuel grew up and became a prophet and Israel’s last and finest judge. He served the nation with integrity and two books of the Old Testament carry his name. His long life of service was exceptional.
Hannah, on the other hand, is named in only two chapters of the Old Testament. But her story will never be forgotten. In a way that may have been little-noticed at the time, the fruit of her faith made a great contribution to the unfolding story of redemption, and for that we honor her memory. To this day, many women carry her name.