1 Samuel 1:3-8 (ESV)
3 Now this man used to go up year by year from his city to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the Lord.
4 On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters.
5 But to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb.
6 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.
8 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?”
This passage illustrates responses to the sovereignty of God in Elkanah, Hannah, and in Peninnah, but with significant differences. They are each aware of the sovereignty of God, but they each respond in different ways to God’s sovereignty. In fact, I believe how they act reveals a great deal about their character.
In Elkanah’s situation we see a man who regularly leads his family to worship God. The yearly progression to the tabernacle at Shiloh is an indication that it was God, and His worship, that lead him to faithfully continue in his yearly visits there. An assumption that can be inferred is that the yearly pilgrimage was the culmination of local obedience. Most likely there was a saving and planning for this act of obedience and worship on a long term basis. His perception that worship was primarily to God is especially apparent from the mention of who was serving at Shiloh. Phineas and Hophni were not mentioned to let the reader know how good the music, preacher, or fellowship were! They were the pinnacle of Israel’s descent into immorality, and yet Elkanah goes anyway.
An important part of understanding worship in our earthly environment is understanding why, and who it is for. Neither then, nor today, was the music for our enjoyment – it is for God’s exaltation! The fellowship isn’t to make us feel loved, it is to love others as an expression of Christ in you! Even the preaching isn’t meant to ‘tickle’ our ears…it is meant to remind us of the need for God’s truths to be central to our living. In short, we worship God, first and last. When we consider church attendance the Christian should not even wrestle with, ‘should’ I publicly worship. Given the greatness of God and His sovereignty public worship ought to be a given!
In addition to faithful worship we need to consider the Elkanah’s generosity to his wife Hannah. The translation favored by most, is not the only way of rendering verse 5. The alternative translation is used by the RSV: “5 and, although he loved Hannah, he would give Hannah only one portion, because the LORD had closed her womb.” In both translations, there is reason to believe that Elkanah is perceiving God’s sovereignty. Either Elkanah loves his wife, and provides generously for her, even though she is childless, or he is generous to her because she suffers not by fault, but by providence. In either case, there is a stark contrast being illustrated. Elkanah’s generosity and love is obvious for his wife, but ultimately insufficient to address her grief. He treats her as best as he knows how, even with generosity that acknowledges her as worthy of his love and affection – regardless of whether she is productive or beneficial to him. His generosity is contrasted with Peninnah’s belittlement of Hannah as an example of encouragement. Yet, even his edification is not enough for Hannah. And regardless how much Elkanah – or any of us want to ease another person’s pain, or heal their wounds – there is grief that can only be addressed by God.
This brings us to Peninnah. Unfortunately, truth about God, acknowledged and believed, does not make one act Godly. Peninnah is said to treat Hannah the way she does because she also sees God’s sovereignty. The problem is that Peninnah sees the suffering and state of Hannah as an opportunity for self advancement and as a weakness to be exploited. Sadly enough, this is common in life, not just then but also today. Many people are tempted to see the difficult conditions of others as a presumptuous opportunity to judge others by usurping God’s role! People assume to know the mind of God when they take a circumstance outside a person’s control, and use it as a means to deliberately inflict pain. God’s choice to allow another to suffer is NEVER a reason for us to add to their suffering. We are called to love even our enemies. Yes, people will sin and suffer for it, but our job is to be living witnesses of God’s grace. We are co-sinners teaching repentance where necessary, and encouragement when able. When Peninnah glorifies herself at the expense and pain of another, she misses the nature of God while attempting to use a single attribute of God as self justifying.
Finally, Elkanah asks a rhetorical question that is obviously answered NO! He is not sufficient and never can be. Hannah has a grief over her situation that can ultimately be answered only by God. In fact, each of us needs to understand that our value comes from God; our justification and salvation come from God; our purpose and meaning come from God; ultimately, our joy and comfort in grief are to come from God. There truly is only one who offers what we need. Not always what we want – but exactly what we need and more. The hard part of this lesson is seeing our own weaknesses honestly. We are often unable to supply what we would like to in another’s life. But, instead of allowing our inadequacies (and sin) to lead us to belittling others for our advancement, allow them instead to do to us what they did to Hannah. Hannah we will see responds by seeking God’s strength. Tremendously important to our faith is an understanding of the Sovereignty of God and how it relates to our suffering. Understood from the standpoint of self-righteousness and arrogance (as in Peninnah), it can cause incredible strife. Seen from humility and confidence in God’s sovereignty and goodness (as in Elkanah), it is incredibly comforting. Because then we understand the messages of Romans 8:28, 1 Peter 1:3-9 and Ephesians 3:14-21. So your homework is to look them up:)