“There was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim of the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, an Ephrathite. He had two wives. The name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other, Peninnah. And Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.” (1 Samuel 1:1-2)
The book of first Samuel starts by introducing an Israelite family: Elkanah and his two wives. Elkanah himself is introduced in much detail. We read where he lived and what his name was, but also who his forefathers were.
Of Hannah and Peninnah, we only read that they were both married to Elkanah, and that Peninnah had children but Hannah did not.
This is all the information we get about them, but it is sufficient to understand how difficult Hannah’s situation must have been in a society where a woman’s identity was largely defined by her marriage and children, and childlessness was considered shameful.
God ordained marriage as a lifelong covenant relationship between one man and one woman. But Elkanah had two wives — maybe because Hannah was infertile and Elkanah really wanted to have children. Having more than one wife was not uncommon in ancient Israel, but it caused much pain and rivalry. Hannah not having children just made the situation worse.
Hannah’s life circumstances were humiliating and demoralising. But the Bible depicts her as an exemplary, God-fearing woman. Over the next few days, let’s see which lessons we can learn from her life story.