Connections 11.14.2021: Misunderstandings and Understandings

1 Samuel 1:9-20

Hannah’s story is filled with misunderstandings.

First, Peninnah thinks that Hannah’s inability to have children grants her license to torment Hannah for her childlessness. We aren’t told what prompts Peninnah’s taunts. The note that Elkanah’s love for Hannah motivates him to give Hannah a double portion of the food the family consumes at the annual Shiloh feast may provide a clue—perhaps Peninnah is jealous. If that is the case, then it is ironic that Peninnah taunts Hannah over what Peninnah and Elkanah have together—children—because of what Hannah and Elkanah have together—love. Regardless, Peninnah’s actions reveal a misunderstanding of what constitutes appropriate behavior within a family.

Second, everyone thinks that God causes Hannah’s infertility. The narrator of the Hannah story assumes that the reason for her infertility is that “the Lord had closed her womb.” We can reasonably assume that everyone in the story—including Hannah—assumes that is the case. We need to keep a couple of things in mind about this. First, the Old Testament writers display no awareness of male infertility. If a woman has no children, the assumption is that the woman is infertile. Second, Old Testament writers largely assume that God directly causes everything, so it is no surprise that they would assume that about Hannah’s apparent inability to have children. Cultural and theological assumptions limit the understanding of the characters in the Hannah story. We base our reflections on more nuanced ways of thinking even as we continue to try to see how God is working in our lives and in the lives of those around us.

Third, Elkanah thinks he should be more than enough to make Hannah happy. As Hannah struggles with her infertility, Elkanah tries to comfort her by asking her if he doesn’t mean more to her than having ten sons would. We admire his effort, even as we wonder if it indicates chutzpah, naivete, or just downright foolishness. That Elkanah overestimated his value is seen in the fact that right after he asks Hannah if he isn’t enough to make her happy, she goes immediately to the sanctuary to pray for a child.

Fourth, Eli thinks Hannah is drunk. He bases his judgment on the fact that when he sees her praying, her lips are moving but she is making no sound. We might well question Eli’s pastoral care skills. There are, after all, any number of possible explanations for the manner in which Hannah is praying. But something in Eli causes him to leap to the most negative and judgmental conclusion possible. As a result, he misreads the situation badly.

Hannah’s story is also filled with understandings.

First, Hannah understands that pain must be faced. We aren’t told how long she has been dealing with her pain, but we get the impression it has been going on for years. It is possible that she lived a long time hoping that her situation would take care of itself. But when Hannah decides to deal with her predicament, she deals with it head-on. She doesn’t deny or try to suppress the pain that her situation causes her. She confronts it boldly.

Second, Hannah understands the value of prayer. When she finally decides to confront her pain, she takes it to God. She pours her heart out to God. Hannah believes that God can help her, and so she takes her situation before God. She does so boldly—she tells God what she needs and asks God to grant it. She also does so humbly—she submits herself to God’s grace, mercy, and love.

Third, Eli understands that initial impressions can be wrong. We should give Eli credit for realizing the error of his original judgment. The change comes after he listens to what Hannah has to say. We’ll understand each other better if we’ll listen to each other.

Fourth, Hannah understands that blessings are gifts to be shared. She asks God for a son, but she promises to give him back to the Lord. The son she will have is named Samuel, and he will be a great blessing to the people of Israel. We too should want the blessings we receive from God to contribute to the accomplishments of God’s purposes in the world.

The story of Hannah is a story of both misunderstandings and understandings. In the end, it is a story of God’s working through people’s messy lives to accomplish God’s purposes. May it be so for all of us!

Discussion

  • Hannah promises God that if God will give her a son, she’ll dedicate the child to the Lord. How can we emulate her prayer?
  • Why do you think Hannah was no longer sad after her time of prayer and her talk with Eli?
  • Hannah gave Samuel a name that would remind her that the child was an answer to prayer. How can we remind ourselves to be grateful?

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan and Isabella. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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