Annual celebrations reveal brokenness within families and their need of redemption. Hannah’s story is such a story.
Early in Israel’s forty-year tenure in the wilderness, God instructs the community to set aside a number of days in their annual calendar to commemorate His activity on their behalf. Three of those feasts require all of Israel to “appear before the Lord your God in the place which He shall choose” (Deuteronomy 16:16). Later, during the Conquest Era, Joshua initiates a communal Passover celebration and other annual events (Joshua 5; 8:30-35; 24:1). After Joshua’s death approximately 350 years pass, accompanied by seven cycles of increasing sexual immorality, idolatry, and corrupt priesthood. The story that opens up the book of 1 Samuel begins the transition from the Judges Era to the Kingdom Era and reveals a family celebrating one of Israel’s annual feasts. This holiday celebration reveals three truths about life:
Life outside of Eden’s garden is broken.
People develop strategies for living with brokenness.
People who meet God during the holidays are transformed in the midst of their brokenness.
The four broken characters who dominate Hannah’s story:
Elkanah, a religious polygamist – Elkanah leads his family in worship: “This man went up from his city yearly to worship and sacrifice to the LORD of hosts in Shiloh” (1 Samuel 1:3; see also 1:21, 28; 2:19). Elkanah is at the right place, doing the right thing, but in wrong living—he is a man of the culture around him, for he has two wives (1:2).
Peninnah, a religious “mean girl” – Peninnah provides a fertile womb from which Elkanah is building his family, but she doesn’t possess his heart. Therefore, she “provoked her severely, to make her miserable,” who does have his heart—his first wife, Hannah (1:6).
Hannah, a barren woman – Though Hannah possesses the heart of Elkanah, she also possesses a barren womb which has brought much personal grief—“Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children” (1:2). Her unhappiness brings many tears, grief, and a loss of appetite (1:8).
Eli, a religious but undiscerning priest – Eli assumes falsely that the grieving Hannah is drunk: “Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat by the doorpost of the tabernacle of the LORD. And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the LORD and wept in anguish . . . And it happened, as she continued praying before the LORD, that Eli watched her mouth . . . . Therefore Eli thought she was drunk” (1:9-10, 12).
This annual celebration reveals the strategy each one has formed to navigate the brokenness of life:
Eli lives like an ostrich, with head buried in the sand. He fails to correct his sons, who “slept with the women who assembled at the door of the tabernacle of meeting” (2:22). His personal failure affects his compassion toward Hannah and his ability to discern Hannah’s need. And Eli apparently has no real, spiritually-uplifting influence in the greater community (the polygamous practices in Israel).
Elkanah sees himself as omnipotent, able to meet the needs of others. He gives Hannah a double portion (1:5) and assumes that his love for her and generosity toward her will and should replace the emptiness of her womb; he even says, “Am I not better to you than ten sons?” (1:8). Ah, the emptiness of more!
Peninnah uses her children to fill the void of unrequited love and verbally attacks her “opponent”. She seeks personal validation through possessing, not only more than others, but possessing what Hannah lacks (sons, but that could be anything). Again, the emptiness that having more brings!
Hannah pours out her complaint to the LORD. Hannah’s brokenness could have produced bitterness and hardness, but she pours her complaint out to the LORD—“And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the LORD and wept in anguish”—and is transformed by a promise—“Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition which you have asked of Him. So the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad” (1:18).
Because Hannah takes her brokenness to the LORD she returns to the brokenness of her life with a smile on her face and a dance in her step. Eli remains the cynical old priest that he is, Elikanah continues thinking that he is enough, and Peninnah remains unrequited in her love for Elkanah, and mean-spirited and verbally abusive toward Hannah.
Yes, life outside of Eden’s garden is broken and filled with people (including religious people!) who develop strategies for living with that brokenness, but those who meet God during the holidays are transformed in the midst of their brokenness.
Celebrations bring family members together, but they also reveal the brokenness within families. Therefore, this holiday season expect brokenness, look to the LORD in your personal brokenness, and finally, love and have compassion on the broken people in your midst. Happy holidays, Ya’ll!