1 Samuel 1:1-8
There was a certain man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. 2 He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.
3 Year after year this man went up from his town to worship and sacrifice to the Lord Almighty at Shiloh, where Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of the Lord. 4 Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. 5 But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb. 6 Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. 7 This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. 8 Her husband Elkanah would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”
Welcome to 1 Samuel. Here’s a bunch of places you’ve never heard of and people you’ve never met. Their lives, many, many centuries before even Jesus lived, will most likely be irrelevant to us and our 21st century lives today, yes?
Or maybe not.
It doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to imagine these verses in the genre of “soap opera” – re-read them now, with the Days Of Our Lives theme music in your head, and see if it suddenly seems a lot closer to home. We have a man – Elkanah – with multiple partners. He openly favours one partner, Hannah, who struggles with infertility. His two partners – quite understandably – are rivals, with Peninnah provoking and irritating Hannah. Hannah is (again, understandably) saddened by her circumstances – and in addition, there is misunderstanding between Elkanah and Hannah over their infertility. While he tries to comfort his wife, Elkanah also seems to express that he’s feeling a bit of inadequacy as a husband (“Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”).
And these people are the religious people of the day. They regularly worship and offer sacrifices at God’s place (Shiloh). You’d like to think that this should make a difference to the struggle of their lives, but it’s hard to see if or how it does. On the contrary, it just seems to create more tension between Peninnah and Hannah.
The story of 1 Samuel begins with Elkanah and Hannah’s tumultuous family life, but they won’t be the main characters we’ll spend time with as we follow the story of 1 Samuel. Rather, they are the “back story” to the main story: they give us a snapshot into the world of God’s people in the centuries before Jesus. It’s a world which is much like our own – one in which the lives of everyday people are a struggle personally and spiritually. It’s hard for them to live well; it’s hard for them to live faithfully for God. Hannah and Elkanah struggled; we, too, struggle in the same way. Maybe their lives aren’t all that different from ours.
In this series (“Waiting for a true King”), we’ll be travelling with the Israelites as they search for God’s true King, the one who is going to lead them in living well under God as their true King. Hannah and Elkanah don’t know where this journey will take them and their nation. But while we can identify with the struggles of Hannah and Elkanah as fellow residents of a sinful world, we are also followers of Jesus. We have the benefit of hindsight in pointing us to Jesus as God’s ultimate and forever King – a King who gives us security and comfort in the chaos of life in a sinful world.