The other wife

I had a dream last night that Forest had a second wife.  She and I were sitting in her living room which was crawling with cats. She showed me pictures of Forest and was urging me to believe that she also was married to my husband.

I woke up feeling slightly angry and unsettled. My dear husband assured me that he knew no one of the dream girl’s description.  I also took comfort in the fact that I was much better looking than this mystery lady.

With this experience in my mind, I consider the story of Hannah, found in the book of 1 Samuel chapters 1-2, with great sympathy.

Not only did Hannah have to share her hubby Elkanah with another woman, the other lady was having kids while Hannah was barren.  As heart breaking as barrenness is today, it was even worse in ancient times.  There were no retirement plans or care homes, nor was there government support for seniors. Women depended on their children alone to look after them and give them favourable status in society.

I wrote a post on Facebook that described how the word “good” in Chinese is composed of a woman and a son.  In Ancient Chinese culture, a son was of chief importance.  I will always remember watching ‘The Joy Luck Club’ at a far too young age and being terrified of the furious mother-in-law who punished a poor 15 year old girl for not producing a son.

Hannah did not have a furious mother-in-law but a rival wife who “provoked her till she wept and would not eat.” (1:7) I can sort of understand the rival wife’s cruelty.  She was probably jealous because Elkanah seemed to love Hannah the most (1:5) What a mess.

Elkanah tried to comfort Hannah by asking, “Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”

I would have felt like saying, “sorry buddy, that’s not going to solve the problem.”

I think the writer gives a clue to the solution with the words “the Lord had closed her womb.”  Perhaps he would open it again.

Hannah hoped so. She went to the temple and “in bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord.” (1:10)

What a picture… I can see Hannah in mind, perhaps sprawled on the floor, shoulders shaking with sobs, hands on her face. In total desperation, she makes a promise to dedicate her son to the Lord’s work.

What would I do if I saw her? Give her space? Try to comfort her somehow? Stare at her and feel awkward?

Eli, the priest, saw her silent lips moving and snarled, “how long will you keep on getting drunk? Get rid of your wine.” (1:14)

Ouch! I don’t know what would have come out of my mouth if I was Hannah but it wouldn’t have been pretty.  How much more can this poor woman take?

Hannah shows her character by respectfully telling rude Eli that she is heartbroken and crying out to God.  Eli takes his foot out of his mouth and says something more appropriate this time, “Go in peace, and May the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.” (1:17).  Such a change in Eli’s words and they help Hannah feel a lot better.  She eats and smiles and makes love and…

“The Lord remembered her. So in the course of time Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, ‘Because I asked the Lord for him.” (1:20)

There is something about Hannah that shines out in this story. She is surrounded by people who say the wrong things instead of really listening to her.  She doesn’t lash out or give up. There is an incredible determination, humility and elegance in her…. so much so that she catches God’s eye and he remembers her.

And she makes good on her promise. A couple of years after Samuel is born, she shows up before Eli again to give him her son.  I wonder if he remembered her? I would have loved to see his face.  I don’t know if I could do what Hannah did. After finally receiving a son she gives him away?  How does she feel? Is she heartbroken like before?

No, out of Hannah’s mouth pours a majestic song:

My heart rejoices in the Lord;

In the Lord my horn is lifted high.

My mouth boasts over my enemies,

For I delight in your deliverance.

There is no one holy like the Lord;

There is no one besides you;

There is no rock like our God.

Do not keep talking so proudly

Or let your mouth speak such arrogance,

For the Lord is a God who knows,

And by him deeds are weighed.

The bows of the wicked are broken,

But those who were hungry hunger no more.

She who was barren has borne seven children,

But she who has many sons pines away.

The Lord brings death and makes alive;

He brings down to the grave and raises up.

The Lord sends poverty and wealth;

He humbles and exalts.

He raises the poor from the dust

And lifts the needy from the ash heap;

He seats them with princes

And has hem inherit a throne of honour.

For the foundations of the earth are the Lord’s;

Upon them he has set he world.

He will guard the feet of his saints,

But the wicked will be silenced in darkness.

It is not by strength that one prevails…. (2:1-9)

There are a few more lines which you can read but this last one is so poignant-

It is not by strength that one prevails….

Hannah prevailed by running to the temple and pouring out her heart like a little child to someone more powerful than her enemies.  Enemies of despair and self pity, self hatred.

I know those enemies well.

He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap.

Hannah was not left with empty arms. Eli was so grateful with the gift of Samuel. He continued to speak blessings over Hannah. and “The Lord was gracious to Hannah” (2:21) and she had three more sons and two daughters.  Life did not end well for Eli and his sons, but Samuel grew up to be a powerful leader in Israel where he appointed the first two kings of the nation.

My favourite sports games to watch are when the underdog wins.  I think God likes those ones too 😉

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