The first book of Samuel opens with the story of Hannah and her feelings as she struggles with infertility. But there is more to the story. Hannah is married to Elkanah, who has two wives. The other wife of Elkanah, Peninnah – is adversarial towards Hannah. The text seems to indicate that Elkanah married Hannah for love, but hints that because Hannah did not have children that he then married Peninnah. Whether this is the case or not, the text does mention that Elkanah loved Hannah and also indicates that he showed her preferential treatment (see 1 Samuel 1:5).
Peninnah, because she is able to have children, causes no small stir in the household as she “provoked her (Hannah) sore, for to make her fret, because the Lord had shut up her womb.” (1 Samuel 1:5) This puts Hannah in a difficult situation. Overcome with grief, she goes to the tabernacle at Shiloh. She goes without food, is weeping, and praying to the Lord when Eli, the high priest at Shiloh, sees her petitioning the Lord.
Hannah’s story is an excellent illustration of how youth can handle adversarial relationships. I asked the young people in my classes what group of individuals causes them the most opposition. A majority of my students mentioned some person in their family as their greatest struggle. This is not uncommon. Those we love can bring us the greatest happiness, but they can also hurt us the most. Hannah was not an exception in this regard. By analyzing Hannah’s reaction to her situation we can then implement her attitudes and behaviors as we face our own personal challenges.
Hannah did four things to help her deal with her antagonist. In many ways Hannah is the perfect foil to Samson. Samson dealt with his opponents using violence where Hannah chose a different path.
1. Hannah “vowed a vow”. She covenanted with the Lord that if He would grant her a son, that she would give him to the Lord. By binding herself to the Lord, she found strength to endure her trial. There is power in making and keeping covenants. Not only did the Lord answer her prayer, but He blessed Hannah with six children (see 1 Samuel 2:21). This shows us that the Lord will give us what we ask, even more than what we ask for.
2. Hannah listened to her priesthood leader. When Eli told Hannah, “Go in peace: and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of him” (1 Samuel 1:17) Hannah responded in a positive manner. She did not respond, “well – you say I will receive my petition. How do you know? How do you even know what I was asking for?” Instead the text tells us that Hannah “went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad.” (1 Samuel 1:18)
3. Hannah endured her trial in faith. We don’t know how long she waited, but the scriptures tells us “it came to pass, when the time was come about after Hannah had conceived, that she bare a son” implying that some time passed before Hannah conceived. Oftentimes it is not the trial itself but the not knowing when it will end that causes us the most stress.
4. Hannah poured her soul out to the Lord (1 Samuel 1:15). The Lord is concerned with our struggles and will give us aid. By taking her troubles to the Lord she was able to have her burden lifted (see Alma 34:18-27).
It does not say this in the text of 1 Samuel, but we can assume that Peninnah is coming from a place of pain in this story as well. People usually don’t go around causing others grief if they themselves are not in some sort of agony. I believe that Peninnah felt like the lesser of the two wives of Elkanah. Elkanah showed preference to Hannah, and we can assume that he favored her in other ways as well. By having children and then rubbing this in Hannah’s face, it is likely that Peninnah felt somewhat superior to Hannah. In this process of revelation Hannah experienced impressions regarding Peninnah as well. I do not doubt that the Lord helped Hannah to see the place of pain that Peninnah was working from, thus giving Hannah precious perspective through this ordeal.
I have had personal experience with this sort of situation. By taking my trouble to the Lord, I have been able to view my adversary the way the Lord does, giving me greater views, granting peace in the place of pain. When we see others the way the Lord sees them, we tend to show more mercy in our interactions with them. This lends towards patience, understanding, and a greater tendency to return evil with love instead of thorns.