Though most of the prominent members of the Sons of Korah within the pages of scripture are men, there is at least one very important woman among known to be among them who is notable and prominent within the scriptures. We therefore ought to give her full credit along with her illustrious husband Elkanah , one of the many Elkanahs of the line of the Sons of Korah, and her son Samuel, notable Judge and prophet of Israel . As a heroine of the faith, Hannah is a noble character who brings faith and credit to her family and to the community of believers through the course of biblical history as well.
We know nothing from scripture about the family background of Hannah. We do not know her parents’ names, what tribe she was from, or anything about her early life. It would be impious to speculate in the absence of any firm evidence. All that we may infer from scripture is that she was a woman of remarkable character in her personal piety, and a woman who was profoundly hurt by the attacks of her fecund rival for her husband’s affections, named Peninnah.
A Difficult Marriage
We may read about the troubles of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1:4-7: “And whenever the time came for Elkanah to make an offering, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he would give a double portion, for he loved Hannah, although the Lord had closed her womb. And her rival also provoked her severely, to make her miserable, because the Lord had closed her womb. So it was, year by year, when she went up to the house of the Lord, that she provoked her; therefore she wept and did not eat.”
We may see in Hannah’s intense sorrow, and in her refusal to eat after being provoked by her rival Peninnah, evidence of the depression that seemed to stalk some members of the Sons of Korah, most notably her great-grandson Heman . That said, let us also note that the closing of the womb was the action of the Eternal, and does not appear to be the result of any sin on Hannah’s part, so far as we are able to tell. Rather, it would appear as if the closing of the womb was a deliberate act by God to provoke Hannah, a faithful and pious woman, to devote her son to the service of God once her womb was opened, thus providing Israel with a faithful Judge and prophet who would lead and serve God in contrast to the wicked and corrupt sons of Eli, who defamed the honor and reputation of the priesthood in Shiloh.
With this in mind, that the closing of Hannah’s womb was done by the will of God, in the knowledge of Hannah’s righteous character and in expectation of her appropriate response to that trial, let us therefore state that Peninnah’s jealous hostility about her rival seems to spring from the clear favoritism shown by Elkanah to his first wife, and her awareness that her place in Elkanah’s household was only due to her ability to produce children and not due to any personal regard or attraction that Elkanah had to her, which is a hard reality for any proud woman to face, and therefore she sought to make Hannah miserable by deliberately attacking her weak point of her barren womb, a pattern of behavior seen frequently in bickering, dysfunctional families.
What Hannah’s grief and sorrow (depression even) prompted her to do is a remarkable example of biblical faith. She made a very serious vow to God, which we can find in 1 Samuel 1:8-18: “Then Elkanah her husband said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? And why is your heart grieved? Am I not better to you than ten sons?” So Hannah arose after they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh. 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. Then she made a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head.” And it happened, as she continued praying before the Lord, that Eli watched her mouth. Now Hannah spoke in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli thought she was drunk. So Eli said to her, “How long will you be drunk? Put your wine away from you!” But Hannah answered and said, “No, my lord, I am a woman of sorrowful spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor intoxicating drink, but have poured out my soul before the Lord. Do not consider your maidservant a wicked woman (daughter of Belial), for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief I have spoken until now.” Then Eli answered and said, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition which you have asked Him.” And she said, “Let your maidservant find favor in your sight.” So the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.”
This is a remarkable incident for a variety of reasons. It reveals much both about the godly response to depression as well as the difficulties and problems of ancient Israel during the time of Eli. For one, it is apparent that Elkanah (somewhat naively, perhaps), expected his obvious love and honor to trump Hannah’s childlessness and the attacks of his other wife, whom he married to father children of his own. Hannah’s grief does not seem to spring merely from the attacks of her rival, but from a deep feeling that her trial was from God. It grieved her deeply that she felt judged and tried despite her own piety and righteousness. She found it a grievous and difficult trial, and placed it before God for Him to resolve, with the promise that she would dedicate her firstborn to service to God under the Nazarite vow (see Numbers 6:1-21).
There is great irony in Eli assuming this woman promising her future son Samuel in service to God as a Nazarite, who was to drink no wine or strong drink, to be a drunk woman. Apparently, it was rare in those days for people to pray before the altar of God sincerely, but rather to do so in their cups. Eli probably saw few faithful people of Israel, and so falsely assumed that Hannah was a carouser and drunkard like the rest of the people in his sons’ circles who were around the tabernacle area. It is sad that instead of rebuking his sons and providing godly instruction to Israel that he insulted a godly and depressed woman, but he was at least morally sensitive enough to recognize his mistake, sincerely apologize for it, and encourage her on behalf of God.
It is noteworthy as well that Elkanah did not question her vow in the least, but in his silence confirmed it. Women, since their vows could alienate the inheritance of their fathers or husbands, generally required their vows to be confirmed by their fathers (if they were unmarried maidens) or husbands (if they were married). It is only widows and divorced women, who possessed such inheritance as they had, who were able to make vows without confirmation (see Numbers 30:1-16). It is a tribute of Elkanah’s love for Hannah that he confirmed her vow, even as it deprived him of the presence within his household of a future son.
As may be expected through divine providence, Hannah’s vow was granted, and she was vindicated and her womb was opened, which we see in 1 Samuel 1:19-28: “Then they rose early and worshiped before the Lord, and returned and came to their house at Ramah. And Elkanah knew Hannah is wife, and the Lord remembered her. So it came to pass in the process of time that Hannah conceived and bore a son, and called his name Samuel, saying, “Because I have asked for him from the Lord.” Now the man Elkanah and all his house went up to offer to the Lord the yearly sacrifice and his vow. But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, “Not until the child is weaned; then I will take him, that he may appear before the Lord and remain there forever.” So Elkanah her husband said to her, “Do what seems best to you; wait until you have weaned him. Only let the Lord establish His word.” Then the woman stayed and nursed her son until she had weaned him. Now when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, with three bulls, one ephah of flour, and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh. And the child was young. Then they slaughtered a bull, and brought the child to Eli. And she said, “O my lord! As your soul lives, my lord, I am the woman who stood by you here, praying to the Lord. For this child I prayed and the Lord has granted me my petition which I asked of Him. Therefore I also have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives he shall be lent to the Lord.” So they worshiped the Lord there.”
We see here that Hannah’s vindication was complete. We also may note, as an aside, that this verse directly disproves the Roman Catholic conception that sex is to be only for procreation, because while Hannah was thought to be barren we see a righteous man, Elkanah, having normal sexual relations with his wife. We may determine, therefore, that the biblical command for normal conjugal relations between husband and wife (see 1 Corinthians 7:2-5) trumps the concern for procreation alone.
We may also note that Hannah was determined to spend as much time with her son as possible before giving him over (“lending him”) to God. We also see that Elkanah was deeply concerned that the vow she promised be kept, not wishing to suffer from God for nonpayment of a vow. Hannah also gives over her son happily, glad that God has removed her trial of being barren. We see in the biblical scriptures a relentless longing for children, a longing that may be seen in our own day and age through the efforts by which barren women seek surrogate mothers or fertility treatments. Let us not assume that the desire to be fruitful and multiply is no longer active in the motives and desires of men and women. As Hannah’s vindication was complete, so was her joy complete (see 1 Samuel 2:1-10 . We no longer hear of any reproach or insulting from her rival Peninnah either.
The last notice we see of Hannah is her care and concern for her son Samuel during the annual trips her and her husband’s family make to Shiloh. We read of these visits in 1 Samuel 2:18-21: “But Samuel ministered before the Lord, even as a child, wearing a linen ephod. Moreover, his mother used to make him a little robe, and bring it to him year by year when she came up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. And Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, and say, “The Lord give you descendents from this woman for the loan that was given to the Lord.” Then they would go to their own home. And the Lord visited Hannah, so that she conceived and bore three sons and two daughters. Meanwhile, the child Samuel grew before the Lord.”
We see here the continuing love of Hannah for her son Samuel, working to make robes for him each year as he grew (and outgrew his old clothing). Likewise, we see that Eli’s appreciation for the loyal and devoted service of Samuel (who seems to have inherited his parents’ piety and not the poor example of Eli’s corrupt sons) was wholehearted and sincere. We also see God’s continued blessing of sons and daughters for Elkanah and Hannah, showing that once God had received His own servant Samuel, Hannah’s curse of barrenness was no more. She could once again be a happy and beloved wife without fear of reproach or shame.
The Biblical Verdict on Hannah
In the Bible Hannah stands as a faithful woman and a model example of godliness for other woman in her position. Hannah stands as an example of piety, of being a beloved wife, of being a devoted mother, and of trusting in God to such an extent as being willing to give up her son to a lifetime of service to God in order to remove the curse of childlessness. Though there is no longer any biblical dispensation of polygamy due to childlessness, let us note that the undiminished longing for children amidst the scourge of barrenness means that we ought to give Hannah’s vow a bit more attention as a possible model for behavior for women seeking for God to open their wombs. In addition, let us note that Hannah’s godliness and virtue make her a worthy model and example of godliness for women today, as well as a demonstration of divine mercy and providence in the midst of deep anguish and sorrow. Hannah has much to teach us even today as a worthy daughter of Korah (by marriage, at least).