Bible Study November 5 for Worship November 18Posted: November 2, 2012
Bible Study November 5 for Worship November 18
I Samuel 1: 4 On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters;
5 and, although he loved Hannah, he would give Hannah a double portion, because the LORD had closed her womb.
6 And her rival used to provoke her sorely, to irritate her, because the LORD had closed her womb.
7 So it went on year by year; as often as she went up to the house of the LORD, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat.
8 And Elkanah, her husband, said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”
9 After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the LORD.
10 She was deeply distressed and prayed to the LORD, and wept bitterly.
11 And she vowed a vow and said, “O LORD of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thy maidservant, and remember me, and not forget thy maidservant, but wilt give to thy maidservant a son, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”
12 As she continued praying before the LORD, Eli observed her mouth.
13 Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard; therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman.
14 And Eli said to her, “How long will you be drunken? Put away your wine from you.”
15 But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman sorely troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the LORD.
16 Do not regard your maidservant as a base woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.”
17 Then Eli answered, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition which you have made to him.”
18 And she said, “Let your maidservant find favor in your eyes.” Then the woman went her way and ate, and her countenance was no longer sad.
19 They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the LORD; then they went back to their house at Ramah. And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the LORD remembered her;
20 and in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked him of the LORD.”
Infertility can be a tragic unbearable sadness in the life of a woman. I have to readily admit as a man, and my guess is many other men, don’t get it. In our modern western world we spend so much time and effort trying to avoid conception it is hard for me to understand just our awesomely tragic infertility can be. But then I witness the great lengths to which couples will go to conceive and give birth to their own children, and I do intellectually understand that infertility is experienced as a terrible burden. Perhaps the key is to try to understand that child bearing is genetically programmed into women, and most women on a visceral level feel an urge to satisfy the call to motherhood. In a culture that valued women as the producers of the next generation, the first line of defense against the extinction of the tribe, the call to motherhood might become overwhelming. And then if we add to the cultural mix the need to produce many sons to serve as warriors for the protection of the tribe, we can perhaps understand the high status of women who gave birth to sons.
Poor Hannah had been unable to conceive. For the time it sounds like she and her husband Elkanah enjoyed a mutually affectionate relationship for the time. But in keeping with the culture, when Elkanah and Hannah had been unable to produce children, Elkanah took a second wife Penninah. The assumption was always that the woman was barren, rather than that the man was shooting blanks. Actually the custom of taking more than one wife, in that culture was an attempt to be compassionate and also the survival of the tribe. Because of the increased mortality of males, there was always a greater supply of women than men. Thus single women were given a protector and provider, and the tribe could put perfectly good breeding stock to work in order to insure the survival of the clan. When Penninah immediately produced a gaggle of children upon marrying Elkanah, Hannah’s barrenness was confirmed. She was defective.
Even though the custom of having more than one wife provided for the left over women and kept the tribe alive, there were problems with the practice – jealousy. Penninah seems to have been jealous of the affection shared by Elkannah and Hannah. The text tells us that Elkannah always gave Hannah a double portion in order to assure her that she was uppermost in his affectgions. After all who wants to be considered the “second wife” a heifer for breeding purposes. Hannah was also jealous of the attention Elkanah may have paid to Penninah. After all you don’t produce a gaggle of children without spending time with someone. Actually the text does not tell us exactly how many children Penninah had, but the text uses the plural “sons” and “daughters,” perhaps implying a minimum of four? Some midrash claims Penninah had produced ten sons, because of Elkanah’s remark in verse 8: “Am I not more to you than ten sons?” Such claims are probably stretching the point.
Obviously Elkanah did not understand Hannah’s distress. He didn’t get it. And he perhaps turned a blind eye to Pinninah’s harassment of Hannah not wanting to insert himself in what he considered to be a woman’s squabble. Anyway, poor Hannah was in complete distress, when she approached the tent of meeting at the special sacrifice at Shiloh.
Turning for a moment from Hannah’s distress we can note that at this time in the history of Israel the ark of the covenant was not in Jerusalem (Jerusalem was Jebusite rather than Israelite territory, and instead the sacred symbol of the Israelite people resided in the cult center of Shiloh in the Central Highlands in the allotment for the tribe of Ephraim. We should note that the village of Ramah is on the Western edge of Ephraim overlooking the escarpment that plunges down to the coastal plain. So the journey from Ramah to Shiloh was perhaps ten to fifteen miles.
At this time in the development of Judaism the Ark was a common national and spiritual symbol for the Israelite people, and it was readily available for anyone to pray in its presence. As a sacred object people were forbidden to touch it, and it had to be carried using poles and rings attached to it, because it was believed that if someone touched it they would die. But it was still available to be seen by ordinary people, rather than tucked away in the inner sanctums of a temple and kept behind a curtain separating the people from the object of their worship.
Hannah prayed so fervently that the High Priest and keeper of the Ark believed she was drunk, and he scolded her. But when Hannah opened her heart to Eli he perceived her authenticity and gave her a blessing that the story seems to credit with her then conceiving a son. In her joy Hannah also swears and oath, this helps to link Hannah’s story to Ruth, and in the oath she promises to give the gift God has given her back to God. And perhaps this is why the lectionary scheduled this passage for Stewardship Sunday. Hannah is justified by the God’s gift of a son. Midrash goes on to enlarge upon the story claiming that Hannah then had several more children. But Hannah is willing to give back the gift in order to honor her promise to God. Perhaps it is enough to simply ask ourselves what are we willing to give back to God in return for all the blessings we have received?
LET’S ASK SOME QUESTIONS OF THE TEXT
1. On what day did Elkanah offer sacrifice?
2. Where did Elkanah offer his sacrifice?
3. Who was included in the sacrificial ritual?
4. How would you describe the relationship between Elkanah and Hannah?
5. Who was Hannah’s chief rival?
6. How did her rival taunt Hannah?
7. Where was Hannah praying when she made her promise to God?
8. What promise did Hannah make to God?
9. Who thought Hannah was drunk?
10. What blessing did the High Priest give to Hannah?
11. What was the result of the oath and the blessing?
LET’S ALLOW THE TEXT TO ASK QUESTIONS OF US
1. Do you think women today are as motivated to have children as in the time of Hannah?
2. Do you think most women experience an innate desire for children apart from cultural expectations?
3. What insight do you think the story of Hannah may offer concerning plural marriage?
4. In Tibetan culture several brothers may simultaneously share one wife. How do you think that works out?
5. In cultures that regularly practice female infanticide, what do you think will be the effect on the institution of marriage?
6. Many gay and lesbian couples want to have children. How do you think our culture is adapting to that desire?
7. On what occasion or occasions have you prayed most fervently?
8. Have you ever made a promise to God?
9. What can you give back to God?
10. Have you ever considered your children to be a gift?
The week of November 12 – November 18: Twenty-fifth Sunday After Pentecost – I Samuel 1:4-20 – Praise the Holy One – I Samuel 2:1-10, Daniel 12:1-3, Psalm 16, Hebrews 10:11-14, (15-18), 19-25, Mark 13:1-8.