When you’ve finished reading about the remarkable Moabite woman named Ruth, if you turn the page you are immediately introduced to another worthy woman by the name of Hannah. Like Ruth, her story is meant to be tied into the monarchy of Israel. We’re to understand that the great kings of Israel had their beginnings in these humble women. In fact, it doesn’t require a lot of imagination to read the stories of these two women and see their trajectory leading to Elizabeth and Mary.
I think it would be a fair assessment to say that Hannah was lowly in terms of her status in the world. This is witnessed partly by the fact that she’s married to a man who has another wife (1 Samuel 1:2). How painful that must have been! The most likely scenario is that Hannah was Elkanah’s first wife and when she was unable to have children, he married Peninnah. And, when she provides Elkanah with the children that Hannah could not, her anguish would only be intensified and her status solidified.
And that leads to Peninnah’s relationship with Hannah. She appears to have despised her. Elkanah precipitated some of this by giving Hannah a double portion to sacrifice at the feast as a show of his love for her (v. 4-5). Peninnah retaliates by provokingHannah (v. 6). Human nature being what it is, I seriously doubt if this behavior occurred only at the time of the feast but perhaps there it was at its worst then. The family would probably be in closer quarters making the situation more volatile. This despising and provoking had gone on for years and the writer speaks of Hannah’s deep anguish, bitter tears, and inability to eat (v. 7,10).
Maybe we could sum it all up by just saying that Hannah was “not.” She does not have children, she does not have her husband’s undivided love, she does not have Peninnah’s respect—she is not! And her condition cannot be cured by Elkanah’s insensitive assurance that he should mean more to her than ten sons (v. 8).
Paul will say in 1 Corinthians 1:28-29, that “God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him.” In other words, Hannah was the perfect person for God to use to send someone (Samuel), who would anoint the first two kings of Israel. Through this lowly, despised woman who was not, God brought the kings of Israel.
But Paul’s point isn’t really about the kings of Israel—it’s about the kingdom of heaven. Entrance into it isn’t secured because of what we are in human terms, it is secured because of who Christ is and what He has done. What we are only gets in the way. Therefore, Paul says, God made all of that (our status), unimportant by the cross and His choosing of the lowly, despised, and not is meant to reinforce this. The kingdom belongs to the poor in spirit, not those who by the world’s standards are rich in reputation. The Corinthians were foolish to be putting stock in that and so are we.
We must decrease and He must increase.