Elkanah & Hannah, Samuels parents

Couple relationships in the Bible

Second story: Samuel’s parents.

(3650 words)

As in the previous story this story also describe a relationship triangle, between a spouse members and between them and God – as it usually occurs (should occur) in the lives of believers. A comparison to the previous couple story will also be presented.

This story is about Elkanah and Hannah who live in Mount Ephraim. Elkanah has two wives, Hannah and Pnina, Pnina has children and Hannah does not. From other stories in the Bible we know the tragic impact that infertility had in ancient times, and we can also see how the issue of fertility was used as a weapon in the struggles between women in families where there were multiple Wives, and how the struggles poisoned the atmosphere and were a destructive factor within the family.

God directed the authors and editors of the bible the in a way that the Bible stories will reflect His messages. Therefore we can come to the conclusion, when we see the stories showing bad fruit when marrying multiple Wives, that God does not support having multiple wives, even though it is not explicitly forbidden in the Torah, and even though it was (mistakenly) accepted as a badge of honor and status in ancient times.

The story before us is further complicated by the fact that Elkanah loves Hannah rather than Pnina, yet Hannah do not take comfort in his love and feels bitterness because of her infertility. Pnina who is jealous of the beloved Hannah uses the fact that she has children to get back at her. The story is reminiscent of the story of Rachel and Leah, when in both cases the relationship between the women is rife with hatred and jealousy.

For both Rachel and Hannah, the beloved women, one can ask: what is the destructive factor that leads someone to see in his life only the half empty glass, so much so that he becomes so bitter and depressed? Rachel and Hannah get real love from their husbands, but their infertility seems to paint their lives black.

As for Leah and Pnina, it’s not easy for me to be critical. Because it seems to me that a woman who is not loved by her husband faces something harder than she can bear. And how is it that God allows these humans and this world he created to experience such difficult things that seems to have no solution? At the same time, as I try to moderate my automatic emotional response, I see that God also had mercy for the two women, at least by giving them children. Since children are a very precious gift from above and in ancient times, these gifts were also a sign of honor and blessing from heaven, Then it looks right that these women will try to take comfort in their children – striving to build a relationship of closeness and love with them that would make up for the lack of love in the marital relationship. Instead both women use the children to continue butting heads and jealousy.

so it looks – despite my automatic tendency (and that of humans in general) to immediately blame God, and upon closer examination – that God does gave Leah and Pnina a way out but they refuse to hold on to it. Their insistence further alienates them from the love of their husbands, from love and from peace in general, and adds hardship and pain that were not dictated in advance by initial circumstances. Ultimately, I can understand both in this story and in life, that the difficult circumstances dictated from above only help to understand and reveal the true nature of myself and of human beings in general, a nature of constant complains instead of thankfulness. By this revelation  (Of His generosity) we can bring our difficulties before God,  so He can fix whatever He think that it’s the right time to fix.

We are all sinners and as we saw in this story, not only Pnina demonstrate immaturity, also Hannah does. Like her, the tendency that we all have is not to notice that into any circumstance, however difficult, there is always some kind of grace. The grace is an opening through which one can: A. avoids some of the hardship and suffering. B. To find the hope faith and love, that their source is God, and have the power to completely transform the picture. Still, though both Hannah and Pnina are given difficult circumstances that reveals their sinful nature, these circumstances also reveals Hannah’s very beautiful inner nature, as yet will be seen.

Hannah doesn’t know how to solve her problem, not the external problem of infertility and not the inner problem of knowing how to come before God in a right way (and coming before her husbend in the right way). She can’t solve her problems because as a human being she is part of the problem. Still she made one good choice. She seems to have made a real covenant with God (a true covenant can be made only by following His specific way to set it. Many say they have made a covenant but did not bother to find out how He ruled that a covenant should be formed and therefore their covenant is not valid).

Still, despite the covenant, it is not easy for Hannah, like the rest of us, to understand the divine way of resolving her difficulties and suffering. Elkanah in his love for her does try to show her where she fails to understand the divine way, and he tells her: “why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” (1 Samuel 1,8). But it seems that despite his efforts and love she is not convinced.

A person should not be judged on his grief and pain because we are not in his place and we do not know how we would react if we were caught up in a situation like his. Elkanah doesn’t judge his wife either, his love and concern for her is heartfelt and the kind words and encouragement he says show that he is a deeply values driven person. In these things, it appears that Elkanah, like Manoah, is trying to guard and protect his wife from evil and is also trying to guide and lead her in the right way, thus fulfilling his role as a man. Still, the difference between Elkanah and Manoah is that Elkanah does this while sensitizing and understanding her mental state and while trying to create a dialogue and communication through respect, whereas with Manoah these elements are lacking.

Every year, Elkanah and his family were going to the House of God in Shiloh and Hannah is spending a long time praying before God. It’s interesting to follow Hannah’s prayer wording and her mindset. She has no Siddur (Jewish prayer arrangement) or any other dictated text and yet her prayer is ultimately accepted. Is it possible, then, that in God’s eyes, the written and fixed prayers are unnecessary (as in the Jewish late tradition), and you can just speak to Him in your own way? Prayer is supposed to be a dialogue with God and as in any dialogue and as in any relationship, the attitude of the heart is important rather than beautiful words quoted from a book. After all, when a request that was written by another person in a different time and situation is printed and read to a loved one, such an appeal is usually seem even ridiculous.

Hannah, as it is written, is a bitter and taciturn woman, perhaps even depressive. Her husband fails to comfort her, and when he tries to talk to her heart, she falls silent. But before God, she pours out her heart and to the high priest she says: “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer. I was pouring out my soul to the Lord.

Elkanah complained that Hannah does not speak and does not eat and here, before God she speak without stopping and before she comes to pray it is written that she eat and drank. Usually, bound by her depression, she fails to see the beauty and grace of her husband’s love and focuses on what is missing, but in the company of God she relents and softens and then reveals everything to Him. The House of God may be the only place where she opens her heart, cries, even screams and confesses. So much so, that the priest thinks she’s drunk and berates her. But isn’t it a painting of a very deep and intimate relationship with God? In her prayer she also uses the explicit name, which also add to the sense of intimacy (in contrast to the tradition in these days when the rabies ban the use of the explicit name even though the Torah only forbids its use in vain and does not forbid when it is used properly). (For reading a post about how Judaism needs to change today, you may open here).

Part of the things Hannah is saying to God in her prayer is that if He will give her a child she will dedicate the child to Him as a monk. Here again, Despite the deep intimacy of the relationship with God, we see that Hannah’s attitude is immature. This approach is quite typifies many believers who forget that there’s nothing God can’t do on his own, so what is the point of offering him a trade? Does the believer have to ‘bribe’ God so he will give him what he craves? It makes no sense.

Still, despite the immature attitude (we are all immature to one degree or another), from this story and other biblical stories, it seems that God particularly cherishes the innocent attitude of the heart and then forgives the immaturity of us all. While it is better for Hannah to grow up and mend her ways, thus saving herself pain, she has the right basic approach of a true believer. Because to whom does man remove all the partitions and open his heart? Only to someone close, to someone whom he trusts, cherishes and loves, and that is the main thing in a faith relationship: Love the Lord thy God with all your heart and with all your soul and with your entire mind.

When we look Also at the stories of other Bible heroes, we can see that faith life according to the Bible is based primarily on close and intimate personal relationships with God and not on studying books and sitting in yeshivas (Jewish torah studding schools), not on dictated prayers, not on observance, not on sitting at the feet of rabbis, priests or pastors. It is neither even about ‘good deeds’. It’s the same as in any other love relationship, when a person is simply trusting, when he feels close, confident, when he is open and honest, when love flourishes.

We can take Enoch – the seventh to Adam – for example. He gained the rare and special privilege to be taken to heaven in his earthly body, without tasting death because he simply “walked with the Lord”. The bible do not state that Enoch was studied the Torah or did good deeds. The only thing it sees fit to mention about Enoch’s take to the heavens is that he walked with the Lord. Walking with someone means being with him, accompanying him, seeing everything through him because I had been with him through good and bad, in great closeness, every day, for years.

Eli, the high priest who hears Hannah’s conversation with God, informs her that God has heard her request and will give her a son. Then, she calls her newborn son Samuel because the child was loaned to her by God (in Hebrew the name comes for the word that means to lend/borrow). Isn’t everything we get, is actually borrowed? All the things we have been given, like the roles we have been given to fill, the circumstances of life, infertility or fertility, are not the eternal essence, they are temporary things. The eternal essence is love (and God is this love).

After Hannah gives birth and weaned Samuel, she brings him to Eli with offerings and sacrifices so that he will remain to serve in the House of God in Shiloh. It should be noted that at that time there was no easy means of communication, phones, cars, so one can stay in touch. When Hannah leaves Samuel in Shiloh, she cuts herself from him, so, there is no doubt that the separation from the child who she so prayed for, is difficult for both spouses. Yet Hannah does not compromise and stands by her vow by all means (although it seemed unnecessary to vow it, and to me personally it seems that it damaged Samuel in the long term). Hannah doesn’t just keep her vow, she does it happily, with all her heart, and as we said, this is the main thing. Excitedly she tells Eli who this boy is, reminds him of her prayer at the time and then opens with a beautiful song to God.

Elkanah’s attitude to his wife also continues to be very illuminating. He seems to be completely cooperative with her, bringing the child along with her and brings three bulls! Who are very expensive in that time. Elkanah doesn’t fret about his manhood, about his wife focusing attention. After all, she is at the center of all these events and the dialogue with God about the son has passed through her. And after all, how can he know she hadn’t imagined it all? And why would he give up his newborn son only on the basis of strange things she says?

But isn’t Elkana’s support, love and trust to his wife revealing his leadership and manhood? A true leader is the one who supports encourages and protects his followers so that they succeed and will be blessed and respected. If he asks for these blessing and respect for himself, he is not a leader but a tyrant. And between the two terms: leader and tyrant, there is an abysmal difference that often tends to mix.

Hannah’s mood then can’t be disconnected from Elkanah’s enlightening attitude, on the contrary, her mood likely fed on his attitude, because spouses tend to mirror each other. In this uplifting mood she is singing: 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 warriors are broken, but those who stumbled are armed with strength. Those who were full hire themselves out for food, but those who were hungry are hungry no more. She who was barren has borne seven children, but she who has had 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 he exalts. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor. For the foundations of the earth are the Lord’s; on them he has set the world. He will guard the feet of his faithful servants, but the wicked will be silenced in the place of darkness. It is not by strength that one prevails; those who oppose the Lord will be broken. The Most High will thunder from heaven; the Lord will judge the ends of the earth. He will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed.” (1Samuel 2,1).

Hannah here seems to answer the difficulties we raised at the beginning of the post about the suffering that a person may experience and God allows. And the answers Hannah gives are similar to those we brought up and have the same spirit – the Spirit of the God of Israel. It is interesting that she know to sing about the enemies of God saying: “those who oppose the Lord will be broken” and He will “thunder” and “judge the ends of the earth” then “will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed“.

A Psalm poet who lived long after Hannah and wrote in entirely different circumstances wrote so: “The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed… I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain… Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will break them with a rod of iron, you will dash them to pieces like pottery” (Psalms 2).

This prophecy paints the same picture for the end days as Hannah did. Hannah, therefore, from her simple, human pain and joy, and from her innocent faith and intimate relationship to God, prophesies a very far-reaching prophecy, confirmed by the great prophets who lived long after her.

In conclusion, all things in the world have a deep root which is often hidden from view. Each tree bears fruit according to the depth and nature of its root. True love is always a deep root and here, the fruit carried by the love of Elkanah and Hannah as well as Hannah’s deep faith and Elkanah’s enlightening support as the leader of the family, yields a fruit in the form of Samuel the prophet, who was one of Israel’s greatest figures.

The story of Elkanah and Hannah and the story of Manoah and his wife discussed in the previous post have many similarities. As always the Bible is using comparison and parallelization between figures, events, circumstances. Also in its poems, the bible has a unique sentence structure that reflects the idea of comparison, parallelization and using different words to say the same thing from multiple angles. This technique, reflected also in the presentation of events and figures in the bible, allows such a large depth and richness.

In these two stories the bible repeat the motive of infertility when the two wives, receives advance notice that God will open their womb. Such an announcement is a sign that the child is destined for a special role from above. Hannah’s son, as Manoah’s wife’s son, is pre-destined to serve God and both are raised as monks (the Jewish monk is not like the Christian or Buddhist monk and the characteristics of it are different.)

On the background of these similarities between the stories the differences stands up, then we are able to understand the messages from God who put these stories side by side. Manoah and his wife didn’t show the intimacy and depth in their relationship as Hannah and Elkanah did. Manoah does not trust his wife, he tries to show his ownership and cover up his insecurities with attempt to control, while Elkanah so believes and trusts his wife that he gives his son to strangers based on the strange story she tells him, and does so generously and happily. Hannah and Elkanah didn’t experience a physical revelation of the angel of the Lord as Manoah and his wife did, though, Hannah has a deep inner revelation as emerges from the far-reaching prophecy she has prophesied.

In the previous post, I also compared Manoah to Adam and said that the positive side of Manoah was that he was actively involved in his wife’s experience, and thus played his role as protector and guardian, while Adam didn’t do so. Yet the quasi-automatic trust Elkanah gives his wife doesn’t seem to indicate passivity as Adam had. Adam accepted the fruit from his wife not because he is convinced it is the right thing to do but because he does not wanted to lose her (i.e. the motive is selfish and in his act he actually harms her). Elkanah doesn’t have any selfish motives, but he seems to recognize his wife’s true value (and he’s not wrong. His wife is a true and powerful believer.) He knows that she is not manipulative, and that what she tells is true. It seems, then, that Elkanah is the real man and leader, though he makes no effort to demonstrate it. The love and trust he gives his wife imply that his faith is also strong, because those who don’t know how to trust and love people don’t know how to trust and love God.

We have seen that Manoah and his wife are also people of faith and their faith is sincere. Though Manoah may have character weaknesses, it seems that God forgives character weaknesses and rewards honest faith wherever it is. Manoah and his wife because of their faith receive a revelation of God’s glory, and such a revelation is a great prize that changes people’s lives forever. Yet the fruit of Elkanah and Hannah’s love, the child they receive from God, is different from the fruit Manoah and his wife received. Although Samson the Son of Manoah served God as Samuel the son of Elkanah, he did so more in his body and less in spirit and in constant submission to his weaknesses. Samuel, by contrast, is a man of great spirit and faith.

The fruit of any tree, as we noted, is directly related to the root bearing the tree. The marital relationship according to the Bible is related and symbolizes the relationship a person should have with God thus the fruit of marriage, i.e. children, symbolizes a spiritual fruit that people can pick in their lives, depending on the depth and nature of their roots.


To read the first couple relationship story: about Manoah and his wife open here

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