Elkanah, you know, the guy from Ramathaim-zophim? The son of Jeroham? The great-great-great grandson of Zuph the Ephraimite? Ring any bells? Oh yeah, he was also the husband of Hannah and the father of Samuel the prophet. Anyways, in my read-the-Bible-in-90-days challenge, I was blown away by just how sweet and kind he was towards Hannah. Of course, when we read this ancient story, there will be things that make us uncomfortable, and rightly so, such as polygamy, but when reading the Bible we should keep in mind where it’s headed and not get hung up on the things that are ancient and foreign to our culture because that’s exactly what they are.
Anyways, in 1 Samuel 1, we read about Elkanah, Hannah, and Peninnah. Peninnah is Elkanah’s other wife, and she is able to have children while Hannah can’t (1 Samuel 1:2). Every year, the whole gang would travel to Shiloh to worship and make sacrifices to God. Elkanah, like several in the Bible who had multiple companions, preferred Hannah over Peninnah. Despite being the favorite, Hannah was distraught because Peninnah would mock her for not being able to have children. This rivalry, anger, and anxiety is why polygamy should never be practiced by any follower of Jesus.
Eventually, the rivalry became so intense that Hannah would not even eat. Elkanah, upon seeing his wife in such bad shape, says, “Hannah, why do you weep and why do you not eat and why is your heart sad? Am I not better to you than ten sons?”
In order to understand how amazing of a statement this is, we have to spend a few moments talking about the culture at the time. Eternal life was thought of as having your name remembered forever and ever. In order to do this, you needed to have lots and lots of descendants. So, when a wife could not produce a child, specifically a son, there would be a lot of pressure on her because the man’s name would be cut off from Israel upon his death.
The book of Ruth is all about this culture. In Ruth, Naomi’s husband and sons died childless. Since there wasn’t a brother to marry one of her daughters-in-law, she wanted them to return home and find husbands in Moab. Ruth refused and returned to the land with Naomi. Then, they discovered that there was a next of kin that Ruth could marry, so she did, and eventually King David was born. At the end of the story, a group of women said to Naomi, “May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him” (Ruth 4:15). Ruth was better than seven sons because she gave birth to a son and allowed the name of Naomi’s family to continue in the land.
Do you see how incredible Elkanah’s comment is? Being able to produce children is everything in this culture, so for him to say that she meant more to him than ten sons is basically saying that he doesn’t care if his name remains in Israel as long as he has her. Wow!
So, for all you guys out there who are single or are in a relationship and need something sweet to say, try out this line and see how it works.