Sunday, October 9, 2011

Peninnah



1 Samuel 1: 2-7

Facts About Her:
  • She was married to Elkanah, the son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephrathite (vs.2);
  • She was a polygamous wife and shared her husband with Hannah (the mother of the prophet Samuel) (vs. 2);
  • She had children, sons and daughters, while Hannah had none (vs. 2, 4);
  • Every year when Elkanah took his family to offer sacrifices at the Tabernacle in Shiloh he gave Penninah's sons and daughters "portions" and also gave Hannah a "worthy portion" (vs. 4);
  • In speaking of Hannah 1 Samuel 1:6-7 states that "... her adversary also provoked her sore, for to make her fret, because the Lord had shut up her womb. And as he did so year by year, when she went up to the house of the Lord, so she provoked her; therefore she wept, and did not eat." The word "adversary" that is used in this verse is the Hebrew word " tsarah" and is used here to connote a female enemy (source). Peninnah was Hannah's "adversary" and made her feel so worthless because she didn't have children that Hannah stopped eating, wept constantly and was “in bitterness of soul.” If fact the Hebrew word that is used to describe Hannah's weeping is " bakah" which implies lamenting and wailing as though for the dead. (source)
Speculations About Her:
  • Because Peninnah's name is listed after Hannah's name in the account it is reasonable to assume that Hannah was Elkanah's first wife and that Peninnah was his second wife. As the first wife Hannah would have held a position of leadership and authority over the women, including Peninnah. It could have been that the reason Peninnah provoked Hannah was because she resented Hannah's authority and tried to usurp her by claiming that, because she had children and Hannah had none, she should have more power and authority in the household. It is also quite clear from the account that Elkenah had a deep love for Hannah and Peninnah may have felt threatened by that love. No matter what their situation was it sure sounds like they had quite the domestic nightmare on their hands!
  • Every year when Elkanah took his wives and family to Shiloh (where the Tabernacle was located) they offered peace offerings. Peace offerings were given as a sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise and were often presented for some special blessing or vow. A peace offering had to be a bull or a ram and after the fat, kidneys, and other parts were burned, the priest was given the breast and right shoulder. The rest of the animal was given back to the offerer to be eaten in a special feast of thanksgiving. It appears that when he offered peace offerings that Elkanah gave portions of the meat to each of Peninnah's children. Hannah also received a "worthy" portion which meant that she either got more than the others or that it was a better portion. This may have been because of her status as head wife or because of Elkanah’s love for her. No doubt that it was just another source of contention between Peninnah and Hannah. (Source)
My Thoughts:

Women often make hasty or unfair judgments about each other when it comes to childbearing. This proclivity to judge is not something that that is unique to modern women and Peninnah and Hannah's story can teach us two important lessons about how we can become more understanding of each other's situations and support and love one another whether we have children or not.

First, in Old Testament times women who were unable to bear children were viewed to be “cursed” or “afflicted” by God. In view of this one can imagine that Hannah must have been desperate for a child, not only to fulfill her maternal longings, but to assure herself that she wasn't hated or forgotten by God. Then on top of her longing she had to deal with the added challenge of Peninnah, who
provoked her so much and made her feel so worthless because she didn't have children that Hannah wept as though she was dead. Probably much of Peninnah's self-worth was tied to the fact that she had children and she allowed that pride to make her unkind and judgmental to Hannah. Her judgments and actions seem harsh and unfair, especially when we know that Hannah had no control over her situation.

Yet how many of us have behaved like Peninnah at some point in our lives?

Have we made unfair or harsh judgments about women who don’t have children, women who have too many children, women whose children are spaced too close together, or too far apart? Have we intentionally or unintentionally said things to make another woman “fret” or weep “in bitterness of soul” because we don’t really understand what she is going through? Do we let our own insecurities or fears keep us from showing love and compassion at a time when another woman needs it the most? It is truly impossible for us to truly understand another person’s circumstances, even when we feel they are similar to our own, and it is always best to err on the side of compassion and love rather than judgement and condemnation.


Second, it is interesting to note that in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament that was used by the church in Christ’s time, it doesn’t mention anything about Peninnah “provoking Hannah sore”. We don’t know which translation is correct but it makes for an interesting conversation either way. On one hand Peninnah may have taunted Hannah and made her feel inadequate as a woman and a wife because she didn’t have children. Yet on the other hand Peninnah may not have provoked Hannah at all, meaning that Hannah’s feelings of inadequacy as a mother and a woman were her own perceptions of the situation. In her mind she may have decided that Peninnah was judging her and looking down on her because she didn’t have children when in fact Peninnah wasn’t doing anything of the sort.

How many of us have behaved like a Hannah at some point in our lives?

Have we allowed our own assumptions and our own judgments of other people cloud our perceptions? Have we made ourselves miserable worrying about what other people think of us when, in reality, they really don’t care as much as we think they do? We can't just assume that people are judging us because they may not be at all. We need to give people the benefit of the doubt and err on the side of having more faith in people's kindness and love rather than assume the worst.

Truly the most important thing is to remember is that God is the giver of all life and it is He and He alone who is in control of when children enter this world.He has different plans for each of us and each of us will have very different mortal experiences. We should never let our own insecurities or our own perceptions of things cloud our judgement and make us unkind or unfair to one another. Even though we think we may understand another woman's situation we can't look on her heart like the Lord can. All we can really do is support her-- whether she has 13 children or no children-- and let her know she is loved. When it comes to matters of childbearing it is best to let the Lord be the only judge.

Questions to Think About:
  • Why are women so quick to judge each other unkindly and “provoke each other sore”, especially in relation to the experiences of child bearing, pregnancy, labor and mothering?
  • When have you felt like a "Peninnah" ? When have you felt like a "Hannah"? How did each experience make you feel? What did you learn?
  • What can women with children do to show their love and support for women without children? And in reverse, what can women without children do to show their love and support for women who have children?
  • How do you think Peninnah's and Hannah's relationship changed after Hannah bore Samuel and her other children? Do you imagine it got better or worse?

7 comments:

  1. Great post Heather. I love how you used the scriptures to make such a wonderful commentary on this. Beautifully written, and I love the insights!

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  2. Personally I think we judge one another because of our own pride and fear.

    Pride comes in because we think we can control these situations, and fear comes in because we are afraid of experiencing the situation that mother is in. So, in order for us to feel less fearful instead of turning to Christ, we instead judge. We say if she hadn't done x then she wouldn't be dealing with y. And that means if we don't do x we won't have to deal with y.

    Those are my thoughts on it. I find I judge more when I am feeling scared, or when I'm being arrogant. And I hate that I am guilty of this.

    Great post!

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  3. I love your post and thoughts on this. It's true that no one knows a woman's heart or trial. I have found over the years and through my own experiences of raising 5 kids, that we really can't know or understand many things until we experience them ourselves -- hence the need for trials. Women can be very competitive and mean -- I used to be hassled about breastfeeding my kids until they were age 2. I really had tough pregnancies, lost 2, first one a c-section, 4 natural ( I was one of the first to fight for v-bac, in 1982). I have come to appreciate all the trials of wanting to be a mother to becoming one.

    Confession -- sometimes I look down on mormon women that have kids and a fulltime nanny so they can work fulltime in prestigious careers, even when they have a husband pulling down big salaries as attorneys. That's hard for me -- when I see their young kids in primary misbehaving for attention. But I keep it to myself and repent. I am actually a big believer in women having talents to contribute to society, but putting motherhood first. I struggled with the choice 30 years ago. thanks for the scripture study. I love your blog and your doula work! My fam is in North Logan.

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  4. The issue of childbearing is a hard one for me because I have been blessed with great fertility, and yet my husband and I have been married for six years and "only" have two children. Our youngest is almost three, and we do not have immediate plans to have a third, although we do want a big family and the desire to have children burns deeply in us. There are some really significant reasons why we aren't going to have more children right now, which breaks my heart, because I want more children more than anything - and I feel selfish sometimes because we are choosing not to have children. Not because they aren't a priority - we are not postponing children until "we have more money" and we could easily support a few more children at this point, at least. Because it is a choice for us right now and not because we are physically unable to bear children, I feel horrible and guilty for this choice (even though I am 100% sure it is the right choice). I feel like Hannah - that people are judging us because we aren't having more children. But no one is. In fact, most people say we 'can be done' because we have one boy and one girl. So there is usually no outside pressure at all. But I think because I (confession) have judged women who postpone having children, or who don't want more than one or two children, I am quick to judge myself as well. I was never much of a "judger" but childbearing was always a weakness of mine until several years ago when we we had an abnormal number of close friends who struggled with infertility, and I realized their hurt and their desire to have children. But I guess that because I judged women in the past, I feel like I have to beat myself up for doing what I would have looked down on earlier in my life.

    Our lives and situations and experiences are all unique, we all have agency, and ultimately the accountability for our actions will rest solely on ourselves, so all we can do is rely on the Lord and commune with him so that we can know His plan for us.

    (sorry to be so long winded - I've just been thinking about this exact subject for so long, and then Elder Anderson talked about it in General Conference. phew. I just had to get it all out.)

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  5. Great food for thought, I too have been far too judgmental about others choices in regards to children.

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  6. Thanks so much for you thoughts on this topic. It is something I have thought about over and over. I think sometimes we get a little self-centered in these kinds of decisions and life choices. When we make these choices of how many children to have, how far to space them, breastfeeding, circumcision...(the list can go on and on, into mothering techniques and what we do with our lives)...these are not easy choices for any of us. And, hopefully, we make them in conjunction with much prayer and fasting. Maybe sometimes we get in this mindset of "I received revelation that this is how it is to be done." But we forget that we receive PERSONAL revelation only. What is good for me and my family may not be what is good for another. I have been guilty too many times of thinking others are not doing for their children what is best, etc. And I am always working on not judging others. Thank you for helping me think about this more and realize what it means for me.

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  7. Thanks for sharing your insights! Im encouraged!

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