The sun is warm on my face and it feels good to these old bones of mine. I listen, but the house is still. It is only me and Hara now. The children have homes and children of their own and my sweet husband has gone to rest in Abraham’s bosom. That other is gone, too, God bless her. Why Hara stays and takes care of this old woman, I do not know. God’s blessing, for sure, but why a young woman would care for an old woman when she should be caring for a husband is beyond the reach of my mind.
“Enjoying the sun, my dear ‘Em? Here is something cool to drink.” Hara settled on the cushion at my feet. I loved how she called me ‘em. It means mother and point of departure. Strange how the word so delicately describes the mother dividing from her baby so the one becomes two. Leaving the womb is a traumatic event for such a small being. Warmth and closeness and protection all suddenly snatched away and replacing it is cold and hunger and thirst. I smiled at my granddaughter.
“Thank you, dear child. You grow lovelier everyday. When will you leave this old woman and seek out your own husband?”
“When I find one that is worth seeking,” she smiled up at me. “Now, continue your story. I shan’t leave here until I hear everything.” She tucked her skirt around her legs in such a ladylike manner and looked up at me with an expression of anticipation that reminded me of her uncle and a time so long ago.
I watched my husband’s face. He was not magnificently handsome, but oh, he was handsome. His eyes were beautiful with full lashes and when he looked at me, my heart filled with warmth. His nose was strong and straight. His hair is dark and wavy and so silky soft. He was not too terribly tall, my head fit perfectly on his shoulder and his arms would wrap around me quite nicely. I was so blessed and I was so in love.
I watched him play with the children. They climbed him like a mountain and his face lines melted into tenderness. I treasured how gentle he was with the tiniest of them, not yet weaned and how rough with the oldest just enough to teach him to be a man with manly strength. It was so good how he taught them in the Lord’s way. And they did become good, godly adults. Yea… he was a good father… an excellent husband… a wonderful provider. Our fields were lush with crops and our corrals full with beasts of the field giving us plenty to eat and great things to sacrifice on our annual trip to Shiloh.
My heart feels the stab wounds of grief as I remember that time. I remember yearning in my heart, mayhap this year God will grant my heart’s desire for a babe.
My husband set the children on their way back to their mother. I watched as he shared a special look with her. That look was reserved just for her. He would look at me tenderly; but, he never gave me that look. My heart cinched and my throat ached with held-back tears. I watched as Peninnah went into the house with the children, her hips swaying making her skirt swing provocatively, putting on a show for him.
He glanced up and saw me. His face lit up, shining with joy and love. All my ire drained from me and I smiled back at him. Isn’t it extraordinary to share a sweet, tender moment with the one you love across a huge courtyard? I find it so wonderful that he could hug me and yet be so far away. He seemed to hug with his eyes and I could feel it all over my body. I sighed a short contented sigh. My husband loved me, if only I could bear him children. It was a short-lived contentment, to be sure, for I could hear the clamor of before bedtime sounds.
The children made such raucous noise as they scrambled up the stairs; their excited voices ringing through the top of the house. Playing with their papa always spiced them up into lively bundles of energy. I tensed up, knowing what was soon coming. The mending in my lap lay untended for I knew she would say or do something to make me prick my finger or miss a stitch. I had learned her well.
“So! Not only is the wife barren, but she is also unproductive!” Peninnah’s voice held contempt as she waved toward the pile of mending. “Ha, ha, ha, hie. Did you get that, Hannah?” Peninnah sauntered to the pile of completed work and tossed my things to the side. “Ah. You did mend my skirt. Excellent. I shall wear it tonight! This night the master and I shall make another little one. Too bad you will never know the delights of a suckling babe, One Who Gives. An unproductive woman with a name like that! Hannah! Bah!”
The muscles at the back of my neck became hard as stone and I grit my teeth until my jaw trembled. I would not respond in kind to her. It was not God’s way to return evil for evil so I shut out the rest of her rantings. That is all they were. Hateful taunts thrown into my face because she was jealous I was the first wife, I think. Elkanah took great pains to show his love for me and this rankled Peninnah. However, these taunts still hurt. I could not help that God had shut up my womb. I felt a kinship to Rachel and her lack of sons and daughters.
When I would play with the children, I was ache to hold my own. Year after year I would beg God to grant my heart’s desire and year after year my belly remained flat and my breasts empty. For a time, I threw all my passion and love into my husband. He responded lovingly, but his work would take him from home for days at a time. I would be left with a spiteful woman who crowed over my empty womb while hers rounded her belly with yet another blessing from God.
Oh, I ached. Year after year I wept for my loss. No. It cannot be a loss when one never haves. I wept for my lack.
One year, we went up to Shiloh. I prepared my sacrifice as all the years before. Elkanah gave me the choicest double portion from the peace offering. I found it not strange that he offered the peace offering first every year. Our home was not the most peaceful in the land. We pitched our tents close to the Tabernacle. We dressed in our finest for dining with the Lord, yet my heart was heavy and breaking. That morning, Peninnah became most vicious in her taunts and I could not help it, tears began streaming and I could not dam up the river of them. Elkanah served us at table. I could not eat. I waited until after blessing then left the table.
My sweet husband followed me, wrapping his warm arms around me he said, “Hannah, my beloved, why do you weep so? Why is your heart breaking into pieces?” He nuzzled my neck. “Am I not better to you than ten sons?”
I turned in his embrace and wept on his breast. He squeezed me tightly and, yes, my husband was dear to me. I went to table and ate what I could and drank for this was worship to my Lord God, Jehovah of Hosts.
Better than ten sons? Surely he jested! A husband is not even in the same compartment as a son. The love of one was not akin to the love of the other. My husband satisfied my wifely yearnings, but my motherly yearnings had never been satisfied. Peninnah’s children did not satisfy that. A child is the union of husband and wife incarnate. It is the physical evidence of love between man and woman. I had no such physical evidence. That thought tasted so bitter in my mouth. Then a thought struck me. I trusted Jehovah. He looked down from on high and knew my heart. The love for my husband and the yearning for children had been a constant topic of prayer. Elkanah’s remark had put a new thought into my bitter heart. God was better than ten sons. I knew what I was to do.
I went to our tent opening and gazed toward the majestic Tabernacle. I could see the blue covering over the top of the Tabernacle from the door of our tent and my heart settled on what I was to do. It was the most difficult choice I had ever made. It would hurt, no doubt, but my God was better than ten sons. I stepped out and went to the Temple and prayed.
I made a solemn vow. “O Jehovah of Hosts, I beseech Thee. If looking you will look upon the affliction of your devoted handmaiden and give me a son, then I will give Him to You and a razor will never touch his head.” I had just promised a Nazarite separation of my son. He would taste no wine. He would taste no fruit of the vine, nor leaves nor stem. He would come close to no dead body all the days of his separation for that would make him unclean. He would be holy to Jehovah all the days of his separation. I was saying all of this with such intense meditation that I was startled by the high priest.
“How long will you remain drunken, woman?” he snapped at me, “Put away the wine!” I was wrenched from my prayers.
“Oh, no, my lord, I am much broken of spirit and deeply aching. I have not drunk any fermented drink. I am pouring out my soul to the Lord God. Do not, I pray thee, think that I am a woman of wickedness. I have been telling Jehovah all my complaints and frustrations from whence has come my distress, not from drink.”
“Be at peace, daughter.” Eli patted my shoulder. “May the God of Israel give you your petition which you asked of Him. Go in peace.”
Peace, indeed, filled my heart and filled my soul. I found myself humming on the way home. No taunt of Peninnah’s could pierce my new found peace. All was well and I ate and I laughed with my husband. When we got home, he came to me and my dear Hara, in due time, I bore your uncle Samuel.
Oh, that was a joyous time. I loved him and played with him and it was just as I had imagined only better, much better. There is nothing like the beautiful smell of a newborn’s head, Hara. I look for you to enjoy that smell soon enough. I rejoiced so greatly that the time flew by. Soon it was time to go up to Shiloh to the Temple to worship and sacrifice. I told Elkanah that I would not go that year, that I would stay home until the boy was weaned. Elkanah gave me blessing to do as I saw right. It was a great blessing, but the greater blessing was when I told Elkanah of my vow. He nodded his head and blessed my vow. He could have rescinded it and then we would have had Samuel all to ourselves.
That would have been a huge mistake. My husband was ruled by God. He allowed the vow and honored it and it became his vow as well. Samuel belonged to God. I prayed aloud that day. No hushed beseechings but loud words of praise, for I had much to be thankful for. God had, indeed, opened my womb. There is no rock like our God. I rejoiced in His salvation. Mark my words, child, the bows of the haughty are broken and those that stumble shall gird on strength.
As I look back, Hara, I see so much of God’s work in my life. Your uncle is a great man, well respected and a holy man of God. If I had not brought him to the Temple as I had promised God, then he would not have heard God’s voice in the night or told Eli the prophecy.
Every year, I went up to see him and brought him new clothes. It was hard. It was so incredibly hard, but I did rejoice over him and prayed for him. I knew God would use him in a mighty way, God does prevail.
It took years of preparation for God to bring me to the point of desperation that I would willingly and even joyfully give my son to God, my one and only son. Of course I had more children… but, at the time I made my vow, I had none. It is frightening thing to do, but it is worthy, for God can be trusted more than any man or woman. He is worthy to be praised. Amen.
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