You know when you’re reading the Bible and something really stands out? That’s what happened to me in May 2021 as I read:
Wow. I feel it even now. These three words from 1 Samuel 1:9 jumped off the page and pierced my heart. I knew the Lord was speaking to me. Because I’m a word nerd, I opened my Blue Letter Bible app to examine this verse in Hebrew. I began to study and ponder this story. Here’s some context…
Hannah was living in uncomfortable, dysfunctional circumstances. Her husband, Elkanah, had another wife (never a good idea). Making matters worse, this other woman was haughty and fertile, popping out multiple babies without a problem. Hannah, on the other hand, was without children and presumably barren.
Needless to say, Hannah was suffering. Her grief was crushing. What’s more, the other wife would purposely provoke Hannah, pointing out her painfully obvious and obviously painful situation. Talk about pouring salt in a wound.
So Peninnah would taunt Hannah and make fun of her because the Lord had kept her from having children. Year after year it was the same—Peninnah would taunt Hannah as they went to the Tabernacle. Each time, Hannah would be reduced to tears and would not even eat.1 Samuel 1:6-7 NLT
Are we surprised that this love triangle created jealousy and rivalry? Nope. The scripture says that Elkanah loved Hannah. She was favored, the preferred wife. He even gave her extra meat during the family’s sacrificial meals. (A man sharing his steak … that’s true love.)
Basically, it was a mess. Hannah would weep and refuse food during each annual trip to the Tabernacle. It probably produced some awkward mealtime moments. Not to mention, Hannah’s behavior wasn’t exactly in sync with the Jewish prescription for proper worship (see Deuteronomy 12:5-7).
Hannah’s struggle, her suffering, was raw and real. She was reduced — constricted, downcast, made small, diminished, decreased. The dictionary defines it this way: “to bring to a humbler, weaker, difficult, or forced state or condition.”
Ouch. Being humbled hurts. We don’t like to feel weak or, worse, to show our weakness. Hannah’s reducing produced weeping. It’s the Hebrew word bāḵâ — “to weep, bewail, cry, shed tears.” And this situation continued year after year after year. No relief. No end in sight. I imagine that Hannah felt stuck, stuck in the swirl of suffering and confusion and barrenness. Hannah’s husband tried to help, bless his heart.
“Why are you crying, Hannah?” Elkanah would ask. “Why aren’t you eating? Why be downhearted just because you have no children? You have me—isn’t that better than having ten sons?”1 Samuel 1:8 NLT
Ooof. Well, he’s trying. Let’s give the guy some credit. But I wonder how Hannah felt? Sometimes people say stupid things. (Remember Job’s three friends?) I’m guessing Hannah felt invalidated, misunderstood, and disregarded. There’s no pain quite like an empty womb. I know this struggle well. Month after month, year after year, no baby.
Life isn’t working for Hannah. She’s going through the motions. Nothing, it seems, is happening. Meanwhile, she’s surrounded by children and chatter from her rival, reminding her daily of what she doesn’t have. Rival in Hebrew is ṣārâ — meaning tightness, trouble, adversary, adversity, affliction, anguish, distress, and tribulation.
Hannah is in a tight, troubling situation. Who’s to blame? Well, the scripture credits the Lord. Verse 5 in the NIV says, “The Lord had closed her womb.” That’s a mess-with-your-mind statement. Why would God withhold a child, the thing Hannah’s heart longed for?
The sovereign Lord was up to something. He still is. We can’t always see it. Our suffering often blinds us and lies to us. We don’t know how long this went on for Hannah. I’d guess it was a long time. The Lord in his mercy and love and wisdom will let us struggle and wrestle and wait. One reason: Suffering has a way of stripping us of what doesn’t suit us.
Here’s how it’s looked in my own life. The Lord led me through a process, a journey of uncovering all my false identities and idolatry: my salary, job title, performance, body, image, marriage, motherhood status. He eventually helped me see what was truly motivating me: I wanted to fit in. I thought my career, marriage, and a couple cute kids would secure my acceptance. I didn’t feel I fit the mold, and it hurt.
Jobs, spouses, and kids are not bad things. They’re good. They’re gifts. But my wrong motives were hindering me from receiving God’s love and resting in my true identity. I wonder if God was doing something similar with Hannah, burning away all pretense and any illusion of control.
Could it be that the Lord was actually provoking Hannah through her rival? Scripture tells us that people aren’t our real problem. Fighting our friends, family, and even those we think are our enemies … It’s a waste of time. Take it from the apostle Paul:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.Ephesians 6:12 NIV
We’re in a spiritual war. Dark forces will try their best to distract and destroy. But the Bible also assures us that Jesus has “disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross” (Colossians 2:15).
Wait … what? Our enemies have no weapons, no fire power? That’s correct. This also means that Satan is a defeated foe. God is NOT fighting against the devil. Satan is a tiny pawn in the hand of Almighty God.
Whatever you think Satan is up to in your life, there’s your evidence of where God is at work.
We give entirely too much attention and credit to the devil. God was provoking Hannah, planting a deep groan inside of her. Could he also be provoking you through your loved ones and rivals?
Consider Elkanah’s question: “Don’t I mean more to you than 10 sons?” The number 10 signifies completion or perfection. I believe this question was exposing Hannah’s motives. What was most important to Hannah? Did she believe that a baby would solve all her problems?
When we’re fixated on what we want, it blinds us to God’s will and blocks us from receiving his love. Hannah’s husband loved her. Was she able to receive his love? On a larger scale, God is the ultimate Bridegroom. He longs for intimacy with his bride. I hear him saying: Hannah, you are highly favored and deeply loved. Do you want me or only my gifts? Do you want my will or your will? That’s the crux of the struggle.
Stay Stuck or Stand Up
Are you struggling or suffering? Are you stuck? First: If you’ve been fighting with people, feeling sorry for yourself, and/or blaming the devil, it’s OK. Trust me, I can relate. Our long-suffering Lord will wait with you. He’ll keep pursuing and provoking you.
Next: Know that you have an amazing opportunity in front of you. When you’re weary from the battle, when you’re sick of feeling stuck, when your groans and tears erupt, you have another option: Stand up.
The Bible doesn’t tell us to fight the devil. It instructs us to stand.
A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.Ephesians 6:10-11
Paul tells us to stand firm, confidently and completely covered in God’s armor: truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, the word, and prayer. These weapons are spiritual, not carnal. Carnality looks like hostility, quarreling, and jealousy (among other things — see Galatians 5:19-21). I think carnality can also look like fighting devils. Why even engage with what’s already defeated? (unless that’s what the Lord leads you to do)
I’m not suggesting we should be ignorant of the devil’s schemes. But let’s not elevate or magnify evil. Jesus invites us to feast, not to fight.
You prepare a feast for mePsalm 23:4 NLT
in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
My cup overflows with blessings.
Fighting is exhausting. Wrestling can be entertaining, but you’ll burn out eventually. Pretending and denial don’t work. A victim mentality won’t get you anywhere. There’s a better option. Hannah stood up, and it changed everything.
Stay tuned for Part 2: Your Stand.
Does this resonate? What questions do you have? Scroll down and leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.