God is Making Pearls: The Story of Hannah & Peninnah (1 Samuel 1,2:1-10)
by Lindsey Commons*
Hannah was barren. Her husband, Elkanah, had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Peninnah had many children, but Hannah, who desperately wanted a child, had none. Elkanah loved Hannah more than Peninnah and showed her special favor, but it was of no comfort. Perhaps if Hannah had been Elkanah’s only wife his love would have been enough to suffice; yet under her circumstances, Hannah could find no rest in the comfort of her husband alone. God had placed Peninnah in her midst. Peninnah… her rival. She provoked her and irritated her. She showed up to family gatherings flaunting her many children. Hannah was in distress, and she knew there was only One who could help her. The God who created the heavens and earth, who knew her before she was born, who hemmed her in behind and before, was who she brought her sufferings and her plea. But even when Hannah went to pray she had no relief. Every time she went to the house of the Lord, Peninnah was there, always in her midst, continually provoking her.
Perhaps she asked God ‘why?’
“Why is this woman in my life? Why does she have children and I do not? Why do you bless her and not me? Why did my husband marry another?”
Perhaps her ‘why’s’ turned into ‘what’s.’
“What did I do to deserve this? What did I do wrong? What can I do differently?”
The struggle went on year after year. Hannah wept bitterly and in deep anguish. She refused to eat. Hope turned into despair, and turned back into hope. Whether or not Peninnah spoke a word, her presence alone became a reminder of Hannah’s unfulfilled desire. Perhaps she was even a reminder of something Hannah saw as her own failure, questioning her worth as a wife or a woman without the ability to conceive.
Hannah was a woman with no rest. There was something amiss in her life. Something that she thought about and prayed for day after day. A dream she would not give up on. She could not bring herself to settle for this current life and circumstances. Peninnah seemed to effortlessly receive what Hannah most desired but did not receive. Perhaps Hannah began to doubt. Would she ever have a baby? Was this desire coming from a place of selfishness and competition or was it really placed in her heart by God?
Her desire was strong and deep, but the fulfillment had not arrived.
When we are in the waiting place things can start to look bleak, which is why we need to learn to walk by faith and not by sight. The name Peninnah means pearl. A pearl begins its existence as a tiny grain of irritating sand stuck somewhere it doesn’t belong. The oyster is both unable to expel the irritant and unable to ignore it. Most likely, neither one would have willingly chosen this life (I’m sure the grain of sand would rather be on a beach in the Caribbean, or admiring a beautiful coral reef, not stuck in some slimy organs), but they are forced together, and the oyster is forced to do something about the problem it can’t ignore. It must protect itself from this foreign invader. So, overtime, little by little, the oyster pays attention to its problem and its mantle (the organ that produces the shell) puts a fresh coat of ‘nacre’ on the sand, eventually turning it into a beautiful pearl.
God puts Peninnah’s in our lives, little grains of irritating sand, to provoke us to something more. A change in character, a shift of focus, a great work, a prayer, an acceptance, a surrender… Ultimately, into a deeper relationship with Him. Without Peninnah, Hannah would not have been compelled to pray so fervently for a child, a child she would eventually vow to give to the Lord, and a child she would eventually receive. Without Peninnah there would be no prophet Samuel, who would anoint David king and later provide a sanctuary for him when he was on the run from Saul. Without Peninnah, Hannah’s story would not have been written into God’s story.
THANK GOD for your Peninnah’s! God has placed them in your life to change you in some way. To draw you into something greater! Let them provoke you, but do not let them snuff you out. Stand firm in your faith. You are in God’s story.
“being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
*written after the inspiration from listening to the sermon ‘Dream Provokers’ from pastor Marcus Mecum at 7 Hills Church in Florence, KY. This sermon is part of the message series titled ‘Jesus: The Wonder of the World’