Pain and Triumph 

Today’s devotional is an excerpt from What I’ve Learned From Amazing Women of the Bible. Click here to buy the book. 

1 Samuel 1: 1-15 

Now there was a certain man … and his name was Elkanah … He had two wives; the name of one was Hannah and the name of the other Peninnah; and Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children….  

When the day came that Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to Peninnah, his wife, and to all her sons and her daughters; but to Hannah he would give a double portion, for he loved Hannah, but the Lord had closed her womb….  

Greatly distressed, [Hannah] prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. She made a vow and said, “O Lord of Hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life”…  

Now it came about, as she continued praying before the Lord, that Eli [the priest] was watching her mouth. As for Hannah, she was speaking in her heart, only her lips were moving… Then Eli said to her, “How long will you make yourself drunk? Put away your wine from you.” But Hannah replied, “No, my lord, I am a woman oppressed in spirit; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have poured out my soul before the Lord.”  1 Samuel 1:1-2, 4-5, 10-15  


A Monumental Story of Promise and Fulfillment    

Before God’s Word takes us through the lives of Saul and David, the opening chapter of 1 Samuel introduces us to a most amazing woman. Her name is Hannah, and she is a faithful servant of God who keeps her promises.  


I really love the story of Hannah. When it comes to character, integrity, grit, and passion, Hannah blows away the other important people we meet in 1 Samuel. She is simply awesome!  


The key characters involved in the story of Hannah are: 


  • Hannah, the mother of Samuel   
  • Elkanah, Hannah’s beloved husband and father of Samuel   
  • Peninnah, Elkanah’s second wife   
  • Eli, the priest   
  • Samuel, the son of Hannah and future priest  


Chapter 1 provides the backstory of Samuel’s birth. His mother, Hannah, is greatly loved by her husband Elkanah. You would love her too. She is a treasure. But God closes her womb, so Elkanah marries a woman named Peninnah. Seems like a boneheaded decision to me, yet in an agrarian society, men need children if the family is to thrive and sometimes just survive. Nevertheless, taking a second wife is a faithless and stupid decision.  


The second wife is not nice, and she becomes bitter, insecure, and jealous of Hannah whom Elkanah so clearly loves. The fact that Elkanah has only married Peninnah for her body—to bear children—doesn’t endear him to Peninnah. She has many children, pleasing her husband but not increasing his love for her. Peninnah sees that Elkanah is utterly head over heels for Hannah. He loves Hannah greatly.   


So Wife #2 ridicules Hannah for being barren. Not exactly the Cleaver household. (That’s a reference to the TV series Leave It to Beaver. Check it out on Netflix if you’re too young to know this show!) Her inability to have children is terribly painful to Hannah, but the text states that the Lord had closed her womb (1 Samuel 1:5).  Clearly, God had a plan.     


Learning Alert    

As is often the case today, God’s plan for His children includes certain pain and distress that He uses to teach and grow us. The intended outcome is a stronger yet humbler followers of God.    


Some say that God only brings about good things, and Satan and/or natural circumstances cause pain and distress. This study of Amazing Women clearly shows, however, that God as the Architect of all that happens, and He uses both pain and joy to accomplish His purposes and develop His servants’ character.   


Some people don’t like that last sentence, and they’ve told me so. However, there is a purpose in pain. Physical pain, mental anguish, and broken hearts are difficult trials to endure. They sometimes tempt us toward bitterness. But God promises to carry us through such trials, and He emboldens our faith to trust rather than faint. He is able! If you’re hurting, I hope you believe that.   


Hannah Is a Shining Star   

Hannah is hurting, and we can learn from how she handles it. Specifically, Hannah turns to God in prayer and petition. She goes into the temple, weeping, and pours her heart out before the Lord as she asks Him for a son. In her prayers, she commits to dedicating her son to the Lord. The priest, Eli—seeing only her lips…moving, but her voice was not heard (verse 13)— thinks Hannah is drunk. Assuring Eli she isn’t drunk, she tells him of her plight and her petition to God. Eli blesses her and prays for her.  


Shortly thereafter, Hannah becomes pregnant with Samuel, whose name means “heard by God.” Samuel was born according to God’s sovereign plan, and He strengthened Hannah’s faith through her pain.  


Keeping Promises

Hannah now prepares to give her son fully back to God. She made that promise, and Hannah keeps her promise.  


Would Hannah’s devotion to the Lord and faithfulness to her promise have happened if she had easily conceived early in her marriage? Maybe, but maybe not. When she was barren, God seemed far from her, but the opposite was actually true. God was near, and He was working out His plan. He was forging Hannah’s character and preparing her for a blessing of great magnitude.  


There is purpose in pain.   


Learning Alert  

If only we would believe that God is at work in our lives when it seems He has abandoned us…. 


The truth is, Jesus said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5 ESV). Hannah can teach us about trust and faith in a sovereign God who is wise, loving, all-powerful, and close to us even when He seems far away.   


We can also learn much from Hannah and her passionate prayers. Yes, God may allow us to go through pain, but that doesn’t mean we take it lying down. Hannah goes to God and prays for His physical blessings upon her—and she doesn’t let go. God cares about our spiritual state, yes, but He cares about every other aspect of our lives as well. Let’s learn from Hannah’s passionate and unrelenting prayers to God asking Him to make things good and right in her life.   


Using Hannah as an example, Lord, teach us about faith and trust in You! Help us see that You aren’t far away even when it feels like it. Grow our faith to go beyond our feelings and help us rest in the promises of Your Word. Remind us of the mighty deeds You have performed in the past. Remind us that our current difficulties are not difficult to You. You are able, and You will bring Your perfect plan to pass! All praise be to You, our mighty God and King! Amen!