Hannah Did You Know?
Reflecting on the Fourth Sunday of Advent: One Day after Sunday (Year A)
Psalter: 1 Samuel 2:1-10
Old Testament: Genesis 17:15-22
Epistle: Galatians 4:8-20
Shepherd of Israel, may Jesus, Emmanuel and son of Mary, be more than just a dream in our hearts. With the apostles, prophets, and saints, save us, restore us, and lead us in the way of grace and peace, that we may bear your promise into the world. Amen.
Hannah prayed and said,
“My heart exults in the Lord;
my strength is exalted in my God.
My mouth derides my enemies
because I rejoice in your victory (1 Samuel 2:1).
by Lynn Miller
The similarities between Hannah’s song (I Samuel 2:1-10) and Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) are well-documented and analyzed. Both songs are spoken after the promise of the birth of a boy child. Both have themes of the coming of God’s reign, turning this world upside down: the poor are raised up and the lowly are exalted. God is fully in control through the one who was chosen and anointed by God.
What is quite different about these two women's stories is “the other woman.” Both Hannah and Mary, in the context of their pregnancy experiences, encountered another woman. These “other” women offered quite contrasting responses to Hannah and Mary.
Hannah must deal with Peninnah, also wife to Elkanah. Peninnah has children where Hannah has none. Peninnah’s practice is to provoke Hannah, taunting her about her lack of children. Though Elkanah professes to love Hannah best, she is still subject to the stinging words of the other woman. In the manuscript illumination below, Elkanah, Hannah, Peninnah, and her children are on the road back home from Jerusalem.
The journey home is one scene on a page devoted to the story of Hannah. In the top left Elkanah has made his sacrifice and distributes portions to Peninnah and her children as well as to Hannah. Though Hannah may receive a double portion, the greater amount goes to Peninnah who receives portions for herself and her children. In the upper right we see Hannah weeping in the temple, where Eli believes she is drunk. In the lower right is the miracle: the birth of Samuel.
In the lower left panel, Elkanah, his two wives and his children all seem to be on the road home. Elkanah has a raised finger as if he is chastising Peninnah for her taunting of Hannah. Peninnah’s children appear to be eating bread as they walk.
(Left) Hannah's Grief; Hannah's Prayer; The Road Home; Samuel. The Morgan Picture Bible (MS M.638, folio 19v). Paris, France. 1240s. Morgan Library, New York. (Right) Visitation. Book of Hours of Maréchal de Boucicaut. 1405-08. Manuscript (Ms. 2) Musee Jacquemart-Andre, Paris, France.
What a trial life must have been to Hannah before the birth of Samuel. Hannah, of course, longs for a child and has been unable to have one, a circumstance that Elizabeth would fully understand. Mary is unmarried (though betrothed) and finds herself unexpectedly pregnant. Fortunately Mary’s experience visiting her relative Elizabeth is entirely different from Hannah’s difficulties.
From the moment Mary arrives at the home of Elizabeth and Zechariah, she is greeted as one who has been blessed by God. Elizabeth acknowledges that “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” Elizabeth understands that Mary will be “the mother of [her] Lord.” There is affection and respect and support between the two women.
Hannah, too, has received a promise of sorts. Eli asks that God fulfill her petition - which does happen. Presumably Peninnah’s comments either stop or cease to hurt Hannah. Her son is not with her daily, but she has fulfilled the promise she made to give her son to God. As Mary’s story unfolds, she, too, will give up her son. And that is when her own soul will be pierced by sorrow.
PRAYER: O God of Elizabeth and Mary, you visited your servants with news of the world’s redemption in the coming of the Savior. Make our hearts leap with joy, and fill our mouths with songs of praise, that we may announce glad tidings of peace, and welcome the Christ in our midst. Amen.
Check out more from Lynn Miller at “Art and Faith Matters” here.