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K L McFarlane

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Kings, Queens, Heroes, & Fools - The Wardstone Trilogy Book
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HANNAH'S TRAVAIL
By K L McFarlane
Friday, August 10, 2007

Rated "PG" by the Author.

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A fictionalized account of the biblical story of Hannah's anguish and joy in her passion to conceive a child.

She’s crying again. The anguish and the bitterness in her soul produced a physical pain that surpassed even that of a physical wound. She just could not understand what was happening and why she felt such pain. She reflected over her life. She should be a happy woman. Oh she tried to be. She was married to a wonderful man who would give her half his inheritance if she but asked. For that she should be satisfied. But she wasn’t and that added to her pain. For she loved him so much and couldn’t bear to see the pain on his face each time he realized she was crying yet again and tried to reason with her, but found he could not reach that place that brings satisfaction. How could he understand? He had sons by Peninnah. How could he understand the shame and scorn of a woman who could not bear her husband an heir, a son? How could he understand the torment she felt each time Peninnah scornfully mocked her. Actually, nobody understood. Hannah herself could not understand her intense yearning to give birth, and no ordinary birth. For he had to be an heir, a man-child. That would complete her, then she would be all woman, then she would be Elkanah’s woman. Free to love and be loved. It’s not that she envied Peninnah. In fact, she loved Peninnah’s children. She loved to hear their laughter and the pitter-patter of their feet as they played in the yard each day. She was not jealous...or was she? She was so confused. She could no longer trust her thoughts. All she knew was that she had to give birth to a male child. So she prayed again. She fussed at God.

“Why are you doing this to me Jehovah? Why did you make me barren? Why did you close my womb?”
But once again silence reigned. Jehovah would not answer. It seems no one could give her the answer that satisfied. Her family rebuked her - telling her she’s ungrateful, that she must be satisfied with the love of her man. But nobody understood her struggle, her torment. She tried to be satisfied, she did, but she wasn’t. No one heard her secret cries, “Jehovah! Take away my desire for a child. Help me to be satisfied with what I have. Elkanah loves me dearly. That should be enough. He doesn’t love Peninnah that much, even though she bore him children.” But Peninnah’s searing laugh scorched her again and the words, “You’re jealous!” those of her friends, now her accusers, shamed her, and she confessed these projected sins to Jehovah.

“Create in me a clean heart. Yes, maybe I am jealous, set me free from this evil. It has become a curse upon me and my punishment is barrenness.” “Tomorrow we leave for Shiloh to offer sacrifices to you. I must get up from my bed of sorrows and make preparations”. At that she went outside the tent to gather the grains and make them into a bundle to put on the camel’s back. She didn’t make it but several yards when she heard Peninnah’s taunts. “Hey Hannah! It’s another year who are you taking with you? Are you only going with your beasts and bundle of grains again? Look, I have an addition to present to the Lord. I will be taking my fourth child, Alaha. He has not gone yet as he was born after we came back last year. “ “Hannah don’t you think it’s time that you present a little one instead of bundles of grains or your beasts.” Oh the pain, the shame. “Cursed be the night I was conceived, cursed be the day I was born. Why did I not die in my mother’s womb? I have no rest only turmoil,” Hannah thought as the hauntingly cruel words of Peninnah pierced her heart. The shame and reproach of barrenness overwhelmed her again and became a shroud of grief. She could not bear it and as she scurried back into the tent, she heard Peninnah’s brutal shrieks of laughter.

Hannah ran and threw herself down on the cot and wept bitterly. She curled up into a fetal position and wept her heart out. Her sorrow was so intense she did not hear Elkanah come in and sit by her side. He placed his hands beneath her broken form and tenderly pulls her to himself. She wept even harder in his embrace. The emotions of shame, anger and guilt all intermingled. Shame because of her barrenness; anger at Elkannah that he allowed her to be in this situation; guilt because she felt she had let him and her family down and also guilt that she had these emotions at all. Elkanah offered her some food, but she refused it. “How can I eat”, she thought. “Food cannot satisfy this hunger in me.” After she was calmed, Elkanah spoke to her.


“Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? And why is your heart grieved? Am I not better to you than 10 sons?” “I know this is not your fault Elkanah”, Hannah replied. “I am trying not to let it bother me, but it’s hard. It’s hard to hear Peninnah’s taunts. She provokes me daily. Why? I am nice to her and her children inspite of her taunts. They only intensify my desire for a child. I want to give you a child, our child. You are a good husband and you love me, but it’s not enough. It should be. Look at my friend Salome, she’s barren, but she’s content. Why can’t I be like her? I’ve asked Jehovah for his peace, his rest and at times I’m there then Peninnah provokes me and I’m back in Hades. My desire to bear a male child becomes unbearable. Please try and understand me. Elkanah, I am trying my best. I do love you but...” she’s interrupted by the sobs that racks her body. Elkanah helplessly embraces her and run his hands soothingly through her hair. In his heart he prayed silently to Jehovah, “O that you would open her womb and give her her heart’s desire. I want my Hannah to be happy. I am afraid I am failing her in this. I am asking for your help Jehovah.” He then thought to himself, “I must reprimand Peninnah.”

He held Hannah in his embrace until she fell asleep. Afterwards, he gently laid her on the cot, pulled up the blankets, tucked them around her and went outside to find Peninnah. He found her by the watering-trough watering the animals. “Peninnah why do you provoke Hannah so much?” Elkanah asked Peninnah. Peninnah glared at Elkanah. “Why do I provoke your precious Hannah?” answered Peninnah bitterly. “Even though I have given you children, you still prefer her to me. I try to win your love by giving you more children, but still you ignore me. You only use me to give you what Hannah can’t. What about my pain? How do you think I feel knowing you don’t love me, that you consistently reject me? Who is concerned about the provocation I feel? Who will defend me? I am only giving Hannah a taste of what you give me so I’ll continue to provoke her as long as you love her more than me.” At that Peninnah defiantly turned and walked away. Elkanah did not go after her because deep down he knew what she said was true . He loved Hannah dearly. She was a precious woman with the sweet innocence of a child. Her doleful eyes when he looked deep within them pulled at the tender strings of his heart. Peninnah however, was hard, spiteful and cruel. Despite this he was always fair to both of them. It seems his love for Hannah however could not be hidden, even though he tried. He was exhausted from such an emotional day, so he went into the tent and lay down beside Hannah.

Hannah was awakened by the noisy buzz of activities outside. They were familiar sounds. They signaled the beginning of their annual journey to Shiloh. She quickly got up; made herself ready; then joined the others in the buzz of activities. The journey to Shiloh was uneventful and smooth except for the nights they had to stop to rest. When they reached their destination three days later, they quickly unloaded the beasts and make ready their offerings to take to the tabernacle. Elkanah gave Peninnah and her sons and daughters their portions for the offering. However to Hannah he gave a double portion and at that Peninnah mocked her. “That won’t make up for your barrenness. Maybe you should prepare more for your sin offerings. Maybe your sins have caused Jehovah to close your womb”. Then she quickly turned away and led her children into the outer courts of the tabernacle.

Peninnah’s remarks cut at Hannah’s heart. She hurriedly offered her sacrifice and left the tabernacle. Mournfully, she made her way back to the tents where she went in, laid down and wept. “Maybe Peninnah is right. “Maybe my desire for a child has become idolatrous before Jehovah and so he has shut up my womb.” In the midst of her weeping, Hannah felt a holy determination welled up within her. Along with it came a desperation that gnawed at her to go to the altar in the tabernacle and pour out her grief to Jehovah. She jumped up, put on her shawl, mounted her camel and headed towards the tabernacle.

Hannah quickly dismounted and secured her camel. As she approached the tabernacle, she saw Eli the priest sitting by the doorpost. Hannah’s heart fell and she hesitated to enter in. She had hoped not to encounter anyone, as she wanted to be alone. However, she felt again a steely determination rising up within her and setting her face as hard as flint, she hurried into the tabernacle. Running to the altar Hannah fell to her knees weeping. The feelings of desperation, shame, scorn and disappointment welled up within her and she wept bitterly. Memories of years of anguish and torment at trying to conceive assaulted her. She remembers the mockings of Peninnah; the misunderstandings of her family and even Elkanah regarding her desire for a male child. She remembers the accusation of friends; the condemnation she felt at being barren, brought on by the remarks of others and even her own thoughts and she remembers her feelings of inferiority. But it was the silence of Jehovah and the hopelessness it produced that broke her. In the midst of travailing, Hannah silently prayed. “O Lord of hosts, have mercy on me and help me this day. Do not be silent to me. My heart is broken in grief and anguish.” Her words were barely above a whisper because of the depth of her grief. “I’ve prayed so many times, yet you have not given me my heart’s desire. But O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look upon the affliction of your maidservant and remember me, and favour your maidservant with a male child, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life and no razor shall come upon his head.” As Hannah continued to pray, Eli watched her. He had seen this woman passed him by the doorpost and had gotten up to follow her. He saw her falling on her knees at the altar and was curious. He drew closer to see what she was doing. He saw her lips moving, but did not hear her speech. Eli thought to himself “O no not another drunken harlot.” At this he spoke sternly to her. “How long will you be drunk? Put your wine away from you?”

Hannah was startled by Eli’s rebuke. She had not heard him come up behind her, as she had been lost in the intensity of her grief. Hannah turned and answered him, the pain evident in her voice, “No I am a woman of sorrowful spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor intoxicating drink, but have poured out my soul before the Lord. Do not consider your maidservant a wicked woman, for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief I have spoken until now.” Eli was touched by the brokenness of Hannah. He felt compassion welled up within him. “Go in peace!”, he said to her “and the God of Israel will grant your petition which you have asked of Him.” At his word, Hannah felt the heaviness of her grief lifting. Eli’s words resounded within her being and produced a giddy sense of joy and hope. She felt as if she had given birth - she was no longer barren. “Let your maidservant find favor in your sight,” she giddily replied and at that Hannah ran out of the tabernacle with joy and excitement. Quite a contrast from her entrance earlier. Hannah felt like singing and dancing. She felt like celebrating. As she untied her camel, she thought elatedly of Elkanah’s response when she tells him of what Eli said to her at the altar. As Hannah journeyed silently in the night towards the tent, the Lord of hosts dispatched an Angel to go before her to bring about the answer to her travail.

It’s now 20 years later. Hannah is sitting outside her tent watching her children doing their daily activities. A deep sense of joy and fulfillment floods her soul. Who could’ve told her 20 years ago she would be at this place of rest and contentment? Her mind went back to that fateful day at the tabernacle when she ran to the altar and bitterly cried her heart out because of the shame of being a barren woman. Even now she felt a twinge of sorrow at the memory. She remembers pouring out her grief and sorrow to the Lord and Eli’s rebuke because he had misunderstood her reason for being there. But most importantly, she remembered his words of life that Jehovah had heard her prayers and would grant her petition and how it made her feel as if she had already given birth and her peace was instantly restored. Hannah smiled to herself. She was happy as she thought of the goodness of Jehovah. She thought about how he’d not only given her one male child, but he’d given her three sons and two daughters – exceedingly and abundantly more than she could have ever asked for or imagine. Only Jehovah! Her thoughts went to Samuel, the child she’d given back to the Lord – her first fruits. He’d opened her womb taking her from barren and despised to fruitful and blessed. Tomorrow they journeyed for Shiloh to make their yearly sacrifices, and she was elated at the prospect of seeing him again. She thought of him being trained as a prophet of the Lord. She had not thought this far when she’d honoured her promise to give him back. Her Samuel... she had heard reports about him from Eli and from those who return from the tabernacle, and they were good. Eli told her he was obedient and that he loved him as his own. She heard of his reputation from others that none of his words fell to the ground. She remembered when she visited eight years ago and he told her he heard Jehovah’s call and answered. She was speechless and treasured the moment in her heart. Over the years she had prayed that He would be faithful to the call.

“O Jehovah, your work in my life has truly left me utterly amazed at your goodness and faithfulness. You have really turned my mourning into dancing”, said Hannah quietly under her breath. “My Samuel... the prophet of Israel.”

Suddenly Hannah jumped up with a start, as the revelation of her travail shot through her being.
“O my God, you caused me to travail because the destiny of my people rested in that travail. That’s why it was so heavy. That was why I could not be satisfied no matter what.” Slowly Hannah sat down, her mind in a daze as understanding of the depth of her travail settles like a glorious mist around her, producing a sense of finality. Hannah smiled from her heart as she gets a glimpse of the eternal workings of Jehovah. Israel needed a prophet desperately... so Jehovah allowed Hannah to enter into a deep travail.


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