“In her deep anguish, Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly.” – 1 Samuel 1:10
I was recently reading the Roald Dahl novel “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” to my young children. If you’ve never read it, it’s the story of an eccentric chocolate manufacturer who invites five lucky children to visit his factory with a view to installing one of them as his heir. Whilst Charlie is polite and instantly loveable, the other four children are definitely not. The greedy Augustus Gloop gets swept away by a chocolate river, the spoilt Veruca Salt gets thrown out with the garbage, and the gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde comes to an appropriately sticky end.
At this point, one of my children turned to me and said, “I really hope that Charlie is the one left at the end and not Mike Teavee.”
It suddenly dawned on me that my children didn’t know the unwritten storybook rule: bad things only happen to bad people, and good things only happen to good people.
I know the rule. You know the rule. But that makes the first chapter of 1 Samuel all the more surprising. It appears that, like my children, God doesn’t know this unwritten rule, or if he does know, then he decides to break it in this chapter and very often in our own lives, too.
If God is good then why does he make so many good people cry?
Think about it. Peninnah means Pearl or Ruby, but there was nothing beautiful about the second wife of Elkanah. She taunted Hannah for her infertility and made her life a misery, yet God blessed her with many sons and daughters. Hannah means Grace, and she lived up to her name, yet God rewarded her with trouble and a monthly cycle of disappointment. She thought she had married a godly man1 – one of the few men in backslidden Israel who still came to worship at the Lord’s Tabernacle in Shiloh2 – yet after their wedding, he embraced the same polygamy as his neighbours3 and proved crassly insensitive towards her pain in verse 8.
Even Eli, Israel’s high priest and thirteenth judge,4 accused Hannah of drunkenness and tried to throw her out of the Tabernacle.
The writer wants us to react against this apparent injustice, so he shocks us twice in verses 5 and 6 by telling us, “The Lord had closed Hannah’s womb.” It wasn’t chance, and it wasn’t the Devil. It was the Lord, and he did it for a reason.