Monday, August 31, 2015

Monday Musings: Bullies of the Bible

Sunday in children’s church, I once again found myself struggling with the sanitized version of a Bible story in the Beginner’s Bible. Today Hannah was sad (one teardrop sad, according to the illustrator) because she wanted a baby. (1 Samuel 1)

Before Sister Wives on TLC,
there were sister wives.
All the nasty backstory has been stripped away:  Hannah is in a polygamous marriage, or as TLC would say, she’s a sister wife with Peninnah, a bully. 

All the kids knew what a bully is. We listed ways a bully hurts you:  with fists, with words, by stealing your lunch money or toy. 

So Penny has lots of kids and Hannah has none, and Penny keeps rubbing it in; she’s a verbal bully.

And then you have hubby Elkanah. Here’s how he comforted his wife:  “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”

Um, well, actually, NO. This is circa 1000 B.C., and if a woman doesn’t have a son, she’s got nothing. Elkanah is going to kick the bucket one of these years, and do you think Penny’s sons are going to take care of “Auntie” Hannah after Dad dies? Very doubtful. Even if they felt so inclined, Penny wouldn’t go along with it. Think of Sarah booting Hagar and Ishmael out the tent door in Genesis.

I wonder which wife Elkanah married first. I’m thinking Hannah, and when she couldn’t deliver the goods, he married Penny, who knew hubby loved Hannah more.

One of the kids Sunday morning actually mentioned that a bully is often someone who has been bullied by someone else! I may have to go softer on Penny. Elkanah emotionally bullied Penny. “I need you to be the baby maker, but it’s Hannah that I love.”

Now imagine if Hannah had said to Elkanah, “Why do you need another wife? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” Cue hysterical laughter. No, it never worked that way in ancient cultures and not today in many modern cultures.

"I got you this double burger
to take your mind off your infertility."
Hannah’s “sister-wife” bullied her and her husband didn’t defend her. Elkanah responded to Penny’s bullying of Hannah by saying, “There, there, sweetie. Have a double helping of meat.” Meanwhile, Hannah’s crying so hard, her throat is so tight that there’s no way can she swallow the beef.

I made sure the kids knew Hannah was way more than one teardrop sad. I demonstrated some wailing for them. I hope I didn’t scare anyone. Oh, and I didn't tell the kids Hannah and Penny shared a husband. I told them Penny was "Hannah's friend."

"What's that drunken floozy doing in my tabernacle?"
1897-W-A-Foster - Published in 1897.
Scanned photos from the book whose copyright has expired
Hannah realizes there’s not going to be any satisfaction from her husband, the great defender, so she goes over his head. She goes to God. But Eli’s in the way. Eli possibly didn’t have the skill set for pastoral ministry. (Ya think???) He sees and hears this distraught woman and immediately accuses her of being drunk. God job, priest. You’re a bully, too. 

I admire Hannah’s persistence in prayer and respect for the priest, even though he had shown her none. Eli never actually apologized for his insult, but he did tell Hannah her prayer would be answered. And it was. She got her baby boy and a bunch more kids, too, but that’s a story for another Sunday.

Hannah was a remarkable woman. God arranged her infertility so that he could make something extraordinary of Samuel’s birth. Samuel was going to be a very important prophet and judge in the nation. He needed a mama who was willing to literally, physically, give him back to God. But Hannah didn’t know that for all the years she struggled with barrenness and bullying. She finally became desperate enough to offer God the deal he had planned all along.

Hannah inspires me to remember that no matter which nitwit appears to be in charge of the situation (myself included), I can appeal to a higher authority. And even when I feel bullied or misunderstood, God knows and loves me and knows what’s best.

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