Penninah was the wife of Elkanah, and she bore him several children, both sons and daughters. People in town twittered about what a good wife she was and how happy Elkanah was with all his children. Her children’s Parent Teacher Organization named her mother of the year. Penninah seemed to be a walking billboard for the prosperity gospel.
Hannah was the second wife of Elkanah. She had no children. Her shoulders sagged, and wrinkles creased her brow. Mealtimes around the Elkanah house were silent reminders to Hannah of the fact that she had no children to feed – thus her smaller portion of food. She would often just weep and leave the food on her plate.
When Hannah did household chores, she sang. Her songs were full of faith. Full of belief that God knew her burden. “Who is like the Lord who is seated on high….He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children.”
On one occasion Hannah went to Shiloh, a worship center, to pray. Eli, the priest, watched Hannah. Lips moved, but no audible words. Tears came in a torrent. Mascara ran in streams down her cheeks. Eli misread her Gestalt and thought she was drunk. “You should be ashamed of yourself – a grown woman behaving like a drunkard.”
“You don’t understand,” Hannah replied. “I am out of control with grief for my barrenness, and I am praying for a son.” Hannah got her son. “God raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap.”
Not every story of poverty and barrenness ends this way. Not even God’s story reads like a VE Day headline. The story of God’s relationship with mankind is peppered with accounts of disappointment, failure, and suffering.
But that is where God does His best work. Among people who have nearly given up hope. Who resort to praying wordlessly in a temple or who cry over a small plate of food. Or who have to put their newborn child in a manger.
But not every story ends in a nursery with a soft, kissable baby. Prosperity gospel, this isn’t. The Psalmist got the significance. “Who is like the Lord…who looks far down…and raises the poor from the dust…”
The Bible is littered with stories like this: Sarah who gives birth in her old age, a prostitute named Rahab who ends up in the family tree of Jesus, and Mary, an unlikely Jewish teenager, who gives birth to Jesus. God favors stories like this.
People in the dust have not been hardened by wealth and privilege. There is a simplicity and vulnerability that makes them worshipful and open. They can sing, “Who is like our Lord?”