Elkanah, a certain man of Ramathaim in the mountains of Ephraim, had two wives. His first wife was Hannah. The second was Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah was barren. Though we usually focus on Hannah, let’s take a look at the family dynamics from Peninnah’s point of view.
Though the customs of the times allowed a man to have more than one wife, polygamy was never God’s first choice for any marriage. Because the Hebrews put so much emphasis on bearing children and passing along a lineage, if a wife was barren, the man often married a second wife in order to have descendants.
We can assume that since Hannah was barren, Peninnah was a second wife. But though she had many children, Hannah was still Elkanah’s true love.
When Elkanah went to Shiloh to worship, he’d present an offering and give portions to Peninnah and her children, but to Hannah, he would give a double portion. Imagine how this made Peninnah feel!
She reacted out of resentment and anger, provoking Hannah to make her miserable. At the time when the family should have been focused on worshipping God, Peninnah was reminded that her husband loved Hannah more than her, so she took out her jealousy on Hannah.
Imagine Peninnah’s surprise and confusion when Hannah finally bore a son, cared for him the first three years of his life, then dedicated him to the Lord, leaving him behind at the temple in Shiloh.
Poor Peninnah! It couldn’t have been easy living in the shadows of a woman like Hannah. If only she could have focused on her blessings, however, rather than blaming Hannah for her deficits. God blessed Peninnah with a husband who cared for her and many children, but it wasn’t enough.
Read about Peninnah in Scripture: 1 Samuel 1