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Biblical Fathers: Elkanah

It's Father's Day on Sunday, and this week Bible Society is focusing on some biblical fathers. Some of them get it right, some don't – but they all tell us something about the challenges of fatherhood today. 

5. Elkanah 

Elkanah had two wives – not uncommon in those far-off days for those who could afford it. But while that wouldn't have been seen as morally wrong, it was often a bad arrangement in terms of family happiness, and the Bible has several stories to prove it. This is one of them (1 Samuel 1)

Elkanah has two wives. Peninnah has children, making her 'successful' in the culture of the time, and Hannah has none, making her a failure. While Elkanah loves her anyway, Peninnah – perhaps jealous of his affection – makes her life a misery. Hannah, in her sadness, makes a vow to God: if he gives her a son, she will devote him to God's service for the rest of his life. That child was born, and became the prophet Samuel. 

The focus in this story isn't really on Elkanah's fatherhood, but on Hannah's motherhood: her quest for justice, her faith and her devotion. Nevertheless, Elkanah has a part to play. He does not abandon his wife or blame her. Awkwardly perhaps, and not very perceptively, he tries to comfort her: 'Hannah, why are you crying? Why won't you eat? Why are you always so sad? Don't I mean more to you than ten sons?' (verse 8). And when she tells Elkanah Samuel is to go to the shrine at Shiloh, he doesn't forbid it but tells her, 'All right, do whatever you think best ... And may the LORD make your promise come true' (verse 23). Whatever his own sadness at letting Samuel go, he respects Hannah's decision.

We don't get much idea from the Bible about how people in a world far distant from our own related to each other. But this story shows us that respect, affection and support through hard times are essential in creating strong relationships and happy homes – and always have been.

Author: Bible Society, 19 June 2020

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