Summary: Hannah was depressed because she was unable to bear children, but discovered through prayer that God was always with her, regardless of how he chose to answer her prayer.
Singing the Blues with Hannah
March 4, 2007
In 1903, W.C. Handy was waiting for a train in the town of Tutwiler, Mississippi. The train was late and so he fell asleep on the hard wooden bench of the station. He was awakened by an old raggedy man scratching the strings of an old guitar. He was singing about “goin’ to where the Southern cross the dog.”
Handy asked him what the song meant and was told that it was about the tracks of the Yahoo and Mississippi Railroad (which the locals called the yellow dog) where it crossed the tracks of the Southern Railroad in Moorehead, Mississippi. Handy thought this was the weirdest song he had ever heard, but he put it to music and the blues was born.
Handy has been called the “Father of the Blues” although he said that he didn’t invent them, but only presented them to the world.
The blues, as a musical style, is the foundation for most 20th century music including rock and roll, jazz, and even hip-hop. In 1909, Handy moved his band to Memphis and settled on Beale Street, the area which today is known as W.C. Handy Park. It was there in Memphis where he composed his two most famous songs, “Memphis Blues” and “St. Louis Blues.”
The Blues, as a musical style, come out of the hardship of everyday living. They express the honest feelings of those who experience lives of struggle and difficulty. We are in the midst of a Lenten sermon series on singing the Blues with God’s people, because depression and hardship are nothing new to his children. Last week we looked at Moses and the way that he overcame his feelings of depression arising from the constant criticism of his people. Today we will look at Hannah and her depression which came as a result of being denied the privilege of motherhood.
So let’s remember the story. There was this fellow named Elkanah who had two wives. Hannah was the first and the second was named Peninnah. As it so happened, Peninnah had some children, but Hannah had been unable to conceive, and so lived her life in the shadow of the second wife.
In a time when the family name meant everything, Elkanah could trace his lineage back through an impressive history. He had a proud history, but with Hannah, he had no future because of her childlessness. According to Mosaic Law, this was grounds for divorce, but Elkanah loved Hannah with all of his heart. When he made sacrifices to God, he gave some of the meat to Peninnah, but gave extra helpings to Hannah. But this was not enough. Every year, at the time of the feast, Hannah was taunted by the other wife.
I think that we have to understand the role of mothering in that culture. Children were so very important to the economic structure of the society. Often the family’s survival depended on the children who provided a source of labor. Also, a father’s wealth was partially measured by the number of children he had. Large families were a source of tremendous pride.
The pressure on women was intense. In this pre-scientific age, when there was lack of understanding about biological processes, infertility was always viewed as a female problem. They had no idea that sometimes it was a male issue.
So Hannah was living under a cloud of suspicion. Certainly, the other wife thought, there was something wrong with Hannah’s relationship with God. There was an arrogance and pride in Peninnah’s heart because she was able to do something that Hannah, the favored wife, could not. Out of her arrogance, she taunted and abused Hannah mercilessly. The more Hannah was abused, the more depressed she became, unable to understand why God had not allowed her to give birth. Nothing that her husband could do or say would satisfy her or ease her discomfort.
Even though her husband assured her of his love, she was still unable to be consoled. Elkanah, if we are honest, just didn’t get it. He reminds me of most of the male characters on television sitcoms. Think about Tim on “Home Improvement,” Jim on “According to Jim,” and Ray on “Everybody Loves Raymond.” They just don’t get it. They just don’t understand their wives. Elkanah said to Hannah, “Am I not worth more to you than ten sons?” He thought that would comfort her, but really was simply a self-centered inclusion of his own importance which completely ignored her feelings. That comment put the focus on him and not her.
Hannah was so distraught that she made her way to the sanctuary where she poured out her soul to God in prayer. Through her tears, she offered a bargain. If God would grant her a son, she would present him back to God and dedicate his entire life to God’s service.