The Problem of a Romanticized Religion

On one occasion in Shiloh, after they had finished eating and drinking, Hannah got up. (Now at the time Eli the priest was sitting in his chair by the doorpost of the Lord’s temple.) She was very upset as she prayed to the Lord, and she was weeping uncontrollably. She made a vow saying, “O Lord of hosts, if you will look with compassion on the suffering of your female servant, remembering me and not forgetting your servant, and give a male child to your servant, then I will dedicate him to the Lord all the days of his life. His hair will never be cut.” (1 Samuel, Chapter 1, 9-11). Woodcut engraving after a drawing by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (German painter, 1794 - 1872), published in 1877.

( The following story was inspired by a study of 1 Samuel 1-28 … )

The Book of Samuel began with the story of a family of Levites and a woman call Hannah who could not give birth.

During those times, people viewed barrenness negatively because the Bible clearly says that a blessed people will have no male or female barren among them (Deuteronomy 7:14). According to the Midrash (a Hebrew Commentary of the Bible), Hannah was barren for ten years, despite her desire for a child, and that lack of result created a kind of cognitive dissonance among the religion-focused Levites and the household of Elkanah, Hannah’s husband. To save the family from embarrassment, Elkanah married a second wife call Peninnah for the sake of procreation. Peninnah came through and delivered children shortly. The tribe was pleased and all seems well and good.

But something seems lost in the translation…

Despite what the law demanded, Elkanah loved Hannah even though she could not bear. He made it so obvious that even Peninnah saw it and started to question if Elkanah even loved her. Shouldn’t the one who brought honour to the family receive more love? Peninnah decided that something needs to be done and ‘lovingly’ reminded Hannah to have children for her own good… and Elkanah’s as well. She reminds her every single time they go up to the temple to give thanks for the family, and that well-timed ‘encouragement’ drove Hannah to see Elkanah’s love for her as a burden. Why did a happy marriage with the one he loved turned into something so complicated and painful?

Did something go missing in the translation?

One time, the high priest of Israel, Eli noticed the sad state of Hannah from the tabernacle courtyard and immediately assumed she was drunk. It was probably a valid assumption as the world beyond the temple was in such a mess. Temple prostitutes and idolators roam the streets and once in a while, one or two delinquents do wander in and it was his duty to reprimand them. What Eli ‘did not’ know was that his two sons were mixing around with those prostitutes and stealing food from the worshipers behind his back. He might have heard some complaints but he never witnessed it himself. In any case, it was better not to have any controversy within the Tabernacle less order gets disrupted and dishonour comes to the God of Israel.

But yet again, something seems lost in translation…

The Book of Samuel began in a setting where religion is romanticized, and people were doing whatever was right in their own eyes. (Judges 21:25) They had the scriptures with them, but the people saw religion as a set of rules pertaining to order rather than God’s instruction to a people He loves. A romanticized religion appears to have a form of godliness but denies the power behind it. (2 Timothy 3:5)

There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death. – Proverbs 14:12 (KJV)

There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death. – Proverbs 14:12 (NIV)

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