Lessons from Peninnah on the Nature of Bullies and Haters

Like most women in the Bible, there are only a few verses dedicated to Peninnah. For those who have never heard of her- she is mentioned in 1st Samuel 1:2-7, which says:

"And [Elkanah] had two wives: the name of one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children. This man went up from his city yearly to worship and sacrifice to the Lord of hosts in Shiloh. Also the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, the priests of the Lord, were there. And whenever the time came for Elkanah to make an offering, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he would give a double portion, for he loved Hannah, although the Lord had closed her womb. And her rival also provoked her severely, to make her miserable, because the Lord had closed her womb. So it was, year by year, when she went up to the house of the Lord, that she provoked her; therefore she wept and did not eat."

So, as you can see, Peninnah wasn't the nicest of people. Yet, I still feel that she has much to teach us, particularly about the nature of bullies and haters.


Related: An Interview with Michelle Shaw on Ruth and Hannah


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There are a few things that strike me about the afore-mentioned scripture. The first of which is that the Bible goes out of its way to make it known that Elkanah "loved Hannah" but there is no such honour bestowed upon Peninnah in her mention. Even worse is that the Bible is able to give tangible evidence of how Elkanah demonstrated his greater depth of feeling for Hannah over Peninnah- every year he gave Hannah a double portion of offering. To put this into perspective, that is a double portion of Peninnah and her all her children's offerings combined!

The second thing that strikes me about Peninnah is why she might feel resentful towards Hannah. The patriarchal cultural norms of the time meant that a woman's worth not only centred on marrying (well), but on her ability to produce multiple children- preferably sons. That being the case, she had more than fulfilled her end of the bargain! So, it's easy to see why she would feel that she should have been the favoured wife over Hannah who, at that time, had no children. It also shows why she would have felt slighted at the fact that "her rival" would receive so much more than her every offering season and why (coincidentally!) her provoking of Hannah worsened around this time. Maybe, like Leah, she had continued having so many children in a bid to win her husband's affection all to avail? That being the case, can you understand her pain and frustration?

There is a saying that goes: "hurting people, hurt people". It basically means that it is people with deep-seated and/or unresolved pain that tend to lash out at others, particularly if that person has or represents what they wish they had or what they feel is missing from their own lives. Perhaps this is part of the reason that Jesus told us, in Matthew 5:44, to "love [our] enemies, bless those who curse [us], do good to those who hate [us], and pray for those who spitefully use [us] and persecute [us]?"


Related: An Interview with Maggz Edefah on Hannah

How ironic is it that both of these women had what the other wanted? Hannah had Elkanah's love but wanted a child and Peninnah had children but wanted Elkanah's love. It is so easy to look at someone and think that their life is ideal, but life has taught me that you never really know:

  1. What's going on behind the scenes of the person that you are idolising and whether they are as happy as you think they are
  2. What they had to do to get to where they are (in terms of hard work, sacrifice etc)
  3. What they are having to do to stay there


With that in mind, here are my closing thoughts to you, lovely:


Closing Thought #1

Whenever you are tempted to be jealous of another, I want you to stop and consider those 3 things. There is a saying in Nigerian broken (or Pidgin) English which goes: "when a poor man see weytin it take to be rich he go say 'e better mek I remain poor!'" (which translates as "when a poor man sees what it takes to become rich, he will say to himself 'it's better to just remain poor!'") I say this to say: unless you are willing to do the work to be like the person that you are jealous of, it's better that you just learn to be content with where you are. If you're really serious about being like them; find out the answers to point 2 and 3 especially and start using the energy that was being used "hating" to do the work necessary to achieve that!


Closing Thought #2

For those on the receiving end of someone else's jealousy or hurt (because that's all that bullying really is), do what Matthew 5:44 says! This is not to say that you must befriend your abusers, by any stretch of the imagination. As I say all the time, "God did not put me on the earth to be anybody's doormat!" and that goes for you too. What I will say is that this is a call to:

  • Forgive them, so that no root of bitterness springs up in your heart
  • Love them from a distance for the most part, but also show grace when necessary
  • Not seek revenge
  • Not engage in malicious behaviour by mirroring them or speaking badly of them
  • Pray for them, that God would forgive them and that they would be healed of whatever it is that ails them

All in a bid to:

  • Keep your heart and hands clean
  • Not heap judgement upon yourself
  • Put yourself in a position where God can advocate for and fight for you
  • Put yourself in a position so God can bless you (and you truly "make your enemies your footstool"), like Hannah went on to do.

For more detailed advice about how to actually resolve such conflict read my Lessons from Euodia and Syntyche on Division and it's accompanying handbook "How to Resolve Conflict the Biblical Way" (which can be accessed for free in the resource library. Simply click the button below")