The story begins with Elkanah. He came from Ramathaim, which later perhaps became known as Arimathea. We know from the genealogies of 1 Chronicles that Elkanah was a Levite (1 Chr. 6: 26-27, 33-34) and his righteous behaviour is in contrast to the behaviour of the sons of Eli.
Yet there was one flaw in his lifestyle, he had two wives. It is likely that Hannah was his first wife but because she had not borne children he married another woman also in order to have children to continue the family line. Although the practice was common, it was not God’s ideal.
There is an obvious lesson for us here: it is likely that we will be tempted to use the customs of our time to solve a difficult situation rather than to live by the principles of God’s Word. Elkanah should have known from the story of Sarah and Hagar, the wives of Abraham, that this kind of solution would bring domestic disharmony and sadness into the experience of his true wife.
In one area of his life Elkanah put his own needs before those of Hannah, but when he did so he failed to function truly as her husband. Paul reminds husbands in Ephesians 6 that they are to love their wives sacrificially and wholeheartedly, following the model of Christ’s love to the church.
There is another sad lesson from the domestic situation in Elkanah’s house, and that is that domestic bickering can continue when the family members are involved in the worship of God. Peninnah is a nasty character, marked by jealousy and cruelty. Although she went to worship God in public her heart was not in it. It is hard to imagine why Elkanah married her.
It would be safe to say that Elkanah did not have the same degree of faith as Hannah possessed. He was content with how things were; God had been good to him, so he did not look for anything more. His faith looked to the visible evidences of God’s favour and did not rise as Hannah’s did to what God could do about their circumstances.