Forty women: 25. Peninnah
Once a year is enough for most celebrations. Christmas and Easter. Passover and Purim. Birthdays and anniversaries. Once a year is enough for sad commemorations too. Remembrance Day or the death of a loved one.
Once a year Elkanah and his whole family decamped to Shiloh, the home of the tabernacle, the place where God dwelled among his people. Once a year Elkanah insisted they all go, to worship the Lord and to offer the appropriate sacrifices to him.
And all of that would be fine. Just fine. I mean, it’s no mean feat, travelling with all your children, and organising everything you’ll need along the way, and making sure your household can run smoothly in your absence. But sure, it’s important to Elkanah, and it’s only once a year, and that doesn’t seem an unreasonable expectation from the Lord.
But that’s not the part that hurts. That’s not the part that’s like a bruise you carry with you all year, painful whenever it gets touched. That’s not the stabbing pain you have to brace yourself for when the time comes round each year. Every year.
Because, of course, you aren’t the only wife Elkanah takes with him. There’s two of you in this household. And maybe from the outside it looks as though you’re the favoured one. You’re the one blessed with all those fine sons and daughters. But you know different.
And every year, when you all trek up to Shiloh, you know that everyone in the family will have that made plain to them. Because when the sacrifices are made, and the meat is divided up, you’ll get your portion, and your children will get their portions, and Elkanah will get his portion. But she will get a double portion.
Because he loves her.
And you can’t help yourself. It’s so public and it’s so painful and you can’t stop yourself. It’s not much. A snide comment. A roll of your eyes. Forgetting to wait for her. Not passing a message on to Elkanah.
It’s not your fault she’s so touchy. What has she got to cry about anyway? She’s the one in the honoured place. She’s the one with the double portion. She’s the one he loves.
The pain will settle back to a manageable level. Years of experience have taught you that. But it won’t ever go away. And every year you set your face towards Shiloh it will get that little bit harder to make yourself keep going.