The Peninnah Syndrome
Part 1

By Iverna Tompkins
Transcribed by Jane Vaughn


Today is what we have come to know as Mother’s Day and so, here in church we naturally expect to take a look at and talk about mothers.  We will do that – sort of.  But we’ll be looking at our topic from a little different perspective than we usually do. 

I believe it is understood that mothers have a natural love – for their children.  I mean, once that child is born, when you first look at the little helpless baby, there’s nothing you couldn’t or wouldn’t do for him or her.  It is always that way – a mother’s love.  It’s immediate.  There’s no price too great!  We just love our babies because we do – that’s just the way we are. 

I remember the incredible feeling that swept across my whole being when they laid my firstborn, Debbie, across my abdomen.  I’d been watching her birth in a mirror and now I looked down at her with all those little black curls and I thought, “Oh, dear God!  She doesn’t know anything!” :-)  I really did.  I thought, “Everything she learns, I have to teach her!” :-)  There’s a great responsibility laid to us to teach and train and inform and impart and make this child ready to stand on its own one day.  Thank God, it’s a process, undertaken day by day, and only one step at a time.  Today, I’m sure glad – she “passed me!” :-)  It just doesn’t take long for them to grow up and know more than their parents.

Wouldn’t it be a tremendous thing if we held that same responsible attitude…?  Actually, it would be a wonderful thing – if – when we had “spiritual children” – we would feel that same kind of responsibility for them.  That would be great!  But instead, we usually hand them a tract and a Bible (at least the Gospel of John) and say, “Alright – you’ve met the Lord now.  Be good – see you in Heaven!” :-) 

The other, the preferable option, only happens when we nurture the spiritual newborns like mothers nurture their own children.  And, men, if you’re privately thinking, “Boy, I got off lucky this Mother’s Day; she’s not going to hit me with some heavy message.” :-)  I remind you of Paul’s statement when He said, “I care about you like a mother!” (see 1Cor.3:2; 2Cor.2:4; 6:13; 7:3; 12:14,15).  He did, too!  He scolded at times – when it was necessary (e.g.1Cor.4:14; 5:1ff; 2Cor.2:1; 7:8,9; 13:10).  He threatened them – “If you don’t do some things right, I’m showing up!” (1:Cor.4:19-21)   :-)  Okay, they’re all worded a little different in the King James.   :-)  But men, the truth is that nurturing is not a gender issue or a female responsibility in the Church or in a family!  It falls to us all to minister to the “younger ones,” even if it is simply by setting an example of a godly lifestyle.

So, we recognize motherhood today – what it is and what it stands for with all the sweet moments as well as the heartbreaks.  And we can, and actually must, bring all of that into the spiritual realm of spiritual children – making the same applications.

I want to take you just a tiny turn today from how we usually look at 1 Samuel, chapter 1.  You remember the story of Hannah’s deep desire to be a mother.  The scripture reads: “There was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim,” (You know, when I read some of these things I just have to wonder, “Who cares?”  :-)) “of Mount Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah, the son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph,” (::pant::pant::   :-)) “an Ephraimite:…”  Aren’t you glad for simplicity when someone says to you, “What’s your name, please?”

And he had two wives;” (Well, there’s the beginning of his trouble!   :-)) “the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other, Peninnah: and Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no childrenAnd this man” (Elkanah, in case you’ve forgotten his name after all the pedigree that was given) “went up out of his city yearly to worship and to sacrifice unto the Lord of hosts in Shiloh (That’s where the Tabernacle had been set up for worshipping the Almighty God before Jerusalem – see Josh.18:1 – and an annual trip was required of all the men to bring sacrifices and offerings for themselves and their families – see Deut.12). 

And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, the priests of the Lord, were there.” (I have no idea where or how that last bit of information fits – it’s just that: information.  Maybe a woman wrote this book – we surely love all the details   :-)).  “And when the time was that Elkanah offered, he gave to Peninnah his wife, and to all her sons and daughters, portions.  But to Hannah he gave a worthy (or, the word is actually “double”) portion; for he loved Hannah: but the Lord had shut up (or, had not opened) her womb.”


“And her adversary also provoked her sore, for to make her fret, because the Lord had shut up her womb.” (That’s women for you!).  “And as he did so year by year, when she went up to the house of the Lord, so she provoked her;” (Probably something like this: “Neener-neener-neeee-ner! :-)  You don’t have any children!  You poor thing!”) “therefore she wept, and did not eat.  Then said Elkanah, her husband, to her, Hannah, why weepest thou? And why eatest thou not?  And why is thy heart grieved?  Am not I better to thee than ten sons?  So Hannah rose up after they had eaten in Shiloh, and after they had drunk. 


Now Eli, the priest, sat upon a seat by a post of the temple of the Lord.  And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore.  And she vowed a vow, and said, ‘O Lord of hosts, if Thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of Thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget Thine handmaid, but wilt give unto Thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life and there shall not razor come upon his head” (He shall be as a Nazarite – Num.6).


“And it came to pass, as she continued praying before the Lord, that Eli marked her mouth.  Now Hannah, she spoke in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard;” (She was just praying silently).  “And Eli said to her, (verse 14), How long will you be drunk?”  This is fairly noteworthy: Eli, as the priest, hadn’t seen anyone pray fervently for so long, he accused her of being drunk!  She offered him this explanation: “No my lord, I am praying to God for a son.  I promised God if He’d give me a son, I’d give the child back to the Lord.  I am fervent in heart and spirit, not intoxicated!”

Eli, now  sensing  the  earnestness  of  her  desire,  tuned  into God  (sometimes  they  do,  those priests! :-))   and was able to say to her, “God is going to grant your desire.”  A year later, Hannah had her son, and when he was weaned, she took Samuel to Eli as she had promised.  She gave him to the temple for the training he would receive – there’s a whole sermon right there! – and that’s the story as we have known it – straight out of the scriptures.

Now let’s look at the same story as we haven’t known it before – from a different perspective.  It’s not that one way of looking at the story is right and the other one wrong, but I want to talk to us about a syndrome.  A syndrome is a group of signs or symptoms that collectively indicate some kind of a disorder.  The syndrome I see here, I’ve labeled the Peninnah Syndrome.  The Peninnah Syndrome is when someone believes that everyone else should have exactly the same things they do and should do everything the same way they do it.

The truth is, there still exists today, in the Church, this Peninnah Syndrome.  I meet it everywhere I go.  I see churches split over this attitude.  You can hear them whine: “They don’t do it like we used to do it.  They want to do things differently.  They believe this and we believe that...”  The difference in question, or under consideration, all too often comes down to something like this: “Are you gonna dunk ‘em or sprinkle ‘em on Sunday?”  Or, “Is this wine or grape juice?”

All these little things (if I may so classify them) that we think are so important – that everyone should do it the same way – my way (of course!) – do not actually affect our eternity.  But we gather around us – in the name of “This-is-what-we-believe” or, “This-is-how-we-do-it” – we gather around us sameness, or like people, who do it exactly as we do it.  They think exactly as we think – and they will never judge one another because you can’t negatively judge someone who’s doing it just like you do it!  We sometimes call them “denominations.”  Oh, is that already enough?  A full plate?  Do you just want me to just close this now – “in Jesus’ Name, Amen?”

Every year – they all go to the Feast together and Hannah hears the same thing: “Isn’t it interesting God hasn’t yet opened you up?  I used to be like you, poor dear.”  Have you never heard this Peninnah voice?  “I used to not be able to pray publicly either.  (Heh-heh-heh)  Bless your dear little heart.”  :-)

What I see here in this situation, is that Hannah foolishly bought into the Syndrome – she believed what Peninnah was saying.  She agreed with it!  You don’t have to fall for everything, my dear friends.  Just suppose this – what might God have done with Hannah – had she not had children? 

Oh, I can almost hear your thoughts now.  “Oh, she’s anti-…”  No, I think it’s a wonderful thing when God gives us children.  It’s a wonderful thing when God gives us anything!  But, if we don’t learn to be satisfied with what we have, we will look at someone else, compare their gift with our seeming lack – and then we’ll lament: “I want children just like Peninnah has!” even though Hannah has this incredible love bestowed upon her from her husband!  “I love you!  I love you!  I don’t need anything more than…”  God knows Elkanah didn’t need more kids! :-)  What he repeatedly said to her was: “I am totally satisfied with you, Hannah – just the way you are!”  Oh, you didn’t catch that before.   :-)

I like the way one contemporary Christian song starts and ends – it’s something like this: “You can think good things about me.  You can tell me I’m wonderful – I can handle it… I know Who my source is…”  It’s actually worded a little differently, but you get the drift. :-)   But that’s truly what God wants for us – that we trust Him as our source!  That we receive from Him, just what we have right now.  He says, “I am – content – with you!”

If we would tape-record our prayers on any given day and then played them back for our own listening pleasure, most likely we would be embarrassed!  We ought to be, anyway.  I really believe that.  To hear the things we are commanding God to do – in Jesus’ Name (of course!) – and for His glory (obvious, isn’t it?). :-)   Instead of being grateful for who we are and what we are and what He has done with us and in our lives – because we don’t know what just might lie ahead of us – we decide how it should be, and beg Him to do it – exactly as we lay out the master plan.  But – we are specifically, precisely chosen by God to be exactly what we are at this moment of our lives.  May I re-state that?  It is something like – “Quit kicking against the pricks!” :-)   (Ac.9:5)

Everything we are as individuals – everywhere we are as a church – right here – right now – God is in control and we are not outside of His plan (unless, of course, you are in gross sin! :-)).  But, you can hear yourselves whine, if you will, “Oh God.  Send the multitudes.  We have all these prophetic words from so long ago.  You promised!  Besides God, we’ve got dreams – big dreams – and goals and aspirations, and we just know they came from You.  And – we want it all fulfilled – like, yesterday!” :-)

The story of one church in particular tells the story of so many.  Every step that has been taken – in moving from one city to another in a totally different part of the country, with a few families who grasped and embraced the vision, or, shared the vision, and said, “We’re coming with you, Pastor!”  And they did.  Every growing step has been important, and a part of the plan of God.  They all made the geographical move, including finding homes and employment in the new region and getting their kids adjusted and into the new schools.  And some of them even stayed with the vision! :-)  That also may mean some of them left you in the lurch! :-)  Well, that’s not unusual, Pastor.  It happens all too often, and no one has to report the details to me – I’m just old   :-)  and I’ve seen almost everything by now.   :-)

Every step that has been taken in relocating that church – holding services in the school building – lugging all the sound equipment and other stuff every Sunday morning – “Get the speakers and let’s go into the school and set up the chairs and re-arrange the… and don’t forget the…”  All those things that so many of us have done in pioneering a church are important parts of laying foundations.  Believe me when I say, “That was all part of God’s plan!”  Do you honestly think God is not big enough to have moved you suddenly into a great big auditorium that was already in existence, freshly painted, fully equipped and wired, totally prepared just the way you needed it?  Oh, yes.  He’s big enough!

But what if everything had fallen into perfect placement – with no effort on our part?  Look at the lessons we wouldn’t have learned!  We even sing about that: “If I never had a problem, I wouldn’t know that God could solve them.  Through it all – through it all, I’ve learned to trust in Jesus, I’ve learned to trust in God.”  And in time, here we are in the new building!  And guess what!  It’s beautiful! – but it’s already too small!   :-)  And we don’t dare pray for anyone else to come unless they can walk!  There simply are no parking spaces left!   :-)  We need more land!

It’s almost like – “Hey, God!  Yoo-hooooo!  Remember us?  Where’s the blueprint for this church?”  It’s up there – with Him.  He’s got the master blueprint – He has the plan.  And He started it way back there in that other city.  He knew exactly who to bring along to get this work started over here.  Now, don’t get mad at the people who leave – even if they’ve pledged all sorts of allegiance to you and the vision.  Scaffolding always is torn down when things are already built! Selah!  And it’s not a sin to be scaffolding.  Those people will go to another place and help them start to build – and then they’ll be out of there too!  By the way, they don’t understand it either – it’s just that they’re – called – for a specific purpose.  It’s one of the gifts of God.  People are going to walk out on you and you won’t be able to figure it out at all – but hey!  That’s the way of the Church!   :-) 

So – what I’m trying to say to us today is – whatever gift you’ve been given, use it with all your might.  If you lay it down or ignore the gift that God has given you – to be you – to be who you are supposed to be in the Body of Christ – it will manifest in other ways in your life – but negativelyDon’t resist the plan of God because you think something else is better fitted for you.

Go to Part 2