Not everyone gets to choose whether to procreate or not. Some married couples try in vain for years to conceive, whereas others are surprised by a pregnancy when they are on birth control. Then there are those who would love to be parents but are unmarried, while others are culturally constrained to bear more children than they would prefer. Be that as it may, most couples entering into a consenting marriage are at liberty to discuss the question of whether or not to have children, and how many they should plan on.
For Hannah, having children was paramount. Although Elkanah clearly loved her more than he did Peninnah, the fact that he had taken a second wife who could bear him children speaks to the sociocultural (and perhaps even economic) pressure a married couple was under to have children. Peninnah, likely jealous of Elkanah’s love for Hannah, would not let her hear the end of it. Her identity and sense of self-worth were tied to her ability to bear children, and Hannah fell into a depression over Peninnah’s ridicule.
Seeing her distress, Elkanah tries to assure Hannah of his love. “Am I not better to you than ten sons?” he queries. (She could have asked the same of him when he went to marry a second wife! But that’s beside the point.) At a practical level, Elkanah was appealing to his wife not to miss out on the blessings she already had for want of more blessings. If children were the fruit of love, then should the love itself not suffice?
In our walk with Jesus, we may find ourselves struggling with this problem. It is true that when Christ enters our lives, His very presence brings blessings, but we are constantly at risk of desiring the blessings to the neglect of the relationship that brings them. Is Jesus worth more to us than ten sons? I heard a highly educated, childless couple once quip that their PhDs were their babies. Whatever your sons may be, do you value Jesus more?
Given Hannah’s dedicated prayers for a child (and those of others in Scripture, like Zecharias and Elizabeth), infertility, apparently, does not indicate God’s displeasure. Couples who want children but have not received them are just as precious to Jesus as those with children. When the door to parenthood is closed biologically, there are still opportunities to adopt (whether a full legal adoption or not) children in need of parents, and this may be part of God’s plan to care for the “fatherless.”
Since couples with children and those without can have a dedicated relationship with Jesus, when a couple does have a choice, how are they to decide? One must consult their motives. If the motive is selfish, the resulting action will be wrong.
Ultimately, a Christian must ask if these children would bring glory to God. This was Hannah’s intention and why she pledged to return her son to the Lord.