There are several Elkanahs in the Bible. Three are listed among the Kohathites, as descendants of Korah and Levi (1 Chronicles 6:22–27; 6:34–38; cf. Exodus 6:24). One Elkanah joined David in Ziklag (1 Chronicles 12:6) and one (possibly the same) served as doorkeeper for the ark of the covenant when David brought the ark back to Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 15:23). An Elkanah is listed as an ancestor of the Levites who were taken into captivity in Babylon (1 Chronicles 9:16). And an Elkanah is recorded to have been second to King Ahaz in 2 Chronicles 28:7. The most well-known Elkanah is the father of Samuel.
This Elkanah was a Levite who lived in Ramah in the hill country of Ephraim with his two wives Hannah and Peninnah (1 Samuel 1:1–2; cf. 1 Chronicles 6:34–27). Hannah was barren while Peninnah bore many children. Despite the societal shame of infertility, Elkanah loved his wife Hannah and showed her extra kindness and favor (1 Samuel 1:5). He tried to cheer up his wife when she was downcast, but he did not fully grasp the depth of despair of her situation because he believed that simply being married to him would be enough to fulfill her dreams and desires (1 Samuel 1:8).
Elkanah and his wife Hannah were faithful believers who worshipped at the tabernacle in Shiloh every year. Hannah took her dreams and desires to the Lord in prayer (1 Samuel 1:11, 15–16). The Lord answered her prayer with the conception and birth of her son Samuel. Elkanah returned to Shiloh "to pay his vow" (1 Samuel 1:21), so it is possible he too had been praying for Hannah to conceive. In any case, it is obvious that Elkanah was a man of integrity who faithfully kept his word to the Lord (1 Samuel 1:21–28).
Elkanah also deferred some important decisions to his wife Hannah based on her relationship to the Lord. When their son was born, Elkanah gave the privilege of naming the baby to her, though it was normally a right reserved for the father. Hannah chose the name Samuel meaning "asked of the Lord" as a reminder that this son was an answer to prayer (1 Samuel 1:20). Later that year, when it was time to go to Shiloh for the annual sacrifice, Hannah told Elkanah that she would stay home with the boy until he was weaned (several years later). He responded, "Do what seems best to you; wait until you have weaned him; only, may the LORD establish his word" (1 Samuel 1:23). His response shows that he trusted his wife's devotion to God and agreed with her intention to follow through on her promise to surrender this child to serving God in the tabernacle.
A few years later, Elkanah and Hannah did bring Samuel to the tabernacle and surrendered him to serve the Lord there (1 Samuel 1:24, 28). Elkanah was willing to give up his son despite the extra honor another son would have earned him in his society because he believed it was the right thing to do. He clearly had decided to live according to God's will instead of his own. He was a man who kept his word, loved his wife beyond her ability to bear him sons, and worshipped God faithfully (1 Samuel 2:19). Elkanah was then blessed with three more sons and two daughters through Hannah (1 Samuel 2:21), as well as the lasting legacy of his son Samuel being a faithful judge of Israel, a true prophet, and the one God asked to anoint the first and second kings of the nation.
The name Elkanah means "God has created" or "God has taken possession." It is obvious that the Elkanah who fathered Samuel had fully given himself over to the possession of the Lord, clearly knowing who was his Creator. While our names can be a reminder of godly people or an indicator of hoped for character qualities, they are no guarantee. Instead, every person, no matter his/her name, has the choice to follow and serve the Lord or not. May we daily choose to act as a possession of God in similar ways to Elkanah, father of Samuel.
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