Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Breastfeeding in the Old Testament

I have been studying the Old Testament for several months along with my Alma 5 studies. The past few days I have been touched by Hannah's story in the First Book of Samuel. As you may recall, Hannah was unable to conceive a child for the longest time. This weighed heavily on her, so much so that she would weep and couldn't eat. Have you ever been in a situation where you just had no appetite and all you wanted to do was cry? I know I have.

Like they did every year, Hannah and her husband made a trip to the temple. While there, upon seeing his beloved wife weeping and not eating, Elkanah, her husband, asked 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?"

It made me chuckle a little to read what Elkanah said to Hannah. "Am not I better to thee than ten sons?" That sounds like such a spouse thing to say when another spouse is grieving something. "Aren't I good enough for you? Don't I make you happy?"

I couldn't help but feel so sad for Hannah. "And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore." Have you ever been where Hannah was? I know I have.

While she was at the temple, Hannah made a covenant with the Lord that if He would bless her with a man child, she would give him to the Lord all the days of his life. And the Lord heard her, and she conceived a child. A little boy.

Photo Credit: LDS Old Testament Institute Manual
When it came time for them to make their yearly trip to the temple again, Hannah did not join them. "But Hannah went not up; for she said unto her husband, I will not go up until the child be weaned, and then I will bring him, that he may appear before the Lord, and there abide forever."

I thought her husband's response was sweet. "And Elkanah her husband said unto her, Do what seemeth thee good; tarry until thou have weaned him; only the Lord establish his word. So the woman abode, and gave her son suck until she weaned him." How wonderfully supportive Elkanah sounded.

"And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, with three bullocks, and one ephah of flour, and a bottle of wine, and brought him unto the house of the Lord in Shiloh: and the child was young."

I figured the way that the scriptures were phrased that this wasn't an infant that she brought to the temple. I wondered how old her son was when he was weaned. I didn't think that this question would be answered, but I pulled out my good old Institute manual anyway. It says:

"Weaning took place very late among the Israelites. According to (2 Maccabees 7:27), the Hebrew mothers were in the habit of suckling their children for three years. When the weaning had taken place, Hannah would bring her son up to the sanctuary , to appear before the face of the Lord, and remain there forever, i.e. his whole life long." (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 2:2:26)

Although I don't think weaning at three years old is very late, it is a lot later than most people wean nowadays. Being the birth junkie and breastfeeding advocate that I am, I love seeing when birth, midwives and breastfeeding are mentioned in the scriptures.

After reading this story about Hannah's amazing sacrifice (I couldn't imagine giving Lily up like that), and then her ability to sing praises unto the Lord after giving up her little boy (even though that's what she promised) is amazing to me. If I had made a promise like that, it wouldn't be very easy for me to keep my end of the deal without at least being somewhat pouty about it. What strength that must have taken!

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