What does 1 Samuel 1:8 mean?Hannah is weeping and cannot eat. She is not comforted by the special double portion of sacrifice Elkanah has given to honor her. She carries constant grief about her inability to have children, which is exploited and inflamed every year at the family feast and sacrifice in Shiloh (1 Samuel 1:1–4). Every year, Elkanah honors his wife for all to see although she cannot give him children. Every year, his other wife torments Hannah out of apparent jealousy, perceiving that Elkanah loves Hannah more (1 Samuel 1:5–7).
Here, Elkanah shows deep concern for Hannah along with a clumsy lack of understanding of her grief. Apparently unaware that Peninnah has been tormenting Hannah, Elkanah asks why she is crying and not eating. He asks why her heart is sad, though he knows at least one reason is that she cannot have children. Almost every husband has experienced the helpless feeling of wanting to "fix" a wife's sadness, but not knowing what to do.
Elkanah's last question reveals a level of immaturity, at least, if not a bit of arrogance. He may have intended it to be romantic, yet it misses the ache of his wife's heart. There is a desire he cannot meet. He doesn't mean "ten children," literally, but wants to comfort her with the idea of his great love. He wants to be enough for her on his own. As far as we can tell from this passage, he doesn't understand that this is not a perfect substitute for having children.
In addition to wanting to be a mother, Hannah's situation is difficult for other reasons. Elkanah can honor her publicly and show how much he values her. Yet that cannot take away the public shame and stigma placed upon infertile women in this era. Many falsely believed that since God gives children, He must be cursing those who cannot conceive. A "barren" woman was thought to be sinful, lesser, and not worthy of honor in the community.
Practically speaking, Hannah also faced an uncertain future. One role of children in that society was to care for aging parents. Women had very few options when it came to providing for themselves. It was clear that Elkanah's other wife—and perhaps her children as well—would not be motivated to care for Hannah if something happened to Elkanah. She could very well end up alone and without provision.
In short, Hannah was entirely dependent on the Lord. She understood this completely.