Hannah's Prayer

Hannah’s Prayer: A Hymn of Cosmic Praise

In the opening chapters of 1 Samuel, the reader is immersed in a domestic dispute: the children of Elkanah’s one wife is making Hannah, his barren other wife, jealous. But the narrator does not describe Hannah’s mood in trite terms; the lack of a child is a painful void in Hannah’s life.

Barrenness in the Bible

Barrenness is a burden endured by several women in the Bible: Sarah (Genesis 16:1), Rachel (Genesis 30:1), Manoah (Judges 13:2), and the Shunammite (2 Kings 4) in the Old Testament, and Elizabeth (Luke 1:7) in the New Testament. In each story, God is shown to be the Giver of Life, providing a child when all hope seems lost. Like these other stories, Hannah’s son is an unexpected, but much appreciated, gift from God.

Hannah’s Prayer: God is Faithful

When Hannah brings little Samuel to Shiloh to serve God, she prays a joyous prayer to God. Recorded in 1 Samuel 2:1–10, this prayer is a testimony to the faith found in Hannah. Moreover, it highlights the faithfulness of God. Echoes of this prayer can be found in Psalm 113 and in the Magnificat (Mary’s prayer in Luke 1:46–53).

Several lines in this prayer serve as overarching themes in the book of Samuel. First, Hannah’s poetic prayer, describing how she exults in the Lord (1 Samuel 2:1), echoes the poetry and psalms of David. Second, Hannah describes the lowering of the proud (2:3–4) and the exalting of the anointed (v. 10). These actions are not done by people, but rather by God himself (v. 7). This theme plays out several times in Samuel:

  • Downfall of Eli & sons / Exalting of Samuel
  • Downfall of Samuel’s sons / Exalting of Saul
  • Downfall of Saul / Exalting of David
  • Downfall of Goliath / Exalting of David

Curiously, the word translated as “his anointed” (1 Samuel 2:10) appears in the Bible for the first time here. So Hannah’s prayer introduces the theme of the Lord’s anointed mere chapters before David is anointed.

The theme of God being the author of death and life is also introduced here (1 Samuel 1:6). God takes the life from several main characters in this book: Eli & sons, Saul, David’s unnamed son (2 Samuel 12), and David’s son Absalom (2 Samuel 18). Yet God also gives life: Hannah is given Samuel plus 5 additional children (1 Samuel 2:21)!

Hannah’s Prayer: God Has No Equal

The entire structure of Hannah’s prayer is a testimony to the faithfulness and incomparability of God. Hannah first gives personal reasons (1 Samuel 2:1–3) for God’s faithfulness: God has saved her! She moves on to historic accounts (2:4–8b) of God’s faithfulness: time and time again God has delivered his people! Finally, she moves to a cosmic view (2:8c–10) of God’s faithfulness: God rules the cosmos, and who can stand in his way?

Summary

Hannah’s prayer is a celebration of God’s faithfulness in her life by giving her a son. But, more importantly, it is a powerful psalm of praise to the cosmic God who is faithful to his people. This prayer properly sets the stage for the rest of the narrative in 1 Samuel.

Brandon Schmidt

I am Brandon Schmidt: writer, husband, father, brother, reader, and laugher.

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