Hannah’s story is a tale of good and evil. For thousands of years it has appealed to our desire for fairness, for good to be rewarded and evil punished. The story occurs at a bad time in Israel’s history, and it begins with conflict. The author skillfully described the characters—a suffering wife, a jealous rival, an appeasing husband, a failing priest and his reckless sons.
A key factor in the story is Hannah’s inability to have children. It was a shameful condition—she couldn’t produce an heir. As a consequence, her husband took a second wife. Adding to Hannah’s despair was the belief that God closed wombs as punishment for something sinful.
To be barren “was more than a physical or social problem. Deep religious meanings were attached…whether temporary or permanent, barrenness was thought to be the curse of God. It is hard for us to imagine how devastating these events would have been for the childless wife. She was spiritually ruined, socially disgraced, and psychologically depressed. She was married to a husband who wanted a child to assure the continuation of his family line. That husband might continue to love her, but she felt that was small consolation.”
But God reversed things. He answered Hannah’s prayer for a son. In time she returned him to the LORD’s service in the temple. At the time of Samuel’s presentation to the high priest, Hannah stated, “I am the woman who prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the LORD. For his whole life he will be given over to the LORD” (I Samuel 1:27-28).
Hannah’s song of praise
For the occasion she composed a poem (song, prayer, ode) of praise. Whether she sang the words or recited them is not known. But I picture her confident, composed, reverent and buoyed in spirit as she presented Samuel to One who would “guard the feet of his saints” and dedicated him to One who owns “the foundations of the earth” (I Samuel 2:8-9).
Hannah’s hymn is a classic praise song, and scholars have written extensively about it. My observations barely touch the surface. I see in Hannah’s praise/song four truths about God:
- He is the Source of joy.
- He is holy.
- He corrects injustice.
- He satisfies hunger.
God is the Source of joy
Hannah attributed her joy to the LORD. Essentially it flowed from His greatness. Samuel was a joy. Motherhood was a joy. Her improved status was a joy. But God was first in her heart—before husband, children and circumstances. Her praise/song begins where joy begins.
Hannah: My heart rejoices in the LORD; my horn is exalted in the LORD. I smile at my enemies, because I rejoice in Your salvation.
God is Holy
During the period of the Judges, Israel had fallen away from God. Without godly leadership, “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). Even Hannah’s marriage with the husband she loved was an arrangement that seemed the right way to “get children.” Polygamous marriages violate God’s pattern of “holy” matrimony (Genesis 2:24-25).
That God is “holy” means He is morally perfect and absolutely separated from evil. Hannah’s world was enmeshed in evil. Nothing was perfect and sinless. Nothing on earth was like God.
No one is holy like the LORD, for there is none besides You, nor is there any rock like our God.
God corrects injustice
Even the temple was corrupt. Eli did not deal with his wicked sons. They slept with women in the temple and commandeered food from the altar. People in Shiloh for the holy days came to temple in a drunken state. Eli lost a sense of proportion. He made unjust accusations. The sins of the priests in particular were “very great in the LORD’s sight” (I Samuel 2:17).
In her hymn Hannah praises God for setting things right between strong and weak, rich and poor. He brings down the mighty and lifts the fallen. She prophesied that God would give power to His king, His anointed, the Messiah.
The bows of the mighty men are broken, and those who stumbled are girded with strength…He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the beggar from the ash heap, to set them among princes and make them inherit the throne of glory…He will guard the feet of his saints, but the wicked shall be silent in darkness…the LORD will judge the ends of the earth. He will give strength to His King, and exalt the horn of His anointed.
God satisfies hunger
Famine and hunger are mentioned over ninety times in the Old Testament. Hannah’s story does not mention a famine, but she would have been familiar with Israel’s droughts and weather-related history. She would have known about the famine in Joseph’s day and Egyptians indenturing themselves for food.
She praises God for ending physical hunger and satisfying the longings for children, judgment and strength.
Those who have hired themselves out for bread, and the hungry have ceased to hunger. Even the barren has borne seven…The LORD will judge the ends of the earth.
Living her song
In what we know of the rest of her life, Hannah lives her song. She was blessed with three more sons and two daughters. She saw her son become a righteous judge in Israel. In her lifetime Eli died and his sons were slain. ♦ Mary Hendren