Relevant Passages: 1 Samuel 1-2; Luke 1
Hannah was praying for a son in the sacred tent at Shiloh. Because she was childless, she lived under constant ridicule from her husband’s other wife. Now Eli the priest watched her silently moving her lips and accused her of being drunk. Hannah convinced him that she was grieving not drunk. Impressed, Eli assured her that God would answer her inaudible prayer. Several years later Hannah returned to Shiloh bringing Samuel, the answer to her prayers, with her, as a gift to God. Along with an animal sacrifice and the gift of her son she also offered up an eloquent prayer of thanksgiving and triumph (2:1-10). This time her words were heard by the worshipers.
This prayer of Hannah illustrates how ordinary people in an oral culture are able to draw upon the elevated language of praise to God to make sense of the major events of their own lives. It is important for modern readers to not impose their own sense of what is plausible or possible from the mouths of so-called “uneducated” people. Hannah declares her joy over her enemies’ downfall (2:1). She makes a prediction that God will empower the king, the “anointed one,” before there even was a king over Israel. Saul, the first king of Israel is introduced in chap. 9 and David becomes king in 2 Samuel 2. Whether Hannah drew upon the rhetoric of psalms already composed or whether the Spirit of God gave her a prayer of prophetic importance, the prayer goes eloquently beyond the confines of her own private conflict with her husband’s other wife and children. In this sense her prayer serves as an invocation for the rest of the book of Samuel!
Christian readers see her words in v. 10 pointing to Jesus of Nazareth, the final king of Israel, as the ultimate “Anointed One”. The titles, “Christ” and “Messiah”, are simply Greek and Hebrew words for “the Anointed One”. But by the time of Jesus the words had acquired a special meaning and were used to point to the last ruler of the nation yet to be appointed by God.
The emphasis on every line in the prayer is on the Lord’s deeds and character. Only in v. 2 is God directly addressed, suggesting that the prayer was uttered in a public setting as a call to Humility, hope and faithfulness. The theme of the reversal of fortunes dominates the middle section, vs. 4-8a. The prayer shows sings of careful construction with a chiasmic structure in 2:1 and 2:10 of exaltation and the defeat of enemies.
Centuries later, Mary offers up praise to God when she finds she will bear the Son of God (Luke 1:46-56). There are strong similarities between her prayer and Hannah’s. Both mention God’s salvation and his preference for the marginal and oppressed. Missing from Mary’s prayer is any note of personal revenge. But like Hannah, Mary draws attention to the power of God and how he reverses the fortunes of the rich and powerful, while elevation the poor and humble. Mary’s prayer ends by declaring God has kept his promises to Abraham, the father of the Jews. Like the prayer of Hannah, Mary’s prayer lays the foundation for much of what happens in the book of Luke through her Son Jesus. God’s preference for the poor and the fulfillment of God’s promises through Jesus become major themes in the rest of the book of Luke.
For reflection and discussion:
- Did Hannah need to be in the temple in order for God to answer her prayer?
- Hannah apparently did not disclose to her husband the cruel treatment of Penaniah, his other wife. Instead she cried and prayed much (1:18-10). How does one know when to share one’s troubles with another person or just bring them to the Lord.
- Are the sentiments Hannah expresses in her prayer towards her husband’s other wife acceptable?
- Thousands are starving every day and the gap between the rich and poor grows wider. Does the Lord really reverse the fortunes for the poor and the weak? Always? When they pray to him like Hannah?
- How does a simple country peasant like Mary and Hannah learn to pray so eloquently?
- Mary’s prayer acknowledges that God has been so good to her. Can a person truly acknowledge God’s power and goodness without first experiencing it first hand?