Though Hannah’s song, found in 1 Samuel 2:1-10, is not itself a psalm, it is a worthwhile song of the Bible with echoes in Psalm 113 (part of the Haggadah which is sung at the beginning of the Days of Unleavened Bread by Jews for many centuries) as well as in the Magnificat of Mary in Luke 1:46-55. As Hannah’s song is part of a family of biblical songs composed and sung by women about the glorying of barren women and the triumph of the weak over the strong by the strength and power of God, let us examine this worthy song as an example of the biblical hymns written by the Sons of Korah (or, in this case, a daughter of Korah, the faithful Hannah ).
Let us examine Hannah’s song, a brief hymn, in light of its context both as the hymn of a formerly barren woman granted the birth of a beloved son as well as its greater context of God’s workings with mankind. Let us therefore examine the two halves of this song, starting with 1 Samuel 2:1-5: “And Hannah prayed and said: My heart rejoices in the Lord; my horn is exalted in the Lord. I smile at my enemies, because I rejoice in Your salvation. No one is holy like the Lord, for there is none besides you, nor is there any rock like our God. Talk no more so very proudly; let no arrogance come from your mouth, for the Lord is the God of knowledge, and by Him actions are weighed. The bows of the mighty men are broken, and those who stumbled are girded with strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, and the hungry have ceased to hunger. Even the barren has borne seven, and she who has many children has become feeble.”
Let us examine what this verse is saying both for Hannah and for its continued relevance. When Hannah refers to the barren woman bearing seven children (she herself bore six, including Samuel: see 1 Samuel 2:21), we find Hannah reflecting on the fact that God often turns around the fate of the powerful so that they know weakness, for the weakness that they know strength. We find this precise concern in Psalm 113 as well as 1 Corinthians 1:26-30, where God works with the weak and foolish of the world to confound the mighty, so that the strength and wisdom of God may be made evident to the world.
This incomparable nature of God, who alone is righteous and good, and who is the judge of all souls, weighing and balancing their deeds against the righteous and unchanging standard of His holy law, is demonstrated clearly. Hannah rejoices because God has vindicated her, in the process showing His control over the fertility of the womb and His concern for the well-being of His servants, putting to shame those who glory and trust in their own strength and wisdom while exalting the power of His people who are righteous and worship Him in a godly fashion.
We may therefore see Hannah’s song as one of the many, and one of the most eloquent phrasings of, that sentiment expressed by many former slaves after the American Civil War who confronted their former masters and said, “Bottom rung on top this time,” showing that they too recognized the power and providence of God in shifting the state of one’s being to reflect righteousness and long suffering on the one hand and cruel arrogance and tyranny on the other. God rejoices in bringing to nothing the arrogant boasts of the mighty and in giving strength and power to the weak, for those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled with the bread of life and the living water of the Holy Spirit.
The second half of Hannah’s song continues in 1 Samuel 2:6-10: “The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and brings up. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; He brings low and lifts up. 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. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and He has set the earth upon them. He will guard the feet of His saints, but the wicked shall be silent in the darkness. For by strength no man shall prevail. The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken in pieces; from heaven He will thunder against them. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth. He will give strength His king, and exalt the horn of His anointed.”
The second half of the song of Hannah continues the themes of God rewarding the humble and righteous terms like the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12), saying that the poor will inherit the kingdom of God by being raised up from the ash heap (see also Psalm 113:7-8) to the throne of glory. In doing so we see God’s wisdom in working with the foolish and base and despised members of mankind, because their wisdom, nobility, and honor is from God and not from themselves, therefore reflecting God’s glory and power and wisdom back to Him in ways that are unmistakable to others.
We may also see that this particular hymn is notable for its messianic implications. God’s power over the grave in killing and making alive carries with it echoes of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ by whom our own path to the Kingdom of God is made open with His blood and life to pay the debt for our sin, to provide an example of perfect righteousness to follow in His footsteps, and to be the firstborn from the grave, the wave sheaf offering to open the harvest of righteousness for the firstfruits of God.
In addition, we also see implications about the second coming of Christ (and the Great White Throne Judgment), when He will break the enemies of His kingdom, thunder against those who rebel against His rule, judge the ends of earth in righteousness, and rule as King of Kings and Lord of Lords over all flesh and establish a kingdom that will reign forever and ever. Hannah’s song therefore fits squarely in messianic and “royal” hymns even as it praises the humble who are strengthened by the very power of God Himself to triumph over the proud and arrogant who rebel against God.
The Obscurity of Hannah’s Song
Hannah’s song is one of the more obscure hymns of scripture (not unlike Psalm 113, which closely resembles it). Perhaps this is due in large part to the fact that the historical prophets are widely ignored as being ages of ignorance and brutality, and especially because Hannah herself is a relatively obscure figure in scripture. In addition, the threat of God’s kingdom overturning the corrupt and existing social order may make this song uncomfortable for those who profit from that social order and see themselves as being the recipients of divine favor despite their wickedness. Nonetheless, the connection between Hannah’s song and the Passover, both in its sense of freedom from Egypt and slavery (see Psalms 113-118) as well as in its proclamation of the power of God and the establishment of the reign of Jesus Christ, make it a much more important song than has often been considered. Additionally, the similarity of Hannah’s song with the much better known Magnificat of Mary while she carried our Lord and Savior in the womb demonstrates that it is God’s particular privilege to work powerfully within both women and men, that no flesh should glory except they glory in God, as Hannah does so passionately and eloquently in 1 Samuel 2:1-10.
The Importance of Hannah’s Prayer
Let us therefore celebrate Hannah’s song as a vital and important linking scripture in the verse, not only demonstrating God’s favor to one Hannah, wife of Elkanah the Levite and mother of Samuel the prophet and judge, but also connecting together different but related parts of scripture. As Hannah’s song connects the opening of the womb of the barren with the coming of God’s kingdom, and connects the judging of God by His righteous standard with the power of God over life and death and the overturning of corrupt social orders and God’s giving strength to the weak, food to the hungry, and glory and honor to the poor on the ash heap, this song carries with it strong social and political implications. That it comes from a woman makes it (like the prayer of Mary, Jesus’ mother) even more revolutionary in its implications, as it demonstrates powerfully and eloquently the fact that both women as well as men are called to be the servants of God and are the recipients of His power and glory. Let us not forget that fact.
Let us not forget the fact either that this hymn, by powerfully anticipating the beatitudes as well as the first and second comings of Jesus Christ, our Messiah, serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of Hannah (and her son Samuel) within the divine order. We may see Samuel’s work as the last judge of Israel and a foundational prophet as setting an example for John the Baptist (another son of a barren woman) as the prophet announcing the establishment of the Kingdom of God through Jesus Christ, showing that ultimately the establishment of the physical kingdom of Israel and that of the spiritual kingdom of Israel were more intricately connected than has often been assumed to be the case. As the implications of that are momentous, let us reflect on Hannah’s Song and ponder it deeply.