What is the significance of Hannah's prayer (1 Samuel 2)?

What is known as "Hannah's prayer" can be found in 1 Samuel 2:1–10. To understand its significance, we must first understand more about Hannah, an Israelite woman living near the end of the time of the judges. Hannah had struggled with infertility in a society that viewed childbearing as a sign of God's blessing and infertility as a reason for shame. In her distress, she prayed to the Lord asking Him to "look on the affliction of your servant and remember me" (1 Samuel 1:11). She then promised that if God gave her a son, "I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life" (1 Samuel 1:11). God did grant Hannah's request and she kept her vow, leaving her son Samuel to serve in the tabernacle and be trained in the priesthood as soon as he was old enough to be weaned (between the ages of three and five years old). Upon releasing her only child in this way, Hannah prayed a poetic and prophetic prayer recorded in 1 Samuel 2:1–10.

Hannah's prayer, which is really a song of praise, is echoed in David's prayer recorded in 2 Samuel 22. These two songs serve as book ends framing the main narrative of 1 and 2 Samuel; both songs highlight the themes taught in the narrative. Jesus' mother Mary's song of praise, known as the Magnificat, in Luke 1:46–55 also echoes Hannah's song. For that reason, Hannah's prayer is sometimes called the Magnificat of the Old Testament.

Hannah begins saying, "My heart exults in the LORD… I rejoice in your salvation" (1 Samuel 2:1). She praises the LORD Himself for rescuing her from her shame, not her husband, her own body, nor her son, but instead recognizing God's sovereign hand in bringing about her salvation. Then Hannah transitions to speak more broadly about who God is and how He interacts with the humans He has created.

In 1 Samuel 2:2 she says, "There is none holy like the LORD: for there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God." In the ensuing narrative, God will defeat the Philistine idol Dagon (1 Samuel 5:1–9).

In the next verse, Hannah declares, "the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by Him actions are weighed" (1 Samuel 2:3). Later she adds, "Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread" and also "The LORD kills and brings to life" (1 Samuel 2:5, 6). In the narrative, God will confront Eli the priest for the wicked behavior of his sons because they have been "fattening yourselves on the choicest parts of every offering of my people Israel." God will bring about judgment and "both of them shall die on the same day," which comes to fruition during a battle with the Philistines (1 Samuel 2:29, 34; 4:17–18).

Hannah's song continues, "the bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble bind on strength" and later "the adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven" (1 Samuel 2:4, 10). This foreshadows David's defeat of Goliath and Israel's defeat of the Philistines (1 Samuel 17:45–47; 7:10).

In verse five, Hannah states, "The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn," an obvious reference to her own barrenness, now overcome, and her husband's second wife Peninnah who had previously provoked her during her infertility (1 Samuel 1:6–7).

In verses seven and eight, Hannah says, "the LORD makes poor and rich; he brings low and he exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor." These lines foreshadow how God will raise up Saul "a Benjaminite, from the least of the tribes of Israel" whose clan is "the humblest of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin" to be Israel's first king (1 Samuel 9:21). God then will choose David, the youngest of his brothers, to replace Saul as the next king (1 Samuel 16:11). Saul, who had risen to this place of power and prestige, will have the kingdom of Israel torn from him because "you have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you from being king over Israel" (1 Samuel 15:26). Similarly, Nabal, a rich and successful businessman who insults David, will be struck dead by the LORD (1 Samuel 25:2, 38). So God both exalts and brings low many people in the ensuing narrative.

Hannah's song continues, "He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness, for not by might shall a man prevail" (1 Samuel 2:9). This line foreshadows the many times God will protect David from his enemies including Saul, Goliath, Nabal, enemy soldiers, and even his own sons.

Hannah's prayer ends, "the LORD will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed" (1 Samuel 2:10). At the time of this prayer, Israel is still a tribal nation governed by judges, but this line prophesies the nation's upcoming transition to a kingdom and God's strengthening of kings David and Solomon. Ultimately the anointed king who will be exalted above all kings is Jesus the Messiah.

While this prayer prophesies upcoming events in the nation of Israel's history, it is not surprising that Hannah would speak these lines. God "is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8) and had been working in these ways long before Hannah gave birth to a son. God had provided salvation to the Israelites by rescuing them from slavery in Egypt. He defeated the Egyptian gods with the ten plagues (Exodus 7—12). He carried out justice against Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (Numbers 16). He conquered all the people living in the Promised Land who had seemed like giants to the Israelites (Joshua 23). Sarah (Genesis 17; 21), Rebekah (Genesis 25), and Rachel (Genesis 30) had all been barren before giving birth to sons. Many wealthy and powerful people had met their downfall while God continued to raise up the downtrodden, second born, and desperate people who turned to Him. God protected Noah for his faithfulness (Genesis 6—9) and then Caleb and Joshua for theirs (Numbers 13—14). So Hannah knew these truths from her people's past and had experienced some of them in her own personal life when God rescued her from the shame of infertility. But under the influence of the Holy Spirit, Hannah sang a song of praise to God in response, prophesying not only His imminent work to be accomplished in 1 and 2 Samuel, but also referencing the Messiah and how God has exalted Him and bestowed "on him the name that is above every name" (Philippians 2:9).

Related Truth:

What is the Magnificat?

The attributes of God, what are they?

Why pray? What is the purpose of prayer?

What can be learned from the prayers Jesus prayed?

What is the Story of the History Books in the Old Testament?

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