The Prayers and Praises of Women: Hannah

Hannah’s great prayer of praise in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 flowed out of her circumstances and her experience with God. To appreciate the high spiritual caliber of Hannah’s prayer we need to consider the background. She lived at the tail end of the time of the Judges, when the nation had degenerated to a low point in which “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Jdg 21:25).[1] The nation had lapsed into idolatry and sexual immorality, as illustrated in the last two stories of the book of Judges. Even the house of the Lord, to which she would dedicate her son, was occupied by the sons of Eli, who engaged in spiritual abuse and sexual immorality. At that time, the nation was under the constant threat of the Philistine forces.

Her family life left much to be desired. Elkanah, her husband, loved her, but frustrated with her inability to have children, he took Peninnah as a second wife. While this union produced children, it caused no end of torment for Hannah. Her rival, likely insecure from Elkanah’s preference for Hannah, took delight in reminding her of her barrenness every year when the family worshipped in Shiloh. While Peninnah filled the time on their annual treks to Shiloh tormenting her, Hannah, on the other hand, spent the time pouring out her soul to the Lord. She neither lashed out at her rival nor complained to her husband, but instead took her burden to God. In His presence, she vowed that if God were to grant her a son, she would devote him to the Lord for life. She even reached the point of asking for a child, not for herself but for the Lord.

Roll the clock forward four or five years and we find Hannah in Shiloh pouring out her heart again, but this time in praise to her God. This is an amazing prayer on many levels that is worth our attention.

Focusing on God

Hannah’s prayer does not focus on herself or her blessings but rather on her God, whom she mentions twenty-four times in just ten verses. She begins with her joy in God (v1). Then she praises Him for who He is (v2). Next, she reflects on God’s sovereign ways in the affairs of men – raising up the humble and bringing down the proud. Finally, she anticipates a day (remember, there was no king yet in Israel) when God would raise up His anointed king and endow him with strength (v10).

Let’s take a closer look at these four sections of the prayer.

Rejoicing in God (v1)

The occasion for this prayer was the handing over of her son Samuel to the care of Eli in the service of the tabernacle. She would return home without him, never to have the joy of nurturing him through the stages of adolescence into adulthood. But she is not agonizing over leaving her young son nor regretting her commitment. Nor does she appear fearful of the influence Eli’s sons may have on him. Rather, she says, “My heart exults in the Lord” – literally, my heart is jumping for joy. Then she adds, “My horn [strength] is exalted in the Lord.” As noted earlier, she had come to desire this child for the Lord, not for herself. In seeing her prayer answered, she yields him joyfully and confidently to the service of God.

The Glory of God (v2)

Hannah reflects on God’s excellence in that He has no equals. She says, “There is none besides you,” and there is nothing that exists apart from Him. Everything that exists has its source in Him. Most of her fellow Israelites at that time had low thoughts of God and were quick to adopt the gods of the nations around them and trust in them. Her intelligent thoughts of the Lord, though, led her to a deep relationship and confidence in God, who was worthy of her trust. She expresses that when she says, “There is no rock like our God.”

The Ways of God (vv3-9)

Hannah speaks of the sovereign ways of God, reversing the fortunes of men. “The Lord is a God of knowledge and by him actions are weighed” (v3). Her God knows how to bring down the haughty, the proud and the mighty. He knows how to raise up the humble, the weak and the faithful. Really, she is relating what she has seen operating in her own family. Once barren, now she has the blessing of children, and the mean-spirited, haughty Peninnah, whose significance was wrapped up in her children, has been left forlorn, her prideful bubble burst.

These key statements go beyond Hannah’s experience and are themes that will reoccur throughout 1 and 2 Samuel (originally a single book). For example, the failing priestly house of Eli is cut off and replaced by the house of Zadok. God said, “I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind. And I will build him a sure house, and he shall go in and out before my anointed forever” (1Sa 2:35). Proud strapping Saul, so impressive in the eyes of men, is brought low, and the overlooked shepherd boy who is a man after God’s own heart is exalted to the throne. The mighty proud champion Goliath is brought down by the boy without armor, just a sling and the confidence of coming in the name of the Lord. Hannah understands the principles upon which God works in the affairs of men. He delights to take the weak, the poor, the hungry and the barren who humbly trust in Him, and He will endow them with strength to do His work. Then, He will exalt them to “sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor” (v8).

The Anointed of God (v10)

Hannah ends her prayer on a prophetic note. She is living in the time of the judges but anticipates a day when the adversaries of the Lord shall be broken, the earth judged, and God’s anointed king will be on the throne. This looks forward to David in the near term, but ultimately it will be fulfilled by David’s greater Son. When He takes the throne, all the reversals in verses 4-9 will be complete, and the King will reign in righteousness.

May our prayers reach the spiritual heights of Hannah’s Godward prayer, with a joy in God and a confidence that He will carry out His purposes.

[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the ESV.