"Hannah's Psalm"

  1 Samuel 2:1-10  

This morning’s reading comes some 340 years after the events of Exodus 32. Israel has finally entered the Promised after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. They have conquered the people of the land under Joshua and are living under the leadership of the Judges.

It is a difficult time for the Israelites. It is a time of moral and spiritual inconsistency. The people will sin and the Lord will punish them by allowing their enemies to defeat them. The people will cry out to God and repent of their sin and God will send a deliverer, a judge to rule them for a time and give them relief from oppression. But as soon as the judge is gone, the people will fall right back into sin again and their enemies will defeat them again. Again they repent and God sends a deliverer . . .

The book of Judges ends on a bad note—there is a rape, a dismemberment, intertribal warfare and genocide. The last verse of Judges sums up the times:

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit (21:25).

Elkanah and Hannah were righteous people in the midst of an unrighteous society. If nobody else would honor the Lord, Elkanah determined that he and his family would. Every year they made the trip to Shiloh, the location of the tabernacle of God probably to observe one of the three great feasts (1 Samuel 1:3).

Elkanah had two wives, not uncommon in those days. His first wife, Hannah, was childless, but Peninnah, his second wife had children. And she never let Hannah forget it. The text says, “Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her” (v. 6). This went on for years, every time the family went to Shiloh for the feast (It is probable that Hannah and Peninnah lived in different homes). And Hannah became so upset that she couldn’t fully enjoy the feast (v. 7). Elkanah couldn’t understand why Hannah got so upset and said, in typical male fashion, “Why do you need kids when you have me?”, or words to that effect (v. 8).

In agony of spirit Hannah goes to the tabernacle to pray alone (vv. 9-11). Hannah prays for a male child and she promises God that, if he answers her prayer, she will dedicate the child to the Lord. Well, in verses 19 – 20 we see that God does answer Hannah’s prayer. She conceives and gives birth to a son. She names him Samuel, which means “God Hears.” Hannah is as good as her word. When the child is weaned, she takes him to Shiloh to present him to the Lord to serve as a priest (vv. 24-28).

Samuel is to become very important in the history of Israel. Not only is he a priest, but he will become a mighty prophet of God and will be the man to anoint Israel’s first two kings, including David.

In 1 Samuel 2:1-10 Hannah prays a prayer which is really a song.

“My heart rejoices in the Lord;
    in the Lord my horn is lifted high.
My mouth boasts over my enemies,
    for I delight in your deliverance.

“There is no one holy like the Lord;
    there is no one besides you;
    there is no Rock like our God.

“Do not keep talking so proudly
    or let your mouth speak such arrogance,
for the Lord is a God who knows,
    and by him deeds are weighed.

“The bows of the warriors are broken,
    but those who stumbled are armed with strength.
Those who were full hire themselves out for food,
    but those who were hungry are hungry no more.
She who was barren has borne seven children,
    but she who has had many sons pines away.

“The Lord brings death and makes alive;
    he brings down to the grave and raises up.
The Lord sends poverty and wealth;
    he humbles and he exalts.
He raises the poor from the dust
    and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes
    and has them inherit a throne of honor.

“For the foundations of the earth are the Lord’s;
    on them he has set the world.
He will guard the feet of his faithful servants,
    but the wicked will be silenced in the place of darkness.

“It is not by strength that one prevails;
10     those who oppose the Lord will be broken.
The Most High will thunder from heaven;
    the Lord will judge the ends of the earth.

“He will give strength to his king
    and exalt the horn of his anointed.”

I want to note several things about Hannah’s prayer:

Hannah’s prayer is a psalm. A number of the translations indicate this by the way they format the text. It looks just like one of the psalms from the Book of Psalms. Hannah’s prayer employs parallelism and symbolism, which is typical of a psalm.

Hannah’s psalm is a prayer, a prayer Hannah may have prepared in advance for her worship. In the majesty of these words, let us not forget that this is Hannah’s prayer of praise. It is a psalm, but like the psalms, it is a prayer addressed to God, a prayer of praise and thanksgiving. Some almost automatically assume that Hannah borrowed this psalm as the expression of her praise to God. The psalms of the Bible wonderfully put our prayers into words that very aptly describe what is in our hearts, but there is no indication that this is anything but a psalm Hannah composed herself. Do we think her incapable of such a magnificent work? Or do we think that God cannot put such praise in our hearts?

Hannah’s psalm is now a part of Scripture and, therefore, inspired. Her psalm is no longer a private work of her own, but a permanent part of the Holy Scriptures for all of us to read, to repeat (if we choose), and to edify our souls. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” (2 Timothy 3:16). Since this psalm is a part of the Holy Scriptures, we know it is inspired by God through the Holy Spirit Are Hannah’s words beyond her own natural capacity to articulate? So are the words of every inspired author of Scripture. This is precisely why we can easily accept that Hannah penned this psalm by the enablement of the Holy Spirit.

Hannah’s psalm is the outgrowth of her own experiences. The Scriptures are not mechanically transmitted through their human authors. In some mysterious way (as mysterious as the way in which our Lord is both divine and human), God’s revelation is produced through human instruments, out of their own background and experiences, expressing their individual personalities, and yet in a way which accurately and inerrantly conveys the very words of God.

Hannah’s psalm goes far beyond her own experience. Hannah's prayer grows out of and expresses her own experience, but it also goes much higher and deeper than her human experience in three specific ways:

Hannah’s prayer seems to reflect Israel’s experiences with God in the past. Inspired Scripture has a way of linking itself with the rest of Scripture. Hannah’s words of praise in her psalm seem to flow, in part, from Israel’s experiences in the past, particularly the exodus. Often an inspired writer’s words or expressions are borrowed from other biblical texts, and sometimes they seem to be an almost unconscious part of the fabric of the author’s thinking. Hannah speaks of God as her “rock” (verse 2). God is described as Israel’s “Rock” in Deuteronomy 32:30-31. Hannah speaks of God as exalting her “horn” in verse 1; Moses uses the symbolism of the “horn” in Deuteronomy 33:17. When Hannah speaks of the weak and humble being elevated to power and prominence, was this not true of Israel at the exodus? When Israel speaks of the hungry being fed, was this not also true at the exodus? When she speaks of the powerful being humbled, was this not true of Egypt at the exodus? I believe Hannah viewed God’s work in her life through the perspective of God’s work in Israel’s life at the exodus.

Hannah’s prayer goes far beyond her own experience, focusing on the character of the one true God whom she worships and to whom she gives praise. Like the psalms found in the Book of Psalms, Hannah’s psalm does not concentrate on her sorrow, her suffering, or even on her blessings (Samuel is not even mentioned). Hannah’s psalm focuses on her God. Out of her suffering and exaltation, she comes to see God more clearly, and as a result, she praises Him for who and what He is. Her psalm speaks of God as holy (verse 2), as faithful (“rock,” verse 2), as omniscient (all knowing, verse 3), as gracious (verse 8), as all powerful (verse 6), as sovereign, the great reverser of circumstances (verses 6-10). How much there is of God in these few verses!

Hannah’s prayer goes far beyond her experience, beyond the past and present, looking far ahead into the future. Hannah’s psalm is prophetic; it is prophecy. It looks forward to the time when Israel will have a king (verse 10). I believe it looks forward to the coming of the ultimate “King,” our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the ultimate fulfillment of her messianic prophecy. Is this not one of the reasons Mary’s “psalm” has a familiar ring to us (see Luke 1:46-55)? It is true, of course, that Mary may see other parallels between her blessing and that of Hannah, but I do not think the messianic connection is ignored.

Hannah’s psalm is offered at the time she must leave her son behind, never again to have him in her home. This is a time when Hannah expresses her joy and gratitude to God for Samuel, the answer to her prayers. It is a time when Hannah expresses her faith in God and her devotion to Him. But it is also a time of separation when she will leave Samuel in Shiloh and return to Ramah. God’s faithfulness in the past is her assurance of His faithfulness in the future, and thus she can give this child to God.


Hannah is an example of a godly woman and wife. She endures years of silent suffering because of her barrenness and cruel harassment at the hand of her rival, Peninnah. She accompanies her husband and family (including Peninnah) to Shiloh, knowing how painful it always is. Largely she suffers silently, with no indication that she retaliates against Peninnah. She faithfully worships God, pouring out her tears and petitions. And when God answers her prayers, she not only keeps her vow, she praises God in a way that continues to inspire and encourage saints throughout the centuries.

Our text lays the foundation for the unfolding of the events depicted in 1 and 2 Samuel. The last verse of the Book of Judges speaks once again of the fact that Israel has no king at this time. Hannah’s prophetic psalm speaks of the coming of a king. Hannah and Elkanah, like their New Testament counterparts, Zacharias and Elizabeth (see Luke 1), are childless. Both barren wives become the mother of a prophet, who designates the coming king. As Samuel designates both Saul and David, so John the Baptist designates Jesus the Nazarene as God’s Messiah and King.

Hannah’s suffering and her psalm is a pattern of the way God reveals Himself through the Scriptures. Hannah’s psalm, like all the rest of the Scriptures, is the product of human effort, superintended and divinely empowered by the Holy Spirit. It is both the product of human effort and the expression of a human personality, shaped by the things Hannah experienced. She could not have written this portion of Scripture without having suffered as she did at the hand of Peninnah, due to her barrenness. Neither could Hannah have written what she did about the future without divine inspiration. Her words which have been recorded for us are also the word of God.

Hannah’s psalm, like every other portion of Scripture, is the writing of a person which reflects her education, her personality, and her background of experiences. It is also the work of the Holy Spirit, which conveys the “mind of God” to us. Just as our Lord was both undiminished deity and perfect humanity in one Person, so the Scriptures are the product of man and the work of God in one work.

Hannah’s psalm could not have been written without the suffering which precedes it. It is God who closes Hannah’s womb. It is God who purposes for her to suffer at the hand of her cruel counterpart, Peninnah. It is God who orchestrates all of the painful and pleasant events in Hannah’s life, so that the resulting psalm could become the masterpiece it is. This is the way God employs the human and the divine in the writing of all the Scriptures. While you and I do not write Scripture today, I believe God orchestrates our background and our lives in a way which uniquely prepares and equips us for the ministry He has for us. Let us refuse to see our past difficulties as hindrances to the present or the future. As we look back upon the painful memories of our past, let us look upon them as the foundation stones for our present and future ministry, and then let us rejoice in our tribulations and trials in light of the way God purposes to use them for our good and for His glory.

Our text is a picture of the way God brings about His blessings and manifests His grace in the midst of sorrow, suffering, and human weakness. Notice the parallels between Hannah’s experiences and psalm and Paul’s experiences and epistles. Think about these words from the pen of Paul in light of Hannah’s suffering and her resulting psalm:

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:7b-10).

As Paul makes so clear in his epistles, God’s power is demonstrated at the point of our weaknesses. That is grace. God’s grace does not seek out our strong points and enhance them, so much as His grace seeks out our weakest points so that it may be absolutely clear to all that it is God who accomplishes great things through us. Those things which cause Hannah the greatest sorrow, the greatest pain, are the very things God uses to produce her greatest joys. For those who trust in Him, it will always be this way.