And Hannah prayed and said,
“My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in the Lord.
My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation.
“There is none holy like the Lord; there is none besides you;
there is no rock like our God.
As we begin our readings of 1 & 2 Samuel this month, we read a song of praise, a “psalm” of Hannah, an ordinary woman who trusted God in her pain and suffering. May we, too, look back on the painful memories of our past, see them as the preparation for how God may use us (present or future), and then may we praise God like Hannah did. God always has a purpose in our pain, and He promises to use them for our good and for His glory.
In Hannah’s psalm of praise, there a number of features well worth noting. As we look at them, perhaps they will stimulate you to do a much more thorough study of this text on your own.
First, 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.
Second, 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? Read on.
Third, Hannah’s psalm is now a part of Scripture. 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.
Fourth, Hannah’s psalm is therefore an inspired psalm. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for 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 (see 1 Corinthians 2:10-13; 2 Peter 1:21). 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.
Fifth, 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.
Sixth, Hannah’s psalm also appears 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.
Seventh, 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. Unlike Jonah’s “psalm” (Jonah 2), but very much 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. 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!
Eighth, 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.
Ninth, we should not overlook that while Hannah’s psalm is the expression of her great joy and praise, it 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.