Hannah’s prayer is a remarkable passage of Scripture containing a song of praise with prophetic and messianic significance. Found in 1 Samuel 2:1–10, Hannah’s prayer eloquently celebrates the holiness and sovereignty of God and affirms the central tenets of Israel’s faith. Not only is Hannah’s prayer a testimony of God’s handiwork in her own life, but it is also a foreshadowing of His actions in the lives of the prophet Samuel, King David, and the nation of Israel.
Hannah, like several prominent women in the Bible, was barren and unable to conceive a child for a long time after marrying. In ancient Israel, children were considered a clear sign of God’s blessing (see Psalm 127:3). Infertility brought severe disgrace to a woman because in those days it meant she could not fulfill her God-given purpose of producing offspring for her family. Adding to Hannah’s misfortune was her family situation: her husband Elkanah had a second wife, Peninnah, who had given him many children. The rival wife mocked Hannah cruelly (1 Samuel 1:6–7). For years Hannah poured out her soul’s desire to the Lord in prayer, promising Him that, if she had a son, she would give the child back to God.
One day at the tabernacle in Shiloh, the high priest Eli overheard Hannah’s heartbroken petition and assured her that her prayer would be answered. True to the promise, Hannah gave birth to a son and named him Samuel. When the boy was old enough, she brought him to live with Eli to serve in the tabernacle of the Lord. After leaving behind her miracle child to be trained in the priesthood, Hannah prayed an extraordinary, poetic prayer under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Similar to many biblical prayers, Hannah’s prayer begins with praise for a specific act of God and then branches out into a more universal praise of God’s attributes and actions.
In 1 Samuel 2:1–2, Hannah’s prayer begins on a high note with personal expressions of pure joy and enthusiastic delight in the Lord and His salvation: “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.’”
Hannah’s barrenness had caused her humiliation and shame, but God has delivered her from all that. Notice that Hannah’s rejoicing is in the Lord, not in Samuel; in other words, she praises the Giver as more important than the gift. “My horn is lifted up” is an expression that refers to the renewal of strength. Hannah declares that her strength, her worth, her dignity, and her rightful place as a fruitful wife have been restored. She has been delivered from her shame. Hannah acknowledges God’s greatness, uniqueness, steadfastness, and holiness.
In verses 3–5, Hannah’s prayer takes on a more public dimension, allowing others to consider her words and join in. Hannah cautions those who boast and exalt themselves because God knows their thoughts and sees their actions. He judges in all matters, including military action, overindulgence, poverty, starvation, and infertility:
“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.”
Verses 6–10 contain some of the most poetic and linguistically beautiful portions of Hannah’s prayer. Here we encounter a long list of contrasting actions that the Lord takes in dealing with humans:
“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;
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.”
In all things, the Lord is sovereign. Exaltation, social position, and even life and death are under God’s control. God’s actions are not random. As Judge over the whole earth, God brings the worst actions against those who oppose Him, while His faithful ones receive the blessings of protection, strength, and exaltation.
Mary’s song in Luke 1:46–55 draws close thematic parallels to Hannah’s prayer. Both women adopt the role of motherhood to align with the purposes of God, and both praise God for aiding His people in their desperate plight.
The final sentence of Hannah’s prayer is remarkable for several reasons: “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, ESV). When Hannah prayed this, Israel had no king; she lived in the time of the judges, so her prayer is prophetic, looking forward to the time when a king would rule the nation. Also, Hannah’s reference to God’s “anointed” is a clear messianic prophecy. The prediction that God would “exalt the horn”—increase the strength—of the anointed king was fulfilled, in part, in the reigns of David and Solomon. But the ultimate Anointed One, the Messiah, would be honored above all kings.