In some ways this prayer of Hannah stirs our imaginations and in it we hear streams of God’s grace which will become full-blown in Mary’s Magnificat. Some call this a prayer, others a song and while commentators disagree on many points, I think we can agree that in her story and in this prayer there is a foreshadowing of life in the kingdom of God. Augustine saw in her words the vision of the City of God.
Hannah has been the underdog, the person whose life has not been of value. She has been seen as the rival of her husband’s other wife, for whom, it has appeared everything has gone right. The two women become symbols, one of the Jews and the other of the Gentiles. God’s people who were given everything did not always appreciate the generosity of God. At the same time they looked down upon those who were not God’s chosen. They reviled the Samaritans and the pagans, whom we call Gentiles. Peninnah, the other wife, is said to have “provoked” Hannah on more than one occasion. It’s not hard to imagine that Hannah saw her as her “enemy.” All of this places the song in context and draws us into a vision of the coming kingdom of God.
Throughout the entire Old Testament there are moments it’s as if the heavens are peeled open and we are given a glimpse of God’s intent for all of humanity. All of humanity, every single person who has felt trampled underfoot by others will have a day of victory. It is in Jesus that the first become last and the last become first. That is why we praise and worship God on high.
Hannah’s name means “God’s grace” and so this prayer oozes with grace, overflowing to Hannah, but also to all those who find themselves oppressed. Grace is extended to all who, like Hannah, place themselves wholeheartedly at the mercy of God. Humbling herself, Hannah made a vow before God, committing not only herself, but her child as a first-fruits, in service to God. Her son, Samuel, would go on to become a great priest, an intercessor for the people of God. Her commitment would have an impact on the future of all God’s people.
Her prayer shifts to a type of comparison. The one who had everything now feels as if she has nothing. All the success of the world has left Peninnah empty, but the one who was empty now has everything to make her heart full. Those who have all the resources of God at hand but take them for granted will have nothing. The treasures of the kingdom will be given to those who are found faithful, whether Jew or Gentile.
In the kingdom it is the poor who will be raised up, adopted into the family, placed upon the throne as princes and princesses. This is the vision of the kingdom of God, where leaders will be raised up by God’s anointing. Strength will be defined by participation in God, not by human power or authority. The weak will be made strong and the strong will be revealed as weak. True glory is found in and through knowing that the Lord is God.
Interestingly few commentators believe that Hannah’s prayer is prophetic, but instead place it within her time, or soon thereafter. Some believe it must have come after because it refers to a king and at the time of Samuel’s birth, there was no king. He would be the one to anoint the first king of Israel. I think that I must agree with Augustine that this is prophetic and that her voice points us toward a future king. That through her faith, Hannah was participating in God’s long-term plan for the salvation of humanity. Her life would be a prelude of that prevenient grace which would stretch across the centuries and touch the lives of so many who would come after. A harmony voice would be added to her prayer centuries later by Mary the mother of Jesus and the beautiful melody would draw us into a future which God has already prepared for us all.