The Song of Hannah -New Interpreter's Bible

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Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Posted: Tue, Dec 20 2011 3:43 PM

Here is the treatment of the NIB on 1Sa 2:1-10, if you enjoy it please consider pre-ordering the NIB, it is now available at a very reasonable price, although Logos has stated the price may go up before release. DON'T MISS OUT.


1 Samuel 2:1-10, The Song of Hannah



1 Samuel 2:1 begins by telling us that Hannah prayed, but what follows is not just a prayer but a hymn. Hannah sings! Her song is offered to us as the only appropriate response to her experience of God’s wondrous grace. Hannah’s song (2:1-10) is only loosely connected to the narratives that precede and follow it; nevertheless, on several different levels it serves an important role in these opening chapters of 1 Samuel.

First, these verses are a song of praise and thanksgiving by a barren woman whose womb has been opened. There is much in this hymn appropriate as a response by Hannah to the miracle that has issued in the birth of Samuel (chap. 1). The language of v. 1 is the language of personal praise to God, and Hannah gives praise for “my victory” (NRSV, reading with Qumran MSS; the NIV reads “your” with the MT). The “enemies” of v. 1b and the references to arrogant and proud speech in v. 3 can be read as references to Peninnah and her taunting of Hannah. Verse 5b speaks of God’s reversal of fortunes to give the barren one seven children while one with many children is left forlorn. Although Hannah is later recorded as bearing only five more children (v. 21), her hope for seven (a common number representing completion and fulfillment) is appropriate at this point in the story. She has certainly experienced the reversal wrought by God’s power, of which this verse speaks.


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It has long been recognized, however, that the reference of this hymn is broader than the story of Hannah’s barrenness and the birth of Samuel. Many have noted the similarities of language and style to Psalm 113:1 and other hymns of praise in the psalter. It may well be that Hannah’s praise has been drawn from a pool of hymnic praise known to Israel in its worship traditions. This possibility has led many to treat Hannah’s song as a late and secondary intrusion into the text. Even though Hannah’s song may draw on wider doxological traditions in Israel, however, it functions here as a key text to introduce the whole of the books of Samuel by relating Hannah’s new future to a new future opening up for Israel.

Thus a second level of meaning for the song of Hannah becomes available when we recognize that she sings not just as the mother of Samuel but as a mother of Israel. It is a song that moves from lifting high the horn of Hannah (v. 1a, NIV; NRSV, “strength is exalted”) to lifting high the horn of God’s anointed (the king, 10b, NIV; NRSV, “power of his anointed”). The song suggests hope for the movement of struggling, perishing Israel to established nation, which is the story of the books of Samuel. Hannah’s singing further reinforces what we have seen foreshadowed in chap. 1: Samuel’s birth is tied to the birth of kingship in Israel. Israel’s fortunes, like Hannah’s, can be reversed. Thus the song of Hannah is intended to broaden our horizons beyond that of Hannah’s personal story. Her song speaks of a whole catalog of reversals that are possible through the power of God: weakness made strength, the lowly made exalted, the hungry filled, the poor made rich, the barren given children (vv. 4-8a). At the end of Hannah’s song, God’s anointed one, the king, is to be understood as the gift of God as surely as was the child whose birth is celebrated at the opening of the song.

Although many have commented on similarities between Hannah’s song and Psalm 113:1, only a few have noted the remarkable similarity of language and theme with 2 Samuel 22:1 (which appears in almost identical form in Psalm 18:1).27 The superscription to Psalm 18:1 says that David addressed this song of thanksgiving to God “on the day when the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul” (Ps 18:1). The whole saga of the books of Samuel is bracketed by the singing of Hannah and David. Hannah’s victory, given by God, points forward to God’s anointed one. David, God’s anointed king, celebrates God’s victory on his behalf, reflecting on the many obstacles he has overcome. Both songs stress the power of God to reverse apparently fixed human fortunes. Both Hannah’s son, Samuel, and David must face conflict with Saul as God’s failed king and their enemy. Again Hannah’s song anticipates God’s power to overcome such conflict, while David’s song recalls such conflict already overcome. Seen in tandem with 2 Samuel 22:1, Hannah’s song in 1 Sam 2:1-10 cannot be regarded as a mere intrusion into the flow of the narrative. Rather, it states doxologically the theological motifs that will dominate the whole of the story about to unfold in the books of Samuel. We shall expect to find these motifs echoed at various points throughout the story.

Finally, the song of Hannah should be understood as a witness to the central role of God’s providence. Her song is a clear and unequivocal offering of praise to God, who is the power behind all of the events about to unfold, as surely as God was the power that opened the womb of Hannah. In the story of Hannah in chap. 1, and in all the episodes that will unfold in the chapters ahead, we will encounter the influence of remarkable men and women on the fate of Israel in the midst of extraordinary historical circumstances. Yet, central to the witness of 1 and 2 Samuel is the conviction that it is the presence of God with these characters and in the midst of this history that makes the crucial difference for Israel’s future. Hannah’s song celebrates and gives witness to this power of divine providence to create possibilities for the future that seem impossible through human and historical resources alone. Who would have thought there was a new future for Hannah? Who would think that Israel, as its plight unfolds in 2:11–7:2, has any future? It is 


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the Lord (Yahweh) who is incomparable (v. 2), who knows and weighs (v. 3b), who reverses the fortunes of the strong and the weak (vv. 4-8a ), who is the creator of the earth itself (v. 8b), who guards the faithful (v. 9a), who judges the earth (v. 10c), and who upholds the king (v. 10de ). Behind the human drama and the historical circumstances of these stories in the books of Samuel lies the certainty of God’s providential working. Hannah’s song passionately affirms God’s providential presence in human history.

2:1-3. The song begins in an intensely personal style more characteristic of songs of thanksgiving than the more generalized praise of hymns. This is appropriate to the setting as Hannah’s passionate offering of praise for God’s deliverance. She sings in v. 1 of “my heart,” “my strength,” “my God,” and “my enemies,” and speaks of the victory in which she rejoices.28 Such praise is immediately followed by three statements about the incomparability of God (v. 2). There is no one like the Lord, the Holy One, the Rock. Hannah’s personal joy depends on divine power, a power manifested in holiness and strength, a power worthy of worship but offering safety in times of trouble. Hannah’s singing gives praise to God as the source of her deliverance.

In the second phrase of the song, she uses a Hebrew idiom ynrq hmr (ramâ qarnî), literally, “my horn is raised” (v. 1a ). This is a common metaphor in Hebrew poetry, used to evoke the image of a horned beast. The horn itself is a sign of strength; to “raise a horn” is to affirm power and dignity; hence, the NRSV abandons the metaphor and simply translates the image as “strength.” The image of the horn appears in Hebrew literature as a sign of victory or success (e.g., Pss 89:17; 92:10), and it is sometimes used with specific reference to God’s giving of children (see esp. 1 Chr 25:5, “All these were the children of Heman . . . in accordance with God’s promise to raise up his horn,” author’s trans.). Such usage makes the image of the horn particularly appropriate for expressing Hannah’s joy. The special significance of this image in Hannah’s song is that what begins in v. 1 as the raising of Hannah’s horn concludes in v. 10 with the raising of the king’s horn. The power of God, which can make the barren woman rejoice in a child, can also transform threatened tribal Israel into a kingdom.

Verse 3 provides a warning. If Hannah rejoices, those who are inclined to pride or arrogance must beware. God both knows (presumably of such prideful and arrogant attitudes) and weighs actions (if such prideful arrogance is acted upon). In the light of Hannah’s story, Peninnah’s taunting and ridicule of Hannah come immediately to mind (1:6). But this hymn does not identify Peninnah, leaving the text open for us to consider all who might arrogantly oppose God’s will or pridefully think they can control their own destiny apart from God.

2:4-8. In these verses, Hannah’s song becomes a catalog of surprising reversals that are wrought by God’s power. The recital is divided into two groups with dramatic effect. Verses 4-5 speak in passive voice of groups whose fortunes are reversed, but God is not named as the agent of these transformations. The text focuses on the strong who are made weak (the mighty, v. 4; the full, v. 5a) and the weak who are made strong (the feeble, v. 4; the hungry, v. 5a ). Verse 5b reverses the order, beginning with the weak. This time the subject is the barren woman who is given seven children, while the woman with many children is forlorn. The poem confirms Hannah’s experience, given emphasis in this recital of God’s power to transform the customary human realities. The number seven is probably an ideal number here and does not need to be reconciled with the five additional children Hannah later bears (v. 21). We might also observe that this first group of reversals begins with the “mighty” whose bows are broken (v. 4a ). Perhaps this allusion foreshadows the reversal of fortunes that will bring David to the throne when Saul and Jonathan are killed in battle against the Philistines, with David mourning, “How the mighty have fallen” (2 Sam 1:19, 25, 27).

In vv. 6-8d, Hannah’s song names the Lord as the power behind these reversals. The focus shifts from the hope of those in need of God’s transforming power to a doxology in praise of the transforming One. An astonishing series of active verbs emphasizes God’s power behind both negative and positive human experience. It is the Lord who “kills,” who “brings down to Sheol,” who “makes poor,” who “brings low.” The Lord also “brings to life,” “raises up,” “makes rich,” “exalts,” “raises up,” “lifts,” and “makes them sit and 


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inherit.” The positive list is longer, naming the “poor” and the “needy” as recipients (v. 8). Further v. 8cd describes the fate of these poor and needy people as sitting with princes and inheriting a throne. The poet points the reader ahead both to lowly Israel’s taking a place among the kingdoms and to David as a shepherd and eighth son who nevertheless will be king.29

The identity of this God who can accomplish such reversals is revealed in v. 8 ef. God is the Creator. The hope of Hannah and the hope of Israel are rooted in the same power that holds the cosmos aloft over the seas of chaos. God has placed the world on its foundations, and God is the Rock (v. 2b) on which those in need and without power can rely. Hannah has experienced the power of the Creator in her time of need, and she sings about it as the reality to which all in need may turn.

2:9-10. Moral implications flow from this recital. The God of these reversals is a God who distinguishes between the faithful and the wicked (v. 9ab). Indeed, “the LORD will judge the ends of the earth” (v. 10c). The faithful are those who trust God’s power to transform their lives and the social realities in which they live. The wicked are those who trust in their own might, power, and wealth. The list of groups whose fortunes are reversed in vv. 4-8d is here equated with the faithful and the wicked in the eyes of God. God will care for the faithful, but the wicked, God will “cut off in darkness” (v. 9b).

The last phrase of v. 9 serves not just as a conclusion to the verse, but also as a key to all of Hannah’s song. It states a crucial principle for the story of Israel that unfolds in the books of Samuel: “For not by might does one prevail” (v. 9c). Human efforts to secure one’s own destiny will not prevail apart from trust in what God is doing. In Hannah’s song, all of the ways of human power can be reversed through the power of God: military might, wealth, family. It is God’s power that endures.

At this point (v. 10a ), the song bursts forth in an ecstatic cry of God’s name—the Lord (Yahweh)!30 A series of phrases (v. 10a-c) celebrates the power of God, who shatters adversaries, thunders on high, and judges the earth. Who can doubt that it is the power of such a God that prevails and not human might?

Finally, and rather surprisingly, the power of God so passionately celebrated is linked to the king. Hannah’s song concludes in v. 10de by announcing that God will give strength to the king and raise the “horn” (NRSV, “exalt the power”) of the anointed (jyvm masîah). God’s investment in this king is underlined by the use of the possessive. It is God’s king and God’s anointed one. The song, which began by celebrating God’s gift of a child to Hannah, anticipates the gift of God’s king to Israel; and it is Hannah’s son, the prophet Samuel, who will anoint Israel’s kings, Saul (10:1) and David (16:13). As we shall see, the advent of kingship in Israel was controversial. But Hannah’s song at the beginning of this story makes clear that God is at work in these events; there will be no king but that he is God’s king.


1. The song of Hannah is one of the Bible’s most eloquent voices, testifying to God as the true source of transforming power. Its key line, “For not by might does one prevail” (1 Sam 2:9c NRSV), is a needed word in every generation, for it speaks to one of the most perennial of human temptations: the temptation to believe that we can control our own destiny and, perhaps, the course of history as well.

We live in a world that constantly evidences a belief in human might. Militarism, in its modern technological guise, has made the twentieth century the bloodiest century of human history; yet it is easier to raise budgets for weapons than for diplomacy. Consumer-driven market realities control our cultural preferences and appetites, and elections are influenced more by financial 


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resources than by political ideas. Even at the personal level we live within a culture that worships self-fulfillment and the many programs to achieve it. Even in the church, energy seems too often directed to issues of membership growth, institutional maintenance, and popularity of programs than to discernment of what God is doing in the world.

The experience out of which Hannah sings offers hope to Israel and to us that a different reality is at work in the world from what we customarily acknowledge. Hannah’s hope becomes hope for Israel and for us that power is not irrevocably tilted in favor of those the world defines as powerful—definitions that leave many powerless and without hope. Hannah sings of a God whose transforming power can reverse those patterns. She sings of a God who does not accept the world’s power arrangements. She sings of a God whose might is not wielded in a disinterested fashion. God is heavily invested in the welfare of the weak, the powerless, the poor, the hungry, the dispossessed, the barren.

It is not accidental that Israel’s hope for a king is voiced through the experience and the song of a barren woman whose petition has been heard. If God’s transforming power for Israel takes the shape of a king, then Israel’s king cannot be disinterested. Israel’s king must be God’s king, God’s anointed one (1 Sam 2:10). The leadership of such a king must reflect the priorities of a God invested in those without power and might by the world’s standards—those the world believes cannot possibly prevail. God’s anointed one must serve the reversals of power about which Hannah sings (see Ps 72:1-4, 12-14).

This connection of anointed king to barren woman suggests that leadership in God’s community in every generation cannot be either disinterested or self-serving. Leadership of God’s people must reflect God’s investment in the transformation of social realities that are biased against the weak, the poor, and the powerless. The church must identify with those who wait for God’s reversals of grace. It is the surprising shape of God’s power to which Paul points in 1 Cor 1:27-29:

God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. (NRSV)

The raised horn of those who have been anointed to leadership in the church must be rooted in the raised horn of those who once were barren but are given new life in God’s grace and power.

2. For Christians, the melody of Hannah’s song is echoed in the song of Mary, known as the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). The strong similarities of language and theme have led many scholars to suggest that the song of Hannah was known to the Gospel writer. Both songs celebrate a wondrous birth, enabled by God’s grace. Both songs preface and look to the coming of an anointed one (Messiah), although only Hannah’s song uses this actual word. Both songs see the power of God as transforming power in behalf of the powerless.

Thus Mary, the mother of Jesus, is part of a long tradition. The mother of the Messiah (the “anointed one”) for the church has an ancestry that includes the mothers of Israel, like Hannah. Many of these mothers, like Hannah and Mary, were singers. Miriam sang of God’s deliverance in Exodus 15:1. Deborah sang of God’s victory in Judges 5:1. These mothers were singers of new possibilities. They were singers of new communities and new power arrangements. The songs of mothers remind us that our story as the church is a part of what God has been doing since creation itself (1 Sam 2:8b), since the first giving of God’s promise to raise up a people (Luke 1:55). The history of God’s salvation does not originate with Jesus or with the church. The church is a part of the larger activity of God from creation onward. To be the community of Jesus as the Messiah is to be related to a God whose story is always larger than the church’s story. It is to be related to a God whose transforming power on behalf of the powerless does not originate in Jesus Christ but was already known to Hannah and simply finds new expression in the song Mary sings for the church.


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Posts 56
Paul Knopf | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Dec 27 2011 10:04 PM

Thanks for posting...looks like it'll go through soon...just a few more need to sign up

Posts 2937
Mike Childs | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Dec 28 2011 7:23 AM

Dan Francis:
it is now available at a very reasonable price, although Logos has stated the price may go up before release. DON'T MISS OUT.

Hasn't it already gone up some?  Or am I mistaken?  I thought it was on sale for about $400, but I note that today it is $479.  My memory may have failed me though.

"In all cases, the Church is to be judged by the Scripture, not the Scripture by the Church," John Wesley

Posts 5321
Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Dec 28 2011 10:09 AM

Michael Childs:
Hasn't it already gone up some?  Or am I mistaken?  I thought it was on sale for about $400, but I note that today it is $479.  My memory may have failed me though.

It was originally ordered by me at $800, and my preorder automatically got reduced to 479.95 USD,  I have been looking at the page most every day to see how close it has been getting to under contract, I have never noticed it down to $400. 



PS:I am still hoping for this for Christmas, under contract before January 5th, before Christmas is over. People you won't find a finer thing to preorder to use that Christmas money on...

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