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Victory Through Humility: Hannah’s Story

At the heart of Hannah’s song is a subversive message about a social revolution.

—Peter Leithart, A Son to Me

This King has the right of eminent domain and can do was He pleases with His property.  He can turn out the ungodly and give the kingdom to those who obey Him.

—Rousas J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law

Hannah’s Story

It was the time of the judges.  The Philistine oppression had just begun.  Israel’s judge and high priest was Eli, a man who was outwardly pious, but spiritually dull and ineffectual.  His sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were profane and scandalous.  They stole from the sacrifices and seduced or raped the women who served at the Tabernacle gate. During this period, there was no prophet to declare the word of the Lord or to challenge the existing priesthood.  This is the context for Hannah’s story.

Hannah was the faithful wife of a wealthy Levite named Elkanah.  They lived in Ramah in Mt. Ephraim.  Elkanah loved Hannah a great deal. But Elkanah had a second wife, Peninnah.  Peninnah had borne her husband many sons and daughters.  Hannah’s womb, however, was barren.  This was a source of tremendous grief to Hannah (1 Sam. 1).

Things were especially bad when the whole family went to the Tabernacle to worship.  Elkanah would offer peace offerings and then take the sacrificial flesh and divide it among his wives and children.  Hannah was his favorite, so he always gave her a double portion.  But Hannah could see (and hear) all the portions of meat that went to her rival’s children.  On top of this, Peninnah provoked Hannah.  We aren’t told what Peninnah said, but given the context of their family life, it probably had to do with the nature of God’s blessing:

“What a wonderful thing to have God’s blessing!  Yahweh has no greater reward for His faithful than children—many, many children.  I’m so terribly sorry, dear Hannah, that you haven’t found favor with God.  It’s a great shame.  I will continue to pray for you, of course.”  Or something like that.

Elkanah was no help.  He tried to comfort his wife, but he didn’t understand Hannah’s struggle or the dynamics of his own family.  Hannah decided to take the matter to Yahweh.  She went to a part of the Tabernacle structure that was set aside for prayer.  There, in tears, she poured out her heart to God.  And she made a vow.  She promised that if Yahweh would give her a son, she would return that son to Yahweh for a lifetime of service.  The boy would be set apart his whole life as a Nazarite.

Hannah’s grief was so great that she had no voice.  Her lips moved, but her words were inaudible.  Nearby, next to a doorpost, sat Eli.  He wasn’t used to seeing silent prayer and so assumed that Hannah must be drunk.  He rebuked her for it.  Taken aback by Eli’s harsh words, Hannah explained herself.  “I… have poured out my soul before Yahweh” (v. 15).  Eli wished her well and prayed that God would grant her request.

Elkanah and his family returned home.  In due course God opened Hannah’s womb.  She conceived and bore a son and called his name Samuel.  Elkanah and the rest of his family continued to make their yearly journey to the Tabernacle to worship, but Hannah remained at home with Samuel until she had weaned him.  That would mean three or four years.  Then Hannah went up to the Tabernacle with her family and presented her son to Yahweh.  Samuel would remain in God’s service for the rest of his life.

The rest of Samuel’s story is familiar to those who know the Old Testament.  He became a prophet and a judge.  He led Israel at the battle of Mizpeh, where the power of the Philistines was broken (1 Sam.7).  He anointed Israel’s first king (ch. 10), Saul, and served as his mentor.  When Saul apostatized, Samuel anointed David to be the next king (ch. 16).  Samuel wrote most of the first book that bears his name.  He may have written Judges and Ruth as well.  He was a man greatly used of God.

Hannah’s Song

When Hannah had offered the appropriate sacrifices for her son’s dedication, she lifted up a song of praise to Yahweh.  We aren’t told whether it was the fruit of long meditation and prayer or whether the Spirit of God gave her the words immediately.  In any case, she spoke by divine inspiration:  she prophesied.  Her song celebrates the work and character of Yahweh.  She describes the sort of God He is—that is, how He regularly works in history—and, more specifically, what sort of things He was about to do beginning with the birth of her son. This is great stuff:

“My heart rejoiceth in the LORD, mine horn is exalted in the LORD: my mouth is enlarged over mine enemies; because I rejoice in thy salvation.”

The horn is a symbol of power, influence, and status.  Hannah declares that Yahweh is her strength and the source of her salvation.  Therefore she can answer her enemies—that is, God’s enemies.  She is thinking here not only of her rival, Peninnah, but of all the ungodly who oppress God’s faithful people.  God’s salvation is therefore a source of great joy and comfort to those who trust Him.

 “There is none holy as the LORD: for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God.”

Hannah anchors her meditations in God’s ontological and ethical nature.  God is transcendent and righteous.  There is no one, nothing, like Him.  He is the only valid and enduring foundation for human thought and life, for society and for culture.

“Talk no more so exceeding proudly; let not arrogancy come out of your mouth: for the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.”

The enemies of God mock His people.  They boast in their own strength and power.  Such a one was Peninnah.  She mistook the goodness of God for the favor of God.  She commended herself for being worthy of God’s blessing.  And so she felt free to mock and chide Hannah, who obviously wasn’t as spiritual as she was.  In other words, Peninnah embraced a false gospel, one of good works.  Hannah rightly saw in Peninnah’s boasts the voice of the Adversary.

“The bows of the mighty men are broken, and they that stumbled are girded with strength.  They that were full have hired out themselves for bread; and they that were hungry ceased: so that the barren hath born seven; and she that hath many children is waxed feeble.”

It is God’s way to bring down the proud and exalt the humble.  Hannah speaks of strength, of food, and of children.  Yahweh raises up His people to places of strength, sufficiency, and fruitfulness.  He has done this in the past; He will continue to do so throughout history.  The birth of Samuel will prove the beginning of another round of social upheaval that will reach its initial climax in David and Solomon, its final climax in the reign of Jesus Christ.

“The LORD killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up.  The LORD maketh poor, and maketh rich: he bringeth low, and lifteth up.”

Yahweh is sovereign.  He brings destruction on His enemies; He brings resurrection and new life to His people.  Samuel’s birth is one instance of life from death, but resurrection characterizes God’s mercies towards His people.

“He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory: for the pillars of the earth are the LORD’S, and he hath set the world upon them.”

Hannah returns to her theme of social revolution.  God exalts the poor and raises the beggar to sit among princes.  That is, God exalts His poor, His oppressed people.  He will place His people on the throne of glory.  And this is exactly what God has done for His people in Christ (Eph. 2:4-6; Rev. 1:5-6).  The implications of this He is currently working out in history.  “The pillars of the earth” refer to those offices and structures that hold up a godly social order.  Whether those pillars reside inside or outside the covenanted community, they nevertheless belong to Yahweh.  The kings, the priests, the generals, the judges—they all belong to God, and He will use them to stabilize the world on His terms and for His glory.

“He will keep the feet of his saints, and the wicked shall be silent in darkness; for by strength shall no man prevail.”

God will protect His people.  They will not stray from His salvation.  The wicked will come to naught.  God will consign them to silence and darkness.  Their wisdom and worldview will fail them.  Ethically and epistemologically, they are lost.  What strength and power they do have will only serve God’s ends.

“The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces; out of heaven shall he thunder upon them: the LORD shall judge the ends of the earth; and he shall give strength unto his king, and exalt the horn of his anointed.”

Hannah predicts the complete overthrow of Yahweh’s enemies.  The Philistines are probably at the front of her thoughts, but the faithless priests who ministered at the Tabernacle might not be far behind.  The pagan kingdoms, the evil priests, and the demonic powers that move them both are about to be thrown down.  God will judge in history:  He will judge the earth.

But there is more.  Hannah announces the coming of God’s king, His anointed.  She is the first of God’s servants to use the word Messiah (the Anointed One).  The immediate reference is to David; the ultimate reference is to Jesus Christ.  David would work real deliverance in history for God’s people; he would subdue the Philistines and establish justice in Israel.  But David’s work was also typical and preparatory.  David’s military victories and judicial integrity would lay the groundwork for coming of Christ, the true Savior and King of God’s oppressed people.  Christ’s victory will be complete; His integrity, flawless; His reign, glorious.

Conclusion

Hannah’s song is also the prototype for Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55).  They both celebrate the social revolution that Yahweh will accomplish through His Messiah.  Both forecast an eschatology of victory.  But neither calls for anarchy or for the bloody overthrow of the existing social order.  The revolution is God’s.  He will accomplish this great reversal on His terms and in His time.  Don’t get me wrong—we have work to do. But those whom He lifts out of the dust are the meek and humble, not the existentially vicious and impatient.  The meek inherit the earth, not fist-clenched revolutionaries (Matt. 5:5: cf. Ps. 37).  The kingdom of God is for the poor in spirit… those who work hard, wait patiently for the Lord and trust in his power and promise. This is the faith necessary to save our Republic. This was Hannah’s faith.

For Further Reading:

Peter Leithart, A Son to Me, An Exposition of 1 & 2 Samuel (Moscow, ID:  Canon Press, 2003).

Rousas J. Rushdoony, “The Virgin Birth and Property,” in The Institutes of Biblical Law (N. p.:  Craig Press, 1973), 493-495.

David Chilton, Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulators, A Biblical Response to Ronald J. Sider.  Tyler, TX:  Institute for Christian Economics, 1981.

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