1 Samuel 2:1-10
This passage has its roots in the book of Judges—in the chaotic time when “there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6). Samuel, the baby born to Hannah, will become a kingmaker—the one who will anoint Saul (9:16; 10:1) and David (16:12-13). Israel, under these kings and David’s son, Solomon, will rise to a prominence unmatched in its history.
Chapter 1 of First Samuel told of Hannah’s infertility, which caused her great pain. Her husband, Elkanah, took another wife, Peninnah—almost certainly because Hannah was unable to give him a child—even though he loved Hannah. Peninnah had several children, and mocked Hannah for her childlessness.
In desperation, Hannah went to the temple, where she prayed for a son, promising God, “if you will indeed look on the affliction of your handmaid, and remember me, and not forget your handmaid, but will give to your handmaid a boy, then I will give him to Yahweh all the days of his life, and no razor shall come on his head” (1:11). After the family returned to Ramah, “Elkanah knew Hannah his wife; and Yahweh remembered her. It happened, when the time had come, that Hannah conceived, and bore a son; and she named him Samuel, saying, ‘Because I have asked him of Yahweh'” (1:19-20).
Our text is known as Hannah’s Song. She offers this song of thanksgiving after weaning Samuel—when she takes him to the temple in compliance with her earlier promise to God.
Hannah’s song is more than a song of thanksgiving for the birth of Samuel. It is a song of thanksgiving for Yahweh, the Holy one —the Rock (v. 2)—the “God of knowledge” (v. 3)—the one who breaks the bows of the mighty and gives strength to the feeble (v. 4)—the one who gives children to the barren woman (v. 5)—the one who “kills, and makes alive” (v. 6)—who “makes poor, and makes rich” (v. 7)—who “raises up the poor out of the dust” (v. 8)—who keeps “the feet of his holy ones” (v. 9)—who breaks those who strive with him (v. 10a)—and who “will give strength to his king” and exalts “the horn of his anointed ” (v. 10b). It is a prayer of thanksgiving for the kind of Great Reversal that we find celebrated throughout the scriptures.
The mention of the king and “his anointed” in verse 10 has led scholars to believe that this song was not original with Hannah, but was added later—probably modeled after one of the liturgical psalms used in temple worship. The reason, of course, is that Israel has no king at this time—and has never had a king. They will not have a king until Samuel grows up to become a prophet—and anoints Saul as king at God’s command.
Hannah’s song will serve as a model for Mary’s song (known as the Magnificat) when Mary is pregnant with Jesus (Luke 1:46-55).
“At the other end of the grand narrative of the books of Samuel are the ‘songs’ of David (2 Samuel 22; 23). Hannah’s ‘song’ and David’s ‘songs’ serve as a frame or inclusio around the entire narrative of 1-2 Samuel. Thus, the Song of Hannah serves as ‘a thematic and structural introduction to Samuel'” (Tsumara, 135, quoting R.C. Bailey). An inclusio is a literary device, used frequently in the Bible, to mark the beginning and the end of a significant narrative.
The books of 1-2 Samuel are followed by 1-2 Kings, which begin with the story of Solomon’s reign. The first ten chapters of 1 Kings are a time of glory for Israel—a time when Solomon builds the temple in Jerusalem. However, chapter 11 turns dark with the mention of Solomon’s foreign wives, whom he married in disobedience to God’s command. Then we learn that, “when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods; and his heart was not perfect with Yahweh his God, as was the heart of David his father” (1 Kings 11:4). Then we hear of Solomon’s adversaries (11:14-25)—and Jeroboam’s rebellion (11:26-40)—and Solomon’s death (11:41-43)—and the secession of the northern tribes and the division of the nation into Israel (the northern tribes) and Judah (the southern tribes) (chapter 12). Beginning with 1 Kings 11, then, the books of Kings record a downward spiral. Israel loses the glory that it enjoyed during the reigns of David and Solomon. There are a succession of mostly bad kings and disastrous wars.
Then we read of Assyria defeating Israel (the northern tribes) and carrying the people into exile, effectively bringing an end to that part of the Jewish people (2 Kings 16). Then we read of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon capturing Jerusalem and taking the people of Judah (the southern kingdom) into exile (2 Kings 24-25).
So the birth of Samuel introduces a bright period in Israel’s history—a period never matched before or since—a period bracketed by the tumultuous times recorded in the book of Judges and the equally tumultuous times recorded in the books of 1-2 Kings.
1 SAMUEL 2:1-3: MY HEART EXULTS IN YAHWEH
1Hannah prayed, and said:
“My heart exults in Yahweh (Hebrew: yhwh —Yahweh)!
My horn (Hebrew: qar·ni—horn) is exalted in Yahweh.
My mouth is enlarged over my enemies,
because I rejoice in your salvation.
2There is no one as holy as Yahweh,
For there is no one besides you,
nor is there any rock like our God.
3“Talk no more so exceeding proudly.
Don’t let arrogance come out of your mouth,
For Yahweh is a God of knowledge.
By him actions are weighed.
“Hannah prayed” (v. 1a). As noted above, Hannah’s Song is more a song of thanksgiving than a prayer.
“My heart exults in the Yahweh (yhwh —Yahweh)! My horn (qar·ni—horn) is exalted in Yahweh” (v. 1b). The word, qar·ni—horn, is repeated in verse 10, when Hannah speaks of the king’s horn (NRSV: strength)—thus forming an inclusio. “The power of God, which can make the barren woman rejoice in a child, can also transform threatened tribal Israel into a kingdom” (Birch).
An animal’s horn is a symbol of power or glory. The scriptures include several references to horned animals as symbols of power—either the power of evil (Daniel 7:8; Zechariah 1:18-21; Revelation 13:1) or the power of Christ (Revelation 5:6). In this instance, Hannah uses the word horn as a symbol of her renewed strength—her restored position—her salvaged dignity.
“My mouth is enlarged over my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation” (v. 1c). Hannah speaks of her enemies, but does not mention Peninnah by name. As a matter of fact, the narrator never mentions Peninnah again. She had her moment in the limelight. Now it is Hannah’s turn.
Just as God has given Hannah the victory over her enemy, Peninnah, so also God will give Israel the victory over its enemies. This song is about Hannah and Peninnah and Samuel, but it is even more about Yahweh and Israel.
“There is no one as holy as Yahweh, For there is no one besides you” (v. 2a). The birth of Samuel gave rise to Hannah’s exultation, but she never mentions Samuel or his birth in this song. The only mention of bearing children is the reference to “the barren (who) has borne seven” in verse 5a. This song may have been inspired by the transformation of Hannah’s life at the birth of Samuel, but its subject is Yahweh and the wonderful things that Yahweh does.
Yahweh is distinguished by holiness (Psalm 99:3, 9), which has two manifestations:
The first is Yahweh’s separateness—his apartness from the ordinary. He is the Creator. All else is that which he created. People must be careful never to confuse the Creator and the created, as they do when they worship planets or trees or idols or anything else that is only part of the Creator’s creation.
That which is made holy through its association with Yahweh also possesses this quality of separateness. Various objects and people were anointed or set apart for holy purposes. These included the tabernacle (Exodus 40:9) and its furnishings (40:10-11). It included prophets (1 Kings 19:16; 1 Chronicles 16:22; Psalm 105:15) and priests (Exodus 28:41; 29:7; Leviticus 8:12; 21:10) and kings (1 Samuel 10:1).
The second manifestation of Yahweh’s holiness is his moral perfection. Yahweh acts justly, honors covenants, and in all ways does what is righteous and holy (Isaiah 5:16).
Yahweh’s holiness renders holy that which is associated with him. Israel is a holy people, because the Holy One has covenanted with them (Deuteronomy 7:6; 26:19; Jeremiah 2:3). Yahweh says, “You shall be holy; for I Yahweh your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). In the Old Testament this required of Israel two things. The first was adherence to Torah law. The second was the inward holiness demanded by the prophets—a holiness made manifest by fair treatment of other people and compassion for those in need.
But Yahweh’s holiness is in a category by itself. While he can (and does) render his people holy, their holiness will always be flawed. We are all sinners. But Yahweh’s holiness is not flawed. “There is no one as holy as Yahweh”.
“nor is there any rock like our God” (v. 2b). Yahweh is a Rock. In the scriptures, a rock is often used as a metaphor for strength or stability. A house built on rock is sturdy; it resists damage in a storm. Lives built on faith in God becomes strong like rock (Matthew 7:24-25).
“Talk no more so exceeding proudly. Don’t let arrogance come out of your mouth, For Yahweh is a God of knowledge. By him actions are weighed” (v. 3). Hannah does not mention Peninnah’s name, but Peninnah has lorded her fecundity over infertile Hannah—has manifested her arrogance toward Hannah in hurtful ways (1:6). But by answering Hannah’s fervent prayer for a son (1:11, 20), God has taken away proud Peninnah’s prominence and has restored Hannah to her rightful place in the household.
In like manner, God will look after little Israel. She will become a small but mighty nation under the kings whom Samuel will anoint.
1 SAMUEL 2:4-8: YAHWEH RAISES UP THE POOR OUT OF THE DUST
4“The bows of the mighty men are broken.
Those who stumbled are armed with strength.
5Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread.
Those who were hungry are satisfied.
Yes, the barren has borne seven.
She who has many children languishes.
6“Yahweh kills, and makes alive.
He brings down to Sheol, and brings up.
7Yahweh makes poor, and makes rich.
He brings low, he also lifts up.
8He raises up the poor out of the dust.
He lifts up the needy from the dunghill,
To make them sit with princes,
and inherit the throne of glory.
For the pillars of the earth are Yahweh’s.
He has set the world on them.
“The bows of the mighty men are broken. Those who stumbled are armed with strength” (v. 4). This is the first of a series of reversals in this section.
Reversal is a frequent theme throughout scripture. God will pick little David to slay giant Goliath. On God’s orders, Samuel will ignore David’s big, good-looking, older brothers to anoint young David. Reversal will be a primary theme in Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). The Beatitudes are a series of reversals (Matthew 5:1-12). The last hired become the first paid in the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). Jesus concludes that parable by saying, “So the last will be first, and the first last.”
A broken bow is absolutely worthless. It has no power at all. A mighty warrior who breaks his bow during battle becomes defenseless against an armed foe.
God renders the mighty powerless, and he also empowers the feeble. The former would have little meaning if the latter were not also true.
“Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread. Those who were hungry are satisfied”(v. 5a). This is the second pair of reversals. The well-fed become hungry, but the hungry become fat with food.
“Yes, the barren has borne seven” (v. 5b). This is the third reversal. It is the only part of Hannah’s Song that hints at her former barrenness. She has now borne a son, and her position in the household has been restored.
The number seven is used in scripture as an ideal number, symbolic of fullness or completeness or perfection. That is how it is used in this verse. Hannah will have six children rather than seven—Samuel plus three more sons and two daughters (2:21). The point here is not the exact number of Hannah’s children but the blessings that God has bestowed on her—the manner in which God has reversed her situation.
“She who has many children languishes” (v. 5c). We never hear of Peninnah again.
“Yahweh kills, and makes alive. He brings down to Sheol, and brings up” (v. 6). Yahweh has power over life and death. He kills. Sheol refers to the abode of the dead, so “brings down to Sheol” refers to death—not to hell. The concept of hell as we understand it was not yet developed at this time. Yahweh also creates life, whether from the dust of the earth or from the womb.
“Yahweh makes poor, and makes rich. He brings low, he also lifts up” (v. 7). Another reversal! Yahweh has power to bestow or to withhold riches—to humble and to exalt.
“He raises up the poor out of the dust“ (v. 8a). Another reversal! Yahweh raises up the poor from the dust, just as he created humans from the dust of the earth. He cares about the poor, and uses his power to redeem their lives.
“He lifts up the needy from the dunghill, To make them sit with princes, and inherit the throne of glory“ (v. 8b). Another reversal—this one more descriptive than the rest. The needy, who have been consigned to sit on the ash heap at the city dump, find themselves, by the grace of God, sitting with princes. They not only sit with princes, but also enjoy a place of honor at the princes’ tables.
“For the pillars of the earth are Yahweh’s. He has set the world on them” (v. 8c). The ancients thought of the earth in three stories: (1) the region beneath the earth, which they called Sheol (2) the earth (3) the region above the earth—the heavens. They thought of Sheol as a large cavern, and pictured great pillars there holding up the earth (Cartledge, 47).
But the point here isn’t how the earth is constructed, but who constructed it. It was the Lord who set the earth on its pillars. It is the Lord who owns the pillars and the earth—and everything else.
1 SAMUEL 2:9-10: YAHWEH WILL EXALT THE HORN OF HIS ANOINTED
9He will keep the feet of his holy ones,
but the wicked shall be put to silence in darkness;
for no man shall prevail by strength.
10Those who strive with Yahweh shall be broken to pieces.
He will thunder against them in the sky.
“Yahweh will judge the ends of the earth.
He will give strength to his king,
and exalt the horn of his anointed.”
“He will keep the feet of his holy ones, but the wicked shall be put to silence in darkness; for no man shall prevail by strength” (v. 9). God will establish justice. He will protect the faithful and cut off the wicked. It isn’t our might (strength, power, position, or money) that will prevail in the end. God will determine what will prevail.
We get a glimpse of this in the present. Many people present a glamorous facade to the world, but live in their own private little hell. Hollywood celebrities come to mind. In his book, Where Is God When It Hurts? Philip Yancey divides the people whom he has interviewed into two categories—stars and servants. By “stars,” he means celebrities from various walks of life—sports, acting, television. By “servants,” he means people like Dr. Paul Brand, who worked with leprosy patients in India for twenty years—people who live “servant” lives.
Yancey says that the stars “are as miserable a group of people as I have ever met. Most have troubled or broken marriages. Nearly all are hopelessly dependent on psychotherapy. In a heavy irony, these larger‑than‑life heroes seem tormented by incurable self‑doubt.” But he says of the servants, “Somehow in the process of losing their lives they have found them.”
There is also an eschatological (end of time) dimension here. In his book, Talking to My Father, Ray Stedman tells of a missionary couple who returned to the United States after many years on the mission field in Africa. They happened to be booked on the same ship that was bringing President Teddy Roosevelt back from a hunting expedition. The man was discouraged that there was nobody at the dock to greet them when they returned home—but there was a brass band to greet the President. But the man prayed about it, and God gave him the answer that quieted his soul. The answer was, “But you’re not home yet!”
“Those who strive with Yahweh shall be broken to pieces. He will thunder against them in the sky. ‘Yahweh will judge the ends of the earth” (v. 10). The odd thing about this verse is the reference to “his king.” As noted above, there is no king in Israel at this time, and won’t be until Samuel grows up and anoints Saul. This, in particular, leads scholars to believe that Hannah’s Song was added to First Samuel later—perhaps as an adaptation from one of the psalms that were commonly used in worship. There are a number of parallels between Hannah’s Song and Psalm 75 (Klein).
“He will give strength to his king, and exalt the horn of his anointed” (v. 10B). The word “horn” is often used in the scriptures to symbolize power or glory. For instance, the altar of burnt offering will have horns on its four corners, symbolic of Yahweh’s power (Exodus 27:2). In the book of Revelation, the Lamb is pictured as having seven horns, which symbolize his power and glory (Revelation 5:6). When this verse speaks of “the horn of his anointed,” it means the power or glory of the anointed.
The last word of this song is “anointed.” The Hebrew word is the word from which we get our word “messiah.” At this point, Israel has not yet developed an understanding of a messiah. This word, anointed, points to those who bear the Lord’s imprimatur—prophets and kings. However, “the meaning will be most fully expressed in Jesus, whose title ‘Christ’ is the Greek translation of Messiah” (Peterson, 27).
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Baldwin, Joyce G., Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries:1 & 2 Samuel, Vol. 8 (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988)
Bergin, Robert D., The New American Commentary: 1, 2 Samuel, Vol. 7 (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996)
Birch, Bruce C., The New Interpreter’s Bible: Numbers- Samuel, Vol. II (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998)
Brueggemann, Walter, Interpretation Commentary: I and II Samuel (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1973)
Cartledge, Tony W., Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary: 1 & 2 Samuel (Macon, Georgia: Smyth & Helwys, 2001)
Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holladay, Carl R.; Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, B (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1993)
Evans, Mary J., New International Biblical Commentary: 1 and 2 Samuel (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2000)
Gehrke, Ralph David, Concordia Commentary: 1 and 2 Samuel (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1968)
Klein, Ralph W., Word Biblical Commentary: 1 Samuel, Vol. 10 (Dallas: Word Books, 1983)
Newsome, James D., in Brueggemann, Walter; Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV—Year B (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993)
Peterson, Eugene H., Westminster Bible Companion: First and Second Samuel (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999)
Tsumura, David Toshio, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The First Book of Samuel (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007)
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Copyright 2008, 2010, Richard Niell Donovan