Hannah and Mary

Samuel Dedicated by Hannah at the Temple by Frank W.W. Topham

Many Christians are familiar with the song of Mary in Luke 1:46-55.  Fewer though, realize that it has an Old-Testament predecessor.  This forerunner is the song of Hannah, which appears in 1 Samuel 2:1-10.

The similarities between the two songs are too striking to be coincidental.  Both are sung by women in an unpromising position.  Both are about the same circumstance:  the birth of an unexpected son.  Both begin with similar language (“My heart rejoices in the Lord.”).

Most importantly, though, both have similar content.  Hannah’s song and Mary’s song both explore the same theme.  They exalt a God who humbles the mighty, exalts the lowly, and proves His covenant faithfulness to His people.

These thoughts make perfect sense coming from the lips of Hannah.  She is, after all, part of that unfortunate Old-Testament sisterhood of barren women.  Her husband loves her, but her co-wife (who is not barren) torments her and makes her life miserable (misery being a traditional side-effect of polygamous marriage).  Now, though, that Hannah has borne a son, she has been exalted and the haughty Peninnah has been humbled.

The same thing holds true for Mary.  In her society, she is a no-counter:  an unmarried, pregnant teenage girl.  However, Mary knows something that nobody else does:  the child in her womb has been conceived by the Holy Spirit.  He is going to transform the world in ways that even she does not fully appreciate.  The no-counter’s son is going to be the most important human being ever to live.  Bottom on top, indeed!

Both Hannah and Mary exalt the God who does these things because they know why He is doing them.  Their pregnancies are not the result of caprice.  Instead, they are the product of God watching, God remembering, and God acting with mercy and faithfulness.  God saw Hannah’s misery, God saw the misery of His sin-oppressed people, so in both cases, He sent a child to lift up His servants.

Best of all, God is still the same God today.  Even now, He exalts the lowly, humbles the proud, and acts with faithfulness.  Most of us aren’t terribly important in worldly terms.  We even may suffer from the oppression of those who are.  However, the mighty of this age are nothing before God, and sooner or later, He will bring them low too.  We, by contrast, will shine forth like the sun in the kingdom of our Father.  The day will come when everybody will see in us what God has seen all along.

We can trust that these things will happen because God is a God who keeps covenant.  He has pledged His word, and He will fulfill it.  His timetable is not ours.  Poor Hannah had to face a vicious co-wife and a clueless husband year after year.  She may well have thought that God had forgotten her, but He hadn’t.  The same was true of captive Israel, ground beneath the heel both of the Roman emperor and the devil.  God took centuries to fulfill His promises, but fulfill them He did.

Maybe our lives are the same way, misery with no end in sight.  God is still faithful, though, and before the end, He will arise to bless us in ways that we had never dreamed.

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