One of life’s toughest lessons is that hardship, trouble, and pain often only make sense in the rearview mirror, when they are behind us—and admittedly not always even then. Such seeming futility may cause us to end up uttering the same words as the Preacher in Ecclesiastes: “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity” (1:2).
As perplexing as life and its struggles can be, we can always take heart that God is writing a perfect story.
When life doesn’t make sense, it can feel like we’re drowning in despair, dread, and helplessness. Perhaps the world and everything in it amount to nothing more than meaninglessness in the end, we think to ourselves. Maybe it’s all for nothing. But as perplexing as life and its struggles can be, we can always take heart that God is writing a perfect story.
In 1 Samuel 2, we read a powerful prayer from Hannah, a mother who, after waiting years to have a child, gave her son Samuel to serve the Lord. Hannah’s prayer provides us with a prime example of how when we trust God with everything, He will always make a way for us to praise Him—even if we need to be patient. Hannah shows us that by considering (1) what God has done, (2) what God is doing, and (3) what God will do, we can, even through sorrow, be lifted up to new heights of joy and praise.
What God Has Done
In 1 Samuel 1, Hannah’s prayers had marked by vexation and frustration; we read that “she was deeply distressed and prayed to the LORD and wept bitterly” (v. 10). But in chapter 2, we see that these bitter prayers have been replaced by outpourings of exultation and elation, because God has shown Hannah His favor and provided for her a son, Samuel. The Lord’s provision leads her to pray,
My heart exults in the LORD;
my horn is exalted in the LORD.
My mouth derides my enemies,
because I rejoice in your salvation. (2:1)
It would be easy for us to dismiss Hannah with a thought like Well, sure it’s easy for her to rejoice now. She got what she wanted! Indeed, God did give her a precious son—but we must not forget at what cost. In 1:11, Hannah vows to consecrate her son, should the Lord provide one, as a Nazirite. Once Samuel is born, Hannah follows through on her vow; she gives Samuel to the Lord’s service (1:27–28), and then we see him “ministering to the LORD in the presence of Eli the priest” (2:11). No matter how noble the cause, any caring mother would find this to be a painful experience: to take your only child—the one you’ve borne, labored for, weaned, and loved—and give him up in his early years. This, then, was no merely circumstantial joy. Not even close!
What we discover instead is that Hannah grounded her joy not in what the Lord gave her but in who the Lord has shown Himself to be. This helps us make sense of the second line of her prayer: “My horn is exalted in the LORD.” Throughout the Bible, horns are a picture of strength. Hannah, in other words, in considering God’s deeds, discovered the truth that her strength and her hope were in the Lord. Whether her womb was barren or fruitful, the Lord was ever and always to be her strength. In this case, of course, God demonstrated His might through Hannah by answering her request; Samuel, after all, would come to play a vital role in the unfolding of God’s plan for Israel. But even if He hadn’t, we can imagine her still gladly proclaiming, “I rejoice in your salvation.” No matter which “enemies”—namely, the enemies of God and His purposes—appeared to have the upper hand, Hannah’s hope remained in the Lord.
Hannah’s hope was steadfast and secure—as ours always will be—because “there is none holy like the LORD: for there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God” (v. 2). He has no competitors. There has never been a true contender. As Psalm 115:3 reminds us, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” Hannah knew that however she might view her situation, she was in the benevolent hands of a God who had always been good, sovereign, and holy.
What God Is Doing
Over the next few verses, Hannah continues to exult in God’s utter sovereignty over not only the past but also the present. She begins by acknowledging that we creatures have no cause for arrogance, because “the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed” (v. 3). We cannot hide anything from Him. He knows our hearts. He can “discern … thoughts from afar,” and before we speak a word, He “know[s] it altogether” (Ps. 139:2, 4). Even when we try, we simply cannot hide from our utterly sovereign God.
Additionally, Hannah declares, it is the Lord Himself who “kills and brings to life” (1 Sam. 2:6). Every single one of our days were written in God’s book before we even came to be (Ps. 139:16). We don’t die early. We don’t die late. We leave this life behind at exactly the time of God’s appointing.
Moreover, this same God “brings down to Sheol and raises up” (v. 6). When God gave her Samuel, Hannah experienced something of a restoration to life. In a similar way, all who hope in the Lord as she did can trust that God will fulfill the psalmist’s words in us: “You will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption” (Ps. 16:10). Our sovereign God uses His might to rescue all who come to Him in faith—even if it doesn’t always turn out the way we imagine.
God also takes charge of life’s everyday affairs when He “makes poor and makes rich” and “brings low and … exalts” (1 Sam. 2:7). Poverty and prosperity, obscurity and popularity are all in his hand. In Western culture especially, we like to idealize the “self-made” man or woman—the ones who overcome countless obstacles by continually pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. Now, there is no question that some people work exceptionally hard and that this work may result in significant achievements. But as Hannah well knew, in the end, we possess nothing that we did not receive from God’s very hand (1 Cor. 4:7). From the tiniest of subatomic motions to the opening and closing of wombs to the movement of celestial bodies, God is in control. As Nebuchadnezzar declared upon lifting his eyes to heaven, “None can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Dan. 4:35).
What God Will Do
Finally, as her prayer draws to a close, Hannah shifts her focus from the present to the future, reminding us that our sovereign Lord will ultimately “guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness” (v. 9). The Lord’s adversaries (both seen and unseen) will be vanquished—and since He knows all, He “will judge the ends of the earth” (v. 10). The Father who grants good gifts to His children—who granted a beloved son to Hannah—is the same God who must reckon with rebellion and mete out the judgment that sin so requires.
At the end of verse 10, Hannah again refers to a horn: “He will … exalt the horn of his anointed.” This time, however, the horn is not hers; it is the horn of the King, God’s “anointed,” who is lifted up in strength. In Hannah’s time, we read, “there was no king in Israel,” and “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 21:25). Still, she knew that the sovereign Lord who opened her womb would also fulfill His promise to redeem His people through His Anointed, the Messiah. Even today, we continue to proclaim the hope that our sovereign God will indeed exalt His King and that “all who take refuge in him” will find blessing (Ps. 2:12).
In Christ, what was empty is now full. What was broken is now restored.
One day, Samuel would lead God’s people toward the establishment of the Davidic line, through whom Jesus Christ, the eternal Messiah-King, would come. Perhaps Hannah could not yet envision that cosmos-altering reality. She had experienced a redemptive reversal firsthand, from barrenness to fruitfulness—but the reversal to which she pointed would restore the fortunes of the whole world, opening the gates to life eternal.
Hannah’s own experience with childlessness and healing was a foretaste of what Christ has purchased for all His people. In Christ, what was empty is now full. What was broken is now restored. What seemed lost in darkness now shines forth with hope. Where there was no way, where death seemed to reign, God has made a path to life and joy and pleasure (Ps. 16:11). And on this blessed way of life, “all things”—barrenness, sickness, poverty, weakness—“work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Will you be counted among their number?
This article was adapted from the sermon “Hannah’s Prayer” by Alistair Begg.