Principles of Praise from Hannah’s Hymn and Mary’s Magnificat


Le Magnificat by James Tissot
When God answers one of our prayers, our response should be one of praise and thanksgiving. It is important in our own spiritual growth to constantly remind ourselves of God’s gracious acts towards us, and to constantly express our gratitude to Him, especially when He answers prayer.


Many examples of thanksgiving abound in Scripture, especially in the Book of Psalms, but two in other books of Scripture, one in the Old Testament and one in the New, stand out: the first is Hannah’s hymn of thanksgiving in 1 Samuel 2:1-10; the second is Mary’s Magnificat in Luke 1:46-56.

In the last installment in this series on Biblical intercessory prayers, we discussed making vows to the Lord. We stated that we can make short term vows, such as a vow to fast during Lent, or we can make a lifelong vow, such as the marriage vow. Hannah, who was childless and suffered ridicule at the hands of her husband’s second wife Penninah (for an extended period of time in Old Testament history a man could have more than one wife, even though this violated God’s original plan of human marriage in Genesis 1-2 which consisted of one man and one woman), made a vow that if God gave her a son she would dedicate her firstborn to serve the Lord throughout his life. God answered her prayer by giving her Samuel. Hannah then responded with this hymn. We can learn how to structure a hymn of thanksgiving by examining both this prayer s well as Mary’s Magnificat.

Both are hymns of vindication in which God elevates the humble and lowers the proud. Both Hannah and Mary were humble women of faith.

Bargaining with God or a Vow? Hannah’s Prayer in 1 Samuel 1:9-18

Hannah_VICTORS_Jan_250pxBargains vs. Vows
Sometimes when people pray under stress our duress, they will attempt to make a bargain with God: “If you do this, then I will do this.” Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn, in his magisterial account of Stalin’s prison system entitled The Gulag Archipelago, tells how one imprisoned astrophysicist, a non-believer, began praying from his cell asking God for a text book on astrophysics, something he knew was highly unlikely to happen, proclaiming that if he did receive such a text, he would then believe that God actually existed. After a prolonged period in which the astrophysicist prayed faithfully, his cell door clanged open one day, and an astrophysics text book was tossed into his cell. Even though his prayer had been answered, the astrophysicist reverted to his agnosticism, explaining away the improbability of such a text being thrown into his cell as pure chance.

On the surface, Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 1:9-18 appears as if she is bargaining with God. Her prayer is in the same “If…then…” form of bargaining as that of the above astrophysicist. But a key difference between Hannah’s prayer and a bargaining prayer is in her preface prior to her prayer in which she “vowed a vow.” The law pertaining to vows is given in Numbers 30:1-6 in which the sacredness and the binding character of a vow is emphasized. A vow is not a bargain, even though it appears to fit into a bargaining form. One cannot bargain with God. A vow, unlike a bargain, is a solemn promise. It obligates the one making the promise to fulfill its conditions fully that one has made in the “if” form of the promise.

A Prayer of National Repentance, Part 2

Ezra_Kneels_in_PrayerAnd at the evening sacrifice I rose from my fasting, with my garment and my cloak torn, and fell upon my knees and spread out my hands to the LORD my God, saying: “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens.” Ezra 9:5-6

[This is the second of a two-part series on praying for our nation, as exemplified in the prayer of Ezra. The first step involves confessing our own sins; the second step requires us to identify with the sins of others lest we become proud and self-righteous. This week, we’ll look at the third step: using the Word and the Spirit to discern what we need to take before God’s throne.]

A Prayer of National Repentance, Part 1

Ezra_Kneels_in_PrayerAnd at the evening sacrifice I rose from my fasting, with my garment and my cloak torn, and fell upon my knees and spread out my hands to the LORD my God, saying: “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens.” Ezra 9:5-6

Appalled by Sin
In 458 bc, Ezra the priest traveled from Persia to Judah in order to help the exiles (who had returned from Babylonian captivity) restore their spiritual foundation. They had been back in the Promised Land long enough to finish rebuilding the Temple; now, they needed to understand their spiritual heritage as expressed in God’s Word. As a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses” (Ezra 7:6), Ezra was well qualified to instruct them in the Law, to interpret the Law for them, and to evaluate how well they were obeying the Law.

What Ezra learned about some of these returnees, however, provoked him to utter the prayer quoted above (9:5-6). For Ezra learned that some of the people – including some leaders – had violated the Mosaic Law by marrying pagan wives (Deuteronomy 7:1-4). Upon hearing this news, Ezra tore his garments, pulled his hair, and then “sat appalled” (Ezra 9:3) – all classic signs of a man in mourning.

An Example of a Prayer in the Face of a Potential Danger—Genesis 32:9-12

Jacob_Wrestles_With_AngelIn previous articles in this series on prayer, we examined Jesus’ great prayer for us in John 17 which He prayed just prior to His crucifixion. We also examined four of Paul’s prayers, two given in the letter to the Ephesians, and one each given on behalf of the Colossian and Philippian believers. In the prayer that Jesus prayed for us, He prayed that we would be the messengers and the modelers of His love in the world, especially as we believers were united in love for one another. Paul’s prayers, although expressed using different words, also concerned love, especially as we grow in love, wisdom and understanding in the inner person as we pass through life’s circumstances.

José Gregorio Hernández (1864-1919)
Christians Who Changed Their World

Jos_Gregorio_Hernndez_200x300Christianity has a long history of being involved in healthcare, especially of the poor. From the days of the early church, Christians have been taking care of the sick even when physicians and others have refused to do so. Wherever Christianity has spread, hospitals have followed. Part of the reason for this is probably the fact that Jesus Himself was a healer. Even beyond that, the ethics that Jesus taught—whatever you do to the least of these you do to Me—was a powerful motivation to serve the sick and the poor. Further, as background to all this, and unlike the Hellenistic-influenced world, Christianity has always affirmed the goodness and importance of the body, and thus the need to care for it.

Although the majority of Christians serving the poor and healing the sick remain largely unknown, José Gregorio Hernández is an exception. He is a major figure in the history of his native Venezuela and is remembered even today for both his medical skills, and his generosity and service to the poor.

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