Hannah’s Magnificat is even more poignant than Mary’s. It comes from the depths of the pain of unwilling childlessness, with the shame that brought in that culture. And on the other side of it, those arrogant who will be brought low are very much in focus, starting with the self – serving priests, Eli’s sons.
Why is Hannah’s prayer answered when so many remain childless? I can’t see an obvious answer, beyond that Samuel had such a part to play in God’s plan that it was essential that he be born – not that that really answers anything. Maybe it’s a question we can’t answer this side of heaven.
What we can see and learn from is the attitude with which Hannah prays. She is completely open in her prayer, emotionally and demonstratively. She is praying in the place of access to the LORD and doing it as a committed regular worshipper. She makes a vow to God not threatening to withhold her worship if she doesn’t get what she wants but offering to God the answer to her prayer in service; the son for whom she longs will also bring glory to the LORD and service to his shrine. Her prayer comes from her own deepest desire, but identifies at the same time with God’s purposes. That’s probably not a bad inspiration for our own prayers.
There are, though, risks in prayer. Eli is a good man but weak when it comes to his sons. When he realises that the LORD is speaking to his young servant, he is open to receive whatever is said – even when it is the worst of news. In a devastating way, he stands along with Hannah as an example of heartfelt, honest prayer.
When our prayers are not matched by our lives and by our faithfulness in the duty given to us, perhaps we place ourselves at more risk of finding ourselves with Eli, rather than with Hannah, when our prayers are answered.