Fervent Praises of the Saints
Preface: This week, we will look at what a few prophets said about those who thought that their “worship” of the true God, in the true temple on the true Sabbath day was all that mattered, regardless of how they lived the rest of the week. As the prophets show, this is a deception, a good way to “cook up all sorts of trouble for ourselves.”
The Song of Hannah and the Magnificat were sung by devout women who trusted in God’s Word despite contrary circumstances. Mary was a virgin who was to bear the Savior of the world; Hannah was a barren married woman.
In Hebrew culture, it was an honor for a woman to bear children and shameful to be unable to do so. In Hannah’s case, “[her barreness] went on year after year” (1 Sam. 1:7, NIV). Even her husband did not understand her (verse 8). “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord” (verse 10, NIV) so earnestly that the high priest Eli thought she was drunk. When she explained her anguish, the priest responded that God may grant her request.
This narrative focuses not on Hannah’s infertility but on God’s action. “The Lord remembered her” (verse 19, NIV). When she gave birth to Samuel, she promised to give him to the Lord to serve in the temple. Her rightful place with her husband and her dignity were restored. In the Song of Hannah, she rejoices in the Lord, who is her strength (verse 1). In verse 2 she emphasizes that no one is like God. She mentions God’s deliverance from her enemies. Hannah accents God’s sovereignty (verses 6–8) and acknowledges that one prevails only by God’s mighty acts (verse 9). The song ends on a prophetic note: the Lord will judge the ends of the earth.
Mary’s prayer song, the Magnificat, is not so much for personal deliverance as for national deliverance. An angel had told Mary that she would become pregnant and that she should call her child Emmanuel, “God with us.” The child would save the world. In this story, as in Hannah’s, the emphasis is on God’s activity. Mary rejoiced in a prayer of praise that magnified the Lord. She begins by praising and worshipping God in synonymous parallelism: the same idea is expressed in two ways (verse 46). She states that she can rejoice because the Lord “has been mindful of the humble state of his servant” (verse 48, NIV). Verses 51–53 are antithetical parallelism: contrasting thoughts are stated.
Mary and Hannah exhibited undying trust in God’s promise in contrary circumstances. “God never asks us to believe, without giving sufficient evidence upon which to base our faith. His existence, His character, the truthfulness of His word, are all established by testimony that appeals to our reason; and this testimony is abundant. Yet God has never removed the possibility of doubt. Our faith must rest upon evidence, not demonstration. Those who wish to doubt will have opportunity; while those who really desire to know the truth will find plenty of evidence on which to rest their faith.”*
* Steps to Christ, p. 105, emphasis supplied.