The God of the nobody

This is the sixth post in Jean’s series on women in the Bible. (Read the first, second, third, fourth and fifth.)

Hannah is a nobody, the insignificant wife of an insignificant member of an insignificant tribe. Compared to Eve, mother of all living; Sarah, mother of God’s people; or Deborah, judge of Israel—who is she? Just a barren women loved by her husband but jeered at by a younger, fruitful wife (1 Sam 1:1-8).

Hannah is a nobody, a humble woman who pours out her private grief to God so fervently that high priest Eli thinks she’s drunk. She prays not for show, but silently, out of her anguish and bitterness of soul (1 Sam 1:10-16). She begs God to ‘look’ and ‘remember’ her sorrow using words that are much too big for her, words that recall what he’s done for the nation Israel (1 Sam 1:11 cf. Exod 2:24-25, 3:7-8; Deut 26:7-8).

Hannah is a nobody, but she’s faithful in a time when even the high priest’s family has fallen into wickedness (1 Sam 2:12-17). She keeps her promise—if God will only ‘give’ her a son, she will ‘give’ him back to God (1 Sam 1:11)—when she hands Samuel over to live and serve in the temple although he’s only a toddler. Every year she’s reminded of her sacrifice as she sews a robe, a little bigger than the last, and takes it to her son (1 Sam 1:21-28, 2:18-20).

Hannah is a nobody, but her small story is caught up in a bigger story. At the end of the book of Judges, all is chaos and disorder, for “there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Jud 21:25). The birth of Samuel changes all that. The last and greatest judge, Samuel calls Israel to turn from idols back to God, and oversees the anointing of Saul, the first king of Israel, and of David, Israel’s greatest king.

Hannah is a nobody, and that’s the point. At first reading, her song of thanksgiving for God’s gift of a son seems a little over-the-top:

My heart exults in the LORD … My mouth derides my enemies … The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble bind on strength … The LORD … brings low and he exalts … he will give strength to his king and exalt the power of his anointed. (1 Sam 2:1-10)

Look closer, and it’s clear that this is not just Hannah’s song. It’s the song of a God who rescues his people, who humbles the proud and exalts the humble, men and women like Hannah. It’s a song for a son who will be used by God to help bring about his saving plan. Most remarkably, in a time when Israel has no king, it’s a song which prophesies the coming of God’s ‘anointed’, his ‘messiah’, his king.

Hannah is a nobody, like another nobody who echoes Hannah’s song of thanksgiving for the gift of a son:

My soul magnifies the Lord … for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant … He has scattered the proud … and exalted those of humble estate … He has helped his servant Israel. (Luke 1:46-55)

Mary, mother of Jesus, is also the insignificant wife of an insignificant member of an insignificant tribe. Like Hannah, she sings of the God who humbles the proud and exalts the humble. She too is given a son she will give back to God at great personal sacrifice (Luke 2:35), a son who will grow up to fulfil God’s saving plan and rescue God’s people. Indeed, the story has come full circle, for Mary’s son is the very one promised in Hannah’s song: Jesus, great David’s greater son, God’s anointed, his messiah-king.

Hannah is a nobody, and so are we. Like Hannah, we have nothing to bring to God but our need. It’s not the proudly self-sufficient but the broken and contrite in heart, those who realize they are nobody, who receive God’s gift of salvation won through the death and resurrection of Jesus (Ps 51:17; Matt 5:1-12; Luke 18:9-14; 1 Cor 1:18-31). The gospel shows that God’s character hasn’t changed: he is still the one who humbles the proud and exalts the humble, the God of the nobody.

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