Sermon for Sunday, September 10th, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[1Sa 2:1-10 ESV] 1 And Hannah prayed and said, “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 “There is none holy like the LORD: for there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God. 3 Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. 4 The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble bind on strength. 5 Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn. 6 The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. 7 The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts. 8 He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s, and on them he has set the world. 9 “He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness, for not by might shall a man prevail. 10 The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven. The LORD will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed.”
New Testament reading:
[Eph 1:15-23 ESV] 15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
[Luk 1:46-55 ESV] 46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; 52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
This passage is known as “Hannah’s Prayer.” But I’ve called the title of the sermon today “Hannah’s God.” For it is that her prayer is about God. It is a prayer of adulation, of exultation, to the Lord who has answered her earlier prayer.
This is, in that sense, Hannah’s second prayer.
Her first prayer was not recorded. Eli has observed her lips move, but her voice was not heard. She was “speaking in her heart.” From the context we of course know what her prayer was. It certainly matched with her vow: “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”
And the Lord answered her prayer and gave her a son, Samuel.
So we come to Hannah’s second prayer. It is not given upon the birth of Samuel, but upon her dedicating him to the temple when he was a few years old. No doubt she thanked the Lord IMMEDIATELY. But this prayer came later.
It is a prayer. It is a poem. It is a song … of praise. … because Hannah’s “horn is exalted.” This is a sign of victory, as the horn is the sign of a powerful animal, and having the horn exalted comes from the idea of a bull raising its horns in the air after winning a battle. But more precisely than “victory” this expression relates to “being rescued from oppression.” Hannah had had it bad. She is now in a much better state, and so she praises the Lord.
I. ATTRIBUTES OF GOD IN HANNAH’S PRAYER
As a song praise, Hannah’s prayer is about God. We should take heed. And in a standard form of prayer— A C T S— we are taught to begin with Adoration. There is also confession, thanksgiving, and supplication (or asking for things). But perhaps the most important part of prayer, and that which is all too often overlooked, is Adoration. Adoring God. Praising him. Exalting his name. More literally: saying good things about him.
To say good things about God all we need do is to speak truth about God. For HE IS GOOD.
And so we’ll see that Hannah speaks truths about God in speaking of 5 attributes of God. And in speaking of these attributes, she praises God, for His attributes are His excellencies. He is not just a little bit of these (good) things, He is All, the very foundation of them.
Well, what are they? The attributes of God which Hannahs speaks of are Holiness, Exclusivity, Immutability, Omniscience, and Justice. None of these bigs words should scare us. They can each be understood.
A. Holiness (v. 2a)
“There is none HOLY like the Lord.”
In our fallen world, all are sinners. Our confession tells us that we sin first by virtue of our connection with Adam, but then also in our actual sins which begin immediately in our lives and continue throughout our lives.
So where are we to look for direction? To the holy, perfect, sinless, blameless Lord.
We perhaps benefit by having role models or heroes. My own heroes as a child were Joe Dumars, who played basketball for the Detroit Pistons, and my own martial arts instructors. Of course, and I’ve seen first hand, these heroes of mine are not perfect.
In church history there has been benefit by reading “the lives of the saints.” We can learn from their practices. We should learn from Hannah. And we should pray like Hannah. We can learn from Polycarp and Ignatius to not abandon the faith even in persecution and death. We can learn from Edith Schaeffer “The Hidden (and Christian) art of Homemaking.” We can learn from theologians the importance of reading the Bible and thinking through these attributes of God.
But we should never immortalize our role models and heroes. They all sin and fall short of the glory of God.
There is none holy like the Lord. That is an attribute fully attributable only to Him.
And that leads us to the next attribute: exclusivity.
B. Exclusivity (v. 2a-2b)
“There is NONE holy like the Lord: for there is none besides you.”
Not only is God holy … no one else is.
And so God accepts no rivals. In His commandments we hear “thou shalt have no other gods besides me.” Why? Because there are no other gods. He is exclusively God.
And that exclusivity remains with Christ who says “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me.” “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
There isn’t “many ways to the top of the mountain.” There is one path, and that is Christ. And there is one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There are no rivals.
The world is not to be viewed as a cosmic battle between the forces of Good and the forces of evil with an unknown winner, but to know that God is in control of it all. There is no other.
There is not only none other holy, but none other knowledgeable, none other with His strength, none other with his might.
And so God is praised as Hannah declares these attributes of God. And as we reflect on His greatness.
Next, third, there is the attribute of immutability.
C. Immutability (v. 2c)
“there is no rock like our God.”
This big word (Immutability) simply means “He does not change.”
“For I am the Lord, I change not.” That is KJV rendering of Malachi 3:6. “For I am the Lord, I change not.”
And you might think this is a boring attribute, or not an attribute at all. But I consider it one of the most important attributes of God. And it brings me great comfort. It is great to know that God loves us and by Grace has sent his Son Jesus Christ to die for our sins and save us. But even more, because God does not change … we know that He will KEEP LOVING YOU. That sounds like the old song: “I’m going to keep on loving you.”
Well, with God’s immutability, he’s going to keep on being God, he’s going to keep on being all-powerful, all-knowing, etc. And indeed “he’s going to keep on loving you.”
God is the rock of our salvation. He is permanent. Always there. That is great praise from Hannah.
Then we have Omniscience. The fourth attribute mentioned.
D. Omniscience (v. 3)
“for the Lord is a God of knowledge.”
I think in English this doesn’t translate as strongly as some other verses. When it is said “the Lord is a God of knowledge” this doesn’t just mean he has SOME knowledge. It is not like “God is pretty good at Algebra.” He invented it. He knows every theorem, every fact, every opinion, every thought that everyone has ever had. He knows how many molecules there are and where each one is. He knows who is going to win the World Series this year.
The Lord is a God of knowledge.
And Hannah praises that fact about God.
Then she speaks to His justice.
E. Justice (v. 3, 10)
“Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the LORD is a God of knowledge, AND BY HIM ACTIONS ARE WEIGHED.”
Sin will not go unpunished.
Perhaps Hannah has Penninah in her mind; that other wife who provoked to tears, who ruthlessly rivaled her.
In verse 10 Hannah says
10 The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven. The LORD will judge the ends of the earth.
God has the right to judge, and He promises to do so.
This is NOT to be terrifying for we who are believers in Jesus Christ. For we know, that “therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
The judgment of God then becomes something of our benefit. Those who oppose the church of God will be judged. Wrongs will be righted. Vengeance is mine, declares the Lord.
Isaiah 34:8 “For the Lord has a day of vengeance, a year of recompense for the cause of Zion.”
Justice will come. Because God is just.
So we have these various attributes of God in Hannah’s prayer. Holiness, Exclusivity, Immutability, Omniscience, and Justice. We can see that Hannah is a theologian. She knew a lot about God. She learned from the Word of God in the Scriptures then known to her. And from that she wrote her great prayer.
So great was her prayer, that is was re-used later. Or we might say “heavy borrowing.” We find much that is similar between Hannah’s Prayer and the pray of Mary, the Mother of Jesus; that prayer called Mary’s Magnificat in Luke’s Gospel.
II. A COMPARISON WITH MARY’S MAGNIFICAT
A musician I frequently listen to once recorded a song that did quite well but perhaps was not a hit. Then a few years later he found that another musician had recorded a song that was suspiciously similar. They happened to meet each other at some event and the first musician introduced himself as the person who wrote that particular song. The second man responded … “I wrote that song too.” And he explained that he technically wasn’t stealing because he had changed just enough of the song to call it his own.
Maybe we can say the same for Mary. It is her prayer too. A little different, but much the same. Well, sometimes you just have to take it as an honor when someone copies; that they like your work that much.
– They each praise God related to the blessing of the birth of a child.
– Each Hannah and Mary are servants of God.
– Each of the sons (Samuel and Jesus) were dedicated to service to God.
– These two prayers are the two longest prayers of women in the Scripture.
– They each speak of God’s mighty deeds.
– They each speak of God’s holiness and power.
– They each speak of God bringing down those who think they are mighty, and raising up the humble.
But while the themes are the same, the language isn’t heavily borrowed. Mary wouldn’t get in trouble in class for plagiarism.
These prayers — of Hannah of and of Mary — have much in common because … Hannah’s God is Mary’s God. He has not changed. He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.
And so, Hannah’s God is OUR GOD … who brings fruitfulness from barrenness.
III. Hannah’s God and the Great Reversal
We this idea even more prominently in Hannah’s prayer. But it goes both ways. The Great reversal.
Look at each of these reversals
The bows of the mighty are broken
but the feeble bind on strength.
Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger.
she who has many children is forlorn
but, the barren has borne seven
All of this Great Reversal is because it is not man who is in control, but God.
The LORD kills and brings to life;
he brings down to Sheol and raises up. 7
The LORD makes poor and makes rich;
he brings low and he exalts. 8
He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s, and on them he has set the world.
9 “He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness, for not by might shall a man prevail
Praise be to God.
We are tempted to be hopeless in our situations. Like Hannah in barrenness, we wonder if we will ever escape our troubles. Our difficult jobs, or the difficulty of finding a job, health issues, financial issues, relationship issues. We are to know that God raises up. And we are to pray to Him.
Hannah’s prayer is all about God. Not Samuel. Not herself. Nor Eli nor Elkanah, nor any other.
This is ultimately a prayer of praise about the GREATNESS of God. Hannah’s God and Our God. He has “immeasurable greatness” but we know of God in His attributes.
And this prayer teaches us that all blessings come from God. And that all praise goes to Him. So Hannah revels not in the gift, but the giver, saying, in effect, praise God from whom all blessings flow. Indeed let us praise the Lord whom we know through the Scriptures and to whom to we pray. Let us pray.