In the early chapters of 1 Samuel, we see a once-godly nation in thick moral darkness, oppressed by pagan enemies; Israel had plunged to one of the lowest points of its checkered history. And yet, surprisingly and encouragingly, within 25 to 30 years of its degradation at the end of the period of the judges, a disobedient, paganized people are raised up by God to the high point of their pilgrimage: the glorious reign of David, and then the splendor of Solomon. The dark age is succeeded by a golden age.
How did such a “sea change” happen so quickly? These chapters of 1 Samuel are one of the clearest illustrations anywhere of the divine principle by which the sovereign God rescues individuals, transforms nations, and builds His eternal kingdom. Paul states it in 1 Corinthians 1:27–29: “But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.”
All the glory that would come upon Israel in the days of David and Solomon had its beginning in the heart-cry of a humble woman in an obscure village, who longed to have a son. Hannah had no children, but she had something far better: true faith in the living God. Out of her grief and feeling of helplessness, Hannah poured her soul out in prayer to the One who she knew could help her: the Lord of Hosts.
From the prayers of this heartbroken woman, the sovereign God puts everything in place to transform a nation and give it a glory that would be surpassed only in the coming of His own eternal Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who was—indeed—the Seed of David, whose national triumphs would be made possible by Hannah’s son, the prophet Samuel. When God is going to do great things, He almost always starts with very humble instruments. As Paul says, He prefers to use weak and foolish things.
The mighty sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation began not in kings’ courts or bishops’ palaces, but in the spiritual agonies of a lowly Augustinian monk in remote eastern Germany named Martin Luther. Like Hannah, this obscure one sought God with all his heart, and soon enough all of Western Europe was shaken down to its foundations in preparation for revival and reformation.
What the Lord did to begin turning around an entire nation through the desires and prayer of humble Hannah for a little baby (whom she promised to dedicate to the Lord) shows that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor. 1:25). That is God’s way.
It appears that all God requires to advance His purposes is the desperate human need of a few humble souls that is turned into prevailing prayer to the unseen throne of grace. That is why Paul disdains Roman political power, Greek culture, and Jewish religiosity—impressive bastions of “the flesh” (worldly pride)—for something of a totally different order. “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:3–4).
Why is it that we can be made strong only in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:10)? Why does the Lord order Gideon to reduce his army from ten thousand men to a paltry three hundred? Why do the jawbone of an ass with Samson, a tent peg with Jael, and a desperate prayer with childless Hannah (for which Eli the priest first rebuked her) become divinely effective instruments of sovereignly ordained victory against all human odds?
Hannah’s noble hymn of praise (1 Sam. 2:1–10) explains the reason why. The bringing down of the mighty adversaries of the Lord (vv. 4–7) and the lifting up of the lowly believers from the dunghill to sit among princes and inherit the throne of glory (v. 8) greatly and clearly magnify God, who alone is able to do such wonders (v. 2).
The Virgin Mary, as she responded to the announcement that she, a humble, maiden in Israel, had been chosen to bear the Son of God in the flesh, took many of the thoughts and very words of Hannah. The mother of our Lord cried out: “ ‘My soul magnifies the Lord.… For He has regarded the lowly estate of His maidservant.… He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly’ ” (Luke 1:46, 48, 52).
The desires, faith, and prayers of humble women in obscure positions became the channels of the divine glory overflowing a nation, and then a world. The son of Hannah restored the Word of God to apostate Israel, preparing the way for the greatest of kings, David and Solomon. The Son of Mary, “great David’s greater Son,” Jesus Christ, was “the Word made flesh” who dwelt among us (John 1:14) and showed an entire world that glory by which it will be transformed.
God’s glory, which is the only hope for our—or any—apostate nation and corrupt church, is still bound to humble and lowly instruments. We shall see it again only as lowly ones pour out their souls in intercessory prayer, and offer up their bodies in divine obedience.