The Prequel to Mary’s Magnificat
Eleven hundred years before Mary spoke her Magnificat, a Hebrew peasant woman named Hannah celebrated another miraculous birth. Hannah was one of two wives to a man named Elkanah.
Family perpetuation was important to the Old Testament Hebrews, and Hannah could not bear children. For that reason, Elkanah married a second wife named Peninnah. Peninnah was able to bear children for her husband, but Hannah kept his heart.
Of course, Peninnah was jealous, and she tormented Hannah for years. In the end, Hannah prayed to God and vowed that if he would give her a son, she would return him to the LORD for a lifetime of service.
God honored the prayer, and Hannah honored her vow. Here is an early portion of her psalm of worship when she brought her young son to the priest:
“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.
The barren has born seven,
but she who has many children is forlorn…”
--1 Samuel 1:4-5
Hannah’s song speaks on two levels. First, it celebrates her personal vindication against her adversaryWith this dedication, she broke her rival Peninnah’s superior standing once for all.
Samuel’s name means “God Hears.” Hannah’s public declaration of praise invites those around her to rejoice with her for what God has done. Her psalm continues with these words that praise God for what he does:
“The LORD kills and brings to life;
he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
The LORD makes poor and makes rich;
he brings low and he exalts….
“For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s,
and on them he has set the world.”
--1 Samuel 1:6-7, 8c
That is not all she does, however. While she recognizes what God has done “right now,” she is also aware that much remains to be done. She recognizes the “not yet” aspects of God’s redemption.
The next portion of her psalm tells what she and the other faithful saints wait for God to do in the future. They know he will act, but the waiting is still difficult.
“The adversaries of the LORD will be broken in 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 (Hebrew Messiah).”
--1 Sam. 2:10
God’s unfulfilled work is a matter of grave concern for her. She waits for the king that God has promised for his people through Moses the prophet.
Mary’s Magnificat: A Celebration of the Promised King
Mary models her song of praise on Hannah’s prayer. The Magnificat mirrors the three parts in Hannah’ psalm, with an opening personal testimony of declarative praise for what God has done for her, a short middle section of descriptive praise, and a concluding section. Mary begins with praise for what God has done for her.
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he has done great things for me…”
She continues with a brief section of descriptive praise, like that in Hannah’s psalm.
“…and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.”
These two parts reflect the “right now” portions of Hannah’s psalm.
But when Mary comes to what was for Hannah the “not yet” section of the older psalm, she recognizes that God intends to complete the centuries-old promises from Moses regarding the coming King. Mary speaks of Hannah’s “not yet” promises as having been fulfilled.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.”
--Luke 1:51-53 emphasis added
Even before his birth, Jesus was the King of Redemption for whom God’s faithful throughout the Old Testament had waited.