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“Have you considered my servant Job?” —Job 1:3

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A joyful noise

Karen Russell

Women’s songs reflect God’s power to set things right.
Read: 1 Samuel 2:1–10; Luke 1:41–55

Scripture gives us the story of God’s interaction with humans and describes the relationship between God and humanity. In this ever-surprising story, women often are the bearers of a powerful witness to the greatness of God, and often bear that witness through song.

People in the Bible are always breaking into song or dance to celebrate a victory, to mark a significant event, to lament, to grieve or just to celebrate the gift of another day. Paul often inserts a hymn in the middle of his letters to the church, and Revelation has as many hymns to the glory of God as an episode of Glee has Top-40 song covers. Songs—music—can express emotions and engage us in ways that the spoken word cannot. Speech therapists who work with stroke victims often have patients sing in order to learn to speak again. Singing can provide a way to express emotion that is not easily articulated. When we want to express what we feel after an encounter with God, song can take us to the “highest of heights and the depths of the deep,” says Meg Flannagan, advocacy and relations coordinator for a new Presbyterian hymnal scheduled for publication next year.

The Song of Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1–10) and Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46–55) are powerful examples of women using song to offer praise, and both bear witness to the power of God to set things right. Like the psalmist in Psalm 141:2, these women let their songs arise before God “as incense.”

Hannah’s song of thanksgiving and Mary’s song of praise have much in common. Both recount the ways God reverses the order of things and brings new life and hope out of injustice and despair. In Hannah’s case, her song/prayer comes as she dedicates her child to God and prepares to leave him in the care of the priest. This child, who becomes the prophet Samuel, is God’s gift to Hannah, reversing her barrenness and restoring her self-worth in a time and place where a woman’s worth was measured by her marriage and her offspring.

Echoing Hannah, Mary praises God for looking out for her in her situation. Mary’s pregnancy may have created a perilous situation for her, a betrothed bride who had not yet gone to live in her husband’s home. Pregnancy out of wedlock could have subjected her to various punishments, ranging from public humiliation to death. Luke tells us that Mary set out for Elizabeth’s house “with haste” (Luke 1:39), which could imply that Mary was facing trouble. It’s possible that the first time that Mary was able see herself and her situation as “blessed” was when she was greeted by Elizabeth. Mary’s song in the midst of so much uncertainty bears witness to the power of God to set things right and to bring hope in our darkest hour. The song itself reminds us that hope often comes when we remember and give thanks for the promises of God that the way things are is not the way things will be. Our hope is not based on our current situation, but instead on the certainty of God’s ability to redeem our situation.

Pray: Mary’s song

Mary’s song is a prayer of gratitude for the goodness of God. Use Luke 1:46–55 as a model for your own prayer of thanksgiving and praise for the promises of God. You can sing this prayer as well: “Song of Mary,” The Presbyterian Hymnal, no. 600.

Study: Compare words of Jesus

The reversals described in Mary’s song (the mighty brought low, the hungry filled) are similar to the “blessings and woes” in Luke 6 and the Beatitudes in Matthew 5. How are those pronouncements of Jesus like Mary’s Magnificat and the Song of Hannah? Where do you find hope in these words?

Remember: Luke 1:47

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

Live: A life of praise

As followers of Christ, we are to be thankful and to live a life that is full of praise for God (1 Thessalonians 5:18), even in times of uncertainty. Mary’s song of praise can provide the words of thanksgiving in times when our gratitude is deep and spontaneous, and in times when our words of praise come with difficulty.




  • I love to sing, your discussion have brought to life for me these two women's songs Thank you by opal bland on 05/21/2012 at 9:35 p.m.

  • Kagwa--I forwarded your message on to our Hunger people a few weeks back. I'm sorry about your email not getting through. I don't know why. Prayers for God's abundant blessings, Teresa by Teresa Stricklen PC(USA) Staff on 05/14/2012 at 1:00 a.m.

  • Today was a very disturbing day for me! These Biblical references were especially uplifting. Thank You! by Burmadeane George on 05/13/2012 at 5:09 p.m.

  • we have tried your email it has refused to receive the message. please can you help us to get other means contactin your offices of enquiry on HUNGER PROJECTS in AFRICA (RWANDA) yours regards executive director TEIYEDO ORG by KAGWA .H. SAFARI on 04/14/2012 at 4:52 a.m.

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