After Hannah dedicated her son Samuel to serve the Lord in the tabernacle, she prayed a joyous prayer of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord, celebrating God’s sovereignty and wondrous works (1 Samuel 2:1–10). She acknowledged that Samuel was a gift from God and not the result of her strength or achievement, saying, “For by strength shall no man prevail” (1 Samuel 2:9, KJV 1900).
In the New Living Translation, Hannah’s admission is, “No one will succeed by strength alone.” “Strength” in 1 Samuel 2:9 refers to physical or mental power, ability, and might. Human strength cannot hold a candle to the force of the all-powerful God who satisfies the needs of the hungry, opens the womb of a childless woman, and orchestrates life and death (1 Samuel 2:5–6).
The meaning of by strength shall no man prevail is that it’s impossible to succeed in this life depending on our own strength. Other passages affirm the same truth: “No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength” (Psalm 33:16). “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the Lord” (Jeremiah 17:5, NLT). King Hezekiah reminds us that our enemies have “only the arm of the flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles” (2 Chronicles 32:8). The pathway to success is “not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies” (Zechariah 4:6, NLT).
King David found his strength in the Lord (1 Samuel 30:6), and we too must depend on God’s power in the battles we face (2 Samuel 22:40; Psalm 18:39). In every circumstance “and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want,” like the apostle Paul, we can say, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:12–13).
The believer’s source of strength is Jesus Christ. The power we need is not human or fleshly: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). The strength we require does not come from this world: “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4).
By strength shall no man prevail means that, to navigate and overcome life’s challenges, we must look to something entirely different from flesh-and-blood, worldly strength. We require the divine power of God. We need “all the armor that God supplies. In this way you can take a stand against the devil’s strategies” (Ephesians 6:10–11, GW).
We tend to overestimate our power and significance. We tend to underestimate our need for humble dependence on God. Hannah realized that only God could transform her desperate situation into one of pure joy, and she praised Him for it. By accepting our human weakness and declaring our dependence on God, we, like Hannah, have the opportunity to celebrate and showcase the miracle-working, life-changing strength of God (2 Corinthians 12:9–10; 13:4; 1 Corinthians 1:25–27).
God is able to transform our lives. He is working in and through us, and nothing is impossible for Him (Mark 10:27; Luke 1:37; 18:27). We can depend on His strength and not our own to serve God, to preach the gospel, and to endure suffering, and we can trust Him to restore, support, strengthen, and keep us on a firm foundation (1 Timothy 1:12; 2 Timothy 4:17; 1 Peter 5:10).