The Gospel of Luke: Magnificat of Mary
Luke 1: 46-56; 1 Samuel 2:1-10, Proverbs 1:7, Acts 5:11 A young woman chosen by God to bear His Son praises Him, echoing the words of another woman chosen by God (Hannah).
“And Mary said: “My soul exalts the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name. And His mercy is upon generation after generation Toward those who fear Him. He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. He has brought down rulers from their thrones, And has exalted those who were humble. He has filled the hungry with good things; And sent away the rich empty-handed. He has given help to Israel His servant, In remembrance of His mercy, As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and his descendants forever.” And Mary stayed with her about three months, and then returned to her home.”
Luke 1:46-56 NASB1995
After Elizabeth hails Mary as the two women meet, Mary responds with what is called the Magnificat (or Canticle of Mary), a beautiful homily exalting the Lord. This text has been turned into matins and hymns and liturgies and musical pieces throughout the centuries in many different Christian sects. As I noted in my devotional about Mary entering the Gospel story and being visited by the Angel Gabriel, Mary is a blessed human being selected to bear the supernaturally-conceived Son of God. She is not supernatural herself and should not be worshipped or thought to be the primary conduit for prayers to Jesus (Martin Luther would approve of this message). But the wisdom exhibited by this teenage Jewish girl is worth investigating and should honored, as she is far more knowledgeable of her religion than many adults probably were.
The Magnificat is very similar to the prayer of Thanksgiving by Hannah in 1 Samuel 2, after she is blessed by having a long-awaited son (Samuel):
“Then Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the Lord; My horn is exalted in the Lord, My mouth speaks boldly against my enemies, Because I rejoice in Your salvation. There is no one holy like the Lord, Indeed, there is no one besides You, Nor is there any rock like our God. Boast no more so very proudly, Do not let arrogance come out of your mouth; For the Lord is a God of knowledge, And with Him actions are weighed. The bows of the mighty are shattered, But the feeble gird on strength. Those who were full hire themselves out for bread, But those who were hungry cease to hunger. Even the barren gives birth to seven, But she who has many children languishes. The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol and raises up. The Lord makes poor and rich; He brings low, He also exalts. He raises the poor from the dust, He lifts the needy from the ash heap To make them sit with nobles, And inherit a seat of honor; For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, And He set the world on them. He keeps the feet of His godly ones, But the wicked ones are silenced in darkness; For not by might shall a man prevail. Those who contend with the Lord will be shattered; Against them He will thunder in the heavens, The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; And He will give strength to His king, And will exalt the horn of His anointed.””
1 Samuel 2:1-10 NASB1995
Both of these songs of praise by prominent women in the Bible have a common theme: God will raise up the poor and humble and bring low the rich and powerful. Might shall not prevail and those who contend with the Lord will be shattered. No one is holier than the Lord and His mercies endure for those who fear Him.
There are many words that describe God: Omniscient, omnipotent, unknowable, loving, merciful, just, holy, righteous, creator. But belief really starts with fear of the Lord. As Proverbs 1:7 says:
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge [wisdom]; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
Proverbs 1:7 NASB1995
This fear of the Lord in Proverbs uses the Hebrew word Yira, which means dread, terror, reverence, awe, and piety towards God. This feeling should invoke a deep sense of abject humility and even trembling in the believer and the result of this fear is obedience. Fear of God is conspicuously absent in our modern, scientific age. People scoff at the idea that God should be feared, because many of them don’t even believe in God. They are fools who despise wisdom and instruction. Instead, they openly flaunt their sins, parade around with signs talking about how they look “forward” to being in Hell (a terrifying place) with other “free” sinners, and test the limits of God’s incredible forbearance. They also use the Lord’s name in vain to make a “cool” statement in TV shows and movies (I admit that I have to constantly fight this very bad habit and sin, which started in my years of unbelief). The top Bishop of the mainstream church that we recently left notoriously said that “Hell is empty”, embracing universal salvation, which is antithetical to what is required for belief in our Lord. That Bishop has lost her fear of God and, instead, embraces the latest cultural fads, making them church policy.
I never understood this fundamental precept of worship (fear) until recently. Fear was never mentioned in my younger days or after we started going to church again; the emphasis seemed to be on making us numb and comfortable and the examples about God’s wrath were never talked about. If you think the wrath of God is just in the OT, we recently read the story again of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. These two who claimed to be believers sold a property and lied to the disciples about giving the church the entire amount so that they could get acclaim, when in reality they kept a portion of the proceeds back for themselves (by doing this they also lied to the Holy Spirit). They both fell down dead after being confronted by Peter about their dishonesty. They were under no obligation to sell the property or give it to the church; their great sin was being deceptive about what they were doing. The reaction of the church? Acts 5:11:
“And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things.”
Acts 5:11 NASB1995
As both Mary and Hannah say, the Lord will bring down the mighty and arrogant and raise up the humble and needy in His abiding mercies. Mary is about to bring forth the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world in His human incarnation. That same Lamb of God will be the Lion of Judah with a two-edged sword the next time we see Him. And we should tremble at the thought and exalt the Lord.
My next devotional will examine the birth of John the Baptist, in Luke 1:57-66.
Heaven on Wheels Daily Prayer: Dear Lord, Instill in me the fear of You that is the beginning of wisdom and understanding. Help me to know and tremble before the knowledge that You are a God of Love and a God of Justice, a God of Mercy and a God of Wrath, a God of Power and a God of Providence. Help me to have the faith and obedience of Mary and Hannah in the things that you ask me to do for You. In Jesus Name. Amen.
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. www.lockman.org