The Magnificat

01 May
Magnificat -1

from Google Images

Mary’s song of praise in Luke 1:46-55 has been called The Magnificat for centuries. The title comes from the opening word of the Vulgate’s[1] hymn of praise at this point in Luke’s Gospel. Did Mary compose these words immediately and extemporaneously after Elizabeth’s greeting (Luke 1:41-45)? It is possible, I suppose, but Mary was a reflective person (Luke 2:19, 51). She may have composed part of it immediately and the rest later (or the whole), in the three months she stayed with and served Elizabeth. We simply don’t know for certain, but it is a beautiful hymn, which testifies of Mary’s reflective nature and her own knowledge of the Scriptures.

Many scholars have found parallels for Mary’s Magnificat in Hannah’s song of praise to God in 1Samuel 2:1-10. When she says “my soul magnifies the Lord” (Luke 1:46-48), she means that the Lord has performed a miracle in her. Therefore, her body points to the work of God and, in so doing, magnifies his character in some way. In this case Mary’s pregnancy magnifies God’s mercy toward Israel (and mankind), his faithfulness to his promises to Israel, and particularly David (1Samuel 2:1).

Mary is a descendant of David, yet David’s descendants don’t rule the Land; nevertheless, the Lord has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden (Luke 1:48; 1Samuel 2:1). Once the true nature of God’s work in Mary becomes known, she will be considered something of a heroine and blessed among women, someone uniquely chosen by God to perform the mercy upon her nation and to fulfill the promises he has made to both Israel and David. From a New Testament perspective, this grows to God visiting his creation in the flesh and saving us from our rebellious nature and bringing mankind back to God.

Mary saw her pregnancy as great things done to her by God (Luke 1:49; cf. 1Samuel 2:2), and, in performing this miracle, he intends to raise up the throne of David which has been cast down. Mary sees herself as one of the faithful who fears (respects) God. She sees herself among those whom the Lord intends to show his mercy (Luke 1:50; 1Samuel 2:4). According to Mary, the arm of God has shown his strength (Luke 1:51-53). He scatters the proud and shows mercy upon them who fear him. In Hannah’s song the power of the mighty is broken, while the power of the weak is exalted (1Samuel 2:3-4). Mary sees the humble condition of the descendants of David being exalted over the current powers of Jerusalem.

God has cast down the mighty from their seats of authority and exalted them who had no authority (Luke 1:52). In the 1st century AD, the priesthood ruled the land. The sons of Aaron were put down in favor of the Hasmonians in the 2nd century BC and had ruled until Herod became king over Judea. The then current priesthood during Jesus’ ministry was Rome’s choice—Annas and his family. According to Josephus, Annas was a descendant of the Hasmonian dynasty through a daughter of Jonathan, the brother of Judas Maccabee, who ruled in 160 to142 BC. Later in Acts 12, Herod Agrippa ruled as King of the Jews from 41 to 44 AD and had James, the Apostle, killed. The descendants of David have been exalted in that Jesus, the Great Son of David, now rules on the Messianic Throne. Mary sees this beginning to occur in her pregnancy (cf. 1Samuel 2:8-10).

The proud have been scattered in the imagination of their hearts (Luke 1:51), because they have refused to come into the Kingdom of God (Matthew 23:13; Luke 11:52). They did not repent of their rebellion in order to receive Jesus as their Messiah. They refused to step down from their thrones. Agrippa was killed by the hand of God (Acts 12), and the Jews ceased to have a nation and a Temple after their war for independence from Rome in 70 AD (compare Hannah’s song at 1Samuel 2:3-4).

God has filled the hungry but has sent the rich away empty (Luke 1:53). The hungry—the descendants of David are filled / blessed, while the rich or the current rulers, who have exalted themselves, God has sent away without a place in his Kingdom, because they wouldn’t offer their submission to Jesus (cf. 1Samuel 2:8-10). Mary sees her pregnancy as the beginning of God’s fulfillment of his promises to Abraham, Israel, and Abraham’s Seed (the Messiah –  Luke 1:54-55; cf. 1Samuel 2:8-10).


[1] The Vulgate is the Latin translation of the Greek Scriptures.

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Posted by on May 1, 2016 in Gospel of Luke


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