The passage on which I write this time is best known as the “Song of Mary”! In form of rhyme the church has sung this song of Mary throughout her history. And we do well to take a little bit more particular notice of the uniqueness of this song, as well in its form and content, as who it was who was singing this particular song.
The “Song of Mary” is known among scholars and students of the Bible by its introductory verb in Latin which is “Magnificat.” And hence it is better known as “The Magnificat.” Thus the “Song of Zacharias” is called “The Benedictus” because the Latin term “benedictus” is the first word that came from the lips of Zacharias, when he says “Blessed (Benedictus) be the God of Israel” (Luke 1:68). And, again, in Luke 2:29 we have the beautiful utterance from the mouth of the aged Simeon, which begins: “Now lettest thy servant depart in peace, Lord . . .” Since the Latin version of the Scriptures here begins with “Nunc demittis” the song of Simeon is called “The Nunc Demittis”!
This Song of Mary literally reads as follows: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God, my Savior. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden; for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things: and holy is his name. And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. He hath shewed strength with his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent away empty. He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy as he spake to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever.”
There are a few historic (not: historical!) facts which should be kept in mind in attempting to understand and explain this Song of Mary. In the first instance it should be borne in mind that this Song is uttered by Mary while she is still standing in the Old Testament dispensation of the Kingdom of God. She is still standing in the days of the Shadows and the Types of better things to come. Christ was not yet born, he had not yet died and arisen again, fulfilling all righteousness. Christ was not yet seated at the right hand of the Father, sitting upon the throne of His father David forever!
In the second place we should notice that Mary sings this song in the “fulness of times.” It was time that the former things should pass away, and that the new should be ushered in. All God’s promises should be manifestly shown to be “Yea and Amen in Christ, to the glory of God the Father.” For the angel Gabriel had come to her in the little town of Nazareth, in Galilee of the nations, and had announced to her that she would bear a Son, who would be Great, who would sit upon the throne of His father David forever, and of whose kingdom there would be no end! Did not the angel greet her with the memorable words: “Hail thou that art highly favored”? Is she not the “much graced one” among women? Is she not the chosen vessel of God from whom the Christ shall be born, the virgin who would conceive? And will this Son not be called Emanuel, God with-us?
In the third place, does not Mary sing this song standing, perhaps, on the very threshold of the house of Zacharias and Elizabeth. Hither Mary had hastened after the angel had announced to her that she should have this Wonder-Child, and that her kinswoman, Elizabeth, who was called barren, too had conceived in her old age, and that she was in her sixth month! Had not this Elizabeth kept herself in hiding, saying: “Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men” (Luke 1:25). But Mary was told by the angel. The secret of Elizabeth, which is the secret of the Lord, is made known to Mary. And she, in faith, goes to see this thing which has come to pass; she wishes to witness the evidence that “there is nothing impossible with God”! And the evidence is far above anything that Mary could ask or think. For at the very sound of her salutation the babe leaped for joy in the womb of the aged Elizabeth. The unborn John, who will one day say to Israel concerning Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God,” greets Jesus in this very singular and miraculous way. The unborn John the Baptist greets the unborn Jesus!!
In the fourth place, it should be observed Mary sings this Song under the power and operation of the Holy Spirit. Both Mary and Elizabeth sing songs, and both sing of Mary’s child. They do not sing of Elizabeth’s child, except in as far as he too is interested in this unborn child of Mary! But both sing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Do we not read of Elizabeth, “and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she spake out with a loud voice, and said blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb . . .” It was because of the “fruit” of Mary’s womb that there was such great joy. For now salvation would come, the promises made to the fathers would be fulfilled.
And, lastly, Mary sings this song limited in her vision by the Old Testament revelation. She is a child of her times, first of all. Yet, limited as she is, she is led by the Spirit into the very marrow of the Old Testament Scriptures.
Of this latter we should take further notice in this essay. We call your attention to the following elements:
We would call attention to the fact, first of all, that the Holy Ghost led Mary to the Scriptures, to Moses, the Psalms and the Prophets. It is especially to the Psalms that reference is made throughout in this Song of Mary. We will not quote them all, but we do feel that it is in order to quote rather extensively from these O. T. quotations. Thus in verse 48 reference is made to I Sam. 1:11: “. . . if thou wilt indeed look upon the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me . . .” This is from the song of Hannah. Again see Psalm 113:5-6, where we read: “who humbleth himself to behold the things that are in heaven, and in the earth!”And in verse 49 Mary makes reference to Psalm 111:9: ” He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant forever: holy and reverent is his name.” And in verse 50 of the Song of Mary who does not think of the words of Psalm 103:13 and 17: “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him,” and “But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children.” And, again, in verse 51 of the Song of Mary reference is made toPsalm 89:10 where we read: “. . . . thou hast scattered thine enemies with thy strong arm.” Does not verse 52 refer clearly to such passages as Psalm 147:6, where we read: “The Lord lifted up the meek: he casteth the wicked down to the ground”? And, further, do not the words of verse 53 remind us of the utterance of the Psalmist in Psalm 34:10, where we read: “The young lions do lack and suffer hunger, but they that seek the LORD shall not want any good thing”? And, finally, do not the verses 54 and 55 remind us of Isaiah 41:8 and Micah 7:20 in which latter reference we read: “Thou wilt perform the truth to Jacob, and the mercy to Abraham, which thou hast sworn unto our fathers from the days of old.”
Surely, we have here the very marrow of the Old Testament Scriptures!
In it we see the great and holy Name of God extolled.
Here we see the faithful promises of God to the fathers fulfilled, and believed! Therefore, in the second place, we would call attention to the fact that in all these passages there is a unifying principle. These utterances are not simply some aphoristic excerpts, haphazardly thrown together, without any relationship to each other, not having any relevancy to the actual history of the children of God in the Old Testament Dispensation, but they are a picture, a total view of the Great Works of God, in a nut-shell. Thus they depict to us that God is faithful to his people, to Jacob whom he hath chosen and loved. And, let it not be overlooked, that this is all reviewed from the vantage-point of Mary, as she sees all of the history of the people of God, as it culminates in the faithfulness of God in the Promised Son, whom she shall bring forth.
I would like to call attention to three aspects of this entire song.
In the first place, let me point out the covenantal character of this Song. This appears from the very close of it. It is all controlled by the truth of the promise of God to the fathers, to Abraham and to his children forever. The song really has its “point of departure” inGenesis 17:7, where we read “And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.” See alsoGenesis 18:18 and 22:17. In the latter passage we read: “That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore, and thy seed shall possess the gates of thy enemies.”
Such is the covenantal point of departure in this entire Song.
In the second place, it ought to be observed that Mary sings here as the mouth-piece of Israel. She does not sing an exclusively personal song. She sings as a mother in Israel, yea, as the mother in Israel. And surely, her low estate, as mother in Israel, was the low estate of the house of Jesse! From the viewpoint of Israel’s national existence, the throne of David, Israel is still virtually in bondage, a vassal people who are under the heel of the Kingdoms of the world, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and now Rome. Caesar Augustus reigns. He will have all the world be taxed. The house of David is not even in Bethlehem, but in Nazathereth! And Mary’s estate is truly lowly as the last representative of this royal house of David. But God has remembered her, and in remembering her He remembers the lowly plight of His people, by fulfilling in her the sign of the Virgin!
But, in the third place, this is not strange. Is not the Lord, Jehovah, her God, her Savior, and the Savior of his people. And does she not bear this “JESUS, Jehovah-saves” under her heart. Had not the power of the Highest come upon her to overshadow her. Had John, the unborn child, not just announced it to Mary! Is God not he who causes the things that are not to be, and does he not fulfill her hope against hope for the house of David according to his sure promises? And has he not all through history cast down the mighty from their thrones? Where are Pharaoh and his hosts? Were they not cast into the Red Sea, since God remembers mercy to his own people, fulfilling his word of promise? And were not ever the hungry filled with good things. Think of Israel in the desert. Manna rained from heaven! And thus the true Manna will rain from heaven in her Son.
And in agreement with this covenantal character of this song we should notice too that it is a song which has its chief motive in God. God must be made great. His Name must be extolled. His mercy, his power, his condescending remembrance, his faithfulness . . . The more one think about it, the more one’s “spirit” rejoices in deep and sweet meditation. And thus Mary’s soul magnifies the Lord, when all this greatness passes before her reflecting spirit.
And, finally, this song is one which has meaning for us even today. Does Mary not speak of the “From henceforth all the generations shall call me blessed”? We still sing this song. Not all the generations of the world sing this song. Not all call Mary blessed. But in the generations, thousands of generations of those who fear God and keep his commandments, this song is sung. Here its meaning is penetrated the spirit rejoices upon God, our Savior. G.L.