It is not the proud or the mighty or the rich who have the last word.
Indeed, through his Messiah, God is about to over throw all these.
—Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Luke
The Bible as History
When we say that the Bible is the Word of God, we mean that the Spirit of God breathed out His own words through human writers. “Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21), so that “all Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16). The words of Scripture are in the most literal sense the words of God, infallible, inerrant, and authoritative.
This doesn’t mean, however, that the human writers had nothing to do with the process of composition. The Spirit of God chose, prepared, and equipped the human authors and then made use of their personalities, intelligence, and gifts in the writing process. They wrote, not as robotic software programs producing automatic writing, but as artists crafting profound and beautiful literature.
And so very little of Scripture comes to us as straight dictation from the mouth of God. Only rarely did God completely override the intentions and actual will of His spokesmen. (The wicked prophet Balaam is an example.) Also rare were the occasions when the Spirit of God dumped a large amount of information into the mind of a previously ignorant writer. God usually worked with what His servants knew or had learned. For example, when God needed someone to write sacred history, He normally chose an educated man who had been an eyewitness to the events he was to describe. In some cases, God moved the writers to interview eyewitnesses or to collect primary source documents.
Luke, for example, was a meticulous and careful historian. Throughout his gospel and his history of the fledgling church — what we call the book of Acts — Luke cites documents, delivers direct quotations, and specifies geographical and political situations. For example, in his gospel there are two occasions when he tells us what Jesus’ mother Mary was actually thinking:
But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2:19).
And Jesus went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart (Luke 2:51).
How did Luke know the thoughts of Mary’s heart? My best guess is that she told him. At some point, probably while the Apostle Paul was awaiting trial in Caesarea (Acts 24:27), Luke visited nearby Judea and did his research. He most likely interviewed Mary. He spoke with the available apostles and with some of the women who had accompanied Jesus. He probably also visited the marketplaces and synagogues of the Judean countryside where he could still find some older residents who remembered the birth of John the Baptist.
In short, Luke, like all those who wrote holy Scripture, wrote with historical accuracy. That accuracy also bears authoritative witness to the words that Mary herself spoke under divine inspiration (Luke 1:35). Those words, that song, we call the Magnificat (vv. 46-55).
The inspired writers who composed poems and psalms wrote out of their own experience and with their own skill. These were men — and in a few cases, women — who had read and studied Scripture, meditated upon it deeply, and made a great deal of applying it to life. Such a one was Mary of Nazareth. When we read her song, we see her deep knowledge and understanding of the Old Covenant prophets. We see also the fruit of her own study and meditation on the promises that God had made to His people.
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At many points, Mary’s song parallels and expands on the song that Hannah had written centuries before to celebrate Samuel’s birth (1 Sam. 1:1-10). Both songs begin with joy in God’s salvation. Both celebrate a great reversal that God will accomplish in history: He will bring down the proud and exalt the humble to positions of power. But Hannah’s song begins with the work of her son Samuel and looks forward to the coming of Messiah, God’s anointed King. Mary’s song begins with the work of her Son, which she sees (in principle at least) as already accomplished.
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 empty away.
He hath helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy;
As He spake to our fathers,
to Abraham, and to his seed forever.
Notice that Mary draws very little attention to herself. She is God’s bondservant and in need of His salvation. What God has done for her and will do through her is all of grace. Mary fully understood that God is a covenant-keeping God who shows mercy to those who fear Him to a thousand generations. Now, with the advent of Messiah, God in flesh comes in to history personally to establish His kingdom as well as His righteous rule, in all of life and culture.
Mary goes on to describe the great upheaval that Messiah will bring about. Through Messiah, God will scatter the proud through the very schemes they have devised against Him. He will dethrone the mighty and raise the humble to positions of power. He will strip the rich and fill the hungry with good things. All of this, Mary says, will be the fulfillment of God’s ancient promises to Abraham and his seed. God will bless all nations.
Conclusion: Taking Mary Seriously
Mary took God at His word. The prophets had spoken at length of the historical, social, and political consequences of Messiah’s reign (Ps. 2; 72; 100; Isa. 2; 60; Dan. 2; 7). They had no doubt that Messiah would change the world. Mary’s song, in very simple terms, powerfully asserts the same. There is nothing in this story of Gnostic fables or mystical experiences. Mary isn’t playing with empty images. She, like the prophets, is talking about the real world of politics, finance, intrigue, and power. She also knows her Son’s reign will eventually bring all life on this planet into conformity to God’s word. She knows that her Son’s reign will change everything, forever and that every knee will bow.
Mary foresees the fruit of the Gospel in history and then lives her life in terms of this vision. This is our call as well — and knowing isn’t enough. We must live our lives in terms of the promised fruit of the Gospel.
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