January: Matthew 1; Luke 1
There are five songs of women in the Bible.
- Miriam’s song, sometimes referred to as “The Song of the Sea.” After the Red Sea crashed in on the armies of the Egyptians, Moses and the people of Israel sing praise to their Lord, and as they finish the Bible says, “And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances. And Miriam answered them, Sing ye to the LORD, for he hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.” (Exodus 15:20-21) Some consider it a chorus to the song of the men.
- Deborah’s song, a song of Victory she sings with Barrak, the leader of the Israelite army after Jael uses a tent stake to end the conflict. (Judges 5:1-31.) Deborah tried to have the men lead the battle, but Barrak begged Deborah to assist them.
- Hannah’s song, after not being able to have children, Hannah promises her son to the Lord. She is given a boy and upon delivering him to Eli the high priest, she sings and prophesies. (1 Samuel 2:1-10) It has been referred to as a song of thanksgiving and focuses on children and the temple.
- Elizabeth’s song, a song of second witness. When Mary visits Elizabeth, the older woman immediately praises her for being the mother of God and says, “Blessed art thou among women,” the identical words spoken by Gabriel to Mary three months earlier. (See Luke 1:41-45) Elizabeth goes on to tell of other ways Mary is blessed. (Not usually considered a song but has repeated elements, a short beatitude.)
- Mary’s song, a song of prophecy fulfilled. In response to Elizabeth, Mary ‘sings’ for ten verses about her situation and how her son’s coming will fulfill multiple biblical prophecies. (Luke 1:46-57)
Although it would be so fun to explore all these songs, today let’s focus on Mary’s song. It begins with this couplet, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.” (Luke 1:46-47). How similar this is to Hannah’s song which begins, “My heart rejoiceth in the Lord, mine horn is exalted in the Lord: my mouth is enlarged over my enemies; because I rejoice in they salvation.” (1 Sam. 2:1) The concept of “magnifying” is expressed by Hannah as her horn, meaning power or capacity (see footnote in scriptures) being exalted and her mouth being enlarged.
In the next line, Mary again echoes Hannah when she says, “For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.” Similarly, when Mary first responds to Gabriel after being told she would be the mother of Christ, her response is “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” As Hannah is making her vow at the temple gates while still childless, she prays, “…give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life.” (1 Samuel 1:11) Mary would have known this scripture and may have been reflecting a similar promise. For in the next verses, we see her reflect her understanding of the coming Messiah that would be her own son.
The Song of Degrees or Ascent were fifteen psalms from 120-134 that were song while approaching temple for the three great feasts and festivals of the Jews. These holy times of year included Passover in the spring, Pentecost in the summer (50 days after Passover or seven times seven days) and the feast of Tabernacles in the fall. Some believe they were sung ascending the temple steps while others claim they were song climbing the hill to Jerusalem. In the seventh song, Israel rejoices at being released from Babylon, “Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing: then said they among the heathen, The Lord had done great things for them. The Lord had done great things for us; whereof we are glad… They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.” (Ps. 126:2-5) Knowing well these words, Mary declares, “For he that is mighty hath done to me great things;” and then quotes another psalm stating, “Holy is his name.” (Psalm 99:3)
In the next verses, she speaks of “scattering the proud” (Luke 1:51). This was a phrase used by Moses speaking of the Egyptians (Ex. 18:11), reflective of the Roman Empire now looming over Israel. She says that the Lord will “put down the mighty from their seats,” in reference to another song of degrees which promises David that “Of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne.” Finally, Mary sings that God will “exalt them of low degree,” a prophecy in Ezekiel which mentions a change of leadership both of the government and the church. “Remove the diadem, and take off the crown.” (Ezekiel 21:26) The diadem was the headdress worn by the High Priest, and the crown was at the time of Christ held by Herod who was from the tribe of Esau, not even a Jew. Soon Christ would claim both the offices by setting up a new church and a new kingdom.
Then Mary says a couplet that has no footnotes. It is her own. “He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent away empty.” As we look at Christ’s ministry, we can see the fulfilment of both these phrases in specific events such as the feeding of the five thousand and the story of the young rich man. Also, in a wider symbolic view of each phrase through his teaching and his rebuke of the hypocrites. At the conclusion of her song, Mary acknowledges his help and mercy on both Israel and Abraham and his seed for ever, which includes us.
As we finish the song of Mary, it is abundantly clear that Mary was a scriptorian. That she both knew and understood the written scripture as it applied to the coming Messiah. Both Matthew and Luke rehearse Christ’s genealogy, but David reigned over eight hundred years before the birth of Christ. There were probably thousands of girls of the necessary heritage to be the mother of our Lord. But it was Mary’s choices and understanding as much as her heritage that made her worthy of that incredible calling, and nowhere is that more clear than in her song.