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Yeshua in Context » Background to Gospels, Besorah/Gospel/Good News, DHE (Delitzsch Gospels), Luke's Gospel, Salvation and Covenant » Mary’s Psalm (PODCAST Transcript)

Mary’s Psalm (PODCAST Transcript)

I’m reading Scot McKnight’s new book, The King Jesus Gospel, a vital contribution for Christians and Messianic Jews. What’s so great about McKnight’s book is that he plainly and clearly explains why the main message of churches for the past hundred years has been so limpid and produced such a disappointing Christian culture. He doesn’t pretend that a little theological correction will put an end to human failure in religion, but it can’t hurt to have people follow a message that the apostles would at least recognize as the gospel.

The main point of McKnight’s book is that the word “gospel” to the apostles meant the story of Yeshua giving meaning to life and eternity. Gospel was not simply a message of personal salvation. Personal salvation is one of the things that happens when people listen to the gospel.

In this podcast I’m simply exploring one aspect of McKnight’s four-part outline of what the gospel is. He says it is:
(1) The Story of Israel
(2) The Story of Jesus
(3) The Plan of Salvation
(4) The Method of Persuasion

In considering the first part of McKnight’s outline, the gospel as the story of Israel, I am turning to Luke’s infancy narrative. Luke, whose gospel bears clear signs of relationship to Paul, presents Yeshua’s birth, the community into which he was born, and his early childhood as a culmination of the hopes of faithful Israelites.

In particular, I want to look at Mary’s Psalm in Luke 1:46-55. It has traditionally been called the Magnificat, from the Latin translation of the Bible. I will read Mary’s Psalm in the newly released Delitzsch Hebrew English version (DHE), where its relationship to the language of the Psalms and prophets is clarified by Delitzsch’s careful retranslation of the Greek text of Luke into Hebrew.

My soul lifts up HaShem,
and my spirit rejoices in the God of my salvation,
who has seen the humility of his handmaid.
From now on all generations will called me glad,
for Shaddai has done great things for me,
and his name is holy.
His kindness endures to all generations
to those who fear him.
He has done powerful things by his arm.
He has scattered the proud
in the purpose of their hearts.
He has torn down nobles from their thrones
and raised up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
but he has sent the rich away empty.
He has sustained his servant Yisra’el,
remembering his compassions,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Avraham and his offspring forever.
-Luke 1:46-55 (DHE)


The overall concept of Mary’s Psalm is that of Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel, who spoke a psalm on the birth of her son. Hannah’s Psalm and Mary’s Psalm have the following ideas in common, though Luke does not exactly quote from 1 Samuel 2:

  • Rejoice in God’s salvation.
  • The strong are humbled.
  • The lowly are raised up and empowered.
  • Rich and poor are reversed.

One example of Delitzsch’s work to conform the New Testament language at times to the style of the Hebrew Bible is seen in Luke 1:47. Compare the ESV (English Standard Version) with the DHE:

“My spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:47, ESV).

“My spirit rejoices in the God of my salvation” (Luke 1:47, DHE).

Why the difference? Luke has used a phrase in his Greek gospel which will speak to his Greco-Roman audience. Roman emperors are hailed as saviors. The early believers used language regularly to refer to Yeshua as Lord and Savior, as opposed to the common idea of Caesar as Lord and Savior.

But Luke’s phrase is a departure from the idiom of the Hebrew Bible. While the noun Savior is used of God, the phrase “God my Savior” does not exist. Rather, we find six times in the Hebrew Bible the phrase “God of my salvation.” Delitzsch has taken Luke’s Greco-Roman shaped expression and cast it back into the customary language of the Bible.

The prophet Micah, for example, looks at the deplorable condition of his generation in Judah. He sees that the people are far from God and selfishness and cruelty reigns in the land. He knows his nation will be judged by God for the evil in his time. “Don’t rejoice over me,” he says, “when I fall . . . I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him.” And in this era of wickedness in Judah, Micah says, “I will look to the Lord, I will wait for the God of my salvation.”

So Mary in her psalm recognizes that the community of the faithful in Judea is small. People like her cousin Elisheva (Elizabeth) and Zechariah and Simeon and Anna, the godly characters depicted in Luke chapters 1 and 2, are the remnant of righteous Israel in an unrighteous time. Judgment is coming for Judah and by the time Luke writes his gospel, Jerusalem has already been laid waste.

But while Romans look to Caesar as Savior and while the clueless in Israel think the Savior has not come, Mary sees in the birth of her son the great act of the God of my salvation.

In verse 54, Mary calls Israel the Servant. Delitzsch’s translation opts to go strongly with the idea of Servant, whereas the Greek could also possibly be read as “child.” In the Servant songs of Isaiah, the Servant is first and foremost Israel. Yet as Israel is a blind and unfaithful servant of God, it becomes clear in Isaiah that the remnant of faithful in Israel are the ones who will fulfill that role. Mary and the community of righteous Israelites in Luke chapters 1 and 2 are that remnant. But ultimately Isaiah narrows it down even more to one Israelite who is the Servant, an Israelite who will suffer for the transgressions of his people.

And Luke’s audience knows well that Yeshua is ultimately the Servant.

More than that, he is the Servant whose coming was promised to the fathers. Mary recognizes in verses 54-55 that her child has arrived due to God remembering his compassions on Israel. Though there is much wickedness and though the people are not right, God has shown compassion and brought the Promised One.

It is because prior to everything God made an unbreakable promise to Abraham. The birth of Yeshua in Judea is the culmination of an age-old story. These events are not new. They are from days of old. A humble woman of Israel has become the mother of the Messiah, the bearer of the promise made to Abraham.

Luke’s gospel is written primarily to gentiles. Why, then, did he bother to give all this Jewish background and understanding? Didn’t Luke realize gentiles don’t need the story of Israel? Of course Luke did not realize something so false.

The gospel, as Scot McKnight says, is the story of Israel. It goes back even before that, before the promise to Abraham. It goes back to Adam. What has been lost will be recovered. The Abrahamic promise, with which Mary completes her psalm, is God’s promise to bring back what was lost in Adam’s day, and even more, to exceed the blessing of Eden.

The meaning of Yeshua cannot be separated from Israel’s story. Far from being irrelevant, people today need to read the larger story, to see Jesus as God’s compassion on Israel after many generations, the fulfiller of the promise to the fathers.

Luke understands that Israel’s role in all this is not finished. He more than hints in Mary’s Psalm that Yeshua’s identity as the Promised One of Israel is God’s compassion on Israel, meaning good news for Jewish people. It would have been easy for Luke to omit this in the gentile churches of his time. He did not omit it.

The apostolic understanding of Jesus and the gospel is not replacement. It is not a new religion. It is the expansion of the faith of Abraham, the story of Israel expanding in Yeshua, the Seed of Abraham. And in God’s compassions, no one is left behind. The nations should not boast nor should Israel. God is the salvation of Jew and gentile in one Savior for a consummation that we have yet to see but in which we greatly hope.

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Filed under: Background to Gospels, Besorah/Gospel/Good News, DHE (Delitzsch Gospels), Luke's Gospel, Salvation and Covenant

One Response to "Mary’s Psalm (PODCAST Transcript)"

  1. Vance Hendricks says:

    Good post. Nicely done.

    -V

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