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prehension, and therefore desired him to explain it. 34. Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? Being young and unexperienced, it was not to be expected that she could have a comprehension of mind and strength of faith, equal to that which the old priest Zacharias ought to have possessed, Besides, this was a thing supernatural, and altogether without example; for though it is not distinctly mentioned by the Evangelist, it is plain, from Mary's answer, that the angel had let her know she was to conceive forthwith, and without the concurrence of a man. (See Observ. II.) These seem to have been the reasons why Gabriel, who had struck Zacharias dumb for presuming to ask a sign in proof of his wife's future pregnancy, bore with the virgin when she desired to know how hers could be brought about. In the mean time, it should be observed, that Mary did not, like Zacharias, insinuate that she would not believe till a miracle was wrought to convince her; but only that she did not understand how her pregnancy could be effected in her virgin state, and desired him to explain it to her, not doubting but it was possible. Wherefore, the weakness of her apprehension being consistent with faith, and her request being conceived with modesty and humility, the angel told her, that the wonderful event should be accomplished by the interposition of the Holy Spirit and special energy of the power of God, who would preserve her reputation entire, at least in the opinion of impartial judges, and protect her from any injury which this mystery might expose her to; for by the Jewish law a severe punishment was inflicted on women betrothed, who proved with child before cohabiting with their husbands. 35. And the angel answered, and said
unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon ther, and the power of the highest shall overshadow thee.--Therefore also that Holy Thing which shall be born of thee, shall be called the Son of God. He shall be called God's Son, because thou shalt conceive him by the immediate operation of the Holy Ghost causing him to exist in thy womb.-Moreover, to confirm her faith, he acquainted her with the prega nancy of her cousin Elizabeth, who was then past the age of child-bearing; that being a thing similar, though inferior to her own pregnancy which he had been predicting. 36. And behold * thy cousin Elizabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.
Ver. 36. Thy cousin Elizabeth.) Mary and Elizabeth might be cousins, as the text affirms, although the former was a descendant of David, and the la:ter a daughter of Aaron: because the law (Numb. xxxvi. 6.) forbid. ding women to marry out of their own tribes, related only to heiresses, and consequently did not include the tribe of Levi, which had no particular heritable possessions that could be alienated by such marriages. Ac. cordingly (Levit
. xxii. 12.) it is supposed, as a common case, that a priest's daughter might be married to a stranger.
37. For with God nothing shall be impossible. 38. And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her. In this answer, Mary expressed both great faith, and great resignation. She believed what the angel had told her concerning her conception, and wished for it; not regarding the inconveniencies she might be exposed to thereby, well knowing that the power of God. could easily protect her.
Mary being much affected with what had happened, went without delay into the hill country, where Elizabeth dwelt, although it was seventy miles distant from Nazareth. She was eager to know the certainty of her cousin's pregnancy, which the angel. had mentioned to shew her the possibility of her own. 39. And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Judah. This is generally thought to have been Hebron. 40. And entered into the house of Zacharias and saluted Elizabeth. On her arrival, she saluted her cousin.-But she no sooner spake, than the child in the womb of Elizabeth leaped as transported with joy. Moreover, the holy woman herself, inspired at the approach of the Messiah, saluted the virgin by the grand title of The mother of my Lord. Being also in a divine and prophetic ecstacy, she uttered things which had an evident relation to the particulars of Mary's interview with the angel; things therefore which Elizabeth could know only by revelation, so that she astonished Mary exceedingly, and exalted her faith beyond every doubt. 41. And it came to pass that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost 42. And she spake out with a loud voice, such as testified the greatness of the emotion of her mind, and said, Blessed art thou among women; this was the salutation wherewith Gabriel had addressed Mary; and blessed is the fruit of thy womb; alluding, I suppose, to the child's being the promised seed, in whom all the families of the earth were to be blessed, and who for that reason was blessed himself, Psal. lxxii. 17. 43. And whence is this honour to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? If Elizabeth had not spoken by inspiration, as we are told, ver. 41. she could not so much as have suspected that Mary was to be the mother of Messiah. But it being revealed to her, she was greatly struck with the honour that was done her; and expressed her sense thereof, by asking in a rapture of astonishment, how it came to be conferred on her. 44. For lo, as soon as the voice
The city of Judah, where Zacharias and Elizabeth lived, is thought to have been Hebron, because Hebron was not only one of the cities appointed for the priests to dwell in, (Josh. xxi. 11.) but was situated in the mountains of Judah. (Josh. xi. 21.) which, running from south to north, gave the name of the Hill Country to that part of Judea. Hebron lay south from Jerusalem, at the distance of about twenty-four miles.
of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. The revelation being made to her a little before Mary arrived, her salutation made such an impression upon her, that it affected the very babe in her womb, so as to make it leap for joy, as if it had been sensible too of Messiah's approach, whose fore-runner it was. 45. And blessed is she that believed, for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord, plainly commending the faith and humility which Mary had expressed, when the angel assured her that she should become pregnant in her virgin state; contrary to the behaviour of Zacharias, who, it seems, had informed Elizabeth by writing of all that had happened; or she might come to the knowledge of it by revelation.-The virgin having heard Elizabeth thus speak, was likewise filled with the Holy Ghost; so that being inspired, she expressed the deepest sense of her own unworthiness, and of the infinite goodness of God, in chusing her to the high honour of being the Messiah's Mother. This she did in a hymn, which, though uttered extempore, is remarkable for the beauty of its style, the sublimity of it sentiments, and the spirit of piety which runs through the whole. 46. And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord. 47. And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. When a person speaking of himself mentions his soul or spirit as doing a thing, it is the strongest expression in human language, and intimates his doing the thing mentioned with the utmost energy of all his faculties. Mary, therefore, by saying that her soul magnified the Lord, and that her spirit rejoiced in God,' meant to tell that she exerted the utmost vigour of all her faculties, in declaring the perfections of God which constitute his greatness, and that the consideration of his goodness towards her, filled her with joy to the utmost extent of her capacity. 48. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. Though I am a person in the lowest station, and had not the least reason to expect that any thing extraordinary should arise from me; yet God hath put such honour on my condition, as to make me the instrument of bringing into the world Messiah, the desire of all nations; for which reason, all generations shall esteem me peculiarly happy; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. 49. For he that is mighty, Almighty God, hath done to me great things, (μsyarsa), miracles. So μεγαλα and μεγαλεια often signify in the Old Testament, being applied to the miracles wrought in Egypt, and in the wilderness see Deut. x. 21. xi. 7. xxxiv. 12. Perhaps Mary had now in her eye her miraculous conception of Messiah. And holy is his name. She made this remark to signify her humble faith in God's wisdom and goodness. She was astonished that God should have chosen her, a person of the meanest condition, to be mother of Messiah. Yet from her belief of the divine
perfections, she was convinced that all was done in wisdom and truth. 50. And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. So great is the goodness of God, that he rewards the piety of his servants upon their posterity, to the thousandth generation, Exod. xx. 6. By making this observation, the virgin modestly insinuated, that she imputed the great honour that was done her, not to any merit of her own, but to the piety of her ancestors Abraham and David, which God thus rewarded upon their latest posterity. 51. He hath shewed strength with his arm. It is an observation of Grotius, that God's great power is represented by his finger, his greater by his hand, and his greatest by his arm. The production of lice was the finger of God, Exod. vii. 18.; and the other miracles in Egypt were done by his hand, Exod. iii. 20. But the destruction of Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea, was brought to pass by his arm, Exod. xv. 16. Wherefore the virgin's meaning is, that in this dispensation of his providence, God mightily manifested his sovereign power. He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. The proud great women, who indulged many fond imaginations concerning the honour that should accrue to them from giving birth to Messiah, he hath scattered; he hath filled them with shame to such a degree, that they have scattered and hid themselves; in allusion to an army of cowards who, breaking their ranks, run off in despair. 52. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, (durusus uxo Sporer, the rulers from their thrones) and exalted them of low degree. The kings who sprang from David, had no doubt, one after another, expected to be the parents of Messiah; and when the kingdom was taken from them, such of the royal progeny as were in the highest station, would reckon this their certain and highest privilege. But now their hope was wholly overthrown. They were brought down by God from that height of dignity, to which in their own imagination they had exalted themselves; and a person in the meanest condition of all the royal seed was raised to it. 53. He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he hath sent empty away. Both the poor and the rich are here represented as waiting at God's gate in the condition of beggars; the rich in expectation of receiving the honour of giving birth to Messiah; the poor in expectation, not of that blessing, but hoping for such small favours as suited their condition. While they wait in this state, God, by an exercise of his sovereignty, bestows the favour so much courted by the rich, on a poor family, to its unspeakable satisfaction, and sends the rich away disappointed and discontented. 54. He hath kolpen his servant Israel; ertinaubavev, here translated to help, signifies properly to support a thing that is falling, by taking hold of it on the falling side. Mary's meaning therefore was, that God had now remarkably Vol. I.
supported the Jewish nation, and hindered it from falling, by raising up Messiah among them, the matchless renown of whose undertaking, would reflect infinite honour on the nation who gave him birth. Perhaps also by his servant Israel, she meant all those who are spiritually so called. In remembrance of his mercy. When men remember things which they ought to perform, they commonly perform them, especially if no obstacle lies in their way. For some such reason as this, the Scriptures say, God remembers his attributes when he exerts them in a sig nal manner, and his promises when he fulfils them in spite of all opposition. So he is said to forget a thing, when he acts outwardly as men do when they have forgotten it. Yet, properly speaking, forgetting and remembering are both of them abso lutely inconsistent with the perfection of God, in whose mind all things, past, present, and to come, are ever present. 55. As he spake, (promised, see ver. 70.) to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed for ever, i. e. to all his seed, Gentiles as well as Jews. For though the virgin might not have a distinct conception of what she uttered, understood in this extensive view; yet as she spake by inspiration, there is nothing to hinder us from affixing such a meaning to her words, especially as the construction of the sentence will scarce admit of any other. It might therefore be better translated thus: In remembrance of his mercy to Abra ham, and to his seed for ever, as he spake to our fathers. so Mary having, to her unspeakable satisfaction, found all things as the angel had told her, she returned home at the end of three months, when the period of Elizabeth's pregnancy was com pleted., 56. And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house in Nazareth.
§. V. John is circumcised in Hebron. Zacharias has the use of his speech restored. Luke i. 57,-80.
57. Now Elizabeth's full time came that she should be deliver ed; and she brought forth a son. 58. And her neighbours and ker cousins heard how the Lord had shewed great mercy upon her, by giving her a son after so long a course of barrenness: and they rejoiced with her. 59. And it came to pass, that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child: and they called him Zacharias, after the name of his father. The law did not enjoin that the child should have his name given him at circumcision; but it was customary to do it then, because at the institution of the rite, God changed the names of Abraham and Sarah, Gen. xvii. 5, 15. 60. And his mother answered and said, Not so; but he shall be called John. She might in this act by revelation, or Zacharias may have explained the whole affair to her in writing, as was hinted above. 61. And they said unto her, There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name. 62. And they made