The practised reading of G-d’s word is foundational to our spontaneous prayers and expressions of worship
An examination of Luke 1:39-80
Soon after Gabriel visited Miryam with the remarkable news of her virgin pregnancy, she heads to the hills. Perhaps at between 13 and 18 years of age, she just needed to run away for a bit and seek comfort with Aunt Elisheva.
39 Now at this time Miryam (rebellious people, bitterly fragrant) arose and hurried to the hill country, to a city of Judah,
It seems that the news of her aunt’s pregnancy and the social disgrace of her own pregnancy drove Miryam to the shelter of Elisheva’s home in the hill country of Y’hudah—Judah. We know from the other gospel accounts, that Yosef acted righteously toward Miryam and that Gabriel explained the situation to him so that the Ketubah (engagement agreement) would not be broken. However it’s difficult to know the time frame for these events: it’s possible that Yosef’s dealings with regard to Miryam followed her stay with Elisheva because after those three months the baby was showing, thus exposing Miriyam’s pre-marriage pregnancy.
It’s also worth considering that Miryam’s own parents were obviously gracious toward her with regard to her pregnancy.
40 and entered the house of Zacharyah (HaShem has remembered) and said, “Shalom Elisheva“ (My G-d‘s oath/sevenfold blessing). 41 When Elisheva heard Miryam’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elisheva was filled with the Ruach ha-Kodesh—Holy Spirit.
At the sound of the Hebrew greeting of peace and wholeness, Yochanan (HaShem’s chesed) danced in the womb of his mother Elisheva (My G-d’s oath). When the Prince of shalom (peace) meets with G-d’s mercy (chesed) and G-d’s oath (Elisheva) collides with humanity, the manifest power of the Ruach ha-Kodesh bears witness to a cataclysmic event. The Hebrew view is that consciousness begins at conception and that our first cries for Abba are a continuation of an ongoing conversation. Hence Yochanan dances in the womb and His mother recognizes the mother of Israel’s Messiah.
42 And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “B’ruchah—blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And how has it happened to me, that the mother of Adoni—my Lord would come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your shalom reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for simchah—joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what had been spoken to her by ha-Adon—the L-rd.”
Elisheva calls Miryam the mother of her master. It’s clear from this proclamation that Elisheva considers Miryam to be carrying the Messiah, Israel’s promised king. She also affirms the actions of Miryam as righteousness: it seems that she somehow knows what Miryam has been told by the messenger Gabriel. There is nothing to indicate that Miryam’s greeting was more than shalom, hello. It’s unlikely, given the text, that Miryam had already had a chance to explain all that had happened to Elisheva. This begs the question, “How did Elisheva know that Miryam had heard from and trusted in the prophetic words of Gabriel regarding the birth of the Messiah?”
46 And Miryam said:
(1 Samuel 2:1-10)
What follows is a recitation of spontaneous ecstatic praise, which is filled with textual quotes from the Tanakh. In fact, everything Miryam says in her psalm, is either a direct quote or a paraphrase of words taken from the Tanakh: in particular, words that acknowledge the coming Messiah and the salvation of the Jewish people.
It seems that in a Patriarchal time when women were supposedly kept from study, that Miryam was well versed in the Torah, the Nevi’m and the Ketuvim.
The similarities with the song of Hannah are worth noting along with the fact that songs like this were uttered by women at key points in Israel’s history: Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Leah, Miryam, Hannah, Deborah.
“My soul exalts HaShem—the L-rd,
47 And my spirit has rejoiced in G-d my Yeshua—Savior. (Psalm 18:46, Isaiah 17:10; 61:10, Habakkuk 3:18)
48 For He has had regard for the humble state of His hired servant; (Psalm 138:6)
For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.
49 For El-Shaddai—the Mighty One has done great things for me;
And holy is His name. (Psalm 71:19; 111:9)
50 ‘And His mercy is upon generation after generation
Toward those who fear Him.’ (Exodus 20:6, Psalm 103:17)
51 He has done mighty deeds with His arm; (Psalm 98:1, Isaiah 40:10)
He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones,
And has exalted those who were humble.
53 ‘He has filled the hungry with good things;’ (Psalm 107:9)
And sent away the rich empty-handed.
54 He has given help to Israel His servant,
In remembrance of His chesed—mercy, (Psalm 98:3)
55 As He spoke to our fathers (Avraham, Y’tzakhak and Yaakov)
To Avraham (father of many peoples) and his descendants forever.”
56 And Miryam stayed with her about three months, and then returned to her home.
This was a time of good counsel and sound preparation for Miryam, a time of intimate fellowship in the home of a priestly family; blood relatives and participants in the hope of Israel. Miryam now returns to face the music as it were, she will live a life of community disgrace up until the time of Messiah’s birth.
57 Now the time had come for Elisheva to give birth, and she gave birth to a son.58 Her neighbors and her relatives heard that HaShem—the L-rd had displayed His great chesed—mercy toward her; and they were rejoicing with her.
59 And it happened that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to call him Zacharyah (HaShem has remembered), after his father. 60 But his mother answered and said, “No indeed; but he shall be called Yochanan (HaShem shows chesed, favoured by HaShem).” 61 And they said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by that name.” 62 And they made signs to his father, as to what he wanted him called. 63 And he asked for a tablet and wrote as follows, “His name is (already) Yochanan.” And they were all astonished.
The tradition of naming the firstborn son after the father remains to this day in many families among the Sephardim (Spanish origin Jewish communities). This tradition takes on new significance as a precursor to the birth of Messiah, when the name of Yochanan, the forerunner, is written down by his father Zakaryah.
64 Instantly his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he began to speak in praise of G-d.
At the writing of it Zakaryah’s tongue is released and he begins the ecstatic praise of a repentant man, one who has had his prayer for a sign answered in multiple ways.
65 Fear (awe) came on all those living around them; and all these matters were being talked about in all the hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard them kept them in mind, saying, “What then will this child turn out to be?” For the hand of HaShem—the L-rd was certainly with him.
Israel’s hope had been ignited from within the hill country of Judea. Events like these had previously only occurred at key points in Israel’s history. The people of Israel had endured what’s known as the 400 silent years, years without a prophet to prove her and give her hope. Now she will hear of “the prophet,” of HaShem, who has come to hail in the Messiah.
67 And his father Zacharyah was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying:
Again, this is another spontaneous and passionate exclamation of prophetic praise, filled with Tanakh references. What this shows us is that devotion to the Tanakh and the practised reading of G-d’s word is foundational to our spontaneous prayers and expressions of worship. Those who despise repetition miss out on one of G-d’s greatest gifts of equipping for the believer. Our unrehearsed prayers take on greater significance when they are melded together with the ketvi—written word—and the D’var—living word essence, Yeshua—and the Ruach Ha-Kodesh (Shekinah)—Holy Spirit.
68 “Blessing comes from HaShem—the L-rd—G-d of Israel,
For He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, (Genesis 24:27, 1 Kings 8:15, Psalm 72:18; 111:9)
69 And has raised up a horn of Yeshua—salvation for us
In the house of David His servant--
70 As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old--
71 ‘Salvation from our enemies,
And from the hand of all who hate us;’ (Jeremiah 23:5)
72 To show mercy toward our fathers, (Avraham, Y’tzakhak and Yaakov)
And to remember His holy covenant, (Micah 7:20, Psalm 105:8-9; 106:45, Ezekiel 16:60)
73 The oath which He swore to Abraham our father, (Genesis 22:15-18)
74 To grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies,
Might serve Him without fear,
Zakaryah, the loving father of Yochanan now turns to his own son with tender care. He has proclaimed the coming Messiah, now he honours the fruit of his loins, the promised forerunner, come in the spirit of Eliyahu; the Prophet of whom Yeshua says, “Among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than Yochanan the Immerser” –Matthew/Mattitiyahu 11:11
75 In holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
For you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways; (Malachi 3:1)
77 To give to His people the knowledge of Yeshua—salvation
By the forgiveness of their sins, (Jeremiah 31:34)
78 Because of the tender chesed—mercy of our G-d,
With which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, (Malachi 4:2)
79’ To shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace.’ (Psalm 107:14, Isaiah 9:2; 59:9)
80 And the child continued to grow and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel.
It’s possible that due to the old age of his parents, Yochanan may well have been orphaned at a young age and wondered off into the desert as a result. It’s also possible that he simply knew that this was G-d’s will for him. Regardless, he remained a wonderer in the desert until the age of approximately 30 years when he began his public ministry of calling Israel to tishuva—repentance.
© 2014 Yaakov Brown
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.