A couple of months ago our women’s Bible study group did a brief study of the life of Mary. As I was preparing to teach the lesson, several things about Mary, her life, and character made an impression on me.
Mary was an ordinary girl. There was nothing unique about her, unless it was her love of God’s word and her willingness to do whatever he wanted with her life.
Mary would have been as shocked as any of us would be by a visit from an angel. There had been no direct revelation from God in four hundred years. And even before that silent period, angelic or divine revelation was by no means an every day event! Just six months earlier, Zechariah doubted his visit from Gabriel and was punished by losing his ability to speak. Yet when Gabriel spoke to Mary, she showed no doubt, only curiosity: “How can this be since I’m a virgin?” And when the angel answered her, she believed him (Luke 1:38).
But if Mary had no trouble believing the angel, she could not expect that everyone else would be the same. Elisabeth was the only one Mary could be absolutely certain would believe her, since Elisabeth and Zechariah had also been visited by an angelic messenger. Also, if she found Elisabeth was pregnant (Gabriel had told Mary this news as a sign he was speaking the truth), then that would show she had been conversing with a messenger from God and wasn’t imagining the whole thing!
Mary “pondered things in her heart.” Based on that statement (which appears two times in Scripture: Luke 2:19 and 2:51) and her excellent knowledge of Scripture (Luke 2:46-55), it appears that Mary was an analytical person who spent time studying and meditating on God’s Word.
Women in Bible times were not usually well educated, but Mary had an amazing knowledge of the Scriptures! Since women did not attend school, she must have learned at home from godly parents who instilled a knowledge of the Scriptures and a love of God in the heart of their daughter.
As a result, her Magnificat is full of OT references, particularly in regards to the story of Hannah. Mary must have felt a kinship with Hannah in the days following Gabriel’s visit—both women would give birth to miracle children who would be dedicated to the service of God.
“My soul magnifies the Lord” (Luke 1:46) is a paraphrase from Hannah’s Magnificat in I Samuel 2:1, spoken after she presented Samuel to the Lord at Shiloh.
Luke 1:52 is also taken from Hannah’s Magnificat in I Samuel 2:7-8. Both women praised God for humbling the mighty and raising up the poor and humble.
And verse 53 of Mary’s Magnificat is likewise based on Hannah’s prayer of praise and thanksgiving (I Samuel 2:5). God always satisfies those who hunger for him, but he has no use for those who are satisfied with earthly riches.
Mary’s Magnificat uses many other Old Testament passages–verses from the prophets, Psalms, and various covenant promises made to the patriarchs.
God loves when his people pray to him and praise him using Scripture. And Mary did just that as she and Elisabeth praised their wonderful God.
By the time Mary returned home, she was 3 months pregnant and starting to show. She could not hide what was happening much longer. It appears from looking at the book of Matthew that it is at this point Joseph found Mary was pregnant and made the decision to divorce her (Matthew 1:18-25).
God knew his son would not only need a spiritually sensitive mother, but a godly, earthly father as well. Joseph’s compassionate, just character is demonstrated in his decision to“put her away quietly.” By choosing to spare her humiliation, he was hurting himself. He would have to return the dowry and lose all possibility of regaining the bride price he had paid.1
Instead of bringing Mary before the religious leaders for a public trial, he simply had to get 2 witnesses to sign the divorce decry and then hand it to her. Her shame would still be known, but the humiliation would not be as public.
If he did not divorce her, he was declaring that either he was the father, or he had allowed her to become a prostitute. Either way, his reputation and the reputation of his family would be ruined.
Apparently by the time the angel visited him, Joseph had made the decision to divorce her, but had not officially signed the papers. He never signed those papers; he instead obeyed the angel and took Mary as his wife.
Becoming the earthly parents of the Messiah was not easy. Both Joseph and Mary lost their earthly reputations. No doubt they had family and friends turn against them. Later, after they settled in Bethlehem, they had to flee to a foreign country to save their young son’s life. Years later, Mary would watch her son die the most cruel death known to man.
Perhaps it is a good thing God doesn’t show us what we will have to experience in the future. Instead, all he asks of us is that we live each day the way Mary did, with her words on our lips: “Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).