Isaiah and the Magnificat – an Excerpt from Old Testament Theology

 The following is an excerpt from Old Testament Theology, by Walter Moberly.

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Cover ArtHe [God] has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and has [exalted] the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1:51–53)

A truth about God has become evident through its impinging upon the everyday world, in this case in God’s choice of the (peasant?) girl Mary to be the mother of a child who is to be the sovereign Lord over God’s people. The perception of this reality, however, is not straightforward and requires discernment.

The unsympathetic and the literalist might insist that unless and until Caesar and his minions are removed from their current positions of power, the language means little. Since the emperor Augustus was still well ensconced in Rome, as also was King Herod in Judea, and Roman imperial power experienced no notable blips around the time of Jesus’s birth, then our text could be a pious but vacuous expression of fantasy—at best an opiate for the marginal and miserable.

Yet to take Mary’s Song seriously means to rethink the nature of human greatness and significance in the light of God, and to recognize that what counts is not necessarily found in the centers of political power, whose significance is thereby re-envisaged.

Mary’s Song can be used heuristically to direct our attention to a recurrent yet underappreciated theme in Isaiah: exaltation and abasement. The book of Isaiah in all its parts has a focus on the city of Jerusalem, capital of the kingdom of Judah, and on its inhabitants. In relation to the wider geopolitical world of the Levant in the Iron Age, Jerusalem was a small and relatively insignificant entity, especially when set alongside the historic civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia. However, from the perspective of Israel’s canonical writers, Jerusalem has a significance quite other than that which would be apparent in political, military, or economic terms.

This significance depends upon God. For Jerusalem is a place that YHWH has chosen, where Solomon’s temple on Mount Zion mediates YHWH’s presence, and where YHWH’s chosen house of David rules—all of which is presupposed by Isaiah. Thus within the world of Isaiah, and the world of the Hebrew Bible, Jerusalem represents importance and greatness.

©2013 by R.W.L. Moberly. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

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