MARY HIGHLY FAVORED: “BLESSED ARE YOU AMONG WOMEN!” (1)

NAZARETH

 

She was given the opportunity to be the mother of Messiah—the Son of the Most High. She accepted without question, filled with wonder, in humble awe of being chosen.

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In reading between the lines in the initial Gospel references to the mother of our Lord, we happen upon facts otherwise escaping our notice, primarily, her humble origin. We already know her hometown was not the greatest of places, as none other than one of the twelve, Nathanael Bar Tholmai (Bartholomew) articulated,

         “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” [1]

The rustic community is never mentioned in any of the Old Testament writings, meaning it had yet to exist then, suffered utmost insignificance, or was known by a different name, one of which might have been “white town” or a variation, named after the ready supply of limestone rocks in the area. Nestled among the lower hills of the Nazareth Range in the ancient tribal land of Zebulun, the city lay about halfway between the seas—the great Mediterranean on the west where sailing ships launched for far-off lands, and to the east, the indigenous, often mysterious Sea of Galilee, loved freshwater fishery of the locals.

From the little we know, Mary was likely born is this little village by the cliffs in circa 18 BC. This was during the early years of Augustus, who became the first Roman emperor in 27 BC, and the local reign of the ruthless client-king Herod the Great who had gained power a decade earlier. How she or her family arrived in the area is lost to history. Though Nazareth was within the small area originally allotted to the Tribe of Zebulun (the tenth son of Jacob and sixth born to Leah), Mary was actually a distant descendent of King David of the ruling line of Judah. Her connection to the latter tribe is somewhat problematic for a Galilean from the north due to her clear connection to relatives in the territory of Judea south of Jerusalem. The unknown story of her family’s transplantation is an intriguing one.

We know from the later annual pilgrimages made by the holy family to Jerusalem for the feasts that young Mary likely also made such trips as a child growing up, probably as part of small caravans. She was thus familiar with the territory and probably looked forward to such opportunities to see the great city and visit family. Journeying from the north in Galilee, one would traverse the disparaged Samaria, sandwiched between Galilee and Judea, and venture through the ancient tribal areas of Issachar, Manasseh, and Ephraim in the process, and lastly through the allotment of Benjamin on the approach to Yerushalayim which was located on the southern edge of his tribal land.

The eastern border between the two famous territories of Benjamin and Judah actually runs north and south along the Kidron Valley. The Kidron divides the city of Jerusalem in Benjamin’s territory to the west from the Mount of Olives in Judah’s territory to the east. The southern border between the tribes is divided by the valley of Hinnom which was immediately due south of the ancient city. Beyond these two natural demarcation lines was the fatherland of Judah and the ancestral land of King David to which Mary and her family sojourned frequently. It was also the ancestral homeland of her new husband Joseph, the strong but tender carpenter, chosen also as she was, and suited well for the calling.

AN ANGELIC VISITATION

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. [Luke 1:26-27]

Luke makes it clear in his definitive account that Mary was a virgin when the angel Gabriel revealed to her the plan of God which would soon go into effect upon her consent. She was betrothed to the carpenter, meaning the marriage was not yet fully contracted, and both were honorable and chaste. It is often not acknowledged that young Mary had a choice regarding the Lord’s plan for her life. We all have a choice, and for everyone there is a plan. Notwithstanding the discipline required to live and work for the Lord according to His will and not our own, any other plan created and chosen by a person is always inferior to His. Mary understood this. It is why she replied to Gabriel with no hesitation in her heart:

And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible with God.”

And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. [Luke 1:28-38] [2] 

Mary’s use of the word “bondslave” is not without import. It is from the Greek doulos and is defined accordingly as a female slave without any ownership rights of her own. This word, also translated as bond-servant, is used throughout the New Testament denoting the pure servanthood and dedication to the Master by real believers. The Hebrew equivalent for a female servant is shiphchah and has an ancient etymology dating to the book of Genesis. Though we often fail to perceive, in these brief Scriptural renderings, the full connotation and significance of the choice she made, Mary knew exactly what she was doing by deciding in the affirmative. She understood the gravity of the situation, the ramifications thereof, and that it was a lifelong commitment.

But there is more. Mary alluded to her current state of life before the angelic visitation as thoroughly humble and insignificant. We see this first in her initial reaction to Gabriel’s greeting when he referred to her as “favored one” and said the Lord was with her: But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. She was also afraid, probably for the same reasons you or I would be startled at the appearance of an angel. It was more than this, however. She was concerned about what it meant for her life and, in those first few seconds, that she was in no way worthy of such an astounding visitation and calling.

Why did she feel this way? There is something else here that Luke’s narrative hints at which he does not delve into, possibly because he knew his audience was aware of whatever particulars were involved with Mary and the circumstances of her humble life.

In Part 2, I will continue delving into such lesser-known particulars. We will look closer at Mary’s upbringing, family, and momentous visit to her elderly but expecting relative Elizabeth, also a chosen woman of the Lord who found much grace in His sight.

© 2019 by RJ Dawson. All Rights Reserved. [To Be Continued]


[1] John 1:46  

[2] Unless otherwise noted all Scriptures are taken from the New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Posted on December 16, 2022, in Teaching and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. It is a story that never grows stale with the retelling.

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  2. I’m glad I read this after writing and posting my blog today. It does concern Mary but not nearly as technical. I did enjoy the read.

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  3. Do not be afraid, he said to Mary. I have a question RJ, my husband was having a conversation with his father the other day. His father said he just had a revelation about the statement, fear of the Lord. That he must be afraid of him to receive wisdom. Husband said to his father, ” are you saying I have to be afraid of you to be able to love you?” The conversation went on until it was becoming more like an argument where neither one was understanding what the other one was saying. What is fear the lord to you? I asked husband to think for a minute about what fear is to him about our Father. Not to think of what he has read on the internet or other interpretations. When I think of fear of our Father, I fear losing His love, I fear not being able to hear Him. I fear not being with Him. It is something very strong for me, that which I do not feel towards anything in front of me on this earth. Does that make sense. I don’t fear mankind, I don’t fear the government, I don’t fear things of this earth. It is what frees my spirit from the bonds of man.

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    • Thank you Sandra. To answer your question, fearing the Lord in general means to give Him the utmost reverence, respect, and honor to the greatest possible degree. This is not just my opinion though. There is only one meaning for this term. The only way to know such things is to either do a deep dive on Hebrew and Greek word, phrase, and idiom definitions and meanings or have a teacher who does.

      While it is true that actual fear does play a role in this, in that we are speaking of the great Lord God of all Creation who created everything and if one is thinking and acting correctly one cannot help but have such great respect for God that one’s approach toward Him can be fearful, as it was in so many instances regarding Biblical figures, it is not a fear based on something negative or that He may harm us because the opposite is true. It is because He is so Powerful and Great. It is because He is so Pure, and Holy, and Perfect. It is because He dwells in great light and is Great Light. Having the utmost reverence, respect, and honor to the greatest possible degree for Him is the only correct, proper, and sane attitude and response anyone should have toward God.

      In order to bridge this massive chasm, though, between the Great Holy God and low sinful humanity, God had to become one of us. He had to become a human being. He chose to do this. It was always in His plan. It is the best way to create communication between Him and us. It is why the Lord Jesus said, “If you’ve seen Me you’ve seen the Father.” Jesus is God. He is the Father. We can thus relate to God through Him and by Him. God came down to our level. He made Himself humble and meek so we could better relate to Him. He did it out of great Love so we could be reconciled to Him.

      But this does not mean that we change our approach to the Lord Jesus and honor Him less. The Lord Jesus must therefore receive the same utmost reverence, respect, and honor to the greatest possible degree in the same way that such people like Abraham or Moses honored God, and yes, were even afraid to a certain extent. We can see this in those OT passages in which they approached and talked to God. We also see it in the New Testament when people honored the Lord Jesus correctly. The transfiguration account is a great example.

      It would be most beneficial to you to study the actual word “fear” as it is used in this context in the Bible. There is a free online program you can use that you may be aware of called the Blue Letter Bible. This program will give you the definition of any Biblical word such as “fear” in both the OT Hebrew and NT Greek. It is a relatively simple program and easy to use. In this way you can get the original meanings and go as deep as you may want. I suggest starting by using the term “fear God.” Just go to the search box on the main page and enter the word or phrase and a Bible version. It will take you to a list of verses. Then go to the “Tools” tab on the left for any individual word and it will give you all the information you need. You can find it here: https://www.blueletterbible.org .

      Thanks again Sandra. Be Blessed

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