[Note: This is the “Old” version of the Grace Commentary on Luke. It will be updated to the new version soon.]
Luke 1:39-45 reveal the confirmation that both Mary and Elizabeth received about the divine origins and purposes for their sons. They receive this confirmation through the testimony of two sources that would be surprising for Luke’s first century readers: an unborn child and a woman. Such unconventional methods would cause the reader to wonder what sort of life and ministry these two unborn children will lead.
1:39-40. After Gabriel revealed to Mary that though she was a virgin, she would bear a son, shearose…and went into the hill country…to a city of Judah. She went to visit Zacharias and…Elizabeth. It is not known what city they lived in, but the hill country was in the vicinity of Jerusalem, about 70 miles away. It would have been very rare (even improper) for a woman of Mary’s age to travel alone so far from home (Malina 2003:229). “Until she entered the bridal chamber, a girl lived in seclusion in her home” (Green 1997:94).
It appears that Mary left Nazareth without informing Joseph of her conception. Undoubtedly, Mary knew that the punishment for being pregnant out of wedlock was death by stoning. If it was discovered that the groom-to-be was also guilty, he could be stoned as well. If he was not guilty, he would still incur intense shame from the betrayal of his betrothed. Possibly, Mary fled Nazareth not only to protect herself, but also Joseph, from ridicule, shame, and possible death.
Also, and though we cannot be certain about motives, Mary may have gone to visit Elizabeth to help her through the final three months of her pregnancy. These months are difficult for any woman, let alone one who is well advanced in years (1:18). Mary’s presence was undoubtedly welcome, especially since Zacharias was mute (and possibly deaf as well, cf. 1:62).
Upon arriving where Elizabeth lived, Mary greeted Elizabeth. It was proper custom for Mary to greet Elizabeth first, since Elizabeth was Mary’s superior in every visible way. “She is the daughter of Aaron, the wife of a priest, the elder of these two women” (Green 1997:94, 96). And yet, Elizabeth reverses this custom, and elevates Mary instead.
1:41. When Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary…the babe leaped in her womb. Luke revealed to his readers earlier the promise of Gabriel that John would be filled with the Spirit from within the womb (1:15). Being filled with the Spirit is always for the purpose of accomplishing God’s will and purposes. Here, though the babe cannot walk or talk, when he hears the sound of Mary’s voice, he leaped in Elizabeth’s womb. This action points to the typical Israelite belief that God knows His prophets even before they are born (Malina 2003:229). The greatness of John as a prophet is shown here, since he begins his prophetic work from within the womb (Green 1997:95). Bock points to a rabbinic parallel where Hebrew it is reported that the unborn children of Hebrew mothers sang songs from within the womb at the parting of the Red Sea during the exodus from Egypt (1994:135).
Elizabeth is also filled with the Holy Spirit. This filling gave to Elizabeth the revelation that Mary is also pregnant, and that the babe which Mary bore is the Lord (Bock 1994:136). Luke records this in verses 42-45.
1:42-44. Under the influence of the Spirit, Elizabeth first pronounces a blessing upon Mary, and uponthe fruit or child, in her womb. Under inspiration, she also recognizes that the babe which Mary carries is her Lord. By referring to the unborn child as my Lord, Elizabeth states her submission to Him (Green 1997:96). As with 1:32, 35, when Elizabeth calls Jesus her “Lord,” she is not making a statement about the child’s divinity. Rather, she recognizes Him as her superior (Bock 1994:137).
With the blessing of Mary, and the greater blessing of her unborn child, Mary is raised to a position of prominence above both Zacharias and Elizabeth, and the unborn Jesus is raised to a position of honor above all (cf. Green 1997:51).
1:45. Elizabeth also recognizes, by the filling of the Spirit, that Mary had believed the message which had been spoken to her. Furthermore, she affirms that there would be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord. In this way, the fears of Mary for her safety and that of her child are calmed. If God has said that she and Elizabeth would miraculously conceive, and both of them have, and then God confirmed His promises through the confirmation of a unborn baby, then God would also work miraculously if necessary to protect Mary and the baby she carried.