Mary Visits Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56)

Submitted by admin on Mon, 2007-05-21 12:08.

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It appears that Gabriel’s words about Elizabeth prompted Mary to undertake the long trip to Judea without delay, hurrying to see her relative. A day’s journey would have been about 20 miles, and so it may have taken Mary about four days to reach the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth in a city located in the mountainous region of Judea. When Mary entered their home and greeted Elizabeth, the infant in her womb leaped. (Luke 1:39-41) This confirmed the angel Gabriel’s words that John would be filled with holy spirit from his mother’s womb. (Luke 1:15) His joyous leaping, under the apparent impulse of holy spirit, served to acknowledge the superiority of the son to whom Mary would give birth.

Guided by holy spirit, Elizabeth, in a loud voice, pronounced her young relative Mary as blessed among women and the “fruit of her womb” as blessed. “How can I be so favored,” Elizabeth continued, “that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” It had been her unborn baby’s joyous leaping when she heard Mary’s greeting that revealed to Elizabeth that her relative’s son would be her Lord, the Messiah whom all godly Israelites eagerly awaited. Elizabeth acknowledged Mary (unlike her husband Zechariah who had doubted) as having believed and called her fortunate, happy, blessed or in a desirable state of felicity, for everything that God had spoken by means of Gabriel would take place. (Luke 1:41-45)

Mary’s expressions of thanksgiving and praise parallel thoughts in the Psalms and in the words of Samuel’s mother Hannah. (1 Samuel 2:1-10; also see the Notes section for comparison purposes.) “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked upon the lowliness of his slave. For, see! from now on all generations will call me fortunate, for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy [is] his name. And his mercy [is] from generation to generation to those fearing him. He has displayed might with his arm. He has scattered those arrogant in the reasoning of their heart. He has brought down sovereigns from thrones and exalted the lowly. Hungry ones he has filled with good things, and the wealthy he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, having remembered mercy, just as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his seed forever.” (Luke 1:46-55)

Mary’s “soul” or she herself exalted or glorified her God. Her “spirit” or the motivating and energizing force of her inner life was filled with boundless joy on account of God to whom she looked as the savior or deliverer of his people from their distress. Humbly she acknowledged herself as his slave, expressing her appreciation for his having looked upon her with favor. Because of the son to whom she would give birth, people from all generations to come would recognize that she had been granted an exceedingly fortunate, blessed, or happy state. In view of developments involving her yet unborn son, the Mighty One had performed great or incomprehensibly astounding things for her. God’s name or he himself is “holy” or pure in the ultimate sense. Those having reverential regard for him in every generation would experience his mercy or compassionate concern and care.

It appears that Mary discerned that divine power would be prominently in evidence through the son to whom she would give birth and therefore mentioned the powerful working of God’s “arm” or might. Through the exercise of divine power, a tremendous reversal would take place. Those haughty in the thoughts of their hearts or in the reasoning and intentions of their inmost selves would be scattered, as are those who suffer defeat in battle. Rulers would be unseated, whereas the lowly would be exalted. Hungry ones would be fully satisfied, but those who had everything would come to have nothing. God’s people, those whom he recognized as his servant Israel, would experience his mercy in fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham and to his offspring.

For three months, Mary stayed with Elizabeth. As Mary is not referred to as being present immediately after the birth of John, this suggests that she left shortly before that joyous event. Possibly because of being able to join a group of travelers, she departed for her home prior to John’s birth. (Luke 1:56)


The Scriptural record provides no information about Mary’s family. Nothing is said about whether her parents or only her mother or father were still alive and with whom she lived in Nazareth. According to tradition dating from the second century, her mother was Anna, Elizabeth’s sister, and her father was Joachim. On account of the many fantastic elements in accounts like the Protevangelium Jacobi (Protevangelium of James), it is impossible to determine which parts (if any) preserve a reliable tradition. This would include the statement that Mary was sixteen years old at the time she visited Elizabeth.

Considering the possible dangers lone travelers faced, Mary may have traveled in the company of others. It seems less likely that she would have done so by herself, especially since numerous opportunities existed for joining others as they made their way to Jerusalem in Judea. Throughout the course of the year, families from Nazareth and other cities and towns of Galilee would make the long trip to the temple there, to offer the sacrifices prescribed by the law.

The visit with Elizabeth made it possible for Mary to express her joy and faith to someone who best understood her feelings. It also provided her with an opportunity to assist Elizabeth during the more difficult part of her pregnancy.

The parallels in the language of Mary’s expressions and parts of 1 Samuel and Psalms are more apparent when compared with the reading of the Septuagint. For this purpose, the Greek is here provided in transliterated form (followed by an English translation).

1 Samuel 1:11: epiplépses epí tén tapeínosin tés doúles sou (“you would look upon the lowliness of your slave”)

Luke 1:48: epéplepsen epí tén tapeínosin tés doúles sou (“he has looked upon the lowliness of his slave”)

Psalm 111:9 (110:9, LXX): hágion kaí phoberón tó ónoma autoú (“holy and fear-inspiring [is] his name”)

Luke 1:49: hágion tó ónoma autoú (“holy [is] his name”)

Psalm 103:17 (102:17, LXX): tó dé éleos tou kyríou apó toú aiónos kaí héos tou aiónos epí toús phobouménous autón (“but the mercy of the Lord [is] from age to age upon those fearing him”)

Luke 1:50: kaí tó éleos autoú eis geneás kaí geneás toís phobouménous autón (“and his mercy [is] from generation to generation to those fearing him”)

Psalm 89:10 (88:11, LXX): en to brachíoni tés dynámeós sou dieskórpisas toús echthroús sou (“with the arm of your strength, you scattered your enemies”)

Luke 1:51: epoíesen krátos en brachíoni autoú, dieskórpisen hyperephánous dianoía kardías autón (“He has displayed might with his arm. He has scattered those arrogant in the reasoning of their heart.”)

Psalm 107:9 (106:9, LXX): psychén peinósan enéplesen agathón (“hungry souls he has filled with good things”)

Luke 1:53: peinóntas enéplesen agathón (“hungry ones he has filled with good things”)