“His mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation.”
I would love to be a fly on the wall in their humble home in Nazareth, just to hear their mealtime conversation. I imagine Joseph telling how he had to drop his work in order to carry a Roman soldier’s pack for a mile. I can imagine Mary expressing unease about a sick neighbor, and young Jesus talking excitedly about watching birds of the air soar. But I think their conversations would have kept coming back to mercy, which was to be a dominant theme running through their lives.
We are not surprised when Jesus grew up, left home, and made mercy foundational to His teaching: “Be merciful,” He exclaimed, “just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). When religious leaders denounced Jesus for favoring tax-collectors and sinners by eating with them, He pointed them to mercy: “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners” (Referencing Hosea 6:6 in Matthew 9:13).
It is not surprising, then, that Bible commentators see mercy as the dominant, overarching theme of Mary’s jubilant song. Mary sings of God’s mercy both in today’s words, and at the end of her song: “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy” (1:54). Through all the generations God shows mercy.
If we had eavesdropped on their mealtime conversation we would have heard Joseph, Mary, and Jesus talking in Hebrew, the sacred language for talking about the things of God. The Hebrew word most often translated “mercy” in our Bibles is the word hesed. There is no one English word that conveys the full meaning of hesed, but it means “loyal, steadfast, or faithful love based on a promise, agreement, or covenant” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Walvoord, Zuck). Hesed expresses the promised, covenanted, tender mercy of God flowing from His throne to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to Ruth, David, Hannah, and onward. Or, as Mary, rightly says, “from generation to generation”.
Mary sees the favor of God flowing over her as one instance of His mercy flowing over the generations. She understands her life as framed by the mercy of God bestowed time and again on the undeserving. Mary knows that only the unearned, unmerited mercy of God can account for the inestimable favor shown to her.
- Think of an instance in your life when you experienced mercy, God’s mercy or mercy from another person. What emotions and thoughts emerge as you think about receiving such mercy?
- Do you have a hard time receiving God’s mercy? If so, why do you think that might be?
- Ponder the words of Jeremiah about God’s mercy: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23).