“My Soul Magnifies the Lord”
Why are so many songs recorded at the beginning of the gospel of Luke? R.C. Sproul outlines the significance of Mary’s “Magnificat” and other songs that appear in Scripture.
Now, one of the most important features of the gospel of Luke is that Luke does contain some interesting observations about the infancy of Jesus. Luke tells us at the beginning of his gospel that he undertook a program of research by seeking out the eyewitnesses, and tradition has it that he interviewed Mary and learned much of the early years of Jesus from Jesus’ mother. That’s why Mary figures so prominently in the birth narratives of the gospel according to Luke. But the other aspect of these infancy narratives that I find particularly fascinating is the inclusion of songs. We have the song of Zacharias, which is called the Benedictus. We have the song of Mary, which is called the Magnificat. We have the song, for example, of Simeon, which has been called the Nunc Dimittis. The titles of these songs derive from the first words of the songs as they appeared in the old Vulgate version of the Bible, the Latin version of the Bible.
For example, the Magnificat begins, “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” and when that goes over into Latin, that’s where you get that term. But there is a significance to this. If we remember the Old Testament history, there are those moments, particularly in the early days of Israel’s history, where we also encounter some magnificent songs. There’s the song of Moses that celebrates the Exodus and the song of Miriam. There’s the song of Deborah in the book of Judges. And the reason why these songs are important is that in the Old Testament period, when God visited His people to bring them an extremely important moment of deliverance or of redemption, it was customary for the people to record this visitation of God’s mercy by composing a song that would then celebrate it. And we see no place in Scripture where there is a greater concentration of such victory songs or deliverance songs as we find recorded in Luke’s gospel that surround the supreme visitation of God, by which He visits His people in the person of His own Son.
It’s interesting to me, too, that in the book of Revelation—and we look in terms of the future of God’s people—the promise is given that, on that day, God will give His people a new song. And again, the significance of that is that that song will celebrate the ultimate victory of God and His ultimate act of deliverance.