Over the Christmas period, I will be posting videos exploring biblical echoes and symmetries in the stories of the nativity in the gospels. In this second video I discuss the connections between Luke’s gospel and the beginning of 1 Samuel.
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Welcome back. I hope you had a wonderful Christmas Day yesterday with friends and family, and that the celebrations were memorable. Today, St. Stephen’s Day—or Boxing Day, or the second day of Christmas, whatever you call it—I’m going to be continuing my series in the echoes and the symmetries of the Biblical narrative surrounding the Nativity.
There are a number of nativity narratives that we have and various connections with the Old Testament and elsewhere in the New. Today, I’m going to be continuing from yesterday’s podcast, where I explored the connections between two nativities within the story of Luke: the first nativity of Christ’s birth and his incarnation, and the second nativity of his death and resurrection—his rebirth from the grave.
I’m going to be exploring a different connection—one that particularly takes us back to the Old Testament and to certain themes that are at play within the New. These themes are seen in the connection between 1 Samuel and the beginning of Luke’s Gospel. Now, if you read the beginning of 1 Samuel and you paid attention, a number of the themes within that text are very familiar and meet us again at the beginning of Luke’s gospel.
There’s a woman who’s barren, who’s not giving birth: Elizabeth in the case of Luke and, in the case of the Old Testament, Hannah. There are several other themes. There is the priest who loses perception. Eli is going blind, and Zechariah is struck dumb—another connection. We see further connections in the setting of the story. The setting is in the Temple—the Temple and a promise of a child given in the Temple. This is an interesting setting. The characters involved: an unfaithful priest, or a priest lacking perception, and a woman who struggles in prayer. Again, similar themes.
The beginning of Luke’s gospel focuses upon two key women, upon Mary and Elizabeth. And here we see the leader of the people in their worship is not a man with great spiritual perception in his answer to the angel; in the Old Testament, again, we see a similar situation. We have a similar response: Mary’s song—the Magnificat—and then the prayer of Hannah. These are very similar prayers or songs. As you read through them, you’ll see a number of connections between the statements within them.
Further things to notice: there is a character that appears at the presentation of Jesus in the Temple, Anna, who has been a widow, and she is 84 years of age—seven times twelve, a perfect multiplication of the number of Israel. Anna and Hannah are connected characters.
What other connections can we recognize? The way that the story is told—it echoes certain of the ways in which characters like Samuel are described. Samuel is described in his growth at a couple of points. And those descriptions should be quite reminiscent. “And the child Samuel grew in stature and in favor both with the Lord and men.” A similar description is found in 3:19, “So Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him, and let none of his words fall to the ground.”
We see very similar things within the story of Luke. The description of John the Baptist, “So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts until the day of his manifestation to Israel.” And then, later on, concerning Jesus: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and men.” And earlier on: “And the child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.” In both these cases, then, we see a child who is the response to prayer. We see a woman praying in the Temple: Hannah and Anna. We see a priest who lacks perception in some respect. We see a barren woman whose womb is opened. And we see something of the deeper picture of Samuel start to surface.
Now, why Samuel? Why this connection between these two characters? Well, Samuel was the prophet that established the kingdom. And so the connection between Samuel and the story of John the Baptist should not surprise us. John the Baptist is a new Samuel. And in certain respects, Jesus himself has similarities to Samuel, as we see later on within the story of Luke, where there are the signs of the kingdom, and Christ declaring the start of this new kingdom in a similar way to the way that Samuel described the establishment of the kingdom and set apart Saul. There’s more going on here, and that connection, I think, helps us to see with greater clarity the significance of this character of the new David: the one who’s born in David’s city, the child from Bethlehem who would inherit the throne of his father, David.
And so, we have the prophet, the ‘Samuel’ who’s going to establish this kingdom, who grows in wisdom and knowledge, and in stature before God and men, who lives in the wilderness, and who’s preparing the way. And when the new David comes on the scene, he will be the one that leads. He is the one who will anoint this new David. And so, the anointing of the ‘David’ occurs just before Jesus goes into the wilderness, forty days tempted by Satan, just as after the anointing of David by Samuel Goliath stood against Israel for forty days and then was defeated by David. So, there are similar themes.
Elsewhere within the story of Samuel, we see further connections, connections often pointed out by Catholic apologists. We see, for instance, that David brings the Ark of God into Jerusalem, asking who he is that the Ark of God should come to him. We have him leaping and dancing before the Ark. We have the Ark resting in the house of Obed-edom for three months. And all these different themes help us to see part of the significance of what is taking place in Christ coming to the womb of Mary, and then Mary going to the house of Elizabeth. The hill country of Judea, where this all occurs, is also a significant site.
John the Baptist leaps in his mother’s womb, just as David leaped before the Ark. Now, these can be used to support certain Marian themes within Catholic or Orthodox thought. But just because people are using them in this way does not mean that we should not recognize these connections. They are definitely there. And those connections are significant—Christ is coming in the womb of Mary. Christ has come as the Spirit has overshadowed Mary. And there is this Ark theme. Mary is carrying this child, who will be the one who will deliver his people. And then, as David leapt before the Ark being brought into Jerusalem, so John the Baptist in his mother’s womb leaps before the child Jesus, who is brought before him.
So, we see a number of themes being connected here. Jesus is, in some respects, like Samuel. John the Baptist is also, in some respects, like Samuel. We often think about typology as creating one-to-one matches. It is rather more complicated than that. It is one of the reasons why I prefer the analogy of music, because there are often many things at play. Just as at some times and in some respects Jesus is like Samuel, so in some respects Mary is like Hannah. She is the one who sings Hannah’s prayer. She is also the one who is blessed and favored. But then, we also see that Elizabeth is like Hannah in other respects: she is the one who gives birth to the prophet who will establish the kingdom, who will lead the way—who will anoint the one who will establish the kingdom. She is the one who has her womb opened. Her womb opened, as she was once barren. Mary isn’t barren, she’s a virgin. And there are similar themes there, but there are some differences as well.
Again, it is significant to notice that these stories begin with women struggling in birth; this is a common theme within the Old Testament at key junctures within history, whether that’s the start of the exodus, or the start of the kingdom. The story begins with women struggling in birth.
And it is not an accident that here, again, at the beginning of the gospel, we should find similar themes coming to the surface. As we see this connection between Jesus and John the Baptist, and between David and Samuel, and all these themes that are all play, we can see more clearly how Jesus is the Son of David. He is not merely the son of David by genetics, by descent. He is also the Son of David as the one who lives out the pattern of David’s life. He is the one who fulfills the types and the shadows that we see within the story of David. He is the one who will walk where David walked and fulfill what David started. And as we see these particular connections, it will help us to read the Gospel better. We read the beginning of the Gospel, and we have the sense that we have heard this story before. There’s something familiar about this. These characters are not entirely novel to us. And we recognize something is going on, but we may not quite be able to put our finger on it. And that familiarity with the story is often a result of these specific sorts of parallels, these symmetries, these types, and these echoes.
As we look more closely, and we trace the lines of these, we’ll be able to understand a bit better what’s going on. There are many more ways in which this will be fleshed out, and I’ll flesh out some of this within the next few days.
But for a start, that is something we need to notice. It is something that heralds a change, a turning of the tide, that something is going to change, that the birth of this child is—in embryo—the change in Israel’s fortunes. We see this within the story of Hannah. Now, Hannah’s response is not just to think about her rival wife and how’s been vindicated in that relationship, or of how her reproach is being taken away, as Elizabeth talks about. There is that. There is that more intimate scale of the drama of that person’s life. But then, that is related to the great drama of Israel: that Israel is going to be delivered, that the rich, and the haughty, and the lofty are going to be brought low; and the poor, and the downtrodden, those who are being mistreated, are going to be raised up. There’s going to be a turning of the tables and the birth of these children herald that.
And so, as the birth of Samuel heralded something new, so we see this almost bifurcation of this symbolism of Samuel, in those figures of Elizabeth, and Mary, John the Baptist, and Jesus, and these themes starting to percolate. And as we explore those themes, I think we’ll begin to see that something is afoot, that all these signs of God at work are being played out again. These are familiar to us if we’ve read the Old Testament carefully. And here, we see them being played out on a bigger scale. He’s not just going to save Israel. He will be the savior of all mankind. He’s not just going to be the one who brings about the kingdom; he’s the one who’s going to bring about the liberation of all flesh from the Fall. He’s the one who comes not just as the king—in the case of David—but as the one who’s the Lord, the Lord of all, the one who created all things, and the one who will redeem all things.
And so, as we look through this story, I believe it gives us a deeper sense of what God is doing at Christmastime. We’ll get into some further themes tomorrow, but I hope this has been helpful. And Lord-willing, I’ll see you again soon.
God bless and enjoy your day.