Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 31: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
51. He hath done might 55 with his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the thought of their heart. 52. He hath cast down the nobles from their thrones, and hath exalted mean persons. 53. He hath filled the hungry with good things, and hath sent the rich away empty. 54. He hath lifed up his servant Israel, so as to be mindful of his mercy, 55. As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.
51. He hath done might This means, “he hath wrought powerfully.” The arm of God is contrasted with every other aid: as in Isaiah, “I looked, and there was none to help,” (Isa 63:5;) “therefore,” says he elsewhere,
“his arm brought salvation unto him;
and his righteousness, it sustained him,” (Isa 59:16.)
Mary therefore means: God rested satisfied with his own power, employed no companions in the work, called none to afford him aid. What immediately follows about the proud may be supposed to be added for one of two reasons: either because the proud gain nothing by endeavoring, like the giants of old, to oppose God; or, because God does not display the power of his arm for salvation, except in the case of the humble, while the proud, who arrogate much to themselves, are thrown down To this relates the exhortation of Peter,
“Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God,”
He hath scattered 56 the proud in the thought of their heart 57 This expression is worthy of notice: for as their pride and ambition are outrageous, as their covetousness is insatiable, they pile up their deliberations to form an immense heap, and, to say all in a single word, they build the tower of Babel, (Ge 11:9.) Not satisfied with having made one or another foolish attempt beyond their strength, or with their former schemes of mad presumption, they still add to their amount. When God has for a time looked down from heaven, in silent mockery, on their splendid preparations, he unexpectedly scatters the whole mass: just as when a building is overturned, and its parts, which had formerly been bound together by a strong and firm union, are widely scattered in every direction.
52. He hath cast down the nobles This translation has been adopted, for the sake of avoiding ambiguity: for though the Greek word δυνάσται is derived from δύναμις, power, it denotes governors and eminent rulers. 58 Many persons think that δυνάστας is a participle. They are said by Mary to be cast down from their thrones, that obscure and unknown persons may be elevated in their room; and so she ascribes to the providence and judgments of God what ungodly men can the game of Fortune. 59 Let us understand, that she does not ascribe to God a despotic power,—as if men were tossed and thrown up and down like balls by a tyrannical authority,—but a just government, founded on the best reasons, though they frequently escape our notice. God does not delight in changes, or elevate in mockery to a lofty station, those whom he has determined immediately to throw down. 60 It is rather the depravity of men that overturns the state of things, because nobody acknowledges that the disposal of every one is placed in His will and power.
Those who occupy a higher station than others are not only chargeable with disdainfully and cruelly insulting their neighbors, but act in a daring manner towards Him to whom they owe their elevation. To instruct us by facts, that whatever is lofty and elevated in the world is subject to God, and that the whole world is governed by his dominion, some are exalted to high honor, while others either come down in a gradual manner, or else fall headlong from their thrones. Such is the cause and object of the changes which is assigned by David, “He poureth contempt upon princes,” (Ps 107:39;) and by Daniel,
“He changeth the times and the seasons:
he removeth kings, and setteth up kings,” (Da 2:21.)
We see, indeed, how the princes of the world grow extravagantly insolent, indulge in luxury, swell with pride, and are intoxicated with the sweets of prosperity. If the Lord cannot tolerate such ingratitude, we need not be surprised.
The usual consequence is, that those whom God has raised to a high estate do not occupy it long. Again, the dazzling luster of kings and princes so overpowers the multitude, that there are few who consider that there is a God above. But if princes brought a scepter with them from the womb, and if the stability of their thrones were perpetual, all acknowledgment of God and of his providence would immediately disappear. When the Lord raises mean persons to exalted rank, he triumphs over the pride of the world, and at the same time encourages simplicity and modesty in his own people.
Thus, when Mary says, that it is God who casteth down nobles from their thrones, and exalteth mean persons, she teaches us, that the world does not move and revolve by a blind impulse of Fortune, but that all the revolutions observed in it are brought about by the Providence of God, and that those judgments, which appear to us to disturb and overthrow the entire framework of soclety, are regulated by God with unerring justice. This is confirmed by the following verse, He hath filled the hungry with good things, and hath sent the rich away empty: for hence we infer that it is not in themselves, but for a good reason, that God takes pleasure in these changes. It is because the great, and rich, and powerful, lifted up by their abundance, ascribe all the praise to themselves, and leave nothing to God. We ought therefore to be scrupulously on our guard against being carried away by prosperity, and against a vain satisfaction of the flesh, lest God suddenly deprive us of what we enjoy. To such godly persons as feel poverty and almost famine, and lift up their cry to God, no small consolation is afforded by this doctrine, that he filleth the hungry with good things
54. He hath lifted up his servant Israel In this last clause the general statements are applied by Mary to the present occasion. The meaning is, God has now granted the salvation which he had formerly promised to the holy fathers. And first, the verb ἀντιλαμζάνεσθαι, to lift up, contains an elegant metaphor: 61 for the state of the nation was so fallen, that its entire restoration could not be expected on ordinary principles. And then God is said to have lifted up Israel, because he stretched out his hand, and lifted him up when lying prostrate. Religion had been polluted in innumerable ways. The public instruction retained almost nothing pure. The government of the Church was in the greatest confusion, and breathed nothing but shocking barbarity. The order of civil society no longer subsisted. The great body of the people were torn like wild beasts by the Romans and Herod. So much the more glorious was the restoration, which a state of affairs so desperate did not allow them to expect. Παιδὸς may here be taken either for child or for servant: but the latter signification is more appropriate. Israel is called, in this as in many other places, the servant of God, because he had been received into the family of God.
So as to be mindful Mary assigns the reason why the nation, when verging to ruin, was received by God; or rather, why God lifted it up when already fallen. It was to give an illustration of his mercy in its preservation. She expressly mentions that God had remembered his mercy, which he might appear in some sort to have forgotten, when he permitted his people to be so fearfully distressed and afflicted. It is customary to ascribe affections to God, as men conclude from the event itself, that he is offended with them, or that he is reconciled. Now, as the human mind forms no conception of the divine mercy, except so far as it is presented and declared in his own word, Mary directs her own attention and that of others to the promises, 62 and shows that, in the accomplishment of them, God has been true and faithful. In this sense, Scripture makes frequent mention of God’s mercy and truth, (Mic 7:20;) because we shall never be convinced of his fatherly kindness toward us, unless his word, by which he hath bound himself to us, be present to our recollection, and unless it occupy, as it were, an interterm is here, as at Ac 20:35, and often in the classical writers, used metaphorically in the sense of to protect, support.” — Bloomfield. mediate position between us, to link the goodness of God with our own individual salvation. By these words Mary shows, that the covenant which God had made with the fathers was of free grace; for she traces the salvation promised in it to the fountain of unmixed mercy Hence too we infer, that she was well acquainted with the doctrine of Scripture. The expectation of the Messiah was at that time, indeed, very general, but few had their faith established on so pure a knowledge of Scripture.
55. To Abraham and to his seed If you read these words in close connection with the close of the former verse, there appears to be an improper change of the case. Instead of τῶ ᾿Αβραὰμ καὶ τῶ σπέρματι, it ought to have been (πρὸς)τὸν ᾿Αβραὰμ καὶ τὸ σπέρμα,, as he spake TO our fathers, TO Abraham and TO his seed 63 But, in my opinion, there is no such close connection. Mary does not merely explain who the Fathers were to whom God spake, but extends the power and result of the promises to all his posterity, provided they are the true seed of Abraham. Hence it follows, that the matter now in hand is, the solemn covenant which had been made, in a peculiar manner, with Abraham and his descendants. For other promises, which had been given to Adam, and Noah, and others, referred indiscriminately to all nations. As many of the children of Abraham, according to the flesh, have been cut off by their unbelief, and have been thrown out as degenerate from the family of Abraham, so we, who were strangers, are admitted to it by faith, and regarded as the true seed of Abraham. Let us therefore hold that, in consequence of God having formerly spoken to the fathers, the grace offered to them belongs equally to their posterity; and also, that the adoption has been extended to all nations, so that those, who were not by nature children of Abraham, may be his spiritual seed
“Il a besongne puissament par son bras.” — “He hath wrought powerfully by his arm.”
διεσχόρπισεν,, he utterly discomfits, a metaphor derived from putting to flight a defeated enemy. The word not unfrequently occurs in the Septuagint, but very rarely in the classical writers; though one example is adduced by Kuinoel from Aelian, Var. Hist. 13:46: τοὺς μέν διεσχόζπισεν, οὓς, (read τοὺς) δὲ ἀπέχτειενε.” — Bloomfield's Greek Testament.
“La ou nous avons rendu, Il a dissipe, le mot Grec signifie proprement, Il a escarte ou espars.”
“Le mot Grec (δυνάσται) vient de Puissance, comme si on disoit, Les puissans: mais il signifie les gouverneurs et gras seigneurs.” — “The Greek word comes from power, as if she had said, ‘The Mighty:' but it means governors and great lords.”
“Ludam Fortunae;” — “le jeu ou la roue de la Fortune;” — “the game or wheel of Fortune.”
“Il ne faut pas penser que pour se jouer des hommes il les esleve amsi haut, et puis les abaisse.” — “We must not imagine that, to amuse himself with men, he raises them so high, and then sinks them low.”
“ ᾿Αντιλαμβάνεσθαι, denotes properly to lay hold of any thing, or person, by the hand, in order to support it when it is likely to fall; but the
“Marie se propose les promesses, et nous ramene tous a la consideration d'icelles.” — “Mary presents to herself the promises, and leads us all to the consideration of them.”
Without attempting to make clear to the English reader the nature of this difficulty, which a Greek scholar will readily enough comprehend, it may suffice to say that the words, as he spake to our fathers, should be read as a parenthesis, and the words now under consideration will then be connected in the following manner: So as to be mindful (or, in remembrance) of his mercy to Abraham, and to his seed, for ever. — Ed.