Young Mary Served in the Temple?

Dwight is leading us in a rediscovery of things about Mary (Hebrew, Miriam), from the birth narratives of Yeshua, that commend her to twenty-first-century disciples of Jesus as a role model and a mentor. ~ James Whitman, JC Studies

  • First, Miriam was marked for favor and service to the LORD.

  • Second, Miriam was noted for her humility and her servant's heart.

Third, let us commend Miriam because she was a student of the Torah and hid the scriptures in her heart. Remember the second-century text that I mentioned earlier which scholars refer to as the Protoevangelium of James? It is by no means a dependable source in many ways, but it seems to reflect some traditions that are possible and reasonable. The first was the suggestion that Miriam grew up in Jerusalem. Another is that on her fourth birthday, she was dedicated to the service of the LORD at the temple in Jerusalem. Orthodox Jewish scholar was a contributor to the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research. Dr. Safrai noted that there does appear to be evidence that young girls served various functions in the Jerusalem temple assisting the priests, and Miriam may have been such a girl. When they reach the age of 12 or 13, they were considered too old to serve and would return to their homes. One of the benefits of helping this way in the temple was that these young girls were taught the Hebrew scriptures, the Torah—which may give us a clue as to how it is that Miriam is so conversant in the sacred texts. First of all, notice what happens in Luke 1:39 and following. Miriam visits her Aunt Elizabeth who according to tradition lived in Ein Karem. "In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, 'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.'” I love this story first of all because it shows the Holy Spirit is still active in the Land of Israel. As another example, after the birth of Jesus Mary takes her son to the temple—in obedience to God's Torah—and encounters a prophet and a prophetess. It shows the Holy Spirit is at work here long before the day of Pentecost which too many Christians think is only when the Holy Spirit began to work in the world. Second, I love this story because what was John's mission? To bear witness to Jesus. I suspect this is the first witness that John gives to Jesus while he is still in the womb. When Mary comes and greets Elizabeth, John leaps for joy in the womb because this is the one for whom he is going to prepare the way. The sages of Israel had remarkable views infants in the womb. They said infants in the womb could sing; that they joined in the singing at the exodus from Egypt. It is evident from her response to Elizabeth's divine confirmation, her Magnificat, that Miriam is a serious student of the Torah, she has God's Word hidden in her heart. Look carefully at Luke 1:46-55, it is broken down into ten verses in our English Bibles. In those ten verses, Miriam alludes to at least 13 verses from the Hebrew Bible. Almost every expression is a reference back to a text that she had memorized and meditated upon. She knows the scriptures, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, when she breaks forth in praise, she calls to mind those scriptures. I do not have time to go through all of the references in detail but suffice it to say they come from books as diverse as Genesis, Deuteronomy, Isaiah, and Zephaniah. They especially come from the Psalms: 34:3, 69:31, 89:11, 103:17, and 111:4. My point is, this little Jewish girl is rattling off the scriptures in the power of the Holy Spirit because the scriptures were in her, even as the Word of God became conceived in her. We need to have the Bible in us like Miriam because out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth will speak.

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