The Handmaid of the Lord, the intercessor of salvation history!

image of Our_lady_as_queen_of_heaven_and_earthThere is a pattern in scripture that repeats itself all throughout salvation history.  One that I think will help shed some light upon the Mother of Jesus, serving as the “Handmaid of the Lord.”  You may have noticed this before, especially if you have gone through the covenant mediators in salvation history. When a key figure commits grave sin, he allows that sin into his home and it always has devastating affects upon his family.  Case in point… when Adam chose to save his skin, and forego his and his brides souls’, by cowering to the threats of the ancient serpent and partaking in the forbidden fruit, he opened wide the door of destruction and allowed his sin in to wreck havoc upon his marriage, and his children (c.f. Gen.3).

In his book, Lord Have Mercy, pages 86-87, Dr. Scott Hahn pointed out that the price we pay for committing sin is the sin itself.  Said in another way, “be careful what you ask for… you just might get it!”  If you want to be cut off from the source of life, of grace and perfect contentment… fine, have it your way! Adam was cast from the garden sanctuary because he ruptured the perfect communion he enjoyed with God, and therefore fell from grace, and was now living in sin, and could no longer abide with the “all holy” perfection, that is the Lord, for “nothing unclean can enter it” (Rev. 21:27), or else they may have been consumed by the fire of God’s love (c.f. 1 Cor. 3:10-17)!  The beginning of the fourth chapter of Genesis stands as a landmark, a witness to salvation history about the devastating effects sin has on mankind, upon nature itself and why we should strive to avoid it at all costs.

 Genesis 4:7–9 (RSVCE)

7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is couching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

8 Cain said to Abel his brother, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. 9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”

 Like his father before him, Cain was also cast out to wander in the valley of “wandering”, marked with a sign so that the family would NOT fall upon him and kill him in retaliation for his crime.  The Lord was acting as Cain’s protector, standing in the gap between him and the family in order to save his life, lest he die in his sins.  Unfortunately, we have no record of Cain ever repenting of his sins and turning his heart back to God, seeking to restore the broken relationship with both God and the family.

Too often we see excommunication as an act of harshness, however, this is not at all what is intended. Rather, Adam, Cain, and all who refuse to repent, and subsist in their sinfulness, are cast out in hopes that they will one day come to repentance and reunification with the family (c.f. 1 Cor. 5:1-5). As we know, God desires ALL men to be saved (c.f. 1 Ti 2:4), therefore, the Lord has made it the purpose of salvation history to restore the ruptured relationship mankind has with Him, to redeem the sinner, the murder of the Lord’s innocent son. Imagine the day when the son’s of the Father will live in peace with one another, when the one, standing between brothers can once again rejoice.

As the story of salvation history unfolds, we will begin to see the pattern of the sons’ of the Father always at odds with one another. For instance, the evil line of Cain is in stark contrast to the righteous line of Seth, and will eventually corrupt Seth’s line, leading to the destruction of the human race in the great flood (C.f. Gen 4-8).  The sons’ of Noah will forever be at odds with each other, thanks to the sin of Ham who tried to usurp the right of the “first-born” son from his brother Shem (c.f. Gen 9).  The sons of Abraham too are at war, even today, thanks to the sinful choices of Abraham and Sarah taking matters into their own hands and fathering Ishmael with Hagar (c.f. Gen 16:4). The sons of Isaac didn’t miss a beat when they too followed the pattern set before them, to lie, cheat and threaten to kill each other, vying for position, power, and the love of their father (c.f. Gen 27). The sons’ of Jacob/Israel do not disappoint, giving us plenty to look at, selling their brother Joseph in to slavery (c.f. Gen 37), attempting to usurp their father’s authority as tribal leader (c.f. Gen 35:22), drunkenness, perversity and the like (c.f. Gen 38). Even the sons’ of Israel brought up from slavery in Egypt rebelled against God, practiced perverse sexual relations, and fought against each other almost perpetually (c.f. Ex 32).  If it were not for a few “women” who acted as intercessor between these sons’, the story of God’s family could have turned out vastly different.

Let’s fast forward to the time of the great King David. Being the only man in the entire bible to be called a “man after God’s own heart” (c.f. 1 Sam 13:13-14) it would be easy to think David was sinless, however, nothing could be further form the truth.  Among his many sins, David made the mistake of following in the parental footsteps of Eli and Samuel the prophets (c.f. 1 Sam 2:12 & 1 Sam. 8), which proved devastating for the House of the King of Israel.

After David committed the sin of adultery with Bathsheba, and then trying to cover it up by lying to, plotting and murdering her husband Uriah, David opened wide the door to sin and corruption among his many sons and daughters (c.f. 2 Sam 11 & 13).  Like a bad soap opera on Telemundo, wickedness ensues in the hearts of the children of the great King.

In a nut shell, David’s son Amnon lusted for his half sister Tamar, who was an upright young virgin.  After Amnon takes her by force, he mocks her and has her put out in shame. Tamar’s brother Absalom brings the case to their father David who, like Eli and Samuel, did NOTHING to discipline his sinful son. After two years of pleading for justice, Absalom takes matters into his own hands, hatches a plan and has Amnon killed.  Fleeing the country, Absalom runs to a neighboring Kingdom in hopes of saving his own life from the “justice” of his father.  David grieved the loss of his sons’, and mourned “… for his son day after day… And the spirit of the king longed to go forth to Absalom” (2 Sam 13-37-39).

Years pass, and still there is no resolution, no justice. Still David does not do what a good King must when it comes to his children, his subjects, to restore communion in the family.  It would take the scheming of Joab, David’s General to push him to take the next step.

 2 Samuel 14:1–8 (RSVCE)

 1 Now Joab the son of Zeruiah perceived that the king’s heart went out to Absalom. 2 And Joab sent to Tekoa, and fetched from there a wise woman, and said to her, “Pretend to be a mourner, and put on mourning garments; do not anoint yourself with oil, but behave like a woman who has been mourning many days for the dead; 3 and go to the king, and speak thus to him.” So Joab put the words in her mouth.

4 When the woman of Tekoa came to the king, she fell on her face to the ground, and did obeisance, and said, “Help, O king.” 5 And the king said to her, “What is your trouble?” She answered, “Alas, I am a widow; my husband is dead. 6And your handmaid had two sons, and they quarreled with one another in the field; there was no one to part them, and one struck the other and killed him. 7 And now the whole family has risen against your handmaid, and they say, ‘Give up the man who struck his brother, that we may kill him for the life of his brother whom he slew’; and so they would destroy the heir also. Thus they would quench my coal which is left, and leave to my husband neither name nor remnant upon the face of the earth.”

8 Then the king said to the woman, “Go to your house, and I will give orders concerning you.”

The woman goes on to make her story a bit more personal to David, prompting him to ask if Joab had put her up to it.  If you continue reading through 2 Samuel you will not be disappointed with the page turning drama that ravages David’s family. Absalom will be reunited with his father however, he will also plot to steal away his Kingdom, and his father’s concubines, which will result in his murder, while hanging from a tree, by the very General who tried to bring him back. Yeah, pretty much that’s not good!

Let’s focus rather on this woman and the story of her two sons’.  I find this account, even if she was making up the story to David, very fascinating for a number of reasons. Just like in Genesis 4, one son kills the other. Just like in Genesis 4, the surviving son is cast out and then chased by the family for vengeance, and, just like in Genesis 4 there is someone to intercede on his behalf in order to save his life. What is new is that instead of the Lord God acting in the role of the protector and mediator, it’s their mother, a “woman” who describes herself as the “handmaid” of the King.  This “woman” devoted herself totally to David as a HIS handmaid, which signified a complete gift of self.

That should automatically send your mind soaring towards another “woman”, a mother, who would also claim the same title. But, first… imagine having the guts to stand up, to intercede, for a murder when the entire family is set against you, lusting for his blood?  What courage this would take to look past the emotion of retaliation, from a fallen nature, in order to seek true justice… reconciliation with the family and communion with the Lord once again.  Could this be a key to understanding the role of the handmaid? Has the Lord laid the groundwork for a future “woman” to act as intercessor between the sons’?

I can think of another mother who also found herself as an intercessor to the King on behalf of two brothers? Recall the time when Bathsheba ascended to the throne at the right hand of the King of Israel, her son Solomon, and became the “Gebirah” (literally means the “great lady” from the Hebrew), the Queen Mother in the Kingdom of David.

1 Kings 2:19–20 (RSVCE)

19 So Bathsheba went to King Solomon, to speak to him on behalf of Adonijah. And the king rose to meet her, and bowed down to her; then he sat on his throne, and had a seat brought for the king’s mother; and she sat on his right. 20 Then she said, “I have one small request to make of you; do not refuse me.” And the king said to her, “Make your request, my mother; for I will not refuse you.”

As we have already seen, the infighting among the sons’ of David was all to common, and reached a fever pitch by the time Solomon was anointed as King of Israel in 1 Kings 1.  Adonijah, Solomon’s brother, was no fool, by asking Bathsheba to intercede for him to the King he stood a very good chance of getting what he was after. The only problem with his plan was… well, WHAT he was after… namely that Solomon give to him Abishag to be his wife. Why is that an issue? It was an issue because Abishag just happened to be the last concubine of their father King David, and as the old saying goes, “he who has the King’s wives is the King!”  Since Solomon was crowned King, Adonijah had only one play he could make if he wanted any shot at the throne, he had to have Bathsheba, the Lord’s handmaid (c.f. Ps 86:14-17), the official intercessor/mediator of the people of Israel to the King, make the pitch on his behalf for David’s concubine.  Unfortunately for Adonijah, the plan backfired and Solomon, being the wise King, knew exactly what he was up to, so he had him executed. “There will be no more uprisings in the family, thank you very much!”

From the moment King Solomon bowed to Bathsheba, and she sat on HER throne, until God sent His prophet Jeremiah to warn of the coming exile into Babylon, some four hundred years later, there would be a Queen in the Kingdom of David (c.f. Jer. 13:18,20).  It was, and still is, the longest Dynasty in human history bar none, and the Queen was, and still is, the mother of the King… never his wife. Amazingly, this “woman”, the Kings’ mother would always act as intercessor on behalf of the people of the Kingdom, standing in the gap, if you will, of the brothers at war with one another (See Queen Mother: A Biblical Theology of Mary’s Queenship by Dr. Edward Sri for greater detail). She was the “handmaid” of the Lord, totally dedicated to the mission of her son, who was the “anointed” of Israel… said another way… the “messiah” of Israel, and when she was deported along with her son to Babylon (c.f. 2 Kings 24:12-15), the people would long for another “woman” to come, a virgin, a young woman who would give birth to the Son of David once again (c.f. Is 7:14, Is 9:6)!

So we can begin to see the framework being laid out, before our very eyes, for the role of a “woman” who, as the “handmaid”, is completely dedicated to the King of Kings, and the Lord of Lords, to be His instrument of peace and reconciliation between the sons and daughters of God the Father. This “woman” would stand in the gap as intercessor to the Father on behalf of His children. She would be the Queen in the Kingdom of her son… His “Gebirah”. This is the pattern that the Old Testament has laid out before us. Quoting from St. Augustine, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 129, tells us, “the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.”[1] Therefore, as the Fathers of the Church have done for two millennia, we will take this pattern as our guide in interpreting the New Testament in order to seek out the NEW “woman” and “Handmaid of the Lord”.

Luke 1:38 (RSVCE)

38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

As I have pointed out in Son of God, Son of David, Bathsheba is a type of Mary.  The same is true of the old woman whom Joab sent to convince David to recall his son to court (there were still many other OT types for Mary not discussed here, such as Eve, Sarah Rebekah, and others). Where as Bathsheba is only a foreshadowing, Mary is the reality. Mary would truly be the “handmaid” of the Lord, the young virgin, the Queen Mother who will sit at the right hand of the King of Kings, in Glory, interceding for the sons and daughters of the NEW Israel in order that the brothers will be reunited once again and communion will be restored between God and man!

Lumen Gentium –  par. 56:

Thus Mary, a daughter of Adam, consenting to the divine Word, became the mother of Jesus, the one and only Mediator. Embracing God’s salvific will with a full heart and impeded by no sin, she devoted herself totally as a handmaid of the Lord to the person and work of her Son, under Him and with Him, by the grace of almighty God, serving the mystery of redemption. Rightly therefore the holy Fathers see her as used by God not merely in a passive way, but as freely cooperating in the work of human salvation through faith and obedience.[2]

You might be asking why I have placed “woman” in quotations all through out this article; clearly I’m trying to make a point.  The use of the term “woman” is a typological link, a clue to help us better understand who key figures in scripture are, and the role they play.  For instance, St. Paul clearly identities Adam as a type of Jesus in Romans 5, and 1 Cor. 15:45, calling Jesus the “Last Adam” and giving us the insight on how he used the Old to interpret the New.

Just as Adam called Eve “woman” at their wedding (c.f. Genesis 2:23), so to does the LAST Adam refer to the NEW Eve, Mary His mother, as “woman” at the wedding feast of Cana in John’s Gospel.  It is not a mistake, nor a coincidence, that you find the fulfillments of both Adam and Eve also depicted at a wedding. This is John’s way of telling us that a NEW creation has come about.  Want more? Read John from the beginning… notice the creation motif right from the start, notice the “and the next day” language (Jn1: 29,35,43 & 2:1), and count the days… amazingly they culminate on the seventh day at the wedding feast in Cana, just as it did for Adam and Eve in Genesis 2.

John 2:1–6 (RSVCE)

1 On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; 2 Jesus also was invited to the marriage, with his disciples. 3 When the wine failed, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now six stone jars were standing there, for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.

So Mary, the mother of the King, the Son of David and the Son of God (c.f. 2 Sam. 7:14), the Queen Mother, is the “woman” that has truly brought life into the world, Jesus Christ. Notice what Mary is doing here, she is interceding on behalf of the wedding party to her son the King, “They have no wine!” Despite popular anti-Catholic rhetoric, Jesus is NOT here rebuking Mary with His response to her; rather to the contrary, he is showing us the gravity of the situation. In essence, He is saying, “this will set us on the road to the cross of Calvary… are you sure?”

Imagine that for a moment… you’re the mother of Jesus, standing there, looking your only Son in the eyes, knowing that HE is the Messiah, God taken on flesh from YOUR womb, and your asking Him to begin his trek to the cross where he will be beaten, mocked, tortured, nailed to the tree and slowly die by drowning, gasping for air as his lungs fill with fluids. What mother would want her son to die in such a way? What mother, knowing all of this, would help kick-start the process?

No ordinary mother I assure you! It would take a “woman” who had no attachments to sin that would cloud her reason, her ability to make the correct decision, otherwise she might be tempted to save her Son and sacrifice mankind instead. Thus she would need to be immaculately conceived, created free from the stain of sin, to have enmity with Satan. She would need to be THE “full of grace!”  It would take a “woman” who was so totally dedicated to the mission of her Son, which was to save mankind from their sins through HIS death on the cross, resurrection and ascension into heaven, that even though a sword should pierce her heart also (c.f. Luke 2:35), she could stand at the foot of the tree, tempted by Satan to cry out for her son, and yet say nothing as they raised Him up in order to draw all men to Himself (c.f. John 12).  Thus she would need to be the “Handmaid of the Lord!” St. John would give us an even greater insight into Mary’s role as intercessor, as “Handmaid of the Lord” in his Revelation.

Revelation 12:13–17 (RSVCE)

13 And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had borne the male child. 14 But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. 15 The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with the flood. 16 But the earth came to the help of the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river which the dragon had poured from his mouth. 17 Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus.

You get the sense that salvation history is coming to a pinnacle moment here in Revelation 12. If you read carefully you will see creation, Eden, Annunciation, nativity, Calvary and more, all rolled up into one passage! John tells us that Mary is the Ark of the NEW covenant (c.f. Rev. 11:19), who is a Queen clothed in the glory of God so that her soul will magnify the Lord, like the moon reflects the light of the sun, piercing through the darkness of the night. Mary here is the fulfillment of Genesis 3:15, complete enmity between her and the serpent… having no original sin, and no personal sin… having been protected by the Grace of God, which she alone enjoys the “fullness” of. Notice too that once the ancient serpent, the dragon (keep that image in mind the next time you read Genesis 3) fails to defeat her; he makes war on HER offspring. Who are they? They are the ones who KEEP the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus. Have no doubt; Jesus has given Mary to YOU to be YOUR mother too!

Yes, it would take a “woman”, like the first “woman” Eve, who was created without sin and dedicated as the “helpmate” to Adam, yet one who will, unlike Eve, endure the test in order to save mankind and restore communion once again among the sons’ and daughters’ of God.  Knowing all of this our Lord gave her to us, to be our Mother that she might intercede for us (c.f. John 19:27), to mediate the graces her Son earned for us all on the Cross. Just as Solomon could not refuse the request of his mother, so too can Jesus not refuse the request of Mary… thus turning the water into wine as His first sign in John’s Gospel (c.f. John 2:7).

To be the “Handmaid of the Lord”, is to be of one heart and mind with the Lord.  If the Lord desires all men to be saved, and saving them meant your Son’s death on a cross in order to restore communion in the family, redeem the exiled son, and reenter the Garden paradise to eat of the fruit of the tree of life once again (the Holy eucharist), then so be it. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)![3]

About the Author:

Joe McClane – The Catholic Hack! – is the director and events coordinator for Fullness of Truth Catholic Evangelization Ministries, as well as an a Catholic New Media producer & Evangelist. He is married to his lovely wife Michelle and they have five children. The Catholic Hack | Catholic Apologetics, Theology & More!

[1] Catholic Church. (2000). Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Ed.) (36). Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference.

[2] Catholic Church. (2011). Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: Lumen Gentium. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

[3] Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britian). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition, translated from the original tongues, being the version set forth A.D. 1611, Old and New Testament revised A.D. 1881-1885 and A.D. 1901 (Apocrypha revised A.D. 1894), compared with the most ancient authories and revised A.D. 1952 (Apocrypha revised A.D. 1957) (Lk 1:38). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.