Somehow the inevitable reading of an account that has likely been read or heard every year of my life was nevertheless fresh on Sunday. The reading was from Luke and covered Gabriel’s appearance to Mary (Luke 1:26-38). Perhaps it is because I have been reading Ruth recently but I particularly noticed Gabriel’s greeting, “Greetings, favoured one, the Lord is with you!” (NET). The reason that reading Ruth has any relevance to this greeting is that the narrative of Ruth reveals a Semitic greeting, “… Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “May the Lord be with you!” They replied, “May the Lord bless you!”” (Ruth 2:4, NET). Semantically, “May the Lord be with you” and “The Lord is with you” barely differ (if you’re that way inclined; the former’s Hebrew is simply “יְהוָה עִמָּכֶם” which the LXX translates as “κυριος μεθ’ ὑμων”, Luke 1 has “ὁ κυριος μετα σου”).
A while ago I posted on another expression that I noticed because idioms are one of the major barriers when trying to understand a language. It’s no use being able to understand the Zulu for “the cat is sleeping in the fireplace” and then offering to get it a blanket when the idiom means that there’s no food (otherwise there would be a fire in the fireplace on which to cook the food). In the case of “The Lord is with you” it’s useful to note that this is a simple greeting. This realisation has a couple of applications:
First, we shouldn’t heap up theological meaning on every occurrence. While it would certainly be useful to ask the significance of the greeting – did surrounding nations have similar greetings or was Israel unique in understanding God as near and did this theology filter into everyday speech? – it is not the point every time we find it. We shouldn’t, therefore, read Mary’s “trouble at the angel’s words” as being the result the sudden revelation of her Lord’s immanence.
Second, we should read in light of it’s actual meaning. When the angel says to Gideon, in Judges 6:12, “The Lord is with you, courageous warrior!” (NET) we should read it as saying, “Good morning, imposing soldier!” Gideon’s response is, then, amusing and a bit cynical in that he doesn’t question his designation as a courageous warrior (even though he is not – and strikingly so); rather, he responds with something like, “You think it’s a good morning? What are you smoking? How is this ruddy morning good when everywhere I look I see disaster”.
The phrase can be found in a number of Pauline epistles (e.g. 2 Tim. 4:22, 2 Thess. 3:16) and he seems to have modified it slightly to “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you” (1 Cor. 16:23, 1 Thess. 5:28, 2 Thess 3:18). 2 Thess 3:16,18 have both of these versions and it seems that Paul may have personally written verses 17 and 18 which means that his scribe would have written v16 and “signed off” and Paul concluded with his own greeting.
In the case of Luke 1:28, Mary’s trouble is not the result of the “hello” but of the idea that she is “one who is favoured” – a recipient of grace – (contra Gideon) it makes sense that she would then wonder what this grace was. In an unrelated note; I suppose that, like Zechariah, the source of her fear would be the sight of Gabriel.
So next time you see “The Lord [is/be] with you” ask yourself what would be different if the passage read “Hi!”.