Simeon’s foretaste of peace – Luke 2:26-31

Posted: July 2, 2012 by J in Bible, Luke Commentary

Simeon provides us with an insight into how the devout old covenant believer thought the consolation of Israel would come about: he was waiting for the coming of the Messiah.

It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.

In receiving this promise, Simeon stands as a representative Israelite, in a sense symbolising the nation. Israel is in ruins, scattered and exiled for six hundred years. It looks as if the nation is well and truly finished. But the Spirit has revealed through the prophets that Israel will not finally perish but instead be visited and restored by God’s Messiah.

The welcome Simeon gives to the child also represents the nation. He cradles the child in his arms with delight. His song, ‘Now you release your servant in/into peace’, may or may not refer to his own impending death. But either way, what is notable is that Simeon employs the Jubilee imagery and vocabulary of a master releasing his slave (luw, doulos – cf. e.g. Leviticus 25:44; Psalm 146:7; Isaiah 58:6). His prayer takes on a symbolic significance which may be missed on first reading. For in the prophets, Israel is the Lord’s servant (doulos, pais – e.g. Isaiah 48:20; 49:3), awaiting release from captivity. We have already been reminded of this usage in Mary’s song (1:54). And so here at Jesus’ presentation the attentive reader hears the annoucement: finally Yahweh has come to bring the long-awaited release to his servant, Israel. In this moment considered “the climax of the Lukan infancy narrative”[1] as we see Simeon “released into shalom,” we get a foretaste of Isaianic Jubilee for the nation (cf. Luke 2:14).

This theme of release from captivity has by now been established as core for the expectations Luke sets up for his story.

At this point things take an unexpected turn…

Tomorrow: those pesky nations

[1] Tannehill 1996, 71

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