The Birth of John.
SUMMARY.--Preface. The Announcement to Mary. The Visit of Mary to Elisabeth. The Prophecies of Mary and Elisabeth. The Birth of John. The Prophecy of Zacharias. The Child in the Deserts.
1. Forasmuch as many. Verses 1-4 are an introduction. They explain that already many narratives of Christ had been written, that these were by eye witnesses and ministers of the word, that Luke had made a careful examination of all these sources of information, and thought it good, "having traced all things accurately from the first, to write them out in order." We thus learn that at least as early as twenty-seven years after the death of Christ (see Introduction to Luke) many histories of eye witnesses and ministers had already written, of which only two, Matthew and Mark, have come down to us.
3. Most excellent Theophilus. The name means "A lover of God." He is named in Acts 1:1, but of him nothing more is known.
5. There was in the days of Herod. For Herod, see notes on Matt. 2:1. A priest. Not a chief priest, but one belonging to the courses. Course of Abijah. All the priests were divided into twenty-four courses, or classes. That of Abijah was the eighth course (1 Chron. 24:10); each course took charge of the temple worship in succession, for a week at the time, beginning on a Sabbath. The heads of these twenty-four courses are "the chief priests" so often spoken of in the New Testament. Had a wife of the daughters of Aaron. Elisabeth also was of priestly family.
6. They were both righteous. Almost invariably great men of God are born of parents eminently pious. Augustine, Luther, Wesley, and Campbell are examples.
8. While he executed the priest's office. His course came on duty once in twenty-four weeks, and then he repaired to Jerusalem to remain his week.
9. His lot was to enter into the temple. In the service of the sanctuary nothing was left to accident or to human arrangement. The lot determined who was to perform each separate portion of the sacred service, and especially who was each morning and evening to burn incense before the Lord. To burn incense. Burned on the altar of incense in the Holy Place morning and evening. To burn the incense was an office held so honorable that no one was allowed to perform it twice, since it brought the offering priest nearer the divine presence in the Holy of Holies than any other priestly act, and carried with it the richest blessing from on high, which all ought to have a chance of thus obtaining.
10. Praying without. The incense itself was a symbol of prayer (Psa. 141:2; Rev. 5:8), and when offered by the priest a bell was rung as a signal to the people in the courts without, who all engaged in prayer in deep silence.
11. An angel. His name was Gabriel (verse 19). This is the first messenger of the New Dispensation. The altar of incense. It was of cedar, overlaid with gold (1 Kings 6:20; 1 Chron. 28:18), was a cubit (about two feet) in length and breadth, and two cubits high; it stood in the Holy Place before the veil which separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies.
13. Fear not. This first celestial message at the dawning of the New Testament dispensation is one of cheer. Thy prayer is heard. The childless old priest had prayed for offspring. Shalt call his name John. That is, "the God-given."
15. Shall drink . . . nor strong drink. No kind of intoxicant. Like the Nazarites (Numbers 6).
17. In the spirit and power of Elijah. The likeness of John the Baptist to Elijah strikes us not only in his outward appearance, his clothing and way of living, but in his spirit and character as a preacher of repentance. Turn the hearts of the fathers. These are the last words of the Old Testament, there uttered by a prophet, here expounded by an angel; there concluding the law, and here beginning the gospel (Mal. 4:6). To make ready a people prepared for the Lord. This was his mission, but it was only partially successful. The common people, who heard him gladly, received with gladness the Messiah; the scribes and Pharisees, who rejected the forerunner, rejected also the King.
18. Whereby shall I know this? He wanted a sign.
20. Thou shalt be dumb. His power of speech taken away shall be a sign.
21. The people waited for Zacharias. Those who were praying without waited until the incense offering priest came out and dismissed them with a benediction.
23. To his own house. To his own city and home.
24. Hid herself. Did not go into society, both from delicacy and that she might have more time for devotion.
25. Take away my reproach. To be childless was regarded a great calamity in Israel. Compare Gen. 16:1-3 and 30:1.
26. Was sent to a city of Galilee. Nazareth, the home of Mary. Matthew (1:20) gives an account of this visit, but does not give the angel's name.
27. To a virgin. She was espoused; that is, formally engaged to Joseph, but not yet married. Compare with Matt. 1:18-25.
30-33. Fear not. In the angel's message we have, (1) An assurance, Fear not. (2) A promise, Thou shalt bring forth a son. (3) A command, Thou shalt call his name Jesus. (4) A prophecy, He shall be great, the Son of the Highest, sit on David's throne, reign forever.
39. Arose. In consequence of the angel's words. Went into the hill country. The central plateau of Judea, containing the cities of Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Hebron. Hebron was a Levitical city (Josh. 21:11). Whether the city was Hebron, Juttah, or some other, is only conjecture.
42-45. Blessed art thou among women. The language of Elisabeth, Oriental poetry, is that of an inspired prophet. Mother of my Lord. Jesus, our Lord and Savior.
46-55. Mary said. Mary also is filled with the spirit of prophecy. These two godly women are the first human prophets of the New Testament. Mary's language is in part drawn from the Psalms. This hymn is divisible into three parts: (1) 46-49, recognition of God's strange grace upon her own humble person and character; (2) 50-53, a recognition that it is ever thus that God exalts the humble, and brings low the proud; (3) 54, 55, the result is that humble Israel is now to be exalted according to God's ancient promise to Abraham. My Saviour. Mary, by this word, reckons herself among that which was lost. She obtained salvation, not from herself, but from Jesus.--Bengel. Call me blessed. Pronounce me highly favored, or happy in being the mother of the Messiah. Abraham was blessed in being the father of the faithful; Paul in being the apostle to the Gentiles; Peter in first preaching the gospel to them; but who would think of worshiping or praying to Abraham, Paul, or Peter? To Abraham. See Gen. 12:1-3; 13:14-17; 15:5. And his seed. The seed promised to Abraham was to be a blessing to the whole world. Compare the hymn of Hannah (1 Sam. 2:1).
59. On the eighth day. On the eighth day male Jewish children were circumcised and named (Gen. 17:12). The kinsmen present called the child after his father's name, a common Jewish custom, but Elisabeth protested that his name should be John, that given by the angel. The matter was referred to the father.
63. Asked for a writing tablet. Because his tongue had not yet been loosed.
65. Fear came on all . . . them. On account of so many marvels.
67. Zacharias . . . prophesied. As soon as his tongue was loosed it was employed to praise the Lord. All inspired utterances are called prophesying, but in the present case there was clearly inspired prediction. In the Old Testament spirit the kingdom of Christ in the future is described in general terms.
68-75. A horn of salvation. An allusion to the Savior. The horn was a symbol of power. As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets. "Of him have all the prophets borne witness." "The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." "The whole volume of Scripture did prophesy of him. He was the sum and scope of all their predictions. He was Abraham's promised seed, Abraham's Isaac, Jacob's Shiloh, Moses' Great Prophet, Esaias' Immanuel, Ezekiel's Shepherd, Daniel's Holy One, Zechariah's Branch, Malachi's Angel; all of them predictions to foretell his coming. All their types and ceremonies pointed at him. He was Abel's Sacrifice, Noah's Dove, Abraham's First Fruits, Aaron's Rod, the Israelites' Rock, the Patriarchs' Manna, David's Tabernacle, Solomon's Temple; all these prefigured his incarnation. They were the folds and swathing of the this babe Jesus."--Bishop Brownrig. From our enemies. The priest is, at the same time the patriot in the best sense of the term, deeply moved by the sight of Roman tyranny. The oath. This oath is recorded in Gen. 22:16, 17. It was an oath in which God swore by himself, because he could swear by no greater (Heb. 6:13, 14), that he would surely bless Abraham and his posterity; that promise was now to be entirely fulfilled by the coming of the Messiah.
76-79. Thou, child. The babe, John, before him. Prophet of the Highest. "The Most High" is an epithet in Scripture only of the supreme God. By the remission of their sins. The remainder of the sentence embodies the gospel in brief. It promises (1) salvation, (2) not merely political but spiritual. A remission of, and redemption from sin, (3) indicates the cause--the divine mercy (compare John 3:16; Eph. 2:4-8), and (4) promises the result, "like to eyes in darkness, and peace to feet straying in paths of sorrow and perplexity." The dayspring. Christ is the morning light, the rising sun (Mal. 4:2). The gospel brings light with it (John 3:19).
80. The child . . . was in the deserts. In the wilderness of Judea where he could have ample opportunity for communion with God.