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Annunciation to Zacharias of the Birth of John the Baptist.
(at Jerusalem. Probably b.c. 6.)
C Luke I. 5–25.
c 5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judæa [a Jewish proselyte, an Idumæan or Edomite by birth, founder of the Herodian family, king of Judæa from b.c. 40 to a.d. 4, made such by the Roman Senate on the recommendation of Mark Antony and Octavius Cæsar], a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course [David divided the priests into twenty-four bodies or courses, each course serving in rotation one week in the temple (I Chron. xxiv. 3–19 ). Of these courses that of Abijah was the eighth] of Abijah: and he had a wife of the daughters of Aaron [The Baptist was of the priestly race by both parents, a family distinction much esteemed among the Jews. He who was thus doubly a priest proclaimed Him who changed the priesthood], and her name was Elisabeth. [She was named after her ancestress Elisheba, the wife of Aaron.] 6 And they were both righteous before God [that is, truly righteous, or righteous in God's judgment, and not in mere appearance—Gen. vii. 1], walking in all the commandments and ordinances [Strictly construed, commandments would refer to moral, and ordinances to ceremonial laws. The two words include all the positive and negative precepts] of the Lord blameless. 7 And they had no child [this fact was a reproach and shame to her, barrenness being considered even a punishment for sin by many], because that Elisabeth was barren [the births of Isaac, Samson, Samuel and the Baptist were all contrary to nature, and were faint foreshadowings of the greater miracle which took place in the birth of our Lord], and they both were now well stricken in years. 8 And it came to pass, 10that while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course [that is, when it came the turn of his course to minister in the temple], 9 according to the custom [there were many duties in the temple service, and the priests in each course daily drew lots for these duties] of the priest's office, his lot was to enter into the temple [not that group of buildings, courts, and enclosures which was all called the temple; but the real sanctuary itself, the small but holy building which took the place of the tabernacle of the wilderness] of the Lord and burn incense. [Made of a mixture of sweet spices. The temple incense was made of stacte, onycha, galbanum, and pure frankincense, in equal parts, beaten very small—Ex. xxx. 7, 8, 34–38.] 10 The whole multitude [the presence of the multitude indicates that it was a sabbath or a feast day] of the people were praying [Incense is a symbol of prayer (Ps. cxli. 1, 2; Rev. viii. 3). Each of the multitude prayed in silence] without [outside the sanctuary, in the temple courts, particularly the court of the women] at the time of incense. [Incense was offered evening and morning (Ex. xxx. 1–8). Probably at 9 A. M. and at 3 P. M. Compare Acts iii. 1. The text favors the idea that Zacharias' vision came in the morning.] 11 And there appeared unto him [one of God's invisible messengers who came visibly—II. Kings vi. 17; Ps. xxxiv. 7] an angel of the Lord [Luke frequently tells of the ministration of angels (ch. i. 26; ii. 9, 13, 21; xii. 8; xv. 10; xvi. 22; xxii. 43; xxiv. 4, 23). They are also often mentioned in the Book of Acts. There had been no appearance of an angel for about four hundred years] standing on the right side [the place of honor and dignity—Acts vii. 56] of the altar of incense. [The altar on which Zacharias was burning incense. It stood in the Holy Place in front of the veil which hung between the holy and the most holy places. It was a small table twenty-two inches in breadth and length and forty-four inches in height. It was made of acacia wood, and overlaid with gold—Ex. xxxvii. 25.] 12 And Zacharias was troubled [as men always are at the sight of heavenly beings 11— Gen. iii. 9, 10; Dan. x. 7–12; Rev. i. 17, 18] when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said unto him, Fear not [These are the first words of the gospel which began at that hour to unfold itself], Zacharias: because thy supplication is heard, and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. [This name means “the Lord is gracious,” or “the Lord is merciful.”] 14 And thou shalt have joy and gladness [thou shalt feel as Abraham did when he named his new-born son Isaac; that is, “Laughter”]; and many [but not all] shall rejoice at his birth. 15 For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord [compare verse 6], and he shall drink no wine nor strong drink. [Strong drink is any other fermented liquor. Wycliffe's version calls it “syder,” and the Anglo-Saxon version calls it “beor,” of which palm wine was the most common kind. As to the temperance of the Baptist, compare the history of Samson (Judg. xiii. 3–5) and the law of the Nazarite—Num. vi. 2–4]; and he shall be filled with the Holy Spirit [the stimulation of the Spirit is elsewhere thus contrasted with alcoholic stimulants— Acts ii. 15–18; Eph. v. 18], even from his mother's womb. [See verse 41.] 16 And many of the children of Israel shall he turn unto the Lord their God. [These words were quoted from Mal. iv. 6, and resumed the thread of prophecy which had been broken nearly four centuries before. Roman rule had brought in the vices and profligacy of Italy and Greece, and the nation needed to turn back to its former godly life.] 17 And he shall go before his face [the face of Messiah, who is also the Lord God—Mal. iii. 1] in the spirit and power of Elijah [And thus in fulfillment of the prophecy that Elijah should come again (Mal. iv. 6; Matt. xvii. 9–13). The Jews still expect Elijah as the forerunner of Messiah. John showed the spirit of Elijah in his ascetic dress and life (II. Kings i. 8; Matt. iii. 4) and in his message of repentance—I. Kings xviii. 21–40], to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children. [“These are the last words of the Old 12Testament, there used by a prophet; here expounded by an angel; there concluding the law; here beginning the gospel.” The phrase may mean: 1. John will restore unity to the families of Israel, now divided into political factions, as Herodians or friends of Rome, and zealots or patriots; and into religious factions, as Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, etc.; or more likely it may mean, 2. That John would restore the broken relationship between the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their degenerate descendants—Isa. xxix. 22, 23; lxiii. 16; John viii. 37–40], and the disobedient to walk in the wisdom of the just; to make ready for the Lord a people prepared for him. [As in the East the “friend,” or go-between, prepares the bride to understand and appreciate her bridegroom—John iii. 28, 29.] 18 And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? [In asking for a sign Zacharias showed his unbelief (Matt. xii. 38, 39 ). His question in the original is in four words. Four faithless words cost him forty weeks of silence.] for I am an old man [So said Abraham (Gen. xvii. 17). The law which retired Levites from service at the age of fifty years (Num. viii. 25, 26) did not apply to priests. They served to extreme old age] , and my wife well stricken in years. 19 And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel [This name means “hero, or mighty one, of God.” Gabriel announced to Daniel the time of Christ's birth and death, and the overthrow and final restoration of the Jewish nation (Dan. vii.-xii.). He also announced the birth of Jesus to Mary (verse 26). The Bible gives the name of but one other angel; viz.: Michael, meaning “Who is like God?” Since Gabriel was the messenger who announced God's merciful and gracious purposes, and Michael the one who executed his decrees and punishments, the Jews had a beautiful saying that “Gabriel flew with two wings, and Michael with only one.” The very ancient book of Enoch (Jude 14) gives us the name of two other archangels; viz.: Uriel, meaning “God is light”; and Raphael, meaning “healer of God”], that stand in the presence of God [Seven angels are 13spoken of as standing in the presence of God (Rev. viii. 2) and may probably be called angels of the presence (Isa. lxiii. 9). But to see the face of God is no doubt accorded to all angels (Matt. xviii. 10). One who stands in the presence of God should be believed by men without approving signs]; and I was sent to speak unto thee, and to bring thee these good tidings. [Our word “gospel” means good tidings.] 20 And, behold, thou shalt be silent [it was a sign; and also a punishment for having sought a sign] and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall come to pass, because thou believedst not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season. 21 And the people were waiting for Zacharias, and they marvelled while he tarried [The Jews considered slow service as irreverent and displeasing to God. The punishment attached to displeasing service made them fearful—Lev. xvi. 13] in the temple. 22 And when he came out, he could not speak unto them [Could not dismiss them with the usual blessing (Num. vi. 23–26). Disbelief is always powerless to bless]: and they perceived [probably by his excited manner] that he had seen a vision [the most vivid and objective of all spiritual phenomena—ch. xxiv. 23; Acts xxvi. 19; II. Cor. xii. 1; Dan. ix. 23] in the temple: and he continued making signs unto them, and remained dumb. 23 And it came to pass, when the days of his ministration [They are said to have lasted from the evening of one Sabbath (Friday at sundown) to the morning of the next. Though doubtless chagrined at the punishment which had come upon him, the old priest remained at his post, and dwelt in the temple until his week was finished] were fulfilled, he departed unto his house. [Some guess that he lived at Hebron, others at Jutta, five miles south of Hebron, others at Ain Karim, four miles west of Jerusalem, but no one knows.] 24 And after these days Elisabeth his wife conceived; and she hid herself [probably through mingled feelings of modesty, humility, devotion, and joy] five months [at the end of which time her seclusion was interrupted by the visit 14of Mary], saying, 25 Thus [graciously and mercifully] hath the Lord done unto me in the days wherein he looked upon me, to take away my reproach [the reproach of being childless—Gen. xxx. 23] among men.
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