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58Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.
The Birth of John the Baptist.
57 Now Elisabeth's full time came that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son. 58 And her neighbours and her cousins heard how the Lord had showed great mercy upon her; and they rejoiced with her. 59 And it came to pass, that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they called him Zacharias, after the name of his father. 60 And his mother answered and said, Not so; but he shall be called John. 61 And they said unto her, There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name. 62 And they made signs to his father, how he would have him called. 63 And he asked for a writing table, and wrote, saying, His name is John. And they marvelled all. 64 And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosed, and he spake, and praised God. 65 And fear came on all that dwelt round about them: and all these sayings were noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judæa. 66 And all they that heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, What manner of child shall this be! And the hand of the Lord was with him.
In these verses, we have,
I. The birth of John Baptist, v. 57. Though he was conceived in the womb by miracle, he continued in the womb according to the ordinary course of nature (so did our Saviour): Elisabeth's full time came, that she should be delivered, and then she brought forth a son. Promised mercies are to be expected when the full time for them is come, and not before.
II. The great joy that was among all the relations of the family, upon this extraordinary occasion (v. 58): Her neighbours and her cousins heard of it; for it would be in every body's mouth, as next to miraculous. Dr. Lightfoot observes that Hebron was inhabited by priests of the family of Aaron, and that those were the cousins here spoken of; but the fields and villages about, by the children of Judah, and that those were the neighbours. Now these here discovered, 1. A pious regard to God. They acknowledged that the Lord had magnified his mercy to her, so the word is. It was a mercy to have her reproach taken away, a mercy to have her family built up, and the more being a family of priests, devoted to God, and employed for him. Many things concurred to make the mercy great—that she had been long barren, was now old, but especially that the child should be great in the sight of the Lord. 2. A friendly regard to Elisabeth. When she rejoiced, they rejoiced with her. We ought to take pleasure in the prosperity of our neighbours and friends, and to be thankful to God for their comforts as for our own.
III. The dispute that was among them concerning the naming him (v. 59): On the eighth day, as God has appointed, they came together, to circumcise the child; it was here, in Hebron, that circumcision was first instituted; and Isaac, who, like John Baptist, was born by promise, was one of the first that was submitted to it, at least the chief eyed in the institution of it. They that rejoiced in the birth of the child came together to the circumcising of him. Note, The greatest comfort we can take in our children is in giving them up to God, and recognizing their covenant-relation to him. The baptism of our children should be more our joy than their birth.
Now it was the custom, when they circumcised their children, to name them, because, when Abram was circumcised God gave him a new name, and called him Abraham; and it is not unfit that they should be left nameless till they are by name given up to God. Now,
1. Some proposed that he should be called by his father's name, Zacharias. We have not any instance in scripture that the child should bear the father's name; but perhaps it was of late come into use among the Jews, at it is with us, and they intended hereby to do honour to the father, who was not likely to have another child.
2. The mother opposed it, and would have called him John; having learned, either by inspiration of the Holy Ghost (as is most probable), or by information in writing from her husband, that God appointed this to be his name (v. 60); He shall be called Johanan—Gracious, because he shall introduce the gospel of Christ, wherein God's grace shines more brightly than ever.
3. The relations objected against that (v. 61): "There is none of thy kindred, none of the relations of thy family, that is called by that name; and therefore, if he may not have his father's name, yet let him have the name of some of his kindred, who will take it as a piece of respect to have such a child of wonders as this named from them." Note, As those that have friends must show themselves friendly, so those that have relations must be obliging to them in all the usual regards that are paid to kindred.
4. They appealed to the father, and would try if they could possibly get to know his mind; for it was his office to name the child, v. 62. They made signs to him, by which it appears that he was deaf as well as dumb; nay, it should seem, mindless of any thing, else one would think they should at first have desired him to write down his child's name, if he had ever communicated any thing by writing since he was struck. However, they would carry the matter as far as they could, and therefore gave him to understand what the dispute was which he only could determine; whereupon he made signs to them to give him a table-book, such as they then used, and with the pencil he wrote these words, His name is John, v. 63. Note, "It shall be so," or, "I would have it so," but "It is so." The matter is determined already; the angel had given him that name. Observe, When Zacharias could not speak, he wrote. When ministers have their mouths stopped, that they cannot preach, yet they may be doing good as long as they have not their hands tied, that they cannot write. Many of the martyrs in prison wrote letters to their friends, which were of great use; blessed Paul himself did so. Zacharias's pitching upon the same name that Elisabeth had chosen was a great surprise to the company: They marvelled all; for they knew not that, though by reason of his deafness and dumbness they could not converse together, yet they were both guided by one and the same Spirit: or perhaps they marvelled that he wrote so distinctly and intelligently, which (the stroke he was under being somewhat like that of a palsy) he had not done before.
5. He thereupon recovered the use of his speech (v. 64): His mouth was opened immediately. The time prefixed for his being silenced was till the day that these blessed things shall be fulfilled (v. 20); not all the things going before concerning John's ministry, but those which relate to his birth and name (v. 13). That time was now expired, whereupon the restraint was taken off, and God gave him the opening of the mouth again, as he did to Ezekiel, ch. iii. 27. Dr. Lightfoot compares this case of Zacharias with that of Moses, Exod. iv. 24-26. Moses, for distrust, is in danger of his life, as Zacharias, for the same fault, is struck dumb; but, upon the circumcision of his child, and recovery of his faith, there, as here, the danger is removed. Infidelity closed his mouth, and now believing opens it again; he believes, therefore he speaks. David lay under guilt from the conception of his child till a few days after its birth; then the Lord takes away his sin: upon his repentance, he shall not die. So here he shall be no longer dumb; his mouth was opened, and he spoke, and praised God. Note, When God opens our lips, our mouths must show forth his praise. As good be without our speech as not use it in praising God; for then our tongue is most our glory when it is employed for God's glory.
6. These things were told all the country over, to the great amazement of all that heard them, v. 65, 66. The sentiments of the people are not to be slighted, but taken notice of. We are here told, (1.) That these sayings were discoursed of, and were the common talk all about the hill-country of Judea. It is a pity but a narrative of them had been drawn up, and published in the world, immediately. (2.) That most people who heard of these things were put into consternation by them: Fear came on all them that dwell round about there. If we have not a good hope, as we ought to have, built upon the gospel, we may expect that the tidings of it will fill us with fear. They believed and trembled, whereas they should have believed and triumphed. (3.) It raised the expectations of people concerning this child, and obliged them to have their eye upon him, to see what he would come to. They laid up these presages in their hearts, treasured them up in mind and memory, as foreseeing they should hereafter have occasion to recollect them. Note, What we hear, that may be of use to us, we should treasure up, that we may be able to bring forth, for the benefit of others, things new and old, and, when things come to perfection, may be able to look back upon the presages thereof, and to say, "It was what we might expect." They said within themselves, and said among themselves, "What manner of child shall this be? What will be the fruit when these are the buds, or rather when the root is out of such a dry ground?" Note, When children are born into the world, it is very uncertain what they will prove; yet sometimes there have been early indications of something great, as in the birth of Moses, Samson, Samuel, and here of John. And we have reason to think that there were some of those living at the time when John began his public ministry who could, and did, remember these things, and relate them to others, which contributed as much as any thing to the great flocking there was after him.
Lastly, It is said, The hand of the Lord was with him; that is, he was taken under the special protection of the Almighty, from his birth, as one designed for something great and considerable, and there were many instances of it. It appeared likewise that the Spirit was at work upon his soul very early. As soon as he began to speak or go, you might perceive something in him very extraordinary. Note, God has ways of operating upon children in their infancy, which we cannot account for. God never made a soul but he knew how to sanctify it.