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68

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,

for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.

69

He has raised up a mighty savior for us

in the house of his servant David,

70

as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,

71

that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.

72

Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,

and has remembered his holy covenant,

73

the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,

to grant us 74that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,

might serve him without fear, 75in holiness and righteousness

before him all our days.

76

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;

for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,

77

to give knowledge of salvation to his people

by the forgiveness of their sins.

78

By the tender mercy of our God,

the dawn from on high will break upon us,

79

to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,

to guide our feet into the way of peace.”


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68. Blessed be the Lord God Zacharias commences with thanksgiving, and in the raptures of the prophetic spirit describes the fulfillment of the redemption formerly promised in Christ, on which the safety and prosperity of the church depended. The reason why the Lord, to whose government the whole world is subject, is here called the God of Israel, will more fully appear from what follows, that to the seed of Abraham, in a peculiar manner, the Redeemer had been promised. Since, therefore, God had deposited with one nation only his covenant, of which Zacharias was about to speak, he properly mentions the name of that nation, for which the grace of salvation was especially, or at all events in the first instance, designed.

The word ἐπεσκέψατο, he hath visited, contains an implied contrast: for the face of God had been turned away for a time from the unhappy children of Abraham. To such a depth of calamity had they sunk, and with such a mass of distresses were they overwhelmed, that no one entertained the thought that the eye of God was upon them. This visitation of God, which Zacharias mentions, is declared to be the cause and origin of redemption. The statement may be resolved in this manner. God looked upon (ἐπεσκέψατο) his people, that he might redeem them Now, as those whom God redeems must be prisoners, and as this redemption is spiritual in its nature, we conclude from this passage, that even the holy fathers were made free from the yoke of sin and the tyranny of death, only through the grace of Christ; for it is said that Christ was sent as a Redeemer to the holy and elect people of God. But it will be objected, if redemption was brought by Christ at that time when he appeared clothed in flesh, it follows, that those believers who died before he came into the world were “all their lifetime” slaves of sin and death: which would be highly absurd. I reply, the power and efficacy of that redemption, which was once exhibited in Christ, have been the same in all ages.

69. He hath raised up the horn of salvation That is, saving power:7171     “C'est a dire, une vertu et puissance pleine de salut.” — “That is, a power and might full of salvation for, when the throne of David was cast down, and the people scattered, the hope of salvation had to all appearance perished. Zacharias alludes to the predictions of the prophets, which hold out that a sudden revival would take place, when the state of affairs should have become melancholy and desperate. This mode of expression is borrowed from the passage,

“There will I make the horn of David to bud: I have ordained a lamp for mine anointed,” (Psalm 132:17.)

But if it is only in Christ that God has put forth his power to save us, we are not at liberty to depart from that method, if we desire to obtain salvation from God. Let it be also observed, that this horn brings salvation to believers, but terror to the ungodly, whom it scatters, or bruises and lays prostrate.

Of his servant David He is so denominated, not only because, like any one of the godly, he worshipped God, but for this other reason, that he was his chosen servant to rule and save his people, and thus to represent, along with his successors, the person and office of Christ. Though there remained among the Jews, at that time, no trace of a kingdom, Zacharias, resting on the promises of God, does not hesitate to call David the servant of God, in whom God gave an example of the salvation which was to come.7272     “Specimen futurae salutis;” — “pource que Dieu l'avoit dresse pour figure et tesmoignage du salut a venir;” — “because God had set him up for a figure and proof of the salvation to come.” Now that the throne of Christ is erected amongst us, that thence he may govern us, it follows that he is actually appointed to us the author of salvation.

70. As he spake That the salvation which is said to have been brought by Christ may not be thought doubtful on the score of novelty, he adduces as witnesses all the Prophets, who, though they were raised up at different times, yet with one consent teach, that salvation is to be expected from Christ alone. Nor was it the sole design of Zacharias to celebrate the truth and faithfulness of God, in performing and fulfilling what he formerly promised. His object rather was to draw the attention of believers to the ancient predictions, that they might embrace, with greater certainty and cheerfulness, the salvation offered to them, of which the Prophets from the beginning had testified. When Christ comes forth adorned,7373     “Ornatus;” — “revestu et garni d'excellens tesmoignages de tous les Prophetes;” — “clothed and adorned with excellent testimonies of all the Prophets.” with the testimonies of all the Prophets, our faith in him rests on a truly solid foundation.

He calls them holy prophets, to secure for their words greater authority and reverence. They were not inconsiderable or ordinary witnesses, but were of the first rank,7474     “Classicos testes.” This is a fine allusion to the Roman division into classes, (mentioned by Livy, 1:43,) from the first of which classes, as carrying greater weight and respectability, “testes,” witnesses were selected for signing Testaments, — a department of Conveyancing, which all civilized nations have guarded by the most careful provisions, and in which authenticity is peculiarly and indispensably necessary. Calvin's vernacular brings out, though with less elegance, the meaning in which classicos testes is here used, — “bons, suffisans, et sans reproche;” — “good, sufficient, and without reproach.” — Ed. and furnished with a public commission, having been separated from the common people, for that purpose, by divine authority. To inquire minutely how each of the prophets gave testimony to Christ, would lead us into a long dissertation. Let it suffice for the present to say, that they all uniformly make the hope of the people, that God would be gracious to them, to rest entirely on that covenant between God and them which was founded on Christ, and thus speak plainly enough of the future redemption, which was manifested in Christ. To this purpose are many striking passages, which contain no dark prophecies respecting Christ, but point him out, as it were, with the finger. But our chief attention is due to the signature of the divine covenant; for he that neglects this will never understand any thing in the prophets: as the Jews wander wretchedly7575     “Misere vagantur.” — “Les Juifs ne font que tracasser et se tormenter sans profit toute leur vie;” — “the Jews do but vex and tease themselves without advantage all their life.” in reading the Scripture, in consequence of giving their whole study to words, and wandering from the main design.

71. Salvation from our enemies Zacharias explains more clearly the power and office of Christ. And certainly it would be of little or no advantage to learn that Christ was given to us, unless we also knew what he bestows. For this reason he states more fully the purpose for which the horn of salvation was raised up: that believers may obtain salvation from their enemies Unquestionably, Zacharias was well aware, that the principal war of the church of God is not with flesh and blood, but with Satan and all his armament, by which he labors to accomplish our everlasting ruin. Though the Church is also attacked by outward foes, and is delivered from them by Christ, yet, as the kingdom of Christ is spiritual, it is chiefly to Satan, the prince of this world, and all his legions, that the present discourse relates. Our attention is also directed to the miserable condition of men out of Christ, lying prostrate under the tyranny of the devil: otherwise, out of his hand, out of his power, Christ would not deliver his own people. This passage reminds us that, so long as the Church continues her pilgrimage in the world, she lives amongst her foes, and would be exposed to their violence, if Christ were not always at hand to grant assistance. But such is the inestimable grace of Christ, that, though we are surrounded on every side by enemies, we enjoy a sure and undoubted salvation. The mode of expression may seem harsh, salvation from our enemies; but the meaning is obvious. No machinations or power, no wiles, no attacks will prevent our being delivered from them and saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvatlon,” (Isaiah 45:17.)

72. To perform the mercy Zacharias again points out the fountain from which redemption flowed, the mercy and gracious covenant of God. He assigns the reason why God was pleased to save his people. It was because, being mindful of his promise, he displayed his mercy. He is said to have remembrance of his covenant, because there might be some appearance of forgetfulness during that long delay, in which he allowed his people to languish under the weight of very heavy calamities. We must carefully attend to this order. First, God was moved by pure mercy to make a covenant with the fathers. Secondly, He has linked the salvation of men with his own word.7676     “Il a lie le salut des hommes avec sa parole, comme dependant d'icelle.” — “He has bound the salvation of men with his word, as depending on it.” Thirdly, He has exhibited in Christ every blessing, so as to ratify all his promises: as, indeed, their truth is only confirmed to us when we see their fulfillment in Christ. Forgiveness of sins is promised in the covenant, but it is in the blood of Christ. Righteousness is promised, but it is offered through the atonement of Christ. Life is promised, but it must be sought only in the death and resurrection of Christ. This too is the reason why God commanded of old, that the book of the law should be sprinkled with the blood of the sacrifice, (Exodus 24:8; Hebrews 9:19, 20.) It is also worthy of notice, that Zacharias speaks of the mercy performed in his own age, as extending to the fathers who were dead, and who equally shared in its results. Hence it follows, that the grace and power of Christ are not confined by the narrow limits of this fading life, but are everlasting; that they are not terminated by the death of the flesh, for the soul survives the death of the body, and the destruction of the flesh is followed by the resurrection. As neither Abraham, nor any of the saints, could procure salvation to himself by his own power or merits, so to all believers, whether living or dead, the same salvation has been exhibited in Christ.

73. According to the oath There is no word in the Greek original for the preposition according to: but it is a common and well understood principle of language, that when the accusative case is put absolutely, there is a preposition to be understood, by which it is governed. The oath is mentioned, for the purpose of expressing more fully the firmness and sacredness of his truth: for such is his gracious condescension, that he deigns to employ his name for the support of our weakness. If his bare promises do not satisfy us, let us at least remember this confirmation of them; and if it does not remove all doubt, we are chargeable with heinous ingratitude to God, and insult to his holy name.

To give to us Zacharias does not enumerate the several points of God’s covenant, but shows that God’s purpose, in dealing so kindly and mercifully with his people, was to redeem them.

74. That being delivered out of the hand of our enemies His purpose was, that, being redeemed, they might dedicate and consecrate themselves entirely to the Author of their salvation. As the efficient cause of human salvation was the undeserved goodness of God, so its final cause is, that, by a godly and holy life, men may glorify his name. This deserves careful attention, that we may remember our calling, and so learn to apply the grace of God to its proper use. We must meditate on such declarations as these:

“God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness,”
(1 Thessalonians 4:7.)

We are “redeemed with a great price,” (1 Corinthians 6:20,) “the precious blood of Christ,” (1 Peter 1:18,19,) not that we may serve “the lusts of the flesh,” (2 Peter 2:18,) or indulge in unbridled licentiousness, but that Christ may reign in us. We are admitted by adoption into the family of God, that we, on our part, may yield obedience as children to a father. For “the kindness and love (φιλανθρωπία) of God our Savior toward man,” (Titus 3:4,) “hath appeared unto all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly,” (Titus 2:11,12.) And so Paul, when he wishes powerfully to exhort believers to consecrate themselves to God, “in newness of life,” (Romans 6:4,) and, “putting off, concerning the former conversation, the old man,” (Ephesians 4:22,) to render to him a “reasonable service,” “beseeches them by the mercies of God,” (Romans 12:1.) Scripture is full of declarations of this nature, which show that we “frustrate the grace” (Galatians 2:21) of Christ, if we do not follow out this design.

That we may serve him without fear This deserves our attention: for it implies that we cannot worship God in a proper manner without composure of mind. Those who are ill at ease, who have an inward struggle, whether God is favorable or hostile to them, whether he accepts or rejects their services,—in a word, who fluctuate in uncertainty between hope and fear, will sometimes labor anxiously in the worship of God, but never will sincerely or honestly obey him. Alarm and dread make them turn from him with horror; and so, if it were possible, they would desire that there were, “no God,” (Psalm 14:1.) But we know, that no sacrifice is acceptable to God, which is not offered willingly, and with a cheerful heart. Before men can truly worship God, they must obtain peace of conscience, as David speaks, “There is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared,” (Psalm 130:4:) for those to whom God has given peace are graciously invited and led to approach him willingly and with a cheerful desire to worship him. Hence too Paul deduces that maxim, that “whatsoever is undertaken without faith is sin,” (Romans 14:23.) But since God reconciles men to himself in Christ, since by his protection he keeps them safe from all fear, since he has committed their salvation to his own hand and guardianship, we are justly declared by Zacharias to be delivered by his grace from fear. And so the prophets describe it as peculiar to his reign, that,

“they shall sit every man under his vine, and under his fig-tree, and none shall make them afraid,” (Micah 4:4.)

75. In holiness and righteousness As the rule of a good life has been reduced by God to two tables, (Exodus 31:18; 34:1,) so Zacharias here declares, that we serve God in a proper manner, when our life has been framed to holiness and righteousness. Holiness, beyond all question, denotes—as even Plato knew the duties of godliness,7777     “Le mot de Sainctete comprend tout ce dont nous sommes redevables a Dieu pour adorer et honorer sa majeste.” — “The word Holiness includes all that we owe to God for adoring and honoring his majesty.” which relate to the first table of the law. Righteousness, again, extends to all the duties of charity: for God requires nothing more from us in the second table of the law, than to render to every one what belongs to him. It is added, before him, to instruct believers, that it is not enough if their lives are decently regulated before the eyes of men, and their hands, and feet, and whole body, restrained from every kind of open wickedness: but they must live according to the will of God, who is not satisfied with professions of holiness, but looks chiefly on the heart.

Lastly, That no man may consider his duties to be at an end, when he has worshipped God for a certain period, Zacharias declares that men have been redeemed on the condition7878     “Hac lege redemptas esse homines.” — “Zacharie dit que les hommes ont este rachetez a la charge de s'appliquer a servir Dieu tout le temps de leur vie.” — “Zacharias says that men have been redeemed upon condition of applying themselves to serve God all the time of their life. that they shall continue to devote themselves to the worship of God all the days of their life And certainly, as redemption is eternal, the remembrance of it ought never to pass away; as God adopts men into his family for ever, their gratitude ought not to be transitory or of short continuance; and, in a word, as “Christ both died and rose, and revived” for them, it is proper that he should be “Lord both of the dead and living,” (Romans 14:9.) So Paul, in a passage which I lately quoted, enjoins us to

“live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works,”
(Titus 2:12-14.)

76. And thou, child Zacharias again returns to commend the grace of Christ, but does this, as it were, in the person of his son, by describing briefly the office to which he had been appointed as an instructor. Though in a little infant eight days old he does not yet observe prophetical endowments, yet turning his eyes to the purpose of God, he speaks of it as a thing already known. To be called means here to be considered and openly acknowledged as the prophet of God. A secret calling of God had already taken place. It only remained that the nature of that calling should be manifested to men. But as the name Prophet is general, Zacharias, following the revelation brought to him by the angel, affirms that he would be the usher8080     “Apparitorem.” — “Heraut.” or herald of Christ. He says, thou shalt go before the face of the Lord: that is, thou shalt discharge the office of turning men by thy preaching to hear the Lord. The reason why John, when he had nearly finished his course, affirmed that he was not a prophet of God, is explained by me at the proper place, (John 1:21,) and in what manner he was to prepare his ways we shall afterwards see.

77. To give knowledge of salvation Zacharias now touches the principal subject of the gospel, when he says that the knowledge of salvation consists in the forgiveness of sins. As we are all “by nature the children of wraths” (Ephesians 2:3,) it follows, that we are by nature condemned and ruined: and the ground of our condemnation is, that we are chargeable with unrighteousness. There is, therefore, no other provision for escaping eternal death8181     “Mortis;” La mort mortelle.” but by God

“reconciling us unto himself, not imputing our trespasses unto us,”
(2 Corinthians 5:19.)

That this is the only righteousness which remains to us before God, may be easily gathered from the words of Zacharias. For whence comes salvation, but from righteousness? But if the children of God have no other way of obtaining the knowledge of salvation except through the forgiveness of sins, it follows, that righteousness must not be sought in any other quarter. Proud men attempt to forge and manufacture a righteousness out of the merits of good works. True righteousness is nothing else than the imputation of righteousness, when God, out of free grace, acquits us from guilt. Besides, it ought to be observed that Zacharias is not speaking of strangers from the covenants of promise,” (Ephesians 2:12) but of the people of God. Hence it follows, that not only does the commencement of righteousness depend on the forgiveness of sins, but it is by imputation8282     “Imputative, ut italoquar.” — “Par imputation, c'est a dire, d'autant que la justice de Christ laur est imputee.” — “By imputation, that is to say, in so far as the righteousnes of Christ is imputed to them” that believers are righteous before God to the very end: for they cannot appear before his tribunal in any other way than by betaking themselves daily to a free reconciliation.

78. Through the bowels8383     “Par les entrailles de la misericorde, ou, par l'affection misericordieuse.” — “By the bowels of mercy, or, by the merciful affection.” of mercy In so great a benefit Zacharias justly extols the mercy of God, and not satisfied with merely calling it the salvation which was brought by Christ, he employs more emphatic language, and says that it proceeded from the very bowels of the mercy of God. He then tells us metaphorically, that the great mercy of God has made the day to give light to those who were sitting in darkness Oriens, in the Latin version of this passage, is not a participle: for the Greek word is ἀνατολή, that is, the Eastern region, as contrasted with the West. Zacharias extols the mercy of God, as manifested in dispelling the darkness of death, and restoring to the people of God the light of life. In this way, whenever our salvation is the subject, we ought to raise our minds to the contemplation of the divine mercy. There appears to be an allusion to a prediction of Malachi, in which Christ is called “the Sun of Righteousness,” and is said to “arise with healing in his wing,” (Malachi 4:2,) that is, to bring health in his rays.

79. That he might give light to those who were sitting in darkness As to light and darkness, there are similar modes of expression in Isaiah: such as,

“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined,”
(Isaiah 9:1;)

and in many other passages. These words show, that out of Christ there is no life-giving light in the world, but every thing is covered by the appalling darkness of death. Thus, in another passage, Isaiah testifies that this privilege belongs peculiarly to the church alone.

“Behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee,”
(Isaiah 60:2.)

But how could it be said that the Israelites, on whose hearts the Lord always shone by faith, were sitting in the shadow of death? I reply, the godly, who lived under the law were surrounded on every side by the darkness of death, and beheld at a distance, in the coming of Christ, the light that cheered and preserved them from being overwhelmed by present death. Zacharias may have had in view the wretched condition of his own age. But it is a general truth, that on all the godly, who had ever lived, or who were afterwards to live, there arose in the coming of Christ a light to impart life: for it even diffused life over the dead. To sit is of the same import as to lie:8484     Estre assis emporte autant comme estre couch, ou veautre.”— “To sit is of the same import as to be lying or wallowing.” and so Isaiah enjoins the Church, “Arise, for thy light is come,” (Isaiah 60:1.)

To guide our feet By this expression Zacharias points out, that the highest perfection of all excellence and happiness is to be found in Christ alone. The word Peace might indeed be taken in its literal sense, which would not be unsuitable: for the illumination brought by Christ tends to pacify the minds of men. But as the Hebrew word שלום, peace, denotes every kind of prosperity, Zacharias intended, I doubt not, to represent Christ as the author of perfect blessedness, that we may not seek the smallest portion of happiness elsewhere, but may rest on Christ alone, from a full conviction that in him we are entirely and completely happy. To this purpose are those words of Isaiah,

“The sun shall be no more thy light by day, neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory,” (Isaiah 60:19.)

But if the mere sight of his Son, while still a child, led Zacharias to discourse in so lofty a strain respecting the grace and power of Christ, before he was born, are not they so much the more ungrateful, who, now that Christ has died, and risen, and ascended to heaven, and sat down at his Father’s right hand, speak disrespectfully of him and of his power, to which the Holy Spirit bore testimony, while he was still in his mother’s womb? We must bear in mind what I have already mentioned, that Zacharias spake not from himself, but that the Spirit of God directed his tongue.

And the child grew This is added by Luke for continuing the thread of the history. First, he mentions that John became strong in spirit: which implies that the great and uncommon excellence of the child gave proof that there dwelt in him a Heavenly Spirit. Next, he tells us, that John remained unknown in the deserts till the day of his showing, that is, till the day on which the Lord had pur-posed to bring him into public view. Hence we conclude, that John, though he was fully aware of his calling, made no advances before the appointed time, but awaited the call of God.




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