Adam Clarke Commentary
The preface, or St. Luke's private epistle to Theophilus, Luke 1:1-4. The conception and birth of John Baptist foretold by the angel Gabriel, Luke 1:5-17. Zacharias doubts, Luke 1:18. And the angel declares he shall be dumb, till the accomplishment of the prediction, Luke 1:19-25. Six months after the angel Gabriel appears to the virgin Mary, and predicts the miraculous conception and birth of Christ, Luke 1:26-38. Mary visits her cousin Elisabeth, Luke 1:39-45. Mary's song of exultation and praise, Luke 1:46-56. John the Baptist is born, Luke 1:57-66. The prophetic song of his father Zacharias, Luke 1:67-79. John is educated in the desert, Luke 1:80.
Many have taken in hand - Great and remarkable characters have always many biographers. So it appears it was with our Lord: but as most of these accounts were inaccurate, recording as facts things which had not happened; and through ignorance or design mistaking others, especially in the place where St. Luke wrote; it seemed good to the Holy Spirit to inspire this holy man with the most correct knowledge of the whole history of our Lord's birth, preaching, miracles, sufferings, death, resurrection, and ascension, that the sincere, upright followers of God might have a sure foundation, on which they might safely build their faith. See the note on Luke 9:10.
Most surely believed among us - Facts confirmed by the fullest evidence - των πεπληροφορημενων πραγματων . Every thing that had been done or said by Jesus Christ was so public, so plain, and so accredited by thousands of witnesses, who could have had no interest in supporting an imposture, as to carry the fullest conviction, to the hearts of those who heard and saw him, of the divinity of his doctrine, and the truth of his miracles.
Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eye-witnesses - Probably this alludes to the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, which it is likely were written before St. Luke wrote his, and on the models of which he professes to write his own; and απ 'αρχης, from the beginning, must mean, from the time that Christ first began to proclaim the glad tidings of the kingdom; and αυτοπται, eye-witnesses, must necessarily signify, those who had been with him from the beginning, and consequently had the best opportunities of knowing the truth of every fact.
Ministers of the word - Του λογου . Some suppose that our blessed Lord is meant by this phrase; as ὁ Λογος, the Word or Logos, is his essential character in John 1:1, etc.; but it does not appear that any of the inspired penmen ever use the word in this sense except John himself; for here it certainly means the doctrine of Christ; and in this sense λογος is frequently used both by the evangelists and apostles.
Having had perfect understanding - Παρηκολουθηκοτι ανωθεν, Having accurately traced up - entered into the very spirit of the work, and examined every thing to the bottom; in consequence of which investigation, I am completely convinced of the truth of the whole. Though God gives his Holy Spirit to all them who ask him, yet this gift was never designed to set aside the use of those faculties with which he has already endued the soul, and which are as truly his gifts as the Holy Spirit itself is. The nature of inspiration, in the case of St. Luke, we at once discover: he set himself, by impartial inquiry and diligent investigation, to find the whole truth, and to relate nothing but the truth; and the Spirit of God presided over and directed his inquiries, so that he discovered the whole truth, and was preserved from every particle of error.
From the very first - Ανωθεν, from their origin. Some think ανωθεν should, in this place, be translated from above; and that it refers to the inspiration by which St. Luke wrote. I prefer our translation, or, from the origin, which several good critics contend for, and which meaning it has in some of the best Greek writers. See Kypke.
Theophilus - As the literal import of this word is friend of God, Θεου φιλος, some have supposed that under this name Luke comprised all the followers of Christ, to whom, as friends of God, he dedicated this faithful history of the life, doctrine, death, and resurrection of our Lord. But this interpretation appears to have little solidity in it; for, if all the followers of Christ are addressed, why is the singular number used? and what good end could there be accomplished by using a feigned name? Besides, κρατιϚε, most excellent, could never be applied in this way, for it evidently designates a particular person, and one probably distinguished by his situation in life; though this does not necessarily follow from the title, which was often given in the way of friendship. Theophilus appears to have been some very reputable Greek or Roman, who was one of St. Luke's disciples. The first four verses seem a private epistle, sent by the evangelist with this history, which, having been carefully preserved by Theophilus, was afterwards found and published with this Gospel.
Wherein thou hast been instructed - Κατηχηθης - In which thou hast been catechized. It appears that Theophilus had already received the first elements of the Christian doctrine, but had not as yet been completely grounded in them. That he might know the certainty of the things in which he had been thus catechized, by having all the facts and their proofs brought before him in order, the evangelist sent him this faithful and Divinely inspired narrative. Those who content themselves with that knowledge of the doctrines of Christ which they receive from catechisms and schoolmasters, however important these elementary instructions may be, are never likely to arrive at such a knowledge of the truth as will make them wise unto salvation, or fortify them against the attacks of infidelity and irreligion. Every man should labor to acquire the most correct knowledge, and indubitable certainty, of those doctrines on which he stakes his eternal salvation. Some suppose that St. Luke refers here to the imperfect instruction which Theophilus had received from the defective Gospels to which he refers in Luke 1:1.
In the days of Herod, the king - This was Herod, surnamed the Great, the son of Antipater, an Idumean by birth, who had professed himself a proselyte to the Jewish religion, but regarded no religion, farther than it promoted his secular interests and ambition. Thus, for the first time, the throne of Judah was filled by a person not of Jewish extraction, who had been forced upon the people by the Roman government. Hence it appears plain that the prophecy of Jacob, Genesis 49:10, was now fulfilled; for the scepter had departed from Judah: and now was the time, according to another prophecy, to look for the governor from Bethlehem, who should rule and feed the people of Israel: Micah 5:1, Micah 5:2. See a large account of the family of the Herods, in the note on Matthew 2:1; (note). This was before Christ six years.
The course of Abiah - When the sacerdotal families grew very numerous, so that all could not officiate together at the tabernacle, David divided them into twenty-four classes, that they might minister by turns, 1 Chronicles 24:1, etc., each family serving a whole week, 2 Kings 11:7; 2 Chronicles 23:8. Abiah was the eighth in the order in which they had been originally established: 1 Chronicles 24:10. These dates and persons are particularly mentioned as a full confirmation of the truth of the facts themselves; because any person, at the time this Gospel was written, might have satisfied himself by applying to the family of John the Baptist, the family of our Lord, or the surrounding neighbors. What a full proof of the Gospel history! It was published immediately after the time in which these facts took place; and among the very people, thousands of whom had been eye-witnesses of them; and among those, too, whose essential interest it was to have discredited them if they could; and yet, in all that age, in which only they could have been contradicted with advantage, no man ever arose to call them in question! What an absolute proof was this that the thing was impossible; and that the truth of the Gospel history was acknowledged by all who paid any attention to the evidences it produced!
Of the daughters of Aaron - That is, she was of one of the sacerdotal families. This shows that John was most nobly descended: his father was a priest and his mother the daughter of a priest; and thus, both by father and mother, he descended from the family of Amram, of whom came Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, the most illustrious characters in the whole Jewish history.
They were both righteous - Upright and holy in all their outward conduct in civil life.
Before God - Possessing the spirit of the religion they professed; exercising themselves constantly in the presence of their Maker, whose eye, they knew, was upon all their conduct, and who examined all their motives.
Walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless - None being able to lay any evil to their charge. They were as exemplary and conscientious in the discharge of their religious duties as they were in the discharge of the offices of civil life. What a sacred pair! they made their duty to God, to their neighbor, and to themselves, walk constantly hand in hand. See the note on Matthew 3:15. Perhaps εντολαι, commandments, may here mean the decalogue; and δικαιωματα, ordinances, the ceremonial and judicial laws which were delivered after the decalogue: as all the precepts delivered from Exodus 21:1; to Exodus 24:1; are termed δικαιωματα, judgments or ordinances.
Both were now well stricken in years - By the order of God, sterility and old age both met in the person of Elisabeth, to render the birth of a son (humanly speaking) impossible. This was an exact parallel to the case of Sarah and Abraham, Genesis 11:30; Genesis 17:17. Christ must (by the miraculous power of God) be born of a virgin: whatever was connected with, or referred to, his incarnation must be miraculous and impressive. Isaac was his grand type, and therefore must be born miraculously - contrary to the common course and rule of nature: Abraham was a hundred years of age, Sarah was ninety, Genesis 17:17, and it had Ceased to be with Sarah After The Manner Of Women, Genesis 18:11, and therefore, from her age and state, the birth of a child must, according to nature, have been impossible; and it was thus; that it might be miraculous. John the Baptist was to be the forerunner of Christ; his birth, like that of Isaac, must be miraculous, because, like the other, it was to be a representation of the birth of Christ; therefore his parents were both far advanced in years, and besides, Elisabeth was naturally barren. The birth of these three extraordinary persons was announced nearly in the same way. God himself foretells the birth of Isaac, Genesis 17:16. The angel of the Lord announces the birth of John the Baptist, Luke 1:13; and six months after, the angel Gabriel, the same angel, proclaims to Mary the birth of Christ! Man is naturally an inconsiderate and incredulous creature: he must have extraordinary things to arrest and fix his attention; and he requires well-attested miracles from God, to bespeak and confirm his faith. Every person who has properly considered the nature of man must see that the whole of natural religion, so termed, is little else than a disbelief of all religion.
Before God - In the temple, where God used to manifest his presence, though long before this time he had forsaken it; yet, on this important occasion, the angel of his presence had visited it.
His lot was, etc. - We are informed in the Talmud, that it was the custom of the priests to divide the different functions of the sacerdotal office among themselves by lot: and, in this case, the decision of the lot was, that Zacharias should at that time burn the incense before the Lord, in the holy place.
The whole multitude - were praying - The incense was itself an emblem of the prayers and praises of the people of God: see Psalm 141:2; Revelation 8:1. While, therefore, the rite is performing by the priest, the people are employed in the thing signified. Happy the people who attend to the spirit as well as the letter of every divine institution! Incense was burnt twice a day in the temple, in the morning and in the evening, Exodus 30:7, Exodus 30:8; but the evangelist does not specify the time of the day in which this transaction took place. It was probably in the morning.
There appeared - an angel of the Lord - There had been neither prophecy nor angelic ministry vouchsafed to this people for about 400 years. But now, as the Sun of righteousness is about to arise upon them, the day-spring from on high visits them, that they may be prepared for that kingdom of God which was at hand. Every circumstance here is worthy of remark:
Zacharias - was troubled - Or, confounded at his sudden and unexpected appearance; and fear fell upon him, lest this heavenly messenger were come to denounce the judgments of God against a faithless and disobedient people, who had too long and too well merited them.
Thy prayer is heard - This probably refers,
They are all heard - thou shalt have a son, and Israel shall be saved. If fervent faithful prayers be not immediately answered, they should not be considered as lost; all such are heard by the Lord, are registered in heaven, and shall be answered in the most effectual way, and in the best time. Answers to prayer are to be received by faith; but faith should not only accompany prayer while offered on earth, but follow it all its way to the throne of grace, and stay with it before the throne till dismissed with its answer to the waiting soul.
Thou shalt call his name John - For the proper exposition of this name, see on Mark 1:4; (note).
Thou shalt have joy, etc. - ΕϚαι χαρα σοι, He will be joy and gladness to thee. A child of prayer and faith is likely to be a source of comfort to his parents. Were proper attention paid to this point, there would be fewer disobedient children in the world; and the number of broken-hearted parents would be lessened. But what can be expected from the majority of matrimonial connections, connections begun without the fear of God, and carried on without his love.
Many shall rejoice at his birth - He shall be the minister of God for good to multitudes, who shall, through his preaching, be turned from the error of their ways, and converted to God their Savior.
He shall be great in the sight of the Lord - That is, before Jesus Christ, whose forerunner he shall be; or he shall be a truly great person, for so this form of speech may imply.
Neither wine nor strong drink - Σικερα, i.e. all fermented liquors which have the property of intoxicating, or producing drunkenness. The original word σικερα, sikera, comes from the Hebrew, שכר shakar, to inebriate. "Any inebriating liquor," says St. Jerome, (Epis. ad Nepot)." is called sicera, whether made of corn, apples, honey, dates, or any other fruits." One of the four prohibited liquors among the East Indian Moslimans is called sikkir . "Sikkir is made by steeping fresh dates in water till they take effect in sweetening it: this liquor is abominable and unlawful." Hedaya, vol. iv. p. 158. Probably this is the very liquor referred to in the text. In the Institutes of Menu it is said, "Inebriating liquor may be considered as of three principal sorts: that extracted from dregs of sugar, that extracted from bruised rice, and that extracted from the flowers of the madhuca: as one, so are all; they shall not be tasted by the chief of the twice-born." Chap. xi. Inst. 95. Twice-born is used by the Brahmins in the same sense as being born again is used by Christians. It signifies a spiritual regeneration. From this word comes our English term cyder, or sider, a beverage made of the fermented juice of apples. See the note on Leviticus 10:9.
Shall be filled with the Holy Ghost - Shall be Divinely designated to this particular office, and qualified for it, from his mother's womb - from the instant of his birth. One MS., two versions, and four of the primitive fathers read εν τῃ κοιλιᾳ, In the womb of his mother - intimating that even before he should be born into the world the Holy Spirit should be communicated to him. Did not this take place on the salutation of the Virgin Mary? - and is not this what is intended, Luke 1:44;? To be filled with the Holy Ghost, implies having the soul influenced in all its powers, with the illuminating, strengthening, and sanctifying energy of the Spirit.
He shall go before him - Jesus Christ, in the spirit and power of Elijah; he shall resemble Elijah in his retired and austere manner of life, and in his zeal for the truth, reproving even princes for their crimes; compare 1 Kings 21:17-24, with Matthew 14:4. It was on these accounts that the Prophet Malachi, Malachi 4:6, had likened John to this prophet. See also Isaiah 40:3; and Malachi 4:5, Malachi 4:6.
To turn the hearts of the fathers - Gross ignorance had taken place in the hearts of the Jewish people; they needed a Divine instructer: John is announced as such; by this preaching and manner of life, all classes among the people should be taught the nature of their several places, and the duties respectively incumbent upon them, See Luke 3:10, etc. In these things the greatness of John, mentioned Luke 1:15, is pointed out, Nothing is truly great but what is so in the sight of God. John's greatness arose:
The disobedient - Or unbelieving, απειθεις, the persons who would no longer credit the predictions of the prophets, relative to the manifestation of the Messiah. Unbelief and disobedience are so intimately connected, that the same word in the sacred writings often serves for both.
Whereby shall I know this? - All things are possible to God: no natural impediment can have any power when God has declared he will accomplish his purpose. He has a right to be believed on his own word alone; and it is impious, when we are convinced that it is his word, to demand a sign or pledge for its fulfillment.
I am Gabriel - This angel is mentioned, Daniel 8:16; Daniel 9:21. The original גבריאל is exceedingly expressive: it is compounded of גבורה geburah, and אל el, the might of the strong God. An angel with such a name was exceedingly proper for the occasion; as it pointed out that all-prevalent power by which the strong God could accomplish every purpose, and subdue all things to himself.
That stand in the presence of God - This is in allusion to the case of the prime minister of an eastern monarch, who alone has access to his master at all times; and is therefore said, in the eastern phrase, to see the presence, or to be in the presence. From the allusion we may conceive the angel Gabriel to be in a state of high favor and trust before God.
Thou shalt be dumb - Σιωπων silent; this translation is literal; the angel immediately explains it, thou shalt not be able to speak. Dumbness ordinarily proceeds from a natural imperfection or debility of the organs of speech; in this case there was no natural weakness or unfitness in those organs; but, for his rash and unbelieving speech, silence is imposed upon him by the Lord, and he shall not be able to break it, till the power that has silenced him gives him again the permission to speak! Let those who are intemperate in the use of their tongues behold here the severity and mercy of the Lord; nine months' silence for one intemperate speech! Many, by giving way to the language of unbelief, have lost the language of praise and thanksgiving for months, if not years!
The people waited - The time spent in burning the incense was probably about half an hour, during which there was a profound silence, as the people stood without engaged in mental prayer. To this there is an allusion in Revelation 8:1-5. Zacharias had spent not only the time necessary for burning the incense, but also that which the discourse between him and the angel took up.
They perceived that he had seen a vision - As the sanctuary was separated from the court by a great veil, the people could not see what passed, but they understood this from Zacharias himself, who, ην διανευων, made signs, or nodded unto them to that purpose. Signs are the only means by which a dumb man can convey his ideas to others.
As soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished - Each family of the priesthood officiated one whole week, 2 Kings 11:17.
There is something very instructive in the conduct of this priest; had he not loved the service he was engaged in, he might have made the loss of his speech a pretext for immediately quitting it. But as he was not thereby disabled from fulfilling the sacerdotal function, so he saw he was bound to continue till his ministry was ended; or till God had given him a positive dismission. Preachers who give up their labor in the vineyard because of some trifling bodily disorder by which they are afflicted, or through some inconvenience in outward circumstances, which the follower of a cross-bearing, crucified Lord should not mention, show that they either never had a proper concern for the honor of their Master or for the salvation of men, or else that they have lost the spirit of their Master, and the spirit of their work. Again, Zacharias did not hasten to his house to tell his wife the good news that he had received from heaven, in which she was certainly very much interested: the angel had promised that all his words should be fulfilled in their season, and for this season he patiently waited in the path of duty. He had engaged in the work of the Lord, and must pay no attention to any thing that was likely to mar or interrupt his religious service. Preachers who profess to be called of God to labor in the word and doctrine, and who abandon their work for filthy lucre's sake, are the most contemptible of mortals, and traitors to their God.
Hid herself five months - That she might have the fullest proof of the accomplishment of God's promise before she appeared in public, or spoke of her mercies. When a Hindoo female is pregnant of her first child, she avoids the presence of those with whom she was before familiar, as a point of delicacy.
To take away my reproach - As fruitfulness was a part of the promise of God to his people, Genesis 17:6, and children, on this account, being considered as a particular blessing from heaven, Exodus 23:20; Leviticus 26:9; : Psalm 127:3; so barrenness was considered among the Jews as a reproach, and a token of the disapprobation of the Lord. 1 Samuel 1:6. But see Luke 1:36.
A city of Galilee - As Joseph and Mary were both of the family of David, the patrimonial estate of which lay in Bethlehem, it seems as if the family residence should have been in that city, and not in Nazareth; for we find that, even after the return from the captivity, the several families went to reside in those cities to which they originally belonged. See Nehemiah 11:3. But it is probable that the holy family removed to Galilee for fear of exciting the jealousy of Herod, who had usurped that throne to which they had an indisputable right. See on Luke 2:39; (note). Thus, by keeping out of the way, they avoided the effects of his jealousy.
To a virgin espoused, etc. - See on Matthew 1:18, Matthew 1:23; (note). The reflections of pious father Quesnel on this subject are worthy of serious regard. At length the moment is come which is to give a son to a virgin, a saviour to the world, a pattern to mankind, a sacrifice to sinners, a temple to the Divinity, and a new principle to the new world. This angel is sent from God, not to the palaces of the great, but to a poor maid, the wife of a carpenter. The Son of God comes to humble the proud, and to honor poverty, weakness, and contempt. He chooses an obscure place for the mystery which is most glorious to his humanity, its union with the Divinity, and for that which is most degrading (his sufferings and death) he will choose the greatest city! How far are men from such a conduct as this!
And the angel came in unto her - Some think that all this business was transacted in a vision; and that there was no personal appearance of the angel. When Divine visions were given, they are announced as such, in the sacred writings; nor can we with safety attribute any thing to a vision, where a Divine communication is made, unless it be specified as such in the text.
Hail - Analogous to, Peace be to thee - May thou enjoy all possible blessings!
Highly favored - As being chosen in preference to all the women upon earth, to be the mother of the Messiah. Not the mother of God, for that is blasphemy.
The Lord is with thee - Thou art about to receive the most convincing proofs of God's peculiar favor towards thee.
Blessed art thou among women - That is, thou art favored beyond all others.
She was troubled at his saying - The glorious appearance of the heavenly messenger filled her with amazement; and she was puzzled to find out the purport of his speech.
Thou - shalt call his name Jesus - See on Matthew 1:20, Matthew 1:21; (note), and here, on Luke 2:21; (note), and John 1:29; (note).
He shall be great - Behold the greatness of the man Christ Jesus:
3rdly. He shall be the everlasting Head and Sovereign of his Church.
Seeing I know not a man - Or, husband. As she was only contracted to Joseph, and not as yet married, she knew that this conception could not have yet taken place; and she modestly inquires by what means the promise of the angel is to be fulfilled in order to regulate her conduct accordingly.
The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee - This conception shall take place suddenly, and the Holy Spirit himself shall be the grand operator. The power, δυναμις, the miracle-working power, of the Most High shall overshadow thee, to accomplish this purpose, and to protect thee from danger. As there is a plain allusion to the Spirit of God brooding over the face of the waters, to render them prolific, Genesis 1:2, I am the more firmly established in the opinion advanced on Matthew 1:20, that the rudiments of the human nature of Christ was a real creation in the womb of the virgin, by the energy of the Spirit of God.
Therefore also that holy thing (or person) - shall be called the Son of God - We may plainly perceive here, that the angel does not give the appellation of Son of God to the Divine nature of Christ; but to that holy person or thing, το ἁγιον, which was to be born of the virgin, by the energy of the Holy Spirit. The Divine nature could not be born of the virgin; the human nature was born of her. The Divine nature had no beginning; it was God manifested in the flesh, 1 Timothy 3:16; it was that Word which being in the beginning (from eternity) with God, John 1:2, was afterwards made flesh, (became manifest in human nature), and tabernacled among us, John 1:14. Of this Divine nature the angel does not particularly speak here, but of the tabernacle or shrine which God was now preparing for it, viz. the holy thing that was to be born of the virgin. Two natures must ever be distinguished in Christ: the human nature, in reference to which he is the Son of God and inferior to him, Mark 13:32; John 5:19; John 14:28, and the Divine nature which was from eternity, and equal to God, John 1:1; John 10:30; Romans 9:5; Colossians 1:16-18. It is true, that to Jesus the Christ, as he appeared among men, every characteristic of the Divine nature is sometimes attributed, without appearing to make any distinction between the Divine and human natures; but is there any part of the Scriptures in which it is plainly said that the Divine nature of Jesus was the Son of God? Here, I trust, I may be permitted to say, with all due respect for those who differ from me, that the doctrine of the eternal Sonship of Christ is, in my opinion, anti-scriptural, and highly dangerous. This doctrine I reject for the following reasons: -
3dly. If Christ be the Son of God, as to his Divine nature, then the Father is of necessity prior, consequently superior to him.
4thly. Again, if this Divine nature were begotten of the Father, then it must be in time; i.e. there was a period in which it did not exist, and a period when it began to exist. This destroys the eternity of our blessed Lord, and robs him at once of his Godhead.
Thy cousin Elisabeth - Thy kinswoman, συγγενης . As Elisabeth was of the tribe of Levi, Luke 1:5, and Mary of the tribe of Judah, they could not be relatives but by the mother's side.
She hath also conceived - And this is wrought by the same power and energy through which thou shalt conceive. Thus God has given thee a proof and pledge, in what he has done for Elisabeth, of what he will do for thyself; therefore, have faith in God.
Who was called barren - It is probable that Elisabeth got this appellative by way of reproach; or to distinguish her from some other Elisabeth also well known, who had been blessed with children. Perhaps this is the reproach which Elisabeth speaks of, Luke 1:25, her common name among men, among the people who knew her, being Elisabeth the barren.
For with God nothing shall be impossible - Words of the very same import with those spoken by the Lord to Sarah, when he foretold the birth of Isaac, Genesis 18:14, Is any thing too hard for the Lord? As there can be no doubt that Mary perceived this allusion to the promise and birth of Isaac, so she must have had her faith considerably strengthened by reflecting on the intervention of God in that case.
Behold the handmaid of the Lord - I fully credit what thou sayest, and am perfectly ready to obey thy commands, and to accomplish all the purposes of thy grace concerning me. It appears that at the instant of this act of faith, and purposed obedience, the conception of the immaculate humanity of Jesus took place; and it was Done unto her according to his word. See Luke 1:35.
In those days - As soon as she could conveniently fit herself out for the journey.
Hill country - Hebron, the city of the priests, Joshua 21:11, which was situated in the tribe of Judah, about forty miles south of Jerusalem, and upwards of seventy from Nazareth.
With haste - This probably refers to nothing else than the earnestness of her mind to visit her relative Elisabeth, and to see what the Lord had wrought for her.
Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost - This seems to have been the accomplishment of the promise made by the angel, Luke 1:15, He shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb. The mother is filled with the Holy Spirit, and the child in her womb becomes sensible of the Divine influence.
Blessed art thou among women - Repeating the words of the angel, Luke 1:28, of which she had probably been informed by the holy virgin, in the present interview.
The mother of my Lord - The prophetic spirit, which appears to have overshadowed Elisabeth, gave her a clear understanding in the mystery of the birth of the promised Messiah.
Blessed is she that believed; for there shall be, etc. - Or, Blessed is she who hath believed that there shall be, etc. This I believe to be the proper arrangement of the passage, and is thus noticed in the marginal reading. Faith is here represented as the foundation of true happiness, because it receives the fulfillment of God's promises. Whatever God has promised, he intends to perform. We should believe whatever he has spoken - his own authority is a sufficient reason why we should believe. Let us only be convinced that God has given the promise, and then implicit faith becomes an indispensable duty: in this case not to believe implicitly would be absurd and unreasonable - God will perform his promise, for He cannot lie.
And Mary said - Two copies of the Itala, and some books mentioned by Origen, give this song to Elisabeth. It is a counterpart of the song of Hannah, as related in 1 Samuel 2:1-10.
This is allowed by many to be the first piece of poetry in the New Testament; but the address of the angel to Zacharias, Luke 1:13-17, is delivered in the same way; so is that to the virgin, Luke 1:30-33, and so also is Elisabeth's answer to Mary, Luke 1:42-45. All these portions are easily reducible to the hemistich form in which the Hebrew poetry of the Old Testament is found in many MSS., and in which Dr. Kennicott has arranged the Psalms, and other poetical parts of the Sacred Writings. See his Hebrew Bible.
My soul doth magnify the Lord - The verb μεγαλυνειν, Kypke has proved, signifies to celebrate with words, to extol with praises. This is the only way in which God can be magnified, or made great; for, strictly speaking, nothing can be added to God, for he is infinite and eternal; therefore the way to magnify him is to show forth and celebrate those acts in which he has manifested his greatness.
My spirit hath rejoiced - Exulted. These words are uncommonly emphatical - they show that Mary's whole soul was filled with the Divine influence, and wrapped up in God.
He hath regarded - Looked favorably, etc., επεβλεψεν . In the most tender and compassionate manner he has visited me in my humiliation, drawing the reasons of his conduct, not from any excellence in me, but from his own eternal kindness and love.
All generations shall call me blessed - This was the character by which alone she wished to be known; viz. The blessed or happy virgin. What dishonor do those do to this holy woman, who give her names and characters which her pure soul would abhor; and which properly belong to God her Savior! By her votaries she is addressed as Queen of Heaven, Mother of God, etc., titles both absurd and blasphemous.
He that is mighty hath done to me great things - Or, miracles, μεγαλεια . As God fills her with his goodness, she empties herself to him in praises; and, sinking into her own nothingness, she ever confesses that God alone is all in all.
Holy is his name - Probably the word which Mary used was חסד chesed, which though we sometimes translate holy, see Psalm 86:2; Psalm 145:17, yet the proper meaning is abundant goodness, exuberant kindness; and this well agrees with the following clause.
His mercy is on them that fear him - His exuberant kindness manifests itself in acts of mercy to all those who fear or reverence his name; and this is continued from generation to generation, because he is abundant in goodness, and because he delighteth in mercy. This is a noble, becoming, and just character of the God of the Christians; a being who delights in the salvation and happiness of all his creatures, because his name is mercy, and his nature love.
He hath showed strength - Or, He hath gained the victory, εποιησε κρατος . The word κρατος is used for victory, by Homer, Hesiod, Sophocles, Euripides, and others.
With his arm - Grotius has well observed, that God's efficacy is represented by his finger, his great power by his hand, and his omnipotence by his arm. The plague of lice was the finger of God, Exodus 7:18. The plagues in general were wrought by his hand, Exodus 3:20, And the destruction of Pharaoh's host in the Red Sea, which was effected by the omnipotence of God, is called the act of his arm, Exodus 15:16.
He hath scattered - Διεσκορπισεν, hath scattered abroad; as a whirlwind scatters dust and chaff.
The proud - Or haughty, ὑπερηφανους ; from ὑπερ above, and φαινω I show - the haughty men, who wish to be noticed in preference to all others, and feel sovereign contempt for all but themselves. These God scatters abroad - instead of being in his sight, as in their own, the most excellent of the earth, he treats them as straw, stubble, chaff, and dust.
In the imagination of their hearts - While they are forming their insolent, proud, and oppressive projects - laying their plans, and imagining that accomplishment and success are waiting at their right hand, the whirlwind of God's displeasure blows, and they and their machinations are dissipated together.
He hath put down the mighty from their seats - Or, He hath taken down potentates from their thrones. This probably alludes to the removal of Saul from the throne of Israel, and the establishment of the kingdom in the person and family of David. And as Mary spoke prophetically, this saying may also allude to the destruction of the kingdom of Satan and his allies, and the final prevalence of the kingdom of Christ.
Filled the hungry - the rich he hath sent empty away - God is here represented under the notion of a person of unbounded benevolence, who is daily feeding multitudes at his gates. The poor and the rich are equally dependent upon him; to the one he gives his affluence for a season, and to the other his daily bread. The poor man comes through a sense of his want to get his daily support, and God feeds him; the rich man comes through the lust of gain, to get more added to his abundance, and, God sends him empty away - not only gives him nothing more, but often deprives him of that which he has, because he has not improved it to the honor of the giver. There is an allusion here, as in several other parts of this song, to the case of Hannah and Peninah, as related 1 Samuel 1:2, etc.; 1 Samuel 2:1-10.
He hath holpen [supported, αντελαβετο ] his servant Israel - Israel is here represented as falling, and the Lord comes speedily in and props him up. The house of David was now ready to fall and rise no more; Jesus, being born of the very last branch of the regal line, revived the family, and restored the dominion.
In remembrance of his mercy - By mercy, the covenant which God made with Abraham, Genesis 15:18, is intended; which covenant proceeded from God's eternal mercy, as in it salvation was promised to all the nations of the earth. See Genesis 17:19, and Genesis 22:18, and this promise was, in one form or other, given to all the fathers, Luke 1:55.
This song properly consists of three parts.
And Mary abode with her about three months - According to some, the departure of Mary from Hebron must have been but a few days before the birth of John; as nine months had now elapsed since Elisabeth's conception; see Luke 1:36. Hence it immediately follows: -
Now Elisabeth's full time came, etc. - But, according to others, we are to understand the three months of Mary's visit as preceding the birth of John, which would complete the time of Elisabeth's pregnancy, according to Luke 1:36, and the only difficulty is to ascertain whether Mary went immediately to Hebron after her salutation, or whether she tarried nearly three months before she took the journey.
And her neighbors and her cousins - rejoiced with her. - Because sterility was a reproach; and they now rejoiced with their relative, from whom that reproach was now rolled away. To rejoice with those whom God has favored, and to congratulate them on the advantages which he has granted to them, is a duty which humanity, charity, and religion call upon us to fulfill.
On the eighth day they came to circumcise - See an account of this institution in the note on Genesis 17:10-14; (note). Had circumcision been essential to an infant's salvation, God would not have ordered it to be delayed to the eighth day, because, in all countries, multitudes die before they arrive at that age. Baptism, which is generally allowed to have been substituted for circumcision, is no more necessary to the salvation of an infant than circumcision was. Both are signs of the covenant - circumcision, of the putting away the impurity of the flesh; and baptism, of the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost, producing the answer of a good conscience towards God. Confer 1 Peter 3:21, with Titus 3:5. This should never be neglected: it is a sign and token of the spiritual grace.
They called him Zacharias - Among the Jews, the child was named when it was circumcised, and ordinarily the name of the father was given to the first-born son.
Not so; but he shall be called John - This is the name which the angel desired should be given him, Luke 1:13, and of which Zacharias by writing had informed his wife. There is something very remarkable in the names of this family. Zachariah, זכריהו the memory or memorial of Jehovah; יהו yeho, at the end of the word, being contracted for יהוה Yehovah, as in many other names. Elisabeth, אליסבה the Sabbath or rest of my strong God: names probably given them by their parents, to point out some remarkable circumstance in their conception or birth. And John, which should always be written Jehochanan or Yehochanan, יהוחנן the grace or mercy of Jehovah: so named, because he was to go before and proclaim the God of all grace, and the mercy granted through him to a lost world. See John 1:29; see also Luke 3:16, and Mark 1:4.
None of thy kindred - As the Jewish tribes and families were kept sacredly distinct, it appears the very names of the ancestors were continued among their descendants, partly through reverence for them, and partly to avoid confusion in the genealogical tables, which, for the sake of distinguishing the inheritances, were carefully preserved in each of the families. It seems to be on this account that the neighbors and relatives objected to a name which had not before existed in any branch of the family.
They made signs to his father - Who, it appears from this, was deaf as well as dumb; otherwise they might have asked him, and obtained his answer in this way.
A writing table - Πινακιδιον, a tablet, a diminutive of πιναξ, a table. "The boys in Barbary are taught to write upon a smooth thin board, slightly daubed over with whiting, which may be rubbed off or renewed at pleasure. Such probably (for the Jewish children use the same) was the little board, or writing table, as we render it Luke 1:63, that was called for by Zacharias." Shaw's Travels, p. 194. My old MS. considers the word as meaning the instrument of writing, rather than the tablet on which he wrote: and he aringe a poyntel, wroot seyinge, Joon is his name.
A thin board, made out of the pine tree, smeared over with wax, was used among the ancients; and to this the Anglo-Saxon version seems to refer, as it translates πινακιδιον, a wax board or cloth.
An intelligent friend has suggested a different mode of reading the 62nd and 63rd verses: Luke 1:62. And they asked his father how he would have him called? Luke 1:63. And he made signs for a writing table and wrote, His name is John: "For," says my friend, "the 64th verse proves his mouth was not opened, neither his tongue loosed, till after the child was named; therefore he could not ask for the table; and it is more reasonable that he, being dumb, should make signs, than that those should who had the use of their tongues." But, howsoever ingenious this may be, neither the words of the Greek text, nor their construction, will bear this version.
The latter clause of the preceding verse should be joined with the beginning of this, as follows: And they marveled all, for his mouth was opened, etc. Every person must see the propriety of putting this clause, And they marveled all, to the beginning of the 64th verse, instead of leaving it at the end of the 63rd, as in the common version. The people did not wonder because Zacharias said, He shall be called John; but because he himself was that instant restored to the use of his speech.
And he spake, and praised God - In his nine months' silence, he had learned the proper use of his tongue; and God, whose power was discredited by it, is now magnified. Happy they who, in religious matters, only break silence in order to speak of the loving-kindness of the Lord!
And fear came - Seeing what they might have thought a paralytic affection so suddenly and effectually healed. Φοβος - This word certainly means in several places, religious fear or reverence; and in this sense it is used Acts 9:31; Romans 3:18; Romans 13:7; 1 Peter 1:17; 1 Peter 2:18; 1 Peter 3:2. The meaning of it here is plainly this: The inhabitants of Hebron and its environs, who were well acquainted with the circumstances of Zacharias and Elisabeth, perceived that God had in a remarkable manner visited them; and this begot in their minds a more than ordinary reverence for the Supreme Being. Thus the salvation of one often becomes an instrument of good to the souls of many. The inhabitants of this hill country seem to have been an open, honest-hearted, generous people; who were easily led to acknowledge the interposition of God, and to rejoice in the comfort and welfare of each other. The people of the country are more remarkable for these qualities than those in towns and cities. The latter, through that evil communication which corrupts good manners, are generally profligate, selfish, regardless of God, and inattentive to the operation of his hands.
What manner of child shall this be! - As there have been so many extraordinary things in his conception and birth, surely God has designed him for some extraordinary purpose. These things they laid up in their heart, patiently waiting to see what God would work.
The hand of the Lord was with him - God defended and prospered him in all things, and the prophetic spirit began to rest upon him.
Zacharias - prophesied - The word prophesy is to be taken here in its proper acceptation, for the predicting or foretelling future events.
Zacharias speaks, not only of what God had already done, but also of what he was about to do, in order to save a lost world.
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for, etc. - Zacharias praises God for two grand benefits which he had granted to his people. 1. He has visited them. 2. He has ransomed them.
How astonishing is the following invocation of the Supreme Being, (translated from the original Sanscreet by Dr. C. Wilkins), still existing on a stone, in a cave near she ancient city of Gya, in the East Indies!
"The Deity, who is the Lord, the possessor of all, appeared in this ocean of natural beings, at the beginning of the Kalee Yoog (the age of contention and baseness). He who is omnipresent and everlastingly to be contemplated, the Supreme Being, the Eternal One, the Divinity worthy to be adored - Appeared here with a Portion of his Divine Nature. Reverence be unto thee in the form of (a) Bood-dha! Reverence be unto the Lord of the earth! Reverence be unto thee, an Incarnation of the Deity, and the Eternal One! Reverence be unto thee, O God, in the form of the God of mercy; the dispeller of pain and trouble, the Lord of all things, the Deity who overcometh the sins of the Kalee Yoog; the guardian of the universe, the emblem of mercy toward those who serve thee - (b) O'M! the possessor of all things in Vital Form! Thou art (c) Brahma, Veeshnoo, and Mahesa! Thou art Lord of the universe! Thou art under the form of all things, movable and immovable, the possessor of the whole! and thus I adore thee. Reverence be unto the Bestower Of Salvation, and the Ruler of the faculties! Reverence be unto thee, the Destroyer of the Evil Spirit! O Damordara, (d) show me favor! I adore thee, who art celebrated by a thousand names, and under various forms, in the shape of Bood-dha, the God of Mercy! Be propitious, O Most High God!" - Asiatic Researches, vol. i. pp. 284, 285.
(c) Brahma, the Deity in his creative quality. Veeshnoo, he who filleth all space, the Deity in his preserving quality. Mahesa, the Deity in his destroying quality. This is properly the Hindoo Trinity: for these three names belong to the same Being. See the notes to the Bhagvat Geeta.
(d) Damordara, or Darmadeve, the Indian God of Virtue.
And hath raised up a horn of salvation - That is, a mighty and glorious Savior: a quotation from Psalm 18:2. Horns are the well known emblems of strength, glory, and power, both in the sacred and profane writers, because the strength and beauty of horned animals consist in their horns. Horns have also been considered as emblems of light; therefore the heathen god Apollo is represented with horns, to point out the power, glory, and excellence of the solar light. The Chaldee paraphrast sometimes translates קרן keren, horn, by מלכות malcuth, or מלכותא malcutha, 1 Samuel 2:10; Jeremiah 48:25, which signify a kingdom: but it is likely that the allusion is here made to the horns of the altar; and as the altar was a place of refuge and safety, and those who laid hold on its horns were considered to be under the protection of the Lord, so, according to the expression of Zacharias, Jesus Christ is a new altar, to which whosoever flees shall find refuge.
Some imagine that this form of speech is taken from the custom of ancient warriors, who had a horn of steel on the top of their helmets, which ordinarily lay flat, till the person came victorious from battle, and then it was erected, as emblematical of the victory gained. Such a horn as this is represented on the helmet of the Abyssinian kings and warriors: see the plates in Bruce's Travels. To this custom of wearing or lifting up the horn, the following scriptures are thought to allude: 1 Samuel 2:10; Psalm 112:9; Psalm 148:4; Lamentations 2:17. In ancient gems and coins, this form of the horn on helmets is easily discernible, sometimes flat, sometimes erected. A horn, filled with various fruits, was also the emblem of abundance among the ancients: hence their cornu copia, or horn of plenty. From all this we may learn that the Lord Jesus gives a luminous, powerful, prevalent, glorious, and abundant Salvation or Refuge to mankind.
In the house of his servant David - Or, in the family: so the word οικος, house, is often used in the Sacred Writings. In Luke 1:32, the angel states that Mary was of the family of David; and Zacharias, who, from the nature of his office, must have been well acquainted with the public genealogical tables, attests the same thing. This is a matter of considerable importance; because it shows forth the truth of all the prophetic declarations, which uniformly state that the Messiah should come from the family and sit on the throne of David.
That we should be saved (literally, a salvation) from our enemies - As Zacharias spoke by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the salvation which he mentions here must necessarily be understood in a spiritual sense. Satan, death, and sin are the enemies from whom Jesus came to deliver us. Sin is the most dangerous of all, and is properly the only enemy we have to fear. Satan is without us, and can have no power over us, but what he gets through sin. Death is only in our flesh, and shall be finally destroyed (as it affects us) on the morning of the resurrection.
Jesus redeems from sin; this is the grand, the glorious, the important victory. Let us get sin cast out, and then we need, fear neither death, nor the devil.
Being delivered, etc. - The salvation brought by Jesus Christ, consists in the following things: -
And thou, child, etc. - Zacharias proclaims the dignity, employment, doctrine, and success of his son; and the ruin and recovery of the Jews and the Gentiles.
2dly. A teacher of men in the things of God, 1 Corinthians 14:3.
6. Zacharias proclaims the recovery of a lost world. As the removal of this darkness, and redemption from this death, were now at hand, John is represented as being a day-spring from on high, a morning star, that foretold the speedy approach of the day, and the rising of the Sun of righteousness. That these words should be applied to John, and not to Christ, I am fully satisfied; and cannot give my reasons better for the arrangement I have made in the preceding notes, than in the words of an eminent critic, who, I find, has adopted nearly the same plan with myself. The passage, as I read it, is as follows: Through the tender mercy of our God, by which he hath visited us: a day-spring from on high, to give light to them that sit in the darkness and in the shadow of death, etc. "Let the reader judge, whether my arrangement of this passage, which much better suits the original, be not far more elegant, and in all respects superior to the old translation. Thou, child! wilt be a teacher - Thou Wilt Be a day-spring from the sky. And with what beauty and propriety is John, the forerunner of our Lord, styled the dawn of day, that ushers in the rising of the Sun of righteousness! And the concluding words - to guide our feet into the way of peace - is a comprehensive clause, after the manner of Hebrew poetry, belonging equally to the former sentence, beginning at - And thou, child! - and the latter, beginning at - A day-spring from the sky: for the people spoken of in the former are the Jews; and in the latter, the Gentiles." - Wakefield.
The child grew - Increased in stature and bodily vigor. And waxed strong in spirit - had his understanding Divinely illuminated and confirmed in the truths of God. And was in the deserts - the city of Hebron, the circumjacent hill country, and in or near Nazareth. Till the time of his showing, or manifestation - till he was thirty years of age, before which time the law did not permit a man to enter into the public ministry, Numbers 4:3. See also Luke 3:23.
So much has already been said, by way of practical improvement of the different subjects in this important chapter, as to preclude the necessity of any addition here.
Sunday, December 4th, 2016
the Second Week of Advent
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