Abbott's Illustrated New Testament
The word which, refers back to they, and not to us; the meaning being, as they who were eye-witnesses &c., delivered them to us.
We learn from this verse that the inspiration of the sacred writers was not a divine illumination and impulse, which revealed to them, supernaturally, in all cases, a knowledge of the facts, or which made them the mere passive instruments for recording words which the Holy Spirit dictated; but that it was rather of the nature of a superintendence and control over the exercise of their own memory and judgment, and powers of investigation and expression. Even Luke's determination to write his history, was his own determination; "it seemed good to me." And he felt qualified for the work on account of the facilities which he enjoyed for acquiring a correct knowledge of the facts by the exercise of his own mental powers. This being true in respect to inspired men, of course those uninspired religious teachers, of all ages, who expect such an influence from the Holy Spirit as shall render unnecessary their own personal efforts for mental cultivation, and for the acquisition of knowledge, very greatly err.
Herod. Judea had been conquered by the Romans a short time before this, and held in imperfect subjugation, until, at length, Herod, who was appointed to the government of it, completed the conquest, and induced the Roman emperor to grant it to him as a kingdom; and he had been reigning over it now, in great power and splendor, for more than thirty years. He acquired great celebrity for his political and military talents, his influence with the Roman government, the energy of his administration, the violence of his passions, and for his cruelties and his crimes. He is called in history Herod the Great. The individuals mentioned in the subsequent parts of the Scripture history, under the name of Herod, were his descendants.--Of the course of Abia. In 1 Chronicles 24:1-31: the arrangement of the priests into courses is given, and, in the 1 Chronicles 24:10 the course of Abijah is mentioned as the eighth in order.
The description of the altar of incense, and of the institution of the rite, is contained in Exodus 30:1-8. Burning the incense in the temple was a duty of the highest interest and solemnity. The number of priests was so large that the falling of the lot to any individual was an important event in his life. He was to go alone into one of the most magnificent apartments in the world, and one which was connected, in the mind of every Jew, with associations of the deepest religious veneration and awe. There he was to perform a most solemn ceremony,--to burn incense, in the very antechamber, and almost in the presence of Jehovah, while thousands were waiting without in silence and solemnity. Thus this first announcement of the approach of the Messiah was made at a time and in a place in keeping with the moral grandeur of the events involved in the annunciation.
Luke 1:11,12. There is something mysterious in the strange, unearthly terror, with which the idea of any communication from the world of spirits is associated in the minds of men, in all ages of the world, and under every variety of circumstance. What had Zacharias to fear?
Neither wine nor strong drink; that is, like the ancient prophets, he shall lead a life of abstemiousness and self-denial.
Elias; Elijah. The meaning is, With the boldness and energy which characterized the prophet Elijah.--To turn the hearts, &c.; to bring back again the religious spirit of the fathers to the present generation.
Dumb; that is, deaf and dumb: the same words being used in this case as are employed to denote this class in other parts of the New Testament. Accordingly, in Luke 1:62,63, we see that his friends communicated with him by signs, implying that he could not hear.
The scene now changes to a distant part of the country. Nazareth was in Galilee, fifty or sixty miles from Jerusalem.
Handmaid means servant; so that Mary's reply is an expression of entire submission to the divine will.
Thus far the words of Mary's song express the feelings awakened in her heart by the circumstances of her own particular case. There is something sublime in the feelings with which this youthful maiden looks forward to her approaching maternity. Her mind dwells not upon the love, the caresses, the thousand charms and fascinations of infancy and childhood, on which the heart of a mother might have been expected to rest. She seems to overlook all these, and, as if from a high moral elevation, she surveys the vast consequences to her nation and to her race, which were to result from the approaching change in her own private condition. The Luke 1:50-55 of the song are general expressions of adoration and praise, for the power and providence of God. The reader will find a very striking similarity between this hymn of thanksgiving and that of Hannah, as recorded in 1 Samuel 2:1-10:
Circumcise. This was a religious ceremony, performed, according to the law of Moses, as a rite essential to the admission of any one to the Jewish communion. It was performed upon infant children of Jewish parents, when they were eight days old; and upon those who had not been thus circumcised in infancy, at the time of their conversion to Judaism, at whatever period of their lives this might be. It corresponded, therefore, in many respects, to the baptismal ceremony of the Christian dispensation, as practised by most denominations.--Called him; that is, proposed to call him.
Writing-table; writing tablet, corresponding somewhat to the slate of modern times. These tablets were made in various ways,--with a surface of some yielding substance, as wax or lead, on which the writing was traced with an iron point.
The horn was, among the Hebrews, a symbol of power.--In the house of his servant David; that is, in his family; among his descendants.
It is interesting to observe how the natural feelings and partialities of the father are here merged in the higher emotions of inspiration and prophecy. With his own infant son before him, his only son, the child of his old age, and on an occasion the most exciting to a father's feelings,--the burden of his song is the great blessings which are to come upon the world through the instrumentality of another child, yet to be born. It is only in conclusion that he turns to his own son, and then to assign him the comparatively humble part of going before the face of the Lord, to prepare his ways.
Waxed strong in spirit; increased in intellectual energy.--In the deserts; that is, probably, he lived in retirement with his father and mother in a part of Judea called the desert, until he commenced his public preaching by the Jordan, as recorded by Matthew 4:12-25 and by John 1:35-51.
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