Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible
Forasmuch as many - It has been doubted who are referred to here by the word “many.” It seems clear that it could not be the other evangelists, for the gospel by “John” was not yet written, and the word “many” denotes clearly more than “two.” Besides, it is said that they undertook to record what the “eye-witnesses” had delivered to them, so that the writers did not pretend to be eye-witnesses themselves. It is clear, therefore, that other writings are meant than the gospels which we now have, but what they were is a matter of conjecture. What are now known as spurious gospels were written long after Luke wrote his. It is probable that Luke refers to “fragments” of history, or to narratives of “detached” sayings, acts, or parables of our Lord, which had been made and circulated among the disciples and others. His doctrines were original, bold, pure, and authoritative. His miracles had been extraordinary, clear, and awful. His life and death had been peculiar; and it is not improbable - indeed it is highly probable that such broken accounts and narratives of detached facts would be preserved. That this is what Luke means appears farther from Luke 1:3, where “he” professes to give a regular, full, and systematic account from the very beginning - “having had perfect understanding of “all things from the very first.” The records of the others - the “many” - were broken and incomplete. His were to be regular and full.
Taken in hand - Undertaken, attempted.
To set forth in order - To compose a narrative. It does not refer to the “order” or “arrangement,” but means simply to give a narrative. The word rendered here “in order” is different from that in the third verse, which “has” reference “to order,” or to a full and fair “arrangement” of the principal facts, etc., in the history of our Lord.
A declaration - A narrative - an account of.
Which are most surely believed among us - Among Christians - among all the Christians then living. Here we may remark:
1.That Christians of that day had the best of all opportunities for knowing whether those things were true. Many had seen them, and all others had had the account from those who had witnessed them.2.That infidels now cannot “possibly” be as good judges in the matter as those who lived at the time, and who were thus competent to determine whether these things were true or false. 3.That all Christians do “most surely believe” the truth of the gospel. It is their life, their hope, their all. Nor can they doubt that their Saviour lived, bled, died, rose, and still lives; that he was their atoning sacrifice, and that he is God over all, blessed forever.
As they delivered them - As they narrated them. As they gave an account of them.
From the beginning - From the commencement of these things - that is, from the birth of John, or perhaps from the beginning of the ministry of Jesus.
Eye-witnesses - Who had seen those things themselves, and who were therefore proper witnesses.
Ministers of the word - The term “word” here means the “gospel.” Luke never uses it, as John does, to denote the second Person of the Trinity. These eye-witnesses and ministers refer, doubtless, to the seventy disciples, to the apostles, and perhaps to other preachers who had gone forth to proclaim the same things.
It seemed good - I thought it best; or, I have also determined. It seemed “to be called for” that there should be a full, authentic, and accurate account of these matters.
Having had perfect understanding - The literal translation of the original here would be, “having exactly traced everything from the first;” or, “having, by diligent and careful investigation, “followed up” everything to the “source,” to obtain an accurate account of the matter.” This much better expresses the idea. Luke did not profess to have seen these things, and this expression is designed to show how he acquired his information. It was by “tracing up” every account until he became satisfied of its truth. Here observe,
1.That in religion God does not set aside our natural faculties. He calls us to look at evidence; to examine accounts; to make up our own minds. Nor will any man be convinced of the truth of religion who does “not” make investigation and set himself seriously to the task.2.We see the nature of Luke‘s inspiration. It was consistent with his using his natural faculties or his own powers of mind in investigating the truth. God, by His Holy Spirit, presided over his faculties, directed them, and kept him from error.
In order - This word does not indicate that the exact order of time would be observed, for that is not the way in which he writes; but it means distinctly, particularly, in opposition to the confused and broken accounts to which he had referred before.
Most excellent Theophilus - The word Theophilus means “a friend of God,” or a pious man; and it has been supposed by some that Luke did not refer to any particular “individual,” but to any man that loved God; but there is no reason for this opinion. Significant names were very common, and there is no good reason to doubt that this was some individual known to Luke. The application of the title “most excellent “proves it further. It would not be given to an unknown man. The title “most excellent” has by some been supposed to be given to express his “character,” but it is rather to be considered as denoting rank or office. It occurs only in three other places in the New Testament, and is there given to men “in office” - to Felix and Festus, Acts 23:26; Acts 24:3; Acts 26:25. These titles express no quality of the “men,” but belong to the “office;” and we may hence learn that it is not improper for Christians, in giving honor to whom honor is due, to address men in office by their customary titles, even if their moral character be altogether unworthy of it. Who “Theophilus” was is unknown. It is probable that he was some distinguished Roman or Greek who had been converted, who was a friend of Luke, and who had requested an account of these things. It is possible that this preface might have been sent to him as a private letter with the gospel, and Theophilus chose to have them published together.
The certainty - Have full evidence or proof of.
Been instructed - By the preachers of the gospel. The original word is the one from which is derived our word “catechism - been catechized;” but it does not denote here the “manner” in which the instruction was imparted, as it does with us, but simply the fact that he had been taught those things.
In the days of Herod - See the notes at Matthew 2:1.
Of the course of Abia - When the priests became so numerous that they could not at once minister at the altar, David divided them into 24 classes or courses, each one of which officiated for a week, 1 Chronicles 24:10. Compare 2 Chronicles 8:14. The word “course” means the same as “class,” or order. The Greek-based word “Abia” is the same as the Hebrew-based word “Abijah.”
His wife was of the daughters of Aaron - A descendant of Aaron, the first high priest of the Jews; so that “John the Baptist” was descended, on the father‘s and the mother‘s side, from priests. Our Saviour was not on either side. John would have been legally entitled to a place among the priests; our Saviour, being of the tribe of Judah, would not.
Both righteous - Both “just” or holy. This means here more than external conformity to the law. It is an honorable testimonial of their “piety” toward God.
Walking in - Keeping the commandments. To walk in the way that God commands is “to obey.”
Ordinances - Rites and customs which God had ordained or appointed. These words refer to all the duties of religion which were made known to them.
Blameless - That is, no fault or deficiency could be found in them. They were strict, exact, punctual. Yet this, if it had been mere “external” observance, might have been no proof of piety. Paul, before his conversion, also kept the law “externally” blameless, Philemon 3:6. But in the case of Zechariah and Elizabeth it was real love to God and sincere regard for his law.
Well stricken in years - Old or advanced in life, so as to render the prospect of having children hopeless.
Before God - In the temple, where God dwelt by the symbols of His presence. The temple was regarded by the Jews as the “house” or dwelling of God; and in the “first” temple there was, in the most holy place, a “cloud” called the Shechinah, or a visible sign of the presence of God. It was thus “before God” that Zechariah offered incense.
According to the custom of the priest‘s office, his lot was. - The Jewish writers inform us that it was customary for the priests to divide their daily task by “lot.”
To burn incense - Incense is an aromatic or white rosin procured from trees, chiefly in Arabia. It is obtained by making incisions in the tree, and the gum flows out. It is distinguished for an especially pleasant “smell” when burned, and was therefore used in ancient worship. It was burned by the priest twice a day Exodus 30:7, and it seems to have been emblematic of prayer and praise, or of the grateful offerings of the heart wafted toward heaven. The incense used in the temple was made of stacte, onycha, and galbanum Exodus 30:34, with pure frankincense, and it was not lawful for this compound to be used elsewhere than in the house of God.
Into the temple - See the notes at Matthew 21:12. The part of the temple where incense was burned was the “holy place.”
The whole multitude - This was the regular time of evening prayer, and multitudes came up to the temple to worship.
Praying without - That is, in the courts around the temple, particularly in the court of the women.
An angel - An “angel” is a messenger sent from God. See the notes at Matthew 1:20. It had now been about 400 years since the time of “Malachi,” and since there had been any divine revelation. During that time the nation was looking for the Messiah, but still with nothing more than the ancient prophecies to direct them. Now that he was about to appear, God sent his messenger to announce his coming, to encourage the hearts of his people, and to prepare them to receive him.
On the right side - The altar of incense stood close by the veil which divided the holy place from the most holy. On the north stood the table of showbread; on the south the golden candlestick. As Zechariah entered, therefore, with his face to the west, the angel would stand on the north, or near the table of showbread. That table was 18 inches square and 3 feet high. The top, as well as the sides and horns, was overlaid with pure gold, and it was finished around the upper surface with a crown or border of gold. Just below this border, four golden rings were attached to each side of the altar, one near each corner. The staves or rods for bearing the altar passed through these rings, and were made of the same wood with the altar itself, and richly overlaid with the same precious metal. Upon this altar incense was burned every morning and every evening, so that it was literally perpetual, Exodus 30:8. Neither burnt-sacrifice, nor meat-offering, nor drink-offering was permitted upon this altar; nor was it ever stained with blood except once annually, when the priest made atonement, Leviticus 16:18-19.
He was troubled - He was alone, in the presence of God. The appearance of the angel was sudden, unexpected, and therefore fearful.
Thy prayer is heard - That is, thy prayer for offspring. This, among the Jews, was an object of intense desire. No prospect was more gloomy to them than that of dying childless, so that their “name should perish.” Special pains, therefore, had been taken in the law to keep up the names of families by requiring a man to marry his brother‘s wife, Deuteronomy 25:5.
Many shall rejoice at his birth - This does not refer so much to the time of his birth as to the subsequent rejoicing. Such will be his “character,” that he will be an honor to the family, and many will rejoice that he lived: or, in other words, he will be a blessing to mankind.
Shall be great - Shall be eminent, or distinguished as a preacher.
In the sight of the Lord - Greek, “before the Lord.” That is, shall be “really” or “truly” great. God shall regard him as such.
Shall drink neither wine - The kind of wine commonly used in Judea was a light wine, often not stronger than cider in this country. It was the common drink of all classes of the people. See the notes at John 2:11. The use of wine was forbidden only to the Nazarite, Numbers 6:3. It was because John sustained this character that he abstained from the use of wine.
Strong drink - It is not easy to ascertain precisely what is meant by this word, but we are certain that it does not mean strong drink in our sense of the term. Distilled spirits were not then known. The art of distilling was discovered by an Arabian chemist in the 9th or 10th century; but distilled liquors are not used by Arabians. They banished them at once, as if sensible of their pernicious influence; nor are they used in Eastern nations at all. Europe and America have been the places where this poison has been most extensively used, and there it has beggared and ruined millions, and is yearly sweeping thousands unprepared into a wretched eternity. The “strong drink” among the Jews was probably nothing more than fermented liquors, or a drink obtained from fermented dates, figs, and the juice of the palm, or the lees of wine, mingled with sugar, and having the property of producing intoxication. Many of the Jewish writers say that by the word here translated “strong drink” was meant nothing more than old wine, which probably had the power of producing intoxication. See the notes at Isaiah 5:11.
Shall be filled with the Holy Ghost - Shall be divinely designated or appointed to this office, and qualified for it by all needful communications of the Holy Spirit. To be “filled” with the Holy Spirit is to be illuminated, sanctified, and guided by his influence. In this place it refers:
1.To the divine intention that he should be set apart to this work, as God designed that Paul should be an apostle from his mother‘s womb, Galatians 1:15.2.It refers to an actual fitting for the work from the birth by the influence of the Holy Spirit, as was the case with Jeremiah Jeremiah 1:5, and with the Messiah himself, Psalm 22:9-10.
Children of Israel - Jews. Descendants of Israel or Jacob.
Shall he turn - By repentance. He shall call them from their sins, and persuade them to forsake them, and to seek the Lord their God.
Shall go before him - Before the Messiah. The connection here leads us to suppose that the word “him” refers to the “Lord their God” in the previous verse. If so, then it will follow that the Messiah was the Lord God of Israel - a character abundantly given him in other parts of the New Testament.
In the spirit and power of Elias - See the notes at Matthew 11:14.
To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children - In the time of John the Jews were divided into a number of different sects. See the notes at Matthew 3:7. They were opposed violently to each other, and pursued their opposition with great animosity. It was impossible but that this opposition should find its way into families, and divide parents and children from each other. John came that he might allay these animosities and produce better feeling. By directing them all to “one Master,” the Messiah, he would divert their attention from the causes of their difference and bring them to union. He would restore peace to their families, and reconcile those parents and children who had chosen different sects, and who had suffered their attachment “to sect” to interrupt the harmony of their households. The effect of true religion on a family will always be to produce harmony. It attaches all the family to “one” great Master, and by attachment to him all minor causes of difference are forgotten.
And the disobedient to the wisdom of the just - The “disobedient” here are the unbelieving, and hence the impious, the wicked. These he would turn to the wisdom of the just, or to such wisdom as the “just” or pious manifest - that is, to true wisdom.
To make ready a people - To prepare them for his coming by announcing that the Messiah was about to appear, and by calling them to repentance. God has always required people to be pure in a special manner when he was about to appear among them. Thus, the Israelites were required to purify themselves for three days when he was about to come down on Mount Sinai, Exodus 19:14-15. And so, when God the Son was about to appear as the Redeemer, he required that people should “prepare” themselves for his coming. So in view of the future judgment - the second coming of the Son of man - he requires that people should repent, believe, and be pure, 1 Peter 4:7; 2 Peter 3:11-12.
Whereby shall I know this? - The thing was improbable, and he desired “evidence” that it would take place. The testimony of an “angel,” and in such a place, should have been proof enough; but people are slow to believe the testimony of heavenly messengers. As a consequence of not believing, he was struck mute.
I am Gabriel - The word “Gabriel” is made up of two Hebrew words, and signifies “man of God.” This angel is mentioned as having been deputed to inform “Daniel” that his prayers were heard. See the notes at Daniel 8:16; Daniel 9:21.
That stand in the presence of God - To stand in the presence of one is a phrase denoting “honor” or “favor.” To be admitted to the presence of a king, or to be with him, was a token of favor. So to stand before God signifies merely that he was honored or favored by God. He was permitted to come near him, and to see much of his glory. Compare 1 Kings 10:8; 1 Kings 12:6; 1 Kings 17:1; Proverbs 22:29.
And am sent - The angels are “ministering spirits” sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation,” Hebrews 1:7, Hebrews 1:14. They delight to do the will of God, and one way of doing that will is by aiding his children here, by succoring the afflicted, and by defending those who are in danger. There is no more absurdity or impropriety in supposing that angels may render such aid, than there is in supposing that good people may assist one another; and there can be no doubt that it affords high pleasure to the angels of God to be “permitted” to aid those who are treading the dangerous and trying path which leads to eternity. Holiness is the same as benevolence, and holy beings seek and love opportunities to do good to their fellow creatures. In the eye of holy beings all God‘s creatures are parts of one great family, and whenever they can do them good they rejoice in the opportunity, at any sacrifice.
These glad tidings - This good news respecting the birth of a son.
Because thou believest not - This was both a sign and a judgment - a sign that he had come from God, and that the thing would be fulfilled: and a judgment for not giving credit to what he had said. There is no sin in the sight of God more aggravated than unbelief. When God speaks; man should believe; nor can he that “will not” believe escape punishment. God speaks only truth, and we should believe Him. God speaks only what is for our good, and it is right that we should suffer if we do not credit what He says.
The people waited - That is, beyond the usual time.
Marvelled - Wondered. The priest, it is said, was not accustomed to remain in the temple more than half an hour commonly. Having remained on this occasion a longer time, the people became apprehensive of his safety, and wondered what had happened to him.
Had seen a vision - The word “vision” means “sight, appearance,” or “spectre,” and is commonly applied to spirits, or to beings from another world. When he came out of the temple, it is probable that they “suspected” that something of this nature had detained him there, and that, on inquiry of him, he signified by a nod that this was the case. He was unable to speak, and they had no way of “perceiving” it but by such a sign. On the word “vision,” see the notes at Isaiah 1:1.
For he beckoned unto them - That is, by beckoning unto them, or by a sign, he informed them of what he had seen.
As soon as the days of his ministration - As soon as he had fulfilled the duties of the week. It might have been supposed that the extraordinary occurrence in the temple, together with his own calamity, would have induced him at once to leave this place and return home; but his duty was in the temple. His piety prompted him to remain there in the service of God. He was not unfitted for burning incense by his dumbness, and it was not proper for him to leave his post. It is the duty of ministers of religion to remain at their work until they are unfitted for it, and unable to serve God in their profession. Then they must retire. But until that time, he that for trifling causes forsakes his post is guilty of unfaithfulness to his Master.
Hid herself - Did not go forth into public, and concealed her condition. This might have been done that she might spend her time more entirely in giving praise to God for his mercies, and that she might have the fullest proof of the accomplishment of the promise before she appeared in public or spoke of the mercies of God.
Thus - In this merciful manner.
To take away my reproach - Among the Jews, a family of children was counted a signal blessing, an evidence of the favor of God, Psalm 113:9; Psalm 128:3; Isaiah 4:1; Isaiah 44:3-4; Leviticus 26:9. To be “barren,” therefore, or to be destitute of children, was considered a “reproach” or a “disgrace,” 1 Samuel 1:6.
In the sixth month - The sixth month after Elizabeth‘s conception.
A city of Galilee named Nazareth - See the notes at Matthew 2:22-23.
To a virgin espoused - See the notes at Matthew 1:18-19. Compare the notes at Isaiah 7:14.
House of David - Family of David, or descendants of David.
Hail - This word of salutation is equivalent to “Peace be with thee,” or “Joy be with thee;” a form of speech implying that she was signally favored, and expressing joy at meeting her.
Highly favoured - By being the mother of the long-expected Messiah - the mother of the Redeemer of mankind. Long had he been predicted; long had the eyes of the nation been turned to him, and long had his coming been an object of intense desire. To be reckoned among his “ancestors” was accounted sufficient honor for even Abraham and David. But now the happy “individual” was designated who was to be his mother; and on Mary, a poor virgin of Nazareth, was to come this honor, which would have rendered infinitely illustrious any of the daughters of Adam the honor of giving birth to the world‘s Redeemer and the Son of God.
The Lord is with thee - The word “is” is not in the original, and the passage may be rendered either “the Lord “is” with thee,” or “the Lord be” with thee,” implying the prayer of the angel that all blessings from God might descend and rest upon her.
Blessed art thou among women - This passage is equivalent to saying “thou art the most happy of women.”
Troubled at his saying - Disturbed or perplexed at what he said. It was so unexpected, so sudden, so extraordinary, and was so high an honor, that she was filled with anxious thoughts, and did not know what to make of it.
Cast in her mind - Thought, or revolved in her mind.
What manner of salutation - What this salutation could mean.
Fear not, Mary - Do not be alarmed at this appearance of an angel. He only comes to announce to you good tidings. Similar language was addressed by an angel to Joseph. See the notes at Matthew 1:20.
Thou hast found favour with God - Eminent favor or mercy in being selected to be the mother of the Messiah.
And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb - See the notes at Isaiah 7:14.
And shalt call his name Jesus - A Saviour. See the notes at Matthew 1:21. All this was announced. also, by an angel to Joseph, after this visitation to Mary. See the notes at Matthew 1:20-21.
He shall be great - There is undoubted reference in this passage to Isaiah 9:6-7. By his being “great” is meant he shall be distinguished or illustrious; great in power, in wisdom, in dominion on earth and in heaven.
Shall be called - This is the same as to say he “shall be” the Son, etc. The Hebrews often used this form of speech. See Matthew 21:13.
The Highest - God, who is infinitely exalted; called the Highest, because He is exalted over all his creatures on earth and in heaven. See Mark 5:7.
The throne - The kingdom; or shall appoint him as the lineal successor of David in the kingdom.
His father David - David is called his father because Jesus was lineally descended from him. See Matthew 1:1. The promise to David was, that there should “not fail” a man to sit on his throne, or that his throne should be perpetual 1 Kings 2:4; 1 Kings 8:25; 1 Kings 9:5; 2 Chronicles 6:16, and the promise was fulfilled by exalting Jesus to be a Prince and a Saviour, and the perpetual King of his people.
Over the house of Jacob - The house of Jacob means the same thing as the “family” of Jacob, or the descendants of Jacob - that is, the children of Israel. This was the name by which the ancient people of God were known, and it is the same as saying that he would reign over his own church and people forever. This he does by giving them laws, by defending them, and by guiding them; and this he will do forever in the kingdom of his glory.
Of his kingdom there shall be no end - He shall reign among his people on earth until the end of time, and be their king forever in heaven. his is the only kingdom that shall never have an end; he the only King that shall never lay aside his diadem and robes, and that shall never die. “He “the only King that can defend us from all our enemies, sustain us in death, and reward us in eternity. O how important, then, to have an interest in his kingdom! and how unimportant, compared with “his” favor, is the favor of all earthly monarchs!
The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee - See Matthew 1:20.
The power of the Highest - This evidently means that the body of Jesus would be created by the direct power of God. It was not by ordinary generation; but, as the Messiah came to redeem sinners - to make atonement for “others,” and not for himself it was necessary that his human nature should be pure, and free from the corruption of the fall. God therefore prepared him a body by direct creation that should be pure and holy. See Hebrews 10:5.
That holy thing - That holy progeny or child.
Shall be called the Son of God - This is spoken in reference to the human nature of Christ, and this passage proves, beyond controversy, that “one” reason why Jesus was called the Son of God was because he was begotten in a supernatural manner. He is also called the “Son of God” on account of his resurrection, Romans 1:4; Acts 13:33, compared with Psalm 2:7.
Thy cousin Elizabeth - The case of Elizabeth is mentioned to inspire Mary with confidence, and to assure her that what was now promised would be fulfilled. It was almost as improbable that Elizabeth should have a child at her time of life, as it was that Mary should under the circumstances promised.
And Mary said, Behold the handmaid - This was an expression of resignation to the will of God, and of faith in the promise. To be the “handmaid of the Lord” is to be submissive and obedient, and is the same as saying, “I fully credit all that is said, and am perfectly ready to obey all the commands of the Lord.”
And Mary arose - The word “arose” here is equivalent to “setting out,” or starting on a journey.
The hill country - The region in the vicinity of Jerusalem, commonly called the hill country of Judea.
City of Juda - What city is meant is not known. Some have supposed it to be Jerusalem, others Hebron; but all is conjecture. It was probably a Levitical city, and the residence of Zechariah when he was not employed in the temple.
Saluted Elizabeth - Expressed great joy and gratification at seeing her, and used the customary tokens of affectionate salutation.
Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost - The meaning of this seems to be that she was filled with joy; with a disposition to praise God; with a prophetic spirit, or a knowledge of the character of the child that should be born of her. All these were produced by the Holy Spirit.
Blessed art thou among women - She here repeated nearly the words of the angel to Mary, esteeming it to be the highest honor among mothers to be the mother of the Messiah. See the notes at Luke 1:28.
And whence is this to me? - An expression of humility. Why is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me, as if to honor me?
Mother of my Lord - The word “Lord” sometimes denotes “divinity,” and sometimes superior, master, teacher, or governor. It was given by the Jews to their expected Messiah; but whether they understood it as denoting divinity cannot now be ascertained. It is clear only that Elizabeth used it as denoting great dignity and honor.
Blessed is she that believed - That is, “Mary” who believed what the angel spoke to her. She was blessed not only in the act of believing, but because the thing promised would certainly be fulfilled.From these expressions of Elizabeth we may learn:
1.That the spirit of prophecy had not entirely ceased among the Jews.2.That the Holy Spirit is the source of light, comfort, and joy. 3.That everything about the birth of Jesus was remarkable, and that he must have been more than a mere man. 4.That the prospect of the coming of the Messiah was one of great joy and rejoicing to ancient saints; and, 5.That it was a high honor to be “the mother” of him that should redeem mankind.
It is from “that honor” that the Roman Catholics have determined that it is right to worship the Virgin Mary and to offer prayers to her - an act of worship as idolatrous as any that could be offered to a creature. Because:
1.It is not anywhere commanded in the Bible.2.It is expressly forbidden to worship any being but God, Exodus 34:14; Exodus 20:4-5; Deuteronomy 6:13-14; Isaiah 45:20. 3.It is idolatry to worship or pray to a creature. 4.It is absurd to suppose that the Virgin Mary can be in all places at the same time to hear the prayers of thousands at once, or to aid them. There is no idolatry more gross, and of course more wicked, than to worship the creature more than the Creator, Romans 1:25.
My soul doth magnify the Lord - To “magnify” means to “make great,” and then to “extol,” to “praise,” to “celebrate.” It does not mean here strictly to “make great,” but to increase “in our estimation” - that is, to praise or extol. See Psalm 34:3; 2 Samuel 7:26.
In God my Saviour - God is called “Saviour,” as he saves people from sin and death. He was “Mary‘s” Saviour, as he had redeemed her soul and given her a title to eternal life; and she rejoiced for that, and especially for his mercy in honoring her by her being made the mother of the Messiah.
He hath regarded the low estate of his handmaid - Literally, he has looked upon the low or humble condition of his handmaid. That is, notwithstanding her humble rank and poverty, he has shown her favor. And this example abundantly teaches what is elsewhere fully taught in the Bible, that God is not a respecter of persons; that he is not influenced, in conferring favors, by wealth, honor, or office, Romans 2:11; Romans 10:11-12. He seeks the humble and the contrite; he imparts his rich blessings to those who feel that they need them, and who will bless him for them, Psalm 138:6; Isaiah 57:15.
From henceforth - Hereafter, or in consequence of this.
All generations - All people. All posterity.
Call me blessed - Pronounce me highly favored or happy in being the mother of the Messiah. It is therefore right to consider her as highly favored or happy; but this certainly does not warrant us to worship her or to pray to her. Abraham was blessed in being the father of the faithful; Paul in being the apostle to the Gentiles; Peter in first preaching the gospel to them; but who would think of worshipping or praying to Abraham, Paul, or Peter?
He that is mighty - God.
Hath done to me great things - Hath conferred on me great favors and distinguished mercies.
And holy is his name - This is an expression of Mary‘s feelings, desiring to bestow on God all honor and praise. As the highest honor, she declared that his “name” was “holy” - that is, that God was free from sin, injustice, and impurity. The “name” of God is often put for God Himself. The proper name of God is יהוה Yahweha word expressive of His “essential being,” derived from the word “to be,” Exodus 3:14; Exodus 6:3; Psalm 83:18. That name is holy; is to be regarded as holy; and to make a common or profane use of it is solemnly forbidden, Exodus 20:7.
His mercy - Favor shown to the miserable and the guilty.
Is on them - Is shown or manifested to them.
That fear him - That “reverence” or honor Him. One kind of fear is that which a servant has of a cruel master, or which a man has of a precipice, the plague, or death. This is not the “fear” which we ought to have toward God. It is the fear which a dutiful child has of a kind and virtuous father a fear of injuring his feelings; of dishonoring him by our life; of doing anything which he would disapprove. It is on those who have such fear of God that his mercy descends. This is the fear of the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom, Psalm 111:10; Job 28:28.d From generation to generation - From one age to another - that is, it is unceasing; it continues and abounds. But it means also more than this. It means that God‘s mercy will descend on the children and children‘s children of those that fear him and keep his commandments, Exodus 20:6. In this respect it is an unspeakable privilege to be descended from pious parents; to have been the subject of their prayers, and to have received their blessing. It is also a matter of vast guilt not to copy their example and to walk in their steps. If God is “disposed” to show mercy to thousands of generations, how heavy will be the condemnation if the children of pious parents do not avail themselves of it and early seek his favor!
Hath showed strength with his arm - The “arm” is the symbol of strength. The expression in this and the subsequent verses has no particular reference to his mercy to Mary. From a contemplation of His goodness to her, she enlarges her views to a contemplation of His goodness and power in general, and to a celebration of the praises of God for all that he has done to all people. This is the nature of true piety. It does not terminate in thinking of God‘s mercy toward ourselves. It thinks of others, and praises God that others also are made partakers of His mercy, and that His goodness is manifested to all His works.
He scattereth the proud - He hath often done it in time of battle and war. When the proud Assyrian, Egyptian, or Babylonian had come against the people of God, He had often scattered them and driven away their armies.
In the imagination of their hearts - Those who were lifted up or exalted in their own view. Those who “thought themselves” to be superior to other men.
Hath put down the mighty - The “mighty” here denotes princes, kings, or conquerors. See Isaiah 14:12-14.
Their seats - Their “thrones,” or the places where they sat in pomp and power.
Exalted them - Raised them up, or placed them in the seats of those who had been removed.
Low degree - Low or humble birth and condition in life. This probably has reference to the case of her ancestor David. Mary was celebrating the mercies of God to herself, to her family, and of course to her ancestors. It was natural to allude to that great event in their history when Saul was overcome in battle, and when David was taken from the sheepfold and placed on the throne. The origin of illustrious families is often obscure. People are often raised by industry, talent, and the favor of God, from very humble stations - from the farm or mechanic‘s shop - to places of great trust in the church and state. They who are thus elevated, if imbued with right feelings, will not despise their former employments nor their former companions, nor will they esteem their parents or friends the less because they still remain in the same rank in life. No conduct is more odious and unchristian than to be ashamed of our birth or the humble circumstances of our friends.
He hath filled the hungry with good things - This is a celebration of the general mercy of God. He hath daily fed the poor, the needy, and those who came to Him with humble hearts.
The rich he hath sent - While the poor come to him for a supply of their daily wants, the rich come not that their necessities should be supplied, but come with lofty hearts, and insatiable desires that their riches may be increased. When this is the case, God not unfrequently not only “withholds” what they ask, but he takes their riches away by fire, or flood, or disappointments, and sends them away empty, Proverbs 23:5. It is better to be poor and go to God for our daily bread, than to be rich and forget our dependence on Him, and to seek only a great increase of our property.
Hath holpen - Hath helped or assisted. The word rendered “holpen” denotes properly, “to take hold of one, to help him up when he is in danger of falling,” and here means that God had succored his people when they were feeble, and were in danger of falling or being overthrown.
His servant Israel - His people the Israelites, or those who truly revered him and kept His commandments. See Isaiah 41:8-9; Hosea 11:1.
In remembrance of his mercy - Or that His mercy may be remembered.
As he spake to our fathers - That is, He has dealt mercifully with the children of Israel, according as He promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The promise particularly here referred to is that respecting the Messiah which was now about to be fulfilled; but there is no doubt that there was also included the promises respecting all the other mercies which had been conferred on the children of Israel. See Genesis 22:17-18.
Forever - These words are to be referred to the preceding verse - “in remembrance of His mercy” forever, “as he spake,” etc. They denote that the “mercy of God” manifested to His people should be had in everlasting remembrance.There is a striking similarity between this song of praise by Mary and that spoken by “Hannah,” 1 Samuel 2:2-10. There are few pieces of “poetry” - for this is poetry, and almost the only poetry in the New Testament - more beautiful than this. It is the language of a humble, thankful, pious, female heart praising God:
1.For his mercy to her, Luke 1:46-49;2.For his mercy to all people - his “general” goodness, Luke 1:50-53; and, 3.His special goodness to his people, Luke 1:54-55.
On the eighth day - This was the day on which it was required to circumcise children, Genesis 21:4.
And they called him Zacharias - The name of the child was commonly given at the time of the circumcision, Genesis 21:3-4. The name “commonly” given to the eldest son was that of the father.
Shall be called John - This was the name which the angel had said should be given to him, of which Zechariah had probably informed Elizabeth by writing.
There is none of thy kindred - The Jewish tribes and families were kept distinct. To do this, and to avoid confusion in their genealogical tables, they probably gave only those names which were found among their ancestors. Another reason for this, common to all people, is the respect which is felt for honored parents and ancestors.
He asked - That is, by signs.
A writing table - The table denoted by this word was usually made of wood and covered with wax. The ancients used to write on such tables, as they had not the use of paper. The instrument used for writing was an iron pen or style, by which they marked on the wax which covered the table. Sometimes the writing-table was made entirely of lead.
His mouth was opened - That is, he was enabled to speak. For nine months he had been mute, and it is probable that they supposed that he had been afflicted with a paralytic affection, and that he would not recover. Hence, their amazement when he spoke. For one act of disbelief all this calamity had come upon him, and it had not come without effect. With true gratitude he offered praise to God for the birth of a son, and for his restoration to the blessings of speech.
And fear came - The word “fear” often denotes ‹religious reverence.‘ The remarkable circumstances attending the birth of John, and the fact that Zechariah was suddenly restored to speech, convinced them that God was there, and filled their minds with awe and veneration.
What manner of child - Such were the remarkable circumstances of his birth that they apprehended that he would be distinguished as a prophet, or that great events would result from his life.
The hand of the Lord was with him - The word “hand” is used to denote “aid, protection, favor.” We stretch out the hand to aid those whom we wish to help. The expression here means that God “aided” him, “protected” him, or showed him favor. Some think that these words are a part of the speech of the neighbors - “What manner of child shall this be? God is so evidently with him!”
Filled with the Holy Ghost - See Luke 1:15.
And prophesied - The word “prophesy” means:
1.To foretell future events.2.To celebrate the praises of God (see 1 Samuel 10:5-6; 1 Kings 18:29); then to, 3.Teach or preach the gospel, etc. See the notes at Romans 12:6.
This song of Zechariah partakes of all. It is principally employed in the praises of God, but it also predicts the future character and preaching of John.
Blessed - See the notes at Matthew 5:3.
Hath visited - The word here rendered “visited” means properly “to look upon;” then to look upon in order “to know the state of anyone;” then to visit for the purpose of “aiding those who need aid,” or alleviating misery. Compare Matthew 25:43. In this sense it is used here. God “looked upon” the world - he saw it miserable - he came to relieve it, and brought salvation.
And redeemed - That is, was “about to redeem,” or had given the pledge that he “would redeem.” This was spoken under the belief that the Messiah, “the Redeemer,” was about to appear, and would certainly accomplish his work. The literal translation of this passage is, “He hath made a “ransom” for his people. A “ransom” was the “price” paid to deliver a captive taken in war. A is a prisoner taken in war by B. B has a right to detain him as a prisoner by the laws of war, but C offers B a “price” if he will release A and suffer him to go at liberty. The price which he pays, and which must be “satisfactory” to B - that is, be a “reason” to B why he should release him is called a “price” or “ransom.” Men are sinners. They are bound over to just punishment by the law. The law is holy, and God, as a just governor, must see that the law is honored and the wicked punished; but if anything can be done which will have the same “good effect” as the punishment of the sinner, or which will be an “equivalent” for it - that is, be of equal value to the universe - God may consistently release him.If he can show the same hatred of sin, and deter others from sinning, and secure the purity of the sinner, the sinner may be released. Whatever will accomplish “this” is called a “ransom,” because it is, in the eye of God, a sufficient “reason” why the sinner should not be punished; it is an equivalent for his sufferings, and God is satisfied. The “blood of Jesus” - that is, his death in the place of sinners constitutes such a ransom. It is in their stead. It is for them. It is equivalent to their punishment. It is not itself a “punishment,” for that always supposes “personal crime,” but it is what God is pleased to accept in the place of the eternal sufferings of the sinner. The king of the “Locrians” made a law that an adulterer should be punished with the loss of his eyes. His “son” was the first offender, and the father decreed that his son should lose one eye, and he himself one also. This was the “ransom.” He showed his “love,” his regard for the honor of his law, and the determination that the guilty should not escape. So God gave his Son a “ransom” to show his love, his regard to justice, and his willingness to save people; and his Son, in his death, was a ransom. He is often so called in the New Testament, Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45; Titus 2:14; Hebrews 9:12. For a fuller view of the nature of a ransom, see the notes at Romans 3:24-25.
And hath raised up a horn - A horn is a symbol of strength. The figure is taken from the fact that in horned animals the strength lies in the “horn.” Particularly, the great power of the rhinoceros or unicorn is manifested by the use of a single horn of great “strength,” placed on the head near the end of the nose. When the sacred writers, therefore, speak of great strength they often use the word “horn,” Psalm 148:14; Deuteronomy 33:17; Daniel 7:7-8; Daniel 7:21. The word salvation, connected here with the word “horn,” means that this “strength,” or this mighty Redeemer, was able to save. It is possible that this whole figure may be taken from the Jewish “altar.” On each of the four corners of the altar there was an eminence or small projection called a “horn.” To this persons might flee for safety when in danger, and be safe, 1 Kings 1:50; 1 Kings 2:28. Compare the notes at Luke 1:11. So the Redeemer “may be” called the “horn of salvation,” because those who flee to him are safe.
In the house - In the family, or among the descendants of David.
His holy prophets - All the prophets are said to have referred to the Messiah, from the beginning of the world. The most striking of these were Jacob Genesis 49:10; Moses Deuteronomy 18:15; Isaiah Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 53:1-12.
Since the world began - This is not to be taken literally, for there were no prophets “immediately after” the creation. It is merely a general expression, designed to denote that all the prophets had predicted the coming of the Messiah. Compare the Luke 24:27 note; Revelation 19:10 note.
Saved from our enemies - The enemies of “man” are his sins, his carnal propensities, his lusts, and the great adversary Satan and his angels, who continually seek to destroy him. From “these” the Messiah came to save us. Compare Genesis 3:15; Matthew 1:21.
The hand - The power; or to save us from them.
To perform the mercy - To show the mercy promised. The expression in the “original” is, “To make mercy with our fathers” - that is, to show kindness to our fathers; and the propriety of it is founded on the fact that mercy to “children” is regarded as kindness to the “parent.” Blessing the “children” was blessing the “nation;” was fulfilling the promises made to the fathers, and “showing” that he regarded them in mercy.
His holy covenant - The word “covenant” means compact or agreement. This is in use among people. It implies equality in the parties; freedom from constraint; freedom from previous obligation to do the thing now covenanted; and freedom from obligation to enter into a compact, unless a man chooses so to do. Such a transaction evidently can never take place between man and God, for they are not equal. Man is not at liberty to “decline” what God proposes, and he is under obligation to do “all” that God commands. When the word “covenant,” therefore, is used in the Bible, it means sometimes a “command;” Sometimes a “promise;” sometimes a “regular law” - as “the covenant of the day and night;” and sometimes the way in which God dispenses mercy - that is, by the old and new covenants. In the place before us it means “the promise” made to Abraham, as the following verses clearly show.
The oath - This oath is recorded in Genesis 22:16-17. It was an oath in which God swore by himself (because he could swear by no greater, Hebrews 6:13-14) that he would surely bless Abraham and his posterity. That promise was now to be entirely fulfilled by the coming of the Messiah.
Might serve him - Might obey, honor, and worship him. This was regarded as a “favor.” This was what was promised, and for this Zechariah praised God.
Without fear - Fear of death, of spiritual enemies, or of external foes. In the sure hope of God‘s “eternal” favor beyond the grave.
In holiness - In piety and strict justice.
Before him - In the presence of God. Performed as in his presence, and with the full consciousness that he sees the heart. The “holiness” was not to be merely external, but spiritual, internal, pure, such as “God” would see and approve.
All the days of our life - To death. True religion increases and expands until death.
And thou, child - Zechariah predicts in this and the following verses the dignity, the employment, and the success of John. He declares what would be the subject of his preaching, and what his success.
Prophet of the Highest - Prophet of God; a prophet “appointed by God” to declare his will, and to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah.
The face of the Lord - The Lord Jesus, the Messiah, that was about to appear. To go before “the face of one” is the same as to go immediately before one, or to be immediately followed by another.
To prepare his ways - This is taken from Isaiah 40:3. See the Matthew 3:3 niote, and Isaiah 40:3 note.
To give knowledge of salvation - Knowledge of the “way” of salvation: that it was provided, and that the author of salvation was about to appear.
By the remission of their sins - The word remission means pardon or forgiveness. It implies that God will treat the sinner as if he had not committed the sin. The idea here is, that the “salvation” about to be offered was that which was connected with the pardon of sin. There can be no other. God cannot treat people as his friends unless they come to him by repentance and obtain forgiveness. When that is obtained, which he is always disposed to grant, they can be treated with kindness and mercy.
Whereby the dayspring - The word “dayspring” means the morning light, the aurora, the rising of the sun. It is called the dayspring “from on high” because the light of the gospel shines forth from heaven. God is its Author, and through His mercy it shines upon people. There is here, doubtless, a reference to Isaiah 60:1-2; indeed, almost the very words of that place are quoted. Compare also Revelation 22:16.
To give light - See the notes at Matthew 4:16.
To guide our feet - The figure in these verses is taken from travelers, who, being overtaken by night, know not what to do, and who wait patiently for the morning light, that they may know which way to go. So man wandered. So he became benighted. So he sat in the shadow of death. So he knew not which way to go until the Sun of righteousness arose, and then the light shone brightly on his way, and the road was open to the promised land of rest - to heaven.This song of Zechariah is exceedingly beautiful. It expresses with elegance the great points of the plan of redemption, and the mercy of God in providing that plan. That mercy is “great.” It is worthy of praise - of our highest, loftiest songs of thanksgiving; for we were in the shadow of death - sinful, wretched, wandering - and the light arose, the gospel came, and people may rejoice in hope of eternal life.
Waxed strong in spirit - That is, in courage, understanding, and purposes of good, fitting him for his future work. The word “wax” means to “increase, to grow,” from an old Saxon word.
In the deserts - In Hebron, and in the hill country where his father resided. He dwelt in obscurity, and was not known publicly by the people.
Until the day of his showing - Until he entered on his public ministry, as recorded in Matthew 3 - that is, probably, until he was about 30 years of age. See Luke 3.
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