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Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible Poole's Annotations
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Luke 1". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ mpc/ luke-1.html. 1685.
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Luke 1". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
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LUKE CHAPTER 1
Luke 1:1-4 Luke's preface.
Luke 1:5-17 An angel appeareth to Zacharias, and promises him a son in his old age.
Luke 1:18-23 Zacharias doubting is struck dumb for a sign.
Luke 1:24-25 His wife Elisabeth conceives.
Luke 1:26-38 The angel's visit to Mary.
Luke 1:39-45 Elisabeth, saluted by Mary, prophesieth.
Luke 1:46-56 Mary's song of thanksgiving.
Luke 1:57-63 The birth and circumcision of John the Baptist.
Luke 1:64-66 Zacharias's mouth is opened.
Luke 1:67-80 His prophecy.
Luke's evangelical history hath this peculiar to itself, that whereas the histories of the other evangelists are written to the whole world, having no particular inscription, or dedication, Luke dedicates his to a particular person, named Theophilus; for though that name signifieth one that loveth God, yet I cannot think it is to be taken here appellatively, it being commonly used as a proper name; parents in former ages giving children names generally either expressive of their children's duty to God, (that by their names they might be put in mind of it), or expressive of God's mercy to themselves in giving them such children. The evangelist here suggests, that many had taken in hand orderly to write an account of the things which were certainly believed amongst the Jews. Some think that Luke here reflects upon some that, even so early, had given false accounts of our Saviour's history; for there were several pretended Gospels wrote, called, The Gospel of the Nazarenes, of Thomas, Matthias, Nicodemus, and many others, which the church soon saw cause to reject. But others think that Luke doth not at all reflect, and possibly those figments were not so early; but Luke, observing that many did write this famous history, and some, possibly, for want of due information, not so exactly as they might, yet as they were delivered to them from such as from the beginning were eye witnesses, and ministers of the word, but possibly might not be able so exactly to inform them, or the writers not so able duly to digest them (for most think Matthew, Mark, and John wrote after); or possibly because, there being then no printing, but all in manuscripts, because he thought his friend Theophilus (to whom he knew such a history would be grateful) might not have come to the sight of those manuscripts, he undertakes (not without the direction of the Holy Spirit, as appeared afterward) to compile a history of these things, to which he was either encouraged by the example of others, or incited by the mistakes of those who had done it ill, having the advantage perfectly to understand all things from the first. Most think that this advantage arose not from his personal knowledge, but his converse with the apostles and other ministers of Christ; for he saith no more, Luke 1:2, than,
even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eye witnesses, and ministers of the word; by which it seemeth to be hinted to us, that he was no eyewitness, nor minister of the word. To understand by the word in that verse Christ (whom John indeed so calleth, John 1:1) seemeth to me too hard, considering the word, in the evangelists, doth ordinarily signify the gospel, and no where Christ but in John 1:1,John 1:2, &c.
That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed; hat is, by the relation of others. Before I pass this preface, I shall make some observations upon it.
1. That even from the beginning there were some cheats, in reporting matters of fact concerning the church. Whether Luke intended to reflect on them, or not, if we may believe any thing of ecclesiastical history, there were some false Gospels; and before the time of the Gospel there were apocryphal writings relating to the history of the Old Testament. No writings but the Scriptures deserve our faith (otherwise than they agree with them) in things of which they give us an account.
2. In Luke's time the history of the Gospel was most surely believed, as being delivered from eyewitnesses.
3. Men ought to have perfect understanding of matters of fact before they write them. Whoso writes a history upon uncertainty, imposes upon all future ages.
4. A knowledge of certainties is what all good men ought to aim at in writing and reading. It is a mean soul that can feed upon an uncertainty, and they are as mean that spend their time in catering such food for reasonable souls. Men's understandings are given them for nobler uses than to gain the notion of a falsehood, and they are low born souls that can spend their precious hours in such cookery let the sauce with which they serve it up be never so artificial.
The Holy Ghost, for infinitely wise reasons, giveth us here an account both of the time when John the Baptist was born, and also of his parentage. It was
in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, that is, he who was the son of Antipater: not Herod the tetrarch of Galilee, of whom you read Luke 3:1, who put John Baptist to death, that was thirty-one or thirty-two years after this. He is usually called Herod the Great; who fought his way to the government of the Jews under the Romans, and came to his throne by the slaughter of the Jewish Sanhedrim; by which means he also extinguished all the government, which till his time held in the tribe of Judah, though not in a single person, (for that was destroyed in John, soon after the time of Judas Maccabeus), yet in a select number out of that royal tribe. So that in this Herod’s time the prophecy of dying Jacob, Genesis 49:10, was fulfilled. The sceptre, that is, the government, departed from Judah, and the lawgiver from his feet, which was a certain sign (in order to the fulfilling of that prophecy) that Shiloh, that is, the Messias, was coming. This for the time.
A certain priest, named Zacharias; some will have him to have been the high priest, or his deputy, but that cannot be, for the high priest was but one, and so not within the courses of the priests, but of the eldest family from Aaron; and though it be said, Luke 1:9, that his lot was to burn incense, yet it must not be understood of the incense mentioned Leviticus 16:12, to be burned upon the yearly day of expiation, (which indeed none but the high priest might do), but of the daily incense mentioned in the law, Exodus 30:7,Exodus 30:8, which any of the priests did in their courses. This Zacharias was
of the course of Abia. The eldest son of Aaron was always the high priest; his other sons were priests. In a long course of time, their descendants so multiplied, that they were too many all at the same time to minister in the temple. David therefore divided them into courses; each course waited their month. 1 Chronicles 24:4,1 Chronicles 24:5, there is an account of the distribution of the priests into twenty-four courses. In David’s time the eighth course was the course of Abijah. It appeareth by Nehemiah 12:1-47, that after the captivity they kept the denominations of these courses, but it is probable the order of them was altered. We read of Abijah in Nehemiah 12:17, but whether his was then, or at this time when Luke wrote his Gospel, the eighth course I cannot tell. It is enough for us that Zacharias was one of the ordinary priests of the course of Abia; whose office it was to serve in the temple in his course, which was the course of such as derived from the Abijah mentioned in 1 Chronicles 24:10.
And his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth. This is added not to signify Zacharias’s obedience to the Divine law, which obliged the priests to marry within their own tribes; for the reason of that law being only to prevent the confusion of the inheritances, which fell by lot to the several tribes, and by the will of God were to be so kept distinct, the tribe of Levi having no such inheritance, might intermix with any other tribe, and did so; the high priest only was obliged to marry one of his own people, Leviticus 21:14, and Jehoiada, 2 Chronicles 22:11, married one of the tribe of Judah; but it is added to show the honourableness of Elisabeth’s stock. Moses and Aaron were the two first governors of the Israelites. Elisabeth was not only of the tribe of Levi, but descended from Aaron, whom God made the noblest family of the Levites. Her name was Elisabeth. It is a Hebrew name, Exodus 6:23, and (as you may see there) was the very name of Aaron’s wife, the daughter of Amminadab, and sister of Naashon. As it may be variously written it signifieth, the rest, or the oath, or the rod of my God.
That they were not righteous by a perfect legal righteousness, being not guilty of any sin, is certain, for so there is none righteous, no, not one; but so righteous, as that God accepted them, and looked upon them as righteous; as Abraham believed, and it was imputed to him for righteousness, though he sinned in the denial of his wife, &c.; or as it is said of David, 1 Kings 15:5, He did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord, and turned not aside from any thing that he commanded him, all the days of his life, save only in the matter of Uriah. They also walked
in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. A man’s blameless conversation before the world is a piece of his righteousness, but will not make up alone such a righteousness as will testify his acceptation with God, or righteousness before him; he must, in the first place, walk in the commandments and in the ordinances of God. There is a duty towards God, as well as towards men; and that duty lies in the keeping his commandments, his ordinances, for the fear of the Lord must not be taught us by the precepts of men: yea, and in all the ordinances of God, having a respect to all God’s commandments; and making this his constant course and practice, not doing it by fits. He must also be blameless towards men. Here is a true pattern of what a married couple should be, especially where the husband waits at the altar, and is employed in the holy things of God. A bishop must be blameless, 1 Timothy 3:2; a deacon grave, not double tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre, Luke 1:8; blameless, Luke 1:10; and, Luke 1:11, Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, & c. Such were Zacharias and Elisabeth. Such ought all ministers of the gospel and their wives to be.
Amongst all earthly blessings, there is nothing we more desire than children, in whom we have a kind of perpetuity, living in our species and in our posterity when we are dead in nature. But as God, for our trial, doth often deny us other good things which are the great objects of our desires, so he doth often deny his own people this great blessing. Sometimes he withholdeth it a long time from those to whom he at length giveth it. Barrenness in Israel was a reproach: see Luke 1:25, and 1 Samuel 1:6. There was a promise to Abraham of a plentiful seed; hence, amongst the Jews, she that was barren hardly thought herself, or was judged by others, a genuine daughter of Abraham. Both Zacharias and Elisabeth
were now well stricken in years. God chooseth this woman, naturally barren, and now aged also, to be the mother of John the Baptist, therein working a double miracle; and it is observable in holy writ, that when God denied to any women children for some long time, and then opened their wombs, they were the mothers of some eminent persons, whom God made great use of. Thus it was with Sarah, Rachel, the wife of Manoah, Hannah, 1 Samuel 1:1-28, and this Elisabeth.
The priests were multiplied to an exceeding number; we find an account of more than four thousand upon the return out of the captivity of Babylon, Ezra 2:36-39; they were doubtless afterward multiplied to a far greater number. Josephus tells us there were a thousand in a course; whether they held to twenty-four courses, as in David’s time, or no, I cannot tell. There were several parts of the priestly office, which it seemeth, by this text, the priests of the course that ministered divided amongst themselves by lot. One part of their work was to burn incense morning and evening. It seems this was that part of the priestly office which Zacharias was by lot to exercise.
We are told, that the order of the Jewish daily service was this: twice in the day the priests whose course it was to minister, or such of them whose lot it was, went into the holy place to burn incense, according to the law, Exodus 30:7. When they went in, a bell rung, to give notice that it was the hour of prayer. There were constantly there,
1. The rest of the priests of the same course.
2. The Levites.
3. Their stationary men, who represented the whole congregation, and laid their hands upon the beast slain.
4. So many more of the people as would voluntarily come; and it was very ordinary for many to go.
Thus we read, Acts 3:1, of Peter and John going into the temple at the hour of prayer. These made the multitude, of whom it is said, that while the priest was burning incense they were without, not without the temple, but in the court of Israel, without the holy place, in which the priests were burning incense, praying; so they used to do privately by themselves. There is a text in Ecclesiasticus, Ecc 1:15, which (though it be not canonical Scripture) is as credible as any other civil history, and will much help to make the readers understand the order of the Jewish service, and what this text saith.
Though we translate it appeared, yet in the Greek it is, there was seen of him. An angel indeed was there; whether the angel Gabriel or not, or in what form he appeared, it is not said. It is by some observed, that until the Urim and Thummim ceased, no angel appeared to any priest executing his office; after this, it is observed by others, that most appearances of angels to the priests were when they were employed in their service in the temple.
We are naturally affrighted at sudden and unusual things, but especially at any Divine appearances, whether God himself takes a shape, or authorizes an angel to do it. So was Daniel, Daniel 10:7,Daniel 10:8; and Manoah and his wife, Judges 13:20; and Paul, Acts 9:1-18. For though God doth not make these appearances to affright us, yet such is the imbecility of our natures, that we cannot but be shy at them, and start from them; and it is but reasonable that God should by this means both declare his own glory and majesty, and also humble his poor creatures, and make them more impressive, and receptive of his Divine revelations. It is reasonable God should keep and declare his majesty, though we keep and declare our infirmity.
Although the great God useth so to show himself to the best of his own people, as to imprint upon them a sacred awe of his majesty, yet he never suffereth the souls of his people to sink under those apprehensions. The first words the angel saith to Zacharias are,
Fear not, Zacharias. I am no bad messenger to thee, but a good messenger from God, to tell thee
thy prayer is heard. This is good news to any soul. But of what prayer the angel here speaketh is a little further question, for it follows,
and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son. It is believed that the priest, while he burned incense, did offer up prayers, but that he had now offered up prayers to God for issue is not so probable, considering that both he and Elisabeth were well stricken in years, and probably past children. Some therefore think that those words, and thy wife Elisabeth, & c., are given him only as a sign that his prayers were heard; and added to signify that, as a further mercy to him than what he asked, Elisabeth should conceive. Nor do I see any reason why we should restrain the prayer mentioned to the prayer he had now made, and not expound it of those many prayers which Zacharias had before made, which though God had delayed to answer, yet the angel assures him should now be answered with relation to issue.
And thou shalt call his name John, which is the same with Johanan in the Hebrew, and signifies gracious. The angel directed Joseph to call Christ’s name Jesus, because he was to save his people from their sins; and he directeth Zacharias to call his son’s name John, because he was to open the kingdom of grace, and to preach the grace of the gospel, through Jesus Christ.
None ought to have so mean thoughts of these words of the angel, as to think that they are only expressive of that affection which commonly discovereth itself in us when God giveth us sons, especially after a long barrenness, but of a further joy and gladness his parents should have upon a spiritual account, afterwards expressed.
Many shall rejoice at his birth: they rejoiced in his light, John 5:36, the glad tidings of the Messiah being come into the world, which he brought. The papists think they have a ground here for their holy day they keep to his honour, and their apish, carnal rejoicing, which certainly was not so valuable a thing as for an angel to foretell. The angel speaks of the great acceptation with the people (many of them) which John’s doctrine should have, so that, as our Saviour saith, from his days the kingdom of heaven suffered violence, and the violent did take it by force. But he further openeth his meaning in the following verses.
We have a natural ambition to be great, but it is only to be great in the sight of men; thence one man coveteth riches, another honours and reputation; but the true greatness is to be
great in the sight of the Lord, who doth certainly judge with the truest and most infallible judgment. In God’s sight he is a great man of whom God maketh a great use, especially in turning many souls to himself. Consider John separately from his work, and the concurrence of God with his work, he was a very little man, and so looked upon by the Pharisees and rulers, who would not believe in him. His father was an ordinary priest. For titles and dignities, he had none; John the Baptist was his highest title. For his clothing; he was not clothed in soft raiment, (as princes’ chaplains), he was clothed with a skin, with camel’s hair, and had a leathern girdle about his loins; yet Christ saith of him,
Among them that are born of women, there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist. He had no palace, no stately habitation; he lived mostly in desert places little inhabited. Nature was his cook, that provided him locusts and wild honey. Where was his greatness, but in this—He was a great and faithful preacher of the gospel, and God blessed his labours to convert souls? They are little men that do little of the work for which God hath sent them into the world, and do little good in their generation.
He shall drink neither wine nor strong drink: by strong drink is meant any drink which ordinarily intoxicates. This was the law of the Nazarites, Numbers 6:3. It was forbidden the priests during the time of their ministration upon pain of death, Leviticus 10:9. No lovers of wine and strong drink can be great men in the sight of God. The minister of the gospel must not be one given to wine, 1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:7.
And he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. This is true, both as to prophecy, (which is all extraordinary gift of the Holy Ghost), and also of the Holy Ghost considered as a sanctifying Spirit renewing the heart.
And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. Then it seems there is another conversion besides the conversion of men from paganism. John (with the assistance of the Holy Ghost) was an instrument to turn many of the Israelites, who already verbally owned the true God, but were drenched in errors, and superstitions, and looseness of life, to the Lord their God, by repentance; and this he did by preaching both law and gospel to them. This made him a great man, for, They that turn many to righteousness shall shine as the stars for ever and ever, Daniel 12:3.
God was last spoken of, he must therefore be the him mentioned here, before whom John the Baptist was to go, according to the prophecy, Malachi 4:5,Malachi 4:6; from whence is an evident proof that Christ was the Lord our God, before whom John the Baptist came,
in the spirit and power of Elias, and therefore he is called Elias, Malachi 4:5, as expounded by Christ, Matthew 11:14; Mark 9:13. The Jews’ not understanding this keeps them in a vain expectation of a Messiah to this day, and of a personal coming of Elias before him. It is the observation of some learned men, that where the word power is added to the Spirit, or Holy Ghost, it signifies a more than ordinary measure and influence of the Spirit, as in Luke 1:35; Acts 10:38; 1 Corinthians 2:4; 1 Thessalonians 1:5. But I rather think that by that phrase, in the spirit and power, here is meant, with the same zeal and frame of spirit that Elijah had. We have before, in our notes upon Matthew, showed in how many things John the Baptist was like Elijah, to say nothing of his habit and the severity of his life, in respect of the most corrupt time wherein they both lived, their faithfulness in their ministry, their warmth and zeal in their work, their boldness, not fearing to reprove princes for their errors, &c.
To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children. Malachi addeth, and the heart of the children to their fathers; instead of which Luke hath, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; that is, to bring both young and old to repentance: the hearts of the fathers amongst the Jews to the doctrine of Christ and his apostles, their children; and the hearts of the Jews, which, with respect to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and David, are children, to the doctrine which they embraced, and the ways of God wherein those just men walked, which is the doctrine of wisdom: to reconcile many amongst the Jews to that which some of them own and profess, though others of them are yet apostatized, and yet led away with the superstitions of those degenerate and corrupt times.
To make ready a people prepared for the Lord; to acquaint this part of the world with the Messias, and to prepare them for receiving him and his doctrine, which is presently to be revealed by himself, taking off people’s prejudices, and discovering and commending Christ to them. Or, by bringing men to a true repentance for their sins, and a sense of them, till which they cannot believe, to prepare them for a more internal reception of the Lord Jesus Christ. For John is said to have preached the doctrine of repentance for the remission of sins; and to have preached, saying, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Also defaming the Pharisees, who were the great enemies of Christ, by detecting to the people their hypocrisy. Thus he made
ready a people prepared for the Lord.
The words are much the same with those of Abraham, Genesis 15:8, Whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it, viz. the land of Canaan? And Mary, Luke 1:34, when the same angel had told her she should have a child, Luke 1:31, saith, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? Gideon also asked a sign, Judges 6:17. To our appearance and judgment there seemeth no great difference betwixt these and Zacharias in this place asking a sign, only Zacharias here opposeth his own sense and reason to the words of the angel, yet we shall hear a different issue of this question, or answer to it.
It is by some observed, that before the captivity of Babylon we read of no name of any angel, who have no names as we have, but assume names to declare the nature of their ministration; and that Gabriel signifieth, the power, or the strength, of God, because the declaring of the gospel, which the apostle declares the power of God to salvation, Romans 1:16, seemeth to have been his peculiar ministration. We read of this Gabriel, Daniel 8:16; Daniel 9:21, where we find him foretelling the Messias, and the working of man’s redemption; to which prophecies he doubtless refers Zacharias in saying,
I am Gabriel. We again shall meet with him Luke 1:26,Luke 1:27, six months after this, appearing to the virgin Mary, and telling her she should bring forth the Messiah. He addeth,
that stand in the presence of God. As the good angels always behold the presence of our heavenly Father, (as our Saviour tells us), and are ready to be sent about his messages, (whence is the name of angels), they are called God’s ministers, Psalms 103:21; Psalms 104:4.
And am sent to speak unto thee, and to show thee these glad tidings: God sent me on purpose to declare this thing to thee. Which Zacharias might have known by the time and place when he appeared; at the time of prayer, at the altar in the holy place, where the evil angels used not to show themselves.
And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed. Divines have perplexed themselves to give a just account of this signal punishment of so good a man; whether they have said enough to satisfaction I cannot tell. Abraham, upon the same question, was gratified with a sign, Genesis 15:8,Genesis 15:9; so was Gideon, Judges 6:17. Where there is no difference in the words, or in a fact, there may be a great difference in the heart, and its inward habit and motions, from which those words proceed, and we must allow God to see that better than we can discern it by the words. Before Abraham’s time, we read of no such experience of God’s power in such cases, neither do we find that Abraham desired a sign as to this, that God would give him a child, but only as to the Lord’s giving his posterity Canaan. Besides that, it is said, Luke 1:6, he believed, and it was counted to him for righteousness; and the apostle extols his faith, Romans 4:19-21; Being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither the deadness of Sarah’s womb: he staggered not at the promise through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able to perform. So as he asked not a sign for the begetting of a faith in him, he believed the Lord without a sight, only, fearing his own heart, he asked a sign for the further increase and confirmation of his faith. Besides, Zacharias’s punishment was gentle, and of that nature that it also carried with it an answer to his desire: it was only the privation of speech, until the words of the angel should be fulfilled.
Because thou believest not my words. The words of God by his messengers are to be believed, and the not believing their words, which they speak truly from him, and as so sent, is a sin God will severely punish. It is all one not to believe God, as not to believe those whom he sends, speaking what he bids them.
Which shall be fulfilled in their season. The unbelief of men shall not make the word and promise of God of no effect; but God’s promises have their seasons, before which we must not expect the accomplishment of them, Habakkuk 2:3.
While the priest was in the holy place, the people were in that part of the temple called the court of Israel, or the court of the people, praying: when he had done, he came out, and blessed them according to the law, Numbers 6:23-26, where is the form of blessing which he used; for this the people waited before they went home. Whether the angel’s discourse with Zacharias was longer, or his amazement at the vision made him stay longer than the priest was wont to stay, it is uncertain; but so he did, and when he came out he was not able to pronounce the blessing, nor to speak at all, only he beckons to them, by which the people judged that he had seen some vision. Yet dumbness being none of those bodily defects for which by the law they were to be removed from the priest’s office, nor having any great work in which he used his tongue during his ministration, which was more the work of the hands, he accomplished the days he was to minister, and then departed to his own house, for in the days of their ministration they had their lodgings in buildings appertaining to the temple.
How long after those days the Scripture saith not, but it is probable it was soon after, as in the case of Abraham, and in the case of Manoah’s wife, Judges 13:3, who conceived presently after the revelation.
And hid herself: not that she hid herself from seeing any person, but she concealed from those whom she saw the hopes that she had of her being with child, and perhaps what her husband had let her know by writing of the revelation he had from the angel: not that she herself doubted the thing, that were unreasonable to presume, after the seeing of her husband made dumb for a sign of it, and the next words will let us know the contrary; but to avoid the discourse of people upon so unusual a thing, who might possibly think her too vain in speaking of a thing so improbable and unlikely as this was. In the mean time she did not conceal herself from God, but said,
Thus hath the Lord dealt with me, ascribing it all to the power of God, who keepeth the key of the womb in his hand, and maketh the fruit of it his reward.
In the days wherein he looked upon me: it is the same with Luke 1:48,
He hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. The favour of God to his creatures is oft expressed under this notion, Psalms 25:18; Psalms 84:9; Psalms 119:132.
To take away my reproach among men. Barrenness is no more than a reproach amongst men; it was more especially a reproach to Jewish women, not only in regard of the expectation of being the mother of the Messias, (for none could expect that but a virgin, Isaiah 7:14, and she of the tribe of Judah, to which the Messiah was promised, and one of the house of David, to whose family he was promised as a branch), but in regard of the special promise to Abraham, to whom a seed was promised, numerous as the dust, and as the stars, to which the barren woman could contribute nothing. It is a great mercy when God favoureth his people with any in evidences which take away their reproach amongst men, and a just cause for his people’s thankful acknowledgment.
In the sixth month, that is, after Elisabeth’s conception; thus it is expounded afterward, Luke 1:36.
The angel Gabriel, the same angel that had appeared in the temple to Zacharias, who seemeth to have had a special ministration with reference to that part of God’s will which was predictive of the Messias; he
was sent from God (without whose command the angels do not move)
unto a city of Galilee named Nazareth. There Joseph lived; from thence he went, Luke 2:4. The angel came to the virgin, who is here described by her name, Mary, and her relation, she was espoused to one Joseph, who is said to be
of the house of David. Matthew reduces his genealogy to prove him to be so.
Virgins betrothed, until the consummation of their marriage, were ordinarily kept in their friends’ house: thither came this angel, and saith,
Hail, thou that art highly favoured. The word translated hail signifies, Rejoice thou, or is as much as, God save thee. It is not the form of a prayer, (as the papists use it), but an ordinary salutation, as much as, God save you, or, Good morrow, is amongst us.
Thou that art highly favoured, kecaritwmenh; the word comes originally from χαρις, which signifieth in Scripture two things:
1. The free love and favour of another bestowed on any: thus it is taken Luke 1:30 thou hast found favour. To the praise of the glory of his grace, Ephesians 1:6.
2. It signifies good habits in the soul; as 2 Peter 3:18, Grow in grace; Colossians 3:16, Singing with grace in your hearts.
Hence the verb, a participle from which the word here used is, may signify, two things; either:
1. Thou hast received grace or favour from God, or,
2. Thou that art full of gracious habits.
The first seems to be its sense in this place: it followeth in the verse, blessed art thou; so also it is expounded Luke 1:30, for thou hast found favour with God. So as the virgin was the object of Divine grace, as we are, and therefore not to be prayed to as the fountain of grace; she herself had nothing but what she received. This whole verse seemeth to be only a salutation, there is nothing of a prayer in it; the angel doth only take notice of her as a favourite of Heaven, one dear unto his Lord, with whom God was in an especial manner, and whom God blessed above the rate of those ordinary blessings with which he blesseth other women.
It seemeth that she did not only hear a voice, and saw an ordinary appearance, but the appearance of the angel was attended with some manifestation of the glory of God, which affected her, and made her wonder what the meaning of this should be, that God should send an angel to her, and with such a kind of salutation.
This expounds those words, thou that art highly favoured, Luke 1:28, and lets her know that he came upon no ill design unto her, neither upon any human errand, nor yet with any message of evil tidings from God, for she was one for whom God had a favour.
These three verses contain the substance of the angel’s message or errand to the virgin, to tell her she should be the mother of
a Son, by what name she should call him, and what he should be. In telling her this, who knew herself to be a virgin, one who had not known man, (as she expresses it, Luke 1:34), he plainly minds her that the prophecy, Isaiah 7:14, should be fulfilled in her. Thus far the angel’s word signifieth a promise.
And shalt call his name Jesus: the angel saith the same to Joseph, Matthew 1:21, and expounds it, adding, for he shall save his people from their sins; and thus the prophet expounds it, who saith, Isaiah 7:14, his name should be called Immanuel. There were two of this name before, Joshua and Jeshua, both of which were great types of Christ, as being great temporal saviours to the Israelites. The one brought them into Canaan; the other led them out of Babylon, Ezra 2:2. But this was yet a more excellent Joshua, who was to save his people from their sins. The angel further goes on describing him, saying,
He shall be great. Isaiah had said, Isaiah 9:6, his name shall be called Wonderful, mighty both in words and deeds, Luke 24:19.
And shall be called the Son of the Highest, that is, the Son of God, who is often in Scripture made known by this name, Genesis 14:19; Psalms 83:18; Psalms 92:1; Mark 5:7. He shall be called the Son, that is, he shall be so, for this phrase so signifieth often, Isaiah 1:26; John 1:12; for he shall be known and declared to be so, Romans 1:4. Peter so called him; so did the centurion who attended his cross. God himself called him so, Psalms 2:7, and that in a sense agreeing to none but him; no, not to the angels, Hebrews 1:5, much less to saints.
And the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: not the temporal kingdom, but the spiritual kingdom over the same people over whom David ruled, from whom he is descended. It appeareth from many passages in the prophets that David’s kingdom was a type of Christ’s, 2 Samuel 7:13; Psalms 2:6; Psalms 132:11; Isaiah 9:6,Isaiah 9:7; Amos 9:11. Hence we find the name of David given to Christ, Jeremiah 30:9; Ezekiel 34:23; Ezekiel 37:24; Hosea 3:5.
And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. Jacob was the father of the twelve tribes of Israel; so as the house of Jacob primarily signifieth the Jews, who were the natural branches in this excellent olive. Christ’s kingdom extended beyond the house of Jacob, but it began there, his law went first out of Zion, and he was in the first place sent to the lost sheep of Israel; he was the minister of the circumcision, Romans 15:8. Others were to be joined to the house of Jacob, Isaiah 14:1. Or Jacob, and the house of Jacob, may signify the whole church, all that should believe in Christ. The rod of his strength went out of Zion, Psalms 110:2, though his kingdom was not confined to Jacob. All believers who worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, are by the apostle determined the circumcision, Philippians 3:3, and he is a Jew who is one inwardly, Revelation 2:29.
And of his kingdom there shall be no end: this both expounds the words for ever, going just before, and also distinguishes the kingdom of Christ from all kingdoms of the world, which all shall have their periods; and also assures us of the continuance of the gospel church, which is Christ’s kingdom, till his kingdom of glory be revealed; and this agreeth with the prophecies of the Old Testament, concerning the kingdom of the Messiah, and the typical kingdom of David, Psalms 145:13; Isaiah 9:7; Daniel 7:14; Micah 4:7.
There are some would excuse Mary in this reply, and tell us these words spake in her no doubt that the things spoken by the angel should not come to pass, only admiration, or a desire to be further acquainted which way God would effect such a wonder of providence. Others think her words hardly excusable from all guilt, though the more excusable because there had yet been no such precedent made in the world of the Divine power, as to cause a virgin to conceive, and bring forth a son. The next words,
seeing I know not a man, seem to import that she understood the angel of the present or past time, that she had already conceived, or should immediately conceive, against which she objects her not having any carnal knowledge of any man. For the notion of some papists, that would from hence impose upon us to believe that Mary hath vowed virginity, as if the sense of the words were, I am resolved never to know man, it is so ridiculous, that no man of ordinary sense can allow it; for, besides that there were no such vows that we ever read of amongst the Israelites, nor could any such be made but by the law of God might be rescinded, if made when the virgin was in her father’s house; and besides that it is very improbable that a Jewish woman should make such a vow, in whom barrenness was such a reproach, and who looked upon it as a curse; I say, besides these things, who can have such unworthy thoughts of the blessed virgin, as to think that she should, having made such a vow, admit of an espousal to Joseph to mock him? But she certainly understood the angel as speaking of a thing in being, or which presently should be; and though she believed what the angel said, yet is desirous of further satisfaction how such a thing could be out of the ordinary course of nature.
The Holy Ghost (who is also called here the power of the Highest) shall come upon thee; it is a phrase which signifieth a special and peculiar influence of the Holy Spirit: thus we read of the prophets, that the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, 2 Chronicles 20:14, &c., which argued a special influence of the Holy Spirit on them, efficacious, so as it put them upon a present prophesying. There is a common influence of God upon the forming of all children in the womb, Job 10:8; Psalms 139:15. But this phrase denotes an extraordinary special influence of the Spirit, changing the order and course of nature, and giving a power to the blood of the virgin by him sanctified, to coagulate alone to the forming of the body of a child: this is more mysteriously yet expressed, by the term overshadow thee, which I take to be a modest phrase, signifying only a supply of man’s act, by a Divine creating power, in a most miraculous manner.
Therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God, as Adam was called the son of God, Luke 3:38, God (by his creating power) supplying as to him the place of father and mother, and to Christ supplying the place of the father, though not of the mother, for (saith the angel) he shall be
born of thee. But yet that mass of flesh shall be a holy thing, because, though born of thee, and flesh of thy flesh, yet of thy flesh first sanctified, by the Holy Ghost coming upon and overshadowing of thee. He shalt be called so, not that he was not so by eternal generation, (of which the angel here speaks not), but the Word, the eternal Son of God, which was in the beginning, being thus made flesh, and personally united to thy flesh, the whole person shall be called
the Son of God.
What a particular notice doth God take of the children of men! he knoweth our relations:
thy cousin Elisabeth. Here some make a question how Elisabeth, who was one of the daughters of Aaron, Luke 1:5, and consequently of the tribe of Levi, could be cousin to Mary, who was of the house of David, and consequently of the tribe of Judah, (as our evangelist proveth, Luke 1:3), because of the law, Numbers 36:6,Numbers 36:7. But cousin may be taken in a large sense, as Paul calleth all the Jews his kinsmen, Romans 9:3; or they might be cousins in a strict sense, for the daughters of the tribe of Levi might marry into any other tribes, having no inheritance to carry away, to prevent which was the law, Numbers 36:1-13.
And this is the sixth month from her conception, by which time women use to be at some certainly about their quickening; you must not therefore think this impossible, for you know Elisabeth was counted barren, and was old, yet she hath conceived.
For with God nothing shall be impossible. I bring you a message from God, to whom all things are possible. This was an ordinary saying amongst them, Nothing is impossible with God. Our Saviour useth it several times, Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:27. Nor needed we any Scripture to prove that nothing could be impossible to him who is the first Being, the first Cause, and the Fountain of all power, and to whom all things are subject. No considerate man will from hence conclude that things are possible to God which would derogate from the perfection of the Divine Being, and are imperfections in us; nor yet that any thing is possible to God the contrary to which he hath willed, but God can do whatsoever he can will.
Once have I spoken, (saith Job, Job 40:5) but I will not answer. In like manner the virgin speaketh: I will dispute no more; I am the Lord’s servant, let him do with me whatsoever he pleaseth. This phrase,
Behold the handmaid of the Lord, doth not speak her the lady and queen of heaven, (as the papists style her), but it speaketh her humility and readiness to give up herself to the Lord’s pleasure, her assent and consent unto God. She addeth a prayer, that God would do according to what the angel had said unto her. The angel, having despatched his errand, and obtained what he came for, ascendeth into heaven.
Many think that this city where this Zacharias lived was Hebron, before called Kirjatharba, Joshua 14:15, for that was a city in the mountainous part of Judah, one of the cities of refuge, and belonging to the priests, Joshua 20:7; but whether it was so or not cannot be certainly determined. She probably went not only to rejoice with Elisabeth her kinswoman, but also to strengthen her own faith as to the revelation which she had received, finding that true which the angel had told her concerning her cousin Elisabeth.
The motion of the child in the womb of the mother after her time of quickening is past, and the more than ordinary motion of it upon some extraordinary cause of joy, is no unusual thing with women in those circumstances; but doubtless as this motion was more than ordinary, so it had a more than ordinary cause, being caused from the Holy Spirit of God, and so the best interpreters judge: what is afterward said of Elisabeth, that she
was filled with the Holy Ghost, is expounded in the next words, wherein she prophesieth, of the Spirit of prophecy.
Elisabeth useth the same words to Mary which the angel had used for her, Luke 1:28; that is, thou art an exceedingly happy woman, not only renowned, but one whom God hath greatly favoured and exceedingly blessed and made happy.
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb. Though the same word be used, yet it is not to be understood of the same degree of blessing. Christ was anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows, and blessed in another sense and after another manner, than any creature can be said to be blessed, for the fulness of the Godhead dwelt in him bodily.
Elisabeth in these words acknowledgeth both the incarnation of Christ, and the union of the Divine and human nature in the one person of the Mediator; she acknowledgeth Christ her Lord, and Mary to be his mother.
By these words Elisabeth declareth that she looked upon the motion of the child in her womb, upon Mary’s salutation of her, as something more than natural.
Some will have this given as a reason why Elisabeth pronounced her blessed, because she believed that what God had said should have its effect; as, Luke 11:27,Luke 11:28, when the woman blessed the womb that bare Christ, and the paps that gave him suck, Christ saith, Yea, rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it. Mary was blessed not in this so much, that she brought forth Christ, as in this, that she believed in him. The words are certainly a great confirmation of what the angel had before told her, and it must needs be a great satisfaction to her to hear to her kinswoman, by the Spirit of prophecy, coming extraordinarily upon her, confirming what the angel had before told her.
We are now come to the famous song of the blessed virgin, upon whom also the Spirit of the Lord comes upon this occasion. She first solemnly gives praise unto God, then by various expressions declareth the power and goodness of God, showing him worthy to be praised, and lastly applies what she had spoken more generally to the particular business of man’s redemption. Our magnifying God is not by making him great, as he magnifies us, as it is Luke 1:49, but by declaring and showing forth his greatness. She saith, her soul did magnify the Lord, and her spirit rejoiced. Soul and spirit are but two words signifying the same thing, and importing that she glorified God heartily, and with her whole soul, and teaching us that all praising of God with our lips is of no significance, without the conjunction of the heart with the tongue.
In God my Saviour. So Hannah, 1 Samuel 2:1, My heart rejoiceth in the Lord, mine horn is exalted in the Lord. This is true spiritual rejoicing, when the primary object of our joy is not the sensible good, but the goodness of the Lord to us, in giving us that good thing.
Our translators have here rightly translated ταπεινωσιν,
low estate. Mary doubtless doth not here commend her own humility, (as some papists would have it), but magnifies God for that he had respect to her who was of so mean and low a condition; for though she was of the family of David, yet that family had for many years been broken and afflicted, and she was now espoused to a carpenter, which spake her condition low and mean though descended from the royal family of David: and thus God usually magnifies himself; he chooseth David from the sheepfold to be king over Israel; he much delighteth to exalt such as are low; he chooseth the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, the weak things of the world to confound the mighty, and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen; that no flesh should glory in his presence, 1 Corinthians 1:27-29.
Henceforth (saith Mary) all generations shall call me blessed. It is no mean favour of God, when God giveth us a name: in the world, and that not only in the present generation, but in succeeding generations.
That which is observable both in this verse, and in this whole song, is how the blessed virgin attributes all to God, and ascribes nothing to herself, or any merits of her own, much like unto her father David. Psalms 115:1, Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake; and herein she teacheth those generations, which she had even now said should call her blessed, how to take notice of her, viz. as one highly favoured of the Lord, one for whom God indeed had done great things, but not as one who had merited any thing at God’s hand, much less as one to whom we should pay a greater devotion than to her Son, and speak to her that she should command her Son, according to the blasphemous devotion and idolatry of the papists. Mary is very careful of giving succeeding generations any occasion from her expressions for any such superstitions.
And holy is his name: holy, that is, glorious and venerable.
His name, that is, he himself is glorious and holy, far above the conception and comprehension of poor creatures.
Having celebrated God for his glory and majesty, she here celebrates him for his mercy, which extends to all, but especially is showed to such as fear him. She certainly respecteth the promise of God to be the God of Abraham and this seed, but declareth this to be most eminently made good to those who are truly pious, all piety being expressed ordinarily in Scripture (especially in the Old Testament) under the notion of the fear of God. We have almost the same words Psalms 103:17. It is elsewhere expressed under the notion of thousands, Exodus 20:6, signifying not only the extent of the Divine goodness to all his people, but the continuance of it for ever.
In these verses the virgin celebrates both the power and justice of God, as she before had done his holiness, and his mercy and goodness. The strength of a man is much seen in the effects of his arm; hence God, who hath no such parts as we have, is yet spoken of as if he had an arm, by which no more is signified than a mighty power, by which he bringeth things to pass; Exodus 15:16; Psalms 89:13; Psalms 98:1; Isaiah 40:10; so in many other texts.
He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. Jethro, Exodus 18:11, knew that the Lord was above all gods, because in the thing wherein they dealt proudly he was above them.
The proud in Scripture often signifies wicked men, as the humble signifies good and holy men; but proud, in a strict sense, signifieth men that have a high opinion of themselves: now there is nothing that a proud man dealeth more proudly in, than in following the imaginations of his own heart. There (saith Mary) God scattereth them, turning their counsels into folly, and confounding them in their own imaginations.
He hath put down the mighty from their seats: thus he did by Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, &c.: he pulls down some, and sets up others. Promotion is not from the east, nor from the west.
And exalted them of low degree: this is God’s way; thus he exalted Moses, Joseph, Jacob, David. God thus showeth his mighty power and superintendency upon men’s affairs. He doth what he pleaseth with men, yet what he doth is infinitely wise, just, and good.
In this sentence the holy virgin celebrates the equity of God in the government of the world, proportioning men in some degrees one to another, that the rapacious qualities of some might not gain all to them, while, others have nothing. The notion of
hungry, speaketh persons in want, and craving a supply. The notion of
rich, signifieth persons that are full. God blesseth the poor, pitieth the needy, while he neglects greater persons. Some apply it to those whom Christ blesseth, Matthew 5:3-11, who hunger and thirst after righteousness, and expound the rich of those who think they have no need of the righteousness of Christ. In this sense it is also true, but whether the virgin intended it here or not I know not.
In these verses the blessed virgin celebrates God’s mercy together with his truth, withal she hath here a respect to God’s particular goodness and mercy in the sending of the Redeemer. The word which we here translate
hath holpen, signifieth he hath sustained, or as it were lifted up with his hand,
his servant Israel, or his child Israel. He calleth Ephraim his dear son, his pleasant child, Jeremiah 31:20; but by Israel he meaneth believers, those of Abraham’s seed that lived in the faith, hope, and expectation of the Messiah; the children of the promise, Romans 9:8; those who are Jews inwardly, Romans 2:29; the true circumcision, Philippians 3:3; Israelites indeed, John 1:47. This, she saith, God had done, not in remembrance of their merits, but his own mercy, Ezekiel 36:32; of his own free goodness and mercy, and in the fulfilling of his promise made to Abraham, Genesis 17:15; the extent of which promise is declared Romans 9:6-9; and that seed of Abraham, his seed as the father of the faithful, shall be for ever, and the virtue of the promise shall hold to them for ever.
It is most probable that she staid with her until she was brought to bed, not leaving her just at the time of her travail, but she staid not long after, but went home: by this time she must herself know that she was with child; and here in the true order of the history cometh in what we had Matthew 1:18-25; See Poole on "Matthew 1:18" and following verses to Matthew 1:25.
The angel told Mary, Luke 1:36, that it was then the sixth month with her; after this Mary was with her about three months, which made up her full time; so she was delivered, and brought forth a son, to show the truth of God’s promises, that we may all learn to give credit to his word. For the neighbours and kinswomen of Elisabeth to come, and to rejoice with her, was but according to the ordinary custom of friends to this day, like enough to hold to the end of the world. But the religion of persons in that age possibly is not in so ordinary a practice, I mean in the taking notice of the influence and goodness of God to those who receive such mercies. We are fallen into an age where congratulations made to friends upon any good things happening to them are ordinary, and meetings also to make merry (as they call it) upon such occasions; but ah, how little is that God, who openeth the womb, and a reward from whom children are, taken notice of! How little is his power and goodness in such providences taken notice of in such meetings, and made the subject of the discourses there had! Elisabeth’s neighbours and cousins take notice
how the Lord had showed great mercy unto her. The mercy of a child, of a safe delivery in the birth of a child, are great mercies, and ought to be the first and principal things taken notice of in such rejoicing meetings; otherwise the meeting is more like a meeting of pagans than of Christians.
The law for circumcision, Genesis 17:12; Leviticus 12:3, was strictly for it to be performed the eighth day. We find nothing commanded in Scripture, either as to the person who was to perform the office of the circumciser, or as to the place. God met Moses in the inn, and sought to kill him, because he had not circumcised his child, and Zipporah his wife did it, Exodus 4:24,Exodus 4:25. It is said they afterwards did it in the synagogues, but there is no Divine law in the case. That the name was given to the child upon its circumcision appeareth not from Scripture. It is said, Genesis 21:3, that Abraham called his son Isaac, and then, Luke 1:4, he circumcised his son Isaac being eight days old. We read of no name given by Zipporah to her child when she circumcised him. But the name was at circumcision declared. It is most certain that John was circumcised in his father’s house, for we find his mother was present, who at that time was not in a condition to stir abroad. They called his name
Zacharias, whence we may observe the ancient usage of giving to children the names of their fathers and kindred. This in all probability is the reason of so many odd and unjustifiable names given to persons, such as are names of heathenish gods and goddesses, not fit to be named amongst Christians, &c. We derive from pagans, and though some heathens changed their names when they turned Christians, yet many (probably) did not, and by a long traduction (the names of parents being given to children) the names of pagan idols, such as Fortune, Diana, and the like, are by a most sordid practice made the names of Christians, a thing which certainly ought to be reformed, for it is a doing honour to those idols, if the giving a person’s name to a child be (as we ordinarily account it) an honour done to the person whose name is so given. The Jews from their beginning seem to have had a religion as to this, giving names to their children either significative of God’s mercy to them, or their children, or their own duty to God; and the names of the parents, or some of the kindred, were in honour to them given to their children; therefore when Elisabeth (who knew the counsel of God as to this child, either by some writing from Zacharias, or some revelation to herself) heard them call him Zacharias, and contradicted them in this thing, and named him John, they object that none of her kindred was called by that name.
It was the parents’ place, the father’s especially, to give children their names. Zacharias was dumb as yet, they therefore made signs to him; he by writing declareth that his name was
John, that is, he was so named already by the angel, therefore there was to be no further dispute about it. The friends marvel at the consent of both the parents in the case, declining all the names of their kindred.
The angel, Luke 1:20, inflicted the punishment upon him no longer than until what he had said should be performed; now it was performed, God looseth his tongue, and he praiseth God, by the song which we shall by and by meet with.
By fear here is to be understood an awe and religions reverence of God, caused by these miraculous operations. Fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles, Acts 2:43.
These sayings, rhmata tauta; it is a Hebraism; these doings, or matters, or things, were published throughout all the parts of Judea adjacent to the city where Zacharias dwelt, Luke 1:39.
And those serious people that heard them pondered on them, considering the work of the Lord, and did think that this child would prove no ordinary person. And the hand of the Lord was with him. By the hand of the Lord is meant, the power of the Lord, his providence, love, favour: thus the Lord is said to have been with Samuel, 1 Samuel 3:19. The hand of the Lord oft signifieth the power, help, and assistance of the Lord, 1 Chronicles 28:19; Psalms 80:17. The hand of the Lord upon a person sometimes signifieth the Spirit of prophecy, Ezekiel 1:3; Ezekiel 40:1; but this is a different phrase, denoting only God’s special favour to John, watching over and protecting him, causing him to grow up and thrive, to improve in knowledge, &c.
We must not think that Zacharias was before this time destitute of the Holy Ghost, we heard the contrary before, Luke 1:6, but the Holy Ghost at this time came upon him by a particular and more especial impulse; as it did upon the prophets, whom the Spirit moved but at some special times to prophesy, though it at all times dwelt and wrought in them, as a holy, sanctifying Spirit. This is made good by the next words, which tell us he
prophesied; which word signifieth any speaking for or instead of another, and is not only applicable to such speakings as are foretellings of things which shall afterward come to pass, but unto any speaking for or instead of God, in the revelation of his will made known unto us. In this prophecy there is both predictions of what should come to pass concerning John and concerning Christ, and also applications of what was before spoken of them by the prophets; and it is observed by some, that it is an epitome of all those ancient prophecies, and that there is in it a compendium of the whole doctrine of the gospel.
God is not the God of Israel only, but of all the nations of the earth also; but he is peculiarly called
the God of Israel, both here and in many other places, Psalms 41:13; Psalms 72:18; Psalms 106:48, &c., in regard of the covenant which he had specially made with them, and the special advantages they had, mentioned by the apostle; to them were committed the oracles of God, Romans 3:2; and to them pertained the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises, Romans 9:4. Zacharias pronounces God blessed, and desires that he may be blessed, that is, honoured, and celebrated, and spoken well of, for that he had
visited and redeemed his people. The word may be extended to all God’s deliverances of Israel, but it seemeth to be here more specially restrained by what followeth to the redemption by Christ.
And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us. An horn of salvation signifies a mighty, powerful salvation, by a metaphor taken from beasts, which much exert their power by their horns. The beast’s ten horns, Daniel 7:7, are expounded to be ten kings, Luke 1:24; so Psalms 75:10, where David saith he will cut off all the horns of the wicked; so Lamentations 2:3, where God is said to have cut off all the horn of Israel. In the house of his servant David. This agreeth to the prophecy, Jeremiah 30:9, where Christ is called David; They shall serve the Lord their God, and David their King, whom I will rise up unto them; who is also called a righteous Branch raised unto David, Jeremiah 23:5. God is said to have raised up this horn of salvation in the house of David. The house of David was now down, lapsed and decayed. God promises to raise up to the Israelites a mighty salvation from the house of David. This was fulfilled in Christ.
As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began. All the prophets, or many of them at least, prophesied of Christ as the Son of David, and of a great salvation to be raised up to Israel from his house.
This was that which God had told them by his prophets, that a mighty salvation should arise to them out of the house of David, by which they should be saved from their enemies. By which enemies the generality of the Jews understood their temporal enemies, made of flesh and blood. But Zacharias, speaking by the Spirit of prophecy, must needs have a truer notion of it, as it signifies our spiritual enemies. All this is attributed to God’s mercy and faithfulness, his mercy freely looking upon his creatures in distress and misery, his faithfulness in remembrance of his holy covenant, made to Adam, Abraham, David, &c.; but it is more particularly explained.
God first gave Abraham his word, Genesis 18:10, then he confirmed it by his oath, Genesis 22:16. The apostle, to the Hebrews, saith, Hebrews 6:13, When God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he swore by himself.
Thus Zacharias, by an infallible Spirit, expounds the covenants and oaths of God to Abraham and David, not as they appear to us at first view, as if they were promises of a mere temporal kingdom, and a victory for the Jews over their enemies, together with a splendid state for them, which was all the scribes and Pharisees, and the generality of the Jews, expected from the Messiah; but as confirming God’s resolution to send the Jews a Saviour, who should save them from their sins, the guilt and dominion of them, and from the power of hell, and purchase a spiritual liberty for them to serve the Lord all their days, without fear, in holiness and righteousness, which indeed was the true end of the Messiah’s coming. Thus for now the song of this holy man respected Christ, whom he showeth to be sent from the free grace and mercy of God, yet in performance of God’s truth and faithfulness, according to his oath promises; and to be therefore sent to deliver his people from their enemies, and to purchase for them a spiritual liberty, not to sin, but to serve the Lord without fear; in holiness and righteousness. The latter part of his prophecy respecteth John the Baptist, the new born son of this priest and heavenly prophet.
Zacharias here foretells what came to pass about thirty years after, for it cannot be thought that John began his ministry before the sacerdotal age, especially considering Christ did not begin sooner, Luke 3:23.
Thou shalt be called the prophet; that may either signify, thou shalt be a prophet, as Matthew 5:9; John 1:12; or thou shalt be owned or taken notice of as the prophet
of the Highest. Both were true in John. He was a prophet, (though not that Prophet, John 1:21), yea, and more than a prophet, saith our Saviour, Matthew 11:9.
For thou shalt go before his face to prepare his ways. This was according to the prophecy, Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 4:5; and according to what John said of himself, Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:3. See Poole on "Matthew 3:3".
To preach the doctrine of repentance to men, that they may obtain remission of sins. But it seems more natural, To teach people that the only way by which they can attain salvation, is not by any righteousness of their own, but by obtaining the free pardon and remission of their sins by Christ and his righteousness, Psalms 32:1, which is in short to preach the gospel, which is the power of God to salvation to every one that believeth. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith, Romans 1:16,Romans 1:17.
In the Greek it is, through the bowels of mercy. An ordinary expression, and very natural, to signify great and deep compassion, Genesis 43:30; 1 Kings 3:26. Our remission of sin floweth from God’s bowels of mercy; it depends not upon our satisfactions and penances, (as papists dream), but God’s free and tender love; yet God must be just, and declare his righteousness while he justifieth the ungodly.
Whereby the Dayspring from on high hath visited us, ανατολη εξ υψους. Some think that the Greek word answereth the Hebrew word, translated the Branch, Jeremiah 23:5; Zechariah 3:8; the seventy interpreters translate it by ανατολην, Jeremiah 33:15. Those texts manifestly relate to Christ, who is called there the Branch. Others think it rather answereth the Hebrew word אוד we translate it a great light. Others think it should be translated the East. So they say Christ is called Zechariah 3:8; Zechariah 6:12; but we translate it the Branch in both those places. Be it the Branch, or the Light, or Dayspring, or the East, it is certain Christ is meant, who is called the Sun of righteousness, Malachi 4:2. That God might be just in the remission of our sins, he sent Christ to visit us, and in our nature to die for us.
Here Zacharias showeth us the end why God visited us with his Son, the Branch, the Light, the Dayspring, the Sun of righteousness. Men were in the darkness of sin and ignorance, dead in trespasses and sins, at war and enmity with God; Christ came to give them the light of gospel revelations, the light of spiritual comfort and salvation, to purchase peace, and to direct them how to walk that they might have peace with God, and at last enter into peace. This he did to the Jews first, then to the Gentiles: see Isaiah 9:1,Isaiah 9:2; Isaiah 60:1,Isaiah 60:19.
The evangelist having done with Zacharias’s prophetical song, now cometh to tell us what became of John. He saith, the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit. He did not only grow in his bodily dimensions, but in the endowments of his mind.
And was in the deserts, that is, in places very thinly inhabited, (some will have this to have been the deserts of Ziph and Maon),
till the day of his showing unto Israel; that is, in all probability, till he was about thirty years of age, when he came forth as a public preacher to those parts of Israel where he spent the small remaining part of his life, of which we shall hear more hereafter.