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A.M. 4051. A.D. 47.
In this chapter we have,
(1,) Luke’s preface to his gospel, which he dedicates to his friend Theophilus, Luke 1:1-4 .
(2,) A short account of Zacharias and Elisabeth, the parents of John the Baptist, Luke 1:5-7 .
(3,) The appearance of the Angel Gabriel to Zacharias, giving him notice of the birth of a son, and predicting the important office he should sustain, Luke 1:8-17 .
(4,) The chastisement inflicted on Zacharias for his unbelief, Luke 1:18-23 .
(5,) Elisabeth’s conception, and acknowledgments of the Lord’s goodness to her, Luke 1:24 , Luke 1:25 .
(6,) Gabriel’s annunciation of the birth of Christ to the Virgin Mary, and her ready belief thereof, Luke 1:26-38 .
(7,) The joyful meeting of Elisabeth and Mary, and their praises and prophecies, Luke 1:39-56 .
(8,) The birth, circumcision, and naming of John the Baptist, Luke 1:57-66 .
(9,) Zacharias’s song of praise and predictions on that occasion, Luke 1:67-79 .
(10,) A short account of John the Baptist’s private life, Luke 1:80 .
Luke 1:1-2. Forasmuch as many have taken in hand Who they were to whom the apostle here alludes, who had, from vague reports, (for so his words seem to imply,) rashly published narratives not entirely to be depended on, it is impossible for us now to discover. It is true, the word επεχειρησαν , have undertaken, used here by Luke, does not necessarily imply any censure on the writers of such accounts, but the scope of the place seems to imply it, if not on all, at least on some of them: for if all, or even most of them, had furnished true narratives, the number was an argument rather against a new attempt than for it. Grotius justly observes, that the spurious gospels, mentioned by ancient writers, are forgeries manifestly of a later date than the time of Luke. That there were, however, some such performances at the time when Luke began to write, the words of this evangelist are a sufficient evidence: for, to consider this book merely on the footing of a human composition, what writer of common sense would introduce himself to the public by observing the numerous attempts that had been made by former writers, some of whom at least had not been at due pains to be properly informed, if he himself were actually the first, or even the second, or the third, who had written on the subject; and if one of the two who preceded him had better opportunities of knowing than he, and the other fully as good? But the total disappearance of those spurious writings, probably no better than hasty collections of flying rumours, containing a mixture of truth and falsehood, may, after the genuine gospels were generally known and read, be easily accounted for. At midnight, the glimmering of the taper is not without its use, but it can make no conceivable addition to the light of the meridian sun. It deserves, however, to be remarked by the way, that whatever may be thought to be insinuated here by the evangelist, concerning the imperfect information of former historians, there is no hint given of their bad designs. It is justly observed here by Dr. Campbell, that the very circumstance of the number of such narratives, at so early a period, is itself an evidence that there was something in the first publication of the Christian doctrine, which, notwithstanding the many unfavourable circumstances wherewith it was attended, excited the curiosity and awakened the attention of persons of all ranks and denominations; insomuch that every narrative, which pretended to furnish men with any additional information concerning so extraordinary a personage as Jesus, seems to have been read with avidity. To set forth in order a declaration Greek, αναταξασθαι διηγησιν , to compose a narrative; of those things which are most surely believed among us As the great foundation of our common faith. The expression, πραγματων , refers not only to the things believed, but also to the things performed by Christ and his apostles; this first history of Luke being designed to record what Jesus himself said or did, Acts 1:1; and his second, to relate the acts of the apostles: and the participle, πεπληροφορημενων , translated, most surely believed, is rather to be understood as referring to the fulness of that evidence with which the things were attended, than to the confidence with which they were credited. It not only signifies that the doctrines were taught and the things done, but that they were taught and done with such circumstances, as laid a foundation for πληροφορια της πιστεως , a full assurance of faith, as to the truth of the doctrines, and the reality of the facts. Even as they delivered them, which from the beginning Of Christ’s ministry; were eye-witnesses and ministers of the word Because the persons, according to whose information the writers referred to by Luke composed their histories, are said to have been eye-witnesses as well as ministers of the word, ( του λογου ,) several writers have supposed that, by the word, Luke meant Christ himself, one of whose titles is, the Word, John 1:1, and, the Word of God, Revelation 19:13. Others, however, by the word, understand the transactions of our Lord’s public life; his sermons, miracles, death, resurrection, and ascension, because these things were the great subjects of the preaching of the apostles, who were eye and ear witnesses of them. And to Christians these were matters of such moment, that the knowledge, consideration, and remembrance of them, were the great business and comfort of their lives. It is no wonder, therefore, that those who were able should set down in writing such particulars of them as they had learned, whether from the conversations or sermons of the apostles and eye-witnesses. But histories thus drawn up, though they might contain many things highly worthy of the notice of Christians, must needs have been defective both in their matter and manner. Wherefore, Luke, having attained a thorough knowledge of our Lord’s history from the very beginning, thought fit to give a more full, regular, and connected account of it than had hitherto appeared, as he signifies in the next verse.
Luke 1:3-4. It seemed good to me also That is, I have judged it to be my duty; Luke, doubtless, was moved by the Holy Ghost to write his history, as he was also to write in the manner he has done; but in both he was moved as a reasonable creature, and not as a machine: having had perfect understanding of all things Greek, παρηκολουθηκοτι ανωθεν πασιν ακριβως , having accurately traced all things from their first rise: “Luke might have this thorough knowledge by intimate conversation with the apostles, and particularly with Paul, whose companion he was for a long time; or perhaps he was present himself at a number of transactions which he has recorded. The assurance with which he speaks of his own knowledge of these things, leads us to think that he was an eye-witness of some of them. On this supposition, his reasoning in this preface will be more conclusive than on any other, and will stand thus: Seeing many have written from the information of the eye-witnesses and ministers, I, who from the very first have had perfect knowledge of all things, both by conversing with the eye-witnesses, and by being present myself at many of the transactions of Jesus, have thought it incumbent on me to write his history, for the more certain information of mankind.” To write unto thee in order Greek, καθεξης σοι γραψαι , to write an orderly account to thee. So Dr. Doddridge; who observes, “It is chiefly on the authority of this clause that Le Clerc, and many other modern harmonizers (of the gospels) have thought, as Beza also did, that all the other gospels are to be reduced to the order of Luke wherever they differ from it: a conclusion which I apprehend to be an occasion of many errors, and particularly injurious to the character of Matthew. The foundation of it is very precarious; since it is evident this evangelist might, with great propriety, be said to have given an orderly account of the history of Christ, as the leading facts [such as his conception, birth, childhood, baptism, preaching, miracles, passion, resurrection, ascension] are placed in their due series, though some particulars are transposed.” Most excellent Theophilus As the word Theophilus signifies lover of God, some have thought it is not a proper name here, but a general title, applicable to every true Christian. But, as Dr. Campbell justly observes, if the evangelist meant to address his discourse to all pious Christians, and had no one individually in view, he would certainly have put his intention beyond all doubt, by using the plural number, and saying, κρατιστοι θεοφιλοι , most excellent lovers of God. Besides, to have addressed all true Christians under the appearance of bespeaking the attention of an individual, does not seem agreeable to the simplicity of style used in the gospel; and must have appeared to the writer himself as what could not fail to be misunderstood by most readers, proper names of such a form as Theophilus, and even this very name, being common in Greek and Latin authors. The word is, therefore, undoubtedly the proper name of a person: and the title, κρατιστε , most excellent, is given him, not to describe his character, although doubtless he was a truly pious and excellent Christian, but on account of his office or rank in civil society, the same title being commonly given to persons in high stations of life; and particularly to the Roman governors. Accordingly Paul uses it in addressing Felix and Festus. This Theophilus, as the ancients inform us, was a person of eminent quality at Alexandria. In Acts 1:1, Luke does not give him this title. He was then probably a private man. The evangelist, by inscribing his two books to him, bestowed on him a fame which will last while Christianity subsists. That thou mightest know More fully and circumstantially; the certainty The exact and certain truth; of those things in which thou hast been instructed Namely, formerly, by those who had been made the instruments of initiating him into the Christian faith. The word κατηχηθης , here used, doth with great accuracy express the instructions given to those who were training up for admission to the Christian Church, whose name of catechumens was, as it is well known, derived from hence, and applied without any particular regard to the age of the persons concerned. Compare Acts 18:25. We are not to suppose that Luke had the edification of Theophilus merely in view, in writing his history; he also doubtless meant it for the instruction of persons of all nations and ages into whose hands it should fall.
Luke 1:5. There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea This is he who is commonly known by the name of Herod the Great, a cruel, ambitious man, who, without any title, obtained the crown of Judea from the Roman senate, to whom he was recommended by Mark Antony. Under his government the Jews were very uneasy, because he was a foreigner. Nevertheless, the Roman generals in those parts having given him possession of the throne, by his own prudence and address he maintained himself in it for the space of forty years. His reign, though celebrated on many accounts, was remarkable for nothing so much as that, toward the conclusion of it, the Messiah and his forerunner were born. Besides Herod the king, there are two others of this name mentioned in Scripture, namely, Herod surnamed Antipas, his son, who was inferior to his father both in dignity and dominion, being only a tetrarch, and having no dominions but Galilee and Perea: it was this Herod that beheaded the Baptist, and with his men of war mocked our Lord. The other was Herod Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the king by Aristobulus, and brother to Herodias, Philip’s wife. He killed James the apostle with the sword, and imprisoned Peter to please the Jews; and was himself eaten up of worms for his affecting divine honours. Agrippa, before whom Paul pleaded his cause, was the son of this Herod, for which reason he is commonly called Agrippa. Of the course of Abia The priests were become so numerous in David’s time, that they could not all minister at the tabernacle at once. He therefore divided them into twenty-four courses, or companies, who were to serve in rotation, each company by itself for a week. The time of their ministration, as well as the course itself, was called εφημερια , a name which originally belonged to the Athenian magistrates, who being fifty men chosen by lot out of each tribe, and each man governing the city a single day, the days which any tribe governed, as well as its fifty governors succeeding one another, were called εφημεριαι . Now there being a considerable resemblance between this division and succession of the Athenian magistrates, and that of the Jewish priests, the Greek interpreters of the Old Testament applied the same name to the courses of the priests, though somewhat improperly, as their ministry lasted not for a day but a week. The course of Abia, (that is, that of which Abia, or Abijah, was the head in David’s time,) was the eighth. See the notes on 1 Chronicles 24:3-10.
Luke 1:6. They were righteous before God They were sincerely and really righteous; they were so in God’s sight, whose judgment, we are sure, is according to truth; they approved themselves to him who searcheth the heart; and he was graciously pleased to accept them. It is a happy thing when those that are joined to each other in marriage are both joined to the Lord! And it is especially requisite that the priests, the Lord’s ministers, should, with their yoke-fellows, be righteous before God, that they may be examples to the flock, and give them cause of joy. Walking in all the moral commandments and ceremonial ordinances of the Lord blameless Thus they manifested their righteousness: it shone forth in the whole course of their conversation; in every branch of piety and virtue. How admirable is the character given of this pious pair! May our behaviour be thus unblameable, and our obedience thus sincere and universal! The two words, εντολαις και δικαιωμασι , here used, are generally interpreted, the former of the moral, the latter of the ceremonial precepts of the divine law. It is certain, however, that they are often taken in a much more extensive sense; and that undoubted examples may be produced, to prove that both terms are used promiscuously in both senses.
Luke 1:7. And they had no child The providence of God so ordering it, that the birth of John the Baptist might be the more remarkable, and might excite the greater attention; because that Elisabeth was barren Even when in the flower of her age. And they both were now well stricken in years Here, then, was a double obstacle in the way of their having children, both the natural barrenness of Elisabeth, and the old age of them both; and, consequently, a double proof of the supernatural agency of God in the birth of John, evidently showing him to be a person miraculously sent by God. It is worthy of observation here, that many eminent persons under the patriarchal and Mosaic dispensations, were born of mothers that had been long barren, as Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Samson, Samuel, and here John the Baptist, to render their birth the more extraordinary, and the blessing of it the more valuable in the eyes of their parents; and to show, that when God keeps his people waiting long for a particular mercy, he is sometimes pleased to recompense them for their patience, by doubling the worth of it when it is given.
Luke 1:9 . His lot was to burn incense “Because some parts of the sacred service were more honourable than others, both the priests and Levites divided the whole among them by lot. The Jews tell us, that there were three priests employed about the service of the incense; one who carried away the ashes left on the altar at the preceding service; another who brought a pan of burning coals from the altar of sacrifice, and, having placed it on the golden altar, departed; a third, who went in with the incense, sprinkled it on the burning coals, and, while the smoke ascended, made intercession for the people. This was the part that fell to Zacharias, and the most honourable in the whole service.” Macknight. When he went into the temple of the Lord As the original word here is not το ιερον , but τον ναον , it ought to have been rendered, the house, or sanctuary. The former word, properly signifying the temple, comprehended the whole edifice, with all its enclosures, piazzas, and other buildings; the latter included only what is termed, by way of eminence, the house, consisting of the vestibule, the holy place or sanctuary, and the most holy. The altar of incense, on which the perfumes were burned, was in the sanctuary; the people who were praying without, were in the temple, εν το ιερω , in the court of Israel, though not in what was strictly called the house of God. See note on Matthew 21:12.
Luke 1:10. The whole multitude of the people, &c. The manner in which the evangelist expresses himself here, shows that a more than ordinary concourse of the people was in the temple on this occasion, from which we may infer that it was a sabbath, or some high festival time; for often on ordinary week-days, few of the people were present at the morning and evening sacrifices, and therefore “four and twenty men were employed to attend this service, as representatives of the people of Israel, to lay their hands on the head of the sacrifice, to pray, and to receive the blessing. These were called, from their office, stationary men.” Macknight. This circumstance of there being a multitude present, would give great publicity to the facts here recorded, and cause them to become the subject of much inquiry and conversation, both in Jerusalem and through all the country. In consequence of which, doubtless, an expectation would be excited in the minds of many, that God was about to visit his people in some extraordinary way; which would tend greatly to prepare them for the reception of the gospel, when it should be offered to them. The people were praying without at the time of incense This the pious Jews constantly did, and that not only in the temple, but everywhere else; choosing to present their supplications to God at the hours of sacrifice and incense, while the ministers of religion interceded for the nation. Hence these hours were called the hours of prayer, Acts 3:1. And this was the foundation of that elegant figure, by which prayer is, in Scripture, so often compared to incense. And perhaps one reason of ordaining incense might be, to intimate the acceptableness of those pious prayers which accompanied it, as well as to remind the worshippers of that sacrifice of a sweet-smelling savour, which was in due time to be offered to God for them, and of that incense which was and is continually offered with the prayers of the saints, upon the golden altar that is before the throne, Revelation 8:3-4. Observe, reader, 1st, All the prayers which we offer to God here, in his courts, are acceptable and successful only by virtue of Christ’s intercession in the temple of God above. 2d, We cannot expect to have an interest in his intercession, if we do not unite our own supplications to his, and sincerely and fervently pray for ourselves. Nor, 3d, is it sufficient for us to be present where God is worshipped, if our hearts do not join in the worship, and go along with the minister in all the parts of it. If he burn the incense ever so well; if he pray in ever so pertinent, judicious, and lively a manner, if we be not at the same time engaged in prayer in concurrence with him, what will it avail us?
Luke 1:11-12. There appeared unto him an angel About four hundred years had passed since God had vouchsafed to his ancient people any supernatural communication, either by prophecy, the ministry of angels, or in any other extraordinary way. But as he was now about to send them the Messiah, and establish through him a new dispensation, by which a new and more spiritual way of intercourse with himself should be opened and settled, he sends an angelic messenger to announce his intentions, and prepare their minds for the reception of so great a blessing. For as the law, an inferior economy, was given at first, in a great measure, by the ministry of angels, it was proper that the gospel, a more excellent institution, should not want at least an equally extraordinary and honourable introduction. When Zacharias saw him, he was troubled Although he was accustomed to converse with God, yet we see he was thrown into a great consternation at the appearance of his angelic messenger, nature not being able to sustain the sight. Is it not then an instance of the goodness, as well as the wisdom of God, that the services which these heavenly spirits render us are generally invisible?
Luke 1:13 . But the angel said, Fear not, &c. Thus encouraging him with great gentleness of aspect and voice. For thy prayer is heard I do not come unto thee with a message of terror, but am sent to assure thee, thy prayer is heard, and thy wife shall bear thee a son “No doubt this good man had often prayed for children; but as he seemed now to have given up all expectations of that kind, it is reasonable to conclude, that these words chiefly relate to his prayers for the deliverance of Israel by the Messiah, whose appearance was then expected by pious persons conversant in the sacred writings, (Luke 2:25; Luke 2:38; Luke 19:11; Luke 23:51;)and the more earnestly desired just at this time, as they suffered so many grievous things by the oppression of the Romans and the tyranny of Herod, which toward the close of his reign grew more and more insupportable.” Doddridge. The priests, it must be observed, in this office, considered themselves as the mouth of the people, and made the welfare of the nation the subject of their prayers. Therefore, since it is reasonable to suppose that Zacharias now interceded for the coming of the Messiah, in whom all the families of the earth were to be blessed, we may consider the angel’s words as having a reference to such a prayer, thus: “The Messiah, for whose coming thou prayest, is about to be born, for thy wife shall bring forth his forerunner.” We may observe here with pleasure, that the prayers of pious worshippers come up with acceptance before God; to whom no costly perfume is so sweet as the fragrancy of an upright heart. An answer of peace was here returned, when the case seemed to be most helpless. Let us wait patiently for the Lord, and leave to his own wisdom the time and manner wherein he will appear for us. Thou shalt call his name John John signifies, the grace or favour of Jehovah. A name well suiting the person who was afterward so highly in favour with God, and endued with abundance of grace; and who opened a way to the most glorious dispensation of grace in the Messiah’s kingdom.
Luke 1:14-16. Thou shalt have joy and gladness He shall be such a son as thou shalt have reason to rejoice in. As if he had said, Many parents, if they could foresee what their children will prove, instead of rejoicing at their birth, would wish they had never been. But I will tell thee what thy son will be; and then thou wilt not need to rejoice with trembling, as the best must do at the birth of their children, but thou mayest rejoice with triumph. And many shall rejoice with thee All the relations of the family will rejoice on the occasion, and all its well-wishers; yea, and all good people, that are made acquainted with the circumstances of the case, and with the character and office the child shall bear. The word αγαλλιασις , rendered gladness, properly answers to the word exultation, or leaping for joy See 1Pe 1:8 ; 1 Peter 4:13; Matthew 5:12. For he shall be great A person of extraordinary eminence and usefulness, and that not only in the opinion of men, but in the sight of the Lord The sovereign and infallible Judge. Those are great indeed, that are so in God’s sight, not those that are so in the eye of a vain and carnal world. John was to be great in respect of his character, his office, his inspiration, and the success of his ministry, as the angel here explains the expression. And shall drink neither wine nor strong drink As he is to preach repentance, and the crucifixion of all sinful lusts, affections, and dispositions, in order to the remission of sins, he shall show mankind a pattern of that self-denial which he enjoins; wholly avoiding a delicate and self-indulging way of living, and being remarkable for his continued abstinence and mortification. By the word σικερα , here rendered strong drink, fermented liquor of every kind seems to be intended. Some would confine the term to a liquor made of dates, the fruit of the palm-tree, a drink much used in the East: but there does not appear to be any sufficient reason for such a limitation of its meaning. The word is originally Hebrew, שּׁכר , shecher, and is rendered by Buxtorf, inebrians potus, inebriating drink. All fermented liquors, therefore, as being capable of producing this effect, must be understood as implied in it. It is distinguished from wine, Leviticus 10:9; Numbers 6:3; and elsewhere. He shall be filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother’s womb Shall be influenced by the Spirit of God, even from the instant of his birth, sanctifying his nature, and communicating into him wisdom and piety in an extraordinary measure, to qualify him for the high and important office to which he is designated. “In Scripture, to be filled with the Holy Ghost, commonly signifies, that degree of inspiration by which the prophets anciently spake. Accordingly in this chapter it is applied to Elisabeth, to Mary, and to Zacharias, in cases where they all spake by a particular afflatus. When the angel, therefore, told Zacharias that his son should be filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother’s womb, his meaning (at least in part) was, that he should be very early inspired to teach the doctrines and precepts, of true religion. Nor will this seem strange, when it is remembered, that at the age of twelve years our Lord exercised his prophetical gifts among the doctors in the temple.” Macknight. Many of the children of Israel shall he turn By true repentance and unfeigned faith, productive of new obedience; to the Lord their God Whose ways they have so generally forsaken, even while they are professing themselves to be his peculiar people, and boasting in such an extraordinary relation to him. In this way John was to prove his divine mission.
Luke 1:17. He shall go before him Namely, before Christ; in the spirit and power of Elias With the same integrity, courage, austerity, and fervour, and the same power of God attending his word. The son of Zacharias equalled, if not exceeded, Elijah in zeal for God, in severity of manners, in fortitude, and in sustaining persecutions. “For he was clad in a garment of camel’s hair, fed on locusts and wild honey, rebuked sinners of the highest distinction with great boldness, and was put to death on that account. He had the power also of Elijah; for though he did no miracle, he was honoured with the like success in restoring the lost spirit of true religion among his countrymen. Nay, he even excelled Elijah in that which is properly the power of a prophet, and to which all other gifts are subservient, the power of converting men; being in this more successful without miracles than Elijah had been with them.” To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children To reconcile those that are at variance, to put an end to the most bitter quarrels, such as are very frequently those between the nearest relations; and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just Or, the righteous. And the most obstinate sinners to true wisdom, which is only found among them that are righteous before God. Dr. Waterland reads, To turn the hearts of the fathers with the children, (thus also Dr. Hammond,) and the disobedient to a sense of righteousness; Greek, και απειθεις εν φρονησει δικαιων . Nearly to the same purpose is Dr. Doddridge’s paraphrase. “According to that prediction of Malachi with which the sacred canon concludes, he shall meet with such glorious success in his ministry, as to convert the hearts of the fathers with those of the children; that is, he shall bring many, both of the rising and the declining age, to that real piety toward God, which will be the surest band of their mutual duty toward each other: and many of those who have hitherto been disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that is, insensible of the obligations to real religion, which is the greatest wisdom, shall he make ready, as a people prepared for the Lord, raising in their minds an expectation of the Messiah, and a disposition to welcome him when he shall appear.” See the former clause more fully explained in the note on Malachi 4:6.
Luke 1:18-20. Zacharias said, Whereby shall I know this? In how different a spirit did the blessed Virgin say, How shall this be? Zacharias disbelieved the prediction, as appears from Luke 1:20, and therefore was justly punished: Mary had no doubt of the fulfilment of what was foretold, but only inquired concerning the manner of it. And the angel said, I am Gabriel “I am the same servant of God (so the name Gabriel signifies, being, by interpretation, vir Dei, a man or servant of God) who, as the Scripture informs thee, appeared anciently to the Prophet Daniel with a message concerning the Messiah. And now I am not come of myself, but I am sent of God to communicate to thee the glad tidings of the near accomplishment of the things which I long ago showed to Daniel at a great distance. Thou, therefore, whose advanced age ought to have been venerable by an advanced knowledge of divine things, as well as by a strong faith in the power of God, art deserving of much blame, for calling in question the truth of my message, especially as by the prophecies of Daniel thou mightest have understood that this is the period determined for the coming of the Messiah and his forerunner.” There seems to be a remarkable gradation in the angel’s words here, enhancing the guilt of Zacharias’s unbelief. As if he had said, I am Gabriel, a holy angel of God, yea, one of the highest order, even of those who stand in the presence of God. Not only so, but I am now peculiarly sent from God, and that with a message to thee in particular: nay, and to show thee glad tidings, such as ought to be received with the greatest joy and readiness. And behold thou shalt be dumb The original word, κωφος , signifies deaf as well as dumb: and it seems plain that he was as unable to hear as he was to speak; for his friends were obliged to make signs to him, that he might understand them, Luke 1:62. Thus the angel gave him a sign, which was also a chastisement of his offence. Because he had sinned with his lips, the angel struck him dumb, declaring that he should continue so till the message, the truth of which he doubted, was verified by the accomplishment.
Luke 1:21-22. And the people Who had been praying in the court of the temple, while the incense was burning; waited for Zacharias To come out and bless them; for so the priests used to do after burning the incense; and marvelled that he tarried so long, εν τω χρονιζειν αυτον , at his delaying, or, spending time in the temple; εν τω ναω , in the house, or sanctuary. See note on Luke 1:9. All that is here said to have taken place between the angel and Zacharias, might have passed in a few minutes; since, therefore, the people took notice of his continuing so much longer than was usual in the holy place, it is probable, that after the angel had left him, he employed some time in secret devotion, to which the mixture of holy affections that would naturally arise in his mind on so great and extraordinary an occasion would powerfully incline him; and while thus occupied, he might easily forget how fast the moments passed away. When he came out, he could not speak unto them A circumstance which must have greatly astonished them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision That is, a divine vision; in the temple Or holy place. As the signs which he made, left them no room to doubt that some extraordinary and supernatural revelation had been made to him by God. For he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless He continued deaf and dumb during the remainder of his stay at Jerusalem; a circumstance wisely ordered by Providence to awaken a greater and more general expectation, as to the event of so strange an occurrence; which, as a great multitude were now present in the court of the temple, (see Luke 1:10,) would of course be widely spread, not only through Jerusalem but all Judea.
Luke 1:23-25. As soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished Though he was both deaf and dumb, he was still able to burn incense, and perform the other duties of his office. He therefore continued at the temple till the time of his ministration was ended; when he returned to his house; which is generally supposed to have been at Hebron, a city of the priests, about twenty miles from Jerusalem. See on Luke 1:39. And after these days Probably very soon after; his wife Elisabeth conceived According to the prediction of the angel; and hid herself five months Retired from company, that she might have the more leisure to meditate on the wonderful goodness of God toward her and her husband, and might praise him for it, and rejoice therein. Or, as some think, she kept herself retired, and avoided seeing company, that she might conceal her pregnancy for a while, lest she should expose herself to ridicule by speaking of it before she knew certainly that it was a reality. Saying, Thus hath the Lord dealt with me Hath miraculously interposed, and done this great work for me; in the days wherein he looked upon me In his own good time, in which he hath had respect to me, to take away my reproach Namely, barrenness, which was a great reproach among the Jews. To which may be added, “that a branch of the family of Aaron should fail, would be looked upon as a particular calamity, and might be interpreted as a judgment; and so much the rather, considering the many promises God had made to increase the families of his obedient people.” Thus Dr. Doddridge, who takes occasion here to observe further, “that, considering how the whole Jewish polity was interwoven with those acts of religion which were to be performed by the priests alone, it might seem wonderful that no provision at all should be made for entailing the priesthood on any other family, if that of Aaron should happen to be extinct. Leaving this contingency unprovided for, was, in effect, putting the whole credit of the Jewish religion upon the perpetual continuance of the male branches of that family; an issue on which no man of Moses’s prudence, nor indeed of common sense, would have rested his legislation, if he had not been truly conscious of its divine origin, especially after two of Aaron’s four sons had been cut off in one day, for a rash act in the execution of their office, as soon as they were initiated into it, and died without any children, Numbers 3:4.
Luke 1:26-27. In the sixth month Namely, after Elisabeth had conceived; the angel Gabriel The same angel who had been the messenger of such good news to Zacharias; was sent from God unto a city of Galilee A country which lay “in the most northern part of Palestine, and was bounded on the north by Lebanon and Syria, on the west by Phœnicia, on the south by Samaria, and on the east by Jordan and the sea of Tiberias. Yet, from the gospels it appears, that a part of the country north of the sea and eastward of Jordan was reckoned Galilee: which, therefore, comprehended the possessions of the tribes of Issachar, Zebulon, Naphtali, and Asher. It was divided into Upper and Lower Galilee, whereof the former was called Galilee of the Gentiles, Matthew 4:15, because it bordered upon the Gentile nations, and was partly inhabited by them. Of the populousness and fertility of this country see notes on Matthew 15:16. Named Nazareth A small city in the tribe of Zebulon, now reduced to a very low and contemptible condition, Matthew 2:23. To a virgin espoused It was customary among the Jews, for persons that married to contract before witnesses some time before. And as Christ was to be born of a pure virgin, so the wisdom of God ordered it to be of one espoused, that to prevent reproach he might have a reputed father, according to the flesh. To Joseph, of the house of David Joseph was a descendant of King David, though now in low circumstances. It is of the greatest importance to prove that Christ was lineally descended from David, this being one of the characteristics of the Messiah; but certainly this cannot be inferred from the genealogy of Joseph, because he was only the reputed father of Christ: nor is it necessary to understand the evangelist here as speaking of Joseph’s being of the house of David. His words may be understood differently, as indeed they are read by Dr. Whitby and many others, thus: to a virgin of the house of David, ( espoused to a man whose name was Joseph,) and the virgin’s name was Mary. What strengthens this interpretation is, that this and the preceding verse refer wholly to the virgin, who is described by the place of her residence, Nazareth; by her relation to Joseph, being espoused to him; by her lineage and descent, of the house of David; and by her name, Mary.
Luke 1:28. The angel said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured Greek, Κεχαριτωμενη , who hast found mercy, or favour, with God, as it is explained, Luke 1:30. The Lord is with thee Or, The Lord be with thee, as Dr. Campbell renders Κυριος μετα σου : Blessed art thou among women That is, according to the Hebrew idiom, thou art the happiest of all the women that ever lived. It must be observed, that this salutation gives no room for any pretence of paying adoration to the virgin; as having no appearance of a prayer, or of worship offered to her. Besides, similar expressions are applied to others. Hail, is the salutation used by our Lord to the women after his resurrection: thou art highly favoured, or, hast found favour with God, is no more than was said of Noah, Moses, and David. The Lord is with thee, was said to Gideon, Judges 6:12; and, Blessed shall she be above women, of Jael, Judges 5:24. “The Church of Rome,” observes a pious writer, “saying ten Ave Marias for one Pater Noster, idolatrously uses these words as a prayer to the holy virgin, whereas they are only a salutation, declaring that she above all women had the honour freely conferred by God upon her, to be the mother of the Messiah. The original word, κεχαριτωμενη , signifies, not full of grace, but freely beloved. Compare Mary with other renowned women, and what had she, besides this favour, more than they? Had she the spirit of prophecy? so had they. Had she the spirit of sanctification? so had they: and she had no more immunity and freedom from sin and death than they. Accordingly the angel says, Blessed art thou among women, not, Blessed art thou above women. How senseless are they, 1st, In turning a salutation into a prayer! 2d, In making use of these words upon every occasion, which were spoken by an angel upon a special occasion! 3d, In applying these words to her now in heaven, which suited with her only when she was here on earth, saying, Full of grace, to her who is full of glory, and, The Lord is with thee, to her who is with the Lord!”
Luke 1:29-30. When she saw him she was troubled Διεταραχθη , disturbed or perplexed; at his saying A salutation so unusual from a being of a superior order (for such his form, which was more than human, bespoke him to be) put Mary into a great perturbation of spirit; and no wonder; for if Zacharias, a venerable and aged minister of God, and one accustomed to have intercourse with heaven, was amazed at the appearance of an angel, how much more might a young virgin be so, her sex peculiarly subjecting her to the passion of fear. And she cast in her mind Δειλογιζετο , she reasoned with herself; what manner of salutation this should be What should be its intention, and from what original it could come. It is not improbable but she suspected that it might possibly proceed from the artifice of some evil spirit, to inspire her with sentiments of vanity and pride. And the angel Speaking with a gentle and smooth accent, in order to remove her doubts, and inspire her with confidence and courage; said, Fear not, Mary Thus preparing her for the reception of his message; for all passions, but particularly that of fear, disquiets the heart, and makes it unfit to receive messages from God. For thou hast found favour with God And I have no other design but to assure thee of it. Observe, reader, those that have found favour with God ought not to give way to disquieting, distrustful fears. Does God favour thee? then fear not, though the world frown upon thee. Is he for thee? then it signifies little who is against thee.
Luke 1:31-33. Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb Though a virgin, strange to say, thou shalt have the honour of being a mother; thou shalt bring forth a son, and that son no ordinary person, but the restorer of human nature, and Saviour of the world; and therefore thou shalt call his name Jesus Or Joshua, a Saviour. He shall be great Great indeed! greater than all others that ever partook of the human nature: great in respect of his person, his offices, and his kingdom: for he shall be called, and shall be, the Son of the Highest And that in a peculiar sense, a sense in which no man or angel is or can be God’s son, being not only unspeakably dear to him, as a son is dear to his father, but of the same nature with him, as a son is of the same nature with his father. Therefore, the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his earthly father, David Or the throne typified by that of David. And he shall reign over the house of Jacob The spiritual Israel, even over all who imitate the faith and obedience of that good patriarch; and of his kingdom there shall be no end So Isaiah 9:8, Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end. All other kingdoms have had, or shall have, their periods, but the gospel church, which is Christ’s kingdom, shall continue for ever; first on earth, in its militant state, and then in heaven, in a state triumphant. See the notes on the places referred to in the margin. “The kingdom of Christ,” the reader must observe, “is twofold: 1st, His spiritual kingdom, or the dominion of righteousness in the minds of men. 2d, His temporal kingdom, or the outward dispensation of the gospel, together with an exercise of government over the world: by which all events are ordered, so as to promote the empire of righteousness in the hearts of men. This distinction removes the difficulty arising from 1 Corinthians 15:28, where we are told, that after the worlds are judged, Christ shall deliver up the kingdom to God the Father; compared with what Gabriel said to Mary, on this occasion, and with the other passages of Scripture, which affirm that our Lord’s kingdom shall be everlasting. His temporal kingdom, or the gospel dispensation, will end with the world, being of no further use. At that period, likewise, he will deliver up to God the government of the world, that was committed to him for the good of his church, after having accomplished the end of his coming by putting down all rule, and all authority, and power opposite to God’s. But his spiritual kingdom, or the dominion of righteousness in the minds of reasonable beings, which he came down to establish, will continue with them to all eternity; and Jesus will still preside as head over the redeemed society in heaven, and perform such acts of government as their condition allows and circumstances require, though still in subordination to the Father. See 1 Corinthians 15:28, and Macknight.”
Luke 1:34-38. Then said Mary, How shall this be How can I immediately conceive a child, (for so the angel meant, and so she understood him to mean,) seeing I know not a man? This was not the language of distrust, or of doubt, respecting what the angel said, but of a desire to be further instructed, for the direction of her conduct. She so inquired concerning the manner, as not to doubt of the fact. Some would render the clause, What? shall this be, if I have no intercourse with a man? as if she desired to be resolved, whether the birth were to be produced in a common, or a miraculous manner. But it is much more natural to suppose, that she understood the former words as an intimation that the effect was immediately to take place, to which her present circumstances seemed, humanly speaking, an invincible objection. She, however, asks no sign for the confirmation of her faith, as Zacharias had done, nor insinuates that she would not believe till a miracle was wrought to convince her; but only that she did not understand how her pregnancy could be effected in her virgin state, and desired him to explain it to her, not doubting but it was possible. Wherefore, the weakness of her apprehension being consistent with faith, and her request being conceived with modesty and humility, the angel told her that the wonderful event should be accomplished by the interposition of the Holy Spirit, and special energy of the power of God, who would preserve her reputation entire, at least in the opinion of impartial judges, and protect her from any injury which this mystery might expose her to; for, by the Jewish law, a severe punishment was inflicted on women betrothed, who proved with child before cohabiting with their husbands. Therefore also Because thou shalt conceive by the immediate operation of the Holy Ghost; that holy thing which shall be born of thee That holy offspring of thine; shall With regard to this miraculous conception, as well as another, and yet greater consideration, be called the Son of God. And behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, &c. For the confirmation of her faith the angel acquaints her with the pregnancy of her relation Elisabeth, who was then past the age of child-bearing; that being a thing similar, though inferior, to her own pregnancy, which he had been predicting. Mary and Elisabeth might be cousins, as the text affirms, although the former was a descendant of David, and the latter a daughter of Aaron; because the law, Numbers 36:6, forbidding women to marry out of their own tribes, related only to heiresses, and consequently did not include the tribe of Levi, which had not heritable possessions that could be alienated by such marriages. Accordingly, Leviticus 22:12, it is supposed a common case, that a priest’s daughter might be married to a stranger. And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord, &c. In this answer Mary expressed both great faith and great resignation. She believed what the angel had told her concerning her conception, and wished for it; not regarding the inconveniences she might be exposed to thereby, well knowing that the power of God could easily protect her. Thus Mary, though a young virgin, readily believes an event much more wonderful than that which Zacharias, though an aged priest, had found it so difficult to credit: and thus does God, as it were, out of the mouths of babes and sucklings perfect his praise. It is not improbable, that this time of the virgin’s humble faith, consent, and expectation, might be the very time of her conceiving.
Luke 1:39-45. Mary arose in those days That is, soon after the time that she had received the extraordinary message mentioned above; and went into the hill-country Where Elisabeth dwelt, although it was at least seventy miles distant from Nazareth. It is probable she was eager to know the certainty of her cousin’s pregnancy, which the angel had mentioned, to show her the possibility of her own. Into a city of Juda Probably Hebron, which belonged to the house of Aaron, and was situated in Judea, the mountains of which, running from south to north, gave the name of the hill-country to a part of it. And saluted Elisabeth Immediately on her entering Zacharias’s house: and she no sooner spake than the child in the womb of Elisabeth leaped, as transported with joy, as if sensible of the approach of Him whose forerunner he was appointed to be. And the holy woman Elisabeth was so enlightened by the extraordinary influence of the Holy Ghost, that she instantly knew her cousin Mary had conceived with child of the Messiah, and therefore saluted her by the grand title of, the mother of my Lord. Being also in a divine and prophetic ecstasy, she uttered things which had an evident relation to the particulars of Mary’s interview with the angel; things, therefore, which she could only know by revelation; so that she astonished Mary exceedingly, and exalted her faith beyond every doubt. And she spake with a loud voice Such as testified the greatness of the emotion of her mind; and said, Blessed art thou among women The same salutation wherewith Gabriel had addressed Mary; and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Alluding probably to the child’s being the promised seed in whom all the families of the earth were to be blessed, and who for that reason was blessed himself. Psalms 72:17. And whence is this, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? If Elisabeth had not been extraordinarily inspired, she could not so much as have suspected that Mary was to be the mother of the Messiah; but this being revealed to her, she was greatly struck with the honour that was done her, and expressed her sense thereof by asking, in a rapture of astonishment, how it came to be conferred upon her. As if she had said, “How have I deserved this honour, that the mother of the Messiah, my Lord and Saviour, should deign to visit me?” And blessed is she that believed Here Elisabeth plainly commends the faith and humility which Mary had expressed, when the angel assured her that she should become pregnant in her virgin state; contrary to the behaviour of Zacharias, who, it seems, had informed Elisabeth by writing of all that had happened, or she might come to the knowledge of it by revelation. For there shall be a performance of those things, &c. Dr. Campbell reads this clause in connection with the preceding, thus: Happy is she who believed that the things which the Lord hath promised her shall be performed; understanding the latter clause to be the object of Mary’s faith: and for this reading he assigns solid reasons. Indeed, it is the reading of the margin.
Luke 1:46-48 . And Mary said Under a prophetic impulse, several things which perhaps she herself did not then fully understand. Having heard Elisabeth speak, as above related, she likewise was filled with the Holy Ghost, and under his influence uttered extempore a hymn, remarkable for the beauty of its style, the sublimity of its sentiments, and the spirit of piety which runs through the whole of it: and manifesting the deep sense she had of her own unworthiness, and of the goodness of God in choosing her to the high honour of being the Messiah’s mother. It is observable, most of the phrases which she uses are borrowed from the Old Testament, with which the pious virgin seems to have been very conversant; especially from the song of Hannah, in which there were so many passages remarkably suitable to her case. See 1 Samuel 2:1-10. My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour She seems to turn her thoughts here to Christ himself, who was to be born of her, as the angel had told her he should be the Son of the Highest, whose name should be Jesus, the Saviour. And she rejoiced in hope of salvation through faith in him, which is a blessing common to all true believers, more than in being his mother in the flesh, which was an honour peculiar to her. And certainly she had the same reason to rejoice in God her Saviour that we have: because he had regarded the low estate of his handmaid In like manner as he regarded our low estate; and vouchsafed to come and save her and us, when we were reduced to the lowest estate of sin and misery. All generations shall call me blessed Μακαριουσι , shall call me happy. So Dr. Doddridge, who justly observes, that there are several other texts in which μακαριος should rather be rendered happy, than blessed, which is the proper signification of ευλογητος . See 1 Timothy 1:11; 1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 20:6.
Luke 1:49-51. He that is mighty Beyond all our conceptions, even the Almighty God, to whom this strange event is not only possible, but easy; hath done to me great things Miracles, as the words μεγαλα and μεγαλεια often signify in the Old Testament, being applied by the LXX. to the miracles wrought in Egypt, and in the wilderness. Probably, Mary had now in her eye her miraculous conception of the Messiah, being astonished that God should have chosen her, a person of the meanest condition, to be his mother. Yet from her belief of the divine perfections, she was convinced that all was done in wisdom and truth, and therefore she adds, and holy is his name. And his mercy is on them that fear him It always has been so; he has ever looked on them with an eye of peculiar favour, who have looked up to him with an eye of filial fear. But he hath manifested his mercy, so as he had never done before, in sending his Son to bring in an everlasting righteousness, and work out an everlasting salvation for them that fear him, and this from generation to generation: for there are gospel privileges, transmitted by entail, and intended for perpetuity. Those that fear God, as their Creator and Judge, are encouraged to hope for mercy from him, through their Mediator and Advocate; and in him mercy is settled upon all such, while the world stands. In Christ he keepeth mercy for thousands. He hath showed strength with his arm That is, he hath shown the exceeding greatness of his power. She speaks prophetically of those things as already done which God was about to do by the Messiah. Grotius observes, that God’s great power is represented by his finger, his greater by his hand, and his greatest by his arm. The production of lice was by the finger of God, Exodus 7:18; and the other miracles in Egypt were done by his right hand, Exodus 3:20. But the destruction of Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea was brought to pass by his arm, Exodus 15:16. Wherefore the virgin’s meaning is, that in this dispensation of his providence, God mightily manifested his sovereign power. He hath scattered the proud, &c. In the course of God’s providence it is his usual method to cross the expectations of men, and proceed quite otherwise than they promise themselves. Proud men expect with ease to effect their purposes, and carry all before them; but he scatters them in the imagination of their hearts; breaks their measures, blasts their projects; nay, and brings them low by those very counsels, with which they thought to advance and establish themselves. Some read this clause, He hath scattered those that prided themselves in the imagination, or thought, of their heart. But the words will better bear the translation which we give them, which certainly expresses a more emphatical sense, and one “peculiarly applicable to the gospel, in which God doth not only cast down imaginations and every high thing, &c., (2 Corinthians 10:5,) by the humbling scheme of his recovering grace, but hath remarkably confounded his most insolent enemies in their own most elaborate projects, and established his sacred cause by the violent attempts they have made to suppress it: compare Psalms 2:1-3; a triumph of divine wisdom, of which succeeding ages furnish out memorable and frequent instances.” Doddridge.
Luke 1:52-56. He hath put down the mighty from their seats The mighty think to secure themselves by might in their seats, but he puts them down and overturns their seats; while, on the other hand, those of low degree, who despaired of ever advancing themselves, and thought of nothing else but being very low, are wonderfully exalted. To apply this to the subject which gave occasion to this divine hymn: “The kings who sprang from David, had, no doubt, one after another expected to be the parents of the Messiah; and when the kingdom was taken from them, such of the royal progeny as were in the highest station, would reckon this their certain and high privilege. But now their hope was wholly overthrown. They were brought down by God from that height of dignity to which, in their own imagination, they had exalted themselves; and a person in the meanest condition of all the royal seed was raised to it.” He hath filled the hungry, &c. “Both the poor and the rich are here represented as waiting at God’s gate in the condition of beggars, the rich in expectation of receiving the honour of giving birth to the Messiah; the poor in expectation, not of that blessing, but hoping for such small favours as suited their condition. While they wait in this state, God, by an exercise of his sovereignty, bestows the favour, so much courted by the rich, on a poor family, to its unspeakable satisfaction, and sends the rich away disappointed and discontented.” See Macknight, and notes on 1 Samuel 2:3-9. He hath holpen his servant Israel Dr. Campbell reads this and the next verse, He supporteth Israel his servant, ( as he promised to our fathers,) ever inclined to mercy toward Abraham and his race. The word αντελαβετο , here rendered he hath holpen, properly signifies, to interpose in favour of a person in great necessity or extreme danger; and also to hold by the hand, to sustain from falling, or to lift up when fallen, and so to afford aid or help; this he hath done, saith the virgin, in remembrance of his mercy; for then God is said signally to remember his people, when, after a long oppression, in which he seemed to have forgotten them, he works a mighty salvation for them, (see Psalms 136:23.) And he did this, also, in pursuance of his promise made to our forefathers, to send the Messiah to be an everlasting blessing to all that should believe in him, and so become the seed of Abraham by faith. And Mary abode with her about three months Till very near the time of her delivery; and returned to her own house Having, to her unspeakable satisfaction and great comfort, found all things as the angel had told her; and soon after took a journey with Joseph to Bethlehem.
Luke 1:57-66. Now Elisabeth’s full time came Exactly according to the prediction of the angel; that she should be delivered Though this child was conceived in the womb by a miracle, he continued in the womb according to the ordinary course of nature, as did our Saviour also. Promised mercies are to be expected when the full time for them is come, and not before. And her neighbours and cousins rejoiced with her Having heard that the Lord, in so illustrious and remarkable a manner, had magnified his mercy to her, they came together to testify their joy, and sincerely congratulated her on the happy occasion. And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child According to the appointment in the law: not before that day, because the mother was considered as unclean seven days, Leviticus 12:1-2; and so was the child, by touching her, and therefore was not then fit to be admitted into covenant: moreover, till that time he was weak, and could not well endure the pain of circumcision. And they called him Zacharias, after the name of his father The law did not enjoin that the child should have his name given him at circumcision; but it was customary to do it then, because at the institution of the rite, God changed the names of Abraham and Sarah, Genesis 17:5; Genesis 17:16. And his mother said, Not so; but he shall be called John In this she might be influenced by revelation; or Zacharias might have explained the whole affair to her in writing. They said, There is none of thy kindred None of the relations of thy family that is called by this name; and therefore, if he may not have his father’s name, yet let him have the name of some of his kindred, who will consider it as a token of respect to have such a child named from them. And they made signs to his father, &c. Wishing to know his mind in the matter, for it was properly his office to name the child. From their inquiring of him by signs, we may conclude with certainty he was deaf as well as dumb. He asked for a writing-table Πινακιδιον , either a tablet, or little book. The ancients frequently wrote on a thin board, smeared over with wax. And he wrote, His name is John The name which the angel had commanded him to give the child; a name very proper for him who was to be the first preacher of the kingdom of grace, and who was to point out him from whose fulness we receive grace for grace, John 1:16. See note on Luke 1:13. And his mouth was opened immediately He had no sooner done writing than he recovered his speech; the angel’s prediction being then fully accomplished. Accordingly, with an audible, articulate voice, he praised God in holy raptures, to the astonishment of all present. And fear That is, a religious awe and fear of offending God; came on all that dwelt round about them; and all these sayings (or rather things, as τα πηματα here signifies, and as it frequently does elsewhere) were noised abroad, &c. Being very extraordinary events, they were much talked of in that country, and people formed many conjectures concerning the child. And the hand of the Lord was with him Here, by the hand of the Lord, we are not to understand the spirit of prophecy, which is frequently the meaning of the expression in the book of Ezekiel; but that he was remarkable, even from his infancy, for the qualities both of his body and mind; and was favoured in an eminent degree with the grace, protection, and blessing of God. It is of importance to observe here, that the extraordinary circumstances above mentioned, namely, “the appearing of the angel to Zacharias in the temple; Zacharias’s dumbness; Elisabeth’s pregnancy when past the age of child-bearing; and the restoration of Zacharias’s speech on the day of his son’s circumcision; were all wisely ordered by Providence to accompany the conception and birth of John, that he, who was the Messiah’s forerunner, might not seem an obscure and ordinary man, but one that was the peculiar object of the decrees and counsels of heaven. He was introduced into the world in this magnificent manner, that the attention of his countrymen being awakened, and high expectations of him raised, he might execute the duties of his ministry with greater advantage, and effectually prepare the people for receiving the Messiah, who was soon to appear in person.” Macknight.
Luke 1:67. And Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost Was endued with a more than ordinary measure of the Spirit of God, supernaturally enlightening his mind in the knowledge of divine things: and even of future events. God not only forgave him his unbelief and distrust, which was signified by discharging him from the punishment of it, but, as a specimen of his abounding grace and mercy toward believers, he filled him with the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, that he might speak to his praise, and the instruction and edification of mankind of that and every future age and nation. And he prophesied Of things immediately to follow, which proved the accomplishment of God’s promises made to Abraham, and the other patriarchs and prophets, concerning the redemption and salvation of God’s people by the Messiah. By prophesying, no more is sometimes meant in the Scriptures than celebrating the praises of God with great elevation and affection of soul, as 1 Chronicles 25:1, Where Asaph and Jeduthun are said to prophesy with the harp and cymbal, which, Luke 1:3, is explained by their giving praise and thanks to God. But as Zacharias is said, on this occasion, to have uttered predictions concerning the kingdom and salvation of the Messiah, and the office and ministry of his own son, the ordinary sense of the word prophesy may be here very properly admitted.
Luke 1:68-70 . Blessed be the Lord God of Israel Who is also the God of the spirits of all flesh: but Zacharias, speaking of the work of redemption calls him only the God of Israel, because to Israel the prophecies, promises, and types of redemption, had hitherto been given, and to them the first offers and proposals of it were now to be made. Israel, as a chosen people, was a type of the people of God to be called out of all nations and ages, whom God had a particular eye to in sending the Saviour. For he hath visited, &c., his people In sending the Messiah, God made a gracious visit to his people, whom, for many ages, he had seemed to neglect, and be estranged from. He is said to have visited his people in bondage, when he delivered them, Exodus 3:16; to have visited them in famine, when he gave them bread, Ruth 1:6. He had often sent to them by his prophets, and had kept up a correspondence with them, but now he himself made them a visit, for Christ was Immanuel, God with us, God manifest in the flesh. And redeemed his people Εποιησε λυτρωσιν τω λαω αυτου . He hath wrought out redemption for his people, complete and illustrious redemption. This was the errand on which Christ came into the world, to redeem those that were sold for sin and sold under sin; even God’s own people, his Israel, need to be redeemed, and are undone if they be not. Christ redeems them by price out of the hands of God’s justice, and redeems them by power out of the hands of Satan’s tyranny, as Israel out of Egypt. And hath raised up a horn of salvation for us That is, a mighty, victorious, and glorious Saviour, who saves his people with an abundant salvation. The expression is metaphorical, taken from beasts, whose strength, defence, and victory over other animals, lies chiefly in their horns, as also the beauty and glory of several of them; the property likewise of the ancients consisting chiefly in their flocks and herds. Accordingly, the word horn is used in Scripture emblematically, to denote strength or power, Lamentations 2:3; Lamentations 2:17; Psalms 75:10; also honour and triumph, as, when the horn is exalted, Psalms 89:24. From the union of these, it signifies the power of a king or kingdom, Revelation 13:1. This is the chief import of the word in this place, the house of David being the regal family, and the word Saviour, implying deliverer, protector, and ruler; the horn of salvation in the house of David denotes the kingdom of Christ. As he spake That is, as he promised; by his holy prophets, which have been since the world began Απ ’ αιωνος , from the beginning of ages, the promise being made to Adam, Genesis 3:15, that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head; and to Abraham and the other patriarchs, that in their seed all nations of the earth should be blessed. “It cannot,” however, as Dr. Doddridge justly observes, “certainly be inferred from hence, as some have argued, that there was from the beginning of the world a series of prophets, or that every individual prophet spoke of the Messiah, which can never be proved without doing great violence to the remaining writings of some of them.” The words of Zacharias only amount to this, that the generality of prophecies in all ages refer to this great event. See Acts 10:43.
Luke 1:71-75. That we should be saved from our enemies Spiritual as well as temporal, invisible as well as visible; and from the hand of all that hate us From Satan and his angels, and all adverse power, and especially from our sins. This certainly was the mind of the Spirit that now inspired Zacharias, as appears by the whole tenor of Scripture; but whether he fully understood his own words is impossible for us to say. It is certain the older prophets, in some cases, did not fully understand the prophecies which they themselves uttered. See 1 Peter 1:10-11. To perform the mercy Thus he speaks because our redemption and salvation have their origin in the divine mercy, that is, in his compassion for us in our fallen state, and in his free, gratuitous grace, and goodness toward us. The original expression, ποιησαι ελεος μετα τον πατερων ημον , literally signifies, to exercise, or show, mercy toward or with, our fathers. Dr. Campbell translates the verse, In kindness to our forefathers, and remembrance of his holy covenant; the tenor of which covenant was, that Abraham’s spiritual seed, being delivered from their enemies by the Messiah, should, under his government, worship and serve God acceptably through all generations. The oath which he sware to our father Abraham By which oath he confirmed the fore-mentioned covenant, that, as the apostle observes, by two immutable things, God’s promise given in the covenant, and oath, in either of which, much more in both, it was impossible for God to lie, all that should truly embrace the covenant, by complying with the conditions of it, in repentance, faith, and new obedience, might have strong consolation in life, in death, and for ever. That he would grant unto us For the salvation here mentioned is his free, undeserved gift; that being delivered out of the hand of our enemies Especially our spiritual enemies, the devil, the world, and the flesh, the guilt, and power, and consequences of our sins, (the Messiah being therefore called Jesus, because he saves his people from their sins, Matthew 1:21,) we might serve him Might worship and glorify him, in and with our body and spirit, which are his; without fear Not without a reverential fear of God, or filial fear of offending him; a watchful fear of our enemies, or a jealous fear of ourselves, lest a promise being left us of entering into his rest, we should come short of it, in which senses, blessed is the man that feareth always; but without any slavish fear of God, or that spirit of bondage from which the spirit of adoption is given to deliver true believers, Romans 8:15; Gal 4:5-7 ; 2 Timothy 1:7; and without any tormenting fear of death, or of any suffering antecedent to death, which we may be called to pass through; to deliver us from which fear Christ assumed our flesh and blood, Hebrews 2:14-15. In holiness Toward God, in devotedness to his glory, conformity to his image, subjection to his authority, and obedience to his will; and righteousness Toward our fellow-creatures, that is, in the continual exercise of truth, justice, mercy, and charity; before him Conscious we are in his presence, and under the continual notice of his eye, setting him always before us, and aiming to please him in every temper, word, and work, in all our desires and designs, our cares, labours, and pursuits. Here, then, we have the substance of God’s great promise, that, if we embrace and live up to our privileges, as true believers in Christ, we shall be always holy, always useful, always happy; that, being delivered from Satan and sin, from every uneasy, from every unhappy and unholy disposition and affection, we shall joyfully love and serve God in our whole spirit and conduct, and that not only on sabbath days, or times of peculiar solemnity and devotion, but all the days of our life, and every hour of every day; whatsoever we do in word or deed, and doing all in the name of the Lord Jesus, and giving thanks to God, even the Father, through him. This is the great gospel salvation prepared before the face of, and free for, all people, Luke 2:30-31.
Luke 1:76-78. And thou child He now speaks to John his son, yet not as a parent, but as a prophet; shalt be called the Prophet of the Highest Thou shalt be the messenger of God Most High. Our Lord declares that John was more than a prophet: that is, he was a great preacher of righteousness, who called aloud to the people to repent, that they might be forgiven; and he foretold that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. For thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his way Thou shalt go before the Lord Christ, to point him out as the Messiah to his people, and to dispose and prepare them to receive him as such by repentance toward God, productive of fruit worthy of repentance, and by faith in him and subjection to him as a divinely-commissioned teacher, a mighty Saviour, and righteous governor. See note on Matthew 3:3. To give knowledge of salvation to his people To preach to God’s people the glad tidings of salvation, present and eternal, as attainable; to show them the way of attaining it, namely, by repentance and faith in the Messiah, and to give all such as should comply with these terms the knowledge of their having attained it, at least in part, by assuring them of the remission of their sins, that blessing being a branch of present, and a pledge and earnest of future salvation. Through the tender mercy of our God Σπλαγχνα ελεους , the bowels of mercy, a strong Hebraism, implying God’s tender compassions for mankind, immersed as they are in sins and miseries. “These two words are often used in Scripture both jointly and separately. They signify pity, because that passion in us is commonly attended with a motion of the bowels, especially when the object of it is one we have an interest in. See Isaiah 63:15; Philippians 2:1; Colossians 3:12; where bowels of mercy signify the most tender mercy. The word σπλαγχνα , bowels, used by itself signifies any strong affection whatever, Philemon 1:7.” John the Baptist gave people to understand, that though their case was deplorable, by reason of sin, it was not desperate, because pardon might be obtained through the tender and unspeakable mercy of God. Whereby the day-spring The dawning day of morning light; that is, the gospel dispensation, as superior to the patriarchal or Mosaic, with their types and shadows, as the light of the rising sun is superior to that of the moon and stars. This gospel-day dawned in the ministry of John the Baptist; and it increased more and more during the personal ministry of Christ, and it shone out with meridian splendour on the day of pentecost, and thenceforward, when, in consequence of the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, the Holy Spirit, in his various gifts and graces, ordinary and extraordinary, was poured out on the Christian Church. It is true the word ανατολη , here rendered day-spring, may signify, as some render it, the rising sun: for Zacharias is here alluding to the passages in the prophetic writings which describe the Messiah by the metaphors of the light and sun, particularly Malachi 4:2; where he is called the Sun of righteousness, both on account of the light of his doctrine, and the joy produced by his appearing. See the note there, and on Isaiah 60:1-2; Isaiah 60:19. “Indeed no figure was ever more happily imagined, or more naturally applied, than this which represents the promised seed under the notion of the sun. For most aptly may Jesus be likened to the rising sun; his doctrine being to the souls of men what light is to their bodies. It is altogether necessary for directing our steps in the paths of truth and righteousness; it is exceedingly sweet to the spiritual taste, by discovering the most important and delightful truths; nay, like the light, it throws a beauty and pleasantness upon every thing in this lower world, which, without the assurance of God’s reconcileableness, would be but a dark and dreary scene to sinners, however noble and beautiful in itself.” Macknight.
Luke 1:79. To give light to them that sit in darkness The Messiah at his coming would enlighten with the knowledge of salvation the Gentile nations, who had long lived in ignorance and wickedness, the cause of death. To guide our feet into the way of peace And he would guide the feet, even of the Jews, into the way of finding peace with God, peace of mind, and true happiness, by making them more perfectly acquainted with the method of salvation, and the will of God concerning them. Such phrases as darkness and the shadow of death, describe with peculiar propriety the ignorant and miserable state of the Gentile world: and, probably, the former clause might be intended principally of them. But as Christ’s preaching to the Jews in Galilee is said, Matthew 4:14-16, to be an accomplishment of Isaiah 9:1-2, to which Zacharias here seems to refer, we must not confine the sense of it merely to the Gentiles; for indeed the sad character and circumstances of the Jews at this time too well suited the representation here made. Such are the elevated strains in which this pious man, under the extraordinary influence of the Holy Ghost, described the great blessings which mankind were to enjoy by the coming of the seed promised to Adam, to Abraham, and to David.
Luke 1:80. And the child grew, &c. The years of John’s infancy expiring, he grew daily in wisdom and stature; and was in the deserts, &c. During the whole course of his private life, he continued in the deserts, or hill- country of Judea, Luke 1:39, till his ministry commenced, about the thirtieth year of his age. It is probable that the deserts here mentioned were those of Ziph and Maon, where Saul pursued David. Though there were several country towns and villages in these deserts, yet, as they were but thinly inhabited, they were in the Jewish idiom called deserts. Now it was wisely ordered, to prevent a personal acquaintance between Jesus and John, that the latter should continue in one of these deserts, at the distance of probably one hundred miles from Nazareth, till the time of his entering upon his ministry. There, in a state of solitude and retirement from the world, he lived an austere and mortified life, that his character might be suited to his office the preaching of repentance, self-denial, and deadness to the world and sin.
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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Luke 1". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany