Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 23 December 2009; Revised 9 November 2017
Scripture: The Scripture text of Luke 1 used below is prepared by Blaine Robison and based on the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament. The essentially literal translation seeks to reflect the Jewish character of the author and writing. See my web article The Jewish New Testament. Other Bible versions are also quoted. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. Most versions can be accessed on the Internet. Messianic Jewish versions are CJB, DHE, GNC, HNV, MW, OJB, & TLV.
Sources: Bibliographic data for sources cited may be found at the end of the chapter commentary. Works without page numbers are cited ad loc. The Septuagint (LXX) is the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, which was in use by Jews by the mid-2nd century BC. The LXX with English translation may be found here. Unless otherwise indicated references to the Talmud are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); available online at Halakhah.com. Click here for Talmud Abbreviations. Dates of Israelite kings are from Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Dates of the nativity are from Risto Santala, The Messiah in the New Testament in the Light of Rabbinical Writings (1992). Online.
Syntax: Unless otherwise noted the definitions of Greek words are from F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (2009). See the Greek Guide for the meaning of grammar abbreviations. Definitions of Hebrew words are from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981). The numbering system of the Strong's Exhaustive Concordance is identified with "SH" (Strong's Hebrew number) and "SG" (Strong's Greek number). Strong's Online.
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic canon and its central figure I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament), Torah (Law), Besekh (New Testament), Yeshua (Jesus), and Messiah (Christ). I use the title "The Account of Luke" because that is how Luke introduces his story (Luke 1:1).
Please see the article Witnesses of the Good News for background information on Luke and his book.
About the Author
Little is said of Luke in the Besekh (New Testament) and his name appears only three times. He was a physician (Col 4:14) and he was a companion and fellow worker of Paul (2Tim 4:11; Phm 1:24). While Luke does not mention himself by name in either the Account or Acts, his presence with Paul on missionary journeys is indicated by various "we" passages (Acts 16:10-13, 16; 20:5-7, 13-15; 21:1-7, etc.). Nevertheless, patristic writers were unanimous in attributing authorship of the book to him. Luke is commonly supposed to be a Gentile because of Paul's reference to him in a description of his ministry team in Colossians 4:10-14, but the biblical evidence indicates that he was a Hellenistic Jew. Hippolytus in his work On the Seventy Apostles included Luke in the seventy that Yeshua sent out.
Date of the Nativity
The Account of Luke is a powerful and valuable witness to the life and ministry of Yeshua. There is considerable debate concerning the year Yeshua was born. Luke and Matthew do not provide the year of Yeshua's birth, but they do set the nativity in the context of the reigns of the key political leaders (Caesar Augustus, Quirinius and Herod the Great). Church fathers placed Yeshua's birth in the 41st year of Caesar Augustus (3/2 BC), but for over a century scholars have asserted that the nativity must have occurred much earlier. Most modern Christian and Messianic Jewish scholars offer suggestions ranging from 8 BC to 4 BC. The apostolic narratives simply affirm that Yeshua was born during the reign of Caesar Augustus and well before the death of Herod the Great. Based on the evidence of the church fathers and other data I am placing Yeshua's birth in 3 BC.
Nativity Order of Events
Below are the events of the nativity of Yeshua the Messiah described in Matthew and Luke in their chronological order. These dates are meant to be suggestive and not dogmatic:
2048 BC to 4 BC
· The Genealogy of the Messiah (Matt 1:1-17).
· June: Angelic visitation to Zechariah in Jerusalem (Luke 1:5-25).
· December: Angelic visitation during Hanukkah to Miriam in Nazareth and conception; Elizabeth "in her 6th month;" Miriam departs for Hebron (Luke 1:26-38).
· December-March: Miriam's visit to Elizabeth in Hebron (Luke 1:39-55).
· March: After three months Miriam returns to Nazareth (Luke 1:56).
· March: Birth of Yochanan the Immerser; his Brit Milah and naming (Luke 1:57-63).
Prophetic message of Zechariah (Luke 1:64-79).
· April: Miriam found to be pregnant (Matt 1:18).
· April-May: Angelic announcement to Joseph and his obedience (Matt 1:19-25).
· September: Travel to Bethlehem: birth of Yeshua in Bethlehem and Brit Milah (Luke 2:1-21).
· October: Presentation of Yeshua and purification offering of Miriam in accordance with Torah; messianic prophecies of Simeon and Anna; and return to Nazareth (Luke 2:22-39).
· Summer ― Fall: [Return of the holy family to Bethlehem with the intention of settling there].
· December: The arrival and adoration of the Magi during Hanukkah (Matt 2:1-12).
Flight of the holy family to and sojourn in Egypt (Matt 2:13-15).
Massacre of the children in Bethlehem (Matt 2:16-18).
· January (28-29th): Death of Herod the Great (Matt 2:19).
· March: Return of the holy family to Nazareth (Matt 2:19-23).
Birth of the Forerunner Announced, 1:5-25
Birth of the Messiah Announced, 1:26-38
Miriam Visits Elizabeth, 1:39-45
Miriam's Song of Praise, 1:46-56
Birth of Yochanan of Zechariah, 1:57-66
Prophecy of Zechariah, 1:67-80
1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative about the things fulfilled among us,
Inasmuch as: Grk. epeidēper, conj. with a formal overtone; whereas, inasmuch as. Mounce adds "since now, since indeed, considering that." many: pl. of Grk. polus, extensive in scope, here as an adj. indicating a high number. have undertaken: Grk. epicheireō, aor., set one's hand to, endeavor, proceed. The verb emphasizes the action of writing. to compile: Grk. anatassomai, aor. mid. inf., used of preparing a literary work and relating to the formal nature of the product; arrange, compile. a narrative: Grk. diēgēsis, narrative, account, or record, which Geldenhuys says was chosen to emphasize that Luke is presenting historical facts (56). about: Grk. peri, prep., with an orientational aspect relating to being near, about, or having to do with something; about, concerning.
the things: pl. of Grk. pragma, something that involves or presumes action by a responsible party, deed, matter or thing; used here of eventful occurrence or phenomenon. Geldenhuys says pragma was chosen to emphasize that Luke is presenting historical facts (56). fulfilled Grk. plerophoreō, perf. pass. part., to reach a point at which nothing is lacking, particularly in reference to events or matters of interest, in this case to the Jews. Luke alludes to the expectation of the Jewish people for a Messiah based on prophecies of the Tanakh and other Jewish writings of the time. among: Grk. en, prep. generally used to mark position; in, within or among. us: Grk. hēmeis, pl. pron. of the first pers. Luke does not say "among the Jews" or "in Israel." Luke includes himself in "us." In other words, Luke identifies himself with those to whom the book was first delivered, the Jews. It's also possible that "us" includes Theophilus and he is a Hellenistic Jew.
Luke confirms that others had attempted to reduce the life and ministry of Yeshua to writing, but in the providence of God only the efforts of four ended up surviving. Any of the twelve or the seventy who had followed Yeshua could have undertaken the task. However, the number was limited by a variety of circumstantial factors. Initially there would have been no rush to produce a biography of Yeshua given the expectation of his imminent return. Only after Paul produced his reality check on the Second Coming in his Thessalonian letters and the increasing pressure of persecution would the need for preserving a record of the acts and words of Yeshua become urgent.
2 just as those, from the beginning having been eyewitnesses and servants of the word, delivered to us.
just as: Grk. kathōs, conj. used adverbially to emphasize similarity, conformity, proportion or manner; as, just as. those: pl. of Grk. ho, demonstrative pron. from: Grk. apo, prep. generally used to denote separation, but here indicates a point of origin; from. the beginning: Grk. archē, is a multi-purpose word with the basic meaning of priority, here identifying the point of derivation or originating moment; beginning, start. The "beginning" is probably the time when Yeshua first called disciples to follow him.
having been: Grk. ginomai, aor. mid. part., to transfer from one state or condition to another, which may be expressed in one of three ways: (1) come into being by birth or natural process; be born or produced; (2) exist through application of will or effort by a person; be made, be performed; or (3) undergo a state of existence, change or development; come to be, become, take place, happen, occur, arise, be, appear, come, arrive. The aorist tense signifies the completed action in past time. In the LXX ginomai renders Heb. hayah (SH-1961), "to fall out, to come into being, become, come to pass, to be (DNTT 1:181). eyewitnesses: pl. of Grk. autoptēs, one who sees with his own eyes, an eyewitness.
and: Grk. kai, conj. that marks a connection or addition. Kai has three basic uses: (1) continuative – and, also, even; (2) adversative – and yet, but, however; or (3) intensive – certainly, indeed, in fact, really, verily, yea (DM 250f). The first use applies here. Kai is used in the LXX to translate the vav (ו) character added to words for conjunctive effect. There are over 50 conjunctions in biblical Greek, but kai is by far the most common in the Besekh, occurring over 9,000 times (BibleHub). The excessive use of conjunctions and beginning verses with a conjunction, as in verse 7 below, is evidence of either an original Hebrew text or Jewish Greek. In contrast to most Bible versions I translate all the instances of kai (and all the other conjunctions) as a reminder of Luke's Hebraic writing style.
servants: pl. of Grk. hupēretēs, one who renders service; helper, attendant, assistant or servant. The term refers to one who serves a master or a superior. In the LXX hupēretēs occurs only twice and renders Heb. ebed (SH-5650), slave, servant, used of an officer serving a king (Prov 14:35; Isa 32:5). BAG identifies the word as a loanword in rabbinic literature. It is noteworthy that Luke does not use diakonos, the more common word for servant and used of those dedicated to God and the service of the good news (e.g., John 12:26; Rom 13:4; 16:1). In all the passages where hupēretēs occurs the individuals had significant authority and responsibilities, some working for judges and others for the chief priests (Matt 5:25; 26:58, Mark 14:65, John 7:32; Acts 5:22, 26).
The term is also used of a synagogue attendant, (Luke 4:20) for Heb. chazzan, who had many congregational duties, including prayer, preaching and care of scrolls. However, in several passages, as here, hupēretēs refers to one who was involved in teaching the story of Yeshua or advocating the cause of the Messiah (Acts 13:5; 26:16; 1Cor 4:1). Some Christian versions render the term as "ministers," (ASV, DRA, ESV, JUB, KJV, MRINT, NAB, NJB, NKJV, RSV), but such translation does not convey the Jewish context for modern readers. The CJB has "proclaimers" and TLV has "reporters," but these seem to miss the point of Luke's choice in terms. The apostles who preserved the record of Yeshua's life were his "servants," a translation found in a number of versions (BLB, DHE, GW, HCSB, HNV, ISV, LEB, MW, NASB, NEB, NET, NIV, NOG, NRSV, REV).
of the word: Grk. logos, vocalized expression, word, discourse, statement, message or speech. In Greek philosophical writings logos took on the meaning of a common universal law or truth and that which gives order in the universe. In the LXX logos stands principally for Heb. dabar, which has a range of meaning: speech, word, report, command, advice, counsel, thing, or matter (Gen 29:13; BDB 182) (DNTT 3:1087). The KJV capitalizes "Word," but Luke is not using the term as John does in the first chapter of his book. The term is used here either of Scripture (as in Matt 15:6; John 10:35) or the message proclaimed concerning the Messiah. Calling the apostles "servants of the word" implies they had the skills necessary to be competent historians, interpreters of Messianic prophecies and authors of literary works.
delivered: Grk. paradidōmi, aor., to convey from one position to another, here of entrusting something to another; hand over, deliver. to us: Grk. hēmeis, 1p-plural personal pron. The pronoun is used again of the Jewish people to whom Luke belongs.
3 It seemed good also to me, having followed everything from the beginning, to write carefully in sequence to you most excellent Theophilus,
It seemed good: Grk. dokeō, aor., the basic idea of receptivity and hence attractiveness to the intellect appears throughout the verb's usage, which may mean (1) to entertain an idea or form an opinion about something on the basis of what appears to support a specific conclusion; think, opine, regard; or (2) with focus on that which leads to entertainment of an opinion; seem good. The second meaning applies here. also to me: Grk. kagō, conj., formed from combining kai ("and, also") and egō ("I, me") and serves to link in parallel or contrasting fashion a personal affirmation by way of addition to or confirmation of a preceding statement; 'and I,' but the dative case requires "to me."
having followed: Grk. parakoloutheō, perf. part., be in close association with; follow, accompany. HELPS says the verb means properly to follow closely, especially through a detailed comparing; follow after closely to resemble (illustrate, play out) what leads. Danker interprets the verb usage here to mean paying diligent attention to events and stories. However, the nature of the verb implies that Luke was an eyewitness of many of the events he records. everything: Grk. pas, adj., n. pl., comprehensive in scope, but without statistical emphasis; all, every. from the beginning: Grk. anōthen, adv., may mean (1) from above or from a higher place, (2) from the beginning; or (3) again. The second meaning applies here.
to write: Grk. graphō, aor. inf., to write or inscribe as a physical act, generally in reference to a document and here in reference to this book. carefully: Grk. akribōs, adv., diligently, carefully. in sequence: Grk. kathexēs, adv., in sequence, used here of the narrative chronology. to you: 2p-sing. pers. pron. most excellent: Grk. kratistos, adj., in honorary recognition, most excellent. LSJ says the word is a superlative of agathos ("good") and in Greek literature is used colloquially of the aristocracy, and specifically used as a title or mode of address, of a woman of the equestrian order, and of Senators. Paul used the same title in addressing Felix (Acts 23:26; 24:3) and Festus (Act 26:25). Thus, the honorary title would indicate that the recipient of the narrative was of some prominence.
Theophilus: Grk. Theophilos ("lover of God"). The name occurs only here and in Acts 1:1. Based on the name many scholars believe Theophilus was a Greek. However, Theophilus could just as easily have been a Jew, since many Jews had Greek names (e.g., the apostles). Stern suggests that the meaning of the name might indicate that Luke was writing to a generic disciple. However, given the Hebraic style of Luke-Acts I would suggest Theophilus was a Hellenistic Jew, or even a Hellenized Jew like Luke. Also, including Theophilus in the use of "us" in Luke 1:1-2 would support Theophilus being Jewish.
Luke emphasizes that he wrote what he had carefully investigated. That is, he paid diligent attention to the events and stories, as well as the instruction, told by emissaries of Yeshua over a period of years. Perhaps he kept a journal in which he recorded, clarified and verified what he heard. That is not to say that his writing is lacking personal experience with Yeshua, because if he was one of the seventy as Hippolytus says, then Luke had considerable contact with Yeshua. Nevertheless, the research was especially important to telling the story of Yeshua's birth. This is also true of Matthew who could not have been present for the nativity, but we know was a disciple and apostle. Luke refers to his composition as an orderly account, that is, he sought to be diligent to stick to the facts and to produce a narrative of events in sequence.
4 so that you may know the certainty concerning of the things which you were taught.
so that: Grk. hina, conj. used to add an idea that completes an intention expressed; in order that, so that. you may know: Grk. epiginōskō, aor. subj., 'to know about,' which may be used (1) of familiarity with something/ someone through observation , experience or receipt of information; (2) of awareness or recognition based on previous knowledge; (3) in an increasing measure, really know, know well; or (4) with focus on acquisition of knowledge, find out. The first usage fits here. the certainty: Grk. asphaleia, state of not being subject to falling or being tripped or overthrown; certainty, security. concerning: Grk. peri, prep. with an orientational aspect relating to being near or having to do with something; in behalf of, about, concerning. of the things: Grk. logos, m. pl. See verse 2 above.
which: Grk. hos, relative pron. used to specify or give significance to the mention of a person, thing, or piece of information that precedes; who, which, what, that. you were taught: Grk. katēcheō, aor. pass., to impart structured information, usually in an oral manner; inform, instruct, teach. Luke acknowledges that his reader has already been taught the story of Yeshua, perhaps by the eyewitnesses and reporters mentioned in verse 2 above. Luke did not want Theophilus to have any doubts, but to rest in the certainty of Yeshua's identity as the Messiah.
Date: June 4 B.C.
Announcement of the Messenger, 1:5-25
5 In the days of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, from the priestly division of Abijah. Elizabeth, his wife, was from the daughters of Aaron.
Luke begins by setting the character stage. Both here and in the next chapter Luke places the birth of the Messiah in the context of well-known political leaders. In the days: pl. of Grk. hēmera, may refer to (1) the time period from sunrise to sunset, (2) the civil or legal day that included the night, (3) an appointed day for a special purpose or (4) a longer or imprecise period, such as a timeframe for accomplishing something or a time of life or activity (BAG). The fourth meaning applies here. of Herod: Grk. Hrodēs, from hēros, 'hero,' known as Herod the Great. There are three men known as Herod in the Besekh. The first is the one mentioned in the nativity account. The second is his son Herod Antipas (Luke 3) and the third is his grandson, better known as Herod Agrippa I, who eventually ruled the territories Philip and Herod Antipas.
Herod the Great was born about the year 73 BC. According to Josephus, Herod was an Idumean on his father’s side and an Arabian on his mother’s (Ant. XIV, 1:3 and 7:3). The Idumeans were the descendants of Esau, and inhabited the Sinaitic peninsula south of the Dead Sea. The Edomites had been constant enemies of the Jews, but they were finally subjugated by John Hyrcanus, a Hasmonean leader of the 2nd century BC. He left them in possession of their land, but compelled them to undergo circumcision and adopt the Jewish law (cf. Ant. XIII, 9:1; XV 7:9; Wars IV, 5:5). The latter was an unprecedented act for a Jewish ruler. King Herod reigned from 38 BC to 1 BC and Yeshua was most likely born in 3 BC. (See the comment on Matthew 2:19.)
King: Grk. basileus, king or chief ruler. In the LXX basileus appears frequently to translate Heb. melek. In the Tanakh the title "king" was not associated with the size of territory governed (often a city), but the authority wielded. The executive and judicial functions (and sometimes legislative) of government were vested in one person. of Judea: Grk. Ioudaia transliterates the Heb. name Y'hudah, which means “praised” or “object of praise” (Gen 29:35; BDB 397). The first readers of Luke might assume he meant the Roman province of Judaea formed in AD 6, which comprised Idumea, historic Judea and Samaria.
Geldenhuys suggests that by the geographic term "Judea" Luke probably meant Judea, Samaria and Galilee (70; cf. Acts 10:37). At its height the kingdom of Herod the Great not only included those territories, but also Idumea, Perea, Gaulanitis, Trachonitis, Batanaea and Auranitis (Atlas 85). The only area outside his control was the Decapolis. However, in Luke 2:4 "Judea" is used of the territory between Idumea and Samaria and that is probably the intention here. The reason Luke says "Judea" instead of the Kingdom of Herod is that the locus of events in this chapter and the residence of Zechariah is the territory of Judea (cf. "Judah" in verse 39 below).
Herod had been appointed “by the Romans” (Josephus, Ant. XVII, 8:1), but there are two different periods given for his reign. Josephus explains that Herod went to Rome and with the sponsorship of Antony the Senate approved Herod as king over Judea (Ant. XIV, 13:1; 14:5; Wars I, 12:5; 20:1). The Roman historians Appian of Alexandria (AD 95-165), The Civil Wars V, 8:75, and Cassius Dio (AD 164 - c. 234), Roman History, Book 49, 22:6, also credit Antony for Herod's appointment, but they don't pinpoint a year. The last Hasmonean king, Antigonus, was still in power, but the Roman Senate condemned him as unworthy of the throne and gave its sanction for removing him. This action occurred in the 184th Olympiad (Ant. XIV, 14:5).
The Olympiad system is based on the 4 year cycle of the Olympic Games and began in Athens on the first of July 776 BC (Finegan 93). (To convert an Olympiad date to Julian simply multiply the Olympiad number by four and subtract from 776.) The 184th Olympiad ran from July 1, 44 BC to June 30, 40 BC (Finegan 97). Josephus does not give a year in the 184th Olympiad, as he sometimes does (e.g., Ant. XIV, 1:2, third year), so scholars assume it was the fourth year of that quadrennium. In terms of actual regnal years, Josephus provides this specific information.
"having reigned since he procured Antigonus to be slain, thirty-four years; but since he had been declared king by the Romans thirty-seven." (Ant. XVII, 8:1. These numbers are repeated in Wars I, 33:8.)
While Josephus reports the Senate's approval of Herod as king in 40 BC, the years of his reign are not determined from that point. Two factors impact the determination of Herod's regnal years. First, kings do not share the throne simultaneously. Herod's regnal years could not begin until Antigonus was dead, which occurred in the third year after Herod was appointed, 38/37 BC (Ant. XIV, 15:14). Second, by Judean practice a new regnal year started in 1 Tishri (Sept-Oct), because the Jewish civil calendar begins with Tishri, and did not include the accession year (Geldenhuys 134). So, while Herod's appointment may have occurred in the 184th Olympiad (which ended on 30 June 40 BC), his regnal years did not begin until 1 Tishri, 7 Sept 38 BC. This would put Yeshua's birth in the vicinity of 3/2 BC.
Herod demonstrated his skill at adapting to the changing political climate of the Roman empire. He manifested a lust for power, and efficiency at warfare. He came to power after defeating the last Hasmonean king, Antigonus. As a reigning monarch Herod became known for his building projects by building cities and temples in honor of the emperor and of the gods. Caesarea with its fine harbor was also built; and, being a Greek in his tastes, Herod erected theatres, amphitheatres, and hippodromes for games, the latter being offensive to Jews due to the nudity of athletes (Jos., Ant. XV, 8:1, XVI, 5:1; Wars I, 21:1, 5). For the Jews his greatest achievement was the rebuilding of the Temple, owing more likely to his vanity than any piety. The great project began in his eighteenth year as king (Ant. XV, 11:1).
there was a priest: Grk. hiereus, person in charge of sacrifice and offering at worship places, particularly the tabernacle and Temple; priest. In the LXX hiereus renders Heb. kohen. The first kohen mentioned in the Tanakh is Melchizedek (Gen 14:18). named: Grk. onoma, name. (The word is a noun, not a verb as translated by the TLV.) The phrase in Greek is lit. "a certain priest by name." Zechariah: Grk. Zacharias, a transliteration of Heb. Z'kharyah ('Yah remembered'). In the Tanakh the name is spelled Zechariah. Zacharias is an attempt to replicate the pronunciation of Z'kharyah, without translating the meaning of the name. The Greek word ends with a sigma ("ς") because an ending with alpha ("α") would make the name feminine. A number of versions render the name in its Tanakh form "Zechariah" (ESV, HCSB, NCV, NIV, NLT, NRSV, RSV, and TLV). This is the form used in this commentary. Not much information is provided about Zechariah. He was a priest, a godly servant of the Lord.
from the priestly division: Grk. ephēmeria (for Heb. machaloqeth), a division of priests with assignment for a period of priestly duty. of Abijah: Grk. Abia (Heb. Aviyah, as in CJB and HNV). The priests were originally organized into 24 divisions or courses. The names of the courses appear in 1 Chronicles 23:6; 24:7–18 and the Abijah division was the eighth in order. According to Josephus only four of the original courses returned from captivity and those four were divided into the prescribed 24 courses. In the first century there were in excess of 20,000 priests (Against Apion, 2:8). Each of the twenty-four divisions served in the temple for one week, Sabbath to Sabbath, twice a year, as well as at the three major pilgrim festivals when all males were to appear in Jerusalem in accordance with the Torah commandment (Deut 16:16) (Jeremias 199).
Many efforts have been made to deduce the date of Zechariah's duty to justify either a winter or fall date for the nativity. The Talmud records that at the time of the destruction of the Temple on the 9th of Av in AD 70, the Jehoiarib (Heb. Yehoyarib) course was on duty (Ta'anith 29a). On the basis of this statement Edersheim argues for a December 5 BC date of the nativity, putting Zechariah's course on duty 2nd to the 9th of October of 6 BC after counting the course rotations backwards from AD 70 (975). He also claims that Josephus concurs with the Taanith report of the Jehoiarib course being on duty and cites Wars, VI, 4:1, 5. However, Josephus makes no mention of any specific priestly course being on duty that tragic day. Edersheim acknowledges that he can't be "quite sure" of this conclusion. Finegan, citing two sources, calculates Zechariah's priestly duty as occurring May 16-22, 7 BC and the nativity in early August 6 BC (275f).
What should be noted is that those doing the calculating begin with an assumption of the year of the nativity and then calculate the courses from the priestly course in A.D. 70 to that time. The calculation also assumes that the courses performed their duty in unbroken succession, instead of starting over each year. There is no evidence of which method was followed, although the latter is more likely (Ex 12:2). So, determining the time of the year Zechariah was on duty is not a simple matter of just creating a chart that backdates the courses in sequence to the target year. Moreover, in AD 70 the Zealots had assumed control of the city and restructured priestly management. The mention of the Yehoyariv course does not imply a normal schedule. The situation was not normal.
Another factor is that during the time between festivals courses not on duty could be called in to help the weekly course who was (Sukk. 5:7) (Jeremias 202). The scheduling of priestly courses for duty in any year would also be impacted by sickness, death, environmental calamity and wars, all of which were part of life in ancient times. In any event, Zechariah would have received his angelic announcement 15 months before Yeshua was born, since Yochanan the Immerser was six months older than Yeshua (Luke 1:36, 42). If Yeshua was born in December in proximity of Kislev 25 (Hanukkah, "Festival of Lights;" cf. John 1:9), then Zechariah's service described here occurred in September the previous year.
If Yeshua was born in September 3 B.C. in proximity of Tishri 15 (Feast of Sukkot or Tabernacles; cf. John 1:14), as this writer believes, then Zechariah would have been serving in June (Sivan) the previous year, perhaps on Shavuot. This date is within the timeframe for Aviyah to serve its normal duty eight weeks after the beginning of the religious year. Determining Zechariah's service in Sivan 4 B.C. does not provide absolute certainty in dating the nativity, but it does support other factors that strongly favor a fall birth for Yeshua.
Elizabeth: Grk. Elisabet (Heb. Elisheva), means "my God is an oath" or perhaps "my God is abundance." his wife: Grk. gunē is an adult female person, without respect to age or social status except as defined in the context. In the LXX gunē renders the Heb. ishshah ("woman"). The identification is lit. "wife to him." In Scripture when a woman belongs to one man with the expectation of sexual intercourse (Gen 2:21-22), the Hebrew or Greek word is translated as "wife." For the process of a woman becoming a wife see my web article Marriage in Ancient Israel. was from the daughters of Aaron: Elizabeth was also a descendent of Aaron, the first high priest of Israel. A priest was prohibited from marrying a widow, divorced woman, harlot or a non-Jew (Lev 21:14). However, for a priest to marry the daughter of a priest was considered a double honor (Edersheim 95; cf. Ber. 44a; Pes. 49a).
6 Together they were righteous before God, walking without fault in all His commandments and instructions.
Zechariah and Elizabeth were both righteous (Grk. dikaios, adj.), that is being in accord with Torah standards for acceptable behavior, upright or just. before: Grk. enantion, 'in front of,' 'before,' especially in the sense of being subject to scrutiny. God: Grk. theos, the God of Israel. In secular Greek writings a number of deities, always represented in anthropomorphic form, were called theos. In ancient polytheistic culture theos was not one omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, Creator and ruler of the universe and certainly not spirit as described in Scripture (John 4:24). All of the gods and goddesses of polytheistic pantheons were strictly non-personal, which stands in sharp contrast to the Hebraic view that God loves and desires a relationship with men.
In the LXX theos renders the generic designations of God, El (which occurs over 200 times, including combinations such as El Bethel, El Elyon, El Roi, El Olam, and El Shaddai) and Elohim (which occurs over 2300 times), as well as the tetragrammaton YHVH, over 300 times. As with many other Greek words the LXX infused new meaning into theos (DNTT 2:67-70). The TLV renders theos here with Adonai, assuming that the name refers to the tetragrammaton YHVH, the name Jews were not to pronounce. (See my web article The Blessed Name.) The reason that the priestly couple could be regarded as righteous is that they walked without fault (Grk. amemptos), that is, not subject to complaint or censure concerning their behavior. They could be called to be blameless or faultless.
The standard by which they were judged was God's commandments (Grk. entolē, a directive for action, command, order or instruction). The point is that the commandments were given by God. Moses did not invent them. In the LXX entolē occurs 244 times (46 times without a Hebrew equivalent). In the majority of passages entolē renders Heb. mitsvah, (e.g., Ex 20:6; Ps 119:6), 159 times (DNTT 1:331). A mitsvah is instruction intended for obedience and often associated with a good deed or charitable works with the promise of blessing for obedience. Violation produces guilt and need for atonement.
and instructions: Grk. dikaiōma, a declaration with binding force; precept, requirement or decree. In the LXX dikaiōma translates Heb. choq or chuqqah some 70 times. It is also used to translate mishpat 40 times (DNTT 3:354). Choq means something prescribed; a statute or due, and often refers to statutes that prescribed what was due the priests in terms of offerings. It also referred to civil enactments that prescribed justice due to victims (BDB 349; TWOT §728a). Chuqqah (the feminine counterpart to choq) is used to refer to something prescribed; an enactment or statute. These included regulations for holy living, such as prohibition of sexual offenses, as well as laws for festival rituals (BDB 349f; TWOT I, 317). Taken together the term especially pertains to the rules that relate to being a covenant people and must be obeyed to retain that identity. The second word mishpat is found in passages pertaining to the administration of justice (BDB 1048; TWOT §2443c).
The emphasis here on righteousness based on God's commandments serves as a counterpoint to the controversies during Yeshua's ministry involving Pharisaic traditions. Zechariah might have been a Sadducee. Almost all the chief priests were Sadducees and the Temple was under the control of that party. Perhaps the fundamental difference between the Sadducees and Pharisees concerned the issue of authority. Sadducees only gave authority to the written Torah, whereas Pharisees also gave authority to the rest of Scripture and man-made traditions and customs, which some identify as the oral Torah. For Zechariah and Elizabeth the Torah was the foundation of their righteousness.
Concerning the righteousness of Zechariah and Elizabeth David Stern notes,
"Contrary to some Christian theologians, the New Testament teaches that the Torah of Moses offers righteousness. To be considered righteous before God, Zechariah and Elizabeth had to love God and fellowman, trust God and believe his word. As evidence of this love and trust they observed all the rules of behavior God had revealed, including those which demanded repentance and a blood sacrifice as a sin offering when they fell short of full obedience."
7 But they were childless, because Elizabeth was barren, and both of them were elderly.
The couple is described as childless, lit. "there was not to them a child" (Marshall). Luke then gives two reasons why the couple had no children. First, Elizabeth was barren (Grk. steira), which means the inability to produce offspring. Barrenness was often considered a sign of God’s judgment (as can be inferred from v. 25). The couple was also elderly, lit. "both were advanced in days," a Hebrew idiom for having moved beyond the productive years. This phrase does not mean that Zechariah and Elizabeth were as old as Abraham and Sarah who had Isaac when they were 100 and 90 years old respectively (Genesis 18:1–5, 21:1–7). According to the Mishnah the age of sixty was considered the "commencement of agedness" (Avot 5:21). Levites were required to retire at age fifty (Num 8:25-26), but there was no age limit for priests. Only physical impairment could disqualify a priest from service. The couple was well past normal child bearing years and their age description serves to emphasize the miraculous nature of the conception.
8 Now it happened to be Zechariah's time to serve as priest before God in the order of his division.
Now it happened: lit. "it came to pass," a Hebraism used more by Luke than in any other apostolic narrative (Geldenhuys 70). One could easily say that Zechariah's time to serve at the Temple was a God-ordained appointment. The phrase to serve as priest does not mean that Zechariah was only a priest when he was on duty. He was an ordinary priest all the time, but the phrase refers to performing particular tasks in the Temple as assigned. In the narrative no information is provided regarding the month or season or even whether Zechariah was serving during a festival. The ordinary priests lived in widely scattered parts of Judea and Galilee and only came to Jerusalem when they were on duty. During the week they had to fulfill certain specific functions in the daily ceremonies.
The Temple priesthood was supervised by 15-20 chief priests who supervised various aspects of Temple function and ministry. Each weekly course was furthered subdivided by daily courses to accomplish all the Temple duties. The director of the daily course (Heb. rosh beit av) selected the participating priests by lot and then supervised their work. There were about 156 daily courses since each weekly course consisted of four to nine daily courses (Jeremias 163).
On this day as every day the morning sacrifice was offered, which included the incense offering, the burnt offering of a lamb, the food offering, the baked meal offering of the high priest, and the drink offering. Twenty-seven priests were chosen to perform all these rituals (Jeremias 201). The same routine would be repeated for the evening sacrifice. Because of the thousands of priests available, an individual priest was only allowed to perform this sacred duty once in his lifetime.
9 According to the custom of the priestly office, it became his lot to enter the Holy Place of the Lord to burn incense.
The phrase became his lot refers to the custom of casting lots to determine which priest performed each of the important functions each day in the Temple. The practice of casting lots is mentioned seventy times in the Tanakh and was a common method in ancient Israel for making decisions when impartiality was needed. In some cases the Urim and Thummim in the high priest's vest served this function (Ex 28:30; Num 27:21; 1Sam 28:6). In other situations in which the high priest was not involved the means of casting the lot is not described. Proverbs 16:33 describes the lot as being cast into the lap. Nothing is known about the actual lots themselves. They could have been sticks of various lengths, flat stones like coins, or some kind of dice; but their exact nature is unknown. The closest modern practice to casting lots is likely flipping a coin.
The Holy Place (Grk. naos) refers to the sanctuary into which only priests could enter. The sanctuary was a small building accessed by steps. A priceless curtain, embroidered with a map of the known world, concealed from view what lay beyond, and none except the priest on duty was allowed to go farther. It contained the golden altar at which incense was offered and next to it the seven-branched menorah and the table with the twelve loaves of shewbread, which were replaced by fresh ones every Sabbath. Beyond it, behind two large curtains, lay the Holy of Holies, which none except the high priest was allowed to enter, and he only on the Day of Atonement. The two curtains, one if front of the other, enabled the priest to enter the Holy of Holies without exposing the sacred altar to view. See the note on Mark 11:11 for the history and description of the temple.
In order to burn incense two priests had to help the officiating priest who was chosen by lot for the office. One brought glowing coals on a silver fire-pan from the Altar of Burnt Offering to the Altar of Incense in the Holy Place (Tam. 5:5; 6:2; 7:2). The second took from the officiating priest the bowl in which the dish of incense had lain until censing was finished (Tam. 6:3). The priest who had to offer the incense chose this second assistant himself. Luke informs us that Zechariah on this occasion was chosen to burn the incense and its remarkable that Zechariah met the angel with no one else in the Holy Place.
10 And the whole crowd of people was praying outside at the hour of incense burning.
The morning and evening sacrifices were deemed times of prayer for the people and many of the population would be faithful to attend these services. The word for the praying here is proseuchomai, the most frequently used word for prayer in the Besekh. This kind of prayer is petitioning God for something or interceding for others. The scope of the corporate prayer in this situation was primarily national as the people prayed regularly for deliverance from their enemies. The verb might also apply to formal prayer, such as the Shemoneh Esreh, which was offered daily. The "crowd" here would primarily be men in the Court of Israelites, but there would be women also in the Court of Women.
11 An angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right of the altar of incense.
Angel: Grk. angelos means messenger, whether human or heavenly (BAG). The corresponding Hebrew word is malak, which means messenger, representative, courier or angel. The decision to translate malak or angelos as angel or human relies primarily on the context. Often in the Tanakh and the Besekh the identification of the Lord: Grk. kurios, is added to confirm the messenger as angelic. Angels figure prominently in Scripture as ministering spirits (Mark 1:13; Heb 1:14) and are far different from the Hollywood depiction and popular assumptions about angels.
Angels are not glorified humans that earn status in heaven by doing good works on earth. All individual angels mentioned in Scripture have masculine names or descriptions, contrary to popular art and media, which sometimes depicts them as female. In addition, only a special group of heavenly beings are mentioned in Scripture as having wings (Gen 3:24; Ex 37:9; Isa 6:2; Ezek 10:5; Rev 4:8), and those beings may not be angels at all. (The mention of an angel in Revelation 14:6 as flying does not mean the angel had wings.)
The altar of incense was located in the Holy Place, just outside the Holy of Holies. The direction of "right" is probably intended from the vantage of one facing the Holy of Holies. So far as we know this is the first and only angelic appearance in the Temple. Apparently the angel appeared after Zechariah walked into the room.
12 Zechariah was in turmoil when he saw the angel, and fear fell upon him.
Since no human being could do what the angel just did Zechariah was justifiably frightened. In Scripture fear is not an uncommon reaction upon being greeted by an angel (cf. Judg 13:20-22; Dan 10:8-12). It may be that his fear stemmed from being a Sadducee as many priests were. Sadducees did not believe in angels (Acts 23:8). It could also be a fear that he had made a mistake. The Torah warned that failure to carry out priestly duties in the Holy Place in the prescribed manner would result in death (cf. Lev 16:2, 23; Num 18:32).
13 But the angel said, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give birth to your son, and you will name him Yochanan.
But the angel said: Grk. legō, to make a statement or utterance, whether oral or written, here the former. The angel used voice communication and no doubt spoke in Hebrew, the language of the Jews of that time. The opening phrase is a Hebraic manner of introducing quoted material. Do not be afraid: Grk. phobeō, pres. mid. imp., to fear. The middle voice, imperative mood and present tense of the verb combined with the negative particle mē indicates a strong command to stop a practice in progress. The angel immediately sought to allay Zechariah's natural fear and provide assurance that his life was not in danger. because your prayer: Grk. deēsis, which means to stand in need of something and therefore to plead or beg of God.
has been heard: Grk. eisakouō, to pay attention to something orally, to hear or listen to. The angel explained the reason for his presence as an answer to Zechariah's prayer. Prayer expressed on earth is heard in Heaven. For Zechariah this prayer was an urgent supplication. There is no indication of how long Zechariah had been petitioning God, but the angel indicated that God had heard his prayer. It would be natural to assume that given the promise of a son Zechariah may have also been praying for a child. Yet, they had reached an age when they would have ceased expecting a child. Nevertheless, their life disappointment and shame would become the vehicle for bringing about God's plan for the redemption of Israel. Geldenhuys suggests as a representative of Israel the prayer was for the messianic redemption of Israel (63).
The angel essentially says that the answer to Zechariah's prayer for Israel will start with him. The angel's message consists of seven promises and two instructions and the first promise is that messianic deliverance would begin with his wife. Your wife: Grk. gunē is an adult female person, without respect to age or social status except as defined in the context, lit. "the woman of you." In the LXX gunē renders the Heb. ishshah ("woman"). In Scripture when a woman belongs to one man with the expectation of intimate relations (Gen 2:21-22), the Hebrew or Greek word is translated as "wife." On the surface the mention of "wife" seems superfluous since the wife's name is given next. Yet, the social status of the woman alludes to the order that God has created in the world. Zechariah is the head of his wife (1Cor 11:3; Eph 5:23), so the angel would not approach the woman directly.
Elizabeth: See the note on verse 5 above. will give birth: Grk. gennēsis, fut., a producing, birth. to your son: Grk. huios, a male offspring or descendant, whether by direct birth or by more remote ancestry. In the LXX huios renders Heb. ben (“son,” “son of”), which is used in three distinctive ways: (1) to identify direct paternity, as the son of his father (Gen 5). (2) to mean not the actual father but a more distant ancestor (e.g., Gen 32:32); (3) to mean in a broader sense of having the characteristics of (e.g., Ps 89:22; Dan 3:25), and this too applies here. The phrase is lit. "a son of you," which emphasizes that unlike the case of Miriam Elizabeth's conception would occur in the normal manner after she and her husband returned home.
Not only does Gabriel provide the good news of a son, but he also instructed Zechariah in the naming of the son. and you will name him Yochanan: Grk. Iōannēs, which attempts to transliterate the Heb. Yochanan and means “YHVH was gracious” (Stern 15). The name Yochanan appears 22 times in the Tanakh and translated as "Johanan" in English Bible versions. The meaning of Yochanan's name was highly appropriate to the circumstances. First, the elderly parents received God's grace in the birth of their son and then the son's ministry spoke of God's grace being extended to Israel.
The literary journey in Bible versions from the Heb. Yochanan to the English 'John' is interesting. The Greek name Iōannēs was rendered as "Iohannes" in the Latin Vulgate (AD 405), but the Wycliffe Bible (1395), a translation of the Vulgate, inexplicably rendered the name as "Joon." The Tyndale Bible in 1525, translating from the Greek, changed the name to Iohn by dropping the last syllable of the Greek name. It was the Mace New Testament in 1729 that changed the "I" to "J" and Bibles after that date followed suit. Christians have been saying "John" ever since. The CJB, DHE, HNV, MW and OJB translate Iōannēs as Yochanan to emphasize his Hebrew name and Jewish heritage. I prefer to use Yochanan to distinguish him from John the apostle.
14 "And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.
The second and third promises in the good news relate to joy. The parents would have unspeakable joy and jubilation when the unthinkable came to pass. However, the parents would not be the only ones that would be happy at his birth. The many is a euphemism for a significant number of a group, perhaps the majority, in this case first of his community and then by extension to Israel.
15 "He will be great before the Lord; and he should not drink wine or intoxicating beverage, but he will be filled with the Holy Spirit just out of his mother's womb.
The fourth promise of the good news is that Yochanan will be great before, lit. "in the eyes of," the Lord. Yochanan would not have greatness as defined by the community, such as a position of authority or great wealth. God's approval is the most important status to attain in this life. To God Yochanan's service will be considered as "well done." Gabriel then gives his second instruction. The verb drink is not given in the form of a command, but rather a subjunctive which only considers possible conduct. However, it is preceded by two negative adverbs Grk. ou mē, "by no means." The practical effect of this instruction for Zechariah is that Yochanan should not be allowed to drink the customary beverage at Sabbath and festival meals during his childhood and adolescence. Yochanan's separation from others would thus be impressed upon him from an early age.
Wine: Grk. oinos refers to the fermented beverage made from grapes. Wine was a popular beverage in Israelite culture and featured especially in tabernacle or temple sacrifices (Ex 29:40). Some Bible expositors have asserted that the Hebrew and Greek words used to mean "wine," especially "new wine," actually referred to grape juice. However, the pasteurization process to prevent fermentation of grape juice wasn't discovered until the 19th century. In Scripture "wine" always refers to the fermented beverage regardless of its age. The word translated intoxicating beverage (Grk. sikera) means beer, probably imported (Danker). Beer was to be removed along with other leavened products from homes prior to Passover (Pes. 3:1). Rienecker, however, describes sikera as any intoxicating beverage prepared from grain or fruit.
Wine was a national beverage as a result of God's blessing (e.g. Deut 7:13) and even included in Temple offerings (e.g. Ex 29:40). Note the contrast Yeshua drew between himself and Yochanan on the matter of drinking wine (Matt 11:18-19; cf. 1Tim 5:23), so there is no moral distinction made between not drinking and drinking. There are only two prohibitions in Scripture regarding these beverages. The first prohibition concerns drunkenness (Prov 20:1; 23:20; Rom 13:13; Gal 5:21; Eph 5:18; 1Pet 4:3). The second prohibition concerns consumption of wine by a priest while offering Temple sacrifices (Lev 10:9; Ezek 44:21). Some scholars think that Yochanan, like Samson, was to be a Nazirite, dedicated to God in the special way outlined in Numbers 6:1–21.
The Nazirite was the only person required by the Torah to abstain totally from consumption of wine or other alcoholic beverages. The regulation for Nazirites went further than what was required of Yochanan. The regulations prohibited drinking vinegar, eating grapes or grape products, and cutting the hair. In addition, he was not to go near a dead person, including his own family members. However, the angelic instruction does not require Yochanan to be a Nazirite, but it does mean that Yochanan would not follow in his father’s footsteps and serve as a priest. This was a radical requirement and ordinarily would bring shame not to serve as ordained by Torah. However, his calling as the messenger of the Messiah would bring great honor to the family.
The angel gives the fifth promise in his good news ― he will be filled with the Holy Spirit: Grk. Hagiou Pneumatos, Holy Spirit, i.e., the Spirit of God. "Holy Spirit" is not the title of a separate being, because God is Spirit (John 4:24), just as God is the Word (John 1:1). All of the passages mentioning the Holy Spirit indicate that He is divine, not less or other than God. The specific name "Holy Spirit" occurs only three times in the Tanakh (Ps 51:11; Isa 63:10, 11) given as Ruach Qodesh. The Holy Spirit is identified by three other forms in the Tanakh (Ruach Elohim, Gen 1:2; Ruach YHVH, Judg 3:10; and Ruach Adonai YHVH, Isa 61:1). The Greek text of this verse does not have the definite article for either "Holy" or "Spirit," corresponding to the lack of the definite article in the three passages of Ruach Qodesh.
Messianic Jewish versions (CJB, HNV, MW, TLV, and OJB) use the phonetic spelling of ha-Kodesh for "the Holy Spirit." This form mimics the English translation, but the Hebrew text of the three Tanakh passages with Ruach Qodesh do not have the definite article. (NOTE: Messianic Jewish spelling often uses the English "K" for the Hebrew letters Chet [ח], Kaf [כ] and Qof [ק]. See the standard transliteration chart for Hebrew letters.)
just out of his mother's womb: Gabriel very deliberately does not say John will be filled while in the womb as implied in versions that have "while in the womb." See the note on verse 41. Even so, Yochanan's experience of being filled from birth is not normative in the people of God. Being filled with the Holy Spirit would affirm to others God's calling and empower him to accomplish the mission of preparing the way for the Messiah. Being filled with the Holy Spirit does not equate to receiving a religious "buzz" or "high" brought about in a worship service by the initiative of the worshipper. The Holy Spirit fills whom He wills (cf. John 3:8; 1 Cor 12:4-11). The "filling of the Holy Spirit" is really idiomatic for having the passion of God that motivates service to God and obedience to His Torah.
16 "Many of the sons of Israel will turn to the Lord, their God.
The angel next announces the sixth promise of his good news. Many of the sons of Israel: Luke does not mean people who lived in Judea but the biological descendants of Jacob. The nature of the promise implies that Israel was in a poor spiritual state at the time. Israel was not united in devotion to God. There were competing philosophies among religious leaders. There was the continuing of Hellenistic influences left over from the Seleucid empire with the result that many Israelites forsook obedience to the Torah and adopted pagan customs. Yeshua would later lament the spiritual condition of Israel:
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it!" (Luke 13:34)
They needed the message of conviction, repentance, regeneration and moral renewal. They needed a leader passionately devoted to God and His Torah to call them back to God and a life of holiness.
17 "And he who will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of fathers to the children and the disobedient ones to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready for the Lord a prepared people.
Lastly the good news contained an important eighth promise. Yochanan is presented as a successor to the prophets of Israel. The prophetic voice had been silent since the time of Malachi (c. 435 BC). But now there would be the Messenger (Mal 3:1; Mark 1:2) would go before the Messiah. Though Yochanan would not be Elijah reincarnated, he would manifest two characteristics of the great prophet. First, Yochanan will have his spirit, by which he means the human spirit and not the Holy Spirit. In the context "spirit" is a metaphor for passion, drive or commitment. The second characteristic is power, which refers to his divine enablement to accomplish God's will in preparing the people to receive the Messiah. Yochanan likely had the power to perform miracles as Elijah, but the story of Yochanan contains no obvious miracles.
The angel then explains how Yochanan will prepare the people: First, he will turn them, which means to go back, return or turn about. He will arrest their decline into sin and spark a spiritual revival, thereby avoiding God's wrath. The revival will be the result of fulfilling Malachi 4:6, "He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers." The promise could mean that the revival will foster greater unity in families, or it may refer to the true spiritual leaders in Israel at the time. It’s also very likely that the mention of 'fathers' refers to the patriarchal fathers - Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Yochanan will cause Israelites to return to the faith and obedience exhibited by the patriarchal fathers.
The hardest task will be turning the disobedient ones, people not normally subject to persuasion or direction, thus they live in violation of Torah. Yochanan will point them to the example of the truly righteous ones, such as his parents (verse 6 above). The mission statement for Yochanan implies a lack of these characteristics in Israel at the time, even though the Pharisaic movement was very strong. The apostolic narratives picture the Pharisees as too locked into legalism to lead the people into true spirituality. The contrast may be seen in the encounter between Yochanan and Pharisees early in his ministry (Matt 3:7). Thus, Yochanan will bring about a prepared people, whose hearts eagerly anticipate and welcome the Messiah.
18 Zechariah said to the angel, "How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years."
How will I know seems like a fair question in the circumstances. The angel has just described the ministry of a man who had not even been conceived. It raises the paradoxical issue of God's sovereign will and human will. The message about Yochanan is confident. It will happen, because God has decreed it. However, on the human level the mind could immediately raise logical arguments against the message. So, Zechariah essentially asks for a sign. This is not the same as Miriam's question in verse 34. The appearance of an angel should have been sign enough. But, if he had been a Sadducee or influenced by Sadducean philosophy the lack of faith is understandable.
Sadducees did not believe in angels and had difficulty accepting miracles in general. Based on the angel's reaction Zechariah was apparently dismissing the promise as impossible. "People our age can't have children, and besides there are no guarantees on how a child will turn out." (His doubt may also reflect the state of their intimate relations, and he had no Viagra.) Old man: Grk. presbutēs, which is derived from presbuteros, translated as "elder" elsewhere in the Besekh. An elder had to be at least 60. Advanced in years is lit. “advanced in days” an allusion to mature years, well past the normal time of life for conceiving and bearing children. It does not mean Elizabeth was as old as Sarah.
19 And speaking to him, the angel declared, "I am Gabriel, the one standing in God's presence. I was commissioned to tell you and proclaim to you this good news.
I am Gabriel: Grk. Gabriēl renders Heb. Gavri'el, "strong man of God." He is one of two angels mentioned by name in the Tanakh (Daniel 8:16, 9:21); the other is Michael. In non-canonical literature Gabriel is included in a list of seven archangels in 1 Enoch 9:1, with their names given as Uri’el, Rafa’el, Ragu’el, Micha’el, Saraka’el, and Remi’el. 1 Enoch 20:1-7 assigns special functions to each angel. Gabriel was thought to have charge over serpents, Paradise and cherubim. In 1 Enoch 40:9 he is one of four angels who stand before God and he presides over all that is powerful. Revelation 8:2 also mentions "seven angels who stand before God," which may include Gabriel and Michael.
Gabriel responds as if he had been insulted. The verb commissioned (Grk. apostellō) means to send with authority to accomplish a mission. The specific commission for Gabriel from God is to proclaim good news: Grk. euaggelizō, aor. mid. inf., to pass on information that spells good tidings to the recipient. In this case Gabriel had good news for both the childless couple and the nation of Israel. Zechariah apparently did not appreciate the scope of God's sovereign plan.
20 Behold, you will be silent and powerless to speak until the day these things happen, since you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their time."
Behold: Grk. idou, aor. mid. imp. of eidon, the inflected aorist form of horao ("to see") and functions as a demonstrative particle, lit. "And behold." In communities accustomed to oral communication, idou would serve to nuance a narrative reduced to writing, especially to focus on exceptional moments in the narrative (Danker). Thus Luke uses idou 36 times in the Gospel to alert the reader to the next scene. Here the particle heightens the dramatic effect of the announcement by considering the impact on those hearing the heavenly messenger. You will is a simple future tense, but at times the future tense is used with an imperative intention. Angels apparently have some discretion and in afflicting humans and Gabriel pronounces a two-fold judgment.
Zechariah would be silent (Grk. siopaō, pres. part., ceasing to speak, being quiet), although the verb can have force of "shut up." The second part of the judgment is that he will be powerless (Grk. dunamai, pres. part., able to do something) to use his mouth. He will want to speak but he will not be able to get his mouth to function for that purpose. Zechariah was not really harmed, only inconvenienced. Zechariah would be unable to make any kind of sound and he would not be able to communicate in words. It would make conversation a little difficult at home and would deprive him of being able to read the Torah in synagogue services.
Gabriel gives the reason for the judgment as you did not believe, meaning that Zechariah did not give credence to what the angel prophesied. Unbelief is tantamount to not trusting, and without trusting there is no faithfulness. Failing to trust in the angel's message could only lead to unfaithfulness toward God. Thus, Gabriel metaphorically slapped Zechariah's face for his insolence and informed him that his imposed silence would last until the prophecy came true, i.e., the period of Elizabeth's pregnancy and delivery. The unspoken message was "If you want to speak go home and have sex with your wife."
21 The people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering about his long delay in the Holy Place.
That people were waiting indicates the crowd that had assembled for the time of prayer which coincided with the morning and evening sacrifice. People knew how long the prescribed duties took, so they naturally wondered what had delayed Zechariah in coming out.
22 But when he came out, he couldn't speak to them. Then they realized that he had seen a vision in the Holy Place. He was making signs to them but remained mute.
True to Gabriel's word Zechariah was mute. The people deduced that he had seen a vision, whether by the gestures he was making or perhaps something in his countenance.
23 When the days of his priestly service had been completed, he went home.
When Zechariah's week of priestly duties concluded he went home. Most of the priests lived in Judea and Christian tradition places the residence of Zechariah and Elizabeth in the village of Ain Karim, about three miles west of Jerusalem (Jeremias 72). However, see the note on verse 34 below. Finegan says that intimate relations to achieve conception occurred at the close of Zechariah's course (275). He cites this verse, which makes no reference to the intimate act.
24 After these days, his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and hid herself for five months, saying,
After these days: This is a typical Hebrew idiom to denote the passage of time. "These" days were the days that Zechariah had been on duty in Jerusalem. The idiom serves to imply that intimate relations did not occur during Zechariah's week of service, but only "after" (Grk. meta) they returned home. Elizabeth became pregnant: Grk. sullambanō, lit. "to take possession of by capture," here used as a medical term meaning to conceive. Intimate relations occurred (or resumed) after arrival at home. Elizabeth's womb had been already blessed with fertility by the Lord and thus conception occurred immediately. and hid herself: Grk. perikrubō, impf., to keep out of sight. Geldenhuys notes that Zechariah probably explained to his wife in writing about his experience in the Holy Place and the prophecy concerning their son (69).
Elizabeth kept herself from public gatherings not from any lack of faith and fear of embarrassment in the event the angel’s announcement proved to be untrue. She really could not have spoken of the prophecy and conception to anyone during those months because there would have been no visible proof of her testimony. These five months became a time of quiet waiting on the Lord and probably enjoying the attentions of her husband. The reference to five months takes the reader up to the point of Miriam's visit and the time when Elizabeth could share her good fortune.
25 "The Lord has done this for me! In these days He looked upon me, to take away my disgrace among the people."
This portion of the narrative ends with Elizabeth's own praise to God. She had the prophecy thanks to Zechariah's testimony, and probably knew (as only a woman can) when her womb was quickened and new life initiated therein. The Lord has done this: Life, of course, occurs by the power and will of God (Deut 32:39; 1Sam 2:6; Job 33:4; Acts 17:25), but Elizabeth recognizes the divine provision made for her. The credit goes not to her husband but to the God of Israel. Frequently during these five months Elizabeth would reflect on the prophecy and joy would bubble forth once again. In these days refers to the latter time of her life when she was well aware that most of her life was past.
to take away my disgrace: Grk. oneidos, disgrace brought about by insulting speech. among the people (pl. of Grk. anthropos), probably in their community. This statement hints at the snide talk of neighbors, perhaps for years, that no doubt implied God's displeasure. Elizabeth invokes the words of Rachel (Gen 30:22-23), the wife of Jacob, whose barrenness was ended by God’s direct involvement. Probably in private moments Elizabeth would smile and say to herself "God will show them."
Date: January 3 B.C.
Announcement of the Messiah, 1:26-38
26 Then in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent by the Lord into a town of Galilee named Nazareth
Then in the sixth month: If Luke had included a reference such as "of the year," as occurs over 60 times in the Tanakh, then the "sixth month" would be taken as a specific month on the Jewish calendar. The Jews operated by two calendars, the feast calendar which begins on Nisan 1 (March-April), and the legal calendar which begins on Tishri 1 (Sept.-Oct.). On the feast calendar the sixth month would be Elul, and on the civil calendar the sixth month would be Adar. However, the context clearly favors taking the sixth month in the sense of six months after the conception of Yochanan (cf. verse 24 and 36). the angel Gabriel: See the note on verse 19. was sent: Grk. apostellō, aor. pass., to send with authority to carry out a commission.
by the Lord: The preposition is apo, which means from or away from. The point is that Gabriel had gone back to Heaven after delivering the good news to Zechariah. Now he is sent from Heaven again with a commission into a town: Grk. polis, a population center, whose size or number of inhabitants could range broadly. The point is that the destination was no small village. The preposition eis means "into" in the sense of entrance from one place to another place and implies that Gabriel walked into town. He didn't just pop in as he did with Zechariah. of Galilee: Grk. Galilaia from the Heb. Galil, lit. “circle” or “region.” Galilee was the northern part of Israel above the hill country of Ephraim and of Judah and encompassed the areas originally given to the tribes of Naphtali, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, and Dan. Galilee was bounded by the Province of Syria on the west and north, the River Jordan and Sea of Galilee on the east and Samaria on the south.
named Nazareth: Grk. Nazaret, which transliterates the Heb. Natzeret. Nazareth was located about seventy miles northeast of Jerusalem in lower Galilee about halfway between the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean Sea. It lay in the hill country north of the Plain of Esdraelon. The hills formed a natural basin with three sides, but open toward the south. The city was on the slopes of the basin, facing east and southeast. A Roman road from Capernaum westward to the coast passed near Nazareth. The small town does not appear in the Tanakh at all and only came to prominence because of its association with Yeshua.
and: Grk. kai, conj. to: Grk. pros, prep. a virgin: Grk. parthenos, a person who has had no sexual relationship, here a chaste female. A few versions chose to translate parthenos here with "young woman" instead of "virgin" (GNC, PNT, TEV, and WE). The NEB has "a girl." Virginity then and now does not refer to the presence of a hymen, but rather not having "known a man" through sexual intercourse, as Miriam describes herself in verse 34 below. In the LXX parthenos 50 times and is used to translate three different Heb. words (1) almah, a young girl or a woman at the age of puberty until she gives birth to her first child; (2) betulah, an untouched maiden, a virgin, and (3) na'erah, young girl (DNTT 3:1071). The identification of chastity is meant to imply fulfillment of the prophecy given to Isaiah,
"Therefore YHVH Himself shall give to you a sign: 'Behold, a virgin [Heb. almah; LXX parthenos] shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanu-El'" (Isa 7:14 Mine).
Considerable controversy resulted when some modern versions translated almah in the Isaiah passage with "young woman" instead of "virgin" (CEB, ERV, NET, NRSV, RSV, TEV). Other versions with "virgin" also have a marginal note "or young woman." Almah occurs seven times in the Hebrew Bible (also Gen 24:43; Ex 2:8; Ps 68:25; Prov 30:19; SS 1:3; 6:8) and always refers to an unmarried woman of good reputation (Stern 6). The context of the Isaiah passage clearly applies the meaning of betulah, an untouched maiden, to almah. In the LXX parthenos only translates almah two times, the other passage being is Genesis 24:43, which pertains to Rebecca who is clearly identified as a virgin in verse 16.
While some who object to the virgin birth insist that Isaiah only prophesied a birth for King Ahaz, the fuller context of the passage indicates that the promised sign was for the entire house of David (Isa 7:13). The narrative of Matthew 1:22-25 also uses parthenos and gives "virgin" as the meaning of almah in Isaiah 7:14. While "young woman" might be technically correct, there are no ancient documents that use almah to refer to a woman who is definitely not a virgin. In the Tanakh accounts of long-barren women becoming pregnant through divine intervention (such as Sarah, Rebekah, and Hannah), there is never any thought of excluding a human father. Thus, Jews in the first century expected the Messiah to be begotten of a human father like all men. However, the translation of "virgin" is theologically important to establish both the supernatural conception and the deity of Yeshua, as set forth in verse 35 below.
The reader should note that the word for "virgin" here says nothing of age. A girl became accountable to the Torah (Heb. bat mitzvah, "daughter of the commandment") and thus treated as an adult when she became twelve years and a day old (B.K. 15a; Ket. 39a; Kidd. 63b; Nidd. 5:6; Yom. 8:3). Adulthood for a girl was not only determined by age but also by her having passed through puberty, that is possessing breasts and pubic hair (Kidd. 81b; Ezek 16:7-8; cf. SS 8:8). Scholars generally assume Miriam's age to be between 12 and 15, but elements of the narrative suggest a mature and capable woman.
betrothed: Grk. mnēsteuō, perf. pass. part., means lit. "to woo and win," commit to marriage, and in Jewish culture meant betrothed. The perfect tense of the verb refers to some point in the past, perhaps as much as a year. The passive voice of the verb indicates the fact that a Jewish woman was betrothed to her husband, not vice versa. The participle is a verbal noun so it refers to a relational condition of Miriam. She belonged to Joseph. In the LXX mnēsteuō translates the Heb. aras, to betroth (Ex 22:16; Deut 20:7).
The translation of "engaged" in the CJB and TLV (Messianic Jewish versions), not to mention a number of Christian versions (AMP, CEB, CEV, ERV, HCSB, ISV, MSG, NASB, NCV, NET, NIRV, NLT, NRSV), is inexplicable and misleading. In Western culture "engaged" is only a promise to marry, but the Jewish custom was both religious and legal. I heard one Christian preacher describe Miriam as an "unwed mother," a totally inaccurate if not defamatory opinion of Miriam's marital status. A few versions have "pledged to be married" (HNV, MRINT, MW, NIV, WEB) or "promised in marriage" (GW, LEB, NLV, NOG, TEV, WE), but these phrases, too, imply that she was not married. The DHE and OJB, Messianic Jewish versions, and some Christian versions correctly have "betrothed" (ASV, BLB, ESV, NAB, NEB, NJB, NKJV, REV, RSV).
The verb alludes to the fact that in Jewish culture marriage involved two stages or two ceremonies, erusin and nisuin. After a marriage proposal was accepted the groom would perform a ceremony called erusin, "betrothal" (Deut 20:7; 22:23, 25; 28:30; 2Sam 3:14; cf. 2Cor 11:2). According to the Mishnah (Kidd. 1:1), a woman could be acquired [in marriage] in three ways: by money or its equivalent (cf. Gen 29:18; 34:12; Ex 21:11; 22:16), by deed (cf. Gen 24:3-4; Judg 14:2; Ruth 4:9-10), or by intercourse (cf. Deut 22:28-29). A deed was almost always involved because marriage included a transfer of property. While parents might agree on a marriage for their daughter she could only be married by her consent after she was considered an adult. She also had to be capable of giving birth.
The erusin stage was also called kiddushin, "sanctification," and meant that from that point the woman belonged to the man. That is, the woman became forbidden to all men but to whom she has now been designated. Erusin-Kiddushin made the woman a legal wife and her status could only be changed by divorce or death. Erusin was usually accomplished by the groom giving a coin or ring to the prospective bride and her acceptance of the token accomplished kiddushin. By the first century tradition had standardized the betrothal period to not exceed twelve months for a virgin (Ket. 5:2). Following the betrothal period the marriage was completed by nisuin whereby the groom took his bride into a private chamber and consummated the marriage. There was no formal wedding ceremony as such. For more information see my web article Marriage in Ancient Israel.
to a man named Joseph: Grk. Iōsēph, a transliteration of Heb. Yosef, which is explained in Genesis 30:24 and means “he adds, increases.” Almost all that is known about Joseph is given in the nativity narratives. In Matthew we learn that Joseph was a carpenter (13:55) and from Mark 6:3 that Yeshua had adopted this trade. There may be a touch of irony and certainly a divine connection to the history of Israel in that Joseph's father was named Jacob (Matt 1:16). The first Joseph in the Bible was the son of Jacob the patriarch. The first Joseph is regarded by many as a type of the Messiah, because through him deliverance came to the entire family of Jacob. So too, the Joseph of the nativity would be part of God's plan to again bring deliverance to His people, but a much more significant deliverance, freedom from sin.
Bible scholars generally assume that Joseph died sometime before Yeshua's public ministry began. Yeshua passed the care of his mother to John the apostle just before his death (John 19:26-27), so she would certainly have been a widow at that point. We may note Joseph is not mentioned as a participant in any narrative after the trip to Jerusalem for the Passover when Yeshua was 12 (Luke 2:41, 48). When Miriam and Yeshua's siblings go to confront him some time after the beginning of his Galilean ministry, Joseph is not present (Mark 3:32). The differences between the paternity references in the Nazareth visit narrative of Matthew and Mark fog the issue. In Matthew the people say, "Isn't this the carpenter's son? Isn't His mother called Miriam? (Matt 13:55 TLV). Mark presents the question as, "Isn't this the carpenter, the son of Miriam?" (Mark 6:3 TLV)
Matthew's version could imply that Joseph was alive at that point, but surely the people would have used his name. Substituting "carpenter" for Joseph would be a respectful way of preserving his memory. One other passage needs explanation in relation to this subject. In John 6:42 adversaries of Yeshua make this comment, "Is this not Yeshua, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?" The perfect tense of "know" might imply that Joseph was still alive at that point. However, this verse does lend weight to the assumption of Joseph being dead based on identifying the antecedent of "father and mother." The relative pronoun "whose," being of the same genitive case as Joseph, would indicate that the adversaries speak of Joseph's parents. Thus, they mean "we know Yeshua's grandparents."
of the house of David: Luke alludes to an important Messianic prophecy that the anointed one would be in the line of King David. Both Joseph and Miriam not only belonged to the tribe of Judah, but also could trace their roots back to David (Matt 1:1; Luke 3:31). the name of the virgin was Miriam: Grk. Maria, fem. name, an attempt at transliterating the Heb. Miryam (Miriam in English). The meaning of the name is not known for certain, although Thayer's Lexicon says its meaning is "rebelliousness" or "obstinacy." The first Miriam in Scripture is the sister of Aaron (Ex 15:20) and with such a negative meaning its unlikely that the parents would have given this name to their daughter at birth. The best interpretation is offered at BehindtheName.com, which says that Miriam "was most likely originally an Egyptian name, perhaps derived in part from mry "beloved" or mr "love."
There are five other women with the name Miriam in the apostolic writings besides the mother of Yeshua: (1) Miriam of Magdala (Matt 27:56), (2) the mother of Mark (Acts 12:12), (3) the sister of Martha and Lazarus (Luke 10:39), (4) the wife of Clopas (John 19:25), and (5) the Miriam greeted by Paul (Rom 16:6). The translation history of "Miriam" is strange. The name of Miriam, sister of Moses, occurs 16 times in the LXX and every time is spelled in Greek as Mariam, which the lexicons agree is an indeclinable name. Yet, lexicons and Greek texts treat Mariam as a grammatical derivative of Grk. Maria. Of the 54 times the name appears in the Greek New Testament, the spelling is about evenly divided between Maria, Marias and Mariam. The Latin Vulgate (405) preserved the Greek spelling of "Maria," but the Wycliffe Bible (1325) changed the name slightly to "Marie."
The use of "Mary" in English Bibles began with the Tyndale New Testament (1525) and Christians have called this Jewish woman by this name ever since. The choice of English translators to use "Mary" instead of her Hebrew name "Miriam" can only be to minimize her Jewish identity. David Stern offers this apt observation:
"This unfounded and artificial distinction produced by translators subtly drives a wedge between Yeshua’s mother and her own Jewishness … the name “Mary” evokes in the reader’s thinking an otherworldly image of “Madonna and Child,” complete with haloes, beatific smiles and angels in array, instead of the New Testament’s portrayal of a down-to-earth Jewish lady in an Israel village managing her wifely, maternal and other social responsibilities with care, love and faith." (3)
Little is known of Miriam of Nazareth and many curious points are left unexplained. From this context we know where she lived and that she was betrothed. Yet, nothing is said of whether her parents were living or whether she had siblings. We do not know her age, even though the popular image is of a very young teenage girl. Miriam is related in some degree to Elizabeth, the mother of Yochanan the Immerser, and wife of the priest Zechariah (verse 36 below). Miriam was of the lineage of David, at least through her father (Luke 3:23). Although she lived in Nazareth we don't know her financial situation or whether she lived with someone. Strangely, no one else is around when she receives the angelic visitor and she apparently leaves by herself on a journey of some 90 miles. The image of Miriam presented by Luke is of a mature and capable woman.
28 And coming to her, the angel said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you."
And coming to her: lit. "And entering to her," refers to entering a physical location where Miriam was located, most likely her residence, and certainly not in a public area. This is no miraculous appearance as occurred in the Temple. Favored One does not mean, as Roman Catholics teach, that she is "full of favor" in the sense of being able to confer favor (Geldenhuys 75). Rather she has received favor from God by being singled out of all the young women in Israel to bear the Messiah. The Lord is with you alludes to one of the Messianic names, Emmanuel, 'God with us.'
29 But at the message, she was perplexed and kept wondering what kind of greeting this might be.
That Miriam would be perplexed would be the consequence of a strange man coming to her and speaking as if he had a commission from God. It's important to note that during the entire conversation Gabriel never identifies himself by name and no indication is given that Miriam recognized him as an angel, as occurred in the story of the angel appearing to Samson's mother (Judg 13:3-6). The stranger could have been an itinerant rabbi or prophet for all she knew. Miriam naturally wondered what the man's purpose was for his greeting, because in Israelite culture men did not normally greet women unknown to them (cf. John 4:27).
30 The angel spoke to her, "Do not be afraid, Miriam, for you have found favor with God.
Gabriel first spoke to Miriam's natural concern for her safety. She has nothing to fear from this stranger. He then repeated his greeting as a statement of fact. Miriam had received special favor from the Lord. The decision had already been made in Heaven.
31 Behold, you will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will call His name Yeshua.
Gabriel immediately acted on his commission and informed Miriam you will become pregnant, using the same verb as occurs in verse 24 above in regard to Elizabeth. Then, in accordance with natural process she will give birth, Grk. tiktō, fut. mid., to cause to come into being, to a son. The command you will call does not mean that the naming is her sole responsibility, because the same message will be given to Joseph. The angel informs her that regardless of any naming convention followed in their clan the son's name has already been determined.
His name Yeshua: Grk. Iēsous, perhaps "yay-soos," is a transliteration of the Hebrew name Yeshua (Yod-Shin-Vav-Ayin) ("Jesus" in Christian Bibles). Greek does not have a letter with the "sh" sound, so "s" is substituted for the Heb. letter shin. The Greek word ends with a sigma ("ς") because an ending with alpha ("α") would make the name feminine. Iēsous does not translate the meaning of Yeshua. Yeshua is a contraction of the Hebrew name Y’hoshua, which means “YHVH is salvation" (BDB 221). Yeshua has the same Hebrew root as yoshia (“He will save”) and is also the masculine form of the Hebrew word yeshu‘ah, ("salvation”) (Stern 4). In the LXX both Yeshua ("Jeshua") and Y’hoshua ("Joshua") were common names and rendered as Iēsous.
The name of Yeshua was given to six men in the Tanakh and translated as "Jeshua" in English versions, four of whom were of the tribe of Levi (1Chr 24:11; 2Chr 31:15; Ezra 2:6; 3:2; Neh 3:19; 8:7). Three men bore the name Y’hoshua ("Joshua") (Deut 3:21; 1Sam 6:14, 18; 2Kgs 23:8). In the Besekh three men bear the name Yeshua. There is Bar-Yeshua (Acts 13:6), a Jewish false prophet and magician whom Paul cursed so that he became blind (Acts 13:11), and Yeshua called Justus, a fellow minister of Paul (Col 4:11). By far the most important of the three is the Yeshua born of Miriam and Joseph in Bethlehem, the Son of David, Son of Man and Son of God.
So, how did Yeshua become Jesus? The church father Jerome translated the Greek Iēsous with Latin Iesus for his translation of the Bible, called Vulgate (AD 405). The Wycliffe Bible (1395), the first English version, rendered the Latin Iesus with Jhesu. Originally the "J" was a vowel, simply a fancy "I," but after the Renaissance (14th-17th century) it became a consonant with a hard sound. The next five English versions (1526-1611) spelled the name "Iesus," but preserved the name with a vowel first letter. The Mace New Testament in 1729 reintroduced the letter "J" for the "I," which had become a consonant. Wesley's New Testament followed suit in 1755, but the adoption of the new spelling convention in the 1769 revision of the KJV ensured its permanence in Christianity. Unexplained is why Bible translators use the transliteration of "Jesus" instead of "Jeshua," which is used for the same name that occurs in the Tanakh.
For many Jews the name "Jesus" is a distinctly Christian word. Sadly, for many Christians the name "Jesus," while precious, does not evoke the reality of his Jewish identity. By virtue of His incarnation and Jewish mother, Yeshua must still be a Jew.
32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David.
He will be great: Gabriel makes the same announcement of Yeshua's stature as given for Yochanan in verse 15 above. However, Yeshua's greatness will be of an entirely different order than Yochanan, which the angel proceeds to clarify. and will be called: Grk. kaleō, fut. pass., to identify by name or give a term to, the same verb used in verse 13 of the naming of Yochanan and in the previous verse of Miriam giving her son the name Yeshua. Gabriel informs Miriam that while she (and her husband) will give Yeshua his birth name, he will be considered by others to bear another name, a more important name.
Son: Grk. huios, which refers to a male offspring or descendant, whether by direct birth or by more remote ancestry. In the LXX huios renders Heb. ben (“son,” “son of”), which is used in three distinctive ways: (1) to identify direct paternity, as the son of his father (Gen 5); (2) to mean not the actual father but a more distant ancestor (e.g., Gen 32:32), as Yeshua is referred to as the son of David and Abraham (Matt 1:1); (3) to mean in a broader sense of having the characteristics of (e.g., Ps 89:22; Dan 3:25; cf. 2 Thess 2:3), and this too applies here.
of the Most High: Grk. hupsistos, a superlative that means being positioned at the uttermost upward point in status, generally translated as "Most High" as a name for God. The Greek word hupsistos renders the Heb. Elyon in the LXX. In the Tanakh the Hebrew name Elyon occurs often as a synonym of Elohim and YHVH (e.g. Num 24:16). God is first called El Elyon (“God most high”) at Genesis 14:18–20, where Abraham tithed to the Melchizedek, the priest of El Elyon.
"Ben-Elyon" means "Son of God," as is clear from verse 35. The angelic revelation to Miriam is the first occurrence in the apostolic narratives of the title being used in reference to Yeshua. The title "Son of the Most High" is also used of Yeshua also at Mark 5:7, Luke 8:28, Acts 16:17, and Hebrews 7:1; the first three of these are spoken by demoniacs. The more familiar title "Son of God" (Grk. huiou theou) occurs 43 times in the Besekh and all but one refers to Yeshua. "Son of the Father" appears in 2 John 1:3 and eight times Yeshua is referred to as the only begotten Son of the Father. Indeed, he is the "begotten God" (John 1:18). Yeshua constantly referred to God as his Father. When he said "I and the Father are one," his opponents accused him of blasphemy (John 10:33). In response Yeshua replied, quoting Psalm 82:6,
"Has it not been written in your Law, 'I SAID, YOU ARE GODS'?' If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, 'You are blaspheming,' because I said, 'I am the Son of God'? (John 10:34-36)
Christianity has traditionally interpreted the title "Son of God" as representative of deity, but this assumption is difficult to substantiate in Scripture. Lest the reader misunderstand my point, there is no equivocation in the Besekh that Yeshua is the image of the invisible God and agent of creation. When Yeshua and the apostles want to declare His deity unambiguously, they do so with other terminology and descriptions (John 1:1; 8:58-59; 10:30, 33; 15:26; 20:28; 2 Cor 4:4; Phil 2:5-7; Col 1:15-17; 2:9; 1 Tim 3:16; Titus 2:13; Heb 1:2-3, 8; 2 Pet 1:1; Rev 19:11-14).
However, in John 10 Yeshua chides his critics by reminding them of the human character of the title. According to Scripture all Israelites are sons of God (Isa 43:6; Hos 1:10; Matt 17:25-26; 2 Cor 6:18), because Israel is collectively the son of God (Ex 4:22). Adam was the first son of God (Luke 3:38). The disciples, too, can be described as "sons of God" (Matt 5:9, 45; cf. Rom 8:14, 19; Gal 3:26; 4:6-7; Heb 12:7-8). So, Yeshua argues that there can be nothing wrong with him claiming to be THE special son of God sent into the world. Unlike the rest of the sons of God, Yeshua was not only one with the Father, but begotten of the Father.
and the Lord: Grk. kurios may mean either (1) 'one in control through possession,' and therefore owner or master; or (2) 'one esteemed for authority or high status,' thus lord or master. In the LXX kurios occurs over 9,000 times, principally to translate Heb. words for God. In the overwhelming majority of instances (over 6,000 times), kurios replaces the Hebrew tetragrammaton Yod-Hey-Vav-Hey. In addition, kurios stands in for the divine titles Adonai, Elohim, El and Eloah. In contrast to its use for deity kurios also renders Heb. adon (owner, master) 310 times, 190 of which refers to men in general recognition of superiority (DNTT 2:511). The TLV renders kurios here with Adonai, assuming rightly that the title in this name combination refers to the tetragrammaton YHVH, the name Jews were not to pronounce.
God: Grk. theos, the God of Israel. In secular Greek writings a number of deities, always represented in anthropomorphic form, were called theos. In ancient polytheistic culture theos was not one omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, Creator and ruler of the universe and certainly not spirit as described in Scripture (John 4:24). All of the gods and goddesses of polytheistic pantheons were strictly non-personal, which stands in sharp contrast to the Hebraic view of one all-powerful God who created the universe and then called Israel into a special covenant and one who loves and desires a relationship with men. In the LXX theos renders the generic designations of God, El (which occurs over 200 times, including combinations such as El Bethel, El Elyon, El Roi, El Olam, and El Shaddai) and Elohim (which occurs over 2300 times), as well as the tetragrammaton YHVH, over 300 times (DNTT II, 67-70). As with many other Greek words the LXX infused new meaning into theos. Based on usage in the LXX the TLV appropriately renders theos with Elohim.
Gabriel is clear that the God of Israel is the one who will make the promise come true. The second half of the verse then defines the functional meaning of "Son of God" as the one who will occupy the throne of his father David. This proclamation was news that any Jew would have welcomed. Many passages in the Besekh reinforce the assertion that Yeshua is a descendant of David (Matt 1:1; 9:27; 15:22; 20:30; 21:9; 22:42; Luke 3:31; 18:38; Acts 13:34; 2Tim 2:8; Rev 5:5; 22:16). Yet, in the Tanakh the concept of the "son of God" is associated with a divinely appointed deliverer from the line of David, i.e., the Messiah. The primary source is God's revelation to David:
"I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me." (2Sam 7:12-14)
"But as for Me, I have installed My King Upon Zion, My holy mountain." 7 "I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, `You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. … 11 Worship the LORD with reverence And rejoice with trembling. 12 Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way, For His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!" (Ps 2:6-7, 11-12)
The revelation of God's son is also given in later passages:
"Who has ascended into heaven and descended? Who has gathered the wind in His fists? Who has wrapped the waters in His garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name or His son's name? Surely you know!" (Prov 30:4)
"For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace." (Isa 9:6)
God's promise that he would bring His Anointed from the line of David explains the presence of the genealogies in the apostolic narratives. The apostles demonstrated that Yeshua is the expected son of David on both sides of the family tree. David's words in Psalm 2:7 are replicated in Paul's sermon at Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:33) and twice in his letter to the Hebrews (1:5; 5:5). The Besekh also juxtaposes "son of God" with Messiah (Christ) or the Davidic heir in a parallel construction in several passages (Matt 16:16; 26:63; Mark 1:1; Luke 1:32; John 1:34, 49; 11:27; 20:31; Acts 8:37; 1Cor 1:9; 2Cor 1:19; Eph 4:13; 2Jn 1:9).
Such a connection would not be unexpected in Israelite culture because the king functioned as God's regent on earth and was vested with God's authority. Robert Alter in his commentary The Book of Psalms (W.W. Norton & Co., 2007) says that it was commonplace in the ancient Near East to consider the king as God's son (6). So when the angel informed Miriam that her son would be called Ben-Elyon, he means "son of God," as the human Messiah of Israel. That being said "son of God" obviously has a paradoxical character at this point because the Messiah who would take David's throne was brought into existence by impartation of divine life into human flesh.
33 He shall reign over the house of Jacob for all eternity, and His kingdom will be without end.
He shall reign: Grk. basileuō, fut. tense, to be king or to rule. Gabriel informs Miriam that her son will be a king. over the house: Grk. oikos may mean a (1) dwelling, (2) the property and possessions belonging to a dwelling, (3) any large building (palace or temple), (4) the human body as habitation for the soul, (5) household, family, or (6) clan, tribe, descendants or nation. of Jacob: Grk. Iakōb attempts to transliterate the Heb. Ya'akov ("Jacob"). The meaning of Jacob's name, "heel-catcher," had no pejorative connotation when first given by Isaac to his son.
As indicated by Hosea 12:3, "heel-catcher" illustrated the strength and power he had with God. (For more on the background of the name and the first "Jacob" see my commentary on John 4:5 and my web article Our Father Jacob.) The son of Isaac held great honor among the people of Israel and so it is not surprising that five different men bear this name in the Besekh, including the apostle misnamed "James." The "house of Jacob" refers to the ethnic descendants of Jacob or the twelve tribes of Israel. Jacob was well esteemed by God and the nation of Israel, contrary to common Christian defamation of his character. The house would also include grafted-in Gentiles and thereby identical with the Commonwealth of Israel in Ephesians 2.
His kingdom: Grk. basileia may refer to the act of ruling and be rendered as "kingship, royal power/rule/reign or royal jurisdiction" or to a territory ruled by a king, i.e., kingdom. The word occurs some 40 times in Luke, but only eight times without the addition “of God.” The concept of the Kingdom of God is crucial to understanding the Bible. It refers primarily to a condition in which the rulership of God is acknowledged by humankind, a condition in which God’s promises of a restored universe free from sin and death are, or begin to be, fulfilled. “Kingdom” is most likely used here in its Tanakh sense of the promise of Messiah actually ruling over the earth from David’s throne in Jerusalem. without end: The kingdom arrived in the person of the Messiah and once he came his reign continues forever from that point. The Kingdom is not waiting for the Second Coming to begin.
34 Miriam said to the angel, "How can this be, since I know not a man?"
Unlike Zechariah who challenged Gabriel with unbelief, Miriam is simply curious about the mechanics of accomplishing the sovereign will of God. She may have assumed that her son would be conceived from normal relations between herself and her husband. After all the Messiah would be a biological descendant of King David. Yet, the visitor's announcement sounded like she would be pregnant without her husband's assistance. Miriam confirms her chaste state as meant by the term virgin in verse 27. Both secular men and unbelieving Jews scoff at the virgin birth of Yeshua. After all, in human experience a baby simply cannot be made without a father. Miriam knows all this and wonders how God will accomplish this conception.
35 And answering her, the angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the Holy One being born will be called the Son of God.
And answering her, the angel said to her: lit. "And answering the angel said to her." The double emphasis on speaking is a Hebraic way of introducing the quoted material and effectively serves as quotation marks. Gabriel then explains in simple terms how God will perform the miracle.
The Holy Spirit: Grk. pneumatos hagiou hę, the Holy Spirit. In the Tanakh Ruach ha-Kodesh occurs only three times (Ps 51:11; Isa 63:10-11). Three other equivalent forms are used to refer to the Holy Spirit in the Tanakh. Ruach Elohim (Spirit of God) is the earliest reference to the Holy Spirit, and occurs in Genesis 1:2. Ruach Elohim occurs a total of 12 times in the Tanakh. The next term, Ruach Adonai-YHVH (Spirit of the Lord God) occurs one time (Isa 61:1). The last term Ruach YHVH (Spirit of the LORD) occurs 23 times, seven of which are in the book of Judges where it first occurs. Then, Ruach occurs by itself 23 times in passages where its clear that Ruach is the Holy Spirit (e.g. Num 11:17; Isa 48:16; Zech 4:6). All of these passages in the Tanakh indicate that the Holy Spirit is divine, not less or other than God.
will come: Grk. eperchomai, fut. mid., to come on or upon, in the sense of moving over a space. upon you: The pronoun is preceded by the preposition epi, meaning 'on' or 'upon,' so the action of the Holy Spirit is given double emphasis. and the power: Grk. dunamis, the quality or state of being capable, power or might. of the Most High: Grk. hupsistou. See verse 32 above. The power of the Creator God will bring about this miracle. will overshadow you: Grk. episkiazō, to overshadow, to envelope or surround. Therefore, the Holy One: lit. "the holy thing." being born: Grk. gennaō, pres. pass. part., to cause to come into being. The verb is normally associated with the male parent would be translated as 'to father,' 'beget' or 'procreate.' In this case it is the Heavenly Father who is begetting the child. The entire participial phrase could be translated as "the one being born holy," in other words holy from incarnation. will be called the Son of God: See verse 32 above.
To deny the virgin birth implies that God can't perform miracles and if He can’t do it then not only is the case for Christianity undermined, but also for Judaism and any other kind of theism. If God can't perform miracles, and the foundational documents of our religion say that He did perform miracles, then the documents must be wrong. The Hebrew Scriptures record that God brought about miraculous pregnancies with Sarah, Rebecca and Hannah, for example. So, it is not impossible that God, who can do far more than we can imagine, could take on human flesh with the power of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, he would be the "son of God," not merely in the sense of a Davidic king and deliverer, but because he would be begotten of God.
36 Behold, even your relative Elizabeth has conceived a son in her old age; and the one who was called barren is six months pregnant.
Gabriel now gives Miriam some news she apparently had not heard. He refers to your relative: Grk. sungenis, one connected by lineage, a kinswoman. The two women are apparently blood relatives since they share a lineage. The nature of the relation is difficult to determine. The natural question is how would a woman in the tribe of Judah in the lineage of David be related to a woman in the tribe of Levi in the lineage of Aaron? The simple solution would be that a man in Miriam's lineage married a woman in the tribe of Levi. In fact, members of Judah intermarried with members of Levi as early as the wilderness generation (Amminadab and Nahshon, Matt 1:4). Given the age difference Miriam and Elizabeth may have been cousins two or three times removed.
six months pregnant: The Greek text says lit., "this is the sixth month." In other words she has completed five months of pregnancy and is into her sixth month. This is a typical Hebraic manner of expressing time. The main point is that Miriam learns that Elizabeth has conceived and carrying a child. This news no doubt bolstered her confidence in the stranger's prophecy. Elizabeth's barrenness would have been widely known among their relations, so the good news would motivate Miriam to learn more about it.
37 For nothing will be impossible with God.
This axiomatic statement almost seems unnecessary, but humans at times need this reassurance. The very definition of God precludes the impossible, especially when He has made a sovereign decree. Gabriel probably alludes to what the angel of the Lord said to Abraham when Sarah laughed at the news that she would become pregnant.
"Is anything too difficult for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son." (Gen 18:14)
The prophetic word of the Lord is inherently self-fulfilling as Isaiah says,
"So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it." (Isa 55:11)
This principle applies to all the prophecies that pertain to the coming of the Messiah the second time. He will only come when all has been fulfilled. For Yeshua to come without fulfilling prophecy would impugn the integrity of God.
38 So Miriam said, "Behold, the servant of the Lord. Let is be done to me according to your word." And the angel left her.
Unlike Zechariah the angel leaves without providing any instructions. Gabriel merely announced what was going to happen. Miriam then unintentionally reveals her qualifications in her humble commitment to the sovereign will of God. Behold, the servant: Grk. doulē, the feminine counterpart to doulos, which can mean either slave or servant. In the LXX doulē renders Heb. amah (handmaid or maidservant, BDB 51). Miriam's humility mirrors that of Hannah who referred to herself as an amah of the Lord when she plead for a child (1Sam 1:11). of the Lord: Miriam calls herself a "servant of the Lord" because she was devoted utterly to her God. The great Israelite heroes of the faith considered themselves servants of God the King and it was considered a high honor for a person to be called a servant of God.
Abraham was the first to use this title (Gen 18:3; 26:24), but the most frequent usage is in relation to Moses and over 40 citations remind Jews of his status, including 18 in the book of Joshua alone. Many other Israelite leaders and Hebrew prophets also bore this title. Out of this tradition several spiritual leaders in the apostolic era followed suit. Besides Miriam, the expression is also used Simeon (Luke 2:29), Paul (Rom 1:1), Apollos (1Cor 3:5), Timothy (Php 1:1), Yeshua (Php 2:7), Epaphras (Col 1:7), Tychicus (Col 4:7), Jacob (Jas 1:1), Peter (2Pet 1:1) and Moses (Rev 15:3).
Let is be done to me: Miriam is not only humble, but also courageous. She instinctively knows the potential scandal to the family and the confusion and hurt that Joseph might experience. No one would likely believe her report of a prophetic visitation. But, submitting to God's will was more important than any social consideration. according to your word: Grk. rhēma, communication consisting of words, often with the implication of importance or special significance; statement, pronouncement, declaration, word. Gabriel's announcement was the word of God and therefore utterly reliable. And the angel left her: With the completion of his commission Gabriel left. Other angels might be tasked to provide protection and ministry to Miriam and her son (cf. Matt 4:6; 18:10; Heb 1:14), but it would not be Gabriel.
Miriam Visits Elizabeth, 1:39-56
39 Now in those days, Miriam got up and quickly traveled into the hill country, to a town in Judah.
Now in those days: The time reference implies that Miriam did not leave the same day that Gabriel visited her. There were likely preparations to make and people to inform of her travel plans, including her betrothed. At this point in their relationship Joseph knew Miriam's spiritual character and commitment to him, so there would have been no reason for him to object to her trip. Miriam got up: Grk. anistēmi, aor. act. part., to arise from a recumbent position. The verb no doubt depicts her getting up after a night of sleep. and quickly: Grk. spoudē, with haste, this case with enthusiasm to see her relative. traveled: Grk. poreuō, aor. pass., to move from one part of an area to another.
Miriam immediately set out on a 90-mile trek from Nazareth to see Elizabeth. An ordinary day's travel is computed in the Talmud as high as 40 Roman miles (Pes. 93b), so it would only have taken her a few days for the trip. She probably joined a caravan since travel in ancient times was conducted in groups for the sake of safety. There was no festival mentioned as this time of year that would have offered a group of pilgrims for company. This one element of the story casts doubt on the assumption by many interpreters that her parents were living. In ordinary circumstances a woman who had not completed nisuin would still be under the authority of her father. If he were living Miriam would not make such a long trip without his permission. There is not even a hint of parental authority over Miriam anywhere in the narrative. When she finally arrives at her destination she is accompanied by no one.
into the hill country: Grk. oreinos, mountainous or hill country (BAG). the adjective is derived from oros (mountain, hill, hill country ). The corresponding Heb. word, har, is given in Scripture to a comparatively large ridge, a collection of small hills and to many hogbacks in Israel. Modern science distinguishes hills from mountains by classifying a hill as being less than 1,000 feet above its surroundings, but the distinction may depend upon local interpretation (Structured Geological Glossary, Amateur Geologist: 2003). For example, the Mount of Olives (Matt 21:1) is 2,676 feet above sea level, but only about 175 feet higher than Jerusalem (NIBD 554, 731).
Bible translators often fail to recognize that a single Hebrew and Greek word was used to refer to any natural topographical feature that rose above a valley, plain or other surroundings regardless of height. The choice to translate oreinos as "hill country" probably reflects the arbitrary standard of modern science and supports the Christian tradition of the location of Zechariah's residence a few miles west of Jerusalem. However, "mountainous" is an equally good translation. Ironically, only early English Bibles translate oreinos as 'mountainous' or 'in the mountains' (Wycliffe, 1395; Tyndale, 1525; Coverdale, 1535; Mace, 1729). The most mountainous area of Judah begins about 10 miles southwest of Jerusalem and continues in a southerly direction for another 15 miles.
to a town in Judah: Grk. Ioudas (Heb. Y'hudah), the biblical location name for the area assigned to the tribe of Judah. Some versions (CEV, GNB, NCV, NIV, NLT, YLT) incorrectly render the noun as Judea, which covered a larger area than Judah. (The Greek word for Judea is Ioudaia.) Edersheim speculates that Zechariah lived in the neighborhood of Hebron where many priests lived (Temple 119f). Hebron is the principal city 19 miles south in the mountainous region south of Jerusalem, elevation 3050 feet above sea level.
40 She entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth.
The door to the house was probably open and Miriam simply walked in and greeted Elizabeth, probably with the customary greeting of shalom.
41 When Elizabeth heard Miriam's greeting, the unborn child leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was completely filled with the Holy Spirit.
The verse actually begins with the familiar Lukan expression "And it came to pass." Miriam's greeting sparked an amazing occurrence. In response to Miriam's greeting Elizabeth's unborn child: Grk. brephos may refer to unborn offspring and be translated as 'fetus' or 'baby' or to a newborn or very young child and rendered as 'infant' or 'baby.' The former meaning applies here. leaped: Grk. skirtaō, to move about in a lively manner, to bounce, jump or leap. in her womb: Grk. koilia may mean either (1) belly, stomach; or (2) womb as it does here. This anatomical reference clarifies the meaning of brephos.
In the sixth month of pregnancy the baby is over a foot long, weighs almost two pounds. He is already practicing walking by pedaling his feet and kicking, sometimes right in the cervix. The baby has developed a strong grip and he can open and close his eyes in reaction to light. His vocal cords are fully functional, although he won’t be truly practicing until he sees his first glimpse of daylight. Hiccups are common for him as the baby practices swallowing, and the mother may feel these throughout the day. So, the fact that the baby "leaped" in her womb is not an unusual occurrence in itself. See the note on verse 44.
and Elizabeth was completely filled: Grk. pimplēmi, aor. pass., to cause to be in a condition that allows for no further addition, to be filled. The adverb "completely" may be a tautology but gives emphasis to the meaning of the Greek word. with the Holy Spirit: Grk. pneumatos hagiou, the Holy Spirit. See verse 34 above. The first mention of the Holy Spirit is Genesis 1:2 where the Spirit "moved on the face of the waters" just before God said, "Let there be light" in the next verse. The first mention of the Holy Spirit reveals the essential function of His work. The Holy Spirit is involved in creation and in giving "light," that is wisdom, knowledge, understanding, guidance and revelation by divine intervention. Yeshua says as much in his description of the Holy Spirit's ministry (John 14:26; 16:8-15).
The "filling of the Holy Spirit" is directly related to the "light-bearing" function. There were a number of people filled with the Spirit in the Tanakh. The first mention is of Bezalel (Ex 31:3) and Oholiab (Ex 35:31, 35) who were given special revelation in construction of the tabernacle. Later Balaam would be given a revelation of Israel and its future Messiah (Num 24:2). King Saul would also be filled with the Spirit and prophesy (1Sam 10:10). The mention of Joshua being filled with the spirit of wisdom (Deut 34:9) is probably an allusion to the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth is the first woman mentioned being filled with the Spirit in the Bible and the first person in the Besekh.
Some Christians assume the filling of the Holy Spirit began at Pentecost, but this is a mistake. In Scripture being filled with the Spirit is not associated with a worship service or special signs. As in the illustration of giving light, being "filled with the [Holy] Spirit" is really an idiomatic expression that refers to a divine enablement for spiritual insight or activity. The euphemism of "filled" in this context is tantamount to one's soul or spirit being taken possession of. The spiritual activity takes a variety of forms in Scripture and the person performs the activity with passion. Here Elizabeth is given spiritual insight that she could not have known without divine aid and is inspired to give praise to God for His blessing of Miriam.
42 She then cried out with a great shout, saying, "You are blessed among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
She then cried out: Grk. anphoneō, to call out or cry out. with a great shout: Grk. kraugē, an outcry or shout. The double emphasis on Elizabeth's voice suggests she raised her volume considerably. The Holy Spirit had given Elizabeth significant revelation without the aid of an angel. saying, "You are blessed: Grk. eulogeō, perf. pass. part., may mean either (1) to invoke divine favor on or for someone or thing or (2) to express high praise with a connotation of appreciation for divine beneficence. The perfect tense refers to action completed in past time with continuing results to the present. The favor of God had rested on Miriam long before Gabriel brought news of it.
among women: Elizabeth means among all Jewish women who had ever lived and hoped to be the mother of the Messiah. This is an incredible honor and it came to a relative of Elizabeth. Is God good or what? and blessed: The same verb with the same tense is repeated. is the fruit of your womb: the child to be born shares the favor of God with his mother. Elizabeth could only know these things by the "light" of the Holy Spirit.
43 Who am I, that the mother of my Master should come to me?
This rhetorical question implies that the filling by the Spirit had given Elizabeth a revelation of the significance of Miriam's conception and pregnancy. Who am I: This is a question of humility, implying a sense of unworthiness. After all, she was not a priest, prophet, rabbi or other important person. Yet, even so great a person as King David asked this question (2Sam 7:18) when informed that God would create an everlasting kingdom from his descendant (2Sam 7:8-17).
that the mother of my Master: Grk. kurios. See verse 32 above. Elizabeth is, of course, not saying that Miriam is the mother of God, a title that Christianity would later adopt. The revelation is that the Kurios is the principal title by which disciples and members of the public addressed Yeshua during his earthly ministry, over twice as many times as any other title (e.g., Rabbi, Teacher, Master). The frequent use of kurios to address Yeshua in the flesh would not have considered deity. Unbelieving Jews would have called him kurios out of respect. However, expectant Jews would call Yeshua adon because the Messiah would rule over Israel. Yet, in this context it is not certain that Yeshua was referring to himself. There is only one occasion in which Yeshua referred to himself clearly as "lord" (John 13:13-14).
44 For even when I just heard the sound of your greeting in my ear, the unborn child leaped with joy in my womb.
Elizabeth tells Miriam that coincidental with Miriam's offering her greeting, the sixth month old baby in her womb leaped (see verse 41 above), but adds with joy: Grk. agalliasis, exuberant joy or rejoicing. The Scripture text declares (what only modern science has discovered) that a baby in the womb experiences emotions, including those of the mother. So, when Elizabeth's heart filled with joy by the Holy Spirit, the baby joined in the celebration. He began to dance as only Jews can do.
45 Blessed is she who trusted that there would be a fulfillment of those things spoken to her by the Lord."
Elizabeth completed the revelation given by the Holy Spirit that Miriam had trusted in the message of divine pregnancy. Elizabeth can say "spoken by the Lord" because God had put His words in the angel's mouth. Gabriel did not repeat gossip or make up his message. He was an apostle of God, an authorized messenger who delivered the message of God. It may well be that Elizabeth went on to recount the experience of Zechariah at the temple and informed Miriam of the angel Gabriel. Zechariah may not have been unable to speak, but he was still able to write and no doubt related his entire experience to his wife. Miriam would then have realized that it was the same angel who had brought the message to her.
Miriam's Song of Praise, 1:45-55
Verses 46-55 are known in the Western world as the Magnificat, from the section’s first word in the Vulgate (400). Every verse is grounded in the Tanakh. At least in tone if not in some particulars Miriam's song resembles Hannah’s song of praise to God at the dedication of her son Samuel (1Sam 2:1–10). Miriam essentially provides a conflation of passages and idiomatic expressions from the Tanakh, a Rabbinic method of argumentation. In any event Miriam's song expresses her personal joy as well as affirms the basis for the Jewish gospel. Such knowledge of Scripture and skill at crafting the song suggests an education that went beyond normal training of young girls. Perhaps her father was a rabbi.
46 Then Miriam said, "My soul magnifies the Lord,
Miriam alludes to Psalm 34:2, "My soul will make its boast in the LORD; the humble will hear it and rejoice." My soul is an Hebraic manner of referring to the self without saying "I." The verb magnifies, Grk. megalunō, means, cause to gain recognition, to aggrandize, celebrate or glorify.
47 and my spirit greatly rejoices in God, my Savior.
Miriam next alludes to Psalm 35:9, "And my soul shall rejoice in the LORD; It shall exult in His salvation" and forms a parallelism with the preceding verse. and my spirit: Grk. pneuma, a term in this context that means the personal inner and expressive identity. The spirit of man is that which man has in common with God who is Spirit (Gen 1:2; John 4:24) and in this context synonymous with "soul" in the preceding verse. The personal reference is a typical Hebraic circumlocution for saying "I." Bible characters often speak of themselves in the third person (cf. Ps 103:1). greatly rejoices: Grk. agallialō, to be exuberantly joyful, to rejoice, to exult. The verb is synonymous with "magnifies" in the previous verse. in God: Grk. theos. See the note on verse 6 above. In the parallelism theos for the Heb. Elohim adds emphasis to the personality and nature of the God of Israel.
my Savior: Grk. sōtēr, one who liberates from real or threatening harm or loss, savior, deliverer, or benefactor. In the LXX sōtēr renders the Heb. yeshu'ah ("one who brings deliverance") and the participle moshia a derivative of the verb yasha ("to save") (DNTT 3:217), which is another form of the word hoshia and is related to Yeshua’s own name (see verse 31 above). In the Judges 3:9, 15 sōtēr appears to be a technical term for the judge-deliverers. Above all sōtēr is applied to the God of Israel. Often the LXX speaks concretely of "God my Savior," whereas the MT speaks of "God of my salvation." God, as Savior, delivers from things outward, such as enemies (Ex 14:30; 1Sam 4:3; 2Sam 3:18), and things inward, such as sin (Ezek 36:29). He delivers people who are contrite and humble (Ps 34:19).
Miriam identifies God as her Savior and makes the promise to the nation personal. She admits that even though she will birth the Savior, she herself needs a Savior. Miriam will never have the power to save anyone as later claimed in Catholic Christianity. Salvation, whether natural or spiritual, can never been accomplished by a mere human being. The promise of a Savior began in the Garden after the first couple sinned.
"The LORD [LXX Kurios for YHVH] God [LXX Theos for Elohim] said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, Cursed are you more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly you will go, And dust you will eat All the days of your life; 15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel." (Gen 3:14-15)
Though Miriam was the woman blessed with the stewardship of bearing the Seed-Savior, she is really a surrogate for Eve, the mother of all the living (see my commentary on Rev 12:1-5).
48 For He has looked with care upon the humble state of His maidservant, for behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed.
In the first half of the verse Miriam identifies herself with Hannah by alluding to her words in 1 Samuel 1:11, "O LORD of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant." Hannah is the only woman in the Tanakh to call herself a maidservant of the Lord. Miriam speaks of her humble state , Grk. tapeinosis, a condition of being little of no account. Hannah's humbleness was associated with her affliction, that is her barrenness and possibly the harassment of her co-wife Peninnah. Both women were devoted to doing God's will regardless of the circumstances.
Miriam then prophesies that future generations will acknowledge her as blessed of God and give her honor as the mother of the Messiah and Davidic King. The prophecy would certainly be true of the respect given by disciples of Yeshua throughout her life. After the ascension Miriam was a vital member of the early Messianic community (Acts 1:14). The history of Miriam's life afterward is a matter of legend, but eventually the Catholic Church would make her so blessed as to be a co-mediator with her son. As a righteous Jewish woman she would have been horrified at such idolatry. Miriam at this point probably could not have imagined that unbelieving Jews would later slander her as having become pregnant by a Roman soldier (See Sanh. 67a, fn 12). The main point of the prophecy is that those who believe Luke's story will call her uniquely blessed and so she was and still is.
49 For the Mighty One has done a great thing for me, and holy is His name.
For the Mighty One: Grk. ho dunatos, having power or competence, but with the definite article rendered as the Mighty One, a title used of God in the Tanakh (Josh 22:22; Ps 45:3; 50:1; Isa 10:34), and sometimes as the Mighty One of Jacob (Gen 49:24; Ps 132:2; Isa 49:26) and the Mighty One of Israel (Isa 1:24). Various Hebrew words are used in these combinations for "mighty" but they all emphasize that God is mighty in all His works (Jer 32:19). God has all the power He needs to accomplish whatever He desires.
has done a great thing for me: The Tanakh speaks of many great things God accomplished for the earth or the nation of Israel, but Miriam rejoices in the very personal nature of a creation miracle that has been done in her. She does not lament over possible negative social consequences. She worries not about her reputation. She's not even concerned about her pregnancy. Right now her only thought is how much the Mighty God has favored her and suddenly made her life rich and full. However, the joy is not simply that she will gain what Elizabeth spent decades without. The truly great thing that will result from this pregnancy is her own redemption and salvation as indicated is the closing phrase of her praise.
and holy is His name: Stern suggests that Miriam's praise alludes to Psalm 111:9, "He has sent redemption to His people; He has ordained His covenant forever; Holy and awesome is His name." Miriam knows that she is but the vessel that God chose to bring redemption to all of Israel.
50 And His mercy is from generation to generation to the ones who fear Him.
Miriam then alludes to Psalm 103:17, "But the LORD's kindness is forever and ever over those who fear Him and His bounty to the sons of sons" (Alter). Miriam lauds God's mercy: Grk. eleos, kindness expressed for one in need, compassion or pity. This view of the nature of God is an important corrective to the heretical doctrine that the God of the Old Testament is only a God of hatred and judgment. God's nature did not change with the arrival of the Messiah. The God of Israel has always been loving, compassionate and merciful. To express His mercy God sends the agent of His mercy.
The phrase from generation to generation refers to a perpetual condition, one that never ends. The one qualification on such continuing mercy is that it is for the ones who fear Him, that is, the ones who obey God's commandments out of love and respect for His holy name (Deut 5:10). To some interpreters Miriam's view may imply a salvation by works, and in a way it does. The unfortunate result of emphasizing God's grace without works is that people have been deceived (or have deceived themselves) into thinking they don't have to change, they can just keep on sinning and still have God's grace (Rom 6:1).
God, in His grace, has provided the means of salvation for all. Under the Old Covenant the means involved animal sacrifices. Gentiles could gain salvation by joining themselves to Israel. Under the New Covenant God has provided a superior means of salvation, but the requirement for obedience to God's commandments is still just as important for the disciple of Yeshua as it was for ancient Israel. (See my web article Under the Law.)
51 He has displayed power with His arm, He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
Miriam transitions from personal praise to prophesying in the remainder of the song, stating God's accomplishments with past tense verbs as if they were already completed, although they could be viewed as eschatological in their final fulfillment. Miriam recognizes that a great war has been waged against God since creation and in spite of all adversity God will remember His covenantal promises and bring Israel through to victory.
He has displayed power: Grk. kratos, quality of being strong, strength or might; lit. "He did might" (Marshall). with His arm: Grk. brachion, the anatomical limb, arm. This Hebraic idiom is an anthropomorphism, attributing a human characteristic to God to emphasize His almighty power (Job 40:9; Isa 40:10). The noun is singular and in reference to God is sometimes coupled with the "right hand" (Ps 44:3; 89:13; 98:1; Isa 62:8). On a number of occasions in the Tanakh God provided deliverance by His "arm," the most notable example being the deliverance of Israel from Egypt (Deut 4:34; 5:15; 9:29; 26:8; 2Kgs 17:36; Jer 32:21). His "arm" also accomplished the great work of creating the universe (Jer 27:5; 32:17).
He has scattered: Grk. diaskorpizō, to scatter or disperse. The idiom of scattering can be found in various references of God scattering the enemies of Israel (Num 10:35; 2Sam 22:15; Ps 68:30; 89:10). the proud: Grk. huperēphanos, a term that has the bad sense of arrogant or haughty. "The proud" is the opposite of the humble ones mentioned in the next verse (Jas 4:6; 1Pet 5:5). in the thoughts of their hearts: This idiomatic expression amplifies the nature of the arrogance. In other words, there is no basis for the arrogance. This verse seems to echo the praise of Psalm 89:10, "You Yourself crushed Rahab like one who is slain; You scattered Your enemies with Your mighty arm."
52 He has brought down rulers from thrones and exalted humble ones.
He has brought down: Grk. kathaireō, to take down from a position. Marshall has "pulled down." rulers: pl. of Grk. dunastēs, one who has authority to command, one with extraordinary power; when used of humans, it's rendered as 'ruler.' from thrones: pl. of Grk. thronos, throne in the sense of the chair on which the ruler sits, but used idiomatically as the seat of power. and exalted: Grk. hupsoō, to cause to move from a position to one that is higher, 'lift upward,' or to cause to be higher in status, 'elevate' or 'exalt.' humble ones: pl. of Grk. tapeinos, may mean modest in one's manner or expression or at a relatively low level in circumstance or status. The latter meaning, especially with regard to social status, suits here. Miriam's statement seems parallel to that expressed by Hannah:
"The bows of the mighty are shattered, but the feeble gird on strength … He brings low, He also exalts. He raises the poor from the dust, He lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with nobles, and inherit a seat of honor." (1Sam 2:4, 7-8)
Miriam's declaration can be easily validated from Israel's history. The Lord brought down the kings who opposed Abraham, Pharaoh in Egypt, Sisera of the Canaanites, and many others. The "humble ones" promoted from lesser circumstances to leadership of Israel include Joshua and the deliverers in the book of Judges. However, God also brought down unworthy rulers of Israel and replace them with godly men, such as David, Hezekiah and Josiah. In the last days God will finally replace the godless rule of men with the righteous rule of His Son (Psalm 2). Miriam knew that her son, born of humble stock, would take the throne of David and rid Israel of unworthy rulers.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things and sent away the rich empty-handed.
The first half of the verse appears to allude to Psalm 107:9, "For He has satisfied the thirsty soul, and the hungry soul He has filled with what is good." Miriam references two totally opposite positions in the culture. At the bottom of the social ladder are the hungry (Grk. peinaō, hungry in the physical sense) due to poverty. At the top of the social ladder are the rich (Grk. plouteō, to possess material assets in abundance) who control the wealth of the nation. The good things the rich don't gain are the blessings of the Kingdom, especially the mercy of God (cf. Luke 18:25). The story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-25) exemplifies Miriam's point. The rich man couldn't take his wealth with him into the next life and found himself in Hades, whereas Lazarus who well knew poverty and hunger gained the riches of Heaven upon his death.
54 He has helped His servant Israel, remembered His mercy,
He has helped: Grk. antilambanō, to take hold of something, here to help to come to the aid or assistance of. His servant: Grk. pais, one in a dependent capacity. The term may be used of a child or someone engaged in special service to a superior, such as a royal attendant. In the LXX pais occurs some 500 times and stands for 10 different Hebrew words, particularly often for ebed, (slave, servant or subordinate) (DNTT 1:283). It is noteworthy that Miriam does not use the term doulos (slave or servant), as often used to describe various individual godly leaders and spokesmen for God.
Israel: Grk. Israēl, a transliteration of the Heb. Yisrael, which means “God prevails” (BDB 975). The noun refers to both the covenant name of the chosen people and a corporate reference to the biological descendants of Jacob through the twelve tribes (Gen 32:28). Israel, formerly Jacob, is an honored name in the Tanakh. (See my web article Our Father Jacob.) Although Israel is not identified in the Tanakh as a "servant" of God,. the descendants of Jacob were called into being as a nation by God and thereafter sustained by God, as described in the historical accounts of the wilderness years, the time of the judges and the later monarchy.
Miriam's declaration recalls the Servant sayings of the prophets. Israel is called God's servant in a number of passages in the major prophets in which God emphasizes the special relationship He has with the nation and their dependency on Him:
"But you, Israel, My servant [LXX pais], Jacob whom I have chosen, Descendant of Abraham My friend, You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, And called from its remotest parts And said to you, 'You are My servant [LXX pais], I have chosen you and not rejected you." (Isa 41:8-9)
"Remember these things, O Jacob, And Israel, for you are My servant [LXX pais]; I have formed you, you are My servant [LXX pais], O Israel, you will not be forgotten by Me. (Isa 44:21)
Other passages repeat the same theme of chosenness and encouragement not to fear (Isa 43:10; 44:1-2; 45:4; 48:20; 49:3; Jer 30:10; 46:27-28; Ezek 28:25)
NOTE: Because the land of Canaan was give to the people of Israel as an everlasting inheritance, the name of the Land corresponded to its people. The reader should note that Miriam said "Israel" and not Palestine. Contrary to the erroneous labeling on Christian Bible maps and persistent usage in Christian scholarly works there was no Palestine in Bible times. There is no Palestine now (in spite of the newly gained "observer status" in the United Nations) and to use the term in any biblical context can only be described as antisemitic. (The current use of "Palestine" in the Middle East is in reality the name of a terrorist organization.) Even though the Roman government had divided the land into the provinces of Galilee, Samaria, Judea and Idumea, God still recognized the Land as Israel. An angel of God referred to the Land as Israel (Matt 2:20), Joseph recognized the Land as Israel (Matt 2:21) and Yeshua identified the Land as Israel (Matt 8:10; 10:23; Luke 4:25, 27; 7:9). Even the average Jew knew what their country was really called (Matt 9:33). See my web article The Land is Not Palestine.
remembered: Grk. mimnēskō, to call something to mind that one has noted or thought about in the past, to recollect or remember. The verb does not imply that God ever has amnesia. In the Tanakh the concept of remembering is applied to both man and God. For man remembering meant to observe or obey God's commandments. For God remembering means being faithful to keep His covenantal promises. His mercy: Grk. eleos. See the note on verse 50. Miriam's declaration of God remembering His mercy may allude to Psalm 98:3, "He has remembered His lovingkindness and His faithfulness to the house of Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God."
55 just as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever."
He spoke to our fathers: lit. "the fathers of us." By this reference Miriam may generally the great men who established the nation of Israel, such as Moses and Joshua, or more specifically those in the Messianic line as given in the genealogies of Matthew and Luke. to Abraham: Grk. Abraam, which transliterates the Heb. Avraham. The first Hebrew patriarch, he became the prime example of faith. He was the son of Terah, a descendant of Noah's son, Shem (Gen 11:27). He grew up in Ur of the Chaldees, a prominent Sumerian city. He was known at the beginning as Abram (“father is exalted”), but his name was changed subsequently to Abraham (“father of a multitude”) (Gen 17:5). Abraham was living in Haran when God called him to migrate to Canaan, and during his sojourn there God spoke to him and established a covenant with him.
In the covenant with Abraham God promised him a great name, that all nations would be blessed through him, that a direct heir would come from his body and Sarah, that he would be the Father of many people and nations, that his descendants would be delivered from bondage, and that his descendants through Isaac would possess the lands from the Nile River to the Euphrates River, especially the land of Canaan. The covenant was unconditional and everlasting and circumcision was the sign of this covenant (Gen 12:1-3; 15:1-21; 17:1-22). For more information on the great patriarch see my web article The Story of Abraham.
and to his seed: Grk. sperma may refer either to the source (e.g. semen) or product of propagation (descendant). The term is singular and the first part of the phrase is lit. "the seed of him," means the immediate descendant of Abraham, namely Isaac. The mention of Abraham's seed (Heb. zera) first occurs in Genesis 12:7 where the term is singular but translated as plural "descendants." forever: Grk. aiōn, a segment of extended time, age. The closing part of the phrase is lit. "into the age," possibly meaning the present age. In other words the covenant promise to Abraham was passed down through the Messianic line to the present time.
56 Miriam stayed with her for three months and the returned to her home.
Miriam stayed: Grk. menō, to remain in a situation for a length of time. with her: Elizabeth and her husband provided hospitality. The preposition "with" indicates a close association, so Miriam being a relative shared fully in the life of the household, not doubt including chores. for three months: lit. "about three months." The calendar was lunar so "about" could mean anywhere between 60 to 90 days, which explains why Miriam wasn't present for the birth of John. and then returned: Grk. hupostrephō, to go back to a position, to return. Miriam made the 90-mile trip back to Nazareth. to her home: Grk. oikos, a structure for habitation. This phrase may possibly imply that her home was indeed hers and that she was not living with her parents.
Go to Matthew 1:18-25 to see what happened when Miriam returned home three months pregnant.
Birth of the Messenger, 1:57-66
57 Upon Elizabeth's full term to deliver, she gave birth to a son.
As Gabriel had promised so Zechariah's wife carried her baby full term, that is 40 weeks, and then delivered her baby in normal way without harm to either mother or baby. In the modern age women are accustomed to having their babies delivered by medical doctors in a hospital, although some women do employ natural child birth at home. In ancient times delivery was normally accomplished at home with the aid of a midwife (e.g. Ex 1:15-21). Women delivered their babies while kneeling or squatting, usually on a birthing stool or birthing bricks (Ex 1:16). To give birth to a son was the hope of every Jewish mother and the cause of much joy in the family. To have a son meant that the family name would continue within Israel (cf. Deut 25:6).
58 Her neighbors and relatives heard how Adonai had shown her His great mercy and they began to rejoice with her.
The birth of a child in ancient Israelite culture was always an occasion for great celebration, but much more so in the case of Elizabeth. Her neighbors knew without a doubt that this baby was a miraculous birth. God had wiped away Elizabeth's shame and fill her heart with joy.
59 Now on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were calling him by the name of his father, Zechariah.
On the eighth day: i.e., the eighth day from birth with the day of birth counted as day 1. Circumcision is commanded by God to be performed on this day (Lev 12:3). The significance of the time is not stated in Scripture but modern medical researchers discovered that the two main blood clotting factors, Vitamin K and Prothrombim, reach their highest level in life, about 110% of normal, on the 8th day after birth. These blood clotting agents facilitate rapid healing and greatly reduce the chance of infection. Any circumcision done earlier requires an injection of Vitamin K supplement. they came: The group included the persons mentioned in verse 58 and perhaps other priests who lived in the city. Everyone in their local synagogue and of their acquaintance knew the importance of this day. While birthing was a private event, the circumcision was a public event.
to circumcise: Grk. peritemnō, aor. inf., the act of surgically removing the male foreskin by a knife. By custom the infant's father (Heb. avi haben) is responsible to perform the commanded circumcision (Gen 17:23; 21:4). However, due to the natural reticence of fathers to carry out this duty the office of mohel (circumciser) developed. The mohel was (and is) specially trained in circumcision and the rituals surrounding the procedure. The mohel might be a doctor or rabbi. Circumcision was the sign of belonging to the seed of Abraham and the chosen people (Gen 17:10-14; Lev 12:3). Along with it came all the promises given to Abraham. Failure to perform circumcision would result in being "cut off" from one's people (Gen 17:14). Rabbinic authority later determined that this restriction only applied to those serving as priests and did not disqualify one from being considered Jewish (Sanh. 22b).
Although the requirement for circumcision was given to Abraham (Gen 17:11; Acts 7:28), the mention of circumcision in the Besekh refers to a religious service designed by Moses (Acts 15:1) called B'rit Milah ("covenant of circumcision"). The apparent purpose of turning a simple surgery into a religious rite with spiritual meaning was probably to emphasize God's desire for circumcision of the heart (Deut 10:16; 30:6). While the surgery itself was normally performed privately, the celebratory service with family and friends included certain b'rakhot (blessings) and the naming of the child.
they were calling: Grk. kaleō, impf. to express something aloud, and in this setting, to identify by name. The verbal phrase is lit. "they were calling." him: Grk. autos, pers. pro., is neuter, but the context requires translation with "him." Stern points out that anyone acquainted with Jewish religious practice knows that a Jewish boy is named at his b'rit milah. But whence do we know of this custom? In a series of lectures over Israel Army Radio Professor David Flusser said:
“From early Christian literature we can learn about Jewish customs not recorded in early Jewish sources. Take an example: the Jewish custom of giving a boy his name during his circumcision ceremony is not known in our Talmudic literature, but in one of the Gospels (Luke 1:59–64).” (Jewish Sources in Early Christianity, MOD Books, 1989, p. 10, condensed)
by the name of his father Zechariah: Bible versions give the impression that people expected the baby to be named Zechariah after the father of the child. However, the Greek is literally, "the name of the father of him Zechariah." So, the last phrase could mean "the father of Zechariah," as indicated in verse 61. There was likely a custom to name a baby after a grandparent.
Among Ashkenazi Jews today it is not customary to name a child after a living relative, but Sephardic Jews often name their children after the children's grandparents, even if they are still alive. The first son and daughter are traditionally named after the paternal grandparents, and then the maternal parent's names are next up in line for the remaining children. After that, additional children's names are chosen without any more "naming obligations." (For more information see the article on Jewish Naming Conventions.)
60 But his mother declared, "No, he will be called Yochanan."
Elizabeth interrupted the naming ceremony and made it clear that the baby’s name was Yochanan: Grk. Iōannēs. See verse 13 above. She knew the will of God expressed by the angel and sought to comply. The use of Yochanan among those of high priestly descent was not unknown (Acts 4:6).
61 But they said to her, "No one among your relatives is called by this name."
No one among your relatives: Grk. sungeneia, one connected by lineage. The term is meant generally, whether living or dead. In this case near blood relations is most likely intended. is called by this name: Zechariah could have pointed out that there were three distant relatives with the name Yochanan (Barker 193f), a Levite who was descended from a distinguished line of priests and who served as high priest in King Rehoboam's time (1Chr 6:9-10), one who was high priest when Ezra returned from exile (Ezra 10:6; Neh 12:11, 22-23) and another post-exilic priest (Neh 12:13, 42).
There are also seven notable men from other tribes identified in the Tanakh who bore this name and in all cases the Hebrew name is rendered as "Johanan" in standard English versions. There was also Yochanan ("John") Hyrcanus of the Hasmonean dynasty who assumed leadership over Judea in 135 BC and ruled as High Priest. In 110 BC he was able to take advantage of civil strife in the Seleucid empire and led an army to secure Israel's borders and gained independence for Israel. In addition, there was a chief priest at this time named "John" (Acts 4:36), but apparently not a relative of Zechariah.
62 So they began making signs to his father, as to what he wanted him named.
began making signs: Grk. enneuō, impf., to nod to or to make a sign to. Zechariah had apparently become separated from Elizabeth holding the baby, and the people sought to get his attention, probably pointing at the baby and asking the question. (After all, nowhere does the narrative say that Zechariah was deaf as some suppose.) The others appealed to Zechariah, because by Jewish custom they assumed that the father was responsible for naming the child and surely Elizabeth had it wrong.
63 Asking for a small tablet, he wrote, "Yochanan is his name." They were all astonished!
Asking for a small tablet: Grk. pinakidion, little writing tablet. BAG says it was made of wood. The writing may have been accomplished with a reed pen (3Jn 13), a metal pen, or a brush-like tool (Jer 17:1) with black ink. Usually the ink was made of soot, mixed with oil and gum of balsam, which permitted erasure by a water-bearing sponge. Inkhorns were carried by scribes (NIBD 1110). Accepting the tablet and pen Zechariah wrote plainly his son's name.
64 And his mouth was immediately unlocked as well as his tongue, and he began to speak, praising God.
And his mouth was immediately: Grk. parachrēma, adv., instantly, immediately or at once. There was not even an instant of delay. unlocked: Grk. anoigō, to open, frequently used of doors. The TLV translation seems to imply that that Zechariah had lockjaw or something similar, but this is not likely since Zechariah would have starved to death. The nature of Gabriel's judgment was restricted in terms of its impact. as well as his tongue: Speaking requires both the ability to move the mouth and the tongue. So, instantly or at the very second that Zechariah wrote his son's name on the tablet, his mouth and tongue were freed to engage in speech.
and he began to speak: Grk. laleō, to make a sound, to make an oral statement. praising God: Grk. eulogeō, may mean (1) to invoke divine favor, to bless or (2) to express high praise with the connotation of appreciate for divine beneficence. The verb indicates that his first words were a b’rakhah (blessing) to God. The experience of Zechariah was that of a righteous man (v. 5) with deficient faith (v. 18), whom God chastised (vv. 19–20) in order to deepen his faith. Zechariah was not critical of God's treatment, but thankful for his favor.
65 Fear came on all those who lived around them and all these matters were talked about throughout the hill country of Judah.
The people stood in awe of the marvelous miracle of God. Up to this point their lives had been a normal existence as they lived by the Torah calendar and Torah standards. They lived with the constant reminder of the Roman Empire and their limited freedoms. Now they were witnesses to a movement of God, such as had not occurred in hundreds of years. The witness of Zechariah would have definitely sparked conversation and even expectation.
66 Everyone who heard pondered these things in their hearts, saying, "What then will this child become?" For the hand of Adonai was on him.
The awe-inspiring event of Elizabeth's pregnancy at an advanced age, her safe delivery, Zechariah's silence and then the loosing of his tongue naturally provoked speculation as to what this event portended. Normally, the son of a priest became a serving priest, but the people seemed to realize that God might have something else planned for this child. Luke presents the question as a matter of internal meditation, but someone must have spoken it aloud for the question to be remembered and then included in this narrative. The last sentence is not clear as to the object. The Greek is lit. "For indeed the hand of the Lord was with him." The "him" is probably Zechariah, as confirmed by the next verse.
Zechariah's Prophetic Message, 1:67-79
The following verses (67-79) are known in the West as the Benedictus (which is the section’s first word in the Vulgate. As with the "Magnificat" or the praise offered by Miriam there are many references to the Tanakh. Commentators have detected some thirty-three allusions to or quotations from the Tanakh (Kaiser 241).
67 His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied saying,
Zechariah being filled with the Holy Spirit (see the note on verse 41 above) is a testament to the divine empowerment long before Pentecost by which Zechariah prophesied, Grk. prophēteuō, aor., to disclose concealed information. In other words Zechariah disclosed the great plan of God, the totality of which had been concealed in the Tanakh. Throughout the message Zechariah uses the prophetic past tense to indicate that for him the promise of God was already accomplished. Zechariah's message contains two thematic sections: God's Covenant Faithfulness, verses 68-75, and Consecration of Yochanan, verses 76-79.
God's Covenant Faithfulness
68 Blessed be the Lord, God of Israel, for He has looked after His people and brought them redemption.
Grammatically verse 68 to 75 is one sentence, but the TLV like most versions treat the verses as separate thought units. Blessed: Grk. eulogētos for Heb. barukh. The formula for blessings set forth in the Mishnah consisted of two parts, first the standard invocation, Barukh attah Adonai, ("Blessed are You, O LORD," quoting Psalm 119:12) (Ber. 1:4), followed by the reason for the invocation, "who [action verb]." Zechariah follows this form and then adds the action verb. God has looked after (Grk. episkeptomai, to pay attention to, to visit) alludes to God’s personal intervention, as in the case of Hannah:
The LORD visited Hannah; and she conceived and gave birth to three sons and two daughters. (1Sam 2:21 NASB)
`They will be carried to Babylon and they will be there until the day I visit them,' declares the LORD. `Then I will bring them back and restore them to this place.' " (Jer 27:22 NASB)
"For thus says the LORD, 'When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place." (Jer 29:10 NASB)
brought them redemption: Grk. lutrōsis, to ransom, release or redemption, usually with money, lit. "wrought redemption." In the LXX the Greek word corresponds to Heb. ga’al, to act as a kinsman. The kinsman who redeems is called the go’el, as Boaz was for Naomi and Ruth. The last part of the praise may allude to the seventh blessing in the Amidah (Shemoneh Esreh) called Geulah ("Redemption").
“Look upon us in our suffering, and fight our struggles, redeem us speedily, for Your name's sake, for You are a mighty Redeemer. Blessed are You, Adonai, Redeemer of Israel.” Except here Zechariah blesses God for the answer to the petition.
69 He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David,
He has raised up: Grk. egeiro, to rise or raise, often used in the sense of movement from a position that is down to one that is up. a horn: Grk. keras, a bony projection from an animal's head, also used idiomatically in Israelite culture as a symbol of power, strength and courage. When a strong animal as a buffalo or an ox tosses or lifts up its horns it is ready to begin its deadly charge (cf. Deut 33:17; Ps 148:14) (Kaiser 242). Thus, God has the strength or ability to accomplish salvation: Grk. sōtēria, rescue, deliverance or salvation from physical harm, but often from God's wrath. In the LXX sōtēria translates six different Hebrew formations derived from the root verb yasha, to deliver (DNTT 3:206). The "horn of salvation" is a metaphor taken from Psalm 18:2 and probably coined by David.
The salvation is wrought for us (pl. of Grk. egō), a personal pronoun that occurs ten times in this proclamation. "Us" is the people of Israel.
"The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, And I am saved from my enemies." (Ps 18:2-3 NASB)
"On that day I will make a horn sprout for the house of Israel, and I will open your mouth in their midst. Then they will know that I am the LORD." (Ezek 29:21 NASB)
The house of David alludes to the covenant with David that an heir from his body would sit on his throne forever. The "horn of salvation" had been promised through the dynasty of David (2Sam 7:11-19; Isa 9:6-7). The phrase “David My servant” occurs seven times in the Tanakh (1Chr 17:4; Ps 89:3; Jer 33:21, 22, 26; Ezek 37:25).
"When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. "He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. (1Sam 7:12-13 NASB)
"I have made a covenant with My chosen; I have sworn to David My servant, I will establish your seed forever And build up your throne to all generations." (Ps 89:3-4 NASB)
So, not only is salvation from the Jews as Yeshua will later tell the woman of Samaria (John 4:22), but through the tribe of Judah and even more specifically through the house or lineage of David.
70 just as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ages past,
The opening phrase spoke by the mouth is a Hebraic description of inspiration. God spoke and men orally repeated His words and then wrote His words. Thus, according to Jews the Tanakh is verbally inspired, and the word of the prophets especially by direct dictation. The mention of the holy prophets is a reference to all the prophets who promised a deliverer, including Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Micah and Zechariah.
71 salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us!
Zechariah employs a parallelism drawn from Psalm 106:10. “So He saved them from the hand of the one who hated them, And redeemed them from the hand of the enemy.” This Psalm looks back on the Red Sea victory. Many commentators would say that antisemitism began with Haman who sought to use the force of law to destroy the Jewish people (Est 3:8). In Egypt the “one who hated” was Pharaoh. Zechariah changed the past tense verb to present tense in order to emphasize the continuing reality of the worldwide hatred for the Jews.
Why is there such hatred against the Jews? It is inspired by Satan, because they are God’s chosen people and the people who produced the Savior. The Roman Catholic historian Edward Flannery distinguished several categories of antisemitism (The Anguish of the Jews: Twenty-Three Centuries of Antisemitism, Stimulus Books, 2004):
· Political and economic antisemitism, giving as examples Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh;
· Religious antisemitism or anti-Judaism; by criticizing customs such as kashrut and keeping Shabbat; refusing to worship the gods of the land in which they lived; the original blood libel (using human blood in ceremonies); Christian labeling Jews as “Christ-killers;”
· Nationalistic antisemitism, citing Voltaire and other Enlightenment thinkers, who attacked Jews for supposedly having certain characteristics, such as greed and arrogance,
· Racial antisemitism, as practiced in the Holocaust by the Nazis;
· Anti-Zionism coming simultaneously from the far left, the far right, and Islam, which opposes a Jewish homeland in the State of Israel, and which may deploy traditional antisemitism motifs, including older motifs like the 'Blood Libel;' and
· Pogroms: a large-scale, targeted, violent and repeated antisemitic rioting with the result of property being either destroyed or confiscated and hundreds and sometimes thousands of Jews killed. They were essentially government sanctioned massacres.
The reality is that antisemitism is still very much present in Christianity (Europe, Canada and the USA), both in theology with replacement theology and philosophy by supporting the Palestinian cause (a terrorist enterprise) and organizing boycotts of goods made in Israel (even though many of those businesses employ Arabs.) Edith Schaeffer includes this pertinent quote in her book Christianity is Jewish (Tyndale 1975):
"How odd of God
To choose the Jew;
But not so odd
As those who choose
The Jewish God
And hate the Jew"
(Author unknown, p. 8)
72 So He shows mercy to our fathers and remembers His holy covenant,
The mention of fathers probably refers to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but possibly includes all within the Messianic line. Both verbs, "shows" and "remembers" are aorist infinitives. The infinitive (inf.) is a verbal noun, which means it has the voice and tense of a verb, but also the case relations of a noun. As a verb it may express purpose (the most common usage), as well as result. The verse would be lit. "to perform mercy with the fathers of us and to remember the holy covenant of Him" (Marshall). The use of covenant in the singular form may seem strange since eight different covenants are mentioned in the Tanakh. In one sense all the covenants after Noah could be viewed as one covenant in the sense that the separate covenants essentially repeated promises and expectations already given.
The covenant with the patriarchs, beginning with Abraham, promised him a great name, that all nations would be blessed through him, that a direct heir would come from his body & Sarah, that he would be the Father of many people and nations, that his descendants would be delivered from bondage, and that his descendants through Isaac would possess the lands from the Nile River to the Euphrates River, especially the land of Canaan.
The covenant was unconditional and everlasting and circumcision was the sign of this covenant (Gen 12:1-3; 15:1-21; 17:1-22). God reiterated this covenant with Abraham's son Isaac (Gen 26:2-5, 23-24), which specifies that the Messianic line would not go through Ishmael. God continued the Abrahamic covenant with Isaac's son Jacob (Gen 28:10-22; 35:9-12), affirming the same promises and specifying that the Messianic line would not go through Esau. The covenant with Jacob introduced something new: Jacob's name was changed to Israel and God promised that from him would come a nation and an assembly of nations. This covenant according to Romans 9:4 is still in force. (See my commentary at the link.)
73 the vow which He swore to Abraham our father
Zechariah alludes to an vow (or oath) that God swore to Abraham:
"By Myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. 18 "In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice." (Gen 22:16-18)
We might expect that Zechariah would repeat the terms of the covenant after the verb grant us, but such would be unnecessary. All Jews knew the terms. Zechariah wants to emphasize the ultimate goal of God keeping His covenant promises.
74 to grant us that we being delivered from the hand of our enemies might serve Him without fear
rescued: Grk. ruomai, aor. pass. part., to protect or save in the sense of providing a refuge. Rescue from enemies is a familiar theme in the writings of David (e.g. 1Sam 22:18; Ps 18:17, 19, 48; 22:5, 21; 31:2, 15; 35:17). The Tanakh provides many examples of both individual Israelite heroes and the nation being delivered from their enemies. Perhaps the nearest in time to Zechariah would have been the Maccabean revolt against the Syrians. The irony is that at the present Israel existed as a client state of the Roman Empire. Nevertheless, the past victories had a purpose. Zechariah says the goal was that Israel might serve Him.
The term he uses (Grk. latreuō, to minister or serve) is a verb normally associated with cultic devotion, that is, service or worship of God at the sanctuary, but he apparently intends a commitment to devoted service beyond any religious activity at the Temple. Rituals in the Holy Place he was well acquainted with, but those rituals did not necessarily reveal consecrated hearts. Zechariah knows that with divine rescue from death an obligation far deeper than Temple ceremonies was intended by God. Moreover the verb is a present tense infinitive, so God desires that such service continues indefinitely.
75 in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.
Service to God should reflect godly character, first in holiness: Grk. hosiotēs, devoutness or personal piety which arises out of respect for the eternal laws of God (Rienecker 1:141f). This special word occurs only two times in the Besekh. The apostle Paul includes the same appeal to hosiotēs when he says "put on the new self - created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness" (Eph 4:24). Hosiotēs is derived from hosios, which means undefiled by sin, free from wickedness, pure, holy (Rienecker 2:500).
Hosios occurs only nine times in the Besekh (Acts 2:27; 13:34, 35; 1Th 2:10; 1Tim 2:8; Titus 1:8; Heb 7:26; Rev 15:4; 16:5) and only three times is it not used to refer to God or the Messiah. In the LXX hosios translates two words used to describe God – yashar, meaning “upright” (Deut 32:4) and hasid, meaning “kind” (Ps 145:17) (DNTT 2:237). In the Besekh the usual word for “holy” to which the saints aspire is hagios, which means to be set apart. It's one thing to be set apart and quite another to be blameless concerning sin. Nevertheless, in this respect God wants His people to be like Him.
Service to God should also reflect the godly character of righteousness: Grk. dikaiosunē, a state that is in accord with standards for acceptable or anticipated behavior, uprightness, righteousness, justice. The Hebrew concept of tzedakah, "righteousness" refers to right or ethical character and behavior. It is based on the character of God and His revealed standards. In the Tanakh tzedakah also carries the sense of salvation (deliverance) and judgment (justice). Righteousness primarily has human relationships as its focus and therefore righteousness strengthens the community. In contrast the holiness described above directly impacts our relationship with God.
These godly character traits are so important that God intends them to be manifest in our lives all our days, a Hebraic idiom for our complete lifespan until we die.
Consecration of Yochanan
76 And you, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High. For you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways,
And you, child: Grk. paidion, a term that can be used for an age range of new-born to the time of youth, here the former. Zechariah's action is very significant here as he pronounces a prophecy over his baby son. Zechariah demonstrates no disappointment that his son won't follow in his footsteps as a priest. Instead this prophecy reveals Zechariah's pride in the future ministry of his son, which will in reality be far more significant than the ministry of any priest.
will be called a prophet: Grk. prophētēs, one who is gifted with the ability for interpretation or revelation transcending normal insight or awareness, i.e., a prophet. In ancient Greek culture the word-group always had a religious meaning and referred to one who predicts or tells beforehand (DNTT 3:76). However, in Scripture the word-group also refers simply to speaking on God's behalf, often described as "forth-telling."
Zechariah informs Yochanan that he will join the company of the great prophets of Israel who spoke for God. The prophets provided four types of messages: (1) they warned Israel and Judah of the sins that lead to judgment; (2) they announced in advance various disasters and consequences for specific sins; (3) they taught the people about how to avoid judgment and turn back to him; and (4) they gave hope for the future when Israel and Judah would be restored and revived.
The record of the Tanakh indicates considerable variance in the activity and ministry of Hebrew prophets. Some left literary works that later became Scripture. Others left no writings. Some gave advice to kings. Some prophesied in worship settings. Some saw visions. Some proclaimed a message in startling symbolic actions. Some were gentle, some were fiery, some were confrontational, some worshipful, some full of joy, others full of sadness. But, they all spoke for God under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2Pet 11).
of the Most High: Grk. hupsistos. See verse 32 above. Yochanan will be a spokesman for the God of Israel. For you will go before: Grk. proporeuomai, fut. mid., to precede, go in advance of, pass on before. the Lord: Zechariah then alludes to Malachi’s prophecy that Elijah precedes the Messiah, as Gabriel said in verse 17 above. The last part of the verse may be a drash that conflates several Tanakh passages.
"A voice is calling, 'Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.'" (Isa 40:3)
"And it will be said, 'Build up, build up, prepare the way, Remove every obstacle out of the way of My people.'" (Isa 57:14)
"Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming," says the LORD of hosts." (Mal 3:1)
"They will be Mine," says the LORD of hosts, "on the day that I prepare My own possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.” (Mal 3:17)
"Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD." (Mal 4:5)
The fact that he says that Yochanan will go before the Lord hints at the reality that Yeshua is the incarnation of God. He is the Lord.
77 to give the knowledge of salvation to His people in forgiveness of their sins.
to give: Grk. didōmi, aor. inf., to give, used in a wide variety of situations, often with the focus on generosity and the context determining whether the focus is on generosity or some other rationale for the giving. In the LXX didōmi generally renders Heb. natan, to give, used in one of three settings (1) by men one to another; (2) by men to God; and (3) by God to men (DNTT 2:41). the knowledge, Grk. gnōsis, knowledge or understanding with special reference to insight relating to matters involving God and spiritual perception. Such understanding is personal and experiential. of salvation, Grk. sōtēria. See verse 69 above. Salvation often involves deliverance from the future wrath of God, but probably in this instance alludes to personal deliverance from the guilt and penalty of sin.
to His people: Grk. laos, a group of humans, understood geographically or ethnically and in Scripture often viewed in contrast with the ruling class. The term corresponds to the Heb. am-ha'aretz, "people of the land," i.e., the people of Israel. in: Grk. en, prep. forgiveness: Grk. aphesis, a 'letting go,' a term frequently used of canceled penal liabilities or indebtedness. Thus by extension aphesis means forgiveness (of) or release (from). In the LXX aphesis occurs about 50 times, 22 of which occur in Leviticus 25 and 27 for Heb. yobel (SH-3104), designation of the 50th year on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). In the fiftieth year all lands were to be restored to the original owners, and men were to return to their families and clans. The latter provision included giving Hebrew slaves their freedom.
Next aphesis occurs five times in Deuteronomy 15:1-9 for Heb. shemittah (SH-8059), a letting drop, a remitting, used in reference to the cancellation of loans in the year of jubilee. The law established the principle that since God shows mercy to His people on Yom Kippur by releasing them from the judgment of sin, they were expected to show the same mercy on others at the same time. The requirements of the Jubilee year are a graphic illustration of the freedom that comes from forgiveness. Only once does aphesis appear without Hebrew equivalent and that referring to the release of the scapegoat into the wilderness to complete the atonement on Yom Kippur for the people (Lev 16:26). The scapegoat figuratively carried all the transgressions of the people away from them, an acted out parable of cleansing (Lev 16:30).
of their: pl. of Grk. autos, personal pronoun. sins: pl. of Grk. hamartia may refer to (1) a behavioral action, a misdeed that creates liability, every departure from the way of righteousness; (2) the result of sinning or the condition of being sinful; or (3) an invasive evil power. Hamartia is the dominant word for sin in the Besekh. In Greek culture hamartia meant to miss the mark, to fail, be mistaken. A mistake is the result of ignorance. Hamartia could mean anything from stupidity to law-breaking, anything that does not conform to the dominant community ethic (DNTT 3:577). This breadth of application has unfortunately influenced Christian theology among those who espouse the "sinning every day in thought, word and deed" viewpoint.
In the LXX hamartia translates a range of Hebrew words for guilt and sin, particularly Heb. chata (SH-2398), miss, go wrong, lapse, sin (Gen 20:6; 39:9) and avon (SH-5771), iniquity, guilt, punishment for iniquity (Gen 15:16). Throughout Scripture sin as a behavior is a violation of God's written commandments (Rom 3:20; 5:13; 7:7). The degree of intentionality is not a factor in defining sinful behavior, only whether the express requirements or prohibitions of Torah commandments have been violated. Indeed, the Torah recognizes that a transgression could be unintentional (Heb. shegagah, SH-7684), sin of error or inadvertence (Lev 4:1-3, 27-28; 5:18; Num 15:22-29). Nevertheless, atonement was still required. In Scripture hamartia does not include the imperfections that separate humanity from divinity, "falling short of the glory" (Rom 3:23).
Religious people may erect their own codes for determining sinful behavior, but God's judgment is based strictly on the commandments He gave to mankind as recorded in Scripture. If someone calls a certain behavior "sin," then it is reasonable to expect the pronouncement to be backed up by Scripture. Otherwise, it is strictly personal opinion.
78 Through our God's heart of mercy, the Sunrise from on high will come upon us,
Through our God's heart: Grk. splagchnon, the inner organs of the body, such as heart, kidneys, intestines, lungs, etc. This is an anthropomorphism (attributing a human trait to God), which occurs frequently in the Tanakh, especially the Psalms. To suggest that God has a "heart" means that He really understands the human condition at its deepest level and feels for the needs of humans. God is not an unfeeling Borg, but an infallible, yet caring, Person who created lesser fallible persons for relationship.
of mercy: Grk. eleos, kindness expressed for one in need, compassion or pity. See the note on verse 50. the Sunrise: Grk. anatolē, rising, an astronomical term used in astrology, of a heavenly body rising, such as the sun, and as a compass direction may mean east (BAG). from on high: Grk. hupsos, extent or distance that is upward, height. In Tanakh imagery this is a term that depicts where God dwells or some part of Heaven (e.g. Job 22:12; Ps 102:19; 148:1; Isa 14:14). will come upon us: Grk. episkeptomai, fut. mid., to take an interest in, to look in on, to visit; lit. "will visit us" (Marshall). The saying may alludes to Malachi 4:2, which prophesies the Messiah:
"But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall." Mal 4:2 NASB
Zechariah may also be using anatolē in a different sense. Geldenhuys says that anatolē also refers to the sprouting of grass and in the LXX renders Heb. tzemach, "branch," "shoot," or "sprout" in Zechariah 3:8 and 6:12 (97).
"Hear now, Jesus [Grk. Iēsou for Heb. Y'hoshua; ] the high priest, thou, and thy neighbours that are sitting before thee: for they are diviners, for, behold, I bring forth my servant The Branch [Grk. anatolē for Heb. tzemach]." (Zech 3:8 Brenton LXX)
"And you shall say, to him, Thus says the LORD Almighty, Behold, a male, Rising [Grk. anatolē for Heb. tzemach] is his name and from beneath him he shall rise and build the house of the LORD." (Zech 6:12 ABP LXX)
It's also possible that Zechariah conflates both of the prophetic metaphors from Zechariah and Malachi.
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet in the way of peace.
The promise to give light is a function of the Holy Spirit. (See the note on verse 41.) The light will be given to those who sit, that is those who have given up, those without hope, those who have joined the scoffer by turning away from Torah (Ps 1:1) and gained the dregs of life instead of its joy. Thus two metaphors, darkness and in the shadow of death, are used to describe their bleak condition. Zechariah probably alludes to Psalm 107.
"Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, For His lovingkindness is everlasting. 2 Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, Whom He has redeemed from the hand of the adversary 3 And gathered from the lands, From the east and from the west, From the north and from the south. … 10 There were those who dwelt in darkness and in the shadow of death, Prisoners in misery and chains, 11 Because they had rebelled against the words of God And spurned the counsel of the Most High. 12 Therefore He humbled their heart with labor; They stumbled and there was none to help. 13 Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble; He saved them out of their distresses. 14 He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death And broke their bands apart." (Ps 107:1-3, 10-14)
In context this Psalm referred to Jews in exile, but it had a contemporary meaning as under the oppression of the Roman empire. The Israelites were that condition because of their rebellion against God. A related idea is expressed in Isaiah 9:2, "The people who walk in darkness Will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them."
Yochanan will show the people the way of peace, or shalom, which they don't know, probably an allusion to Isaiah 59:8:
"They do not know the way of peace, and there is no justice in their tracks; They have made their paths crooked, Whoever treads on them does not know peace. … 11 We hope for justice, but there is none, For salvation, but it is far from us." Isa 59:8, 11
80 And the child kept growing and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.
Luke notes the normal development of Yochanan in growing up as he does in reference to Jesus (Luke 2:52). However, strong in spirit is likely meant to be idiomatic for passionate commitment and unswerving devotion. Lived in the wilderness: pl. of Grk. erēmos, unpopulated region, desert or lonely place. The location is not precise, but a reasonable walking distance from Jerusalem could be assumed. Matthew 3:1 identifies the location as the "desert of Judea," but here the term is plural indicating various desert locations, indicating that he moved around. Some scholars believe that Yochanan lived among the Essenes during the years prior to commencement of his public ministry. If that was the case, such an association does not indicate sympathy with their views, since his later message rejects the exclusiveness and anti-biblical philosophy of that group. Rather, his moving around enabled Yochanan to take the spiritual pulse of the people and gain an appreciation of their need for his message.
For the commentary on the rest of Luke's nativity narrative click here: Luke 2
ABP: The Apostolic Bible Polyglot, trans. Charles Van Der Pool. The Apostolic Press, 2006. LXX-English Interlinear.
Atlas: Oxford Bible Atlas, Second Edition. ed. Herbert G. May. Oxford University Press, 1974.
BAG: Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. trans. W.F. Arndt & F.W. Gingrich. The University of Chicago Press, 1957.
Barker: William P. Barker, Everyone In the Bible. Fleming H. Revell Co., 1966.
BDB: The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. London: Oxford University Press, 1907. Reprinted by Associated Publishers and Authors, Inc., 1981. Online at BibleHub.com.
Danker: F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. The University of Chicago Press, 2009.
DNTT: Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 3 Vols. Colin Brown, ed. Zondervan Publishing House, 1975.
Edersheim: Alfred Edersheim (1825-1889), The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah(1883). New Updated Edition. Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1993. Also online.
Finegan: Jack Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology: Principles of Time Reckoning in the Ancient World and Problems of Chronology in the Bible. Rev. ed. Hendrickson Publishers, 1998.
Geldenhuys: Norval Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke. William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1951. (NICNT)
Jeremias: Joichim Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. Fortress Press, 1975.
Josephus: Flavius Josephus (Yosef ben Matityahu; c. 75-99 A.D.), Wars of the Jews. trans. William Whiston (1737). Online.
Kaiser: Walter C. Kaiser, The Promise-Plan of God: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments. Zondervan, 2008.
Leman: Derek Leman, A New Look at the Old Testament. Mt. Olive Press, 2006.
Marshall: Alfred Marshall, NASB-NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English, Zondervan Corporation, 1986.
Mounce: William D. Mounce, Mounce Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament. 2011. Online.
NIBD: Nelson's Illustrated Dictionary of the Bible. Herbert Lockyer, ed. Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986.
Rienecker: Fritz Rienecker, A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament. 2 vol. Zondervan Pub. House, 1980.
Stern: David Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996.
TWOT: R. Laird Harris, ed., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. 2 vols. Moody Press, 1980.
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