From the Commentary on the Whole Bible (Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, 1871)
Lu 1:5-25. Announcement of the Forerunner
5. Herod—(See on Mt 2:1).
course of Abia—or Abijah; the eighth of the twenty-four orders of courses into which David divided the priests (see 1Ch 24:1, 4, 10). Of these courses only four returned after the captivity (Ezr 2:34-39), which were again subdivided into twenty-four—retaining the ancient name and order of each. They took the whole temple service for a week each.
his wife was of the daughters of Aaron—The priests might marry into any tribe, but "it was most commendable of all to marry one of the priests' line" [Lightfoot].
6. commandments and ordinances—The one expressing their moral—the other their ceremonial—obedience [Calvin and Bengel], (Compare Eze 11:20; Heb 9:1). It has been denied that any such distinction was known to the Jews and New Testament writers. But Mr 12:33, and other passages, put this beyond all reasonable doubt.
7. So with Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Elkanah and Hannah, Manoah and his wife.
9. his lot was to burn incense—The part assigned to each priest in his week of service was decided by lot. Three were employed at the offering of incense—to remove the ashes of the former service; to bring in and place on the golden altar the pan filled with hot burning coals taken from the altar of burnt offering; and to sprinkle the incense on the hot coals; and, while the smoke of it ascended, to make intercession for the people. This was the most distinguished part of the service (Re 8:3), and this was what fell to the lot of Zacharias at this time [Lightfoot].
10. praying without—outside the court in front of the temple, where stood the altar of burnt offering; the men and women in separate courts, but the altar visible to all.
the time of incense—which was offered along with the morning and evening sacrifice of every day; a beautiful symbol of the acceptableness of the sacrifice offered on the altar of burnt offering, with coals from whose altar the incense was burnt (Le 16:12, 13). This again was a symbol of the "living sacrifice" of themselves and their services offered daily to God by the worshippers. Hence the language of Ps 141:2; Re 8:3. But that the acceptance of this daily offering depended on the expiatory virtue presupposed in the burnt offering, and pointing to the one "sacrifice of a sweet-smelling savor" (Eph 5:2), is evident from Isa 6:6, 7.
11. right side—the south side, between the altar and the candlestick, Zacharias being on the north side, in front of the altar, while offering incense [Webster and Wilkinson]. But why there? The right was the favorable side (Mt 25:33) [Schottgen and Westein in Meyer]; compare Mr 16:5.
13. thy prayer is heard—doubtless for offspring, which by some presentiment he even yet had not despaired of.
John—the same as "Johanan," so frequent in the Old Testament, meaning "Jehovah's gracious gift."
14. shall rejoice—so they did (Lu 1:58, 66); but the meaning rather is, "shall have cause to rejoice"—it would prove to many a joyful event.
15. great in the sight of the Lord—nearer to Him in official standing than all the prophets. (See Mt 11:10, 11.)
drink neither wine nor strong drink—that is, shall be a Nazarite, or "a separated one" (Nu 6:2, &c.). As the leper was the living symbol of sin, so was the Nazarite of holiness; nothing inflaming was to cross his lips; no razor to come on his head; no ceremonial defilement to be contracted. Thus was he to be "holy to the Lord [ceremonially] all the days of his separation." This separation was in ordinary cases temporary and voluntary: only Samson (Jud 13:7), Samuel (1Sa 1:11), and John Baptist were Nazarites from the womb. It was fitting that the utmost severity of legal consecration should be seen in Christ's forerunner. He was the Reality and Perfection of the Nazarite without the symbol, which perished in that living realization of it: "Such an High Priest became us, who was Separate from Sinners" (Heb 7:26).
filled with the Holy Ghost, from … womb—a holy vessel for future service.
16. 17. A religious and moral reformer, Elijah-like, he should be (Mal 4:6, where the "turning of the people's heart to the Lord" is borrowed from 1Ki 18:37). In both cases their success, though great, was partial—the nation was not gained.
17. before him—before "the Lord their God" (Lu 1:16). By comparing this with Mal 3:1 and Isa 40:3, it is plainly "Jehovah" in the flesh of Messiah [Calvin and Olshausen] before whom John was to go as a herald to announce His approach, and a pioneer o prepare His way.
in the spirit—after the model.
and power of Elias—not his miraculous power, for John did no miracle" (Joh 10:41), but his power "turning the heart," or with like success in his ministry. Both fell on degenerate times; both witnessed fearlessly for God; neither appeared much save in the direct exercise of their ministry; both were at the head of schools of disciples; the success of both was similar.
fathers to the children—taken literally, this denotes the restoration of parental fidelity [Meyer and others], the decay of which is the beginning of religious and social corruption—one prominent feature of the coming revival being put for the whole. But what follows, explanatory of this, rather suggests a figurative sense. If "the disobedient" be "the children," and to "the fathers" belongs "the wisdom of the just" [Bengel], the meaning will be, "he shall bring back the ancient spirit of the nation into their degenerate children" [Calvin, &c.]. So Elijah invoked "the God Abraham, Isaac, and Israel," when seeking to "turn their heart back again" (1Ki 18:36, 37).
to make ready, &c.—more clearly, "to make ready for the Lord a prepared people," to have in readiness a people prepared to welcome Him. Such preparation requires, in every age and every soul, an operation corresponding to the Baptist's ministry.
18. Whereby, &c.—Mary believed what was far harder without a sign. Abraham, though older, and doubtless Sarah, too, when the same promise was made to him, "staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strong in faith, giving glory to God." This was that in which Zacharias failed.
19. Gabriel—signifying "man of God," the same who appeared to Daniel at the time of incense (Da 9:21) and to Mary (Lu 1:26).
stand, &c.—as his attendant (compare 1Ki 17:1).
not able—deprived of the power of speech (Lu 1:64). He asked a sign, and now he got it.
until the day that these things shall be performed—See on Lu 1:64.
21. waited—to receive from him the usual benediction (Nu 6:23-27).
tarried so long—It was not usual to tarry long, lest it should be thought vengeance had stricken the people's representative for something wrong [Lightfoot].
22. speechless—dumb, and deaf also (see Lu 1:62).
24. hid five months—till the event was put beyond doubt and became apparent.
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