WEEK 4 : Yochanan’s Birth Announced to Zacharias

1. SCRIPTURE

Luke 1:5-25

Lk. 1:5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.

Lk. 1:6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.

Lk. 1:7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they both were well advanced in years.

Lk. 1:8 So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division,

Lk. 1:9 According to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the Temple of the Lord.

Lk. 1:10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense.

Lk. 1:11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense.

Lk. 1:12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.

Lk 1:13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard and your wife Elizabeth will bear you son, and you shall call his name Yochanan.

Lk. 1:14 “And you will have joy, and many will rejoice at his birth.”.

Lk. 1:15 “For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.”

Lk. 1:16 “And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.”

Lk. 1:17 “He will also go before Him in the Spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Lk. 1:18 And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.?”

Lk. 1:19 And the angel answered and said unto him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings.”

Lk. 1:20 “But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which shall be fulfilled in their own time.”

Lk. 1:21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long in the Temple.

Lk. 1:22 But when he came out, he could not speak to them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the Temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless.

Lk. 1:23 And so it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house.

Lk. 1:24 Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying,

Lk. 1:25 “Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.”

Luke 1:5-25 (NKJV) Other versions ...

2. COMMENTARY

Vs. 5: The principal duties of the priest were those connected with the sacrificial cult of the Temple in Jerusalem, as well as teaching the people in the instructions of the Torah. In the course of time the number of priests increased to such an extent that it was necessary to divide them into twenty-four divisions (I Chronicles 24:7-18), serving in the Temple in rotation, each for a week. Each division (mishmar) was subdivided into several families who served one day a week. This gave every priest an opportunity to discharge his duties. At the three great annual festivals known as the Pilgrimage Festivals or Shalosh Regalim (Passover, Shavuoth, and Sukkoth), all twenty-four divisions are said to have officiated simultaneously (Sukk. 5:7). This is due to a Biblical commandment that all that can must travel to Jerusalem for these three feasts (Exodus 23:14:17; Deut. 16:16).

The name Zacharias means “the Lord remembers.” The name Elizabeth means “oath” or covenant of God.” Together they suggest “the Lord remembers His covenant.” Aaron was a common ancestor of both Zacharias and Elizabeth, meaning they were both from a priestly lineage. Because Zacharias was a priest, that meant that any male children that he and Elizabeth had would automatically become priests too.

Vs. 6: According to Jewish teachings, there are 613 commandments (248 positive, 365 negative) in the Torah. This verse does not mean that they were absolutely perfect, but they were in perfect obedience to those 613 commandments that were applicable to them.

Now is a good time to discuss what being “righteous” really means according to the Bible. It is not some type of moral standard or pious deeds that we must perform in order to please God. People must realize that we are in a covenant relationship with God. God’s righteousness is His faithfulness in keeping all of His covenant promises that He has ever made to mankind. Our righteousness is actually God’s righteousness imputed to us because of our obedience to our requirements to His covenants. Mankind has only the choice of accepting or rejecting God’s covenants, but never amending them. We will be judged righteous or justified (same Greek word) in accordance with how we live in obedience to our covenant requirements.

Vs. 7: In Israel, being childless was a reproach. Jewish people to this day regard barrenness as a major tragedy. In fact, sterility was an acceptable reason for divorce for raising a family is one of the main reasons for marrying. The wife who did not have children was thought to either not be loved by her husband or not looked upon with favor by God (Genesis 30:1,2). We see three examples of barrenness in the Bible that God used fir His glory, just as He was about to do with Elizabeth. The first was Sarai, Abram’s wife in Genesis 16:1. The second was Rachel, Jacob’s wife, in Genesis 30:1,2.

The third was Hannah, the wife of Elkanah, in I Samuel 1:5,6. There was a constant hope for the appearing of the Messiah and every woman cherished the hope of being the mother of the Promised Seed (Genesis 3:15).

The story of Yeshua’s birth is preceded in Luke’s Gospel by the account of Yochanan Matbil’s family and his miraculous birth. He also has a role to play. The episode in the Gospel of Luke indicates the manner in which God used the longing of an ordinary family like Elizabeth and Zacharias to fulfill Divines strategy. They wanted a baby. When they prayed, God supernaturally intervened. Yochanan’s mission was to prepare the was for Yeshua. Amazingly, the personal anguish of a barren family for the birth of a child would be used for a higher purpose in God’s divine plan to prepare the way for Messiah.

Vs. 8,9: The Bible records the practice of casting lots as a means of arriving at a decision on a variety of problems. These may be grouped into two main categories: (1) the selection of one or more members from a group; and (2) the division of goods among the members of a group. The Bible also tells us that, at least in the beginning, the Lord took an interest in this process: “Lots are cast into the lap; the decision depends on the Lord” (Proverbs 16:33). The lot was used extensively during the Second Temple Period (Tamid 5:4-6). One of the most important uses was to determine the allocation of duties among the priests. The Mishnah records it being done this way. “When the captain of the president of the Temple came in the morning to the priests of the Higher Chamber he knocked. And upon receiving admittance said, ‘Let those who have washed cast lots for the cleansing of the altar.’ He on whom the lot fell discharged that service. This was the First Lot. The Second Lot was for slaughtering the lamb, sprinkling the blood, removing the ashes, and trimming the lamps. The Third Lot was for the burning of incense. The manner in which the lots were drawn, the priests stood around the president of the Temple in a circle, and he fixing upon a certain number began to count it starting with the priest whose cap he took off. And he who the number terminated with was the person to attend to the service in question (Tammid 6:3).

Vs. 8,9: There is another very similar decision making process found in the Torah. This was called the Urim and Thummim.” No one knows exactly what these objects were, They were kept in the breastplate of the High Priest where he “bore the judgment of the people of Israel upon his heart before the Lord continually” (Exodus 28:30). Both Saul and David used them to make decisions (I Samuel 28:6; 30:7,8). Nothing more is said about them until some late reference by Ezra and Nehemiah (Ezra 2:63; Nehemiah 7:65). Whether or not the Urim and Thummim were forerunners of the casting of lots is hard to say.

Vs. 10: The scene described here could have occurred in the morning or evening. The Jews regularly gathered for prayer in the Temple court when the incense was burned — at 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. Zacharias evidently had been signaled by a superior priest to begin burning the incense. As soon as the people saw the ascending smoke of the incense offering, which was a symbol of true consecration to God, they fell down before the Lord and spread out their hands in silent prayer. The Mishnah says that after the president had given the signal to burn the incense, the people withdrew to either the Court of the Israelites or the Court of the Women.

You will notice that the Bible says, “the whole multitude of the people were praying.” The reason for mentioning this is to point out the number of people that a “multitude” represents. Yet, this term “multitude” is used so many times to describe the number of people who were following Yeshua. This event should give a little perspective to the number of Yeshua’s followers. No other Rabbi attracted this kind of attention in Israel.

Vs. 11,12: While serving as priest Zacharias saw “an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the incense altar.” And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled and fear fell upon him.” There was a Rabbinic tradition that if a priest was going to die, that an angel would appear to him standing on the right side of the altar of incense. Going into the Holy Place always carried with it a sense of danger, and to show the relief of making it out live, the priest would prepare a feast for his friends the hour he came forth (Yoma 7:4). Knowing this makes it a little easier to understand why
Zacharias was trembling with fear.

Vs. 13: The promise that Elizabeth would bear a son required a supernatural act of God. The baby was to be named Yochanan, which means “God is gracious.” Not only would Yahweh be gracious about removing the stigma of childlessness from the elderly couple, but He would also set in motion His plan of redemption through the Messiah. That the angel knew his name should have been enough to quiet Zacharias’ fear. To hear that they would have a son was the answer to prayers that had been offered for many years.

Yochanan haMatbil was to be a life-long Nazirite, even from his mother’s womb. The Nazirite is a devotee of either sex who not only observes what is obligatory but also vows to practice certain forms of self-dedication; but among Jewish authorities there are two distinct views regarding the Nazirite Vow, some assuming it to be the manifestation of the working of the divine nature in the human being, and others — the majority — considering it as the expression of austerity and stoicism in the cultivation of self-denial, of the power of the will over the baser human tendencies.

The Nazirite Vow demands the austere observance of three duties: (1) the hair of the head must not be shorn during the duration of the vow; (2) abstinence from grapes and every product there from all intoxicants; and (3) the avoidance of contact with and defilement from a dead body. There was one exception having to do with the hair. If a person was to be a life-long Nazirite, then the hair was to be trimmed once every twelve months. Otherwise the hair was not to be cut for the duration f the vow. From the time of the nomadic ancestors the vine was the symbol of the settled life and a culture removed from the ancient simplicity of manners, though quite right in themselves. The free growth of hair represented the Nazirite’s consecration to God. The hair was the glory (nezer) of the head.

No limit of time was specifically fixed for a Nazirite Vow, and a minimum period of thirty days was instituted by the Sages. But, there are records of the vow lasting for consecutive multiples of thirty days and for cycles of seven years; Samson and Samuel furnish classical Scriptural examples of life-long Nazirite Vows though the former was the only one actually termed a Nazirite (Judges 16:17). At the end of the period the Nazirite appeared at the Temple before a priest, made certain prescribed offerings, shaved off his hair and burned it. Following this, he was again permitted to drink wine and return to ordinary life. The practice, which was always strenuously discouraged by the Sages, ceased completely with the fall of the Second Temple.

Vs. 17: Zacharias’ prophecy confirms the prophecy given by Malachi several hundred years before: “Lo, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before the coming of the awesome , fearful day of the Lord. He shall reconcile parents with children and children with their parents, so that, when I come, I do not strike the whole land with utter destruction” (Malachi 3:23,24). Elijah’s miraculous translation into heaven naturally led to the popular belief that he would return, just as miraculously, to become part of the final accomplishment of all things. His precise role in this situation was variously interpreted. By some he was thought to be the necessary forerunner of the Messiah, if not the Messiah Himself. The prophet Elijah was a prophet of the Northern Kingdom in the 9th century B.C.E., who protested about the idolatry of King Ahab and his foreign wife Jezebel. Elijah did not die, but after appointing his successor Elisha, he ascended alive into Heaven in a whirlwind with a chariot and horse of fire. According to Jewish tradition, in Heaven his task is to record the deeds of men and to guide the souls of the dead to Paradise. Elijah will return once more before the great and terrible Day of Judgment to announce the coming of Messiah. His task is to being peace among men, lead them in repentance back to God and solve those problems in Rabbinic literature which have been left without conclusion. He will blow the Great Shofar and inaugurate the Ingathering of the Exiles and the Resurrection. The “Day of Judgment” (Yom haDin) will be a terrifying day of darkness, with tempest, thunder, and consuming fire. Both Israel and the Gentile nations will be summoned to divine judgment by the blowing of the Great Shofar.

Vs. 19: Gabriel is highly regarded in Jewish theology as a messenger from God. He is pictured in Rabbinic writings as one of the four archangels (Gabriel, Uriel, Michael, and Raphiel) standing before God’s throne. In Hebrew the name means “warrior of God” or “God has shown Himself mighty.” He is the messenger sent from God to interpret visions and announce good news. Gabriel appears to Daniel to explain to him his dreams and to give him wisdom and understanding (Daniel 8:15-27; 9:2-27). In the New Testament he is also the one who announces to Miriam that she will bear a Son to be named Yeshua (Luke 1:26-35). He is also mentioned in the pseudepigraphal writings (I Enoch 20, 40) and the Dead Sea Scrolls (1QM9:15, 16).

Vs. 22: The Hebrew Bible (Tanach) contains descriptions of many visions, especially those of God and His angels. The idea developed at a very ancient period of Judaism was that God had no shape, and therefore, the appearance of God to the prophets was evidently understood by them as visions. At the beginning of the Second Temple Period visions were often interpreted to the prophets by an angel.

To put this in proper perspective, we must remember that no one in Israel had a vision from God for about 400 years. For the crowd to learn that God was once again communicating with His people after so long a period of time must have been a source of great excitement and encouragement to them. Couple this with the Messianic Expectancy during this time, this had to be a tremendous event for them. It should have been a sign to the people that God was once again about to move through His people.

This brings up one of the many points of separation between Judaism and Christianity versus the other pagan religions. It is called the Doctrine of Immanence. Pagans believe that their gods could care less about the personal daily lives of the people. As long as they observe certain festivals and offered the prescribed sacrifices to the gods, that was all that was required. The gods were too high and lofty to take much interest in humanity. This is called the Doctrine of Transcendence. Judaism was the first, and Christianity followed, in offering a totally new concept in God’s relationship with humanity.

Not only was there just One True God, instead of many, but He also took a personal interest in the lives of individuals. Although there was a priesthood like the other religions, individuals could pray to this God and commune with Him. Unlike the false, uncaring pagan gods, this One was a God of love who was deeply concerned with the welfare of His people.

3. QUESTIONS

Another long one, but a fascinating study of a subject that has brought confusion to many.

Here are some discussion starters. They may or may not be useful to you, but we have to start somewhere ...

1. Why do you think the Lord chose Zechariah? discuss ..
2. Why did John the Baptist have to take the Nazarite vow? discuss ..
3. What connection did John have with Elijah? discuss ..

4. DISCUSSIONS

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