By Andrew E. Courtis
After Zechariah responded to the angel’s news that he and his wife Elizabeth would be with child with unbelief, he was struck mute. During this time he was performing his priestly duties, and as he came out of the temple he normally would have given a benediction, but he was unable to. Now after ninths months of silence, the first thing that comes form his lips is a benediction. What we have in this passage is a prophecy of praise by Zechariah. This prophecy is traditionally called The Benedictus. This is from the first word in the Latin translation.
This passage begins by informing us, “Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied” (1:67). This means that the Holy Spirit sovereignly and suddenly came upon him and enabled him to prophesy. To prophesy means to receive direct revelation from God and communicate it. Prophecy involved both foretelling and forth telling or proclamation and predication. Zechariah’s prophecy consists of these two elements: proclamation (1:68-75) and prediction (1:76-79). In both of these elements he praises God. This passage is Zechariah’s prophetic praise for what God has done and will do in the life of his son and the life of Jesus Christ.
1. PROCLAMATION (1:68-75)
The first part of his prophecy is proclamation. He begins by saying, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel” (1:68a). This was a common way for people in the OT to begin their praise of God. It is the recognition that the blessings Zechariah had come from God. Because they are from Him, He deserves to be praised and adored. We will do well to remember that God is the source of all our blessings and He is worthy of our praise.
He now moves on to provide two specific reasons why God is worthy of such praise. In verses 69-75, Zechariah makes reference to two covenants that God had made. These covenants contain promises made by God that bring deliverance and blessing to the people of God. Zechariah could see, that with the arrival of his son, the one who prepares the way for the Messiah, these covenants begin to be realized. The two covenants are the Davidic Covenant (1:69-71) and the Abrahamic Covenant (1:72-75).
The Covenant to David (1:68-71)
What was the covenant God made with David? Around 1,000 years before Zechariah, God made promises to David that would be fulfilled in David’s lifetime and after his death (2 Samuel 7:8-13). He was promised a great name (7:9), that his offspring would take the throne and be king (7:12), and from his line would come one who would be king and would rule forever (7:13). The covenant God made with David finds its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ.
Zechariah knew that because his child would prepare the way for the Messiah, he proclaimed, “for he has visited and redeemed his people” (1:68b). The word “redeemed” reveals that salvation will come but at a cost. As we continue to work our way through Luke we learn that the cost was the very life of Jesus Christ. This is possible because God “has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David” (1:69). The horn symbolizes strength and power (cf. Deut. 33:17). Zechariah is not talking about John here, but rather he is talking about the strength and power that comes from Jesus Christ. John was from a priestly line (cf. 1:5) whereas Jesus is from the Davidic kingly line. Jesus comes as “a horn of salvation” from the line of David.
In accordance to purpose of God (1:70) and by means of His power God will save His people from their enemies (1:71). This deliverance is both spiritual (Col. 1:13) and physical (Rev. 19:11-16). The covenant made to David finds its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ and will be fully realized when He returns. Zechariah praises God because Jesus comes in fulfillment to God’s promise to David.
The Covenant to Abraham (1:72-75)
Around 1,000 years before David, God made a covenant with Abraham. Like the covenant with David, the Abrahamic Covenant is unconditional and everlasting. This covenant is first introduced when God promised Abraham that from him would come a great nation and that all the nations would be blessed though him (Gen. 12:1-3). Now this would have been a big surprise for Abraham because this was humanly impossible seeing that his wife was barren (cf. Gen 11:30). This was then repeated in Genesis 15:18-21, 17:1-21, and 22:15-18. Zechariah praised God because He has shown,
“the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (1:72-75).
The oath that Zechariah references here took place on the occasion when God commanded Abraham to take his son Isaac to the mountain and sacrifice him. As Abraham was ready to do this, God intervened. Abraham displayed obedience and trust in God. As a result of his faith, God made this amazing oath,
“I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice” (Gen. 22:17-18)
Zechariah knew that the deliverance promised in this oath provides opportunity to serve the Lord “without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (1:74-75). Salvation in Jesus Christ provides us all with the great freedom of being able to live a life of worship to our Lord. Zechariah praised God, because he saw that his child was the one that prepares the way for the Messiah. The Messiah comes in fulfillment to the promises made to Abraham and David.
2. PREDICTION (1:76-79)
The second part of Zechariah’s prophecy is prediction. He now focuses on the role his son will play in preparation for the coming Messiah. He says, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins” (1:76-77). Zechariah is filled with joy as he praises God. By the guidance of the Holy Spirit he predicts the specific role his child will have in preparing the way for the Messiah.
At this time, the nation was in spiritual darkness. Despite the spiritual darkness that covered the skies in Israel, Zechariah spoke of God’s tender mercy “whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (1:78-79). His son would prepare the way for the sunrise Israel and the world desperately needs. This sunrise was predicated 700 years earlier by the prophet Isaiah (Isa. 9:2) and 400 years earlier by the prophet Malachi. Malachi said, “But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall” (Mal. 4:2). There is no surprise then that Jesus said to a world in darkness, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Jesus Christ alone is the One who brings this light into our hearts (2 Pet. 1:19) because He is “the root and descendant of David, the bright morning star” (Rev. 22:19).
There is something amazing about a sunrise. As you sit in darkness suddenly breaking from the horizon in the east is the first light. Then light is bursting forth as you see the sun rise. What was dark is now light. Apart from salvation in Jesus Christ we all live in the domain of darkness (Col. 1:12-14). We may not know it, but we are slaves of unrighteousness and our lives are lived in darkness. This darkness not only characterizes our environment but also our attitude and actions. Only the Lord Jesus Christ can bring light to a darkened soul. Zechariah celebrates because the sunlight has come. This sunlight is not our best efforts, human tradition, or education. It is the Lord Jesus Christ. Luke then tells us that “the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel” (1:80).
After experience the joy of God’s blessing in his life, Zechariah was able to respond with praise. His praise contained prophecy and he was able to proclaim what God had done and then predict what God will do.
We are in a different situation to Zechariah, but we can still praise God. We can praise Him for all that He has done for us, but we can also join with Zechariah in this song. We can praise God for His promise in sending His Son Jesus Christ. Because of His coming and by means of faith alone in Christ, we have been delivered from the domain of darkness and we will one day be delivered from this world to the kingdom to come. Jesus Christ will also return one day and all the promises made to Abraham and David that Zechariah spoke of will be fully realized. Our Lord’s Kingdom will be an eternal Kingdom in which there will be no end.
All of this is happening and will happen because of the life, ministry, death, burial, resurrection, and return of Jesus Christ. All of God’s people have a song of praise, and we ought to join together and sing it. To God be the glory.