Here are my notes from the second week of our church’s men’s Bible study on Luke and Acts.
1:18 – Zacharias’ question “How shall I know this?” is not, on the face of things, a wicked question. Abraham asks the same thing in Gen. 15:8: “Lord God, how shall I know that I will inherit [the land]?” I suppose we must presume that it is Zacharias’ appended reason that constitutes the affront: “For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.” In other words, we’re in exactly the same state as Abraham and Sarah — and God has already shown that He can do this sort of thing.
1:20 – It is interesting that Zacharias’ voice does not return at the birth of John, but only after he names the child.
1:25 – Elizabeth sees her conception of a child as the taking away of her “reproach among the people.” Hannah had spoken the same way in 1 Samuel.
1:26 – We now alternate to the narrative of the other, much younger couple. The narrative will continue to bounce back and forth between them.
1:28 – The annunciation begins with words (“Rejoice highly favored one, the Lord is with you!”) reminiscent of the calling of Gideon in Judges 6:12 (“The Lord is with you, mighty man of valor!”). In both cases, the angel’s words declare an unseen reality that contradicts the visible facts: Gideon is threshing wheat on the sly in order to hide from the Midianites; nor is there anything about Mary that would have made anyone suppose she was “blessed among women.” Mary’s own reaction to this is one of puzzlement.
1:31 – Like John and Samson, Jesus cannot be given a name except by God Himself.
1:34 – Mary’s reaction to the angel is, on the face of things, no less difficult than Zacharias’. But perhaps our English translations (NKJV) make things harder than they need to be. Mary does not actually ask, “How can this be?” but only “How will this be?” (pws estai touto;). We may speculate that she accepted the promise and was inquiring about the manner of its fulfillment: since she was yet a virgin, it might be that God’s plan was for her to marry someone else, someone more likely than Joseph to be the father of a king; or should she continue with her present betrothal? But the angel takes her question as an objection to be overcome: he adduces (36) the fact of Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancy as proof that “with God nothing will be impossible” (37).
1:38 – Nonetheless, Mary’s obedience (“Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word”) is strikingly contrasted with Zacharias’ doubt. The sobriquet “maidservant” is an allusion to the book of Ruth (3:9 – “I am Ruth your maidservant”), as also is the angel’s use of the rare verb episkiazw (“the power of the Highest will overshadow you”), which is also used in Ruth 3:9 (“overshadow your maidservant, for you are a close relative”). This invites us to compare Mary’s and Ruth’s (and Naomi’s) situations, as well as the condition of Israel in their respective days.
1:41 – Another unusual Greek verb, skirtao is used of the reaction of the unborn John to the proximity of his cousin Jesus. I owe the observation to Tim Gallant: it recalls the jostling of Jacob and Esau in the womb of Rebekah, which was also described with the same verb in Gen. 25:23 (LXX, eskirtwn). We are invited to contrast Esau’s resentment and striving against his brother with John’s submission to Jesus.
1:45 – Mary is commended, not for being conceived without sin as Rome would have it, nor for any other special godliness of life or conduct, but for her faith: “blessed is she who believed.”
1:46-55 – The Magnificat echoes the song of Miriam and the song of Hannah. Significant parallel themes are God’s remembrance of His covenant (48-50; 54-55, thus an inclusio that frames the whole song); and the overturning of the social and political status quo (51-53). Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s mercy, “as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever.” To his seed, which is Christ.
1:57 – We shift again to Elizabeth.
1:59-61 – The modern custom of Jews is to avoid naming a child after any living relative. But this was evidently not the custom in the 1st century.
1:64 – Zacharias’ muteness is thus an occasion for a miracle, and the intended audience of it is mentioned immediately (65). I believe, though the narrative is not explicit, that Zacharias’ first utterance was the song of 68-79.
1:68 – The birth of John, and the promise of the Messiah, is the way in which YHWH “has visited” (epeskepsato) his people.
1:71 – “that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.” More inconvenient antithesis language, included just to drive C.S. Lewis crazy, along with everyone else who wants to be nicer and more pious than God. Notice that deliverance is an “in order to” thing. God saves us so that we “might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.” As always, salvation is unto good works.
1:78-79 – Note the beautiful imagery. God’s visitation of His people is like the dawning of the day. The imagery has been used before, in Isaiah 9, where “In Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…for unto us a Son is born, etc.”
1:80 – John is “in the deserts” (eremois) like Elijah. Again, the situational parallels in Israel’s condition are striking.