|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
1:5-25 The father and mother of John the Baptist were sinners as all are, and were justified and saved in the same way as others; but they were eminent for piety and integrity. They had no children, and it could not be expected that Elisabeth should have any in her old age. While Zacharias was burning incense in the temple, the whole multitude of the people were praying without. All the prayers we offer up to God, are acceptable and successful only by Christ's intercession in the temple of God above. We cannot expect an interest therein if we do not pray, and pray with our spirits, and are not earnest in prayer. Nor can we expect that the best of our prayers should gain acceptance, and bring an answer of peace, but through the mediation of Christ, who ever lives, making intercession. The prayers Zacharias often made, received an answer of peace. Prayers of faith are filed in heaven, and are not forgotten. Prayers made when we were young and entering into the world, may be answered when we are old and going out of the world. Mercies are doubly sweet that are given in answer to prayer. Zacharias shall have a son in his old age, who shall be instrumental in the conversion of many souls to God, and preparing them to receive the gospel of Christ. He shall go before Him with courage, zeal, holiness, and a mind dead to earthly interests and pleasures. The disobedient and rebellious would be brought back to the wisdom of their righteous forefathers, or rather, brought to attend to the wisdom of that Just One who was coming among them. Zacharias heard all that the angel said; but his unbelief spake. In striking him dumb, God dealt justly with him, because he had objected against God's word. We may admire the patience of God towards us. God dealt kindly with him, for thus he prevented his speaking any more distrustful, unbelieving words. Thus also God confirmed his faith. If by the rebukes we are under for our sin, we are brought to give the more credit to the word of God, we have no reason to complain. Even real believers are apt to dishonour God by unbelief; and their mouths are stopped in silence and confusion, when otherwise they would have been praising God with joy and gratitude. In God's gracious dealings with us we ought to observe his gracious regards to us. He has looked on us with compassion and favour, and therefore has thus dealt with us.
Verse 11. - And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord. Critics have especially found grave fault with this "Hebrew" portion of our Gospel, complaining that it needlessly introduces the marvelous, and brings uselessly into everyday life beings from another sphere. Godet well answers these criticisms by observing "that as Christianity was an entirely new beginning in history, the second and final creation of man, it was natural that an interposition on so grand a scale should be accompanied by a series of particular interpositions. It was even necessary; for how were the representatives of the ancient order of things, who had to cooperate in the new work, to be initiated into it, and their attachment won to it, except by this means? According to Scripture, we are surrounded by angels (2 Kings 6:17; Psalm 34:7), whom God employs to watch over us; but in our ordinary condition we want the sense necessary to perceive their presence - for that condition a peculiar receptivity is required. This condition was given to Zacharias. Origen ('Contra Censure') writes how, "in a church there are two assemblies - one of angels, the other of men,... angels are present at our prayers, and they pray with us and for us." Standing on the right side of the altar of incense. The angel stood between the altar and the shew-bread table. On entering the holy place, the officiating priest would have on his right the table with the shew-bread, on his left the great candlestick, and before him would be the golden altar, which stood at the end of the holy place, in front of the veil which separated this chamber and the dim, silent holy of holies.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord,.... Gabriel, as seem's manifest from Luke 1:19 the same angel that had appeared to Daniel, about the time of the evening oblation, near five hundred years before, and gave him an account of the time of the Messiah's coming, Daniel 9:21. The Jews sometimes speak of divine and wonderful appearances to their priests, at such times, and in such places:
"it is a tradition that R. Ishmael ben Elishah should say, one time I went in, , "to burn incense": and I saw Actariel (one of the names of God with them) the Lord, the Lord of hosts, who was sitting on a throne, high and lifted up. (m).
And so they say of Simeon the just, that there was always an appearance when he went into the holy of holies; it is related thus (n):
"Simeon the just, ministered unto Israel in the high priesthood, forty years; and in the last year, he said to them, I shall die this year: they said to him, from whence dost thou know it? He replied to them, every year that I have entered into the holy of holies, there was, , "one old man" clothed in white, and veiled in white, that went in with me, and came out with me; and this year he went in with me, but did not come out with me.
And according to Josephus (o), the high priest Hyrcanus received an oracle, or answer from God, as he was offering incense; so that the Jews ought not to discredit such an appearance to Zacharias:
standing on the right side of the altar of incense; of which, see Exodus 30:1 the situation of it, according to the Jews, was this (p):
"the table (of showbread) was in the north, two cubits and a half distant from the wall; and the candlestick was in the south, two cubits and a half distant from the wall; and the altar (of incense) was in the middle, and stood between them.
"this agrees the account of Maimonides (q), who says, the candlestick was on the south, on the left hand, as you go in; and the table of shewbread on the right hand, and both of them on the side of the holy of holies without; and the altar of incense was between them both without.
So that it was on the north side that the angel stood,
(m) T. Bab. Berncot, fol. 7. 1.((n) T. Hieros. Yoma, fol. 42. 3.((o) De Bello Jud. l. 13. c. 18. (p) T. Bab. Yoma, fol. 33. 2.((q) Hilch. Beth Habbechira, c. 1. sect. 7.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
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.
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