Luke 1:18
And Zacharias said to the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
Luke 1:18-20. Zacharias said, Whereby shall I know this? — In how different a spirit did the blessed Virgin say, How shall this be? Zacharias disbelieved the prediction, as appears from Luke 1:20, and therefore was justly punished: Mary had no doubt of the fulfilment of what was foretold, but only inquired concerning the manner of it. And the angel said, I am Gabriel — “I am the same servant of God (so the name Gabriel signifies, being, by interpretation, vir Dei, a man or servant of God) who, as the Scripture informs thee, appeared anciently to the Prophet Daniel with a message concerning the Messiah. And now I am not come of myself, but I am sent of God to communicate to thee the glad tidings of the near accomplishment of the things which I long ago showed to Daniel at a great distance. Thou, therefore, whose advanced age ought to have been venerable by an advanced knowledge of divine things, as well as by a strong faith in the power of God, art deserving of much blame, for calling in question the truth of my message, especially as by the prophecies of Daniel thou mightest have understood that this is the period determined for the coming of the Messiah and his forerunner.” There seems to be a remarkable gradation in the angel’s words here, enhancing the guilt of Zacharias’s unbelief. As if he had said, I am Gabriel, a holy angel of God, yea, one of the highest order, even of those who stand in the presence of God. Not only so, but I am now peculiarly sent from God, and that with a message to thee in particular: nay, and to show thee glad tidings, such as ought to be received with the greatest joy and readiness. And behold thou shalt be dumb — The original word, κωφος, signifies deaf as well as dumb: and it seems plain that he was as unable to hear as he was to speak; for his friends were obliged to make signs to him, that he might understand them, Luke 1:62. Thus the angel gave him a sign, which was also a chastisement of his offence. Because he had sinned with his lips, the angel struck him dumb, declaring that he should continue so till the message, the truth of which he doubted, was verified by the accomplishment.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.Whereby shall I know this? - The thing was improbable, and he desired "evidence" that it would take place. The testimony of an "angel," and in such a place, should have been proof enough; but people are slow to believe the testimony of heavenly messengers. As a consequence of not believing, he was struck mute. 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. The words are much the same with those of Abraham, Genesis 15:8, Whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it, viz. the land of Canaan? And Mary, Luke 1:34, when the same angel had told her she should have a child, Luke 1:31, saith, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? Gideon also asked a sign, Judges 6:17. To our appearance and judgment there seemeth no great difference betwixt these and Zacharias in this place asking a sign, only Zacharias here opposeth his own sense and reason to the words of the angel, yet we shall hear a different issue of this question, or answer to it. And Zacharias said unto the angel, whereby shall I know this?.... Notwithstanding such an appearance of an angel to him, which in those times was not so usual, and this in the holy place; and the things themselves which were told him, and these as the return of prayer; yet he distrusted, and wanted a sign, whereby he might know the truth of them, as the Jews were generally desirous of, and as the father of them was; who expressed himself in much such language, on a certain occasion, as this his son did; see Genesis 15:8.

For I am an old man; at least sixty years of age; for with the Jews, sixty years were reckoned, "for old age" (w); and a man of these years, was accounted an old man: and the Jewish Rabbins observe (x), that the word for old age in Job 30:2 is by "gematry, sixty"; that is, the letters of the word, numerically make so much. The Mahometan writers, as before observed on Luke 1:7 make him to be ninety nine years of age: he was not discharged from service; the Levites were at fifty, but not the priests; blemishes, as the Jewish writers say (y), made them unfit for service, but years did not: and even the law concerning the Levites, they say (z), only respected the time they carried the sanctuary from place to place, and not future generations; and that they are disqualified neither by blemishes, nor by years, only by voice, for singing of the song; but then they might be among the porters; so that they were not on that account laid aside from all service:

and my wife well stricken in years. The Mahometan writers, as before, say, she was "eighty nine"; a like objection Abraham made, though he afterwards got over it, and was strong in faith, giving glory to God, believing in his power and faithfulness; see Genesis 17:17.

(w) Misn. Abot, c. 5. sect. 21. & Maimon. in ib. (x) R. Sol. Urbin. Ohel Moed, fol. 24. 2.((y) T. Bab. Cholin, fol. 24. 1.((z) Maimon. Hilch. Cele Hamikdash, c. 3. sect. 8.

And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Luke 1:18. Like Abraham’s question, Genesis 15:8.

κατὰ τί] According to what. Zacharias asks after a σημεῖον (Luke 2:12), in conformity with which he should know that what had been promised (τοῦτο)—in other words, the birth of a son, with whom the indicated destination of Elias should associate itself—had really occurred.Luke 1:18-20. Zechariah doubts. The angel’s dazzling promise of a son, and even of a son with such a career, might be but a reflection of Zechariah’s own secret desire and hope; yet when his day-dream is objectified it seems too good and great to be true. This also is true to human nature, which alternates between high hope and deep despair, according as faith or sense has the upper hand.18. for I am an old man] So “Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is a hundred years old?” Genesis 17:17. But he had believed the original promise (Genesis 15:6) though he asked for a confirmation of it (Luke 1:8). “He believed … God who quickeneth the dead,” Romans 4:17.Luke 1:18. Κατὰ τί γνώσομαι) So LXX., Genesis 15:8. The question of Zacharias is one affecting the very fact itself, thus betraying that he laboured under a want of faith: the πῶς, how, which Mary started as a question, was accompanied with faith: comp. Luke 1:34 [How?] with 45 [“Blessed is she that believed.”]Verse 18. - Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man. There was something evidently blamable in this hesitation on the part of Zacharias to receive the angel's promise. It seems as though the radiant glory of the messenger, as he stood before the curtain of the silent sanctuary in his awful beauty, ought to have convinced the doubting old man of the truth of the strange message. The words of the angel, which follow, seem to imply this. What! do you doubt my message? "I am Gabriel, who stand in the presence of the Eternal." Others in Old Testament story before - for instance, Abraham (Genesis 15) and Gideon (Judges 6) - had seen and listened to an angel, had at first doubted, but had received in consequence no rebuke, no punishment, for their want of faith. Zacharias was, however, condemned, we learn, to a long period of dumbness. Whereby (κατὰ τί)

Lit., according to what? It demands a standard of knowledge, a sign.

For

I require a sign, for I am old.

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