Luke 1:21
And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple.
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Luke 1:21-22. And the people — Who had been praying in the court of the temple, while the incense was burning; waited for Zacharias — To come out and bless them; for so the priests used to do after burning the incense; and marvelled that he tarried so long, εν τω χρονιζειν αυτον, at his delaying, or, spending time in the temple; εν τω ναω, in the house, or sanctuary. See note on Luke 1:9. All that is here said to have taken place between the angel and Zacharias, might have passed in a few minutes; since, therefore, the people took notice of his continuing so much longer than was usual in the holy place, it is probable, that after the angel had left him, he employed some time in secret devotion, to which the mixture of holy affections that would naturally arise in his mind on so great and extraordinary an occasion would powerfully incline him; and while thus occupied, he might easily forget how fast the moments passed away. When he came out, he could not speak unto them — A circumstance which must have greatly astonished them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision — That is, a divine vision; in the temple — Or holy place. As the signs which he made, left them no room to doubt that some extraordinary and supernatural revelation had been made to him by God. For he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless — He continued deaf and dumb during the remainder of his stay at Jerusalem; a circumstance wisely ordered by Providence to awaken a greater and more general expectation, as to the event of so strange an occurrence; which, as a great multitude were now present in the court of the temple, (see Luke 1:10,) would of course be widely spread, not only through Jerusalem but all Judea.

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.The people waited - That is, beyond the usual time.

Marvelled - Wondered. The priest, it is said, was not accustomed to remain in the temple more than half an hour commonly. Having remained on this occasion a longer time, the people became apprehensive of his safety, and wondered what had happened to him.

21. waited—to receive from him the usual benediction (Nu 6:23-27).

tarried so long—It was not usual to tarry long, lest it should be thought vengeance had stricken the people's representative for something wrong [Lightfoot].

Ver. 21-23. While the priest was in the holy place, the people were in that part of the temple called the court of Israel, or the court of the people, praying: when he had done, he came out, and blessed them according to the law, Numbers 6:23-26, where is the form of blessing which he used; for this the people waited before they went home. Whether the angel’s discourse with Zacharias was longer, or his amazement at the vision made him stay longer than the priest was wont to stay, it is uncertain; but so he did, and when he came out he was not able to pronounce the blessing, nor to speak at all, only he beckons to them, by which the people judged that he had seen some vision. Yet dumbness being none of those bodily defects for which by the law they were to be removed from the priest’s office, nor having any great work in which he used his tongue during his ministration, which was more the work of the hands, he accomplished the days he was to minister, and then departed to his own house, for in the days of their ministration they had their lodgings in buildings appertaining to the temple.

And the people waited for Zacharias,.... That were without, in the court of the Israelites, praying there, while he was offering incense: these were waiting for his coming out, in order to be blessed by him, according to Numbers 6:23 and be dismissed: and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple; beyond the usual time of burning incense; which might be occasioned either by a longer discourse of the angel with him than what is here related; or being struck with amazement at the sight and hearing of the angel, he might continue long musing on this unexpected appearance and relation; or he might spend some time not only in meditation upon it, but in mental prayer, confession, and thanksgiving. The high priest, when he went in to burn incense on the day of atonement,

"made a short prayer in the outward house, (in the temple,) and he did not continue long in his prayer, , "that he might not affright" the Israelites'' (m),

thinking that he was dead; for many high priests that were unfit for, or made alteration in the service, died in the holy of holies (n),

"It is reported (o) of one high priest, that he continued long in his prayer, and his brethren, the priests, thought to have gone in after him; and they began to go in, and he came out; they say unto him, why didst thou continue long in thy prayer? he replied to them, is it hard in your eyes that I should pray for you, and for the house of the sanctuary, that it might not be destroyed? they answered him, be not used to do so; for we have learned, that a man should not continue long in prayer, that he may not affright Israel.

This high priest, they elsewhere say (p), was Simeon the just,

(m) Misna Yoma, c. 5. sect. 1.((n) Maimon. & Bartenora in ib. (o) T. Bab. Yoma, fol. 53. 2.((p) T. Hieros. Yoma, fol. 42. 3.

And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple.
Luke 1:21. The priests, especially the chief priests, were accustomed, according to the Talmud, to spend only a short time in the sanctuary; otherwise it was apprehended that they had been slain by God, because they were unworthy or had done something wrong. See Hieros. Joma, f. 43, 2; Babyl. f. 53, 2; Deyling, Obss. III. ed. 2, p. 455 f. Still the unusually long delay of Zacharias, which could not but strike the people, is sufficient in itself as a reason of their wonder.

ἐν τῷ χρονίζειν αὐτόν] not over (ἐπί, Luke 4:22, al.), or on account of (Mark 6:6, διά), but on occasion of his failure to appear. So also Sir 11:21; Isaiah 61:6. Rightly, Gersdorf, Ewald, render: when he, etc.

Luke 1:21-22. The people without.—προσδοκῶν, waiting; they had to wait. The priest was an unusually long time within, something uncommon must have happened. The thought likely to occur was that God had slain the priest as unworthy. The Levitical religion a religion of distance from God and of fear. So viewed in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Illustrative quotations from Talmud in Wünsche, Beiträge, p. 413.

21. he tarried so long] Priests never tarried in the awful precincts of the shrine longer than was absolutely necessary for the fulfilment of their duties, from feelings of holy fear, Leviticus 16:13, “that he die not” (T. B. Yoma f. 52. 2.) See Excursus VII.

Verse 21. - And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he tarried so long in the temple. The Talmud tells us that even the high priest did not terry long in the holy of holies on the Day of Atonement. The same feeling of holy awe would induce the ministering priest of the day to perform his functions with no unnecessary delay, and to leave as soon as possible the holy place. The people praying in the court without were in the habit of waiting until the priest on duty came out of the sacred inner chamber, after which they were dismissed with the blessing. The unusual delay in the appearance of Zacharias puzzled and disturbed the worshippers. Luke 1:21Waited (ἦν προσδοκῶν)

The finite verb and participle, denoting protracted waiting. Hence, better as Rev., were waiting. Wyc., was abiding.


According to the Talmud, the priests, especially the chief priests, were accustomed to spend only a short time in the sanctuary, otherwise it was feared that they had been Main by God for unworthiness or transgression.

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