Luke 1:5
There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.
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(5) There was in the days of Herod.—The writer begins, as he had promised, with the first facts in the divine order of events. The two chapters that follow have every appearance of having been based originally on an independent document, and that probably a Hebrew one. On its probable sources, see Introduction. On Herod and this period of his reign, see Notes on Matthew 2:1.

Zacharias.—The name (= “he who remembers Jehovah,” or, perhaps, “he whom Jehovah remembers,”) had been borne by many in the history of Israel, among others by the son of Jehoiada (2Chronicles 24:20), and by the prophet of the return from the Babylonian Captivity.

Of the course of Abia.—The Greek word so translated implies a system of rotation, each “set” or “course” of the priests serving from Sabbath to Sabbath. That named after Abia, or Abijah, appears in 1Chronicles 24:10 as the eighth of the twenty-four courses into which the houses of Eleazar and Ithamar were divided by David. On the first return from the Captivity only four of these courses are mentioned as having come back to Jerusalem (Ezra 2:36-39), and the name Abijah is not one of them. It appears, however, in later lists (Nehemiah 10:7; Nehemiah 12:4; Nehemiah 12:17), and the four-and-twenty sets were probably soon re-organised.

His wife was of the daughters of Aaron.—The priests were free to marry outside the limits of their own caste under certain limitations as to the character of their wives (Leviticus 21:7), and the fact of a priestly descent on both sides was therefore worth noticing.

Her name was Elisabeth.—The name in its Hebrew form of Elisheba had belonged to the wife of Aaron, who was of the tribe of Judah (Exodus 6:23), and was naturally an honoured name among the daughters of the priestly line. It appears in an altered form (Jehovah being substituted for El) in Jehosheba, the wife of the priest Jehoiada (2Kings 11:2).



Luke 1:5 - Luke 1:17

The difference between the style of Luke’s preface {Luke 1:1 - Luke 1:4} and the subsequent chapters relating to the Nativity suggests that these are drawn from some Hebrew source. They are saturated with Old Testament phraseology and constructions, and are evidently translated by Luke. It is impossible to say whence they came, but no one is more likely to have been their original narrator than Mary herself. Elisabeth or Zacharias must have communicated the facts in this chapter, for there is no indication that those contained in this passage, at all events, were known to any but these two.

If we were considering a fictitious story, we should note the artistic skill which prepared for the appearance of the hero by the introduction first of his satellite; but the order of the narrative is due, not to artistic skill, but to the divinely ordered sequence of events. It was fitting that John’s office as Forerunner should begin even before his birth. So the story of his entrance into the world prepares for that of the birth which hallows all births.

I. We have first a beautiful outline picture of the quiet home in the hill country.

The husband and wife were both of priestly descent, and in their modest lives, away among the hills, were lovely types of Old Testament godliness. That they are pronounced ‘blameless’ militates against no doctrine of universal sinfulness. It is not to be taken as dogma at all, but as the expression of God’s merciful estimate of His servants’ characters. These two simple saints lived, as all married believers should do, yoked together in the sweet exercise of godliness, and helping each other to all high and noble things. Hideous corruption of wedlock reigned round them. Such profanations of it as were shown later by Herod and Herodias, Agrippa and Bernice, were but too common; but in that quiet nook these two dwelt ‘as heirs together of the grace of life,’ and their prayers were not hindered.

The most of the priests who appear in the Gospels are heartless formalists, if not worse; yet not only Annas and Caiaphas and their spiritual kindred ministered at the altar, but there were some in whose hearts the ancient fire burned. In times of religious declension, the few who still are true are mostly in obscure corners, and live quiet lives, like springs of fresh water rising in the midst of a salt ocean. John thus sprang from parents in whom the old system had done all that it could do. In his origin, as in himself, he represented the consummate flower of Judaism, and discharged its highest office in pointing to the coming One.

This ‘blameless’ pair had a crook in their lot. Childlessness was then an especial sorrow, and many a prayer had gone up from both that their solitary home might be gladdened by children’s patter and prattle. But their disappointed hope had not made them sour, nor turned their hearts from God. If they prayed about it, they would not murmur at it, and they were not thereby hindered from ‘walking in all God’s commandments and ordinances blameless.’ Let us learn that unfulfilled wishes are not to clog our devotion, nor to silence our prayers, nor to slacken our running the race set before us.

II. We are carried away from the home among the hills to the crowded Temple courts.

The devout priest has come up to the city, leaving his aged wife in solitude, for his turn of service has arrived. Details of the arrangements of the sacerdotal ‘courses’ need not detain us. We need only note that the office of burning incense was regarded as an honour, was determined by lot, and took place at the morning and evening sacrifice. So Zacharias, with his censer in his hand, went to the altar which stood in front of the veil, flanked on the right hand by the table of shewbread, and on the left by the great lamp-stand. The place, his occupation, the murmur of many praying voices without, would all tend to raise his thoughts to God; and the curling incense, as it ascended, would truly symbolise the going up of his heart in aspiration, desire, and trust. Such a man could not do his work heartlessly or formally.

Mark the manner of the angel’s appearance. He was not seen as in the act of coming, but was suddenly made visible standing by the altar, as if he had been stationed there before; and what had happened was not that he came, but that Zacharias’s eyes were opened. So, when Elisha’s servant was terrified at the sight of the besiegers, the prophet prayed that his eyes might be opened, and when they were, he saw what had been there before, ‘the mountain full of horses and chariots of fire.’ Not the Temple courts only, but all places are full of divine messengers, and we should see them if our vision was purged. But such considerations are not to weaken the supernatural element in the appearance of this angel with his message. He was sent, whatever that may mean in regard to beings whose relation to place must be different from ours. He had an utterance of God’s will to impart.

It has often been objected to these chapters that they are full of angelic appearances, which modern thought deems suspicious. But surely if the birth of Jesus was what we hold it to have been, the coming into human life of the Incarnate Son of God, it is not legend that angel wings gleam in their whiteness all through the story, and angel voices adore the Lord of men as well as angels, and angel eyes gaze on His cradle, and learn new lessons there.

III. We have next the angel’s message.

The devoutest heart is conscious of shrinking dread when brought face to face with celestial brightness that has overflowed into our darkness. So ‘Fear not’ is the first word on the messenger’s lips, and one can fancy the accent of sweetness and the calm of heart which followed. It has often been thought that Zacharias had been praying for offspring while he was burning incense; but the narrative does not say so, and besides the fact that he had ceased to hope for children {as is shown by his incredulity}, surely it casts a slur on his religious character to suppose that personal wishes were uppermost at so sacred a moment. Prayers that he had long ago put aside as finally refused, now started to life again. God delays often, but He does not forget. Blessings may come to-day as the result of old prayers which have almost passed from our memory and our hope.

Observe how brief is the announcement of the child’s birth, important as that was to the father’s heart, and how the prophecy lingers on the child’s future work, which is important for the world. His name, character, and work in general are first spoken, and then his specific office as the Forerunner is delineated at the close. The name is significant. ‘John’ means ‘The Lord is gracious.’ It was an omen, a condensed prophecy, the fulfilment of which stretched beyond its bearer to Him as whose precursor alone was John a token of God’s grace.

His character {Luke 1:15} puts first ‘great in the sight of the Lord.’ Then there are some whom God recognises as great, small as we all are before Him. And His estimate of greatness is not the world’s estimate. How Herod or Pilate or Caesar, or philosophers at Athens, or rabbis in Jerusalem would have scoffed if they had been pointed to the gaunt ascetic pouring out words which they would have thought wild, to a crowd of Jews, and been told that that was the greatest man in the world {except One}! The elements of greatness in the estimate of God which is truth, are devotion to His service, burning convictions, intense moral earnestness, superiority to sensuous delights, clear recognition of Jesus, and humble self-abnegation before Him. These are not the elements recognised in the world’s Pantheon. Let us take God’s standard.

John was to be a Nazarite, living not for the senses, but the soul, as all God’s great ones have to be. The form may vary, but the substance of the vow of abstinence remains for all Christians. To put the heel on the animal within, and keep it well chained up, is indispensable, if we are ever to know the buoyant inspiration which comes from a sacreder source than the fumes of the wine-cup. Like John, we must flee the one if we would have the other, and be ‘filled with the Holy Ghost.’

The consequence of his character is seen in his work, as described generally in Luke 1:16. Only such a man can effect such a change, in a time of religious decay, as to turn many to God. It needs a strong arm to check the downward movement and to reverse it. No one who is himself entangled in sense, and but partially filled with God’s Spirit, will wield great influence for good. It takes a Hercules to stop the chariot racing down hill, and God’s Herculeses are all made on one pattern, in so far that they scorn delights, and empty themselves of self and sense that they may be filled with the Spirit.

John’s specific office is described in Luke 1:17, with allusion to the closing prophecy of Malachi. That prophecy had kindled an expectation that Elijah, in person, would precede Messias. John was like a reincarnation of the stern prophet. He came in a similar epoch. His characteristic, like Elijah’s, was ‘power,’ not gentleness. If the earlier prophet had to beard Ahab and Jezebel, the second Elijah had Herod and Herodias. Both haunted the desert, both pealed out thunders of rebuke. Both shook the nation, and stirred conscience. No two figures in Scripture are truer brethren in spirit than Elijah the Tishbite and John the Baptist.

His great work is to go before the Messiah, and to prepare Israel for its King. Observe that the name of the coming One is not mentioned in Luke 1:17. ‘Him’ is enough. Zacharias knew who ‘He’ was. But observe, too, that the same mysterious person is distinctly called ‘The Lord,’ which in this connection, and having regard to the original prophecy in Malachi, can only be the divine name. So, in some fashion not yet made plain, Messiah’s advent was to be the Lord’s coming to His people, and John was the Forerunner, in some sense, of Jehovah Himself.

But the way in which Israel was to be prepared is further specified in the middle clauses of the verse, which are also based on Malachi’s words. The interpretation of ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children’ is very doubtful; but the best explanation seems to be that the phrase means to bring back to the descendants of the ancient fathers of the nation the ancestral faith and obedience. They are to be truly Abraham’s seed, because they do the works and cherish the faith of Abraham. The words imply the same truth which John afterwards launched as a keen-edged dart, ‘Think not to say, We have Abraham to our father.’ Descent after the flesh should lead to kindred in spirit. If it does not, it is nought.

To turn ‘the disobedient to the wisdom of the just’ is practically the same change, only regarded from another point of view. John was sent to effect repentance, that change of mind and heart by which the disobedient to the commands of God should be brought to possess and exercise the moral and religious discernment which dwells only in the spirits of the righteous. Disobedience is folly. True wisdom cannot be divorced from rectitude. Real rectitude cannot live apart from obedience to God.

Such was God’s intention in sending John. How sadly the real effects of his mission contrast with its design! So completely can men thwart God, as Jesus said in reference to John’s mission, ‘The Pharisees and lawyers frustrated the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.’ Let us take heed lest we bring to nothing, so far as we are concerned, His gracious purpose of redemption in Christ!

Luke 1:5. There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea — This is he who is commonly known by the name of Herod the Great, a cruel, ambitious man, who, without any title, obtained the crown of Judea from the Roman senate, to whom he was recommended by Mark Antony. Under his government the Jews were very uneasy, because he was a foreigner. Nevertheless, the Roman generals in those parts having given him possession of the throne, by his own prudence and address he maintained himself in it for the space of forty years. His reign, though celebrated on many accounts, was remarkable for nothing so much as that, toward the conclusion of it, the Messiah and his forerunner were born. Besides Herod the king, there are two others of this name mentioned in Scripture, namely, Herod surnamed Antipas, his son, who was inferior to his father both in dignity and dominion, being only a tetrarch, and having no dominions but Galilee and Perea: it was this Herod that beheaded the Baptist, and with his men of war mocked our Lord. The other was Herod Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the king by Aristobulus, and brother to Herodias, Philip’s wife. He killed James the apostle with the sword, and imprisoned Peter to please the Jews; and was himself eaten up of worms for his affecting divine honours. Agrippa, before whom Paul pleaded his cause, was the son of this Herod, for which reason he is commonly called Agrippa. Of the course of Abia — The priests were become so numerous in David’s time, that they could not all minister at the tabernacle at once. He therefore divided them into twenty-four courses, or companies, who were to serve in rotation, each company by itself for a week. The time of their ministration, as well as the course itself, was called εφημερια, a name which originally belonged to the Athenian magistrates, who being fifty men chosen by lot out of each tribe, and each man governing the city a single day, the days which any tribe governed, as well as its fifty governors succeeding one another, were called εφημεριαι. Now there being a considerable resemblance between this division and succession of the Athenian magistrates, and that of the Jewish priests, the Greek interpreters of the Old Testament applied the same name to the courses of the priests, though somewhat improperly, as their ministry lasted not for a day but a week. The course of Abia, (that is, that of which Abia, or Abijah, was the head in David’s time,) was the eighth. See the notes on 1 Chronicles 24:3-10.

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.In the days of Herod - See the notes at Matthew 2:1.

Of the course of Abia - When the priests became so numerous that they could not at once minister at the altar, David divided them into 24 classes or courses, each one of which officiated for a week, 1 Chronicles 24. The class or course (shift) of Abia was the "eighth" in order, 1 Chronicles 24:10. Compare 2 Chronicles 8:14. The word "course" means the same as "class," or order. The Greek-based word "Abia" is the same as the Hebrew-based word "Abijah."

His wife was of the daughters of Aaron - A descendant of Aaron, the first high priest of the Jews; so that "John the Baptist" was descended, on the father's and the mother's side, from priests. Our Saviour was not on either side. John would have been legally entitled to a place among the priests; our Saviour, being of the tribe of Judah, would not.

Lu 1:5-25. Announcement of the Forerunner.

5. Herod—(See on [1533]Mt 2:1).

course of Abia—or Abijah; the eighth of the twenty-four orders of courses into which David divided the priests (see 1Ch 24:1, 4, 10). Of these courses only four returned after the captivity (Ezr 2:34-39), which were again subdivided into twenty-four—retaining the ancient name and order of each. They took the whole temple service for a week each.

his wife was of the daughters of Aaron—The priests might marry into any tribe, but "it was most commendable of all to marry one of the priests' line" [Lightfoot].

The Holy Ghost, for infinitely wise reasons, giveth us here an account both of the time when John the Baptist was born, and also of his parentage. It was

in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, that is, he who was the son of Antipater: not Herod the tetrarch of Galilee, of whom you read Luke 3:1, who put John Baptist to death, that was thirty-one or thirty-two years after this. He is usually called Herod the Great; who fought his way to the government of the Jews under the Romans, and came to his throne by the slaughter of the Jewish Sanhedrim; by which means he also extinguished all the government, which till his time held in the tribe of Judah, though not in a single person, (for that was destroyed in John, soon after the time of Judas Maccabeus), yet in a select number out of that royal tribe. So that in this Herod’s time the prophecy of dying Jacob, Genesis 49:10, was fulfilled. The sceptre, that is, the government, departed from Judah, and the lawgiver from his feet, which was a certain sign (in order to the fulfilling of that prophecy) that Shiloh, that is, the Messias, was coming. This for the time.

A certain priest, named Zacharias; some will have him to have been the high priest, or his deputy, but that cannot be, for the high priest was but one, and so not within the courses of the priests, but of the eldest family from Aaron; and though it be said, Luke 1:9, that his lot was to burn incense, yet it must not be understood of the incense mentioned Leviticus 16:12, to be burned upon the yearly day of expiation, (which indeed none but the high priest might do), but of the daily incense mentioned in the law, Exodus 30:7,8, which any of the priests did in their courses. This Zacharias was

of the course of Abia. The eldest son of Aaron was always the high priest; his other sons were priests. In a long course of time, their descendants so multiplied, that they were too many all at the same time to minister in the temple. David therefore divided them into courses; each course waited their month. 1 Chronicles 24:4,5, there is an account of the distribution of the priests into twenty-four courses. In David’s time the eighth course was the course of Abijah. It appeareth by Nehemiah 12:1-47, that after the captivity they kept the denominations of these courses, but it is probable the order of them was altered. We read of Abijah in Nehemiah 12:17, but whether his was then, or at this time when Luke wrote his Gospel, the eighth course I cannot tell. It is enough for us that Zacharias was one of the ordinary priests of the course of Abia; whose office it was to serve in the temple in his course, which was the course of such as derived from the Abijah mentioned in 1 Chronicles 24:10.

And his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth. This is added not to signify Zacharias’s obedience to the Divine law, which obliged the priests to marry within their own tribes; for the reason of that law being only to prevent the confusion of the inheritances, which fell by lot to the several tribes, and by the will of God were to be so kept distinct, the tribe of Levi having no such inheritance, might intermix with any other tribe, and did so; the high priest only was obliged to marry one of his own people, Leviticus 21:14, and Jehoiada, 2 Chronicles 22:11, married one of the tribe of Judah; but it is added to show the honourableness of Elisabeth’s stock. Moses and Aaron were the two first governors of the Israelites. Elisabeth was not only of the tribe of Levi, but descended from Aaron, whom God made the noblest family of the Levites. Her name was Elisabeth. It is a Hebrew name, Exodus 6:23, and (as you may see there) was the very name of Aaron’s wife, the daughter of Amminadab, and sister of Naashon. As it may be variously written it signifieth, the rest, or the oath, or the rod of my God.

There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea,.... This was Herod, the son of Antipater, sometimes called Herod the Great, and is rightly here said to be the king of Judea; for, by deputation from the Roman emperor, he had the government of all Judea, which upon his death was divided among his sons. The phrase, "in the days of", is an eastern way, of speaking; see Genesis 14:1; and intends the time of his reign; in which there was

a certain priest named Zacharias: a name famous among the Jews, for an high priest, who was slain by them the court of the temple, 2 Chronicles 24:20, and for one of the later prophets, Zechariah 1:1, who were of this name. This man, the father of John the Baptist, was not an high priest, as this character of him, and the work afterwards ascribed to him, show; though he has been thought to be so by some; and John himself is so called by the Jews (n): he was

of the course of Abia. The Ethiopic version reads, "in the days of Abia": and it has been the opinion of some, that Zacharias and Abia were two priests, who performed their ministry in succession, one after another; one ministered one time, and another at another time; but such betray their ignorance both of Scripture, and of Jewish affairs. In David's time, there was a division of the sons of Aaron into "twenty four" orders, or courses; and this of Abia was one, and the "eighth" of them; see 1 Chronicles 24:1. The account the Jews (o) give of this matter, and in which they are not agreed, is this,

"says Rab Chama bar Guria, says Rab, Moses ordered for the Israelites eight courses, four from Eleazar, and four from Ithamar; Samuel came and made them "sixteen"; David came and made them twenty four.--It is a tradition, that Moses ordered for the Israelites sixteen courses, eight from Eleazar, and eight from Ithamar; and when the children of Eleazar increased above the children of Ithamar, they divided them, and appointed them twenty four.

The account, as given by Maimonides (p), is as follows:

"Moses, our master, divided the priests into eight courses, four from Eleazar, and four from Ithamar, and so they were until Samuel the prophet; and in the days of Samuel, he and David, the king, divided them into twenty four courses; and over every course one head was appointed, and they went up to Jerusalem to the service of the course every week; and from sabbath to sabbath they changed; one course went out, and another came in, till they finished, and returned again.

Now of these there were but four courses returned from the Babylonish captivity, as appears from Ezra 2:36 and with this the Jewish accounts agree (q),

"The Rabbins teach, that four courses came up from the captivity, Jedaiah, Harim, Pashur, and Immer; the prophets that were among them stood up, and divided them, and appointed four and twenty lots, and put them into a box: Jedaiah came and took his lot, and the lot of his companions, six; Harim came and took his lot, and the lot of his companions, six; and so Pashur and Immer: and so the prophets that were among them taught, that if Jehoiarib, the first course, came up from captivity, he should not drive away Jedaiah out of his place; but Jedaiah should be the principal, and Jehoiarib an appendix to him.

Now, though the course of Abia did not return from captivity, yet its order and name were retained as the rest of the courses, being divided between these four by whom they were supplied; and therefore Zacharias is not said to be of the posterity of Abia, but of his course. To these courses there were added as many stations; and what they were, and their use, may be learnt from what follows (r),

"The former prophets offered four and twenty courses; and to every course there was a station at Jerusalem; consisting of priests, Levites, and Israelites: and when the time came for the course to go up, the priests and Levites went up to Jerusalem, but the Israelites, which were in that course, gathered themselves to their cities, and read in the history of the creation; and the men of the station fasted four days in the week, from the second day, to the fifth.

The sense of which, according to their commentators (s), is, that these stations were substituted in the room of, and represented all Israel; and their business was to give themselves up to divine worship, prayer, and sacrifices; and such of them as were near Jerusalem, when the time of their course came, assisted at the sacrifices; and such as were afar off, betook themselves to the synagogues in their cities, and there fasted, prayed, and read. And so another of their authors (t) says,

"there were twenty and four courses of the priests, and so twenty and four courses of the Levites; and every week the course of the priests and Levites goes to Jerusalem; and the twenty and four stationary men, half of them go thither, and half are left in their houses, and pray over the offerings:

for they had their stationary cities, where these men dwelt (u). Jericho was one: they say (w),

"Jericho was able to produce a complete station itself; but because of dividing the glory to Jerusalem, it furnished out but half an one:


There {2} was {f} in the days of {g} Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the {h} course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.

(2) John, who was another Elias and appointed to be the herald of Christ, coming from the family of Aaron, and of two famous and blameless parents, has shown in his conception

(which was against the course of nature) a double miracle, to the end that men should be more readily prepared for the hearing of his preaching, according to the forewarning of the prophets.

(f) This is a Hebrew idiom which shows us how short and frail a thing the power of princes is.

(g) Herod the great.

(h) For the posterity of Aaron was divided into courses.

Luke 1:5. The periodic and Greek style of the preface gives place now to the simple Hebraizing mode of presentation in the preliminary history,—a circumstance explained by the nature of its Jewish-Christian sources, which withal were not made use of without being subjected to manipulation, since Luke’s peculiarities in expression pervade even this preliminary history. How far, however, the lofty, at times truly lyrical beauty and art of the descriptions are to be reckoned due to the sources themselves or to Luke as working them up, cannot be decided.

Observe, moreover, how the evangelical tradition gradually pushes back its beginnings from the emergence of the Baptist (Mark) to the γένεσις of Jesus (Matthew), and even to the conception of His forerunner (Luke).

ἐγένετο] extitit, emerged in history. Comp. on Mark 1:4.

ἱερεύς τις] therefore not high priest.

On the twenty-four classes of priests (מַחֲלֹקֶת, in the LXX. ἐφημερία, also διαίρεσις, in Josephus also ἐφημερίς), which, since the time of Solomon, had the temple-service for a week in turn, see Ewald, Alterth. p. 315; Keil, Archäol. I. p. 188 f.

Ἀβιά] 1 Chronicles 24:10. From this successor of Eleazar the eighth ἐφημερία had its name.

The chronological employment of this notice for the ascertaining of the date of the birth of Jesus would require that the historical character of the narratives, given at Luke 1:5 ff., Luke 1:26 ff., should be taken for granted; moreover, it would be necessary withal that the year and (as every class came in its turn twice in the year) the approximate time of the year of the birth of Jesus should already be otherwise ascertained. Then, in the computation we should have to reckon, not, with Scaliger (de emendat. tempor.), forward from the re-institution of the temple-service by Judas Maccabaeus, 1Ma 4:38 ff., because it is not known which class at that time began the service (see Paulus, exeg. Handb. I. p. 83; Wieseler, chronol. Synopse, p. 141), but, with Salomon van Til, Bengel, and Wieseler, backward from the destruction of the temple, because as to this the date (the 9 Abib) and the officiating class of priests (Jojarib) is known. Comp. also Lichtenstein, p. 76.

καὶ γυνὴ αὐτῷ] (see the critical remarks) scil. ἦν.

ἐκ τῶν θυγατ. Ἀαρ.] John’s descent on both sides was priestly. Comp. Josephus, Vit. v. 1. See Wetstein.

Ἐλισάβετ] Such was also the name of Aaron’s wife, Exodus 6:23 (אֶלִישֶׁבַע, Deus juramentum).

Luke 1:5-25. The birth of the Baptist announced. From the long prefatory sentence, constructed according to the rules of Greek syntax, and with some pretensions to classic purity of style, we pass abruptly to the Protevangelium, the prelude to the birth of Christ, consisting of the remainder of this chapter, written in Greek which is Hebraistic in phrase and structure, and Jewish in its tone of piety. The evangelist here seems to have at command an Aramaic, Jewish-Christian source, which he, as a faithful collector of evangelic memorabilia, allows to speak for itself, with here and there an editorial touch.

5–25. The Announcement of the Birth of the Fore-runner

5. There was in the days] The elaborate style of the Preface is at once replaced by one of extreme directness and simplicity, full of Hebraic expressions; shewing that here St Luke begins to use, and probably to translate, some Aramaic document which had come into his hands. The remainder of this chapter is known as the Protevangelium—the Gospel History before the Birth of Christ. The sweetness and delicate reserve of the narrative, together with the incidents on which it dwells, have led to the not unreasonable conjecture that the Virgin Mary had written down some of those things which she long ‘kept in her heart.’

of Herod, the king] Towards the close of the reign of Herod the Great. The true sceptre had departed from Judah. Herod was a mere Idumaean usurper imposed on the nation by the Romans. “Regnum ab Antonio Herodi datum, victor Augustus auxit.” Tac. Hist. v. 9.

of Judea] Besides Judaea, Samaria, and Galilee, his kingdom included the most important regions of Peraea (Jos. Antt. xv. 5, § 6, 7; B. J. i. 20, § 3, 4).

Zacharias] The common Jewish name Zachariah (2 Kings 14:29; Ezra 8:3; Ezra 8:11; Zechariah 1:1; 1Ma 5:18, &c.) means ‘remembered by Jehovah.’ The Jews highly valued the distinction of priestly birth (Jos. Vit. 1). The notion that Zacharias was a High Priest and that his vision occurred on the great Day of Atonement is refuted by the single word ἔλαχε “his lot was,” Luke 1:9.

of the course] The word ephemeria means first ‘a daily ministry’ (Heb. Mishmereth) and then a class of the priesthood which exercised its functions for a week. Aaron had four sons, but the two elder Nadab and Abihu were struck dead for using strange fire in the sanctuary (Leviticus 10). From the two remaining sons Eleazar and Ithamar had sprung in the days of David twenty-four families, sixteen from the descendants of Eleazar, and eight from those of Ithamar. To these David distributes by lot the order of their service from week to week, each for eight days inclusively from sabbath to sabbath (1 Chronicles 24:1-19; 2 Chronicles 31:2). After the Babylonish exile only four of the twenty-four courses returned—a striking indication of the truth of the Jewish saying that those who returned from the exile were but like the chaff in comparison of the wheat. The four families of which the representatives returned were those of Jedaiah, Immer, Pashur, and Harim (Ezra 2:36-39). But the Jews concealed the heavy loss by subdividing these four families into twenty-four courses to which they gave the original names, and this is alluded to in Nehemiah 13:30 (“I … appointed the wards of the priests and the Levites, every one in his business”). This arrangement continued till the fall of Jerusalem a. d. 70 at which time, on the ninth of the month Ab (Aug. 5), we are told that the course in waiting was that of Jehoiarib (Jos. Bell. Jud. vi. 5), Taanith, iv. 6: Derenbourg, Palest. p. 291. Reckoning back from this we find that the course of Abijah went out of office on Oct. 9, b.c. 6, a.u.c. 748 (but see Lewin, Fasti Sacri, p. 191). The reader should bear in mind that our received era for the Birth of Christ (a.u.c. 753) was only fixed by the Abbot Dionysius Exiguus in the 6th century, and is probably four years wrong.

of Abia] 1 Chronicles 24:10, “the eighth [lot came forth] to Abijah.” This was not one of the four families which had returned, but the name was soon revived (Nehemiah 12:4). Josephus tells us that he enjoyed the high distinction of belonging by birth to the first of the twenty-four courses (Vit. 1).

Elisabeth] The same name as Elisheba (‘one whose oath is by God,’ comp. Jehoshebah, 2 Kings 11:2), the wife of Aaron, Exodus 6:23; mentioned by name according to Ibn Ezra as ‘the mother of the priesthood.’

Luke 1:5. Ἐγένετο, there was) Following close upon the Preface itself, Luke exhibits the History of Jesus Christ from His entrance into the world, up to the time of His ascension into heaven. In this History we may note—  

I.  THE BEGINNING: wherein we have

1.  The conception of John, Luke 1:5-252.  The conception of Jesus Himself, Luke 1:26-563.  The nativity and circumcision of John: the hymn of Zacharias: the youth of John, Luke 1:57-804.  Jesus Christ’s (a) Nativity, Luke 2:1-20  (b) Circumcision and name given, Luke 2:21  (c) Presentation to the Lord in the temple, Luke 2:22-38  (d) His own country and growth, Luke 2:39-40  II.  THE MIDDLE: when He was twelve years of age, and subsequently, Luke 2:41-52  III.  HIS COURSE [MINISTRY] itself.

1.  The entrance on it: wherein is described the Baptist; His baptism, His temptation, Luke 3:1-2; Luke 3:21-22; Luke 4:1-132.  The acceptable year in Galilee,

A.  Set forth before His hearers at Nazareth, Luke 4:14-30B.  Made good in actual performance:

α.  At Capernaum, and in that region. Here are to be noted—

1.  His acts not censured by his adversaries; whereby Jesus

1.  Powerfully teaches, Luke 4:31-322.  Delivers one demoniacally possessed, Luke 4:33-373.  Cures the mother-in-law of Peter, and many sick persons, Luke 4:38-414.  Teaches everywhere, Luke 4:42-445.  Calls Peter, and also James and John, Luke 5:1-116.  Cleanses the leper, Luke 5:12-162.  His acts censured by His adversaries, and that with gradually increasing severity.

To this class belong—

1.  The man with palsy, Luke 5:17-262.  The call of Levi, and the eating with publicans and sinners, Luke 5:27-323.  The question as to fasting answered, Luke 5:33-394.  The plucking of the ears of corn,   Luke 6:1-55.  The withered hand restored, and the plotting against Jesus, Luke 6:6-113.  His acts, of which the issue [result] was different in the case of the different persons with whom He had to do:

1.  In the case of His chosen apostles, Luke 6:12-162.  In the case of His other hearers, Luke 6:17-18; Luke 6:20-493.  In the case of the centurion, Luke 7:1-104.  In the case of the disciples of John, in connection with whom we have—

a.  The occasion of the raising of the young man at Nain, Luke 7:11-18b.  The embassy from John, Luke 7:18-23c.  The reproof,  Luke 7:24-355.  In the case of Simon the Pharisee, and the sinner, the woman who showed Him much love, Luke 7:36-506.  In the case of His own immediate attendants, Luke 8:1-37.  In the case of the people, Luke 8:4-188.  In the case of His mother and brethren, Luke 8:19-21β.  On the sea, Luke 8:22-26And beyond the sea, Luke 8:27-39γ.  On this side of the sea, again:

1.  Jairus, and the woman with the issue of blood, Luke 8:40-562.  The apostles sent forth, Luke 9:1-63.  The doubts of Herod, Luke 9:7-94.  The report of the apostles, Luke 9:105.  The eagerness of the people: the kindness of the Lord: the five thousand fed, Luke 9:11-173.  The preparation for His passion, etc.

A.  The recapitulation of His doctrine concerning the person of Jesus Christ. Silence enjoined; His passion foretold; following Him enjoined, Luke 9:18-19; Luke 9:21-27B.  His transfiguration on the mountain; the lunatic healed; His passion again foretold; humility and moderation commanded, Luke 9:28-29; Luke 9:37-38; Luke 9:43-44; Luke 9:46-47; Luke 9:49-50Verse 5 - chapter Luke 2:52. - THE GOSPEL OF THE INFANCY. The critical reader of the Gospel in the original Greek is here startled by the abrupt change in the style of writing. The first four verses, which constitute the introduction, are written in pure classical language; the sentences are balanced, almost with a rhythmical accuracy. They are the words evidently of a highly cultured mind, well versed in Greek thought. But in the fifth verse, where the history of the eventful period really begins, all is changed. The narrative flows on clearly with a certain picturesqueness of imagery; the style is simple, easy, vivid; but at once the reader is sensible that he has passed out of the region of Greek and Western thought. The language is evidently a close translation from some Hebrew original; the imagery is exclusively Jewish, and the thoughts belong to the story of the chosen people. It is clear that this section of St. Luke's writing, which ends, however, with chapter 2, is not derived from apostolic tradition, but is the result of his own investigation into the origin of the faith of Christ, gathered probably from the lips of the virgin mother herself, or from one of the holy women belonging to her kinsfolk who had been with her from the beginning of the wondrous events. St. Luke reproduced, as faithfully as he could in a strange tongue, the revelations - some perhaps written, some no doubt oral, communicated to him, we reverently believe, by the blessed mother of Jesus herself. The story of these two chapters is what St. Luke evidently alludes to when, in his short preface (verse 3), he writes of his "perfect understanding in all things from the very first (ἄνωθεν)." Verse 5-25. - The vision of Zacharias in the temple. Verse 5. - There was in the days of Herod, the King of Judaea. The Herod here alluded to was the one surnamed "the Great." The event here related took place towards the end of his reign. His dominions, besides Judaea, included Samaria, Galilee, and a large district of Peraea. This prince played a conspicuous part in the politics of his day. He was no Hebrew by birth, but an Idumaean, and he owed his position entirely to the favor of Rome, whose vassal he really was during his whole reign. The Roman senate had, on the recommendation of Antony and Octavius, granted to this prince the title of "King of Judaea." It was a strange, sad state of things. The land of promise was ruled over by an Idumaean adventurer, a creature of the great Italian Republic; the holy and beautiful house on Mount Zion was in the custody of an Edomite usurper; the high priest of the Mighty One of Jacob was raised up or deposed as the officials of Rome thought good. Truly the scepter had departed from Judah. A certain priest named Zacharias; usually spelt among the Hebrews, Zechariah; it means "Remembered of Jehovah," and was a favorite name among the chosen people. Of the course of Abia. Ἐφημερία (course) signified originally "a daily service." It was subsequently used for a group of priests who exercised their priestly functions in the temple for a week, and then gave place to another group. From Eleazar and Ithamar, the two surviving sons of the first high priest Aaron, had descended twenty-four families. Among these King David distributed by lot the various tabernacle (subsequently temple) services, each family group, or course, officiating for eight days - from sabbath to sabbath. From the Babylonish exile, of these twenty-four families only four returned. With the idea of reproducing as nearly as possible the old state of things, these four were subdivided into twenty-four, the twenty-four bearing the original family names, and this succession of courses continued in force until the fall of Jerusalem and the burning of the temple, A.D. 70. According to Josephus, Zacharias was especially distinguished by belonging to the first of the twenty-four courses, or families. Of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth; identical with Elisheba, "One whose oath is to God." Both the husband and wife traced their lineage back to the first high priest - a coveted distinction in Israel. Luke 1:5King

A title decreed to Herod by the Roman Senate on the recommendation of Antony and Octavius. The Greek style now gives place to the Hebraized style. See Introduction.

Course (ἐφημερίας)

Lit., daily service. The college of priests was divided into twenty-four courses. Each of these did duty for eight days, from one Sabbath to another, once every six months. The service of the week was subdivided among the various families which constituted a course. On Sabbaths the whole course was on duty. On feast-days any priest might come up and join in the ministrations of the sanctuary; and at the Feast of Tabernacles all the twenty-four courses were bound to be present and officiate. The course of Abijah was the eighth of the twenty-four. See 1 Chronicles 24:10.

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