the opening chapters of the Gospel, according to Luke, contain several unique passages. these passages result from overwhelming revelation and spiritual insight, each bringing forth praise and exaltation at the realized Messianic promises of God in their time. the songs, or canticles, are listed as Mary’s Song (Luke 1:46-56), Zacharias’ Song (Luke 1:67-79), The Angels’ Song (Luke 2:13-14), and Simeon’s Song (Luke 2:29-32). i have recently taught on the story of Simeon and would love to write about my findings, but for the sake of this study, i have chosen to take a closer look at Zacharias’ Song.
in the introduction to Zacharias, the Bible tells us that he is a priest of the course of Abia. Abia, or Abijah (1 Chronicles 24:10), was one of twenty-four courses or divisions of priests that David had set up to maintain the daily operations of the temple. Abijah was the eighth course of the year and would be a critical piece of information that Luke would include to the Jewish reader to pinpoint the exact time of year that the events of chapter one took place. verse 5 also mentions his wife Elisabeth and her relation to Aaron, thereby solidifying the lineage to the Levitical priesthood.
Zacharias’ duty in the temple included burning the incense. on this particular day, an angel who had come to deliver a message greeted him at the altar of incense. God had heard his prayers, and Elisabeth, being barren, would have a son. this child’s name would be John; he would be great in the sight of the Lord, filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. John will make ready a people prepared for the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah. given this tremendous responsibility of this blessing, God chose Zacharias and Elisabeth because “they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” (Luke 1:6)
we read of many of our biblical heroes falling into the next trap; Zacharias questions the angel Gabriel and the message he delivered. i am not saying that i would not have some doubt if i were in his shoes, but if an angel brings you news, it should, even slightly, build upon your faith to the glory of God. Zacharias does deserve some credit; when he was put on mute, he did not (or could not) continue to question the angel as Gideon had done (Judges 6:15-21, 36-40).
Elisabeth does conceive and deliver a son, and after some debating, Zacharias writes on a writing table to proclaim his son’s name. immediately, his speech is restored, and he begins to praise God. verse 67 begins Zacharias’ Song, also known as the Benedictus, receiving its name from its first words in Latin (“Benedictus Dominus Deus Israel”, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel”).1 as I read through this passage, it seems as though verses 65 and 66 would come after the Benedictus, “And fear came on all that dwelt round about them: and all these sayings were noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judaea. And all they that heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, What manner of child shall this be! And the hand of the Lord was with him.” perhaps the writer has strategically placed these verses to draw our attention to the subsequent verses.
“Zechariah’s song contains many allusions to Old Testament events. he mentions how God has provided them with a saviour who is a descendent of David. in addition, he also remembers how God delivered His people from all their enemies and kept His covenant with Abraham.” 2 Zacharias is filled with the Holy Ghost and prophesies of the coming redemption. it isn’t until verse 76 that Zacharias begins to mention John at all. standing there, with his eight-day-old son, the character of Zacharias shines through, giving praises and thanking God for the “horn of salvation” before recognizing the child right in front of him. truly, God had made an excellent choice in the humble priest, an attribute that John would learn and apply to his role as the forerunner of Christ.
Zacharias charged John in verses 76 through 79, “And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” verse 76 is an echo of two great prophecies, combining “going before Jehovah” (Malachi 3:1), with “preparing the way” (Isaiah 40:3).3 we read in verse 77 for the first time in history the phrase, “by the remission of their sins” (Ellicott). John would give knowledge of salvation unto the Lord’s people by the remission of their sins. this statement sets precedence for John’s ministry and reveals the very purpose of baptism in the New Testament church! no longer was baptism only for ritual cleansing, but now it is an integral piece of the new birth.
in conclusion, each of the four songs in the book of Luke is an important announcement and praise of thanksgiving to God for fulfilling His promise. all of these songs come together to connect the dots of prophecy and glorify the coming Messiah. i love the story of the foreteller and the events surrounding his birth, “but he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (Luke 7:28). the purpose of the songs and the most incredible miracle next to God’s Spirit living inside of you is that God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, and received up into glory (1 Timothy 3:16). Jesus came that we might have life. sprinkled throughout the scriptures was the result that Abraham’s seed would bless all nations of the earth. Jesus arrived on the scene, with a people prepared for His way, with all power and authority, and instructs us now to go, teach, and baptize. the mission and ministry of John the Baptist have become his legacy, “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). it started with praise; it began with a song.
1 Wikipedia “Benedictus (Song of Zechariah)” Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benedictus_(Song_of_Zechariah), This page was last edited on 23 June 2021.
2 Robert Sang “4 Songs In Luke’s Gospel Connected To The Birth Of Jesus” Drawing on the Word blog, https://drawingontheword.com/songs-in-lukes-gospel-birth-of-jesus/, December 12, 2018
3 Charles John Ellicott “Luke 1:76-79” Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers, Cassell and Company Publishers, 1905