Verse 76. "And thou, child, &c." - Zacharias proclaims the dignity, employment, doctrine, and success of his son; and the ruin and recovery of the Jews and the Gentiles.
1. His dignity. Thou shalt be called (constituted) a prophet of the Most High. Prophet has two acceptations:-1st. A person who foretells future events; and; 2dly. A teacher of men in the things of God, 1 Cor. xiv. 3. John was a prophet in both senses: he proclaimed the mercy which should be communicated; announced the baptism of the Holy Spirit; and taught men how to leave their sins, and how to find the salvation of God. See chap. iii. 5-14. His very name, Jehochanan, the grace or mercy of Jehovah, (see ver. 60,) was a constant prediction of the salvation of God. Our Lord terms him the greatest prophet which had ever appeared in the world. He had the honour of being the last and clearest prophet of the old covenant, and the first of the new.
2. His employment. Thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways. He should be the immediate forerunner of Jesus Christ, none being capable of succeeding him in his ministry but Christ himself. He was to prepare his ways, to be the honoured instrument, in the hands of God, of disposing the hearts of multitudes of the Israelites to believe in and follow the Lord Jesus.
3. Zacharias points out the doctrine or teaching of John. It should be gnwsiv swthriav, the science of salvation. Men are ignorant, and they must be instructed. Human sciences may be profitable in earthly matters, but cannot profit the soul. The science that teaches God must come from God. No science is of any avail to the soul that does not bring salvation with it: this is the excellence of heavenly science, and an excellence that is peculiar to itself. No science but that which comes from God can ever save a soul from the power, the guilt, and the pollution of sin.
4. Zacharias predicts the success of his son's ministry. Under his preaching, the people should be directed to that tender mercy of God, through which they might obtain the remission of their sins, ver. 77, 78.
Those who are sent by God, and preach his truth, and his only, shall always be successful in their work; for it is for this very purpose that God has sent them; and it would be a marvelous thing, indeed, should they labour in vain. But there never was such a case, since God made man, in which a preacher was Divinely commissioned to preach Jesus and his salvation, and yet had no fruit of his labour.
5. Zacharias points out the wretched state in which the inhabitants of Judea and the Gentile world were then found. 1. Their feet had wandered out of the way of peace, (ver. 79,) of temporal and spiritual prosperity.
2. They had got into a state of darkness-they were blind concerning the things of God, and the things which belonged to their salvation. 3. They had become contented inhabitants of this land of intellectual darkness-they had sat down in it, and were not concerned to get out of it. 4. They were about to perish in it-death had his dominion there; and his swift approaches to them were now manifested to the prophet by seeing his shadow cast upon them. Ignorance of God and salvation is the shadow of death; and the substance, eternal ruin, is essentially connected with the projected shadow. See these phrases explained at large on Matt. iv. 16.
6. Zacharias proclaims the recovery of a lost world. As the removal of this darkness, and redemption from this death, were now at hand, John is represented as being a day-spring from on high, a morning star, that foretold the speedy approach of the day, and the rising of the Sun of righteousness. That these words should be applied to John, and not to Christ, I am fully satisfied; and cannot give my reasons better for the arrangement I have made in the preceding notes, than in the words of an eminent critic, who, I find, has adopted nearly the same plan with myself.
The passage, as I read it, is as follows: Through the tender mercy of our God, by which he hath visited us: a day-spring from on high, to give light to them that sit in the darkness and in the shadow of death, &c. "Let the reader judge, whether my arrangement of this passage, which much better suits the original, be not far more elegant, and in all respects superior to the old translation. Thou, child! wilt be a teacher-THOU WILT BE a day-spring from the sky. And with what beauty and propriety is John, the forerunner of our Lord, styled the dawn of day, that ushers in the rising of the Sun of righteousness! And the concluding words-to guide our feet into the way of peace-is a comprehensive clause, after the manner of Hebrew poetry, belonging equally to the former sentence, beginning at-And thou, child!-and the latter, beginning at-A day-spring from the sky: for the people spoken of in the former are the Jews; and in the latter, the Gentiles."-WAKEFIELD.
Verse 80. "The child grew" - Increased in stature and bodily vigour. And waxed strong in spirit-had his understanding Divinely illuminated and confirmed in the truths of God. And was in the deserts-the city of Hebron, the circumjacent hill country, and in or near Nazareth. Till the time of his showing, or manifestation-till he was thirty years of age, before which time the law did not permit a man to enter into the public ministry, Num. iv. 3. See also chap. iii. 23.
So much has already been said, by way of practical improvement of the different subjects in this important chapter, as to preclude the necessity of any addition here.