The Birth of John, Part 1
Oct 09, 2013
It appears that Elizabeth was in seclusion for the full nine months of her pregnancy. Luke 1:57, 58 says,
57 Now the time had come for Elizabeth to give birth, and she brought forth a son. 58 And her neighbors heard that the Lord had displayed His great mercy toward her; and they were rejoicing with her.
Luke does not tell us explicitly, but he implies that her total seclusion hid her pregnancy from her neighbors, and that they did not realize she was pregnant until John was born. Perhaps Elizabeth, being an older woman, did not want the neighbors to worry about her or to doubt that the baby would be born alive and well.
It may also be that she took a Nazarite vow for the time of her pregnancy. The law allowed women to be Nazarites (Numbers 6:2). Recall that the angel told Samson’s mother that her son would be a Nazarite from birth, and so she herself was to refrain from drinking wine during the pregnancy (Judges 13:4) in order not to feed her unborn son with wine while he was yet in her womb.
Elizabeth found herself in the same position as Samson’s mother, since she too was to give birth to a son who was a Nazarite from birth (Luke 1:15). Essentially, in both cases, the sons were Nazarites not only from birth but even from conception.
Luke 1:59 continues with the account of John’s circumcision on the eighth day,
59 And it came about that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to call him Zacharias, after his father.
In such occasions, the circumcising priest would say: “Blessed be the Lord our God, who hath sanctified us by His precepts, and hath given us the law of circumcision.”
The father was then to respond: “Who hath sanctified us by His precepts, and hath commanded us to enter the child into the covenant of Abraham our father.”
In Genesis 17:10, where God instituted circumcision for Abram and his household, God also gave new names to Abram and Sarai, calling them Abraham (Genesis 17:5) and Sarah (Genesis 17:15). So it became customary to name the sons at the time of their circumcision.
The priest wanted to name the boy Zacharias in honor of his father. Perhaps the priest knew of Gabriel’s visitation in the temple nine months earlier. Certainly, he would have known that this child had been born in a miraculous manner, the mother being past childbearing age.
It was customary to name children in honor of another, whether it was the parent or someone else who had done something extraordinary for the family. Lightfoot gives us such an example:
R. Nathan [that is, Rabbi Nathan] said, “I once went to the islands of the sea, and there came to me a woman, whose first-born had died by circumcision; so also her second son. She brought the third to me. I bade her wait a little, till the blood might assuage. She waited a little, and then circumcised him, and he lived; they called him, therefore, by my name, נתן בבלי Nathan of Babylon.” [Commentary, Vol. III, p. 28, 29]
When the circumcising priest named the son after his father instead of John, Zacharias himself was unable to object, because he had been mute since his visitation with Gabriel. In Luke 1:20 Gabriel said to him, “you shall be silent and unable to speak.” So it was Elizabeth who objected to the priest, insisting that his name would be John.
60 And his mother answered and said, “No indeed; but he shall be called John.” 61 And they said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by that name.” 62 And they made signs to his father, as to what he wanted him called. 63 And he asked for a tablet, and wrote as follows, “His name is John.” And they were all astonished.
Here we see that Zacharias was not only mute but also deaf. This is apparently what Gabriel meant when he said “you shall be SILENT.” Not only was his mouth silent, but his ears also. For nine months he walked in a realm of complete silence. That is how Lightfoot took this statement, for he says of Zacharias, “he lay under that divine stroke at present, as to be both deaf and dumb” (p. 29).
Because this condition was prophesied by Gabriel in the temple, there was no doubt a greater truth to be discerned from this than mere doubt on Zacharias’ part. We learn later that John’s ministry was to prepare the way for Christ, and that his message was one of repentance and baptism. It appears, then, that Zacharias himself was called to be a prophetic type of his generation that did not yet have ears to hear the message of repentance. Moses mentioned this condition in Deuteronomy 29:4, saying,
4 Yet to this day the Lord has not given you a heart to know, nor eyes to see, nor ears to hear.
John’s calling as “Elijah” was designed to reverse this condition, turning the hearts of the fathers to the children (Luke 1:17). In this case, Zacharias was the father who represented the deaf generation turning back to the children (John). As soon as Zacharias was obedient to the instruction of Gabriel, naming his son John, the deafness condition was reversed, and he was able to speak.
64 And at once his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he began to speak in praise of God.
This prophesies of the fact that when the Elijah ministry is recognized and accepted, and when the hearts of the fathers turn to the children (John), the people’s ears will be healed, their tongues will be loosed, and they will speak the praises of God. To some extent this occurred through Pentecost, but there is a greater fulfillment yet to come.
John’s “Elijah” calling was incomplete, for he was killed by Herod, foreshadowing the death of Christ as well. But in our time we are seeing the rise of a new forerunner for the second coming of Christ. This is the “Elisha” ministry, having the double portion to complete the work through a body of overcomers. Hence, when this ministry is released with the double portion into the world, the deaf will hear and the dumb will speak the praises of God in a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
The famine of hearing the word will end.
This is part 1 of a mini-series titled "The Birth of John." To view all parts, click the link below.
This is part 5 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Luke." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones