THE ADVENT OF THE MESSIAH
PART IV
THE VISITATION

See how new and how wonderful this mystery is.  He has not yet left the womb but he speaks by his actions [...]; he has not yet been born and he is keen to act as Precursor.  The Lord is present, so he cannot contain himself or wait for nature to run its course; he wants to break out of the prison of his mother's womb and he makes sure he witnesses to the fact that the Savior is about to come."
St. John Chrysostom (d. 407AD), Sermon on the Visitation

Click here for a picture of the mosaic of the Visitation on the fašade of the Church of the Visitation:

The Church of the Visitation was built on the site identified by early Christians as the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth.  The present Church of the Visitation was built in 1935 on the remains of former churches, the first of which was built in the 4th century AD.

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Luke 1:39-45: The Visitation
39 During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.  41 When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, 42 cried out in a loud voice and said, "Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  43 And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  44 For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.  45 Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled."

Scripture indicates that Mary left the Galilee almost immediately after the angel's announcement and journeyed south to the home of her kinswoman, Elizabeth.  According to tradition, Elizabeth and Zechariah lived in a village not far from Jerusalem.  The Romans provided political stability and the local Jewish courts and the great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, with Roman approval, administered civil and religious justice, but traveling from the Galilee through Samaria to Judea could be dangerous.  Roving bands of armed men regularly robbed and murdered lone travelers and attacked small caravans.  Mary probably traveled in a caravan with village friends or relations who were making the trek south to Jerusalem.  The journey either required traveling the shorter but more dangerous route through Samaria or taking the longer but safer journey along the east bank of the Jordan River.  Walking or traveling by donkey, it probably took at least a week, and the group would be required to stop on Friday about noon to prepare for the Sabbath.  The Sabbath was a day of rest (sundown Friday to sundown Saturday), and religious Jews did not travel or do any work on the Sabbath.

Question: How many months pregnant was Elizabeth?  Did her neighbors know about her blessing?  How long after the angel's announcement did Mary make the journey to visit Elizabeth? See Luke 1:13, 24-26 and 37.
Answer: Elizabeth had been in seclusion for five months (Luke 1:24), but it was now the sixth month of her pregnancy (as the ancients counted) and she had publically acknowledged that she was with child.  This was still the same month that the angel Gabriel announced God's plan for the birth of the Savior and when Elizabeth's pregnancy was revealed to Mary.

According to Christian tradition, Elizabeth lived in the town of Ein Karem located about four miles (6.5 km) from Jerusalem.  Mary's haste may have been motivated by her need to share her secret with someone who would understand.  Mary had many reasons to be fearful as a pregnant, unmarried, but betrothed Jewish woman.

Question: What is one reason that Mary might have been fearful?  What were the ordinances of the Mosaic Law concerning women that became pregnant by a man other than their betrothed?  See Numbers 22:23-24.
Answer: The penalty for a betrothed woman or a married woman becoming pregnant by a man other than their betrothed or their husband was death by stoning.

40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.  41 When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant leaped in her womb and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, 42 cried out in a loud voice...
Question: What prophecy of the angel Gabriel was fulfilled at this moment?  See Luke 1:15.
Answer: His prophecy to Zechariah that the child would be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother's womb.

The Fathers of the Church interpreted King David leaping in joy as he danced before the Ark of the Covenant when it entered Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:13-14) as a foreshadow of John the Baptist leaping in his mother's womb in the presence of God in the womb of Mary (Luke 1:41).  Zechariah's home was in the village of Ein Karem, in the Judean hills near Jerusalem.  At the time of Mary's visit, this region was called the Roman Province of Judea/ Judaea (joo-day-uh).(1)
Question: What are the comparisons that can be made to link these two events?  Compare 2 Samuel 6:10-15 with Luke 1:39-41, 56.
Answer:

2 Samuel 6:11-15 Luke 1:39-41, 56
Jerusalem, where David brought the Ark, is located in the hill country of Judah. Mary traveled to the hill country of Judah where Elizabeth lived.
David leaped for joy in front of the Ark of the Covenant, because Yahweh's presence was with the Ark that was the dwelling place of God. John the Baptist, in his mother's womb, leaped for joy in the presence God in the womb of Mary.  Mary's womb was the dwelling place of God: the new Ark of the Covenant.
The Ark stayed in the house of Obed-Edom of Gath in the hill country of Judah for three months. Mary stayed with Elizabeth in the hill country of Judea for three months.
M. Hunt copyright © 2008

Question: What other theological implication can be made concerning John's leap of joy in the presence of the Jesus within Mary's womb as evidence of John being filled with the Holy Spirit?  See CCC# 404-05.
Answer: St. John was conceived in sin and therefore inherited original sin like all other men and women (CCC# 404-05).  However, through the grace of God, he was born sinless.  He was sanctified in his mother's womb by the Holy Spirit when he was in the presence of Jesus the Savior within Mary's womb.

John's leap of joy was a result of being infused with the grace of God, which thereby fulfilled Gabriel's prophecy to Zechariah: ...even from his mother's womb he will be filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:15).  The Catechism notes that John was filled with the Holy Spirit from Elizabeth's womb by Christ Himself, foreshadowing what Christ would do for all who acknowledged faith in Him.  Mary's visit to Elizabeth was literally a visit from God to His covenant people (CCC# 717-18; 720).

41b ... and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, 42 cried out in a loud voice and said, "Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  43 And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  44 For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.  45 Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled."
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth's statement that Mary is "most blessed" of all women gave Mary the status of the most important woman in salvation history.

Question: Elizabeth's statement concerning Mary's place is history is followed by a title of respect that Elizabeth applied to Mary.  Inspired by the Holy Spirit, what title did Elizabeth call Mary in Luke 1:43?  What did Elizabeth mean when she addressed Mary this way?  See CCC 495.
Answer: She called Mary "the mother of my Lord," by which she meant the Mother of God.

"Lord," (Adonai in Hebrew; Kyrios in Greek), was a title the covenant people used to refer to God (CCC# 495).  Out of reverence for the divine Name, the Jews only used God's covenant name, YHWH (with vowels probably rendered: "Yahweh") in the Temple during liturgical worship.  Elizabeth's acknowledgement of Mary as the Mother of God was affirmed by the Church at the Council of Ephesus in 431AD.  For more information see the chart "Great Councils of the Church" and the document "The Many Names of God."

At that moment, the Holy Spirit not only sanctified St. John in Elizabeth's womb, but He gave Elizabeth knowledge of God's plan for Mary and her son.  In response, with a heart filled with joy, Mary raised her voice in a canticle of praise to God.  Luke 1:46-55 contains some of the most beautiful poetry in Sacred Scripture and is known to us as Mary's Magnificat.  The name of the poem comes from the first line rendered in Latin: Magnificat anima mea Dominus: "My soul does magnify the Lord."(2)

Luke 1:46-56 ~ The Canticle of Mary (Magnificat)
46 And Mary said: "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; 47 my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.  48 For he has looked upon his handmaid's lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.  49 The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.  50 His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him.  51 He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.  52 He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly.  53 The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty.  54 He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy, 55 according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever." 56 Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

Question: In this song of joy and faith Mary, referred to several passages from Old Testament Scripture.  Can you find some of the Old Testament references in Mary's hymn of thanksgiving?
Answer: In the chart there just are a few of the Old Testament quotations and references.  The symbol LXX indicated the Greek Septuagint translation, where the wording is closer to the Luke passage.

Old Testament Reference
(LXX is Septuagint translation)
The Magnificat: Luke 1:46-55
O.T. quotations and references are in bold
1 Sam 2:1; Is 61:10; Hab 3:18;
Ps 25:2 (LXX); 145:6; 28:7
Luke 1:46-47 ~ My soul proclaims [rejoiceth] the greatness of the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
1 Sam 1:11 Luke 1:48 ~ because he has looked upon his handmaid's lowliness [the humiliation of his servant].
Gen 30:13;
Ps 103:1; 105:3; 111:9; 145:21
Luke 1:49 ~ behold, from now onwards all ages will call me blessed.  The Mighty One [Almighty] has done great things for me and holy is his name.
Ex 20:6;
Ps 103:17
Luke 1:50 ~ His mercy is from age after age to those who fear him.
Ex 6:6;
Dt 9:29;
Ps 77:15; 89:11, 14
Luke 1:51 ~ He has used the power of his arm;
Ps 5:5-6; 113:7-8; Job 5:11; 12:19; 1 Sam 2:4
Ps 107:40-41; 113:7-8; 1 Sam 2:8; Is 40:29
Luke 1:51-52 ~ he has routed the arrogant of heart.  He has pulled down princes from their thrones and raised high the lowly.
Ps 107:9; 1 Sam 2:5 Luke 1:53 ~ He has filled the starving with good things, sent the rich away empty.
Ps 98:3; Is 41:8-9 Luke 1:54 ~ He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy,
Gen 12:3; 13:15; 22:16-18; 26:3-4; 28:13-14; Lev 26:42; Dt 1:8; 6:10; 9:5, 25, 27;
Sir 44:19/20-23/26; Mi 7:20; Ps 105:8-10; etc.
Luke 1:55:55 according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."

The poem can be divided into three parts:

  1. Mary gives thanks to God for making her the mother of the promised Savior (Luke 1:46-50).
  2. Mary speaks of God's love for the poor and humble and His acts of judgment against those who oppress them (Luke 1:51-53)
  3. Mary speaks of God's faithfulness to His covenant people and to His promises to the Abraham and the patriarchs (Luke 1:54-55).

In this beautiful poem, we not only have a sense of Mary's trust in God to keep His promises, but we are also made aware of her humility and meekness in her relationship with God.  These aspects of Mary's canticle prompted St. Bede to write: "It was fitting then, that just as death entered the world through the pride of our first parents, the entry of Life should be manifested by the humility of Mary" (The Gospel of Luke).

In verse 48 Mary thanks God For he has looked upon his handmaid's lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.  The Greek word tapeinosis (Strong's Concordance # 5014), translated "lowliness" in verse 48, is from the root tapeinoo, meaning "to humiliate, debase, bring low" (Strong's Concordance #5013).  The word tapeinosis can be translated as "lowness" in rank or in feeling.  Some Bible translations render this verse as "low estate," or "humble station," or "humiliation."

Question: Mary's "humble estate" was her social status in 1st century society, but if Mary was referring to her personal "humiliation," what was it that Mary could have been speaking of in verse 48?  Note: When Hannah spoke of her "humiliation" in 1 Samuel 1:11, in the Greek Septuagint translation, it is the same Greek word that is found in Luke 1:48.
Answer: Probably the humiliation she suffered as a girl who was pregnant and as yet unmarried.  Family and neighbors might believe that she was unfaithful to Joseph.  Hannah's humiliation, on the other hand, was from her inability to bear a child.  It is, however, the same word and possibly the same feeling but for different reasons.

When Joseph realized she was with child, the discovery may have been revealed to him by a relation, a neighbor, or by Mary herself.  From the text in Matthew 1:18-19, it seems likely that Joseph believed Mary was pregnant by another man, which in light of this passage in the Magnificat may also be the reason for Mary's humiliation.  There is another interpretation of Joseph's reaction, which will be discussed in the next lesson.

Have you ever felt humiliated when you have taken a stand for the beliefs and practices of your Christian faith in opposition to the "wisdom" of the world?  Can you think of a Bible passage that might strengthen you on such an occasion?  Such a test of faith is often a "covenant ordeal" and faithfulness and steadfast obedience may not be rewarded in this life, but it will be rewarded in the next.  Some passages you might consider are 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; 3:10-15; Revelation 2:3, 10-11; 3:5, 11-13, 21-22.

In Mary's poem of praise to God, did you notice the multiple references to the Old Testament passages that concern the story of Hannah, the mother of the Prophet Samuel (see 1 Samuel chapters 1-2)?  Several significant references are found in Hannah's song of joy, celebrating God's mercy in granting her petition in the birth of her son.  Please read that passage in 1 Samuel 2:1-10.  "LORD" in all capital letters replaces the divine Name, YHWH, in the translation.  It is the divine Name YHWH that is found in the Hebrew text.  Notice that Hannah invokes the divine Name eight times in her hymn.  Eight is the number that is symbolic of salvation.

1 Samuel 2:1-10 ~ Hannah's Hymn of Praise
1b "My heart exults in the LORD, my horn is exalted in my God.  I have swallowed up my enemies; I rejoice in my victory.  2 There is no Holy One like the LORD; there is no Rock like our God.  3 Speak boastfully no longer, nor let arrogance issue from your mouths.  For an all-knowing God is the LORD, a God who judges deeds.  4 The bows of the mighty are broken, while the tottering gird on strength.  5 The well-fed hire themselves out for bread, while the hungry batten on spoil.  The barren wife bears seven sons, while the mother of many languishes.  6 The LORD puts to death and gives life; he casts down to the nether world; he raises up again.  7 The LORD makes poor and makes rich, he humbles, he also exalts.  8 He raises the needy from the dust; from the ash heap he lifts up the poor, to seat them with nobles and make a glorious throne their heritage.  He gives to the vower his vow, and blesses the sleep of the just.  For the pillars of the earth are the LORD'S, and he has set the world upon them.  9 He will guard the footsteps of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall perish in the darkness.  For not by strength does man prevail; 10 the LORD'S foes shall be shattered.  The Most High in heaven thunders; the LORD judges the ends of the earth.  Now may he give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed!"

Question: Hannah's hymn of praise has been called the "prototype" of the Magnificat. What comparisons can you make between Mary's song of praise and Hannah's?
Answer:

  1. Both women speak of exulting in the Lord as they rejoice in their deliverance (1 Samuel 2:1; Luke 1:47). 
  2. They both mention that the lowly have been raised up and the mighty brought low (1 Samuel 2:4, 8-9; Luke 1:48, 51).  
  3. Hannah speaks of God raising up his "anointed" and Mary praises God for the "Anointed One" she carries in her womb (1 Samuel 2:10; Luke 1:47-55). 
  4. The main theme of both poems is that God's gracious mercy is extended to the meek and lowly who humbly submit themselves to the will of God in their lives.

Question: Filled with the Holy Spirit, Mary spoke prophetically in Luke 1:48-49.  What was the prophecy?
Answer: That all generations will call her blessed.

It is sad that not all professing Christians extend Mary this honor.  The Virgin Mary is the mother of Jesus, the eternal Davidic king, and in that role she assumes the same honored position of all the past Queen Mothers of Judah.(3) In addition, Mary's fiat led to the salvation of all Christians, for which we should love and honor her throughout every Christian generation.  She is also our inheritance from the Cross, when Jesus gave His mother to be the mother of the "beloved disciple" (John 19:25-27).  Each man and woman who loves the Savior becomes His "beloved disciple" and therefore a child of His beloved mother (Revelation 12:17).

THE BIRTH OF THE LAST OLD TESTAMENT PROPHET: YOHANAN BEN ZECHARIAH (John the Baptist)

In truth I tell you, of all the children born to women, there has never been anyone greater than John the Baptist....
Jesus speaking of St. John the Baptist in Matthew 11:11

Click here for a picture of the birth place of John: This altar marks the traditional site of St. John's birth.

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Luke 1:57-66 ~ The Birth of John
57 When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child she gave birth to a son.  58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her.  59 When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, 60 but his mother said in reply, "No.  He will be called John."  61 But they answered her, "There is no one among your relatives who has this name."  62 So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called.  63 He asked for a tablet and wrote, "John is his name," and all were amazed.  64 Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God.  65 Then fear came upon all their neighbors, and all these matters were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea.  66 All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, "What, then, will this child be?"  For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.

Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months as the ancients counted but two months as we count without the concept of zero as a place value (Luke 1:56).  This is why Scripture records that Jesus was in the tomb three days from Friday to Sunday instead of two days as we would count the days.  Mary stayed until the eighth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy and before the end of the first trimester of her pregnancy.

57 When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child she gave birth to a son.  58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her.  59 When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child ...
When their son was born, Zechariah and Elizabeth, in faithful obedience to the commands of God's holy covenant with His people, had the child circumcised on the 8th day of his life. This ceremony is called a brit, which is the Hebrew word for "covenant."
Question: Why was circumcision important to the old covenant people?  What was the other part of the ceremony?  See Genesis 17:2, 9-27; Exodus 12:43-48; Leviticus 12:3; Deuteronomy 10:6; 30:6; and Jeremiah 4:4.
Answer: Old Covenant law required that every male born of a Jewish woman must be circumcised on the eighth day of his birth.  In addition to the circumcision ceremony, there were prayers as well as the official naming of the child. It was through this Old Covenant sacrament that a male child became a member of the covenant family.

Circumcision was a ritual established by God under the old covenants (Abrahamic and Sinai) as a sign (in Hebrew ot brit = "sign of the covenant") to mark out the chosen people.  God told Abraham: Circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and that shall be the sign of the covenant between you and me (Genesis 17:11).  This ceremony marked the entrance of the child into the family of the covenant people of God.  The cutting away of the foreskin of the male child signified that this child belonged to Yahweh.  The old life under the curse of Adam was cut away (like the boy's foreskin) to reveal a male child who would father sons and daughters for the covenant family.  It was an external sign that indicated what was to be the internal condition.  The circumcised flesh symbolized God's desire for circumcised hearts that were entirely faithful to Yahweh and to a life of righteousness (Deuteronomy 10:6; Jeremiah 4:4). 

Question: How does a Christian become a member of the New Covenant family of Christ Jesus?  See CCC# 903; 978; 1113; 1272.
Answer: Through the Sacrament of Baptism.

As it was the practice in the Old Covenant for infants to enter the covenant, the Baptism of infants into the New Covenant people of God has been a practice since the earliest years of the Church (CCC# 1231-52; 1282).

59b they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, 60 but his mother said in reply, "No.  He will be called John."  61 But they answered her, "There is no one among your relatives who has this name."  62 So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called.  63 He asked for a tablet and wrote, "John is his name," and all were amazed.
The rite of circumcision was performed either at home or at the Synagogue, and the child was named by his legal father.  Legal did not necessarily mean biological.  When a man held up a child and named him, he was legally acknowledging the child has his heir.  It was the custom for the parents to choose a name for the child that was also the name of a grandparent, or another family member.
Question: Resisting pressure from friends and family, what did Zechariah name the child?  What miracle occurred at John son of Zechariah's circumcision and naming ceremony?  See Luke 1:13, 59-64.
Answer: Zechariah's speech, absent since his encounter with the angel, returned when he wrote on a tablet that the child was to be named "John."  It was the name the angel commanded him to name his son.

Fulfilling the prophecy of the angel, Zechariah named the child in Hebrew Yehohanan/ also rendered Yohanan/ or Yehanan (in Aramaic), which means "Yahweh's mercy/ Yahweh is mercy."  St. Ambrose observed that at this moment: "With good reason was his tongue loosed, because faith united what had been tied by disbelief" (Expositio Evangelii sec. Lucam, in loc., quoted in The Navarre Bible: St. Luke, page 47)
Question: Zechariah's lack of faith in believing the angel Gabriel can be compared to the lack of faith in what New Testament Apostle?  Both the reluctant Apostle and the priest Zechariah needed visible proof to believe.
Answer: Zechariah had been reluctant to believe the angel's news that his wife, barren in her old age, would be able bear a son.  It is an event that can be compared to St. Thomas the Apostle's reluctance to believe in the miracle of the Resurrection of Christ (John 20:24-28).  God presented visible proof of the miracle to each of these men, but as Jesus would later tell Thomas: Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed (John 20:29).

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Zechariah received a special grace of prophecy after he obediently wrote down the name for the child that Gabriel had given to him.

Luke 1:67-79 ~ Zechariah's Canticle of Praise
67 Then Zechariah his father, filled with the holy Spirit, prophesied, saying: 68 "Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has visited and brought redemption to his people.  69 He has raised up a horn for our salvation within the house of David his servant, 70 even as he promised through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old: 71 salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us, 72 to show mercy to our fathers and to be mindful [literally = to remember] of his holy covenant 73 and of the oath he swore to Abraham our father, and to grant us that, 74 rescued from the hand of enemies, without fear we might worship him 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.  76 And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, 78 because of the tender mercy of our God by which the daybreak from on high [or "star that heralds the day"] will visit us 79 to shine [give light to] on those who sit in darkness and death's shadow, to guide our feet into the path of peace." [..] = literal translation IBGE, vol. IV, page 156.

Known as the Benedictus (named from first word of the poem in Latin), Zechariah's prayer in Luke 1:67-79 can be divided into two parts:

  1. The canticle begins with praise to God for keeping His promise to the Patriarch Abraham by sending the Messiah, who was promised by the prophets of Israel, and who was to come from "the house of David" to redeem His people (verses 68-75).
  2. In the second part, Zechariah reveals the role his son in destined to play in God's plan of salvation.  His son is to be God's holy prophet and the precursor to the promised Messiah (verses 76-79).

Question: What question asked by Zechariah's friends and relatives was answered in his song of praise?  See Luke 1:66.
Answer: Zechariah's song of praise in effect answers the question posed his friends and relatives who spread the news of the miracle concerning Zechariah (Luke 1:65) when they asked:  What will this child turn out to be? (Luke 1:66).   Zechariah answered the question by giving thanks to God for remembering His promise to send the Redeemer-Messiah as He promised the Patriarchs and prophets of Israel.

Question: Filled with the Holy Spirit, what did Zechariah prophesy concerning his son's mission in verses 76-79?
Answer: Zechariah prophesized that his son was a prophet of God who would have the mission of serving as God's herald by announcing the coming of the Messiah.  He would also proclaim God's mercy in fulfillment of the prophecy that in the Age of the Messiah sins would be forgiven and the people would receive a special knowledge of salvation.

Like Mary's canticle of praise, Zechariah's canticle also has numerous Old Testament Scripture references and recalls the great events in salvation history like the Abrahamic Covenant, the Exodus liberation and Sinai Covenant, the Davidic Covenant, and the prophecies concerning the advent of the Messiah.  The chart contains some of those references:

Some Old Testament References Found in Zechariah's Canticle The Benedictus
[..] = literal translation. Bold = reference/quotation*
Ps 41:14; 72:18; 106:48
Ex 3:6-10; Ps 111:9
68 Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has visited and brought redemption to his people
Ps 18:2/3
1 Sam 2:10; 2 Sam 22:3
2 Sam 7:26; 1 Chr 17:24; Ps 89:21; Ez 34:23-24
69 He has raised up a horn for our salvation within the house of David his servant
Dt 18:15-19; Is 7:14; 9:5-6; 11:1-5; Ez 34:10-16 70 even as he promised through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old
Ps 18:18; 2 Sam 22:18
Ps 106:10
71 salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us,
Gen 17:1-2; 22:15-18; Ex 19:5-6; Lev 26:42; Dt 7:12; 2 Sam 7:8, 16; Ps 105:8 72 to show mercy to our fathers and to be mindful [literally = to remember] of his holy covenant
Gen 22:16-18; Dt 7:12; Mic 7:20 73 and of the oath he swore to Abraham our father
Lev 26:3, 9-13; Dt 28:1-2, 7; Ps 31:15-16; 144:7 and to grant us that, 74 rescued from the hand of enemies
Lev 11:44-45; Dt 6:5, 13; 11:13; Jos 22:5; 24:14, 24; 1 Sam 12:14, 24 without fear we might worship him 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days
Is 40:3-5; Mal 3:1-3, 23/4 76 And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways
Is 53:12; Jer 31:34; Ez 36:25-27; Zec 3:9-10 77 to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins
Num 24:17; Mal 3:20 78 because of the tender mercy of our God by which the daybreak from on high [or "star that heralds the day"] will visit us
Gen 1:3; Is 9:1; 42:7; 8:12; 60:1-6;
Ws 7:26; Is 9:1; Ps 107:10
Lev 26:3, 6, 9; Ps 16:11; 119:105
79 to shine [give light to] on those who sit in darkness and death's shadow, to guide our feet into the path of peace."
M. Hunt © 2008

In Luke 1:73 Zechariah speaks of the "oath he swore to our father Abraham."  It is similar to the reference to the promises made to Abraham in Mary's Magnificat in Luke 1:55.  Please note that covenants are ratified by oath swearing and blood sacrifice and that Ishmael had left the family in Genesis 21:8-21.  Isaac was Abraham's only remaining son as well as the son through which the "promised seed" would be preserved and passed down to future generations in order for the Redeemer-Messiah to be "born from the seed of the woman" (Gen 3:15).

Question: After what event did God swear a covenant oath to Abraham?  What are the significant passages? See Genesis 22:1-18 repeat of covenant promises first made in Genesis 12:1-3.
Answer: Abraham faced a covenant ordeal in which God told him to offer his son Isaac, his only "beloved son", in sacrifice to Yahweh.  In faithful obedience to God's command, Abraham took Isaac on a three day journey to Mt. Moriah and prepared to sacrifice the "promised son" God had given to him and to his wife Sarah in their old age (Genesis 18:9-14), in the same way God given a "promised son" to the elderly Zechariah and Elizabeth.  Both Isaac and John were "miracle" babies.  Because of Abraham's faithful obedience, God swore by oath, a covenant with Abraham that promised a kingdom, numerous descendants, and a worldwide blessing (Gen 22:16-18).

The events in the akeidah, the Hebrew term for the "binding of Isaac", foreshadow the Passion of the Christ.  When Isaac noticed that there was no lamb of sacrifice, his father told him: My son, God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering (Genesis 22:8 NJB).  Isaac willingly submitted to his father and carried the wood up to the site of the sacrifice. As Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son in obedience to God's command, God stayed the hand of Abraham and provided a male lamb as a substitute sacrifice in the place of Abraham's son.  Because of these events, Abraham named the place Yahweh yireh [jireh], "Yahweh provides" (or "will provide;" Genesis 22:8):  Abraham called this place 'Yahweh provides', and hence the saying today: on the mountain Yahweh provides (Genesis 22:14 NJB).  Because of his obedience in not withholding his beloved son, God swore an oath to Abraham that day: I swear by my own self, Yahweh declares, that because you have done this, because you have not refused me your own beloved son, I will shower blessings on you and make your descendants as numerous as the start of heaven and the grains of sand on the seashore.  Your descendants will gain possession of the gates of their enemies.  All nations on earth will bless themselves by your descendants, because you have obeyed my command' (Gen 22:15-18 NJB).

Question: Why was Abraham willing to submit himself to this horrific test?  See Hebrews 11:17-19.
Answer: Abraham believed that God would raise his son up from death in order to keep His covenant promise that Isaac would give Abraham many descendants.

From that time forward, the village of Salem on Mt. Moriah was called Yireh-salem, Jerusalem, which means, "will provide peace."  It would become the site of Yahweh's holy Temple (2 Chronicles 3:1), and the place where the "Prince of Peace," God's only beloved Son and a descendant of Abraham (Matthew 1:1) would be offered in sacrifice.

Question: What is the significance of Abraham, the righteous father, offering up his only beloved son in sacrifice on Mt. Moriah coupled with the significance of God's covenant oath?  How does the story of the sacrifice of Isaac and God's covenant oath sworn to Abraham prefigure the sacrifice of the Christ?  Is Isaac a Biblical "type" of Jesus Christ?  See Genesis 22:2, 6; 2 Chronicles 3:1; John 19:17-18.
Answer: Isaac is a "type" of Christ.  Like Abraham, God, the righteous Father, offered up His beloved Son in sacrifice. Isaac even carried the wood for his sacrifice to the site of the sacrificial altar (Genesis 22:7-8) just as Jesus carried the wooden crossbeam to the altar of the Cross (John 19:17).  Jesus was crucified on an elevation just outside Jerusalem that was part of Mt. Moriah while Isaac was offered in sacrifice on Mt. Moriah (Genesis 22:2; 2 Chronicles 3:1).

However, in Jesus' case, He was the substitute sacrifice , He was the Lamb of God that Abraham had prophesied, "Yahweh yireh" – "God will provide": My son, God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering [sacrifice] (Genesis 22:8 NJB).  None of the covenant promises made to Abraham were fulfilled in his lifetime, but all of them were perfectly fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah.

Question: Make a list of the comparisons between the offering of Isaac and the Passion and Resurrection of the Christ.
Answer: Comparisons between the akeidah, the offering up of Isaac in sacrifice in Genesis 22:1-18 and the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ:

Each of the covenant promises God swore by an oath to fulfill for Abraham in Genesis 22:15-18 are tied to the promises God first made to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 when God called him to leave the city of Ur near the Persian Gulf and go to the Promised Land of Canaan.  God promised that he would give Abram (not yet Abraham) a kingdom, numerous descendants, and that he would be a world-wide blessing.  St. Paul wrote: But it is not that the word of God has failed.  For not all who are of Israel are Israel, nor are they all children of Abraham because they are his descendants; but "It is through Isaac that descendants shall bear your name."  This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as descendants (Romans 9:6-8 quoting Genesis 21:12; also see Galatians 3:29).

Question: How was the covenant oath that God swore to Abraham in Genesis 22:15-18, which Zechariah referred to in Luke 1:73, fulfilled in the Kingdom of Jesus the Messiah?  Who are Abraham's true heirs?  See what St. Paul wrote to the Roman Christians in Romans 4:13-17 and to the Galatians in 3:25-29.
Answer: The heirs of the promises made to Abraham are the children of the New Covenant: And simply by being Christ's, you are that progeny of Abraham, the heirs named in the promise (Galatians 3:29).

Covenant Promise Covenant fulfillment
Genesis 22:17a ~ I will shower blessings on you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven and the grains of sand on the seashore. All the New Covenant people of God, of all generations, from the time of Christ and those before the time of Christ who received the Gospel of salvation when Jesus descended to the dead, are children of these blessings (1 Peter 3:19-20; 4:6; the Apostles Creed).
Genesis 22:17b ~ Your descendants will gain possession of the gates of their enemies [have power and authority over their enemies] The Kingdom of Jesus Christ has dominion over all earthly nations (Mt 28:19-20).  All who believe in Jesus are the progeny of Abraham (Romans 4:13-17; 9:6-8; Galatians 3:28-29).
Genesis 22:18 ~ All nations on earth will bless themselves by your descendants, because you have obeyed my command. With the Advent of the Messiah and His victory over sin and death, all nations have been blessed through Jesus, the descendant of father Abraham (Matthew 1:1; Acts 10:34-43; Romans 2:6-10).

Question: Zechariah's prophecy of the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of sins (Luke 1:77) recalled what famous prophecy by the prophet Jeremiah?  Hint: It is an Old Testament prophecy that speaks of a New Covenant in the Messianic Age.
Answer: Jeremiah's prophecy of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34: Look, the days are coming, Yahweh declares, when I shall make a new covenant with the House of Israel....  [..].  Then I shall be their God and they will be my people.  There will be no further need for everyone to teach neighbor or brother, saying, "Learn to know Yahweh!"  No, they will all know me, from the least to the greatest, Yahweh declares, since I shall forgive their guilt and never more call their sin to mind.b

Question: In Luke 1:78 Zechariah referred to the daybreak from on high will visit us or the star that heralds the day that has come from on high to visit us... Who was Zechariah referring to and what famous Old Testament prophecies are being referenced in this statement?  See Genesis 49:9-12 and Numbers 24:15-19.
Answer: The Jews believe these Old Testament prophecies refer to King David, while Christians believe these prophecies were fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth.

The Jews have always seen the prophecy of Numbers 24:15-19, coupled with the prophecy of the dying Jacob/Israel in Genesis 49:10, as the promise of the messiah, David.  Remember "messiah" in Hebrew means "anointed one," and prophets, priests, and kings are all anointed as God's representatives to the people.  But Christians have always seen these prophecies as imperfectly fulfilled in David and perfectly fulfilled in his descendant, the Redeemer-Messiah promised by the Prophets, Jesus of Nazareth.  It was probably the convergence of these prophecies with the prophecy concerning the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem in Micah 5:1(2) that influenced Herod the Great to murder hundreds of children in the village of Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16-18).  In view of the evidence, it seems clear that Zechariah, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is referring to the Advent of the Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary, the one for whom his son will prepare the way and the one who is to be a light to the world (Luke 1:79; John 1:3-5; 8:12).  It was John the Baptist's mission to bear witness to "the Light" of Jesus Christ (John 1:6-8)

It has been said that the New Testament books were originally circulated to the Church throughout the Levant, Italy and Asia Minor in the Greek language, but there is evidence in the writings of Church Fathers, like Origen and Jerome, that at least Matthew's Gospel was originally written in Hebrew (or Aramaic) before it was translated into Greek.(4)  When St. Jerome was working on his Latin Vulgate translation in the 4th century, he mentioned having access to copies of Matthew's Gospel written "in the language of the Hebrews." In the 1947 a collection of scrolls were discovered in caves near the Dead Sea.  This library of ancient texts contained all the books of the Old Testament with the exception of the Book of Esther.  There were also Bible commentaries and secular documents.  The collection of documents dated between 250 BC to 68 AD.

Scholars studying the scrolls written in Hebrew were able to expand their understanding of the Hebrew language.   Two of these scholars made an interesting discovery when they attempted to translate the Greek New Testament Gospels back into Hebrew.  They expected the Gospel of St. Matthew to be easily translated back into to Hebrew, since there was evidence that it had originally been written in Hebrew, but they discovered to their amazement that the other Gospels also translated very easily back into a Hebrew text.  In addition, they discovered "word-plays" in Hebrew that were missing in the Greek translations.  Examples are found in each of the Gospels but one of the most interesting is the Hebrew word-play in Luke chapter 1:72-73 from the "Song of Zechariah":   ...to show mercy to our fathers, and to be mindful [remember]of his holy covenant, and to the oath he swore to Abraham, our father.  In Luke 1:72-73 the Hebrew root words for each name: Zechariah, Elizabeth, and John, are present in these verses:

Verses from
Luke chapter 1
Hebrew root word Hebrew Name and meaning and English translation
Verse 72: to show mercy to our fathers Mercy = hanan Yehohanan = "Yahweh is mercy" = John
Verse 72: and to remember his holy covenant Remember = zakar/zachar Zachariah = "Yahweh remembers" = Zechariah
Verse 73: and the oath he swore Oath = shaba Elishaba = "God makes oath" or "God's oath" = Elizabeth

(See Stephen Ferris, The Hymns of Luke's Infancy Narratives & Jean Carmignac, The Birth of the Synoptics).

Perhaps this discovery accounts for what scholars have criticized as poor Greek grammar in the Gospels.  What is "bad" Greek may simply be good theology.  For example, in his Gospel, St. John does not use the Greek word for "Spirit" in the correct Greek neuter form.  Instead he identifies "Spirit" with the masculine pronoun "he".  This perhaps reflects the inspired writer's difficulty in translating into a language that was foreign to what the Holy Spirit intended him to write in Hebrew since the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity is not an "it" but a "He."  The New Testament was circulated through the Roman world in Greek because that was the international language.

St. Luke provided very detailed information for the year when John and Jesus were both 30 years old at the beginning of their ministries (Luke 3:1-2, 23).  He began with the statement that it was In the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar's reign, and continued by mentioning several other men who were in positions of power at the time.
Question: Is there enough information in Sacred Scripture to historically determine the year John the Baptist was born and the year of Jesus' birth five months later (or six as the ancients counted)?
In determining the year John and Jesus were 30 years old, and from that date the year they were born, consider that:

Answer: Yes.  St. Luke testified that John began his ministry in the fifteenth year of Tiberius' reign when Pontius Pilate as the governor of Judea and that Jesus began His ministry after being baptized by John, when he was about 30 years old.  Since Tiberius succeeded Augustus on the 19th of August 14 AD, the 15th year of Tiberius' reign was from August 19th, 28 AD to August 18th, 29 AD.  In the year 28 AD, Pilate had been governor for about two years.  According to these calculations, the birth of both John and Jesus took place in the year 3/2 BC, during the reign of Augustus Caesar (Luke 3:1; Matthew 2:1).

This calculation agrees with the date most scholars have determined was the year of Jesus' death which was the year 30 AD, giving Jesus a three year ministry (as the ancients would have counted it) from 28 to 30 AD.  The length of a three year ministry agrees with St. John's Gospel which records that Jesus' ministry spanned three Passover festivals (John 2:13, 23; 4:25 = Passover #1; 6:4 = Passover #2; and 11:55 ff = the final Passover).

However, there are those scholars who do not agree with the date of 3/2 BC for the births of John and Jesus.  Determining the date of Herod the Great's death has caused some problems and conflicts in determining the date of Jesus' birth.  Luke's testimony that the 15th year of Tiberius was the year John and Jesus were both 30 years old gives us the date of 3/2 BC for their births, however some scholars date Herod's death to 4 BC.  Since Scripture records that Herod the Great was King of Judea when Jesus was a baby, there is an error somewhere in the calculations.  Some scholars date Herod's death as early as 4 BC, but others date his death to 1 BC, which would agree with a birth date for Jesus of 3/2 BC.  The earlier date for Herod's death is based on 1st century AD Jewish historian Josephus' testimony that Herod died just after a lunar eclipse (Antiquities of the Jews 17.6.4 [167]) but just before the Passover.  In 1630 the astronomer Johannes Kepler, in trying to identify Jesus' birth year through Josephus' information concerning Herod's death, identified the year 4 BC as the year of a partial lunar eclipse on March 12/13, with the Jewish Passover twenty-nine days later on April 11th.

Since the late 19th century, most biblical scholars who accept the 4 BC date for Herod's death assume Jesus was born in year 7 or 6 BC.  This birth date clearly does not agree with St. Luke's testimony that both Jesus and John were 30 years old on the 15th year of the reign of Tiberias.  Recently, however, modern astronomers have calculated that in year 1 BC there was full lunar eclipse viewed from Jerusalem on the night of January 9/10, and the Passover Feast of that year was celebrated just twelve and a half weeks later on April 8th.  This information has caused some biblical scholars to reassess the calculations of Jesus' birth year to the year 3/2 BC, a date that agrees with St. Luke's account and with the testimony of several early Church Fathers.

It has also been determined that scribal error compromised other accounts of first century AD Jewish historian Flavius Josephus' dates concerning Herod's family.  Copies of his history after the year 1544 indicate Herod actually died later than previously believed in the year that would correspond to our year 1 BC.  In all copies of Antiquities of the Jews, 18.106 prior to 1544, Josephus places Herod's son Philip's death in the twenty-second year of the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius, after ruling for thirty-seven years after the death of his father, Herod the Great, instead of in the twentieth year of Tiberius as recorded in many copies of the history after 1544.  The copyist evidently mistakenly failed to write 22 and instead recorded 20 years, and the mistake was repeated by other copyist.  The older copies of Josephus' history, therefore, place the death of Herod in the year 1 BC our time (see The Works of Josephus, page 483, footnote c).  If King Herod died in year 1 BC, according to our modern calendar, and if Herod believed Jesus to be just under 2 years old when he ordered the murder of the babies in all villages around Jerusalem, then a birth date in the winter of 3/2 BC for Jesus would agree with St. Luke's testimony and the calculations of early Church Fathers like St. Clement of Alexandria.

In approximately the year 200AD, St. Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD), head of the Christian catechetical school in Alexandria, Egypt, recorded that Jesus of Nazareth was born in the twenty-eighth year of the reign of the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus, calculating the beginning of Augustus' reign from the year 727 AUC (a dating system from the foundation of Rome) or, in our time, 27 BC, when the Roman Senate conferred upon him the title "Augustus."  Clement's calculation gives the date 3 BC for Jesus' birth (Christianity and the Roman Empire: Background Texts, Ralph Novak, page 282).

The story of John the Baptist's birth ends with these intriguing words: Meanwhile the child grew up and his spirit grew strong.  And he lived in the desert until the day he appeared openly to Israel (Luke 1:80)That John "lived in the desert" and no longer lived in Ein Karem may suggest that when his elderly parents died, John was raised in a community in the wilderness of Judea.  The Judean wilderness community at Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, identified themselves as the "sons of Zadok."  Zadok, a descendant of Aaron, was the High Priest during the reigns of King David and Solomon.  From the time of Zadok in the 10th century BC, all future anointed high priests came from his line until the mid 1st century BC when the last Zadok high priest was murdered.   The members of this community, who identified themselves as descendants of Zadok, adopted orphaned sons of deceased priests.  Some scholars have offered the suggestion that St. John the Baptist came out from the religious community at Qumran, near to where the Jordan River empties into the Dead Sea, to begin his ministry.(5) This is an intriguing suggestion, and the site of the ruins of the Christian Byzantine church that is believed to mark the site of St. John's baptisms on the east side of the Jordan River can be seen from the ruins of the Qumran community across the river and slightly to the south.

Click here for a picture of the Judean wilderness.
Click here for a picture of Qumran:

Endnotes:

1. The Romans conquered Judah in 63 BC.  In 40 BC the Roman senate selected Herod, an Idumean ally, as a client king of the Roman province of Judea.  Herod was the son of Antipater, an Idumean (descendants of Esau) who was the Roman appointed procurator of Judea, and his wife Cypris, a Nabatean princess.  After subduing the Jewish resistance, Herod effectively took control of Judea in 37 BC.  He consolidated his political power over the Jews by murdering the last Jewish Hasmonean ruler, Hyrcanus II, and marrying his granddaughter, Mariamme.

2. Mary's prayer of praise is included in the Roman Breviary, daily chanted at Vespers (public evening prayer), and is also solemnly recited in the private evening prayers of Christians from the Liturgy of the Hours and on other occasions.

3. The Hebrew title for the Davidic Queen Mother is Gebirah/Gebira. This Hebrew word is found fifteen times in the Old Testament: Genesis 16:4, 8, 9 (used for Sarah, wife of Abraham); 1 Kings 11:19 (used for the Egyptian Queen Mother); 15:13; 2 Kings 5:3; 10:13; 2 Chronicles 15:16; Psalm 123:2; Proverbs 30:23; Isaiah 24:2; 47:5, 7; and Jeremiah 13:18; 29:2 for various Queen Mothers of Judah.   Mary is the Gebirah of the heavenly Kingdom.  It is through her that all humanity is blessed and she deserves both our respect and our love.  See the document "The Blessed Virgin Mary: Queen Mother of the New Davidic Covenant" http://www.agapebiblestudy.com/documents/mary%20the%20queen%20mother%20of%20the%20new%20davidic%20kingdom.htm and the chart listing all the kings of Judah and their queen mothers: "The Kings of Judah": http://www.agapebiblestudy.com/charts/Chart%20of%20the%20Kings%20of%20Judah.htm.  Also see Edward Sri's excellent book: Queen Mother, Emmaus Road Publishing, Steubenville, Ohio, 2004.

4. Eusebius (d. 339/340) was Bishop of Caesarea in the Holy Land.  Caesarea was the administrative capital of the Roman province and was the site of the most ancient Christian library.  Using the resources of this ancient library and the first recorded histories of the Church, Bishop Eusebius wrote a comprehensive history of the Church which is a principle source for most scholars today.  In his history, Euseibus recorded that Matthew's Gospel was first Gospel and that it was written down in Hebrew.  Quoting from an earlier document written by St. Clement, Bishop of Rome (martyred 99 AD), he wrote:  For Matthew, who had at first preached to the Hebrews, when he was about to go to other peoples, committed his Gospel to writing in his native tongue... (Eusebius, Church History, Book III.24.6).  In another section, quoting from St. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons (martyred c. 200 AD): Matthew published his Gospel among the Hebrews in their own language, while Peter and Paul were preaching and founding the Church in Rome (Euseibus, Church History, Book V.8.2).

5. It was once believed that the community at Qumran was composed of a group known as Essenes.  This theory is no longer widely held.  In all their secular documents, they never refer to themselves as "Essenes."  Instead they only identify themselves as "the sons of Zadok." 

Catechism References:

Luke 1:41 (CCC 523, 717, 2676); 1:43 (CCC 448, 495, 2677); 1:45 (CCC 148, 2676); 1:46-55 (CCC 722, 2619, 2675); 1:46-49 (CCC 2097); 1:48 (CCC 148, 971, 2676); 1:49 (CCC 273, 2599, 2807, 2827); 1:50 (CCC 2465); 1:54-55 (CCC 706); 1:55 (CCC 422); 1:68 (CCC 422, 717) 1:73 (CCC 706); 1:76 (CCC 523)

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