“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
More than 400 years have passed since Malachi promised that God would send a messenger to his people to “prepare the way” before him, and during that time there has been silence from God with no prophets sent to speak to his people. The situation is similar to the days before Samuel the prophet was raised up to anoint David as Israel’s king, where “the word of the Lord was rare in those days” (1 Samuel 3:1).
Judea (the Greco-Roman name for Judah) is now a Roman province, ruled by Herod the Great since 37BC. He is the son of Antipater the Idumean (Edomite), whose ancestors had been forcibly converted to Judaism by the Jewish leader and high priest, Johanan Hyrcanus, in about 130BC, and of an Arab woman called Kypros (Cyprus). So although he is “the King of the Jews”, he is not even of Jewish descent, let alone coming from the line of David. Add to this the fact that this “King of the Jews” was a murderous despot, and it is not hard to imagine that any true worshipper of Yahweh at that time might be forgiven for thinking that this was unlikely to be the time when God’s promises made to Abraham were about to be realised.
And yet into that unlikely situation God suddenly spoke again. The angel (messenger) Gabriel had last appeared to the Prophet Daniel to give him a timeline of 490 years until the times Messiah. Towards the end of those years, he now appears to an obscure priest named Zechariah, whilst he is doing his duty of burning incense in the Temple, to tell him that he is to be the father of the messenger who would prepare the way for Yahweh – the messenger promised by Malachi centuries before.
Zechariah reacts with disbelief. How could this be since he was an old man and his wife, Elizabeth, was past the age of child-bearing? Gabriel tells him that he has been sent by God with this message, but because he doesn’t believe it, he will be struck dumb from then until the birth of the child. Why the curse upon his tongue? It is not simply that he did not believe that God could do this thing, giving an old man and an old woman a child. There is much more to it than that:
“And God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.’ Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, ‘Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’ And Abraham said to God, ‘Oh that Ishmael might live before you!’ God said, ‘No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac’” (Genesis 17:15-19).
In other words, Zechariah, who is a priest and therefore a teacher of the people, forgets the very foundation of all the hopes of Israel throughout the centuries, which is that God visited an old man and a barren woman, and promised them a son. And so this teacher in Israel, who ought to be a prophetical witness to others that the Abrahamic hope is about to be fulfilled, is instead struck dumb for the next nine months.
And yet after the birth of the child, the curse of silence is lifted and Zechariah does indeed become the prophet and teacher he was meant to be, and he testifies in song (the Benedictus) that the fullness of times has come, and the promises given to the old man Abraham, and the barren woman, Sarah, were now being fulfilled through another old man and his wife.
He begins by calling God blessed, and then briefly recounts Yahweh’s dealings with his people throughout history. He has visited and redeemed his people (exodus). He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (the establishment of the Davidic Kingdom). He has spoken by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old (the era of the prophets). But this is not just a “look back at history”. These things are now. As we saw when we looked at Malachi’s prophesies on Days 24 and 25, a new and ultimate exodus is needed. It is now. As we saw when we looked at Solomon tearing down the Kingdom on Day 16, a new Davidic King is needed. It is now. As we have seen throughout these pieces, a Messiah was coming to save his people, and to build an everlasting kingdom that would never be destroyed. It is now.
And so the teacher who was struck dumb because he forgot how God had once used an old man and a barren woman centuries before to promise blessing to the whole world, now remembers:
“To show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”
His son shall be called John – Yahweh is Gracious – and he shall be the messenger promised by Malachi, who would prepare the way for Yahweh himself, by preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, by proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and by pointing to the substitute promised by God to Abraham on Mount Moriah: “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
Malachi had promised that the Sun of Righteousness would arise with healing in his wings. Zechariah now confirms that his son is the herald of that new dawn:
“…because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
The fullness of time has come. The Light of the World is about to rise.