ZACHARIAS had prayed through long, lean years for a son. He and Elizabeth had many qualifications for a life of blessing: good ancestry, they “were righteous before the Lord,” not merely before men, they walked in all the commandments of the Lord blameless—not faultless, but living up to their light.
But there follows the sad statement: “And they had no child.” Have you sought to live the blameless life, yet your piety seems to have borne no progeny—you are barren? Remember Zacharias. It was now too late, from the natural viewpoint, to have a son, but Zacharias had not forgotten his altar and his duty. He kept offering incense, a symbol of thanksgiving, when there seemed so little to be thankful for. Do not forsake your incense, and the angel will yet appear! The herald from heaven announces a son. God often waits until it is too late with us; it is never too late with Him. Poor Zacharias is doubtful. And doubt leads to dumbness—it always does. When we do not trust, we have no testimony. But God fails not, though Zacharias does. The baby is born, and when neighbors would name him for his father, Zacharias puts God first and names him by the Divine direction. Do not name things after yourself; give God the glory. Then dumbness gives way to delight: Zacharias speaks and so will you!
John was to drink neither wine nor strong drink, but was to be filled with the Spirit. Three times the New Testament sets wine and the Spirit in contrast (Luke 1:15; Acts 2:13; Eph. 5:18). Wine changes face, walk, talk—stimulates; so does the Spirit.
God was fulfilling here the prophecy made in Malachi 4:5-6. How marvelously His plans work out exactly on schedule! Zacharias, filled with the Holy Ghost, breaks into prophecy of a Jewish cast setting forth the glory of the coming Christ: “God has visited His people to redeem them.” We must bear in mind here that Christ came first to Israel. Zacharias knows the Messiah is to be of the house of David, a testimony to His royal lineage. Prophecy is fulfilled, promises performed, the holy covenant remembered. Notice how complete is this redemption: freedom, “being delivered out of the hand of our enemies”; purpose, “that we might serve Him”; nature of this service, “without fear in holiness and righteousness before Him”; the duration, “all the days of our life.” Then Zacharias turns to his own son who is to be called the prophet of the Highest, to go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation, light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. This salvation is through God’s tender mercy, whereby the “dayspring from on high”—probably the Branch of Isaiah 11:1 and Zechariah 3:8—hath visited us.
John grows and waxes strong in the spirit in the desert solitude till the day of his appearing to Israel. There is some obvious difference between this and the closing verse of the next chapter, where Jesus, living a more social life, increases also in favor with man.