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to bear. And again, in Zachariah's song of praise we find the son of David, the mighty king, the deliverance from heathen oppression, in a word, the Jewish Messianic espectation which was never fulfilled ; but in the story the song represents the pure and perfect truth, for the happy father ** prophesies, being filled with the Holy Spirit.” But enough. From what we have noticed already, especially from this last point, we may reach a conclusion which the scenes that follow will confirm ; namely, that the first two chapters of Luke, which record the birth of John and Jesus and stand quite alone, are taken from Jewish-Christian sources, though perhaps partly recast by the Evangelist to suit his purpose. Such an origin is indicated by their very style and language, which show a far stronger Hebrew coloring than characterizes the rest of the Gospel.
What is the origin of our story? It was natural enough that in the case of an only child, especially if its parents had long hoped and waited in vain for such a blessing, the Jews should have thought “ the child has surely some great destiny marked out for him by God.” But then the process was re versed by the legends, and because a man turned out to be remarkable, it was said “he must have been the only child of a couple who had remained childless for years, a bitter trial to the Israelite, and one which he regarded as a sign of God's displeasure. In the same vein, the apocryphal “Gos. pel of James,” towards the end of the second century, tells us of the birth of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Her parents, Joachim and Anna, deeply grieved and bitterly reviled because of the sterility of their wedlock, each receives an angelic vision, with a promise that the curse shall be removed ; and, in course of time, Mary comes into the world. In the case of Zachariah and Elizabeth, the wonder is still further heightened by our being informed that they were aged people, quite stricken in years. But, if we can hardly believe that people of such an age could have the quiet of their home so happily disturbed by the birth of a child, we have no difficulty, on the other hand, in explaining why such a fiction should have been produced. Not only the fates of the Christ, but those of his predecessor — and such was John held to be — were supposed to be indicated in the Old Testament; and this story is manifestly copied from the account of Abraham and Sarah, Manoah and his wife, and Elkanah and Hannah. From the first of these stories the legend borrowed the great age of the father and mother.
and the father's slowness to believe the promise. The lifelong dedication as a Nazarite and the lofty destination of the promised son are taken from the story of the birth of Samson,? while Hannah's first-born son is also described as a Nazarite and a great prophet. Finally, a precedent for the appearance of Gabriel and the dumbness of Zachariah might also be found in Scripture; for in the Book of Daniel the same archangel appears and is mentioned by name, and Daniel himself is on another occasion visited, at least for a time, with dumbness.5 This is certainly the way in which the story rose.
But if we reflect for a moment we shall readily admit that the feeling which lies at the bottom of it is not altogether false. Such a use as is here made of the Old Testament is doubtless unwarrantable and due to mistaken conceptions; but the fundamental idea from which it starts is perfectly true, in spite of all the gross exaggerations which have deformed it. This fundamental idea is the belief that a single thread of development runs through the history of Israel's religion and the origin of Christianity, through the Old and the New Covenant; that a close connection of origin and purpose must be recognized between the elect of former times and God's new messengers, John and Jesus, and that in the persons and the circumstances of these two the echo of a hoary antiquity may be often caught. There is a more or less marked coincidence between the ancient and the modern prophets in their sense of God's summons to them, in their work and their hope, in their struggles, their disappointments, and the opposition they had to encounter. As we go on, we shall often see how Jesus himself clung to this thought, and found in the history of the ancient heroes of faith a foreshadowing of the reception he would meet and the fate in store for him. And even in this story of John's miraculous birth there is a certain fitness. The character, the actions, and the nature of commonplace men are easily enough explained by ordinary causes, such as parentage, position, and circumstances, and it seems unnecessary to take any special or original factor into account; but wherever there is true genius or true nobility and exaltation of character, - even without celebrity, for celebrated men are not always great, nor great men celebrated, — then it seems to us as if the spirit
1 Gen. xvii. 17, xviii. 13.
2 Judges xiii.
of power, of holiness, and of love that dwells in man, in a word, it seems as if God himself were working in some spe
There is one more point in the story which calls for special potice, since it possesses a peculiar interest in connection with the rest of the Gospel history. When Gabriel promises Zachariah that his son will make ready for the fulfilment of the Messianic promise, he uses the words, “He shall go out before God, the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah.” In itself, this expression would strike us simply as a comparison between John and the most renowned of the prophets. made as a testimony in John's honor. But even in the more ancient passages of the Gospels Elijah is constantly mentioned, and John identified with him. Nay, Jesus himself expressly testifies of Jobn, “ He is the Elijah who was to come.”i
What is the meaning of this? Malachi had promised that, before the fearful judgment which would inaugurate the Messianic age, Yaiweh - would send his messenger to prepare the way before him,” that is, to remove every thing that offended him, - the want of reverence and mercy, and all the other sins of the Israelites. This messenger was to be “the prophet Elijah, who would put an end to domestic feuds.” 8 Now Gabriel directly quotes this prophecy as about to be fulfilled in the son of Elizabeth's old age. But the quotation seems inappropriate and arbitrary; for John was not Elijah, and the archangel, perceiving this, gave a fresh turn to the words, and said " a prophet in the spirit and power of Elijah.” But the passage in Malachi distinctly announced the coming of Elijah himself, and the Jews accordingly looked for the return of the ancient prophet in person. It seems that they appealed in confirmation to the words put into the mouth of Moses: “Yahweh shall raise up a prophet in your midst, like unto me.” No one had come after Moses who stood so high in the people's estimation as Elijah. The deep impression he had left behind him and the colossal proportions assumed by his figure in tradition are attested by the legends that were circulated about him. No other hero lived on in the thoughts and imagination of the people as he did ; & the Rabbis circulated a host of stories about him ; and to this very day a chair is left empty for him when the Jews circumcise their chil1 Matthew xi. 14.
2 Malachi iji. 1. 3 Malachi iv. 5, 6. 4 Deuteronomy xviii. 15-18. 5 1 Kings xvii. ff., and vol. iji. ch. xii. 6 Luke iv. 25, 26; James v. 17, 18; above all, Jesus Sirach xlviii. 1-12.
dren! But the Old Testament itself gave ground enough for regarding Elijah as “the prophet like unto Moses, whom Yahweh should raise up.” He had every right to be regarded as the representative of the prophetic order. Nay, had he not, like the great law-giver, seen and spoken to Yahweh on Mount Horeb? 1 And this is why the names of Moses and Elijah are constantly associated in the New Testament, and the two represented as on an equality with each other.Moreover, there was a special reason for regarding it as possible that Elijah might return to Israel, for according to the legend he had not died, but had been taken up alive to heaven. It was but natural to suppose that his abode in the dwellingplace of God and the angels was but for a time; that he was taken there provisionally, to manifest himself again at the appointed time and to fulfil his mission. Ilis task would then be to avert the divine wrath ere it was yet too late, by the power of his preaching to Israel ; to restore domestic peace to the bosom of his people; to collect the oppressed and scattered tribes, and restore them to their former prosperity. Blessed was he who should live to see the day! And even now the belief still lives among the Jews that Elijah will revisit Israel three days before the Messiah.
The contemporaries of Jesus, then, were convinced that Elijah would come to restore all things in Israel to their propei state, in order to prepare for the establishment of the Messianic kingdom. Such was the teaching of the Scribes,* and such the expectation of the people. But John was not Elijah, and knowing, as he must have done, that he was not the ancient prophet come to earth again, he never professed that he was. What was it, then, that made the Jewish-Christian who sketched this scene call John an Elijah. and, by speaking of “a prophet in the spirit and power of Elijah,” give such a dexterous turn to the prophecy of Malachi and the expectations of the Israelites as to make them applicable to John? How could the second Evangelist begin his work by quoting this prophetic passage as though it were fulfilled in John?? And what right had Jesus himself to say in the hearing of the people: If you will receive it, he
11 Kings xix. 8-18.
2 Matthew xvii. 3 (Mark ix. 4; Luke ix. 30); Revelation xi. 3 ff. Compare Revelation xi. 6 with 1 Kings xvii
. 1, and Exodus vii. 19. 8 Matthew xvii. 11 (Mark ix. 12). 4 Matthew xvii. 10; Mark ix. 11. 6 Matthew xvi 11 (Mark viii. 28; Luke ix. 19). 6 Compare Johu i. 21.
7 Mark i. 2.
is the Elijah that should come,”
;" 1 and afterwards to repeat and elaborate this explanation to his disciples??
It was because John had been courageous enough not to wait any longer for a prophet who had been dead a thousand years to come to earth again, but had said, “ I will do it !” and had seized the work from Elijah's hand. He could not sit still and wait. The Messianic kingdom must come now. It might seem a piece of presumptuous audacity, a desperate act of violence, but he was determined himself to hasten the founding of the kingdom of God; and thus he tacitly stepped into Elijah's place.
Well might Gabriel say to the priest, " Your son shall be great in the sight of the Lord ; ” well might the Evangelist describe his growth in the words, “The child grew, and waxed strong in spirit.”
We can understand the testimony of Jesus : “Verily I say unto you, among them that are born of women there !iath not risen a greater than John the Baptist.” 8
THE BIRTH OF JESUS
LUKE I. 26-56; II. 1-20.
riah's vision in the temple, when God summoned his faithful Gabriel once more, and gave him a message of supreme and joyous import. Obedient to his command, Gabriel descended from heaven and alighted in the Galilæan city of Nazareth. In this place dwelt a certain Joseph, who was on the point of being married to a maiden of the same place, whose name was Mary. The message of the angel was to her. He entered the chamber where she sat. “ All hail, thou favored one of heaven! The Lord is with thee!” he exclaimed. Mary was troubled and perplexed, not knowing what this solemn greeting meant. But Gabriel quieted her fears, and announced to her the birth of a son, whom she was to call Jesus. He would ascend the throne of
1 Matthew xi. 14; compare verse 10.
3 Matthew xi. 1