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Luke 1:67-79 – Zechariah’s Prophecy (the Benedictus)

Summary

Zechariah praises God, characterizing God as powerful and faithful to covenant promises. Zechariah also declares that his son, John, will play an important but subordinate role in the story that will unfold.

Analysis

Zechariah's extended statement of praise (often called the Benedictus, the first word of the Latin translation of his statement) comes in response to his son John's birth and the return of his ability to speak. As with the other two "canticles" in Luke 1-2 (the Magnificat and the Nunc dimittis), the words of the Benedictus come from numerous passages in the Old Testament.

The Benedictus divides into two parts. The first speaks about the works of God (vv. 68-75). Here Zechariah praises God for delivering Israel from its enemies and for remembering covenants that God has made in the past. Zechariah describes the current events--that is, the coming of John and Jesus--as evidence that God has remembered and is acting on behalf of God's chosen people. The second part (vv. 76-79) turns attention toward John, directly addressing him. It states clearly that John and Jesus are not equals; instead, John is the prophet and forerunner of the Lord Jesus, who will be God's means of bringing peace to God's people.

Luke explicitly introduces the Benedictus as "prophecy" in v. 67. Zechariah views the present events concerning John and Jesus through the lens of God's faithfulness. The births of these two babies are part of the story of a God who keeps promises and acts on behalf of the people of Israel.

Luke 1:67-79

Zechariah’s Prophecy

67 Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:
68 ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
   for he has looked favourably on his people and redeemed them.
69 He has raised up a mighty saviour* for us
   in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71   that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
   and has remembered his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
   to grant us 74that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, 75in holiness and righteousness
   before him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
   for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
   by the forgiveness of their sins.
78 By the tender mercy of our God,
   the dawn from on high will break upon* us,
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
   to guide our feet into the way of peace.’

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10 February 2011

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