1. Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those
things which are most surely believed among us,
[Forasmuch as many have taken in hand, &c.] Whereas it was several years
after the ascension of our Lord before the four books of the holy gospel were committed to
writing; the apostles, the seventy disciples, and other ministers of the word, in the mean
time everywhere dispersing the glad tidings: no wonder if any pious and greedy auditors
had, for their own memory's sake and the good of others, noted in their own private
table-books as much as they were capable of carrying from the sermons and discourses which
they so frequently heard. Nor is it more strange if some of these should from their own
collections compile and publish now and then some commentaries or short histories of the
passages they had met with. Which, however they might perform out of very good intentions,
and a faithful impartial pen, yet were these writings far from commencing an infallible
canon, or eternal unalterable rule of the Christian faith.
It was not in the power of this kind of writers either to select what the Divine Wisdom
would have selected for the holy canon, or to declare those things in that style wherein
the Holy Spirit would have them declared, to whom he was neither the guide in the action
nor the director of their pen.
Our evangelist, therefore, takes care to weigh such kind of writings in such a balance
as that it may appear they are neither rejected by him as false or heretical, nor yet
received as divine and canonical: not the first, because he tells us they had written even
those very things which the heavenly preachers had delivered to them; not the
latter, for to those writings he opposeth, that he himself was one that had perfect
understanding of things from above. Of which we shall consider in its proper place.
[To set forth in order a declaration.] A kind of phrase not much unlike what was
so familiar amongst the Jews, an orderly narration: saving, that that was more
peculiarly applied by them to the commemoration of the Passover. And yet it is used in a
larger sense too, who was he who set forth in order a declaration.
[Of those things which are most surely believed among us, &c.] Let us
recollect what the unbelieving Jews think and say of the actions, miracles, and doctrine
of Christ; and then we shall find it more agreeable to render this clause, of those
things which are most surely believed among us, according to what Erasmus, Beza, our
own English translators, and others, have rendered it, than with the vulgar, of the
things which are fulfilled amongst us. They had said, "This deceiver seduceth the
people, those wonders he did were by the power of magic; 'but we do most surely believe
those things which he did and taught.'"
2. Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses,
and ministers of the word;
[Which from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, &c.]
If from the beginning have reference to the time wherein Christ published the
gospel upon earth, as no one need to doubt, then there is little distinction to be made
between eyewitnesses and ministers: for who from that time had been made a minister
of the word, that had not been an eyewitness and seen Christ himself? so that
we may easily conjecture who are these eyewitnesses and ministers here,
viz., the apostles, the seventy disciples, and others that filled up the number of the
hundred and twenty, mentioned Acts 1:15.
It is said of Mnason, that he was an old disciple, Acts 21:16. It may be
supposed of him, that he had been a disciple from the beginning; that is, from the
very time wherein Christ himself published his glad tidings. Those words a good while
ago, Acts 15:7, ought to be understood also in this sense.
3. It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from
the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus,
[Having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first.] This is
not indeed ill rendered, having understood these things from the very first: but it
may perhaps be better, having attained to an understanding of these things from above,--from
heaven itself. So from above signifies from heaven, John 3:3,31, 19:11;
James 1:17, 3:17, &c. For,
I. This version includes the other: for he that hath a perfect understanding of these
things from above, or by divine inspiration, did understand them from the
II. Take notice of the distinction that is in Josephus, He that undertakes to give a
true relation of things to others, ought himself to know them first very accurately,
having either very diligently observed them himself, or learned by inquiry from others.
Now if St. Luke had writ his history as "he had learned from others" (as they
wrote whom he instances in verse 1), then he had been amongst those that had learned
from others. Nor could he promise more than they might do, of whom he said, that
many had taken in hand, &c.
[Most excellent Theophilus.] There is one guesses this most excellent
Theophilus to have been an Antiochian, another thinks he may be a Roman; but it is
very uncertain either who or whence he was. There was one Theophilus amongst the Jews, at
that very time, probably, when St. Luke wrote his Gospel; but I do not think this was he.
Josephus mentions him; "King Agrippa, removing Jesus the son of Gamaliel from the
high priesthood, gave it to Mathias the son of Theophilus: in whose time the Jewish war
5. There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named
Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and
her name was Elisabeth.
[Of the course of Abia.] They are very little versed in the Holy Scriptures, and
less in the Jewish learning, that could imagine this Zacharias to have been the high
priest, when he is said to have been but of the eighth course, and to have attained this
turn of attendance by lot.
As to the institution of the courses under the first Temple, there is no need to say
anything, because every one hath it before him, 1 Chronicles 24. But under the second
Temple there was indeed some difference, not as to the order of their courses, but as to
their heads and families. Of which thing the Talmudists treat largely, and indeed not
altogether from the purpose: let them comment in my stead:
"Four courses of priests went up out of Babylon; Jedaiah, Harim, Pashur,
and Immer, Ezra 2:36, &c. The prophets, who were conversant amongst them at that time,
obliged them, that if Jehoiarib himself should come up from the captivity, that he should
not thrust out the course that preceded him, but be, as it were, an appendix to it. The
prophets come forth, and cast in four-and-twenty lots into the urn; Jedaiah comes, and
having drawn five, himself was the sixth. Harim comes, and having drawn five, himself was
the sixth. Pashur comes, and having drawn five, himself was the sixth. Immer comes, and
having drawn five, himself was the sixth. It was agreed amongst them that if Jehoiarib
himself should return out of captivity, he should not exclude the foregoing course, but
be, as it were, an appendix to it. The heads of the courses stand forth, and divide
themselves into the houses of their fathers," &c. We have the same thing in
Babyl. Erachin, fol. 12. 1.
If these things be true (and, indeed, by comparing them with the place in Ezra before
quoted, we may believe they are not much amiss), then the course of Abiah, both
here and Nehemiah 12:17, must not so much be understood of the stock or race of Abijah, as
that that course retained the name of Abijah still. For though there were four-and-twenty
classes made up of the four only named, yet did they retain both their ancient order and
ancient names too. If therefore Jehoiarib, i.e. his course, should come up out of Babylon
(which, however, did not happen), it was provided that he should not disturb the fixed and
stated order by intruding into the first place; but retaining the name of Jehoiarib in the
first class, which consisted now of those of Jedaiah, his course, should be
distributed amongst those orders.
II. The Rabbins have a tradition: there were twenty-four courses of priests in
the land of Israel, and twelve courses in Jericho. What! twelve in Jericho? This
would increase the number too much. No; but there were twelve of those in Jericho; that
when the time came about that any course should go up to Jerusalem, half a course
went up from the land of Israel, and half a course from Jericho, that by them might
come a supply both of water and food to their brethren that were at Jerusalem.
Gloss:--"When the time came that any course should go up to Jerusalem, it
divided itself, that half of it should go to Jericho, that they might supply their
brethren with water and food," &c.
III. As to the circulation of these courses or turns, we may guess
something of it from the Gloss in Midras Coheleth. The Midras itself hath these
words: "It is R. Chaija's tradition: It is written, Seven weeks shall be complete,
i.e. between the Passover and Pentecost, Leviticus 23:15. But when are they so? When
Joshua and Shecaniah do not interfere."
Where the Gloss, from another author, hath it thus: "when the calends of the month
Nisan fall in with the sabbath, then doth the Passover fall in with the sabbath too: and
then let them begin to number from the going out of the sabbath, and the weeks will be
complete according to the days of the creation. He takes an instance from Joshua and
Shecaniah. For there were twenty-four courses, which took their turns alternately every
sabbath: amongst which Joshua was the ninth, and Shecaniah the tenth. On the first week of
the month Nisan, Jehoiarib was the first course; on the second week Jedaiah; on the
paschal week, all the courses attended together. The six weeks to that sabbath that
immediately preceded the Pentecost, there ministered six courses, Harim, Seorim,
Malchijah, Mijamin, Hakkos, Abiah. In the sabbath that precedes the Pentecost, Joshua
enters, but does not attend till after Pentecost. Behold, Joshua and Shecaniah are not
between the Passover and Pentecost: for if Joshua was between the Passover and Pentecost,
the weeks would not be complete according to the days of the creation."
He adds a great deal more, but, I confess, it is beyond my reach: such is that that
immediately follows: "They are not complete as the days of the creation; for we
may number from three to three, or from five to five, and so Joshua and Shecaniah will
enter [upon their course] before the Pentecost. For behold, the sabbath before
Nisan, let it be Jehoiarib's turn, and let there be seven weeks to the Passover,"
&c.; which must either be some fault in the printer, or a riddle to me that I cannot
tell what to make of.
However, by the whole series of the discourse it appears, that the beginning of the
double circulation of the courses was with the twofold beginning of the year, Nisan
and Tisri: as also that all the courses performed their ministry together in the
feasts. Here, indeed, is mention only as to the Passover; but we do not want for
authorities to make it out, that as they did so then, so also at the feast of Pentecost
and Tabernacles. Let Jehoiarib, therefore, begin the first course in the beginning of the
month Nisan; and (remembering, that all the courses together performed their
service at the Passover and Pentecost) the courses will all have run out in half
the year; for so (taking in those two feasts) six-and-twenty weeks are spent off. Then let
Jehoiarib begin again with the month Tisri; and suppose all the courses jointly
ministering at the feast of Tabernacles, and they will have finished their round
(excepting one week over) by the month Nisan again: which gap of that one week how it is
filled up, as also the intercalar month when it happened, would be too much for us to
discuss in this place.
IV. The course of Bilgah is put out of its just order, and thrown into the last
place, if that be true, which we meet with in Jerusalem Succah. They say, "All
that went into the Mountain of the Temple made their entry on the right hand, and went out
at the left: but Bilgah went towards the south, because of the apostasy of his daughter
Mary: for she went and married a certain soldier of the kingdom of the Grecians. He came
and struck the top of the altar, saying, 'O wolf, wolf, thou that devourest all the
good things of Israel, and yet in a time of straits helpest them not.' There are also that
say, that the reason why this was thus ordered was, because Bilgah's course was
once neglected, when it came about to them to have gone up to have performed their
ministry. Bilgah, therefore, was always amongst those that went out, as Isbab was amongst
those that came in; having cast that course out of their order."
V. "For every course there was a stationary assembly of priests, Levites,
and Israelites, at Jerusalem. When the time came, wherein the course must go
up, the priests and the Levites went up to Jerusalem; but the Israelites that were within
that course, all met within their own cities, and read the history of the creation,
Genesis 1; and the stationary men fasted four days in that week; viz. from the second to
Gloss: "There was a stationary assembly for every course stated and placed
in Jerusalem, who should assist in the sacrifices of their brethren: and besides these
that were stated in Jerusalem, there was a stationary assembly in every city. All
Israel was divided into twenty-four stations, according to the twenty-four courses.
There was the station of priests, Levites, and Israelites, at Jerusalem; the
priests of the course went up to Jerusalem to their service, the Levites to their
singing; and of all the stations, there were some appointed and settled at
Jerusalem that were to assist at the sacrifices of their brethren. The rest assembled in
their own cities, poured out prayers that the sacrifices of their brethren might be
accepted; fasting, and bringing forth the book of the law on their fast-day," &c.
So the Gloss hath it.
The reason of this institution as to stationary-men is given us in the Misna; For
how could every man's offering be made, if he himself were not present? Now, whereas
the daily sacrifice, and some other offerings, were made for all Israel, and it was not
possible that all Israel should be present, these stationaries were instituted, who, in
the stead of all Israel, should put their hands upon the daily sacrifice, and should be
present at the other offerings that were offered for all Israel. And while these were
performing this at Jerusalem, there were other stationaries in every course, who,
by prayers and fasting in their own cities, helped forward, as much as they could, the
services of their brethren that were at Jerusalem.
"The children of Israel lay on their hands, but the Gentiles do not. The men of
Israel lay on their hands, but the women do not. R. Jose saith, Abba Eliezer said to me,
We had once a calf for a peace offering: and bringing it into the Court of the Women, the
women put their hands upon it: not that this belonged to the women so to do, but that
the women's spirits might be pleased." A remarkable thing.
The priests, throughout all the courses grew into a prodigious number, if that
be true in Jerusalem Taanith; "R. Zeora in the name of Rabh Houna said, That
the least of all the courses brought forth eighty-five thousand branches of
priests." A thing not to be credited.
[And he wife was of the daughters of Aaron.] In the Talmudists, a priestess;
viz. one born of the lineage of priests. It was lawful for a priest to marry a Levites, or
indeed a daughter of Israel: but it was most commendable of all to marry one of the
priests' line. Hence that story in Taanith, "Fourscore pair of
brethren-priests took to wife fourscore pair of sister-priestesses in Gophne, all in one
There was hardly any thing among the Jews with greater care and caution looked after
than the marrying of their priests; viz. that the wives they took should not by any means
stain and defile their priestly blood: and that all things which were fit for their eating
should be hallowed. Hence that usual phrase for an excellent woman, She deserves to
marry with a priest.
Josephus speaks much of this care, that the whole priestly generation might be
preserved pure and unblended.
[Elisabeth.] The Seventy give this name to Aaron's wife, Exodus 7:23.
6. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and
ordinances of the Lord blameless.
[In all the commandments and ordinances, &c.] So Numbers 36:13, These are
the commandments and judgments. It would perhaps seem a little too fine and curious to
restrain the commandments to the decalogue, or ten commandments, and
the ordinances to the ceremonial and judicial laws, though this does not
wholly want foundation. It is certain the precepts delivered after the decalogue, from
Exodus 21 to chapter 24, are called judgments, or ordinances, Exodus 21:1,
The Vulgar can hardly give any good account why he should render ordinances by justifications,
much less the followers of that translation why they should from thence fetch an argument
for justification upon observation of the commands, when the commands and
institutions of men are by foreign authors called ordinances; nay, the corrupt
customs that had been wickedly taken up have the same word, 1 Samuel 2:13, the
priest's 'custom' with the people was, &c. 2 Kings 17:8, and walked in the
'statutes' of the heathen
The word ordinance is frequently rendered by those interpreters from ordain;
which, to wave all other instances, may abundantly appear from Psalm 119. And the very
things which the Jews speak of the Hebrew word obtain also in the Greek.
"Perhaps Satan and the Gentiles will question with Israel, what this or that
command means, and what should be the reason of it. The answer that ought to be made in
this case is, It is ordained, it is a law given by God, and it becomes not thee to
"Ye shall observe my statutes, [Lev 18:4] that is, even those which Satan
and the nations of the world do cavil at. Such are those laws about eating swine's flesh;
heterogeneous clothing; the nearest kinsman's [leviri] putting off the shoe; the
cleansing of the leper, and the scapegoat. If, perhaps, it should be said that these
precepts are vain and needless, the text saith, 'I am the Lord. I, the Lord, have ordained
these things; and it doth not become thee to dispute them.'" They are ordinances,
just and equal, deriving their equity from the authority of him that ordained them.
8. And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest's office before God in the
order of his course,
[In the order of his course.] "The heads of the courses stood forth,
and divided themselves into so many houses of fathers. In one course, perhaps,
there were five, six, seven, eight, or nine houses of fathers: of the course
wherein there were but five houses of fathers, there were three of them ministered three
days, and two four days; if six, then five served five days, and one two days; if seven,
then every one attended their day; if eight, then six waited six days, and two one day; if
nine, then five waited five days, and four the other two."
Take the whole order of their daily attendance from Gloss in Tamid, cap. 6:
"The great altar [or the altar of sacrifice] goes before the lesser [or that of
incense]. The lesser altar goes before the pieces of wood [laid on the hearth of the great
altar]; the laying on the wood goes before the sweeping the inner altar [or that of the
incense]; the sweeping of the inner altar goes before the snuffing of the lamps; the
snuffing of the lamps goes before the sprinkling of the blood of the daily sacrifice; the
sprinkling of the blood of the daily sacrifice goes before the snuffing of the two other
lamps; the snuffing of the two other lamps goes before the incense; the incense goes
before the laying on the parts of the sacrifice upon the altar; the laying on the parts
goes before the Mincha; the Mincha goes before the meal [or the two loaves]
of the chief priest; the two loaves of the chief priest go before the drink offering; the
drink offering before the additional sacrifices. So Abba Saul." But a little after;
"The wise men say, 'The blood of the sacrifice is sprinkled; then the lamps snuffed;
then the incense; then the snuffing of the two other lamps: and this is the tradition
according to the wise men.'"
9. According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when
he went into the temple of the Lord.
[According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was, &c.] "The
ruler of the Temple saith, Come ye, and cast your lots [that it may be determined]
who shall kill the sacrifice, who sprinkle the blood, who sweep the inner altar; who
cleanse the candlestick, who carry the parts [of the sacrifice] to the ascent of the
altar; the head, the leg, the two shoulders, the tail of the back bone, the other leg, the
breast, the gullet, the two sides, the entrails, the flour, the two loaves, and the wine. He
hath it, to whom it happens by lot."
"The room Gazith [in which the lots were cast] was in the form of a large hall:
the casting of the lots was on the east side of it, some elder sitting on the west [Gloss:
Some elder of the Sanhedrim, that instructed them in the custom and manner of casting the
lot.] The priests stood about in circle; and the ruler coming, snatched off a cap from the
head of this or that person, and by that they understood where the lot was to begin."
"They stood in a circle; and the ruler, coming, snatches off a cap from the head
of this or that man: from him the lot begins to be reckoned, every one lifting up his
finger at each number. The ruler also saith, 'In whomsoever the number ends, he obtains
this or that office by lot: and he declares the number'; e.g., there is, it may be, the
number one hundred, or threescore, according to the multitude of the priests standing
round. He begins to reckon from the person whose cap he snatched off, and numbers round
till the whole number is run out. Now, in whomsoever the number terminates, he obtains
that office about which the lot was concerned. And so it is in all the lots."
I will not inquire at present whether this casting of lots was every day, or whether
for the whole week, wherein such or such a course performed its attendance. It seems that
at this time the number, whatever it was, for the choice of one to burn incense, ended in
our Zacharias: whose work and business in this office, let it not be thought tedious to
the reader to take an account of in these following passages:
[To burn incense.] "He whose lot it was to burn incense took a
vessel containing the quantity of three cabs, in the midst of which there was a
censer full and heaped up with incense; over which there was a cover."
"He to whom the lot fell of the vessel wherein the coals were to be taken up,
takes it and goes up to the top of the altar; and there, stirring the fire about, takes
out some of the hottest coals, and, going down, pours them into a golden vessel."
"When they had come from hence to the space between the altar and the porch of the
Temple, one of them tinkles a little bell; by which, if any of the priests be without
doors, he knows that his brethren the priests are about to worship: so that he makes all
speed, and enters in. The Levite knows his brethren the Levites are beginning to sing, so
he makes haste, and enters in too. Then the chief head or ruler of the course for that
time sets all the unclean in the east gate of the court, that they may be sprinkled with
"When they were about to go up the steps of the porch, those whose lot it was to
sweep off the ashes from the inner altar and the candlestick went up first; he that was to
sweep the altar went in first, takes the vessel, worships, and goes out."
"He who, by lot, had the vessel for gathering up the coals, placeth them upon the
inner altar, lays them all about to the brim of the vessel, then worships and goes
"He who was to burn the incense takes the censer from the midst of the vessel
wherein it was, and gives it to one standing by. If any incense had been scattered in the
vessel, he gives it him into his hand; scatters the incense upon the coals, and goes out.
He does not burn the incense till the ruler bids him do it."
10. And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of
[The whole multitude of the people were praying without.] When the priest went
in unto the holy place to burn incense, notice was given to all by the sound of a little
bell, that the time of prayer was now: as hath been already noted.
I. As many as were in the court where the altar was retired from between the Temple and
the altar, and withdrew themselves lower: They drew off from the space that was between
the porch and the altar while the incense was burning.
R. Jose saith, "That in five circumstances the space between the porch and the
altar is equal to the temple itself. For no one comes thither bareheaded, disturbed with
wine, or with hands and feet unwashed. And as they withdraw themselves from the temple
itself in the time of incense, so do they the same at that time from the space that is
between the porch and that altar."
II. In the other courts they were not bound to retire or change their place; but in all
they gave themselves to prayer, and that in deep silence: "The fathers ordained
prayers in the time of the daily sacrifice": And of what kind soever the prayers
were, whether their phylacterical ones alone, or their phylacterical in conjunction with
others, or others without their phylacterical, still they uttered them very silently:
"He that repeats his prayers in that silent manner that he does not hear himself, he
does his duty. But R. Jose would have it, that he repeats his prayers so that the sound of
his own voice may reach his own ears." To this deep silence in the time of incense
and prayers that passage seems to allude, Revelation 8:1,3.
When the incense and prayers were ended, the parts of the sacrifice were laid upon the
altar, and then the Levites began their psalmody, and their sounding the trumpet.
11. And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of
the altar of incense.
[There appeared unto him an angel of the Lord.] It might be a reasonable doubt
whether ever there had appeared an angel in the Temple, even in the first, when elsewhere
the appearance of angels was so very familiar, much less in the second, when every thing
of that nature had so perfectly ceased, till now that the gospel began to dawn and shine
What we find related concerning Simeon the just, how "for those forty years
wherein he had served as high priest, he had seen an angel clothed in white coming into
the Holy Place on the day of Expiation, and going out again: only his last year he saw him
come in, but did not see him go out again; which gave him to understand that he was to die
that year": we may suppose this invented rather for the honour of the man than that
any such thing happened for the greater solemnity of the day.
[Standing on the right side of the altar of incense.] "It is a tradition.
The table [of the shewbread] was on the north side, distant from the wall two
cubits and a half. The candlestick on the south, distant from the wall two cubits and a
half. The altar [of incense] placed in the middle and drawn out a little towards
So that the angel standing on the right side of the altar stood on the north side: on
which side if there were an entrance into the Holy of Holies, as R. Chaninah thinks, then
we may suppose the angel, by a sudden appearance, came out from the Holy of Holies.
15. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor
strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb.
[Neither wine nor strong drink.] That is, if the Jews may be our interpreters
properly enough, "neither new nor old wine"; Numbers 6:3. Greek, he shall
separate himself from wine and strong drink. Targum, He shall separate himself from
wine new and old. So Deuteronomy 14:26.
"R. Jose of Galilee saith, Why doth the Scripture double it, wine and strong
drink? For is not wine strong drink, and strong drink wine?" Strong drink
is wine no doubt, Numbers 28:7; Thou shalt cause the strong wine to be poured
out before the Lord. Targum, a drink offering of old wine.
Whilst I a little more narrowly consider that severe interdiction by which the Nazarite
was forbidden the total use of the vine, not only that he should not drink of the wine,
but not so much as taste of the grape, not the pulp nor stone of the grape, no, not the
bark of the vine; I cannot but call to mind,
I. Whether the vine might not be the tree in paradise that had been forbidden to Adam,
by the tasting of which he sinned. The Jewish doctors positively affirm this without any
II. Whether that law about the Nazarites had not some reference to Adam while he was
under that prohibition in the state of innocency. For if the bodily and legal
uncleannesses, about which there are such strict precepts, Numbers 5, especially the
leprosy, the greatest of all uncleannesses, did excellently decipher the state and nature
of sin; might not the laws about Nazarites which concerned the greatest purities in a most
pure religion, be something in commemoration of the state of man before his fall?
There was, as the doctors call it, the wine of command; which they were bound by
precept to drink. Such was "that wine of the tithes," Deuteronomy 12:17,18, that
twas commanded to be drunk at Jerusalem, and the cup of wine to be drunk at the Passover.
What must the Nazarite do in this case? If he drink, he violates the command of his order;
if he do not drink, he breaks the command about tithes and the laws of his fathers. Let
Elias untie this knot when he comes.
17. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts
of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make
ready a people prepared for the Lord.
[In the Spirit and power of Elias.] I. The Baptist is Elias, as our Saviour was
David; that is, the antitype, Jeremiah 30:9; Malachi 4:5; Hosea 3:5, &c. It is less
wonder that the Jews, from the words of Malachi, should expect the personal coming of
Elijah, since there are not a few Christians that would be looking for the same thing,
although they have an angel in this place interpreting it otherwise, and our blessed
Saviour elsewhere himself [Matt 11:14]; "This is Elias which was for to come."
But they misunderstood the phrase of the "great and dreadful day of the Lord";
as also were deceived into the mistake by the Greek version, "that Elias must come
before the last judgment."
II. It is not said by the prophet Malachi, "Behold I will send you Elijah the Tishbite,"
but "Elijah the prophet"; which perhaps might be better rendered,
"Behold I send you a prophet Elijah." And I may confidently say it would not be
so wide from the sense and meaning of Malachi as the Greek interpreters, who by a
prodigious daringness in favour of the Jewish traditions, have rendered it, I send you
Elijah the Tishbite.
III. If I mistake not, "Elias the prophet" is but twice mentioned (I mean in
those very terms) throughout the whole book of God: once in this place in Malachi, the
other in 2 Chronicles 21:12. And in both those places I believe it is not meant Elijah the
Tishbite in his own person, but some one in the spirit and power of him. That the words in
Malachi should be so understood, both the angel and our Saviour teach us, and it seems
very proper to be so taken in that place in the Chronicles.
IV. That great prophet that lived in Ahab's days is called the Tishbite,
throughout the whole story of him, and not the prophet. Nor is he called the
prophet, Luke 4:25 (where yet it is said, 'Eliseus the prophet'); nor by St. James 5:17.
For the very word Tishbi, which is his epithet, sufficiently asserts his prophetic
dignity when it denotes no other than a converter. For whence can we better derive
the etymology? to which indeed the prophet Malachi seems to have alluded, "Behold, I
send you Elijah the prophet, and he shall turn," &c.
V. But be it so that he might be called Tishbite from the city Toshab, as
the Targum and other Rabbins would have it (which yet is very farfetched), that very thing
might evince that it is not he himself that is meant by Malachi, but some other, because
he doth not mention the Tishbite, but a prophet Elias, that is, a prophet
in the spirit of Elias.
So among the Talmudists, any one skilled in signs and languages is called Mordecai,
viz. because he is like him who lived in the days of Ahasuerus.
[To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children.] John came in the power
of Elias; not that power by which he wrought miracles [for John wrought none, John 10:41];
but "in the power of Elias turning the hearts of men," &c. Elias turned many
of the children of Israel towards the Lord their God, 1 Kings 18: so did John, who over
and above "turned the hearts of the fathers towards their children." Which what
it should mean is something dark and unintelligible. You will hardly allow the Jews' gloss
upon this place, who do so greatly mistake about the person, and who will allow nothing of
good to be done by the Elias they expect, but within the compass of Israel. But are not
the Gentiles to be converted? They in the prophets' dialect are 'the children of Zion, of
Jerusalem, of the Jewish church': nothing more frequent. And in this sense are the words
of Malachi we are now handling to be understood: 'Elias the Baptist will turn the hearts
of the Jews towards the Gentiles, and of the Gentiles towards the Jews.' This was indeed
the great work of the gospel, to bring over the Jew and Gentile into mutual embraces
through the acknowledgment of Christ: which John most happily began, who came that
"all men through him might believe," John 1:7: yea, and the Roman soldiers did
believe as well as the Jews, Luke 3:14.
[The disobedient to the wisdom of the just.] The Greek in Malachi hath it, the
heart of a man towards his neighbour. The words of the prophet having been varied, the
angel varies too, but to a more proper sense. For the Gentiles were not to be turned to
the Jews as such, or to the religion of the Jews, but to God "in the wisdom of the
just." "The children to the fathers": the phrase fathers, according
to the Jewish state at that time, was of doubtful sound, and had something of danger in
it; for by that word generally at that time, was meant nothing else but the Fathers of
Traditions, to whom God forbid any should be turned to those fathers in the folly of
traditions, but to God in the wisdom of the just.
18. And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old
man, and my wife well stricken in years.
[For I am an old man.] If so old a man, why then was he not sequestered
from the service of the Temple by the law of superannuation? Numbers 4:3, 8:24,25. Hear
what the Rabbins say in this case:
"There is something that is lawful in the priests, that is unlawful in the
Levites: and there is something lawful in the Levites, that is unlawful in the priests.
The Rabbins deliver; the priests upon any blemish are unfit; as for their years they are
not unfit; the Levites for their years may be unfit, but by reason of blemish are not.
From that which is said, that at the age of fifty years they shall cease waiting, we learn
that years may make the Levites unfit. Perhaps the priests also are made unfit through
years: and indeed, does it not seem in equity, that if the Levites, whom a blemish doth
not make unfit, should yet be made unfit by superannuation, should not much more the
priests be made unfit by superannuation, when even a spot or blemish will make them unfit?
But the text saith, This is the law of the Levites; not, This is the law of the priests.
The Rabbins deliver: What time a priest comes to maturity, till he grow old, he is fit to
minister; and yet a spot or blemish makes him unfit. The Levite from his thirtieth to his
fiftieth year is fit for service; but being superannuated, he becomes unfit. How must this
be understood concerning the Levites? To wit, for that time wherein the ark was in the
wilderness: but at Shiloh and in the Temple they were not rendered unfit, unless through
the defect of their voice."
21. And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in
[They marvelled that he tarried so long.] There is something of this kind told
of Simeon the Just, concerning whom we have made some mention already:
"The high priest made a short prayer in the holy place. He would not be long in
prayer, lest he should occasion any fear in the people. There is a story of one who
tarried a long while in it, and the people were ready to have entered in upon him. They
say it was Simeon the Just. They say unto him, 'Why didst thou tarry so long?' He answered
them, saying, 'I have been praying for the Temple of your God, that it be not destroyed.'
They answered him again, 'However, it was not well for you to tarry so long.'"
22. And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he
had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless.
[He beckoned unto them.] There is also, verse 62, they made signs. The deaf
and dumb man, he nods to them, and they nod to him.
The Talmudists distinguish the judgments given by a dumb man into the nodding of the
head, and the dumb man's making signs.
"If any person be dumb, and yet hath his understanding, should they say to him,
May we write a bill of divorce to thy wife, and he nod with his head, they make the
experiment upon him three times," &c. And a little after they do not much rely
upon the signs of the deaf and dumb man. For as it is in the same place, the dumb
person, and the deaf and dumb, differ. Gloss: "The one can hear and not speak;
the other can neither hear nor speak."
Amongst the doctors, the deaf and dumb person is commonly looked upon as one
made so by some fit of palsy or apoplexy, by which the intellectuals are generally
affected: whence the deaf and dumb are, according to the traditional canons, deprived of
several offices and privileges of which others are capable.
This case therefore of Zacharias might have occasioned a considerable question, whether
he ought not to have been sequestered from his ministry, and deprived of all the
privileges of his priesthood, because he had been struck deaf and dumb, but that it
happened to him in so signal and extraordinary a way.
24. And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months;
[She hid herself five months.] "She hid herself five months, saying,
Thus hath the Lord dealt with me, in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my
reproach among men."
She was big with child, it is plain, because God had looked on her, and taken away her
reproach among men. She hid herself, because the Lord had dealt so with her, till he had
taken away her reproach; giving her so remarkable a son, one who was to be so strict a
Nazarite, and so famous a prophet. Lest therefore she should any way defile herself by
going up and down, and thereby contract any uncleanness upon the Nazarite in her womb, she
withdraws, and sequesters herself from all common conversation. Consult Judges 13:4.
There were several amongst the Jews that were wont to take upon them the sect of the
Nazarites by their own voluntary vow. [Three hundred at once in the days of Jannaeus the
king came together to Simeon Ben Shetah.] But there were but two only set apart by divine
appointment, Samson and the Baptist: whom the same divine appointment, designing to
preserve untouched from all kind of pollution even in their mothers' wombs, directed that
the mothers themselves should keep themselves as distant as might be from all manner of
defilement whatsoever. Elizabeth obeys; and for the whole time wherein she bore the child
within her, she hid herself, for her more effectually avoiding all kind of
uncleannesses; although it is true we have the mention but of five months, by
reason of the story of the sixth month, which was to be immediately related, verse
26. And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of
Galilee, named Nazareth,
[The angel Gabriel.] "R. Simeon Ben Lachish saith, The names of angels went
up by the hand of Israel out of Babylon. For before it is said, Then flew one of the
seraphim unto me; the seraphim stood before him, Isaiah 6; but afterward the man Gabriel,
[Dan 9:21] and Michael your prince," [Dan 10:21].
The angel calls Zacharias back to Daniel 9, where the prediction concerning the coming
of Messiah was foretold by Gabriel.
29. And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her
mind what manner of salutation this should be.
[Was troubled, &c.] I. It was very rare and unusual for men to salute any
women; at least if that be true in Kiddushin. Rabh Judah, the president of the
academy of Pombeditha, went to Rabh Nachman, rector of the academy of Neharde, and after
some talk amongst themselves, "Saith Rabh Nachman, Let my daughter Doneg bring some
drink, that we may drink together. Saith the other, Samuel saith, We must not use the
ministry of a woman. But this is a little girl, saith Nachman. The other answers, But
Samuel saith, We ought not to use the ministry of any woman at all. Wilt thou please,
saith Nachman, to salute Lelith my wife? But, saith he, Samuel saith, The voice of a woman
is filthy nakedness. But, saith Nachman, thou mayest salute her by a messenger. To whom
the other; Samuel saith, They do not salute any woman. Thou mayest salute her, saith
Nachman, by a proxy her husband. But Samuel saith, saith he again, They do not salute a
woman at all."
II. It was still much more rare and unusual to give such a kind of salutation as this, Hail,
thou that art highly favoured, by which title Gabriel had saluted Daniel of old: with
this exception, that it was terror enough so much as to see an angel.
32. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God
shall give unto him the throne of his father David:
[Shall be called the Son of the Highest.] That is, "he shall be called the
Messiah": for Messiah and the Son of God are convertible terms...
35. And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee,
and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which
shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
[The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, &c.] I. This verse is the angel's
gloss upon that famous prophecy, "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bring
forth." The veracity of which Mary not questioning, believing further that she
herself was that virgin designed, and yet being utterly ignorant of the manner how so
great a thing should be brought about, she only asks, "How shall this be?"
&c. Doubtless she took the prophecy in its proper sense, as speaking of a virgin
untouched. She knew nothing then, nor probably any part of the nation at that time so much
as once thought of that sense by which the Jews have now for a great while disguised that
II. Give me leave, for their sakes in whose hand the book is not, to transcribe some
few things out of that noble author Morney, which he quotes concerning this grand mystery
from the Jews themselves:
"Truth shall spring out of the earth." "R. Joden," saith he,
"notes upon this place, that it is not said, Truth shall be born, but shall spring
out; because the generation and nativity of the Messiah is not to be as other
creatures in the world, but shall be begot without carnal copulation; and therefore no one
hath mentioned his father, as who must be hid from the knowledge of men till himself shall
come and reveal him." And upon Genesis: "Ye have said (saith the Lord), We are
orphans, bereaved of our father; such a one shall your Redeemer be, whom I shall give
you." So upon Zechariah, "Behold my servant, whose name is Branch": and out
of Psalm 110, "Thou art a priest after the order of Melchizedek": he saith, R.
Berachiah delivers the same things. And R. Simeon Ben Jochai upon Genesis more plainly;
viz. "That the Spirit, by the impulse of a mighty power, shall come forth of the
womb, though shut up, that will become a mighty Prince, the King Messiah."--So he.
36. And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age:
and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.
[Hath also conceived a son in her old age.] The angel teaches to what purpose it
was that women, either barren before or considerably stricken in years, should be enabled
to conceive and bring forth; viz. to make way for the easier belief of the conception of a
virgin. If they, either beside or beyond nature, conceive a child, this may be some ground
of belief that a virgin, contrary to nature, may do so too. So Abraham by faith saw
Christ's day, as born of a pure virgin, in the birth of his own son Isaac of his old and
barren wife Sarah.
39. And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a
city of Juda:
[She went into the hill country, &c.] That is, to Hebron, Joshua 21:11. For
though it is true indeed that the priests after the return from Babylon were not all
disposed and placed in all those very same dwellings they had possessed before the
captivity, yet it is probable that Zacharias, who was of the seed of Aaron, being here
said to dwell in the hill country of Judah, might have his house in Hebron, which
is more peculiarly said to be 'the city of Aaron's offspring.'
41. And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe
leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:
[The babe leaped in her womb.] So the Seventy, Genesis 25:22, the children
leaped in her womb. Psalm 114:4, the mountains skipped. That which is added by
Elizabeth, verse 44, the babe leaped in the womb for joy, signifies the manner of
the thing, not the cause: q.d. it leaped with vehement exultation. For John, while
he was an embryo in the womb, knew no more what was then done, than Jacob and Esau when
they were in Rebekah's womb knew what was determined concerning them.
"At the Red Sea, even the infants sang in the wombs of their mothers";
as it is said, from the fountain of Israel Psalm 88:27; where the Targum, to the
same sense, "Exalt the Lord ye infants in the bowels of your mothers, of the
seed of Israel." Let them enjoy their hyperboles.
Questionless, Elizabeth had learned from her husband that the child she went with was
designed as the forerunner of the Messiah, but she did not yet know of what sort of woman
the Messiah must be born till this leaping of the infant in her womb became some token to
56. And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house.
[Abode with her three months.] A space of time very well known amongst the
doctors, defined by them to know whether a woman be with child or no: which I have already
observed upon Matthew 1.
59. And it came to pass, that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child;
and they called him Zacharias, after the name of his father.
[And they called it, &c.] I. "The circumciser said, 'Blessed be the
Lord our God, who hath sanctified us by his precepts, and hath given us the law of
circumcision.'" The father of the infant said, "Who hath sanctified us by his
precepts, and hath commanded us to enter the child into the covenant of Abraham our
father." But where was Zacharias' tongue for this service?
II. God at the same time instituted circumcision, and changed the names of Abram and
Sarah: hence the custom of giving names to their children at the time of their
III. Amongst the several accounts why this or that name was given to the sons, this was
one that chiefly obtained, viz. for the honour of some person whom they esteemed they gave
the child his name: which seems to have guided them in this case here, when Zacharias
himself, being dumb, could not make his mind known to them. Mahli the son of Mushi hath
the name of Mahli given him, who was his uncle, the brother of Mushi his father, 1
"R. Nathan said, 'I once went to the islands of the sea, and there came to me a
woman, whose first-born had died by circumcision; so also her second son. She brought the
third to me. I bade her wait a little, till the blood might assuage. She waited a little,
and then circumcised him, and he lived: they called him, therefore, by my name, Nathan
of Babylon.'" See also Jerusalem Jevamoth.
"There was a certain family at Jerusalem that were wont to die about the
eighteenth year of their age: they made the matter known to R. Jochanan, Ben Zacchai, who
said, 'Perhaps you are of Eli's lineage, concerning whom it is said, The increase of thine
house shall die in the flower of their age. Go ye and be diligent in the study of the law,
and ye shall live.' They went and gave diligent heed to the law, and lived. They called
themselves, therefore, the family of Jochanan, after his name."
It is disputed in the same tract, whether the son begot by a brother's raising up seed
to his brother should not be called after the name of him that is deceased: for instance,
if one dies without a son, and his name be Joseph, or Jochanan, whether the son that is
born to this man's brother, taking his brother's widow to wife, should not have the name
after him that afirst had her, and be called 'Joseph,' or 'Jochanan.' Otherwise, indeed,
it was very seldom that the son bore the name of the father, as is evident both in the
Holy Scriptures and the Rabbinical writers. It cannot be denied but that sometimes this
was done; but so very rarely, that we may easily believe the reason why the friends of
Zacharias would have given the child his own name was merely, either because they could by
no means learn what he himself designed to call him, or else in honour to him, however he
lay under that divine stroke at present, as to be both deaf and dumb.
78. Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath
[The dayspring from on high.] I would readily have rendered it the branch
from on high, but for what follows, "to give light," &c...
80. And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the
day of his showing unto Israel.
[In the deserts.] Whether John was an eremite in the sense as it is now commonly
taken, we may inquire and judge by these two things: I. Whether there was ever any eremite
in this sense among the Jews. II. Whether he absented himself from the synagogues; and
whether he did not present himself at Jerusalem in the feasts: and to this may be added,
whether he retired and withdrew himself from the society of mankind. If he absented from
the synagogues, he must have been accounted a wicked neighbour. If from the feasts,
he transgressed the command, Exodus 23:17. If from the society of mankind, what
agreeableness was there in this? It seems very incongruous, that he that was born for this
end, "to turn the disobedient," &c. should withdraw himself from all society
and converse with them. Nothing would persuade me sooner that John was indeed an anchoret,
than that which he himself saith, that he did not know Jesus, John 1:31, whereas he was so
very near akin to him. One might think, surely he must have lain hid in some den or cave
of the earth, when, for the space of almost thirty years wherein he had lived, he had had
no society with Jesus, so near a kinsman of his, nay, not so much as in the least to know
him. But if this were so, how came he to know and so humbly refuse him, when he offered
himself to be baptized by him? Matthew 3:14; and this before he was instructed who he was,
by the descent of the Holy Ghost upon him? John 1:33.
[eremite - hermit; esp.: a religious recluse.--Webster's Ninth New
From this question may arise two more:--
I. Whether John appeared or acted under the notion of a prophet before his entrance
into the thirtieth year of his age. I am apt to think he did not: and hence I suppose it
is said concerning him, "that he was in the deserts"; that is, he was amongst
the rustics, and common rank of men, as a man of no note or quality himself, till he made
himself public under the notion and authority of a prophet.
II. Whether he might not well know his kinsman Jesus in all this time, and admire his
incomparable sanctity, and yet be ignorant that he was the Messiah. Yea, and when he
modestly repulsed him from his baptism, was it that he acknowledged him for the Messiah?
(which agrees not with John 1:33) or not rather that, by reason of his admirable holiness,
he saw that he was above him?
[Till the day of his shewing unto Israel.] John was unquestionably a priest
by birth; and being arrived at the thirtieth year of his age, according to the custom
of that nation, he was, after examination of the great council, to have been admitted into
the priestly office, but that God had commissioned him another way.
"In the room Gazith the great council of Israel sat, and judged concerning the
priesthood. The priest in whom any blemish was found, being clothed and veiled in black,
went out and was dismissed: but if he had no blemish, he was clothed and veiled in white,
and going in ministered, and gave his attendance with the rest of the priests his
brethren. And they made a gaudy day, when there was no blemish found in the seed of
Aaron the priest."