It seems like the season of Advent and our time for preparation are speeding by as we move through our readings toward Bethlehem. Our Advent journey has reached day 17. In the readings for today we will see that there is a certain repetitious rhythm to the Word of God. One theologian said, ‚ÄúHistory may not repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme.‚ÄùSamson and John the Baptist have some things in common. See if you can find them as we study. Our readings are:
Judges 13:2-7, 24-25
There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. And his wife was barren and had no children. 3 And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, ‚ÄúBehold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. 4 Therefore be careful and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, 5 for behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.‚Äù 6 Then the woman came and told her husband, ‚ÄúA man of God came to me, and his appearance was like the appearance of the angel of God, very awesome. I did not ask him where he was from, and he did not tell me his name, 7 but he said to me, ‚ÄòBehold, you shall conceive and bear a son. So then drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his death.‚Äô‚Äù 24 And the woman bore a son and called his name Samson. And the young man grew, and the Lord blessed him. 25 And the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.
Judges 13:2-7 has some amazing parallels to narratives related to the nativity. In this passage we learn of a couple from the tribe of Dan. The name of the man is Zorah from Manoah. (That almost rhymes!) His wife was ‚Äúbarren‚Äù. Little did they know what was in store for them. God would make of their lives a foreshadowing or typology of that which would come to pass just before the Messiah appeared. One day, an angel appeared to Zorah‚Äôs wife and informed her that despite her inability to give birth to a child, she would become pregnant and give birth to a son. This sure sounds familiar! Next, the angel places restrictions on the wife, relating to the edict that this boy would be a ‚ÄúNazarite‚Äù (see Numbers 6:1-21). She could not drink alcohol, and a razor was never to touch the boy‚Äôs head. These requirements were given by the angel three times in this passage (vs. 4-5, 7, 14). Repetition of this kind underscores just how important the ‚ÄúNazarite Vow‚Äùwould be for this child. The woman reported to Zorah that a man of God who looked like an angel had come to her. Then she revealed his message and the stringent requirements under which the boy would live ‚Äì from the time he was in the womb until he died. Verse 5 says, ‚ÄúHe will take the lead in delivering Israel from the hands of the Philistines.‚Äù Does this sound like another who might come to take the lead ‚Äì a forerunner ‚Äì who might prepare the way?
Judges 13:24-25 says that she gave birth just as the angel had promised. His name was Samson. Verse 25 tells us, the child grew and the Lord blessed him, and the spirit began to stir in him. Compare that to Luke 1:80 which refers to John the Baptist. ‚ÄúAnd the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.‚Äù There is simply no way that this is just chance. It can‚Äôt be coincidence or happenstance. Wow, that rhymed!
In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah,of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years. 8 Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said to him, ‚ÄúDo not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.‚Äù 18 And Zechariah said to the angel, ‚ÄúHow shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.‚Äù 19 And the angel answered him, ‚ÄúI am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.‚Äù 21 And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22 And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. 23 And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home. 24 After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, 25 ‚ÄúThus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.‚Äù
Luke opens His Gospel similar in fashion to a good Shakespearean play. Two minor characters are presented who lay the groundwork for the major characters to be introduced later. Before Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus appear, the curtain opens on this priest named Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth. They are about to be swept up into the story of Salvation history as neither of them could have ever dreamed!
Because he was a priest, Zechariah would have been held in high esteem. Elizabeth, who was in the priestly line of Aaron, would have also been highly respected. What‚Äôs more, this passage tells us they were ‚Äúrighteous in the sight of God, observing all of the Lord‚Äôs commands and decrees blamelessly.‚Äù This legal and liturgical designation does not mean that they were sinless. It does mean that they followed God‚Äôs covenantal prescriptions precisely. Zechariah and Elizabeth had everything going for them and would have been looked up to by everyone. That‚Äôs what makes verse seven so strange. It says, ‚ÄúBut they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.‚Äù The Hebrew people often associated barrenness as evidence of God‚Äôs judgment. Deuteronomy 28:15 and 18 give testimony to this. But, we can see with Zechariah and Elizabeth, this is not the case. Their plight brings to mind others who experienced similar circumstances ‚Äì Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Hannah. All of them were barren until God worked a miracle in their lives and blessed them with children. Zechariah and Elizabeth remained faithful to God and trusted Him, despite their difficult situation.
As the story unfolds, we see that Zechariah, who serves in the priestly division of Abijah, was called upon to fulfill his responsibility to serve in the Temple. There were 24 divisions of priests and each division served two times a year ‚Äì one week at a time. One of the priests would be selected by drawing lots. His service was to go into the Holy Place, just outside the Most Holy Place, and there he would burn incense before the Lord. As an ordinary priest, this is as close to the Most Holy Place as Zechariah would ever be. In giving this service, Zechariah would represent the people before the Lord ‚Äì offering up prayers on their behalf. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for him. Priests were eligible for this high privilege only one time. Many priests were never selected to undertake this blessed responsibility.
While the faithful were gathering outside to offer their prayers, Zechariah entered the Temple and began his service at the ‚ÄúHour of Prayer‚Äù. What a scene! Zechariah was surely in awe and wonder as he began to minister to the Lord. Just then, an angel appeared to Him. Can you imagine his wide eyed dismay and holy fear at this turn of events? As we will see, his life is about to change forever!
How would you feel on this the most incredible day of your life ‚Äì you are the one selected to offer the incense and the prayers of the people just outside the Most Holy Place in all of the earth. This is the apex of your career! If that is not enough, an angel appears!! Zechariah is understandably gripped with fear. But, the angel says, ‚ÄúDon‚Äôt be afraid, your prayer has been answered. You and your wife Elizabeth will have a son who is to be named John.‚Äù
There are three things to notice about this promised miracle child named John. First, he is to abstain from wine or other fermented drink. This is not to instruct us concerning John‚Äôs culinary tastes, it says much more than that. In the Old Testament, some men, called ‚ÄúNazarites,‚Äù were set apart for special service. As we read, Samson was just such a man. These men took a special vow to avoid alcoholic beverages. The angel is saying that John is to be set apart for special service to the Lord.
Second, John was filled with the Holy Spirit, even before he was born. The filling of the Spirit in this way tells us that John was to be a prophet. For instance, we read of the Spirit coming upon Ezekiel, Elijah and Elisha among others, setting them apart for service as prophets of God. John was to be set apart as a prophet.
Luke 1:16-17 tell us the third important fact about John. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous‚Äîto make ready a people prepared for the Lord.‚Äù The prophet Malachi, in the last book of the Old Testament, prophesied that one would appear to prepare the way for the Lord ‚Äì the Promised One who would redeem Israel. In chapter 4:5-6, Malachi also prophesies that God, ‚Äú‚Ä¶will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents‚Ä¶‚Äù John was to be set apart as a ‚ÄúNazerite,‚Äù as a prophet, and as the New Elijah, preparing the way for the Lord‚Äôs coming! John would not only answer Zechariah and Elizabeth‚Äôs need for a son, he would help address the need of all the Hebrew people as John prepares a way for the Messiah!
the heavenly messenger and the amazing message of good news, Zechariah was focused on the natural challenges to having a son. After all, he and Elizabeth were well along in years. His doubt gave birth to the question, ‚ÄúHow can I be sure of this?‚Äù The angel‚Äôs response was quite remarkable. He said, ‚ÄúI am Gabriel.‚Äù What kind of an answer is that?
Daniel 9:20 gives us some insight. Here, Daniel has an incident that ‚Äúrhymes‚Äù with Zechariah‚Äôs experience! While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making my request to the LORD my God for his holy hill‚Äî while I was still in prayer, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me in swift flight about the time of the evening sacrifice. In this passage, Daniel is praying on behalf of the people, at the hour of the evening sacrifice, which corresponds to the hour the incense would have been offered. At that very moment the angel Gabriel appears to Daniel. Gabriel‚Äôs message to Daniel is a mixed one. The suffering of the people under the bondage of foreign leaders would continue, but, at the end of this long period, the anointed One, the Messiah will come!
Why did the angel tell Zechariah his name? The parallels with Daniel must have come to Zechariah‚Äôs mind in a torrent. Like Daniel who prayed at the hour of sacrifice, Zechariah prays on behalf of Israel as he offers the incense in the temple sacrifice. In the middle of Zechariah‚Äôs service, just like Daniel, the same angel ‚Äì Gabriel ‚Äì appears to both of them. Just like Daniel, Zechariah hears a message about the coming of the Messiah. Clearly, Gabriel wants Zechariah to hearken back to Daniel‚Äôs experience, so similar to his own. Gabriel wanted Zechariah to remember the message he gave to Daniel. The Arch Angel announced to Daniel the end of Israel‚Äôs oppression ‚Äì a time in the future. Now he is announcing to Zechariah that the time is at hand ‚Äì and John will be the prophet to prepare the way. ‚ÄúI am Gabriel,‚Äù speaks volumes to Zechariah and us.
Zechariah is speechless ‚Äì struck dumb for the nine months leading to John‚Äôs birth. But, John was born, and subsequently, the Messiah came. For Zechariah and Elizabeth, and the entire earth, life would never be the same, after Jesus‚Äô birth. Hey, that rhymes!!