Explore The Bible

Mark Rathel

Mark RathelMark Rathel is professor of theology and philosophy at The Baptist College of Florida.  Archives

2018

“After that”

2 Samuel 1.22-27; 2.1-7

June 3

First and Second Samuel was one book in the Hebrew Bible. Samuel became divided when Jewish rabbis translated the book of Samuel into Greek. A natural division occurs at the point the rabbis split the book of Samuel. First Samuel describes the reign of Saul; Second Samuel describes the reign of David. The opening words “after” appears to be a strange way to begin a book. “After” opens the books of Joshua, Judges, and 2 Samuel and connects three historical periods in Hebrew history: the liberation of the people from bondage in Egypt (Moses), the conquest of the Promised Land (Joshua), and the establishment of the Hebrew monarchy. The small word “after” reminds believers that God remained sovereign during times of transition.

In our focal passage, the leadership of the Hebrews passed from Saul to David. David masterfully managed the transition. What principles may believers learn from this passage about leadership and godly living?

First, be careful what you ask. The Hebrews asked for a king so that they might be like other nations (1 Samuel 8.5, 10, 20). As the people gathered before Mount Sinai for the establishment of the covenant, God expressed the desire that His people would not be like other nations. God revealed His desire for the Hebrews, “you will be my kingdom of priests and my holy nation (Ex. 19.6). The people “asked” for a king; God gave them Saul, a man whose name means “asked for.” God describes Saul as “as the king you’ve chosen for yourselves” (1 Sam. 8.18). A desire on the part of God’s people to be “like other nations” means that God’s people cannot fulfill God’s design of a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

Second, be mindful that disobedience produces “after” effects. When Saul became king, God assigned him one task. Destroy the Amalekites (1 Sam. 15.1). The Amalekites were the first people group to attack the Hebrews after the Exodus and waged guerrilla warfare against Israel. Saul’s failure to be obedient cost him the role of king (1 Sam. 28. 16-19). Unfortunately, Saul’s disobedience created suffering for other people – “The Lord will also hand Israel over to the Philistines along with you” (1 Sam. 28.19). Saul did not destroy the Amalekites, but an Amalekite killed Saul and Jonathan (2 Sam. 1.5-10).

Third, mourn rather than rejoice “after” the fall of a spiritual leader (2 Sam. 1.22-27). God made known to Saul His intention to make David king. When Saul died, David mourned rather than celebrated. David composed a poetic, public lament of the death of Saul and Jonathan. David celebrated Saul’s leadership, military success against the Philistines, and bringing prosperity. A key focus of David’s song is that the enemy and people outside the faith will not be able to rejoice because of a fallen leader of God’s people (2 Sam. 1.20).

Fourth, continually seek God’s direction especially during the “after” times (2 Sam. 2.1-4a). Saul died because he did not obey the word of God (1 Sam. 28.18). In contrast to Saul, David inquired of the Lord (2 Sam. 2.1). David had a major decision to make. Where would he establish his capital? For some time, David lived in the southernmost region of the land in territory originally allocated to the tribe of Simeon, likely to escape from Saul in the north. God directed David to move to Hebron, a location allocated to the tribe of Judah. Genesis connects Hebron with significant events in Abraham’s life. Abraham dwelt in Hebron. At Hebron, Abraham built an altar at Hebron (Gen. 13.18), the Lord appeared to Abraham at this location (Gen. 18), and Abraham purchased a burial plot for his family (Gen. 23). God promised Abraham vast land, yet the only land Abraham owned during his lifetime was his burial spot. In response to David’s request for guidance, God directed David to the location associated with Abraham – the so-called “father of the faithful.” Jesus fulfilled the promises to Abraham of a descendant that would bless all the people of the earth (Gen. 12.1-3) as well as the promise of a descendant with whom God would establish an eternal covenant (2 Sam. 7.8-16). Matthew 1.1 highlights Jesus as “son of Abraham” and “son of David.” Throughout the drama of Saul and David, God was fulfilling His promises.

God Will Accomplish His Purposes

2 Samuel 3.8-20

June 10

In 2 Samuel 3, David finally becomes the king of a united Israel. The description of Samuel’s anointing David as king occurs in 1 Samuel 16. Perhaps more important than the symbolic anointing of oil, the Spirit of God began to influence David on the same day (1 Sam. 16.13). In the intervening years, David served as a musician in Saul’s court, killed Goliath, served as a commander of Saul’s army, fled from Saul because of the king’s paranoia, and lived as a fugitive in the southernmost area of Israel before becoming king. David experience decades between the promise entailed in the anointing and his coronation as king over Israel.

What lessons may we learn about the fulfillment of God’s promise to David?

First, believers need to value family over career success (2 Sam. 3.1-5). The text describes David as growing stronger, a note that expresses potentiality and warning (2 Sam. 3.1-5). The Bible does not mention any descendants of Saul’s successor, his son Ish-bosheth. In contrast, prior to the description of David’s coronation, 2 Samuel emphasized David’s family at the time he became king. He had six sons born to six wives during the time of his reign in Hebron. The subsequent story reveals that although David grew stronger politically his family life was a mess. Amnon raped his half-sister Tamar and her brother Absalom executed Amnon in a revenge killing (2 Sam 13). Absalom attempted to seize his father’s throne (2 Sam. 15). Adonijah aspired to the throne in David’s old age (1 Kings 1.5-2.25). David may have sacrificed his family on the altar of political success.

 

Second, believers find assurance from the passage that God will accomplish His purposes (2 Sam. 3.8-11). Abner realized that he was fighting against God’s purposes. First, the accusation of Ish-bosheth awakened Abner to his precarious position. Abner faithfully served Saul. Despite Abner strengthening his position, he likely was not guilty of the treasonous charge by Saul’s son. However, as Saul’s right-hand man, Abner certainly knew of the promises of God to David. What did Saul know? Saul knew of David’s slaying of Goliath (1 Sam. 17.55-57). Saul knew the “God was with David (1 Sam. 18.12). Saul knew God would take the kingdom from him and give it to another man (1 Sam. 13.14; 15.28). Saul knew David would be the new king (1 Sam. 24.20). Surely, Saul discussed his knowledge with some members of his trusted advisors like Abner. Abner arrogantly claimed to have the ability to achieve God’s promises through his efforts. “May God punish Abner and do so severely if I don’t do for David what the Lord swore to him: 10 to transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul and establish the throne of David over Israel and Judah from Dan to Beer-sheba” (2 Sam. 3.9-10). God achieved His promises to David.

Third, believers should seek restoration and righteousness (2 Sam. 3.12-16). Abner proposed that David make a covenant with him. Since the covenant-maker was superior to the other party, David has superior advantages in negotiations. David first sought restoration with his wife Michal, Saul’s daughter and sister of King Ish-bosheth. The biblical text highlights that Michal “loved” David (1 Sam. 18.20). Saul agreed to give Michal to David if he paid the bridal price of two-hundred dead Philistines (1 Sam. 18.20-30). When her father Saul planned to kill David, she warned him and helped him escape (1 Sam. 19.11-12). In response, Saul gave his daughter to another man (1 Sam. 25.44). If Abner did not return Michal, David could have pressed for the break-up of the marriage at the price of double the original bridal price, namely, the death of four-hundred Philistines. Ish-bosheth was in no position to war against the Philistines and return the bridal price. Also, the return of Michal gave David some claim to the former kingdom of Saul. One Old Testament scholar claimed, “Thus David’s demand to have Michal returned amounted to an act designed to restore a state of righteousness in the land.”

Fourth, believers should use their influence to encourage others to follow others (2 Sam. 3.17-21). Abner conferred with the elders of the tribes other than the tribe of Judah. As Samuel grew old, the elders demanded Samuel appoint a king (1 Sam. 8.4-5). Now Abner challenged the elders to take action. The support of the tribal elders was essential for the public reception of David as king. Further, Abner specifically conversed with the elders from the tribe of Benjamin, the tribe of Saul and Abner.

Celebrate!

2 Samuel 5:9-12; 6:12-19

June 17

Worship is a mystery! William Temple, the archbishop of Canterbury in the context of WW2, described biblical worship, “To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God.” Our focal passage highlights the vision of the holiness of God, an understanding of the truth of God, an expression of the beauty of God, a heart in love with God, and a commitment to obey the purposes of God.

How should believers celebrate the nature and works of God?

First, believers celebrate the nature and works of God through recognition of the significance of Jerusalem in biblical teachings. First, David understood Jerusalem as a place of protection. Jerusalem is located in the central mountain range of Israel. The Valley of Kidron in the east and the Valley of Hinnom in the west provided some measure of protection. Second, because of its location on the border of the tribes of Benjamin (Saul) and Judah (David), the city should have assisted in unifying the Israelites. Third, Jerusalem provided a historical connection between David and Abraham. Abraham encountered the priest-king Melchizedek near Jerusalem (Gen. 14) and offered his son Isaac at the location of Jerusalem. Fourth, Revelation describes the abode of believers as the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21.2). The Jews oriented their religious life around the city of Jerusalem: unity, protection, and celebration of the covenants of Abraham and David. As followers of Christ, we have come to the “heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb. 12.22). When Christians worship, we celebrate unity, spiritual protection, our heavenly home, and our connection to Yahweh worshipers throughout history.

Second, believers celebrate the nature and works of God by recognition of God’s provision for accomplishing His purposes (2 Sam. 5.10-12). Celebration recognizes the source of our blessings. The key to David’s celebration was his perspective. David knew the “Lord God of the Armies.” Further, David knew he served the King “for the sake of His people” (2 Sam. 5.12). Celebration recognizes that God entrusts us with blessings for the sake of others. Sometimes God’s blessings can become a source of temptation if believers do not maintain the proper attitude. Hiram provided artisans and supplies for building David’s palace and Solomon’s temple. Hiram worshiped Baal – the Phoenician fertility God. Despite his friendly relationship with David and Solomon, Hiram promoted Baalism within Israel. As Hiram’s men helped built Solomon’s temple, they included pagan symbols within the temple. The author of the article on “The Temple of Jerusalem” in the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary noted, “considerable Phoenician influence, expertise, craftsmanship, and artistic design went into the building of the temple.”

 

Third, believers honor God through biblical prescriptions for worship (2 Sam 6.12-16). First, our worship must follow biblical patterns for worship. At numerous points, 2 Samuel described David as “inquiring of the Lord.” David inquired of the Lord regarding where he should establish his headquarters (2 Sam. 2.1) and battle strategy (2 Sam. 5.19). The Bible does not describe David inquiring about moving the ark of the covenant from Kiriath-jearim, a town that served as the location of the ark for approximately twenty years (1 Sam 7). God instructed the priests to carry the ark in the wilderness employing poles inserted through rings (Ex. 25.14). In David’s first attempt to move the ark to Jerusalem, David did not follow God’s guidelines. They moved the ark on a cart rather than carrying the ark (2 Sam. 6.3). God brought punishment when the priests placed the ark on a cart rather than the priests carrying the ark using poles. Thus, they handled the “things of God” with convenience rather than obedience. In the second attempt to move the ark to the city of David, the priests carried the ark and offered fellowship offering as they began the journey (2 Sam. 6.13). Second, joy characterizes biblical worship. The text describes two aspects of joyful worship. David unashamedly danced, the people shouted, and loudly blew shophars.

When biblical worship occurs, naysayers will not approve. Michal, David’s wife, held him contempt because of his worship. David danced “before the Lord.” David dances with a spontaneous, unhindered heart. Michal failed to celebrate the ark entering the city and held her worshiping husband in contempt. Thus, she acted more like a “daughter of Saul” (her husband’s rival to the throne) rather than his wife.

Fourth, believers celebrate God through sacrificial giving (2 Sam 6.17-19). David offered (or had the priests conduct the sacrifices) burnt offerings for atonement and peace offerings symbolizing fellowship. The text describes three blessings of biblical worship. First, biblical worship unifies the people of God. Through worship, the people of God become a community (2 Sam. 6.19 CSB). Second, biblical worship provides blessings. Third, through biblical worship, people return home different than when worship began.

Established

2 Samuel 7.8-21

June 24

While every word of God is essential, the Bible itself highlights the importance of some passages utilizing quotations and allusions to specific passages in other parts of Scripture. For example, Psalm 110 is the most referenced Old Testament passage in the New Testament. Ps 110 is a “divine” commentary on 2 Samuel 7.8-21. The New Testament cites 2 Samuel 7.8-21 as a Messianic passage.

Although the term “covenant” does not occur in this passage, Psalm 89.3 cites 2 Samuel 7.8-21  as the foundation for an eternal covenant with David.  “Here is one of the best definitions of the biblical concept of the covenant of which I am aware: “A covenant is an arrangement between two parties in which the greater [God] commits himself to the lesser [David] in the context of mutual loyalty.” (In this lesson outline, I confess my indebtedness to the overview of an Old Testament scholar named Walter Kaiser.)

In what ways did God commit Himself to David as the greater?

First, God established a covenant with David based on God’s grace rather than the king’s worthiness. God reviewed the past to remind the king that grace served as the key to the relationship between God and the king.  Notice God’s repeated statements about His grace in David’s life. “I took you” from the lowly life of a shepherd. “I took you” to be a ruler over my people. “I have been with you.” “I destroyed all your enemies.” Furthermore, God made promises about the future to David to assist David to understand that God’s grace would bless David in the future. “I will make your name great.” God promised to make a “house” for David. “I will raise up your descendant.” One truth all believers need to grasp is that every blessing comes from God’s amazing grace.

Second, eight times in 2 Samuel 7 God promised to build David a house (2 Sam. 7.11, 13, 16, 19, 25, 27, 29). David previously built a palace (2 Sam. 7.1). Following the practice of ancient Near Eastern monarchs, David now desired to build God a house or temple. Because David served as a warrior (1 Chron. 22.8), God did not let David build a temple. God promised to build David a forever “house” or dynasty (2 Sam. 7.11, 13, 16, 19, 26, 29). Even in contemporary language, we use the term “house” to refer to a royal dynasty, for example, “The House of Windsor.”

Third, God promised David a “seed” or descendants (2 Sam. 7.12). Most English translate the Hebrew term for “seed” as “descendant” (or singular). It is important to understand, however, that the Hebrew term “seed” is a collective term. A farmer never plants a single seed. God would raise up Solomon to build a literal house (temple) for God, yet from among the many seeds or descendants of David, one particular offspring would occupy the throne of David forever.

Fourth, God promised David his descendant would be a “son of God” (2 Sam. 7.14). This promise finds its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus. The foundational New Testament confession is that Jesus is “the Christ, the son of the Living God (Matt. 16.16). Hebrews 1 emphasizes the deity of Jesus the Messiah; Hebrews 2 highlights the humanity of Jesus the Messiah. Hebrews 1 brings together 2 Samuel 7.12 with Psalm 2, the divine commentary on the promise to David. “For to which of the angels did he ever say, You are my Son; today I have become your Father, or again, I will be his Father, and he will be my Son?” (Heb. 1.5).

Bible Studies For Life

Richard Elligson

Richard ElligsonRichard Elligson is associate professor of missions and chair of the theology division at The Baptist College of Florida.  Archives

2018

Session 1

June 3, 2018

WHY ARE WE EVEN HERE?

Genesis 1:1-5; 26-31

The eternal question, “why are we here?” is not so much philosophical as it is theological. How one answers that question reveals what one believes about creation, mankind, and God. The mind-numbed atheist who denies God, sees creation and mankind as random results of natural evolution. The misguided “theistic evolutionist” sees God using evolution as His method of creation (thus denying the clear scriptural account). Only the creationist, who puts the Bible first, understands that both creation and mankind serve the purpose of the sovereign God who made them.

Mankind’s preparation (vv. 1-5). Contrary to what we sometimes hear, man was not created for God’s benefit. God was not lonely, in need of fellowship, or love, or anything else mankind had to offer. David recognized this when he said, “When I observe Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You set in place, what is man that You remember him, the son of man that You look after him?” (Ps. 8:3-4). Paul echoed this idea when he declared, “The God who made the world and everything in it—He is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in shrines made by hands. Neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives everyone life and breath and all things” (Acts 17:24-25). To see God as somehow needing us is to see God through our fallen, prideful eyes. He doesn’t need us…we need Him!

Once we see things in proper perspective, the oft quoted commentary makes pretty good sense: “The world was no doubt made, that it might be the theater of divine glory.” Or in other words, the world was made as a stage upon which God’s salvation would be played out. That in no way cheapens the earth, or grants permission to exploit it. Rather, what a wonderful, beautiful, vital, and supremely good stage God created!

Mankind’s creation (vv. 26-27). These few verses are as rich in their meaning as they are simple in their wording. For the first time in these six days of creation, there appears divine consultation. Who can be the “us” in verse 26 apart from the godhead Himself? Nowhere does God consult with angels…nor does anyone else give Him direction or counsel (see Is. 40:13). The Trinity always operates together, and that precedent is made clear in the first chapters of Genesis. Lots of possibilities exist for what it means to be created in the image of God. Simply put, God made us to resemble Him intellectually (with the ability to think, reason, and choose), morally (with a conscience; the ability to understand right from wrong), and relationally (with the need for fellowship with God and others).

Second, God created humans with deliberate differentiation: “He created them male and female.” The deliberate and specific essence of humanity is emphasized in the language. Three times the word “created” is used in verse 27; twice to unite them under God’s image, and once to separate them into distinct genders. Hence last century’s lie of evolution is addressed, as well as this century’s perversion of gender swapping…all in a single verse!

Mankind’s provision (vv. 28-31). The same God who created man, provided for him as well. God blessed them with certain gifts and charged them with certain responsibilities. They were commanded to fill the earth and to rule over it. The idea of “subdue” here is not to conquer, but to control. God’s supreme creation—mankind—would have authority over every other part of creation. While God provided an ideal environment, He also provided for day-to-day sustenance. All of the plants and fruits were given to Adam and Eve. It really was a paradise.  And when all was said and done, God looked it over and declared, “This is very good.”

So why are we here? To fulfill God’s intended purpose, given to us from the beginning.

Session 2

June 10, 2018

WHY ARE WE IN THIS MESS?

Genesis 3:1-7; 14-19

So, if mankind was created to worship God and enjoy the good and beautiful creation God made for him, then what in the world happened? The answer, of course, is that sin crept in and ruined it all. Genesis 3 has been called the saddest chapter in the Bible. In it, we see the fall of mankind. It began with temptation, it ended in tragedy, but fortunately, it promises triumph.

The temptation (vv. 1-7). The serpent was one of God’s created animals. Here, he is used by the devil as the agent of temptation. The word “cunning” means crafty, shrewd, or clever. The original connection between the serpent and the devil is unclear. But the New Testament book of Revelation mentions them as synonymous with Satan (Rev. 12:9; 20:2). The temptation itself appeals to pride, the very sin that resulted in Satan’s original expulsion from heaven (see Is. 14:12-15). In his subtlety, the devil drove a three-edged wedge between Adam and Eve and their Creator. First, in verse 1, he tempted them to doubt God’s word: “Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden’?” Then, in verse 4, he tempted them to deny God’s word: “No! You will not die.” Finally, in verse 5, he impugned God’s character: “In fact, God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God…” While this was never stated by the Lord, the implication is that God was selfish and didn’t want anyone to be like Him. The three-fold temptation was met with Eve’s four-fold response. In verse 6 she saw, she took, and she ate of the forbidden fruit (see the parallel in 1 John 2:16). Then she sinned doubly by giving it to her husband. Finally, in the ultimate act of pride, they both attempted to “fix” their problem themselves! (v. 7).

The tragedy (vv. 14-19). By “the fall of man,” we mean that man’s exalted position in God’s perfect creation was wrecked by Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God. That sinful nature was then passed to every human being (see Eph 2:3; Rom 3:9-18, 23). The seriousness of sin is reflected in the judgment God pronounced. Simply put, “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Death always implies separation: physical death is the separation of the soul from the body; spiritual death is the separation of the spirit from God. Lucifer’s sin required him to be cast out of heaven (Luke 10:18) and Adam’s sin resulted in his being cast out of the garden. Because we too, have a sin nature, we exist in separation from God (see Is. 59:1-2).

The effects of Adam and Eve’s sin had more immediate consequences. God cursed the world, people, animals, plants, and the ground itself. In fact, everything that God created for the benefit and blessing of humanity was now cursed. Like Adam, every snake encountered, every weed pulled, every funeral attended, and every sin committed, reminds us that we remain under God’s curse! In fact, Romans 8:22-23 tells us the whole creation “groans” under the weight of God’s curse, longing for a day of redemption.

The triumph (v. 15). Fortunately for us, God’s plan did not leave us without hope. Genesis 3:15 is sometimes called the proto-evangelium, or “first gospel.” It’s the first real hint that a confrontation between God and sin was already in the works. The serpent would one day wound the seed of the woman (Christ), but that blessed Seed would ultimately crush the head of the serpent. Then in a remarkable act of atonement, God slew innocent animals He had created and used their skins to cover sinful man. This demonstrates a foundational truth of God’s salvation: the penalty for sin is indeed death; BUT: God will allow a substitute! The innocent may die on behalf of the guilty.

Session 3

June 17, 2018

WHY CAN’T WE FIX IT?

Deuteronomy 5:32-33; Galatians 3:10-12, 19, 24-25

Mankind was created to worship his Creator and to enjoy the wonderful world God placed him in. But through intentional, prideful, open rebellion against God, sin entered the human race; and the consequence is death. We are all descendants of Adam and the Bible says, “In Adam, all die” (1 Cor. 15:22). Ever since the sewing together of fig leaves in the garden, mankind has tried his best to clean up the mess he has made. But Jesus instructed His followers, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). How can a flawed, sinful man ever obtain perfection? And therein lies the problem.

The promise of the law (Deut. 5:32-33). At first glance, it might appear that the New Testament criticizes and condemns the Old Testament law as outdated, old fashioned, unfair, or even cruel. But that’s simply not the case. Jesus made it exceptionally clear in the Sermon on the Mount, “Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For I assure you: until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all things are accomplished” (Matt. 5:17-18). In the focal passage, two principles stand out. The first is man’s responsibility. The phrases “be careful to do,” “not to turn aside,” and “whole instruction” reflect the obligation and dedication needed to obey God’s commandments. Our nature is to turn from God. God’s requirement is that we intentionally follow Him. The second principle is God’s reward. Notice that God’s desire is not to trip us up and punish us, but to bless us! Every time God says, “Thou shalt not,” He is protecting us. And every time God says, “Thou shalt,” He is prospering us.

The penalty of the law (Gal. 3:10-12). So if the law is holy, and just, and good—as Paul claims in Romans 7:12—and a source of God’s protection and blessing, then why does Galatians 3 call it a curse? Here is the key: the law reflects God’s perfect standard for righteousness. Therefore, it is indeed holy and just and good. The problem is not the law; the problem is our inability to keep the law! The law is not cursed, but we are…when we depend upon ourselves to keep it. Paul said, “by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified” (Gal. 2:16). Whether we depend on ourselves to keep God’s law, or we depend upon our good works to make up for our failures, we are committing the same sin; we are trying to save ourselves. In the end, the law cannot save us…it can only condemn us.

The purpose of the law (Gal. 3:19, 24-25). Galatians 3:19 asks the next logical question. If the law cannot save us, then why was the law even given to us in the first place? Paul indicates it was “added”—somewhat like a placeholder—until the Seed of promise (mentioned in Gen. 3:15) came. Moses was the mediator who delivered the law, and transgression was the offense that required the law. The word construction means that the law was given in regard to transgression in general. Speaking of the purpose of the law even today, Presbyterian theologian Albert Barnes (c. 1850) said it well, “It shows people their duty. It reminds them of their guilt. It teaches them how far they have wandered from God. It reveals to them the penalty of disobedience. It shows them that justification by the Law is impossible, and that there must be some other way by which people must be saved.” That other way is, of course, the only way; it’s justification by faith.

Session 4

June 24, 2018

WHY DID JESUS COME?

Luke 1:68-79

The most familiar of the Christmas stories comes from Luke 2. Yet much occurred in the first chapter of Luke’s gospel prior to “those days” in which “there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.” In Luke 1, two births are announced, and two songs of praise and prophecy were sung: Mary’s magnificat (or “magnificent” song) recorded in verses 46-55, and Zechariah’s song, highlighted as our focal passage (vv. 68-79). Here, Zechariah—the father of John the Baptist—provides several insights into why Jesus the Messiah was coming to earth.

To bring salvation (vv. 67-71). Galatians 4:4-5 says,But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.”

What an incredible event this must have been! After waiting in forced silence for John’s birth, his father’s tongue is loosed and his spirit soared! Filled with God’s Holy Spirit, Zechariah praises God the Father for the imminent arrival of God the Son. The salvation God was sending is described in three key terms. First, the Savior would provide redemption (v. 68). The idea of redemption is one of “buying back.” Even God’s chosen people Israel were held captive by sin. It was not Satan who required payment (as some have erroneously taught), but rather God’s perfect justice that required a satisfactory “ransom” to be paid. While Zechariah emphasized redemption of God’s people, all have sinned individually; and all are in need of individual salvation. Second, the Savior would be a horn of salvation. Most see this as an indicator of His power, but it can also refer to the horn of oil used to anoint the king (see 1 Sam. 16:13), a fitting tribute to King David and an appropriate reminder that the Messiah is God’s “anointed one.” Third, verse 71 mentions salvation from our enemies. Long before the apostle Paul would warn against the “powers of darkness” and the “spiritual forces of evil” (Eph. 6:12), God’s people understood the enemies they faced, the oppression they were under, and the burden of following God in a pagan world. They longed for physical freedom as well as spiritual, and Christ was the deliverer they had been praying for.

To fulfill prophecy (vv. 72-77). Paul was emphatic in his letter to Timothy: “This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). But the events of the gospels were both predicted and promised since the Fall of man in Genesis 3. In these verses, Zechariah recounts God’s faithfulness, then names John as the prophet who would prepare the way. God’s faithfulness had been a trying theme. For 400 years (between Malachi and Matthew) God had given no new revelation. But God’s chosen remembered His promise to Abraham and continually recounted the events of God’s miraculous deliverance, protection, and provision going back to Genesis 12. Notice that salvation was not only a merciful deliverance from, but a deliverance to. In this case, the freedom was given “to serve Him without fear in holiness and righteousness” (vv. 77-78). And all of this had been promised by the faithful God who always fulfills His promises.

To transform lives (vv. 78-79). Jesus not only said that He came to “give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45), but also “that they may have life and have it in abundance” (John 10:10). How fitting that Zechariah’s song of praise does not end looking at the past, but rather at the future, with a powerful picture of Christ the Light driving away the darkness, moving His people out of the shadows, and guiding them into His blessed pathways of peace.

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