“And you shall call His Name…”: Luke 1:19-20, 26

Luke 1:19-20, 26ff

Today’s note continues the previous study on the Angelic birth-announcement to Zechariah (vv. 13-17). It is worth pointing out again the close similarities between the Angelic appearances to Zechariah and Mary, both of which follow a similar pattern from the Old Testament narratives (on this, cf. the discussion in Brown, Birth, pp. 155-8, 292-8). Apart from the basic parallel between Zechariah/Elizabeth and Joseph/Mary (related to the wider John/Jesus parallel), which includes the element of childlessness—in each case the woman is incapable of conceiving at the time of the announcement—note the common elements in the two accounts:

  • Appearance of the Angel to the person (vv. 11, 26-28a)
  • The person is troubled/afraid (vv. 12, 29)
  • The Angel responds “Do not be afraid [mh\ fobou=]” and addresses the person by name (vv. 13a, 30a)
  • There is a declaration that God has heard/chosen (i.e. shown favor to) the person (vv. 13a, 30b)
  • An announcement of the child’s conception and coming birth, using a similar formula, and including a declaration of the child’s name (vv. 13b, 31)
  • Statement regarding the future destiny and (divine) role for the child (vv. 15-17, 32-33)
  • Question from the person as to how this can be, in light of the current condition of childlessness (barrenness/virginity) (vv. 18, 34)
  • Response by the Angel involving a sign confirming the message (vv. 19-20, 35-37)
  • A faithful response by the person to the announcement (vv. 21-25, 38)

The heavenly/angelic appearance to Zechariah draws upon, or echoes, three appearances in the Old Testament narratives:

The appearance to Mary brings in elements of the Samuel narrative (1 Sam 1-2), with Hannah serving as a type/pattern for Mary. There is an interesting sort of progression in the narratives cited above:

  • Gen 17 (also chap. 15)—it is God Himself (YHWH) who appears to Abraham
  • Gen 18—God Himself appears to Abraham (v. 1), it would seem, in the form of three Messengers (“three men”, v. 2)
  • Judg 13 (cf. also Gen 16:7-13)—it is the “Messenger of YHWH” (hwhy Ea^l=m^), i.e. the “Messenger/Angel of the Lord” (Greek a&ggelo$ kuri/ou)
  • Dan 9:21-24—the Angel who appears is Gabriel

The chronology of these traditions matches the (historical) development of Israelite/Jewish thought and theology regarding the relationship between God and the other heavenly beings (i.e. Angels). The Lukan narrative most clearly follows that of Judg 13:2ff and Dan 9:21-24—the being who appears to Zechariah (and then to Mary) is first called “the Messenger of the Lord” (v. 11), and then identified as Gabriel (v. 19):

“…the Messenger said to him, ‘I am Gabrîel, the (one) having stood alongside in the sight of God, and I was se(n)t forth to speak toward you and to give you the good message (regarding) these (thing)s’.”

The name Gabriel is a simplified transliteration of the Hebrew Ga»rî°¢l (la@yr!b=G~), a name which otherwise occurs in the Scriptures only in the book of Daniel (8:16; 9:21). In the post-exilic period, and subsequently in Jewish tradition, names were assigned (or recognized) for various heavenly beings (Angels) which had always been nameless in earlier tradition. Two other Angels are named in the (later) Scriptures—Michael (Dan 10:13; 12:1) and Raphael (deutero-canonical Tobit 3:17). Four others were added to these three, resulting in the traditional number of seven chief Angels, or beings, who stand in the presence of God (Tobit 12:15; 1 Enoch 20; Rev 8:2). For more on the basic idea of Angels standing in God’s presence, cf. Job 1:6; Dan 7:16; Ezek 9:2; and the Testament of Levi 8 (Fitzmyer, Luke, pp. 327-8). All of these Angels bear °E~l-names, which ultimately derive from old Israelite (and Semitic) tradition (cf. the earlier article on °E~l).

The name Ga»rî°¢l is a phrase- or sentence-name made up of two elements: (a) the noun ge»er (rb#G#), essentially referring to a strong (mighty, vigorous, successful) young man, i.e. a warrior or hero, and (b) the divine name °E~l (la@), “Mighty (One)”, i.e. “God”. It should probably be translated something like “My Strong One [i.e. Warrior] is God [°E~l]”. As an old °E~l-name, it reflects ancient warrior imagery associated with Yahweh/El, especially in relation to ritual warfare and the “holy war” tradition. The heavenly bodies (sun, moon, stars, etc) were seen as moving together (‘marching’) as an army (the “hosts” of heaven). God himself would come with the clouds, controlling the wind and rain, thunder and lightning, etc. According to the religious (and mythic) traditions of the ancient Near East, all of these natural and meteorological phenomena could be utilized by God fighting on behalf of his people. So it was, in truth, for Israel in their understanding of Yahweh/El, and this is expressed various ways in Scripture, especially in older poetry (Exod 15:1ff; Judg 5:4-5, 20, etc); for other references, cf. the article on the names ‘Adôn/Baal. Eventually this warrior-imagery was reinterpreted and cast in a different theological light (in the Prophets, etc), but would resurface in later Jewish eschatology and Messianic tradition, such as in the writings from Qumran (the War Scroll, etc). The military role tended to be associated more with Michael, rather than Gabriel (cf. Dan 10:21; 12:1; Jude 9; Rev 12:7); yet Gabriel continued to have a prominent place in Jewish writings of the period, such as in the book of Enoch (9:1, 9-10; 20:7; 40:2, 9; 54:6; cf. Brown, Birth, p. 262).

Returning to the scene of Gabriel’s appearance to Zechariah, adding the details from verses 19-20ff, we may construct the following dramatic (chiastic) outline:

  • Zechariah serving as priest in the Temple sanctuary (vv. 8-10ff)
    • Gabriel is sent to speak “these things” (tau=ta) to him (v. 19)
      • He gives the good news (eu)aggeli/sasqai)
    • Zechariah will be unable to speak until “these things” (tau=ta) happen (v. 20)
  • Zechariah comes out of the sanctuary (to give the priestly blessing) (vv. 21-22)

It is possible that this scene, with its Temple setting, reflects a traditional motif of receiving a revelation in the Temple, as, for example, in Isaiah 6:1-5ff (cf. also Josephus, Antiquities 18.282f, etc). In the case of Isaiah, his vision also involves a transformative touching of the mouth (the lips). Isaiah, like John the Baptist, is divinely appointed and gifted to speak the word of God (cf. the use of Isa 40:1-5 in Lk 1:76-77; 3:4-6 par, etc). By contrast, Zechariah is rendered mute and unable to speak (1:20), until after the birth of John and the declaration of his name (vv. 57-64). As a result, he is unable to deliver (speak) the priestly blessing to the people waiting outside in the Temple court (vv. 21-22, cf. Num 6:24-26; Mishnah Tamid 7:2). In the overall context of Luke-Acts, this blessing is ultimately fulfilled by Jesus at the end of the Gospel (Lk 24:50-51). There is thus, perhaps, a greater symbolic importance to verse 23 than the simple narrative statement would suggest:

“And it came to be, as the days of his working in service (to God) were (ful)filled, he went (away) from (there) [i.e. from the Temple] into his own house [i.e. back home].”

It is the child Jesus who will, in a sense, take over in the Temple, serving in the house of God his Father (2:49).

References above marked “Brown, Birth” are to R. E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL] (1977 / 1993). Those marked “Fitzmyer, Luke” are to J. A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 28 (1981).

“And you shall call His Name…”: Luke 1:13-17

Luke 1:13-17

Having discussed the introduction to John the Baptist’s parents (Zechariah and Elizabeth) in the previous note, today I will be looking at the appearance of the heavenly Messenger, announcing the coming birth of John, in Lk 1:8-17—in particular, the words of the Messenger in vv. 13-17.

The setting of the Temple, so important as a symbol in the narrative, is featured in the introduction to the scene (vv. 8-12). Zechariah, as one of the priests designated to perform periodic service in the Temple (v. 5, cf. the prior note), was fulfilling his duty, which, on this occasion, involved serving in the sanctuary at the altar of incense. This was a privilege which was granted to priests by the casting of lots (cf. the description in the Mishnah, Tamid 5-6). Verses 9-10 indicate that it is the time of the evening (afternoon) sacrifice (Exod 30:7-18; cf. also Dan 9:21), perhaps around 3:00 pm (Acts 3:1). As Zechariah performs his duties in the sanctuary (the Holy place, but not the innermost shrine), we read in verse 11:

“And (the) Messenger of the Lord [a&ggelo$ kuri/ou] was seen by [i.e. appeared to] him, having stood out of (the) giving [i.e. right-hand] (side) of the place of sacrifice [i.e. altar] of the (fragrant) smoke”

This is the second occurrence in the Lukan narrative of the word ku/rio$ (“Lord”), here referring specifically to the divine name Yahweh (cf. the earlier article on this name), through the corresponding Old Testament expression hwhy Ea^l=m^ (mal°a½ YHWH), “Messenger of Yahweh” (Gen 16:7-13; 21:17; 22:10-18; 31:11-13; Exod 3:2-6; 14:19-24; Judg 2:1-5, etc; cf. Fitzmyer, Luke, pp. 324-5). In the earliest strands of tradition, this figure was largely theophanous—that is, representing the manifestation of God (Yahweh/El) himself to his people, through a kind of intermediary. Subsequently, in Israelite and Jewish tradition, it referred more precisely to a distinct heavenly being (i.e. Angel). In the Lukan narrative, the figure is identified as the Angel Gabriel (vv. 19, 26), best known from the book of Daniel, to which the Infancy narrative alludes at several points. The word decio/$, meaning the right-hand (side), I translate above literally as the “giving” side—the right-hand being regarded as the propitious or favored side. The Angel’s appearance to the right of the altar indicates that God is showing favor to Zechariah. The Zechariah’s fear in response (v. 12) is typical of such Angelic appearances in the Old Testament, and is part of a definite (literary) annunciation pattern adopted in the Gospel (for more on this, cf. especially Brown, Birth, pp. 155-8, 292-8). The presence of the “Messenger of the Lord” recalls the Samson narrative (Judg 13:3ff); the wife of Manoah, like Elizabeth, was also barren.

The words of the Angel which follow (vv. 13-17) may be divided into four parts, beginning the primary birth announcement in v. 13:

“Do not be afraid, Zecharyah, through (the reason) that your need [i.e. request] has been heard [i.e. listened] into (by God), and your wife Elisheba will cause a son to be (born) for you—and you shall call his name Yohanan.”

It is not entirely clear what Zechariah’s need or request (de/hsi$, i.e. prayer/petition) was; certainly he would have prayed for a child, but, given the notice regarding Zechariah’s devotion and righteous character (vv. 5-6), it is also possible that he had been praying for the future blessing and fortune of Israel. The name which the Angel directs should be given to the child is Yôµ¹n¹n (/n`j*oy), transliterated in Greek as  )Iwa/nnh$, and simplified again into English typically as “John”. It is a sentence-name, incorporating the divine name Yahweh (the hypocoristic “Yah[û]”, cf. the earlier article), and meaning “Yah(weh) has shown favor”. This favor (or “grace”), indicated already by the Angel’s appearance on the right-hand side of the altar (cf. above), may be understood three ways:

  • God granting to Zechariah and Elizabeth a long-awaited child (a son)
  • That the son would have a special status and role to play in God’s plan, and
  • That the child would be the means by which God would show favor to His people Israel

John’s salvific role, with regard to the last two points, of course, is due to his close connection with Jesus, as indicated by the overall structure of the narrative, intercutting the birth accounts of John and Jesus, respectively. The next three parts of the Angel’s message follow the initial announcement, and may be outlined as follows:

  • The effect of the (good) news of the child’s birth (v. 14)—”And there will be delight for you and leaping (for joy), and many will take delight upon his coming to be (born)”
  • Declaration of the child’s role and destiny (vv. 15-16), which involves four components:
    (i) the statement “he will be great in the sight of the Lord” (compare with v. 32)
    (ii) his designation as a Nazirite (Num 6:3; Judg 13:4 [another connection with the Samson narrative, cf. above])
    (iii) that “he will be filled with the holy Spirit” from his moment of his conception
    (iv) his mission will be to “turn many of the sons of Israel (back) upon [i.e. to] (the) Lord their God”
  • The child’s role and destiny as a fulfillment of prophecy (v. 17)

The specific prophecy referenced by the Angel in verse 17 is that of Malachi 3:1ff, as interpreted by the ‘appendix’ of 4:5-6 [Hebrew 3:23-24], in which the Messenger who will go ahead and “prepare the way” for the coming of the Lord is identified with the figure of Elijah. John the Baptist, too, was certainly identified with this Messenger (and Elijah) in early Gospel tradition (Mark 1:2-3 par, etc). The Lukan Infancy narrative draws upon this same tradition; according to the account here, it was established by the Angel of the Lord in the very announcement of John’s coming birth. This will be discussed further in the note on Lk 1:76ff. I have discuss the original context, and interpretation, of Mal 3:1ff in an article in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

Particular mention should be made of the name Elijah, which, like Yôµ¹n¹n, was also a Yahweh-name. In Hebrew it is °E~lîy¹h[û] ([W]hY`l!a@), “Yah(weh) is (my) God [°E~l]”. This name would have had special significance at the time of great 9th-century B.C. Prophet, when the worship of Yahweh (identified with the Creator God °E~l [“Mighty One”]) was being challenged by Canaanite religious beliefs and practices centered on the deity Haddu (called Ba±al, “Lord, Master”). For more on this, cf. the earlier article on the name Yahweh, as well as the article on °Adôn/Ba±al. Though Baal-worship, as such, was no longer an issue for Israel by the time of the New Testament, the language and emphasis of the old Prophets (such as Elijah) is echoed here in the Angel’s words. Note especially the wording of verse 16:

“…and many of the sons of Israel he [i.e. John] will turn (back) upon the Lord their God”

This relates primarily to the prophecy in Mal 3:1ff; 4:5-6 (note the similar wording in 4:6; cf. also Sirach 48:10), though there may be allusions to other passages such as 2 Sam 7:24 (cf. Exod 19:10-11). The expression “the Lord their God” (o( ku/rio$ o( qeo/$ au)tw=n), though obscured somewhat in translation, actually refers to the ancient religious point mentioned above—namely, that Yahweh (the Lord [ku/rio$]) is our God (°E~l/°E_lœhîm [qeo/$]). That is to say, Yahweh is the one true (Creator) God, and he is our God, i.e. the one we recognize and worship. It is this God who will ultimately show favor to His people through the person of Jesus Christ.

References above marked “Brown, Birth” are to R. E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL] (1977 / 1993). Those marked “Fitzmyer, Luke” are to J. A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 28 (1981).