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John's Father Zechariah Prophesies: Hebrew Names Confirm Divine Plan!

We have a remarkable prophecy at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel. What is remarkable is not just the words which are spoken but the way in which this family, by their Hebrew names, confirm the prophecy and the fact that this truly was by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Father holding child with family looking on
The circumcision of John

Luke, in chapter 1, begins by introducing us to Zechariah, a priest married to Elizabeth and Luke describes them as being righteous before God and walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child because Elizabeth was barren and both were old, advanced in years! We then have an account of Zechariah being visited by an angel of the Lord, Gabriel, whilst he was serving in the Temple in Jerusalem. Gabriel tells Zechariah that Elizabeth will bear a son and that he is to be called John. Zechariah questioned Gabriel about this because of their age and Gabriel told Zechariah that he would be silent and unable to speak until the day came that this prophecy would be fulfilled. Gabriel pressed the mute button and Zechariah spent just over 9 months being unable to speak. Any ladies like that to happen to their husbands? Don’t answer!

Well Elizabeth did conceive and bore a son and we arrive at the account of

John’s brit milah, his circumcision on the 8th day. This takes us back to the institution of circumcision in Genesis 17:9-13

And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant.

So, when Zechariah’s mute button was switched off, his speech returned and he was able to confirm that the baby’s name was indeed to be John. His tongue was loosed as he was filled with the Holy Spirit and he spoke giving a bracha, a blessing, blessing God and the reaction – wow, what a reaction! Fear came on all Zechariah’s neighbours and all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea. They were asking ‘what then will this child be?’ It wasn’t just the fact that John's father Zechariah had got his speech back but it was what he had said, what he prophesies.

Verse 68 – ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people…

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel! This is the Creator God, The Lord of all the earth but He is specifically the God of Israel. Zechariah gives the reason next for why he is blessing God. He has visited and redeemed His people. You could look back to the time of the exodus from Egypt and say that God in those days visited and redeemed His people but as we read on we find that Zechariah, inspired by the Holy Spirit, was referring to what was happening at that moment. God had visited Zechariah through the angel Gabriel and now Zechariah was aware that after the many years since the last prophet spoke in Israel, God was again visiting His people.

In verse 69 of Luke 1 we read that Zechariah prophesied that ‘He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David’. Horn signifies strength, power, royalty because this horn is raised up in the house of God’s servant David. Zechariah, in verse 70, states that God had spoken of this before through ‘the mouth of his holy prophets of old’. This is looking forward to an even greater deliverer than Moses – Jesus the Messiah!

Now we come to a very interesting part of Zechariah’s prophecy.

So what was this work of Messiah which Zechariah refers to here, this horn of salvation? Firstly to save His people from their sins – the meaning of the name Jesus as the angel of the Lord told Joseph, Mary’s husband (see Matthew 1:21). This time of visitation then is all about salvation because the time for the Saviour to come was approaching. Of course the messianic expectation at that time was to see Israel delivered from the Roman occupation, a physical deliverance. I suggest that in one sense they were right to expect it because they knew what the prophets had said and that was about salvation from sin but also a deliverance of Israel physically. What they didn’t get was the timing of this physical deliverance. Many in the church think that when Jesus came the emphasis changed to merely a heavenly salvation from sin but note what Zechariah prophesies here. This visit by God, this horn of salvation being raised up is, verse 71, ‘that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us’. Well this is topical – Jewish people being hated, what we refer to nowadays as antisemitism. And how sadly we hear that it has risen so much since the attack on Israel on October 7th 2023.

But see what Zechariah says here in verse 71 – the salvation of the Jewish people is ‘from the hands of all who hate them’. These are described in Psalm 83 as God-haters and therefore it follows that they hate God’s chosen people. We see still today those who identify with Psalm 83:1-4

O God, do not keep silence; do not hold your peace or be still, O God! For behold, your enemies make an uproar; those who hate you have raised their heads. They lay crafty plans against your people; they consult together against your treasured ones. They say, “Come, let us wipe them out as a nation; let the name of Israel be remembered no more!”

There is a day coming when antisemitism will no longer be around, Praise God.

Now let’s look at the next few verses. We are going to focus on just three Hebrew words, the Hebrew names of the now three members of this family. Of course this was written in Greek but you will see that looking at these three Hebrew names is entirely valid here and by doing this we gain a wonderful emphasis that we just don’t have in our English translations.

Their Hebrew names are all here in verses 72 and 73.

Firstly, in verse 72, ‘to show the mercy’. Why was Zechariah told by Gabriel to call his son John? In Hebrew this would be Yochanan. The Yo stands for God and Chanan means grace which is undeserved mercy. The start of this mighty work of God was the revealing of ‘the mercy promised to our fathers’.

Secondly, Zechariah goes on to say that it was ‘to remember his holy covenant,’ and here we have Zechariah’s own name. Zachar in Hebrew means ‘to remember’, Zechariah therefore with yah on the end means ‘God remembers’.

Thirdly, what does Zechariah say that God remembers? His holy covenant and remember this is being said at the brit milah, the circumcision of John, which also remembers the covenant, but Zechariah says more. He says that the holy covenant is ‘the oath that he swore to our father Abraham’. What is the word for oath in Hebrew? Sheva, and what is the name Elizabeth in Hebrew – Elisheva which means God’s oath! See how wonderfully God has weaved this way for the entrance of Jesus, Yeshua in Hebrew meaning salvation. Put Zechariah’s name and Elisheva’s name together and we have ‘God remembers God’s oath’. God was in the naming of this couple and the bringing of them together in marriage all those years earlier. Look at the whole family unit at this time and we have ‘God remembers God’s oath and gives birth to God’s grace’ thus reflecting the miraculous birth of their son Yochanan and the then forthcoming miraculous birth of Jesus. These Hebrew names confirm the Divine Plan. What a huge link this is all the way back to Abraham. Covenants were made to safeguard people from attacks from others and so we see this in what God told Abraham from the start in Genesis 12:3 ‘I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

Zechariah continued to say in verses 73 to 75 that this salvation was ‘to grant us (that is the Jewish people) that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.’ This prophecy spoke about what God was doing at that moment but also about what would happen at the end of this age when Israel will be delivered from the hand of their enemies.

Zechariah now speaks prophetically to his son in verses 76 and 77, that he would be ‘called the prophet of the Most High; for he would go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people in the forgiveness of their sins’ So we have here in this prophecy the overarching and amazing work of salvation. Salvation from sin through forgiveness and salvation for Israel from the hands of all that hate them, from their many enemies. When we see the enemies today rising up against Israel we see the truth of Scripture revealed in our times but we also know what the end will be. All this, Zechariah said in verses 78 and 79, would be ‘because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.’ Here Jesus, the Messiah (Christ), is described as the sunrise in line with Malachi 4 which again is very centred on Israel.

“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts. “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”

Looking then overall at this prophecy - what an amazing link God has made here taking us back to the Abrahamic covenant and the wonderful fulfilment of that covenant in Jesus, much of which is still to be fulfilled at the time of His return. Zechariah’s prophecy looks back and also forward. It encompasses both visits of Jesus to this earth, the visit which was about to take place at that time and John’s role in that visit to prepare the way, but also it speaks of a time still to come when Jesus will come in glory and power to finish the mighty work of God in salvation.

As we look forward to that day let us remember the words which end the whole Bible. ‘Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace (chanan) of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.

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