Miryam, unlike Zakaryah, is not asking for proof but for understanding. Like Avraham she is seeking greater relational knowledge of G-d rather than asking Him to prove Himself. Both Avraham and Miryam believed and inquired of a pure motive, one of deep love for G-d. This is the difference between disbelief and wonder.
An examination of Luke 1:1-38
The human author: Luke, from Lucas, meaning, “Light bearer.”
This gospel was written in approximately 60 C.E. by Luke, a gentile who is clearly a G-d fearer and is most likely a convert to Judaism. Luke is a doctor (Col 4:14) and a dear friend and companion to Shaul/Paul the Apostle (as seen in the Acts account).
It’s evident from Luke’s natural and prolific referencing of Jewish thought, culture and custom, that he is more than familiar with what it means to be Jewish and is in every way—with the exception of his birth—a Jewish adherent. His birth, if it is agreed that he was born to gentile parents, makes him the one exception among the 40 human authors of the Bible.
1:1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of ha-D’var (the Word), 3 it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; 4 so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.
Luke’s writing compiles the eye witness accounts of the disciples as handed down to him both directly and indirectly. His writing is systematic and carries the cadence of historical record. He is writing his gospel in order to affirm and encourage Theophilus and those who fellowship with him. This account is intended to clearly articulate the facts concerning the life and works of the Messiah so as to silence any attempts made to suggest that His life and gospel message are merely myth or sensational revisionist lies intended for political and spiritual gain.
Theophilus seems to be a person of good character, someone who Luke trusts to perpetuate the faith and instruct others in the truth of the gospel. His name, which is a contraction of the Greek words, “Theo,” and, “philos (friendship love),” means either, “One who loves G-d,” or, “One who is loved by G-d,” or both.
Note that Luke calls the apostles, “servants of ha-D’var, the Word.” He uses the same Greek word, “logos,” as Yochanan/John uses in the first chapter of his gospel. While a servant may serve the message of the written word (ketvi), a servant can only serve, “the Word,” as a personification. In this case Luke is referring to Messiah Yeshua.
5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharyah (HaShem has remembered), of the division of Aviyah (My Father is HaShem); and he had a wife from the daughters of A’haron (mountain), and her name was Elisheva (My G-d‘s oath/sevenfold blessing).
Herod the Great reigned from 37 to 4 B.C.E. During the time of King David, the priests of Israel were arranged into 24 divisions; Aviyah (My father is YHVH) was a family head of the eighth division. (Nehemiah 12:12, 17; 1 Chronicles 24:2, 10). In Judaism the number eight represents the renewal of the unity of the week (seven), it’s both a completion and a new beginning. On the seventh day HaShem ceased (stopped: the meaning of Shabbat) and on the eighth day He began again. Yeshua says, “My father is always working”(John 5:17).
The meaning of Zakaryah’s name reveals that HaShem has remembered His promise to bring about a new covenant, a new creation, One Who will say, “Avi-Yah,” my father is YHVH. This Son will be heralded by the son born by the oath of G-d (Elisheva), one who is favoured by G-d, Yochanan the immerser, who in turn will symbolically transfer the priesthood of Aaron in submission to the High priesthood of Messiah in the order of melkiztidek—my king of righteousness.
It’s important to note that each of the priestly divisions performed their duties for one week twice yearly and all the priestly divisions appeared before HaShem during Sukkot. However this account is clearly referring to one of the division of Aviyah’s twice yearly obligatory services and not to Sukkot.
6 They were tzidakim (righteous ones) in the sight of G-d, their halakhah (trust based action) was faultless in all the instructions and requirements of HaShem.
Contrary to the majority Christian theological teaching of our time it’s clear from this passage that the Brit ha-Chadashah (New Testament) teaches that the Torah of Moshe offers righteousness.
The fact that both Zakaryah and Elisheva were considered righteous ones before HaShem does not denote a sinless state, after all, only several verses later Zakaryah is punished for his disbelief concerning the promise of HaShem. What this implies is that they were, to the best of their human ability, seeking to fully obey HaSHem’s instruction and live in the shelter of the precepts and promises He had given to Israel. We could say that they understood that Messiah was the goal of the Torah and lived in anticipation of His coming. It’s from this generational faith that the prophet Yochanan/John was born.
It’s important to note that both Zakaryah and Elisheva were of the line of Aaron the Cohen ha-Gadol (The great High Priest) of Israel, in fact Elisheva was a direct descendant. Later, through the symbolic immersion that Yeshua receives from Yochanan/John we are able to see that Messiah unifies both the Priesthood and Kingship of Israel. The Priesthood of Aaron is symbolically submitted to the order of melkitzidek (My King of Righteousness) Yeshua by Yochanan/John and the Kingship is something He is born to through His mother’s lineage (and symbolically through His earthly father’s lineage).
7 But they had no child, because Elisheva was barren, and they were both advanced in years.
This is reminiscent of the conception stories throughout Israel’s history, including: Isaac, Samuel, Samson etc.
8 Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before G-d in the appointed order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of HaShem and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering.
It was the responsibility of the priest to keep the incense burning before HaShem (outside the curtain) perpetually. The priest would enter to offer incense both before the evening sacrifice and again prior to the morning sacrifice. This was decided by lot, making it an infrequent task and in some cases a priest in the appointed division may not be chosen at all during his lifetime. (Exodus 30:6-8).
11 And a malach (messenger) of HaShem appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. 12 Zacharyah was troubled when he saw the malach (messenger), and fear gripped him. 13 But the malach (messenger) said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharyah, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elisheva will bear you a son, and you will give him the name Yochanan (favoured by HaShem). 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15 For he will be great in the sight of HaShem; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Ruach ha-Kodesh (Holy Spirit) while yet in his mother’s womb.
The right side of the altar symbolizes strength, which is appropriate given the messenger’s name.
It is likely that Yochanan was intended to be a Nazarite, as outlined in Numbers 6:1-21. This is affirmed by Yeshua, who refers to Yochanan as being one who comes, “neither eating nor drinking.”
Zakaryah had been praying for a child, this is evident in the messenger’s announcement. Incense is a symbol of the prayers of the righteous.
16 And he will turn (shuva) many of the children of Israel back to the HaShem their G-d. 17 It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him (Isaiah 40:3-5) in the spirit and power of Eliyahu (My G-d is HaShem), ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children,’ and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for HaShem.”
"Behold, I will send you Eliyahu the prophet before the great and awesome day of HaShem 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." –Malachi 4:5-6
Yochanan was not Elijah returning in the flesh (that has yet to occur). This is made clear by Yochanan himself in his gospel 1:21. Hence, “in the spirit and power of,” that is, “with the same strength of will and G-d given power of,” Elijah. Like Elijah, John was to be a prophet of returning, one who would call upon Israel to return to HaShem.
18 Zacharyah said to the malach (messenger), “How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 The malach (messenger) answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel (Mighty one of G-d), who stands in the presence of G-d, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.”
Many of Israel’s great men had asked for signs, in fact G-d had promised signs that would affirm His work. Avraham asked, “How can I know?” (Genesis 15:8) A question of genuine inquiry and faith, whereas Zakaryah asks, “How can I be sure,” a question of mistrust. It’s the motivation of the heart that propels the question and even the righteous have times of disbelief.
Gavriel (mighty 0ne of G-d), is the great herald of cataclysmic news from G-d. He is one of only two messengers named in the Tanakh. (Daniel 8:16, 9:21) The other being Michael (Who is like G-d?)
21 The people were waiting for Zacharyah, and were wondering at his delay in the temple.22 But 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 When the days of his priestly service were ended, he went back home.
The fact that the people were waiting of Zakaryah denotes devote observance by the Jews of the time.
In the end, Zakaryah became the sign, his inability to speak was a sign to both him and the people. Additionally Yochanan himself was a miraculous sign, a child born to a barren woman. Yochanan’s conception is very similar to that of Sh’muel (Hears G-d). They also share similar ministries.
24 After these days Elisheva his wife became pregnant, and she kept herself in seclusion for five months, saying, 25 “This is the way HaShem has dealt with me in the days when He looked with favor upon me, to take away my disgrace among the people.”
Perpetuating a family line was one of the greatest hopes of the people of Israel, producing progeny was the ultimate goal of every marriage. Therefore it was a great disgrace to be barren, resulting in bitterness of heart and disillusionment for many women within the community. Perhaps one of the reasons for Elisheva staying in seclusion, was the ever present danger of miscarriage at an early age.
Elisheva echoes the words of the famous matriarch Rachel, “take away my disgrace among the people.” Genesis 30:22-23.
26 Now in the sixth month the messenger Gabriel was sent from G-d to a city in Galilee called Nazareth,
There has been much needless conjecture relating to this text. Many who are desperate to claim a Sukkot birth for Messiah need to perform linguistic, contextual, chronological and cultural gymnastics—to name a few—in order to manipulate this date to fit their argument, something every good Bible student knows, is usually an indication that we’re headed in the wrong direction. It’s most likely that this figure refers to the time as counted from the conception of Yochanan (see verse 36), the problem with confirming the date this way is that we don’t know which of the two times of year that Aviyah’s division was serving is intended by the narrative.
We’re not told at what point during the year that the 24 divisions began to serve but we can presume that they began in the seventh month, Tishrei, following the inauguration of Solomon’s temple. If this continued to be the practise and providing the beginning of their service was not initiated at the spiritual new year of Pesach or at the giving of the Torah during Shavuot (Which are also possibilities), then we would calculate that each of the 24 divisions would serve one week twice a year. If they performed their duties in order of selection, Aviyah’s division would have performed its duties eighth, in the last week of Nisan and the last week of Cheshvan, with some anomalies caused by the lunar calendar this will have varied slightly. If we count from Nisan, the sixth month would be Tishrei. If this is the month of Messiah’s conception then He was born in the month of Sivan. If we count from Cheshvan we arrive at Iyar, which makes Messiah’s birth in the eleventh month of the Hebrew Calendar, Shevat. Neither date is even remotely close to Sukkot.
However, the sixth month could also refer to the sixth month of the Hebrew calendar Elul, which is the month prior to Tishre, which again leaves us with Iyar as a possible birth date for Messiah. Additionally because Luke is a Greek proselyte, he could also be refering to the sixth month of the Roman calendar. Regardless, any conclusion arrived at is pure conjecture.
27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Yosef (G-d will add), of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Miryam (rebellious, bitterly fragrant). 28 And coming in, he said to her, “Shalom, favored one! HaShem is with you.” 29 But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of greeting this was. 30 The messenger said to her, “Do not be afraid, Miryam; for you have found favor with G-d. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Yehoshua—HaShem saves. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and HaShem G-d will give Him the throne of His father David; 33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob (supplanter, holder of the heal) forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”
G-d had promised King David that his greater son the Messiah would reign over Israel and the nations and that His Kingdom would be eternal. 2 Samuel 7:12-13, 16.
34 Miryam said to the messenger, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”
Notice that Miryam, unlike Zakaryah, is not asking for proof but for understanding. Like Avraham she is seeking greater relational knowledge of G-d rather than asking Him to prove Himself. Both Avraham and Miryam believed and inquired of a pure motive, one of deep love for G-d. This is the difference between disbelief and wonder.
35 The messenger answered and said to her, “The Ruach ha-Kodesh—Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of ha-Elyon (the most High) will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Ben Elohim—Son of G-d.
Not, “son of the gods,” but, as the title Ha-Elyon infers, “Son of G-d.”
36 And behold, even your relative Elisheva has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. 37 For nothing will be impossible with G-d.” 38 And Miryam said, “Behold, I am the bond slave of HaShem; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the messenger departed from her.
Miryam joyfully accepts the privilege of bearing the Son of G-d. In her name we see that the bitterness of Israel’s suffering will be turned to fragrant blessing for all who mourn. The suffering Messiah will become the triumphant Messiah Who will redeem Israel and the nations.
© 2014 Yaakov Brown
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.