Now Elisabeth’s full time came that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son. And her neighbours and her cousins heard how the Lord had shewed great mercy upon her; and they rejoiced with her. And it came to pass, that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they called him Zacharias, after the name of his father. And his mother answered and said, Not so; but he shall be called John.
And they said unto her, There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name. And they made signs to his father, how he would have him called. And he asked for a writing table, and wrote, saying, His name is John. And they marvelled all. And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosed, and he spake, and praised God.(Luke 1:57-64)
It is now nine months from the announcement in the Holy Place of the temple, to Zechariah and Elizabeth, that they would bear a Son who would be the forerunner of the Messiah.
Elizabeth, who had been considered barren,like her forbearer Sarai, brought forth a miracle baby. Her family and friends rejoiced with her,likewise her silent husband, and the Lord was glorified for shewing mercy to the pious couple in their old age.
On the eight day, according to the Law of Moses, the child underwent the ritual of circumcision, laying upon his shoulders the yoke of the Law of God, and bringing him into the covenant.
The room would have filled with family and friends, and the 1st century circumcision would have commenced with a benediction, something similar to this according to Alfred Eidersheim;
‘Our God, and the God of our fathers, raise up this child to his father and mother, and let his name be called in Israel Zacharias, the son of Zacharias. Let his father rejoice in the issue of his loins, and his mother in the fruit of her womb, as it is written in Prov. xxiii. 25,
Let your father and your mother be glad,
And let her who bore you rejoice.
and as it is said in Ezek. xvi. 6, “And when I passed by you and saw you struggling in your own blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ Yes, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!
and again in Ps. cv. 8,He remembers His covenant forever,
The word which He commanded, for a thousand generations,
and Gen. xxi. 4; then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him
… The prayer closed with the hope that the child might grow up, and successfully, ‘attain to the Torah, to marriage, children and good works.
But when the Rabbi got to the point of the benediction which actually named the child, Elizabeth interrupted…saying, His name shall be John! Zechariah also motioned for a writing tablet and agreed with his wife, ‘His name shall be John”!
As soon as Zechariah named his Son, his tongue was loosed and he began to prophesy;
And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying,
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people, And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David; As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began: That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; The oath which he sware to our father Abraham, That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.
And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us,
To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
The prophecy of Zechariah follows closely upon and is the spiritual expansion of a common prayer in the Jewish liturgy, the “Eighteen Benedictions”
Zechariah would have prayed this prayer on the day he was struck dumb for nine months, and perhaps he spent those months meditating on it;
‘Speedily make to shoot forth the Branch of David, Thy servant, and exalt Thou his horn by Thy salvation, for in Thy salvation we trust all the day long. Blessed art Thou, Jehovah! Who causeth to spring forth the Horn of Salvation’
Eidersheim summarizes the main thoughts in the ancient liturgical prayer, and an examination of Zechariah’s prophecy reveals that point by point, the Holy Spirit of God inspired the answer to this plea,
This analogy between the hymn of Zacharias and the prayers of Israel will best appear from the benedictions with which these eulogies closed. For, when thus examined, their leading thoughts will be found to be as follows: God as the Shield of Abraham; He that raises the dead, and causes salvation to shoot forth; the Holy One; Who graciously giveth knowledge; Who taketh pleasure in repentance; Who multiplieth forgiveness; Who redeemeth Israel; Who healeth their (spiritual) diseases; Who blesseth the years; Who gathereth the outcasts of His people; Who loveth righteousness and judgment; Who is the abode and stay of the righteous; Who buildeth Jerusalem; Who causeth the Horn of Salvation to shoot forth; Who heareth prayer; Who bringeth back His Shekhinah to Zion; God the Gracious One, to Whom praise is due; Who blesseth His people Israel with peace.(Life and Times of Jesus Messiah,Alfred Eidersheim)
A strange mixture of fear, awe and expectancy accompanied the celebration, in the hill country of Judea, for the people were made aware that their God was in the north and naming of the Priest’s son, and that perhaps soon, the long awaited salvation would commence and the Lord whom they had long sought, would appear suddenly in His temple!