The Benedictus or Song of Zecchariah

The Birth of John the Baptist

57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.

59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. 60 But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” 61 They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” 62 Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. 63 He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.

Zechariah’s Prophecy

67 Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:

68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
69 He has raised up a mighty savior[a] for us
in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71     that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us 74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
78 By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon[b] us,
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.” 

The Story Synopsis

When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy. Elizabeth and Zechariah were aged, beyond normal child bearing years.

Names are important in that culture, and are supposed to embody something of the importance or character of the person—or to make some sort of statement—or to express some sort of faith.

On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, God commanded both Abraham and Moses to circumcise male babies when they are eight days old (Genesis 17:9-14; Leviticus 12:3).  John’s circumcision, while routine, nevertheless marks Zechariah and Elizabeth as faithful in their observance of Jewish law.  That is to be expected, of course, given that Zechariah is a priest (v. 5; see also v. 6).

They were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.” They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.

The angel told Zechariah to name the baby John (v. 13).  While Zechariah has been unable to speak, he apparently communicated this angelic command to Elizabeth, probably in writing. Elizabeth is faithful to the angelic command, and refuses to be influenced by her neighbors and relatives, who are well-meaning but ignorant of the command.

Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied which became the Benedictus or “Praise Be”.

A song of great spiritual depth, the Benedictus is the song of thanksgiving that Zechariah sings when his speech returns to him after his son John (who came to be known as John the Baptist) is born. This song is his expression of gratitude to God both for the fulfillment of his people’s messianic hopes’—Zechariah now understands the Messiah is coming — and also for giving him a child.

In some Western churches, such as Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran, the Benedictus is sung every day in the service of Morning Prayer. The Eastern Orthodox Church prescribes it to be sung daily as well.

Perhaps the primary reason for the popularity over the ages of the Benedictus is that it serves as a guide to enable us to see how God may be blessed, in the sense of being praised. Luke portrays the entire life of Christ in his gospel from the perspective of a blessing.

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