Have you ever prayed for something vigorously for years without any visible answer to that prayer? Do you remember how it felt to wait and pray, and wait and pray more? Did you eventually question whether God would answer your prayer? Did you feel discouraged, downtrodden, hopeless, or ignored? Did you doubt? Did you doubt God's faithfulness, power, or goodness? If so, you are not alone. Zechariah was in the same boat as you in Luke 1.
For years he prayed for God to fulfill his promises to Israel, but nothing happened. For years he prayed for a child, but none came. For hundreds of years, God’s people begged him to save them, but he remained silent. Zechariah probably felt like you and me often do. He wondered. He doubted. He waited. He questioned—and then, almost out of nowhere, God answered his prayers! But his doubt had already taken him hostage, and he disbelieved. Does that sound familiar? Do you ever fall so far into doubt that you cannot see the light when it shines?
Because of his doubt, Zechariah was struck mute for nine months as he watched God fulfill his promises. Our memory verses this month (Luke 1:68-69) record his first, spirit-inspired words upon seeing God fulfill his promises. Below are some of my observations after studying, reflecting, and meditating on these verses this month.
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel (v. 68a)
A couple of things strike me about this opening line. Both expose Zechariah’s devotion to His God. First, I am fascinated that he broke his silence with words of blessing to Yahweh. If you were unable to speak for nine months, you would want your first words to communicate what you have been silently thinking all that time. Zechariah had months to meditate on the goodness of God, repent of his unbelief, and watch as God's promises unfolded with precision. He was not about to slip up this time! He put first things first and praised him who had done the impossible! Do you verbally praise God when he answers your prayers? Is it the first thing you do? It should be!
However, my second observation is that this is no casual praise. Zechariah’s words reveal a heart of devotion to the scriptures—specifically the psalms. His exclamation is an exact repetition of the book-end blessing in the psalms. If you did not know, the psalms are divided into five “books.” At the end of each section, there are nearly identical concluding blessings. That is what Zechariah quotes when he opens with words of praise. Evidently, he spent a great deal of time in the psalms during his silence, and now he was letting scripture speak for him! Do the scriptures shape your meditations, supplications, and exclamations? Are you meditating on them enough that your words and thoughts follow suit? Zechariah was, and we should be too!
For he has visited and redeemed his people (v. 68b)
So, why is Zechariah praising God? This second line gives us the first answer—for visiting and redeeming his people. John’s birth was part of a larger plan. The fullness of time had come, and God was fulfilling his covenant promises to Israel. John was just the beginning of that, and Zechariah realized that. He saw this as the starting point of the divine rescue plan.
These words make more sense when we consider the bigger picture. God’s people are in bondage. God has not spoken in 400 years. They are wondering where he is. They are questioning his promises. They are waiting for deliverance. Does that sound familiar? It should remind you of Exodus. When God's people are wondering where He is, He shows up in perfect timing. Consider these verses from the Exodus narrative:
Exodus 4:31 (emphasis mine): “And the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped.”
Exodus 6:6 (emphasis mine): “Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment.”
Zechariah is praising God for visiting and redeeming his people! When everyone thought God had forgotten them, he was at work behind the scenes. He prepared the world for just the right moment when he would condescend to visit them. He would look on their affliction, pain, burdens, and slavery, and he would redeem them with an outstretched arm! Only this time he would do by becoming the Passover lamb for them. God was visiting his people to redeem them. Zechariah saw this broken silence as the beginning of his precious salvation by a holy savior.
And has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (v. 69a)
This next line specifies God’s source of redemption straight from the words of scripture. Psalm 132 recalls God’s covenant with David and looks forward to its fulfillment. God promises to “make a horn to sprout for David” who will be the fulfillment of that covenant (v. 17). Zechariah is praising God for fulfilling that promise. Though Jesus is still unborn, Zechariah knows of his conception and praises God for fulfilling his promises by sending him.
The imagery he uses to do that is beautiful. “Horn of salvation” is not a common expression today, but Zechariah’s neighbors would have understood. In the Old Testament, horns are often representative of power. Consider this illustration from Numbers 23:22,
“God brings them out of Egypt and is for them like the horns of the wild ox.”
The image in this passage is God as a wild ox who uses its strong horns to rescue and protect its herd from harm. That is the idea of a “horn of salvation.” Zechariah applies that imagery to Jesus by referring and also connects him to the Davidic Covenant. He sees that God is working with His people to fulfill His promises, and he is overwhelmed with joy.
How do you respond when God answers your prayers and fulfills His promises? Do you joyfully shout to proclaim his faithfulness? If not, you should! Let us learn from Zechariah’s story not to forget that God is faithful and steadfast in love. Advent is a beautiful display of that. He raised up his Son to be the horn of salvation for all who are drowning in sin’s darkness. He continues to faithfully care for us day by day. Are you looking for it?