“67 And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, 68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people 69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, 70as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 71 that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; 72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, 73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us 74 that we, being delivered from the hand 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 in the forgiveness of their sins, 78 because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high 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.” 80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.” (Luke 1:67-80)
The prophecy of Zechariah (Lk. 1:68–79), the Benedictus, is so named from the first word in the Latin version. Benedictus means “invocation.”
The Benedictus is one of six visions (Luke 1:5–25, 26–38; 2:1–20), and prophecies (Lk. 1:46–56; 2:29–35) in the Gospel of Luke’s Birth of Christ Narrative. It is a recurrent pattern in Hebrew prophecy to reflect upon or elaborate former revelations (cf. Ps. 105; Micah 4:4; Zechariah. 3:10). Therefore, the Benedictus refers to a number of passages from the Psalms and the Prophet Isaiah.
The first section of the passage (Lk. 1:68–75), which is characteristic of Jewish poetry parallelism, praises God for His Messianic deliverance of sinners. The second section (Lk. 1:76–79) describes the role which John will have in this unfolding drama of redemption by God.
In the Benedictus, Messiah’s work is particularly a spiritual deliverance. That is significant because the majority of Jews at that time, and today, viewed and view the Messiah as a political Redeemer. Even though the Messiah’s role as a religious or priestly Redeemer was not absent in Judaism, it was obscured and overshadowed by the Jews desire to be liberated from Roman rule.
Significant words and phrases which occur in the Benedictus are steeped in Old Testament imagery and theology. These include horn of salvation, redeemed, saved, mercy, holy covenant, holiness, righteousness, prophet of the Most High, to go before the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation, forgiveness of their sins, the tender mercy of our God, sunrise shall visit us from on high, light to those in darkness, the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
The CD Glory to the Holy One by Craig Courtney, Dan Forrest, Jeff Lippencott and narrated by R.C. Sproul, contains a song entitled Variant on Benedictus. Its lyrics are as follows.
Chosen first among the priests
To serve within the temple walls
Zacharias stood in awe
As he heard the angel call.
Blessed is the Lord
God’s incarnate Word.
Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God
Will come to raise salvation’s horn
God Incarnate, Word made flesh
To a virgin shall be born.
Christ brings light to sin’s dark night
Our Dayspring, Jesus, from on high
Saints and angels sing God’s praise
All the earth and heav’ns reply.
God’s incarnate Word
May the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.
Soli deo Gloria!