The Song of Zechariah, Timothy J Cross, 9781926765648

Song of Zechariah cover



Published by: Gospel Folio Press

ISBN 9781926765648

The Christian Faith is well known for its hymns of praise – and justly so. Christians have a song to sing, a salvation to celebrate and a Saviour to extol.


The Song of Zechariah in Luke 1:67-79 – also known as the Benedictus ­– is a strong contender for being the greatest hymn ever uttered by human lips. Here is no ordinary hymn, for the Bible states that it owes its origin to Zechariah’s being ‘filled with the Holy Spirit.’ The Spirit of God gave Zechariah the words to praise God for both Who He is and what He has done by His redeeming grace: ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people …’ In bequeathing to us the Benedictus in the Scriptures, God the Holy Spirit has thus given us a divine blueprint and aid for divine praise and adoration.


This book unfolds the meaning of the Benedictus  verse by verse.  Reading it will enable you to enter into the praise and joy nurtured into Zechariah’s soul by God. The Song of Zechariah explains and applies this incomparable canticle in a way which is sure to enlighten your mind, warm your heart, lift your spirit and fuel your fires of devotion and praise.





  14. THE PITY




…Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying … (Luke 1:67).


Before we consider the contents of the ‘Song of Zechariah’ – known in the church as the ‘Benedictus’ – we notice at the outset that here we are dealing with no ordinary hymn. This hymn of praise owes its origin not to any human artistry or ingenuity, but to the working of the Holy Spirit of God in the heart, mind and tongue of aged Zechariah. It is this Holy Spirit inspired nature of the Benedictus which sets it apart from all other hymns and songs, both sacred and secular. In studying the Benedictus we are actually studying divinely inspired words – words which were beyond the ability of Zechariah to compose in and of himself.

2 Peter 1:21 reveals the nature of biblical prophecy when it explains that no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. This verse is true of the Benedictus, for the Benedictus is as much a prophecy as it is a hymn of praise. Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied … But what is the purpose of prophecy? Ultimately, it is to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy (Revelation 19:10. Jesus said that the chief role of the Holy Spirit is that ‘He will glorify Me …’ (John 16:14). And Zechariah’s prophecy is not concerned primarily – as we would have thought – with John,  Zechariah’s own son, who had just been born, but with Jesus, the very Son of God Himself. The Holy Spirit’s purpose in inspiring Zechariah to utter the Benedictus therefore was that so he – and Christians throughout the ages – might have the words to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Benedictus then, we have a divinely inspired aid to divine worship which every Christian can make their own. But who exactly was Zechariah, and what were the conditions which brought the Benedictus about?


The Background


Zechariah was an aged, godly priest, who lived near and ministered in Jerusalem, during the last days of the Old Testament priesthood – the last days, because the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus at Calvary was to bring all sacrifice to an end, thus rendering the sacrificial priesthood redundant. Luke, the Gospel historian records: In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless (Luke 1:5,6). Zechariah thus comes over to us as a man who was both diligent in relation to his duty to God, and devoted as regards his duty towards Elizabeth, his wife. But. There was also a ‘but’ – a slight ‘fly in the ointment.’  Zechariah’s godliness did not exempt him from pain and perplexity. Luke tells us that whilst Zechariah and Elizabeth had enjoyed many years of marriage they also knew the sorrow  of childlessness: But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years (Luke 1:7). Childlessness had a great social stigma in biblical times, so Zechariah and Elizabeth suffered from that social stigma. Childlessness was viewed as a judgement from God, hence the exuberance of Psalm 113:9: He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children.


The birth of John


Astonishingly for both Zechariah and Elizabeth, they were not to remain childless, even though they were both advanced in years. Whilst Zechariah was going about his normal priestly duty in Jerusalem, to his amazement there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense (Luke 1:11). Understandably, Zechariah was troubled and fearful at this angelic presence. But the angel spoke to him and reassured him saying ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer is heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John’ (Luke 1:13). At this Zechariah, for all his godliness, had a lapse of faith. He thought logically rather than theologically. He responded to Gabriel, the angel, ‘How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years’ (Luke 1:18). Unlike Mary, the mother of Jesus, Zechariah forgot that with God nothing will be impossible (Luke 1:37). When Gabriel announced to Mary the miraculous, virginal conception of the Messiah, she believed and accepted God’s will. Zechariah, in contrast, began to argue! And Zechariah got what he wished he had not wished for! Wanting a sign to know that what Gabriel had said about his and Elizabeth’s being parents in their old age, Gabriel gave him a sign. Gabriel struck Zechariah dumb. Gabriel said to Zechariah ‘Behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things come to pass, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time’ (Luke 1:20).

Zechariah then – as a chastisement for his unbelief – was temporarily struck both deaf and dumb by God. He lost his hearing so that the only means of communication was if they made signs to (him)(Luke 1:62). When he came out (of the temple) he could not speak … he made signs to them and remained dumb (Luke 1:22).

Zechariah therefore, although well thought of and respected in Jerusalem, suffered the indignity of physical handicap. God clipped his wings. He endured nine months of deafness and dumbness. His handicap only ended when Gabriel’s prediction was fulfilled, and John was born, making Zechariah and Elizabeth parents for the first time, and filling their hearts and mouths with praise. The divinely given Beneditus contains the first words that Zechariah uttered after his nine months of divinely given dumbness.


Responding to affliction


How we react to affliction is a thermometer of our spiritual condition. When affliction comes our way, we can react with either resentment or repentance. Zechariah’s hymn of praise suggests that he reacted to his divinely sent affliction with repentance. During the nine months of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, and during the nine months of Zechariah’s simultaneous deafness and dumbness, Zechariah drew nearer to God. The silence of the outside world shut him in with God, and enabled him to hear His voice and draw closer to Him. If affliction has such an affect it is actually a blessing. We can say with the Psalmist I know, O LORD, that Thy judgements are right, and that in faithfulness Thou hast afflicted me (Psalm 119:75) and even It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn Thy statutes (Psalm 119:71).

When John was born, and God’s promise had been fulfilled, Zechariah was still unable to speak. Thus he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote ‘His name is John’ (Luke 1:63). It was then that God’s judgement on him ended, and Zechariah’s hearing and speech were restored. The first words which he uttered with his newly restored facility of speech were words not of anger or resentment, but of heartfelt praise to God. And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God  (Luke 1:64). The Benedictus then followed.

This then is the background to the Song of Zechariah – the Benedictus – arguably the greatest hymn of praise ever sung. To the divinely inspired contents of this hymn we now turn.





Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people (Luke 1:68).


The Worship of God


It is highly fitting that the first words which Zechariah spoke after his nine months of enforced dumbness and silence were words of praise to God. His mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God (Luke 1:68). The Benedictus opens with divine praise: Blessed be the Lord God of Israel … There is no higher human activity than the worship of Almighty God. There can be no greater use of the human tongue than employing its divinely given facility of speech to praise God.


What is the chief end of man?

Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him for ever (Shorter Catechism,  Q.1).


Blessed be the Lord God … The Lord God alone is to be worshipped, for the Lord God alone is worthy to be worshipped. Worshipping anyone or anything other than the true and living God is committing the heinous sin of idolatry. Worship depends on worth. Worship is entails the expression of ‘worth-ship.’There is none more worthy than the Lord God, for He is the ultimate authority and His is the unrivalled majesty. He alone is God. He is in a category all of His own. He alone can pronounce: ‘I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me’ (Isaiah 46:9). The God of the Bible alone is worthy to be worshipped, as He alone can be described as truly ‘great.’ His is an absolute, not a relative greatness. Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and His greatness is unsearchable (Psalm 145:3).


What is the first commandment?

The first commandment is Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.


What is required in the first commandment?

The first commandment requireth us to know and acknowledge God to be the only true God and our God, and to worship and glorify Him accordingly.


What is forbidden in the first commandment?

The first commandment forbiddeth the denying or not worshipping and glorifying the true God as God and our God, and the giving of that worship and glory to any other which is due to Him alone (Shorter Catechism, Qs 45-47).


The People of God


Blessed be the Lord God of Israel …Zechariah himself was from the nation of Israel. The nation of Israel – the Jewish race – owes its supreme significance from the fact that the promised Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, was born, humanly, of that race. They are Israelites … of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, Who is God over all blessed for ever (Romans 9:5).

Referring to the God of the universe as the Lord God of Israel reminds us that Almighty God has chosen a specific people for the manifestation of His grace and glory. There is a particularity about the saving grace of God. His grace is a distinguishing grace. He is absolutely sovereign in His salvation: He has mercy upon whomever He wills, and He hardens the heart of whomever He wills (Romans 9:18).

God has His people – His elect of all the nations and all the ages. Paul refers to Christians as the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16). Peter refers to Christians as a chosen race (1 Peter 2:9). The New Testament teaches that Christians are the true Israel, that is, Christians are the true people of God. God’s people today are a spiritual people, not a racial people. We are the true circumcision, who worship God in spirit, and glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:3).


The Sovereign Grace of God


The fact that God has a people at all can only be explained by His sovereign, saving grace. The human race is characterised by being in a solidarity of sin. No one is more worthy of God’s grace than another. Yet God bestows His grace and salvation on some and not on others. The words of Deuteronomy 7:6ff., applied originally to God’s people – His Israel  – in Old Testament times, may be applied equally to God’s Israel – that is, His redeemed community, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ – today: In Deuteronomy 7:6ff., God says: For you are a people holy to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His Own possession, out of all the peoples that are on the face of the earth … Why was this so? Simply and inexplicably because the LORD loves you. Jesus died, not so much to redeem the world, but to purify for Himself a people of His Own (Titus 2:14).

And so Zechariah opens his Holy Spirit inspired hymn to God with Holy Spirit inspired praise of God. Blessed be the Lord God of Israel … It is the worship of God which unites the church militant on earth with the church triumphant in heaven. Christians of all the ages are united in God’s praise.


Worship is the declaration by the creature of the greatness of his Creator. It is the glad affirmation by the forgiven sinner of the mercy of his Redeemer. It is the united testimony of an adoring congregation to the perfection of their common Lord. It is the summit of the service of the angels and the climax of the eternal purpose of God for His people. It is man’s supreme goal here and the consummation of his life in heaven (HA Carson).


The Deeds of God


Zechariah’s hymn of praise gives us a template for all true praise of God, for in these opening verses of the Benedictus, Zechariah praises God not only for Who He is – He is the incomparable Lord God of Israel – but also for what He has done. Using the prophetic past tense, Zechariah rejoices that God has visited and redeemed His people. This can only refer to the Lord Jesus Christ, for in Jesus we have both a divine visitation, and through Jesus we come to know and enjoy a divine redemption.


A Divine Visitation


He has visited … His people.


When the Lord Jesus raised the dead son of a widow back to life again, at a funeral in the Galilean city of Nain, the gathered crowd gave the spontaneous explanation: ‘God has visited His people’ (Luke 7:16). In the incarnation of Christ, God really did visit His people. In Christ God actually became man, and lived and ministered on earth. In Christ, the eternal God visited earth on a mercy mission. The Nicene Creed states ‘For us and for our salvation, He came down from heaven, and was made man …’ In the Prologue to his Gospel, John states how the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father (John 1:14).

As God in the flesh, – God become man – the Lord Jesus Christ is the unsurpassed and unsurpassable revelation of the one true God. He is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily (Colossians 2:9). But did the Lord Jesus Himself teach that He was God in the flesh? Yes He did. In John 14:9 He made the stupendous claim ‘He who has seen Me has seen the Father.’

During the thirty three years in which the Lord Jesus graced this earth then, we had a divine visitation. Zechariah though also praises God for the purpose of that divine visitation. The purpose of the divine visitation was with the salvation of God’s  people. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15).


A Divine Redemption


He has … redeemed His people. To redeem means ‘to set free’, ‘to liberate.’ More fully it means ‘to set free by paying a price.’ The people of Israel rejoiced in being a redeemed people. Once they were in cruel slavery in Egypt, but God redeemed them. He set them free from their bondage. Integral to this liberation was the slaying of the Passover lamb, whose blood delivered them from divine judgement.

Redemption is of the many New Testament synonyms for salvation. Redemption implies a redeemer – one who accomplishes the redemption. The New Testament proclaims that Christ is the only Redeemer from the penalty and power of sin.

The Bible’s diagnosis of us is that we are, by nature, in bondage to sin and God’s judgement on our sin. The Christian gospel though proclaims that redemption from sin and divine judgement is found in Christ. He died in the sinner’s place. He suffered the wrath of God in the sinner’s place to deliver those who trust in Him from that fearsome wrath. On the cross of Calvary, Christ’s sinless life, offered up as an atoning sacrifice, actually procured the eternal redemption of His people. Paying the price for our sins, He purchased our redemption. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses according to the riches of His grace (Ephesians 1:7).

Alfred Hitchcock, legend has it, once said that the secret of a good movie was to begin with an earthquake and then build up to a crescendo and climax. The Benedictus certainly begins on a high note. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Zechariah, with prophetic foresight, rejoices in what God in Christ, in amazing grace, has done. He has visited and redeemed His people. Nothing compares with this, for no one compares with Christ, the God-man. And nothing compares with the divine redemption He accomplished at Calvary:-


Redemption! Oh wonderful story –

Glad message for you and for me

That Jesus has purchased our pardon

And paid all the debt on the tree


Believe it, O sinner believe it

Receive the glad message – ‘tis true

Trust now in the crucified Saviour

Salvation He offers to you.