When news about Elizabeth’s giving birth to a son reached her neighbors and relatives, they rejoiced with her and recognized that God had shown her great mercy. On the eighth day, as the law required, the baby was circumcised, and those present for the occasion wanted the boy to be named Zechariah after his father. Elizabeth objected, insisting that he would be called “John” (meaning “YHWH has been gracious”). They responded that no one among her relatives had that name and then motioned to the father to find out from him what the boy’s name should be. Zechariah indicated his desire to be given a tablet and then wrote, “John is his name.” This amazed all of them. (Luke 1:57-63)
At this point, Zechariah was again able to speak and blessed God. (Luke 1:64) Filled with holy spirit, he prophesied, saying: “Blessed [be the] Lord, the God of Israel, because he has looked upon and effected deliverance for his people. And he has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David his servant, just as he spoke from of old through the mouth of his holy prophets [about] salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all those hating us; to extend [the] mercy [promised] to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant, the oath which he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us to serve fearlessly in purity and uprightness before him all our days [upon] being rescued from the hand of our enemies.” (Luke 1:67-75)
Zechariah’s words focused on the deliverance God, through the promised Messiah, would bring about for Israel. Mary’s unborn child would prove to be the “horn” in the royal line of David. The expression “horn” pointed to the power he would have to effect the deliverance the ancient Hebrew prophets foretold. That deliverance would be an expression of divine mercy or compassion and a fulfillment of the covenant with Abraham that contained the promise of liberation from oppression. Whereas the promise to Abraham included the future rescue of the Israelites from enslavement in Egypt (which rescue, in fulfillment of the covenant promise, had occurred centuries earlier), the oath-bound covenant continued in effect and thus provided a basis for hope in other divine acts of deliverance. (Genesis 15:13-16) Just as Israel’s rescue from Egypt made it possible for the people to serve their God without fear, the liberation to come through the Messiah would likewise grant those being freed the opportunity to serve God fearlessly in purity and uprightness all the days of their life. As the son born to Mary, Jesus, the Son of God, later revealed, he would free humans from slavery to sin and the enemy death. (John 8:21-23, 34-36) While Zechariah expressed the thought of deliverance in terms characteristic of the ancient Hebrew prophets, his words harmonized fully with the far grander salvation the Son of God would bring about.
Zechariah then pointed to the role his son would fill. John would be a “prophet of the Most High,” going before the Lord, the promised Messiah, to prepare his ways or to ready people for his appearance. John would do this by imparting knowledge to the Israelites about salvation made possible through the forgiveness of their sins. Zechariah continued, “Because of the tender mercy of our God, dawn from on high will come upon us, to shine upon those sitting in darkness and the shadow of death [and] to guide our feet into the path of peace.” On account of God’s great compassion, a new day would dawn with the arrival of the promised Messiah, dispelling the gloom and intense darkness that seemed to eclipse all hope. Guided by the light his coming would bring, those who chose to walk in that light would find themselves on the “path of peace” or would be conducting themselves in a way that would promote their eternal well-being as persons enjoying peace with God. (Luke 1:76-79)
Upon hearing about (or witnessing) developments at the time John was circumcised, neighbors were filled with a reverential fear, and others in the mountainous region of Judea started to talk about these things. The news regarding John made a deep impression, causing people to wonder, “What really will this boy come to be?” God’s hand or the operation of divine power was with the child. (Luke 1:65, 66)