“…Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us…” (Luke 1:67-68)
Zechariah’s song begins with thanksgiving and praise to God, but it contains teaching which is applicable to every believer. He makes it clear that although God was, in a sense, hidden, and appeared to have withdrawn his help from those he had chosen and reserved as his inheritance, nevertheless he remained, from first to last, God. Now anyone judging the condition of the Jews at that time might well have thought that they were deluded fools to trust in what the Law held out to them. Consider for a moment what God had promised–a priestly kingdom, a holy realm, with the Jews raised in dignity above all nations. Never were more splendid promises made.
Yet how had the Jews fared? For four hundred years already they had languished, although God had graciously allowed them to return from the misery of captivity in Babylon. They had been ground down and had daily faced attacks from neighbors or from open enemies. They had been plagued by war and other troubles, and finally they fell under the worst kind of tyranny. They were so shamefully diminished that all who heard of it were filled with horror. How then could God have promised to keep and defend them, or be said to have conferred such high honors upon them? In short, anyone who saw the Jew’s plight was bound to conclude that they had been wrong to hope in God… and that his promise of a Redeemer had been entirely vain.
Zechariah counters this temptation and supplies believers with the arms to overcome it, by affirming that the God of Israel retains his power and that our preoccupation with temporal affliction takes us far away from him. God’s power is not weakened by our affliction nor has he abandoned those who hope in him. He does indeed test them… Despair and turmoil may surround them, Nevertheless, God is in heaven. He keeps his promises and fulfills them when the time is right.
This lesson is highly useful to us today. Many constantly mock the God in whom we believe. Who is this God? None other than the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. They, on the other hand, have renounced the living God and replaced him with a phantom of their own imagination. Yet they crow that God belongs to them, and they count as nothing the God in whom we trust and on whose power and goodness we rely.
We need, therefore, Zechariah’s teaching, and the assurance that the God of Israel who in former times made himself known to the fathers, and who welcomed them, few in number though they were–that he who sent his only Son to be our Redeemer, is indeed the living God. And although he allows us to suffer torments and permits the wicked to raise their horns against us, although we lack the means to resist and, as the saying goes, can be swallowed as easily as a gnat, nevertheless he remains our God and defender, and has given invincible power to our Lord Jesus Christ. He has committed us to his protection in order to lead us to salvation. So we should always wait for his help, even though we fear he may come too late and that all will be lost if he tarries. We should continue even so in patience, and overcome all the allurements with which Satan tries to dazzle us and destroy our faith.
That is how we should apply the text, ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel.’
Abridged from John Calvin, “The Day of Visitation” in Songs of the Nativity: Selected Sermons on Luke 1 & 2, trans. Robert White (Banner of Truth, 2008), 71-74.