Zechariah the priest (Lk 1:5-1:5)

“In the days

Of King Herod

Of Judea,

There was a priest

Named Zechariah.

He belonged to

The priestly order

Of Abijah.

His wife was

A descendant

Of Aaron.

Her name

Was Elizabeth.”

 

Ἐγένετο ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις Ἡρῴδου βασιλέως τῆς Ἰουδαίας ἱερεύς τις ὀνόματι Ζαχαρίας ἐξ ἐφημερίας Ἀβιά, καὶ γυνὴ αὐτῷ ἐκ τῶν θυγατέρων Ἀαρών, καὶ τὸ ὄνομα αὐτῆς Ἐλεισάβετ.

 

The first person that Luke introduced was Zechariah.  None of the other gospel writers mentioned Zechariah.  However, Luke placed him within a historical context.  This all this took place during the reign of King Herod of Judea (Ἐγένετο ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις Ἡρῴδου βασιλέως τῆς Ἰουδαίας).  Matthew, chapter 2:1-12, had mentioned King Herod and the intriguing story of the Magi.  King Herod the Great (74 BCE-1 CE) was the Roman client king of Judea.  In fact, the Roman Senate named him King of the Jews in 40 BCE.  He built many things during his reign, including expanding the Second Temple in Jerusalem.  At his death, his kingdom was divided among his children.  There was a prophet and book of Zechariah, chapter 1:1, who lived around 520 BCE.  However, this Zechariah here (τις ὀνόματι Ζαχαρίας) was a priest (ἱερεύς), probably in Jerusalem.  He belonged to the priestly division of Abijah (ἐξ ἐφημερίας Ἀβιά), which was the 8th of the 24 divisions of priests that served in the Temple as laid out in 1 Chronicles, chapter 24:7-19.  His wife was also a daughter or descendant of Aaron (καὶ γυνὴ αὐτῷ ἐκ τῶν θυγατέρων Ἀαρών), a Levite or part of the priestly class.  She was called Elizabeth (καὶ τὸ ὄνομα αὐτῆς Ἐλεισάβετ).  Thus, the action of his gospel begins with the unique story of the Jerusalem Temple priest Zachariah and his Levite wife Elizabeth.  Some biblical scholars think that this infancy story, like the infancy story of Matthew, chapter 1:18-2:23, are later additions.  They are here, so I will deal with it.

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The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem (Mt 2:1-2:1)

“In the time

Of King Herod,

Jesus was born

In Bethlehem

Of Judea.”

 

Τοῦ δὲ Ἰησοῦ γεννηθέντος ἐν Βηθλέεμ τῆς Ἰουδαίας ἐν ἡμέραις Ἡρῴδου τοῦ βασιλέως,

 

We have a specific time and place for the birth of Jesus. He was born (δὲ Ἰησοῦ γεννηθέντος) in Bethlehem in Judea (ἐν Βηθλέεμ τῆς Ἰουδαίας), during the reign of King Herod (ἐν ἡμέραις Ἡρῴδου τοῦ βασιλέως). Bethlehem was always in the territory of Judah, about 6 miles south of Jerusalem, with a current population of about 25,000 in the present day Palestinian territory. David was from Bethlehem, where Jesus was born. Matthew did not say why Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem, like Luke, chapter 2, did because of a census. King Herod the Great (74 BCE-1 CE) was the Roman client king of Judea. In fact, the Roman Senate named him King of the Jews in 40 BCE. He built many things during his reign, including expanding the Second Temple in Jerusalem. At his death, his kingdom was divided among his children.

The future good harvests (Hag 2:18-2:19)

“Consider from this day on,

From the twenty-fourth day

Of the ninth month!

Consider since the day

That the foundation

Of Yahweh’s temple

Was laid!

Is there any seed

Left in the barn?

Does the vine

Still yield nothing?

Does the fig tree

Still yield nothing?

Does the pomegranate tree

Still yield nothing?

Does the olive tree

Still yield nothing?

From this day on,

I will bless you.”

As opposed to the bad harvests of the past, the harvests of the future would be good from this day forward, because this 24th day of the 9th month was the day of the foundation laying for the Second Temple of Yahweh.  Then in a series of questions, Yahweh indicated that there would be no seeds left in the barn.  The vines, the fig trees, the pomegranate trees, and the olive trees would yield great harvests rather than nothing.  From this day on, they were going to be blessed.

The dedication of the altar (Ezek 43:18-43:20)

“‘On the day

When it is erected

For offering

Burnt offerings

Upon it,

For dashing blood

Against it,

You shall give

A bull

For a sin offering.

The Levitical priests

Of the family of Zadok,

Who draw near to me

Shall minister to me.’

Says Yahweh God.

‘You shall take

Some of its blood.

You will put it on

The four horns

Of the altar.

You will put it on

The four corners

Of the ledge.

You will put it

On the rim,

All around.

Thus,

You shall purify it.

You will make atonement

for it.’”

The first thing to be done on this new altar, after it was erected for offerings, was a burnt offering. The Levitical priests of the family of Zadok was based on a righteous priest, who was descended from Eleazar, the son of Aaron. Zadok had aided King David during the revolt of his son Absalom in 2 Samuel, chapters 13-22. Then this Zadok helped bring King Solomon to the throne in 1 Kings, chapters 1-2. After Solomon’s building of The First Temple in Jerusalem, Zadok was the first High Priest to serve there in 1 Kings, chapter 4. Thus, it was not strange that the house of Zadok occupied the high priesthood throughout much of the Second Temple period. These Levitical priests were the ones who came near to Yahweh to minister to him. The first of the sin offerings was a bull. These Zadok Levitical priests were to put its blood on the 4 horns of the altar, plus on the rim all around it for a purification and an atonement at the same time.

 

Against the palace next to the Temple (Ezek 43:8-43:9)

“They placed

Their threshold

By my threshold.

They placed

Their doorposts

Beside my doorposts.

There was only a wall

Between me and them.

They were defiling

My holy name

By their abominations

That they committed.

Therefore,

I have consumed them

In my anger.

Now let them put away

Their idolatry

Let them put

The corpses

Of their kings

Far from me.

Then,

I will reside

Among them

Forever.”

Yahweh seemed to be against the old idea that the palace of King David was close to the Temple. Instead, he seemed to imply that there should be a separation for this new, yet unbuilt, Second Temple. Yahweh seemed upset that the old thresholds and doorposts of the Temple were right beside the royal palace. There was only a wall that separated them from his holy Temple. Thus, they defiled his holy name with all their abominations so close to his Temple, one of the main reasons for the destruction of Jerusalem. He wanted the Israelite kings to put away their idolatrous ways. Their dead bodies were to be far away from the new Temple. If they did this, Yahweh would live among them forever.

The wall around the temple (Ezek 40:5-40:5)

“Now there was a wall

All around the outside

Of the temple area.

The length

Of the measuring reed

In the man’s hand

Was six long cubits.

Each cubit

Was a cubit

Plus a handbreadth

In length.

He measured

The thickness

Of the wall,

One reed.

He measured

The height

Of the wall.

One reed.”

Almost like Moses in Exodus, Ezekiel’s vision of the future described what the new Temple should look like. Surprisingly, it was much like the old Temple. There was no indication that the Second Temple was built like this vision of Ezekiel indicated. First, this bronze man was going to measure the wall around the Temple. He took his measuring reed that was 6 long cubits. The long cubit was 4 inches longer or the width of a hand longer than the regular cubit that was about a foot and a half long. When this bronze man measured the thickness and the height of the wall, they were symmetrical, exactly the same, one reed or 6 long cubits, somewhere between about 10 feet high and 10 feet wide, a massive construction.

 

Ezekiel is brought to a high mountain in Israel (Ezek 40:1-40:2)

“In the twenty-fifth year

Of our exile,

At the beginning

Of the year,

On the tenth day

Of the month,

In the fourteenth year

After the city

Was struck down,

On that very day,

The hand of Yahweh

Was upon me.

He brought me there.

He brought me,

In visions of God,

To the land of Israel.

He set me down

On a very high mountain.

There was a structure,

Like a city,

To the south.”

This is the last section of the Book of Ezekiel. This is sometimes called the Torah of Ezekiel, because he sets out the size and rules for the Temple, after the exile. Like Moses, many centuries earlier, Ezekiel has his own very specific descriptions about how this Second Temple should be constructed. Once again, Ezekiel has a vision on a precise date, on the 10th day of the 1st month, the 25th year since the beginning of the exile, the 14th year after the destruction of Jerusalem, 573 BCE. Continuing with his first-person singular narrative, he said that he was brought to a high mountain in Israel with a great city to the south.