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heavenly and earthly nature of the Messiah, "the "heavens were to drop down their dew, and the "earth germinate the just."
That, when Christ was born, the belief of the speedy appearance of the Messiah was universal in Judea, is evident from the Scriptures. Neither was this belief by any means confined to Judea ('). In the plains of Moab, Balaam had foretold the Star that should arise out of Jacob (2). In the most eastern region of Asia, Confucius had been often heard to say, that in the West the Holy One would be found; Socrates (3) had intimated to Alcibiades, the great Teacher, who was to instruct men how they should behave towards God and man; and Suetonius (4) and Tacitus (5), who lived in the century in which the Messiah was born, mention the general belief of the East, in their times, that the conqueror of the world should proceed from Judea.
() Numbers, xxiv. 17.
(2) Duhalde, Eng. Tran. 3 vol. p. 100.
(3) In his Dialogue, Alcibiades, the second.
(*) In Vesp.
(5) Hist. L. 5. S. 12. ed. Brotier.
CHA P. II.
THE REVELATION OF THE BIRTH OF ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST.
Luke i. 5-25.
E prophecy remained to be fulfilled. Isaiah and Malachi had foretold that the Messiah would have a precursor of extraordinary dignity. In allusion to the practice of eastern monarchs, who, when they enter on an expedition, send harbingers before them to prepare all things for their march, and pioneers to open the passes and level the ways, Isaiah describes him as a royal harbinger, giving orders by a solemn proclamation to prepare the way of the Lord. "A voice," saith the prophet, " is heard "in the wilderness! The voice of one that crieth, "prepare ye the way of Jehovah! Make straight in "the desart, an highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, every hill made low; the "crooked shall be made straight, the rough places, plain (')." The prophet Malachi, in one place,
(1) Isaiah, ch. xl. 1, 3, 4. Baruch, ch. v, employs the same imagery, "every high hill and every bank of long conti
nuance shall be cast down; every valley filled up to make " even the ground, that Israel may go safely in the way of "the Lord." Diodorus Siculus mentions, lib. 4, that, when Semiramis made the tour of her dominions, she ordered the mountains to be digged down, the precipices to be levelled, the hollows to be filled up, and causeways to be raised in the
announces him in the same character; in another, calls him a new Elias; whose office it should be, "to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, " and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just (2).” The time for his appearance on earth was now arrived.
His father was Zachary, a lineal descendant of Abias, son of Eleazar, the eldest of those sons of Aaron who survived him. Elizabeth, was the name of his mother. It is supposed that she descended by her father's side from Aaron (3). Zachary and Elizabeth lived in a strict practice of inward holiness, and an exact observation of the commandments of God and the ordinances of his law (4); they were righteous in the sight of God, and blameless in the judgment of men. They had no child; Elizabeth had been always barren; and both of them were advanced in years. Their usual residence was in the mountainous part of Judea; but Zachary necessarily went to Jerusalem, when the duties of his priesthood called him there.
According to a regulation made by David, the priests, who served the temple, were distributed into twenty-four classes; sixteen of the classes were
(2) Mal. ch. iii. 1. ch. iv. 5.
(3) Among the Jews the children of priests were noble; and their mothers, being the daughters of priests, gave new lustre to their nobility. The historian Josephus, (vol. i.) claimed this double honour.
(4) Elokal, the commandments of the two tables; Axapala, the civil and ceremonial precepts.
assigned to the sons of Eleazar, who, as we have mentioned, was the eldest surviving son of Aaron, and the remaining eight were assigned to the sons of Ithaman, who was Aaron's youngest surviving son. Each class performed the service of the temple, during one week, beginning with the sabbath; and then gave place to the succeeding class. The different duties of the class were parcelled out among its members by lot: some presided over the sacrifices; some had charge of the breads of proposition; some had the care of the lamps; some the care of the perfumes and the last is said to have been considered the most honourable function. It was incumbent on the minister of it to see that the perfumes were prepared, and that they were placed, as the language of Scripture expresses it, before the Lord, that is, in the golden candlestick which stood before the interior veil, that separated the sanctuary from the Holy of Holies. The people were not allowed to enter into the sanctuary; their place was in the adjoining division of the temple (5). There they remained in prayer while the priest performed the interior ceremonies. When these were finished, the door of the sanctuary was opened, and the priest presented himself at it, and blessed the people.
At the time in which the evangelical history begins, the class of priests to which Zachary belonged officiated in the temple; and the duty of offering
(5) But that part of the temple is said to have been par
incense in the sanctuary had fallen to his lot. He was employed in the discharge of this function, the people praying without the sanctuary, and expecting him to appear and give them his benediction, when an angel of God stood before him on the right side of the altar. Zachary was surprised and terrified; the angel bade him not fear: "Thy prayers," he said, "have been heard; thy wife Elizabeth shall "bear thee a son; thou must call him John; he "shall be to thee a subject of gladness and exulta"tion; and multitudes shall rejoice in his birth. "He shall be the precursor of the Messiah. Like "other persons consecrated to God, he must abstain "from wine and other fermented liquor. From his "mother's womb, he shall be filled with the Holy "Ghost; many of the children of Israel he shall "convert to the Lord their God. He shall walk "before him, with the spirit and power of Elias; he "shall make the faith and holiness of the patriarchs "of old revive among their children; and thus, "removing their present disobedient spirit, shall
dispose them to receive the salvation which the "Messiah shall bring them."
Zachary heard the divine promises, announced to him by the angel, with surprise, and with some degree of distrust. "How can this be !" he said to the angel; "Give me a sign from Heaven, to assure "me that it shall happen: I am old, and my wife "is advanced in years." "Zachary," replied the heavenly messenger, "I am the angel Gabriel; my