Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied (Luke 1:67 CSB).
God has given his word to people like us in an understandable form. The Spirit of the Lord guided the biblical writers to express God’s message, not as random sound bites, but through word structures that make it easier for us to comprehend and to recall. For example, the Spirit tells stories, uses songs, and develops themes in “teaching patterns”. In this “prophetic song” of Zechariah, the Spirit led him to speak through a pattern: A-B-C-D-E-F-E-D-C-B-A. Let’s look at this together.
The bookends of this pattern are the A sections (1:68a; 1:80). The pattern in this case is completed by Luke’s comment. Zechariah praised the God of Israel in his prophecy for what the Lord was doing to accomplish his plan for his people. Luke completes the thought by stating that John, the son of Zechariah, came to Israel. God cared for his people by sending the forerunner of the Messiah to them. He prepared the people to meet their Lord. This was an act of God’s mercy.
Next inside the bookend pairs as the B sections (1:68b; 1:78-79). They talk about two visits of God to his people. Zechariah saw the first as a done deal, although its accomplishment would take thirty plus years. The day of redemption had arrived; God had come to set his people free. There would be a new and better exodus (cf. Luke 9:31 – the word translated departure by NIV, ESV, and CSB is exodus in Greek) through Jesus the Messiah. Zechariah also saw another visit, which would bring light to the people (Matthew 4:14-17; Ephesians 4:13-14; 1 Peter 2:9).
Moving further inside are the C sections (1:69; 1:77). They announce the great news of salvation! First, Zechariah thinks of the son who would soon be born to Elizabeth’s relative, Mary. The Seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15) would come through the line of David, since Mary was descended from David. John would talk about salvation, not through an earthly monarch, but through the forgiveness of sins (1:77; cf. John 1:29).
Next, we find the D sections (1:70; 1:76). They are linked together by the idea of prophets. God gave his word to Israel through his holy prophets hundreds of years before Zechariah lived. But now, John would be the prophet foretold by Isaiah to prepare the way for the Lord (Isaiah 40:3-5).
Moving closer to the core are the E sections (1:71; 1:74). In both, Zechariah praises God for the rescue that God will give his people from their enemies. Since the earliest days, humanity has been divided into two groups: the righteous and the unrighteous. Cain’s murder of Abel was the first act to make this division clear. Zechariah sees an end to the hatred, so that the godly might serve God without fear in his presence.
Finally, we come to the core, the F section (1:72-73). Why was God doing all this? It was because of his holy covenant. God had made a promise to Abraham and his seed, and he confirmed his promise with an oath (Hebrews 6:13-20). As God mercifully remembered his people at the time of the first exodus (Exodus 2:23-25; 3:7, 9, 16), so in Zechariah’s time, he remembered his sworn oath, and he sent his son to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).
Luke will pick up the idea of a covenant again (Luke 22:20). The next time we read of a covenant, it will be about a new covenant, as the Seed of the woman and of Abraham points to his final sacrifice for the people of God. This new covenant guarantees the writing of God’s laws on our hearts, union with God as his people, the certain knowledge of God, and the full forgiveness of the sins of his people by God (Hebrews 8:10-12). In Christ, we have all these spiritual blessings. God indeed is merciful to us!
Grace and peace, David