70 As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began:
1901 ASV Translation:
70 (As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets that have been from of old),
There is one variation between the Textus Receptus and the Nestle/Aland 26. The Textus Receptus has an "extra" definite article before the words "since the world began". The difference in meaning, or translation, is so slight as to not be of any significance.
Luke is recording Zacharias' words regarding Yahweh, Elohim of Israel, as the Provider of both a "Ransom Payment" and a "Horn of Deliverance". In the midst of that presentation, there is this statement that these provisions are "in accordance with what He had said from long ages past by the mouth of "His holy prophets".
I. In regard to the issue of God's speech through "holy prophets", there is, in this chapter of Luke, a focus upon prophetic words for both the short term (Gabriel's words) and the long term (prophets from of old).
A. 1:37 is a crucial text in the light of this thesis: No word of God is powerless.
B. 1:45 addresses the short term prophecy issue and establishes the benefit of faith.
C. 1:55 sticks the issue of prophecy into the issue parenthetically.
D. From 1:57 onward, Luke is clearly into a record of the fulfillment(s) of the words of Gabriel to both Zacharias and Mary. This creates a "fulfillment motif" that is impossible to deny or overlook.
E. 1:67 puts all of the rest of the chapter into "prophecy" mode.
F. Our current text (1:70) clearly links God's actions to His former words.
G. 1:72-73 keep this focus on prophecy "up front".
H. 2:1 maintains Luke's "fulfillment motif" as he begins the record of the fulfillment of his words to Mary.
II. The "Fulfillment Motif" is a critical issue throughout Scripture.
A. "Fulfillment" is the chief argument in the Bible that God "speaks" and can be "trusted".
1. These twin issues [content and faith] are fundamental to the lives of men.
2. These twin issues raise significant questions, but the questions are not to be allowed to challenge the root thesis: God has spoken and His words are trustworthy.
a. One of the issues of God's "speech" is His "limited audience".
1) Jesus, the Primary Prophet, probably had as great an audience in numerical terms, as any prophet; yet, what He said was only heard on a first hand basis by a small portion of the whole of humanity.
2) All other prophets, being less than the God they spoke for, were vessels of the words; so that they became an extremely limited audience for God.
a) Only the prophet "heard" God's words.
b) Then, only the prophet's human audience heard his transmission of those words.
c) Then, there was the larger audience who, in some way or another, came into contact with the content of those transmitted words.
3) The bottom line: few, in respect to the many, have ever heard the words of God in any form (direct or transmitted), and fewer still have ever been an "audience of one".
4) The question: why did God choose to be so "restricted" in terms of the numbers of the "audience"?
a) There is a plethora of "religions" in our world that bind men's souls to some kind of deity.
b) What is the point of one of them being true and all the rest being deceptions?
c) There seems to be no escape from the fact that God has a plan for blessing that includes "humanity", but only a select segment of that humanity [hence, Paul's concept of the "Remnant" who exist by the "Election of Grace"].
b. Another of the issues is God's choice to "speak" in an extremely limited manner.
1) Clearly, God could speak all day, every day, to all individuals in every place.
2) Just as clearly, God has highly exalted "written prophetic utterances" as His primary methodology for communicating content to human beings.
a) That God "speaks" in all of the daily realities of experience is a "given" according to Proverbs 1:20.
b) That there are multiple other "noises" to occupy men's minds and to distract them from the business of living is also a given in the same text (wisdom would not have to lift up her voice over the din of noise if there were no such noises).
c) That the din of noises is highly distracting is also a given.
d) Thus, there is a focus upon a stable, unchanging, written, record of exactly what God has said so that one can remove oneself from the din and give thought to those exact words.
i. This is fundamentally required by a host of biblical texts, of which Psalm One stands as a bulwark (he that is blessed is he that gives serious "pondering time" to the words of God).
ii. This is fundamentally required by the nature of the experience of man since that experience is filled with a din of noise that is, by nefarious design, a fundamental force of death in this world.
3) And, just as clearly, whether God speaks in the cry of wisdom in the busy streets or in immutable words recorded faithfully, the reaction of man is largely the same in all places through all time: he ignores the content... i.e. he ignores God's efforts to enliven him.
a) The masses of humanity have never shown any proclivity for listening to God with a desire for understanding.
b) Even within the extremely small remnant of the election of grace, the written words of God are typically ignored in favor of the "noise"... there may not be as many as one human being in a million who actually prefer the quiet thoughtfulness required by the "words" over the "busyness" of the noise.
c) It is a bleak picture of the condition to which sin has brought mankind.
3. These twin issues exist as help for those who seek help and stand uncompromised against those who want no help: God has set His method and will not be moved by the self-centered complaints of any who would fault either Him or His methods.
B. "Fulfillment" is Destiny: God speaks to a Final End.
1. All "hope" rests upon a Final State of Blessedness.
2. God speaks about and to the final state.
3. God's "concern" for man as a listener is critically tied to man's willingness to "listen"...He will spare none who refuse to listen and His judgment will be the most severe upon those whose "proximity" to His words was the greatest.
III. The Details of This Text.
A. Zacharias does not use the typical term for communicating doctrinal content when he says "Yahweh spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets"; he uses, rather, a term that typically only focuses upon the making of sound. The implication is that even if all that Yahweh does is "make noise", man is obliged to "believe Him" because it is impossible for Yahweh to "utter speech" and not be bound by whatever it was that He uttered. This is in the context of an old man who did not believe what Gabriel was sent "to utter", and a young woman who did believe what Gabriel uttered.
B. Zacharias also surprises us by the reference to the "mouth". The surprise is twofold: first, the word is singular in the context of plural "prophets"; and second, the phrase is unnecessary to the idea of Yahweh's speech. If Zacharias wanted us to think only of Yahweh's speech, he would have said, "just as He spoke by His holy prophets...". The point here is likely to be found in Luke 6:45, where the focus is upon the mouth as the expressor of the heart, and in Luke 11:54 where what comes of out the mouth can be a legal liability (see Luke 19:22 and 22:71).
C. Then there is the "holiness" of the prophets -- a rather expected issue in that Yahweh would only speak with the expectation that He would be believed if the "mouth" was "holy" (not in the sense of moral purity, but in the sense of a "dedicated vessel").
D. And finally there is the fact that these prophets are "from an age". The phrase most likely means "previous" in the sense that Zacharias is speaking of Yahweh's on-going commitments made over many years through many prophets prior to John's coming as a prophet.