78 Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us,
79 To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
1901 ASV Translation:
78 Because of the tender mercy of our God, Whereby the dayspring from on high shall visit us,
79 To shine upon them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death; To guide our feet into the way of peace.
Textual Issues:In verse 78, the Textus Receptus has the aorist form of the word translated "hath visited" and the Nestle/Aland 26 has the future tense "shall visit". The speculation of the textual critics is that a copyist altered the future tense to conform to the aorist of the same word in 1:68. Speculation is just that; but, for our studies it makes very little difference because both the historical aoristic sense of the visitation is correct as well as the futuristic sense.
I. From 1:76 Zacharias has turned his attention upon his son.
II. In his focus upon his son, Zacharias has majored upon the idea that he will be the focal instrument of God for the enlightenment of the people of God regarding how they may become "prepared" for the coming of their God.
III. In this focus, the fundamental "preparation" is to be enlightenment about the relationship between the promise of "salvation" and the "banishment of their sins".
IV. In the verse before us, Zacharias attributes both the "banishment of our sins" and the subsequent "salvation" to "the tender mercies of our God".
I. The Issue of the Divine Motivation.
A. The translation "through the tender mercy" fails at two grammatical points...
1. The word "tender" is both a noun and in the plural number.
a. This means that the text ought to be rendered in a way that allows the plural to come through.
b. This also means that the text ought to make it possible for us to recognize that Zacharias is, in a figure, attributing something very human to God (we will come back to this shortly).
2. The word "through" is typically the translation of a grammatical structure that involves the word "through" when it relates to a word in the genitive case; but, the word in this text that is directly associated with it is in the accusative case.
B. Therefore, the translation should read "on account of/because of the tender feelings of mercy".
1. The noun that is translated as an adjective is, literally, the intestines, or that part of the body cavity which contains them.
2. When this noun is used to refer to something beyond the physical body parts known as the intestines, it metaphorically refers to the feelings one experiences.
a. This metaphorical reality arose because of the widely experienced fact that when one's "feelings" are deeply touched, it affects people in their physical bowels. This is most easily illustrated by the physical reaction people have to the visual sight of a great tragedy -- a human body severely mangled in a car wreck; the overload sensation of watching a terrorist behead a captive; etc.
b. Because of this almost universal experience, people began to use the physical sensations to identify with the way they were emotionally responding to their experiences.
c. Thus, we can read literally "bowels of compassion" in Colossians 3:12.
d. The use of "bowels" in the New Testament implies that the "feelings" are primarily viewed in terms of their ability to motivate one to do good.
1) As the value system apparently resides in the "heart", so the "feelings" reside in the "bowels".
2) As "agape" is associated with the heart, so "phileo" seems to be associated with the "bowels".
3) As Luke uses the verb form of this term, it always refers to the stirring up of that which motivates a person to take helpful action [Luke 7:13; 10:33]. In the one case of the description of the father of the prodigal, in 15:20, the description is of the upheaval of feelings the father experienced when he saw his son on the road home...which feelings spurred him to exuberant and, perhaps, excessive display of glad rejoicing.
4) In 1 John 3:17, John questions the presence of "agape" in one who is able to look upon his brother in need and not "act on the motivation to solve the problem". He calls this "shutting up his bowels" as though that which is natural has been denied by deliberate action.
3. That God has no literal "bowels" is the reason that I said above that Zacharias was attributing something very human to God. It must be realized, however, that God created man so that he would be able to identify with God's reality. It is no stretch of imagination to understand that the true feeling of God was given a semblance of experience by man in his intestines. Man learns best by moving from the physical to the non-physical (John 3:12), so God built certain realities into man's physical essence so that he would have them as a foundation for his grasp of the truth about God.
C. Thus, we must conclude that Zacharias is telling us that God "feels" the realities of what He has created. He "feels" the impact of man's rebellion; He "feels" the impact of man's eternal destruction; He "feels" the reality of Calvary; He "feels" the spectre of man's lostness. This is, according to Zacharias by the Spirit Who spoke through him, the reason God has provided "salvation" and the "banishment of our sins".
1. Man, often, gets hung up on why such a "feeling" God would tolerate some of the things that go on in this world.
2. But, his hangup is rooted in his ignorance of how God, if I can say it this way, "juggles" His "feelings" in a very complex world of personalities invested with the real capacities to make decisions and pursue objectives. The apostles revealed a tiny portion of this "juggling" when they were beaten in Jerusalem and went away rejoicing that they had been counted worthy by God of suffering for Jesus (Acts 5:41). Couldn't God have compelled the Council to forego the imposition of the suffering? Surely. But, in the process He would have also stifled the very real sense of "rejoicing" that the apostles experienced. So, He "juggles" things with a clear warning to man: "Your thoughts are not My thoughts, nor are your ways Mine"; and "how unsearchable are My judgments and My ways past finding out (by mere mortals)". The bottom line is this reality: God "feels".
D. Then we must tie this to "mercy". The "feelings" are out of "mercy".
1. Mercy is a major thesis in Luke 1, being referred to five times in respect to the issue of God's "reason" for the actions He has taken.
2. This reference before us in this study is the final reference in this chapter. It is deliberately tied to both the particular issue of the "banishment of our sins" as well as the larger issue of the "salvation of us from those who hate us".
a. In Titus 3:5 we are told that God "saved us" according to the standard of "mercy".
b. In Romans 9:23 the elect are called "vessels of mercy" in contradistinction to the "vessels of wrath". In this context the apostle is deliberately teaching what has happened in the historical reality of men because of the fundamental attributes of their Creator in light of His desire to make Eternal Life possible.
c. It must be understood that the lack of "action" on the basis of "mercy" does not mean that "mercy" is not present; instead, it means that something else has trumped mercy in this particular case.
3. As such, the major issue of Luke's "theology" in reference to the "name him John" (Yahweh is gracious) theme is that the answer to the question of "Why would God do this? Why would He be interested in saving us?" is the feelings of God that spring up out of His "mercy". To the degree that we can identify with that, we can see that God is not unmoved by the rather massive disaster that awaits humanity if it pursues its rebellion (and it certainly will).