Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 31: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
56. And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house. 57. And Elisabeth's time of bringing forth was fulfilled, and she brought forth a son. 58. And her neighbors and relatives heard, that the Lord had wonderfully exercised his mercy toward her, and they congratulated her. 59. And it happened on the eighth day, when they came to circumcise the child, and they called him Zacharias, by the name of his father. 60. And his mother answering said, 64 By no means, but he shall be called John. 61. And they said to her, There is none among thy kindred who is called by that name. 62. And they made signs to his father how he wished him to be called. 63. And having asked for writing tables, he wrote, saying, John is his name: and all wondered. 64. And his mouth was instantly opened, and he spake, blessing God. 65. And fear fell upon all their neighbors, and in all the mountainous district of Judea all these words were made known. 66. And all who had heard put them in their heart, saying, What (or Who) shall this child be? And the hand of the Lord was with him.
The amount of this narrative is, that the birth of John was distinguished by various miracles, which gave reason to expect, that something great and remarkable would appear in the child himself at a future period. For the Lord determined to confer upon him from the womb remarkable tokens, that he might not afterwards come forward, as an obscure and unknown person, from the crowd, to discharge the office of a Prophet. First Luke relates, that Mary remained about three months with her cousin, — or, in other words, till the birth of the child: for it is probable that she had no other reason for staying so long, but to enjoy the exhibition of divine grace, which had been suggested to her by the angel for the confirmation of her faith.
58. And her neighbors and relatives heard It may admit of doubt, whether the wonderful kindness of God was estimated by those persons from the simple fact of her being blessed with a child, or whether they had previously heard that an angel appeared to Zacharias, and promised to him a son. This was certainly no ordinary divine favor, that, out of the course of nature, a barren woman at a very advanced age had brought forth a child. It is possible that, on this ground alone, they magnified the divine goodness. On the eighth day, from a sense of duty or from courtesy, as is customary on such occasions, some people assemble; but God takes occasion from it to make them witnesses and spectators of his power and glory. There can be no doubt but the extraordinary birth brought a greater crowd. They had reckoned it a prodigy to see an old and barren woman suddenly become pregnant; and now that the child is born, their astonishment is renewed and increased. We infer from the words of Luke that, though they circumcised their children at home, they were not wont to do so without collecting a numerous assembly: and with good reason, for it was a common sacrament of the church, and it was not proper to administer it in a secret or private manner.
59. And they called him Zacharias, by the name of his father We know that names were originally given to men, either from some occurrence, or even by prophetic inspiration, to point out some secret work of God. After a long period, when there was such a profusion of names, that it became inconvenient to form new ones every day, people satisfied themselves with the old and received names, and called their children by the names of their ancestors. Thus before the father of John, there were many called Zacharias, and perhaps they were the descendants of the “son of Barachias,” (Mt 23:35.) Use and wont, we are aware, is generally taken for law, and so these persons contended that the prevailing custom should be observed as to the name of the child. Though we must not imagine that there is any sacredness in names, yet no judicious person will deny that, in this matter, believers ought to make a godly and profitable selection. They ought to give their children such names as may serve to instruct and admonish them, and consequently to take the names of holy fathers — for the purpose of exciting their children to imitate them — rather than adopt those of ungodly persons.
60. And his mother answering said It is uncertain if Elisabeth spoke this by inspiration. But when Zacharias saw the punishment inflicted on him for being too slow in believing, he probably informed his wife by writing what the angel had enjoined respecting the name, (Lu 1:13,) otherwise he would not have obeyed the command of God. Why this name was given to the Baptist by divine authority, I have already explained. The relatives, though unacquainted with the reason, are affected by the strangeness of the occurrence, particularly as they conjecture it did not take place without design.
64. And his mouth was instantly opened God puts honor on the birth of his prophet by restoring speech to his father: for there can be no doubt that this benefit was delayed till that day with the express object and design of fixing the eyes of men upon John. Zacharias spake, blessing God He did so, not only for the purpose of testifying his gratitude, but to inform his relatives and neighbors, that this punishment had been inflicted on him, because he had been too slow to believe: for he was not ashamed to unite with his own dishonor the praises of the divine glory. Thus it became universally known, that the birth of the child was not an accidental or ordinary event, but had been promised by an announcement from heaven. 65
65. And fear fell upon all This fear mentioned by Luke proceeded from a feeling of the divine power: for the works of God ought to be contemplated by us with such reverence as to affect our minds with seriousness. 66 God does not amuse us with his miracles, but arouses the senses of men, which he perceives to be in a dormant state. 67 Luke says also that the report of those things was circulated in all the mountainous district of Judea And yet many derived no advantage from the temporary impression of the power of God: for, when John began to exercise his office as an instructor, there were few that remembered what wonders had attended his birth. It was not merely, however, for the sake of those who heard them, that God determined to spread abroad the report of those events, but to establish, in all ages, the certainty of the miracle, which was then universally known. Meanwhile, a general mirror of human ingratitude is here placed before our eyes: for, while trifling and frivolous occurrences remain firmly in our minds, those which ought to produce a constant recollection of divine favors immediately fade and disappear.
Luke does not speak of stupid men, or actual despisers of God: for he says that they put them in their heart: that is, they applied eagerly to the consideration of them. Some probably continued to remember, but the greater part rapidly shook off the fear which they had experienced. It deserves our notice that they were far from mistaking the design, when they interpreted the miracles which they saw as relating to the future excellence of the child: for such, we have said, was the design of God, that John should afterwards come forth with the highest reputation. And the hand of the Lord was with him The meaning is, that the grace of God was strikingly visible in many respects, and showed manifestly that he was not an ordinary person. It is a figurative mode of expression, and denotes that the power of God was as fully manifested as if his hand had been visibly seen, so that all readily acknowledged the presence of God.
“Mais sa mere print la parole;” — “but his mother took speech.”
“Mais selon la promesse expresse de Dieu, qui avoit este apportee et revelee par l'ange.” — “But according to the express promise of God, which had been brought and revealed by the angel.”
“Que nous en soyons touchez et esmeus a bon escient.” — “That we may be touched and moved by them in good earnest.”
“Dieu en faisant miracles ne se joue point pour nous servir de passe- temps, mais reveille nos sens, lesquels il voit estre abrutis et en dormis.” — “God, in working miracles, does not amuse himself to supply us with pastime, but arouses our senses, which he sees to be stupified and asleep.”