“In the days of Herod.” Although this gives us a basic time of the birth of John, since Herod reigned from 37 BC to 3 BC (although most historians say 4 BC), it is saying more than just that historical fact. Herod was a cruel and hated king, and the “days of Herod” were dark days for the Judeans. John the Baptist and Jesus Christ were a burst of light into this darkness. No wonder the prophet, speaking of the coming of the Messiah, said, “The people who are walking in darkness have seen a great light. Those who lived in the land of the shadow of death, on them the light has shined (Isa. 9:2). Had God wanted to He could have given us the exact year of Herod, and other leaders as well (cp. Luke 3:1).
The record of the events surrounding the birth of Christ occurs in Matthew and Luke, and the two Gospels interweave when it comes to the chronology of the events. To read about the birth of Christ in chronological order, it is: Luke 1:5-80; Matt. 1:18-25; Luke 2:1-38; Matt. 2:1-22. Then Matt. 2:23 and Luke 2:39-40 are both summary statements about Jesus growing up in Nazareth.
“named Zechariah.” The Hebrew and Aramaic in the Old Testament and time of Christ did not have a vowel following the “Z,” so some versions have Zechariah, while some have “Zachariah.” Although “Zachariah” is traditional and is in the King James Version, the pronunciation of the name as “Zechariah” is more likely and thus is the choice of most of the modern versions. “Zechariah” means “Yahweh remembers,” which would generally refer to Yahweh remembering His covenant, not Yahweh remembering Zechariah. “Elizabeth” means “Elohim is an oath,” that is, “Elohim is faithful.”
“priestly division of Abijah.” 1 Chronicles 24:1-19 recounts how King David organized the priests, the sons of Aaron, into 24 divisions. The eighth division was the division or “course” of Abijah (1 Chron. 24:10). Each division was on duty twice a year for a one-week period, and also served at the three major feasts of the year: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. After the Babylonian Captivity, only four divisions returned (Ezra 2:36-39), but these four were divided into 24 divisions, given the names of the original 24, and then continued on with their duties according to the traditional timing.a The eighth division of Abijah that Zechariah was serving could have been the first of his two services in 4 BC, the last week of May, 4 BC that year, or it could have been the later of the two times of service, which would have been in November, the Bible does not make that clear. We must keep in mind that the Jewish lunar year was 11 days shorter than the modern solar year, so the dates of the division of Abijah could vary by almost a month over a course of three or more years. To serve as a priest of the course of Abijah was a tremendous privilege because May was generally a wonderful month in Israel, not too hot or too cold, while November could be rainy but not too cold. To be born with a priestly course that was August-February meant serving in the hottest hot and almost the coldest cold in Israel’s weather calendar.
“he had a wife of the daughters of Aaron.” To be a priest and to be married to a priest’s daughter was considered a double blessing, and it meant that the fact that John the Baptist was himself a priest, although there is no indication in the text that he ever stepped into that role and participated in any Temple service.