There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea,.... This was Herod, the son of Antipater, sometimes called Herod the Great, and is rightly here said to be the king of Judea; for, by deputation from the Roman emperor, he had the government of all Judea, which upon his death was divided among his sons. The phrase, "in the days of", is an eastern way, of speaking; see Genesis 14:1; and intends the time of his reign; in which there was
a certain priest named Zacharias: a name famous among the Jews, for an high priest, who was slain by them the court of the temple, 2 Chronicles 24:20, and for one of the later prophets, Zechariah 1:1, who were of this name. This man, the father of John the Baptist, was not an high priest, as this character of him, and the work afterwards ascribed to him, show; though he has been thought to be so by some; and John himself is so called by the JewsF14Ganz. Tzemach David, par. 1. fol. 25. 2. : he was
of the course of Abia. The Ethiopic version reads, "in the days of Abia": and it has been the opinion of some, that Zacharias and Abia were two priests, who performed their ministry in succession, one after another; one ministered one time, and another at another time; but such betray their ignorance both of Scripture, and of Jewish affairs. In David's time, there was a division of the sons of Aaron into "twenty four" orders, or courses; and this of Abia was one, and the "eighth" of them; see 1 Chronicles 24:1. The account the JewsF15T Bab. Taanith, fol. 27. 1. give of this matter, and in which they are not agreed, is this,
"says Rab Chama bar Guria, says Rab, Moses ordered for the Israelites eight courses, four from Eleazar, and four from Ithamar; Samuel came and made them "sixteen"; David came and made them twenty four.--It is a tradition, that Moses ordered for the Israelites sixteen courses, eight from Eleazar, and eight from Ithamar; and when the children of Eleazar increased above the children of Ithamar, they divided them, and appointed them twenty four.
The account, as given by MaimonidesF16Hilch. Cele Hamikdash, c. 4. sect. 3. , is as follows:
"Moses, our master, divided the priests into eight courses, four from Eleazar, and four from Ithamar, and so they were until Samuel the prophet; and in the days of Samuel, he and David, the king, divided them into twenty four courses; and over every course one head was appointed, and they went up to Jerusalem to the service of the course every week; and from sabbath to sabbath they changed; one course went out, and another came in, till they finished, and returned again.
Now of these there were but four courses returned from the Babylonish captivity, as appears from Ezra 2:36 and with this the Jewish accounts agreeF17T. Bab. Taanith, fol. 27. 1, 2. Eracin, fol. 12. 9. & 13. 1. T. Hieros. Taanioth, fol. 68. 1. ,
"The Rabbins teach, that four courses came up from the captivity, Jedaiah, Harim, Pashur, and Immer; the prophets that were among them stood up, and divided them, and appointed four and twenty lots, and put them into a box: Jedaiah came and took his lot, and the lot of his companions, six; Harim came and took his lot, and the lot of his companions, six; and so Pashur and Immer: and so the prophets that were among them taught, that if Jehoiarib, the first course, came up from captivity, he should not drive away Jedaiah out of his place; but Jedaiah should be the principal, and Jehoiarib an appendix to him.
Now, though the course of Abia did not return from captivity, yet its order and name were retained as the rest of the courses, being divided between these four by whom they were supplied; and therefore Zacharias is not said to be of the posterity of Abia, but of his course. To these courses there were added as many stations; and what they were, and their use, may be learnt from what followsF18Misn. Taanith, c. 4. sect. 2. 3. ,
"The former prophets offered four and twenty courses; and to every course there was a station at Jerusalem; consisting of priests, Levites, and Israelites: and when the time came for the course to go up, the priests and Levites went up to Jerusalem, but the Israelites, which were in that course, gathered themselves to their cities, and read in the history of the creation; and the men of the station fasted four days in the week, from the second day, to the fifth.
The sense of which, according to their commentatorsF19Maimon. & Bartenora in ib. , is, that these stations were substituted in the room of, and represented all Israel; and their business was to give themselves up to divine worship, prayer, and sacrifices; and such of them as were near Jerusalem, when the time of their course came, assisted at the sacrifices; and such as were afar off, betook themselves to the synagogues in their cities, and there fasted, prayed, and read. And so another of their authorsF20Piske Toseph. Moed Katon, art. 62. says,
"there were twenty and four courses of the priests, and so twenty and four courses of the Levites; and every week the course of the priests and Levites goes to Jerusalem; and the twenty and four stationary men, half of them go thither, and half are left in their houses, and pray over the offerings:
for they had their stationary cities, where these men dweltF21Misn, Biccurim, c. 3. sect. 2. & Maimon. & Bartenora in ib. . Jericho was one: they sayF23T. Hieros. Taaniot, fol. 67. 4. ,
"Jericho was able to produce a complete station itself; but because of dividing the glory to Jerusalem, it furnished out but half an one:
hence you need not wonder to hear of a priest and Levite on the road to Jericho from Jerusalem, as in Luke 10:31 for they say, in the same place, that twenty four thousand, a station consisted of at Jerusalem, and there was half a station at Jericho: as for the heads of the courses of the houses of their fathers,
"there were in a course five, six, seven, eight, nine of them; a course which had five (heads) in it, three offered three days, and two offered four days; a course in which were six, five offered five days, and one offered two days: a course in which were seven, every one offered on his day; a course in which were eight, six offered six days, and two offered one day; a course in which were nine, live offered five days, and four offered two days: and there were some that fixed themselves for ever; and a course that was (or began) on a sabbath day, was always on a sabbath; and that which was at the going out of the sabbath, was always at the going out of the sabbath: and there were some of them that offered at every course: and there were some that cast lots at every courseF24Ib fol. 68. 1. .
But to say no more of these courses and stations, I conclude with what MaimonidesF25Hilch. Cele Hamikdash, c. 6. sect. 1, 2. says of them:
"it is not possible, that a man's offering should be offered up, and he not stand by it; but the offerings of the congregation are the offerings of all Israel; and it is not possible that all Israel should stand, in the court at the time of sacrifice: wherefore the former prophets ordered, that they should chose out of Israel men that were fit, and feared to sin, that they may be the messengers of all Israel to stand by the offerings, and these are called the men of the station; and they divided them into twenty and four stations, according to the number of the courses of the priests and Levites; and at every station one of them was appointed over them all, and he called the head of the station; and every week the men of the station of that week gather together; and such of them as are in Jerusalem, or near to it, go into the temple, with the course of the priests and Levites of that week; and they who are in that station, that are at a distance, when their station comes, they gather together to the synagogue, which is in their place.
Then he goes on to give an account, as before, how often they fast in that week, how many prayers they say, and what they read,
And his wife was of the daughters of Aaron. It is a saying of R. JochananF26T. Bab. Pesachim, fol. 49. 1. ,
"he that would be rich, let him join himself to the seed of Aaron; so it is, that the law and the priesthood make rich.--R. Idi bar Abin married a priestess, and from him proceeded that were made doctors, R. Shesheth, the son of R. Idi, and R. Joshua, the son of R. Idi.
This is not so much said in commendation of Zacharias, that he took a wife of the same tribe, and of the priestly line: for it was lawful for the tribe of Levi to take a wife of any other, because it did not make any alteration in the inheritances of tribes; and it a rule with the JewsF1Misn. Kiddushin, c. 4. sect. 1. , that priests, Levites, and Israelites, might marry with one another; as Mary, who was of the tribe of Judah, was akin to Elizabeth: but to point the original of John, and show of what extraction he was, his father and mother being both of the family of Aaron,
And her name was Elizabeth; the same name with אלישבע. "Elisheba", the wife of Aaron, Exodus 6:23, and whom the Septuagint interpreters there call, as here, Elisabeth: and this being the name of Aaron's wife, it is very probable it might be a common name among the daughters of Aaron, in succeeding generations,