One of the best-known facts from the birth history of Jesus Christ is the birth of a virgin. Such a miraculous birth is unique. But in the history of the people of Israel we encounter a special birth several times before, namely the birth of a child from a barren woman. These stories have several elements in common, such as the promise of a son by God – for example through an angel – and the announcement that the child grew up in the Lord.
And if we list those events, there is a striking pattern. Special births appear to mark turning points in Israel's history. And the birth of Jesus is the seventh special birth in the Bible. The greatest turning point in history.
2. Abraham and Sarai
In Genesis[i] we read how three things are connected: God making a covenant with Abraham and his descendants, the promise of a son for Sarai and the command to circumcise boys on their eighth day. Despite her old age, Sarai gives birth to a son, and with that begins what God has promised: the creation of a great nation. In this history, God Himself indicates what the child should be called, and we read about the circumcision of the child[ii].
Rebekah, Abraham's daughter-in-law, is also initially barren. But when her husband Isaac prays for her, she becomes pregnant with twins, Jacob and Esau[iii].
Jacob marries Rachel and Leah, and Rachel also does not become pregnant at first[iv]. But then God remembers her and Joseph is born.
In these last two stories we do not read about a promise from God that a child will be born.
Thus the history of the earth fathers begins with three women, all three of whom are initially barren.
3. From the judges to the kings
The transition from the era of the judges to the era of the kings is marked by two special births.
The last judge is Samson. His mother, the wife of Manoah, is told by an angel that she will have a son, despite the fact that she has been barren until now. What is striking is the instruction that this son will be a Nazarite from birth, and his hair may not be shaved[v].
The age of the kings is introduced by the birth of Samuel. Hannah is childless for a long time, until the priest Eli tells her in the temple that her wish will be granted[vi]. Here too we read that the child's hair may not be shaved[vii].
4. End of the age of the prophets
At the end of the period of the prophets we see two special births.
The first concerns the birth of John as the son of Zacharias and Elizabeth[viii]. Both parents are old and infertile. Just as with Abraham, we read that God indicates the name of the child, and that the child is circumcised[ix].
The second is the birth of Jesus[x]. Here too we read of an announcement by an angel, the indication of the name of the child and the circumcision of the child[xi]. The special thing about this story compared to the others mentioned in this chapter is that it does not concern the birth of a barren woman but of a virgin.
What is striking is God's command that John should not drink wine or strong drink. Although strictly speaking this is not about Nazariteship, it does bring it to mind. Furthermore, it is striking that there is a similarity between Mary's hymn and Hannah's hymn. Thus we see how the birth of Samson and Samuel is compared to the birth of John and Jesus.
Luke clearly juxtaposes the birth of John and the birth of Jesus. We see this in the fact that both histories have a similar structure: announcement by an angel[xii] who says 'Do not be afraid'[xiii], announces that a son will be born and indicates what the child should be called[xiv] . Both sons will be 'great' according to the angel[xv]. The circumcision of both children is mentioned[xvi], and it is indicated that they grow up and are strengthened in spirit[xvii]. There is also a contradiction. After all, the birth of John is communicated by an angel to an old man in the temple, while the birth of Jesus is communicated by the angel to a young woman in a house in Nazareth.
5. Luke's message
It is clear that Luke wants to make it clear in the birth history of John and Jesus that a new era is dawning. He does this by showing that these two births fit into a series of unique births throughout history. First, there are three special births at the beginning of the history of the nation of Israel: Isaac, Jacob and Esau, and Joseph. Then the last judge Samson, and at the beginning of the age of the kings Samuel. And then John as the last prophet and Jesus who stands at the beginning of a new era.
In addition, it also becomes clear that Luke places John and Jesus next to each other. This is a characteristic of this Gospel.
[i] Gen. 17
[ii] Gen. 21:4
[iii] Gen. 25:21
[iv] Gen. 29:31
[v] Richt. 13
[vi] 1 Sam. 1:1-20
[vii] 1 Sam. 1:11
[viii] Luk. 1:5-20
[ix] Luk. 1:59
[x] Luk. 1:26-38
[xi] Luk. 2:21
[xii] Luk. 1:11 en 1:26
[xiii] Luk. 1:13 en 1:30
[xiv] Luk. 1:13 en 1:31
[xv] Luk. 1:15 en 1:32
[xvi] Luk. 1:59 en 2:21
[xvii] Luk. 1:80 en 2:40