A little before the birth of John, Mary returns to Nazareth; Joseph, seeing her condition, is minded to put Matt. i. 18-25. her away privily, but is commanded by God, through an angel, to take her home as his wife, for that which is conceived of her is of the Holy Ghost. He obeys the word, and takes Mary as his wife. Elisabeth^ gives birth to a son, who is circumcised on the eighth day, and nam- Ltjke i. 57-80. ed John in obedience to angelic direction.
Whether Mary left Elisabeth before or after John's birth, is not expressly stated, but the most natural construction of the narrative is that it was before.
The interval that had elapsed between the Annunciation and Mary's return from Judea, was sufficient to make manifest to Joseph her condition. That she at this time informed him of the visit of the angel, and of the divine promise, is not said in so many words, but is plainly implied. The position in which Joseph was now placed was one of great perplexity; and as a just man who desired to mete out to every one that which was his due, he was, on the one hand, unwilling to take her under such imputation of immorality, yet, on the other hand, unwilling to condemn her where there was a possibility of innocence.
1 Kitto, Sepp, 80-90 Roman miles.
He therefore determines to put her away privately, which he could lawfully do, and so avoid the necessity of exposing her to public disgrace, or of inflicting upon her severe, punishment. Whilst yet in doubt as to his proper course, the angel of the Lord, in a dream, confirmed the statement of Mary, and directed him to call her son by the name of Jesus, as the future Saviour of His people. Agreeably to the divine commandment, Joseph takes Mary at once to his own house as his wife.
While these things were taking place in Galilee, John was born in Judea, and was circumcised at the legal time. It was customary to join the giving of the name with the performance of this rite. This custom seems to have originated in the fact that Abraham's name was changed at the time he was circumcised.1 (Gen. xvii. 23.) The name John, given the Baptist by the angel, is of importance, as showing the purpose of God in his ministry. It means " the Grace of God," or " one whom Jehovah bestows," and indicated that God w^as about to begin an economy of grace, in distinction from the economy of the law. His ministry, like that of Jesus, was for mercy, not for judgment.