Meanwhile, some good conversations have been going in the comments while I was out getting caffeinated and being a nurse. Someone wondered if I minded that – not at all! I say, “Pour yourself a glass of tea, pull up a chair, and join in the conversation anytime.” I love to see women making friends, sharing their thoughts, bearing their hearts, discussing the Bible, and trading helpful advice. That is precisely why I want to continue going through the women of the Bible together. I smiled when I read Connie’s comment: “This study is helping me to "talk" more and I'm finding it easier to share outside of our study.” That’s terrific. Ready to talk about Elizabeth?
The stage has been silent and the curtains drawn since the book of Malachi ended with these words:
"Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the LORD arrives. His preaching will turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the hearts of children to their parents. Otherwise I will come and strike the land with a curse." (Malachi 4:5-6)
Roughly 400 years later, Luke opens the curtains on the New Testament with Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah standing center stage. Elizabeth is a daughter of a priest, and the wife of a priest. Her whole life has been dedicated to observing the Lord’s commandments, and the gospel writer calls her “upright in the sight of God.” She had found favor in God’s eyes.
She is virtuous woman, from a religious family, married to a pious man and she pleases God. There was one perplexing problem here – she was barren. The ability to have children was seen as a blessing from God. And on the flip side, the inability to have children was seen as a disgrace. Elizabeth and Zechariah’s “baby situation” was probably fodder for endless conversation and speculation among her family, neighbors, and friends.
Her husband was one of several thousand priests. He would serve for two weeks out of the year at the temple performing the daily sacrifices as required by the law. This particular time he was chosen to be the priest to enter into the sanctuary of the temple and offer the incense to God –considered a “once in a lifetime opportunity.”
So at the appointed time the other priests and worshippers waited outside praying while Zechariah enters alone to pour the incense (a special combination of ground spices and salt) onto the fire. Much to his surprise, Zechariah discovers he is not alone in there! An angel appears by the alter of incense and says:
"Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.” (Luke 1:13-17)
The angel is essentially telling Zechariah that his years of prayers for a son are being answered (and telling us this child is the prophet God said 400 years ago would come!). But Zechariah could not see how this could be – he was a little bit old for siring children, meanwhile Elizabeth was well past menopause age. Zechariah tells the angel as much.
The angel responds to the man’s doubt saying, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God.” Only the highest officials in a royal court could stand in the presence of the king - everyone else was required to bow low, so Gabriel was letting Zechariah know this was as good as from God Himself. He tells the man that due to his doubt, he will be unable to speak until the child is born. When Zechariah finally emerged from the Temple, unable to speak, it was clear to all that something momentous had happened.
Imagine you are Elizabeth. Your husband goes away for a week on business and comes home unable to speak – at all. He scribbles on a notepad about meeting this angel. And he wants you to come to bed with him and try to conceive a child. What is your reaction? Elizabeth lies with her husband and conceives!
When she realized she was pregnant, Elizabeth went into seclusion – meaning she stays at home and does not receive any visitors. The Bible doesn’t explain why. Was she nesting? Was she plagued by morning sickness? Was her aged body having a hard time adjusting? Was she waiting until she was “showing” so that no one could doubt her when she said she was expecting?
I don’t know what the reason was with Elizabeth, but I do know that this part of her story reminds me of a period in my own life. Before God brought me into public ministry with P31, he called me into a seclusion of sorts. He had me step out of all other leadership and ministry roles I was in, and simply focus on Him ... until further notice.
Unlike Elizabeth, I didn’t know why. I didn’t know what was coming. I just knew I needed to obey what I believed He was telling me to do and leave the rest to Him. But that decision was not without some agony. I would have to leave a ministry I was head of at the time without a leader – a ministry I dearly loved. I would have to say “no” when other opportunities to get involved with things came my way.
The people-pleaser in me didn’t like letting people down or saying “no” but thankfully, the God-pleaser in me won out. I stepped down from my ministry “post” in January and experienced an immediate sense of personal revival. Five months later, I met Lysa TerKeurst of P31.
After Elizabeth’ seclusion, her young cousin Mary comes to visit her. She too was pregnant – with the Christ child. When the two women come face-to-face to greet each other, John leaps within Elizabeth’s womb. He effectively announces the arrival of Christ, from the womb! The Holy Spirit rests on both women and their babies, and Elizabeth understands the deal. In fact, she is the first to declare Jesus is Lord! The two women spend the remaining months of Elizabeth’s pregnancy together. That’s a good thing because she probably needed someone to talk to who could actually talk back!
Then the baby boy was born and oh what a joyous occasion that must have been! But a week goes by and Zechariah doesn't get his voice back. He claims the angel struck him mute and that the angel said he would get his voice back once the child was born. I wonder if there was also some anxiety following the birth over Zechariah's continuing state of muteness.
On day eight it is custom to have the baby circumcised and named. Elizabeth is getting pressure to follow tradition and give the child a family name. Elizabeth knows this is not what Gabriel said the baby’s name would be. She knows her child is to be set apart, including by name. Thankfully, she chooses to be a God-pleaser rather than a family-pleaser and insists on naming him “John.” The family then turns to Zechariah, expecting him to give the child a family name. Since he could not speak, he asks for a writing tablet - a small wooden plaque with a wax surface. With a stylus, he scratches a single sentence, “His name is John.”
Immediately, to the amazement of the onlookers, Zechariah regains the use of his speech. A skeptic no more, his first words are in praise of God. I bet the sound of his voice silenced that room in amazement. However, probably not for long! Once again, Zechariah and Elizabeth’s “baby situation” would be the fodder of people's conversation and speculation as they wondered what kind of great man John was destined to become.
We don’t hear about Elizabeth after this. Given her age, it’s likely she didn’t live to see her son reach manhood. Some Bible scholars suspect a sect of monks may have taken John in after his parents’ death. We don’t know. We do see John as a person who is wholly set apart … even strangely so with his seemingly unkempt appearance and fondness for eating insects. He showed little regard for anything but fulfilling his purpose spoken by Gabriel. I like to think that in her years with him, Elizabeth taught John what it says about him in the last chapter of Malachi. I also like to think she instructed him to give this job of preparing the way for the Lord first place in his life. She was a great example for John ... and for you and me.
Tell us what you learned in reading about Elizabeth!