Updated: Mar 22, 2021
She is advanced in years when we find her in Luke 1. She is barren, unable to have children (likely simply due to her age). She is married to Zacharias who served as a priest and, according to what the angel says to him in Luke 1:13, he prayed that his wife would somehow conceive a son despite her barrenness.
Speaking of Zacharias and verse 13... Gabriel, an angel of the Lord, appeared to him and shared that his prayers would be answered; Elizabeth would conceive a son who was to be named John, and John would be the forerunner for the Messiah. This was no insignificant announcement. Despite that Zacharias prayed to God for this very thing - a son - he immediately questioned it:
And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” (v18)
His doubt and, really, disbelief was met with this answer from Gabriel -
And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”
(I always read this as, "Zacharias, if you're only going to speak doubt, you're not going to speak at all. I just want you to watch what I'm about to do unfold.")
And so begins the period of silence...
Before I continue, let me say this - it is unbelievably vital that we know the heart of God, and consider what we know about the heart of God as we read Scripture. Knowing the difference being punishment and discipline matters as well. It would be easy to read this and view it as punitive on God's end; to feel as though He was punishing Zacharias for speaking doubt by taking his ability to speak away. There are two main reasons I don't believe that was God's heart in this -
If it was His heart and nature to be punitive, He wouldn't have sent Jesus. He would've let us suffer the natural consequences of our sin, which Biblically is death. So I know His heart is for His people.
Later in this chapter, we find Mary ask the angel a question about what she'd been told, too. God didn't take her ability to speak away, right? If it was about being punitive for asking questions, He would have because He is not an inconsistent God.
I've shared that to say this -
The difference between punishment and discipline is the heart and purpose behind it. The purpose of punishment is to make someone pay for what they've done. The purpose of discipline is to teach and edify. Was God punishing Zacharias? No. Was He disciplining Him? Probably. And it's safe to say - based on what the Bible teaches us about God's heart - that His intention in this was nothing less than building up His people in the process, and working all of it for the good of His people, the good of the Kingdom and His glory.
If we fail to view the events of this life through the lens of the reality of God's heart, we will not see things as they really are - and that can be damaging in more ways than one.
So now back to the story...
He comes out from the altar to find people waiting for him, asking why he was in there so long, only to not be able to explain anything to them. Shortly after this encounter, Elizabeth did become pregnant. A few months into her pregnancy the same angel visited Mary to foretell the birth of Christ.
I can't help but wonder if God silenced Zacharias to avoid him sowing doubt into the heart of the people waiting outside the altar, his wife and even Mary, who would spend much time with Elizabeth during her own pregnancy.
I can't help but wonder if God has caused me to be silent at times because my words would only sow doubt into others' hearts.
Words matter. Words fill the story we tell ourselves. Words are used to encourage (or discourage) the hearts of others. Words are heavy, meaningful and every word we speak has roots in our heart. I am sure that's why Proverbs 4:23 instructs us to guard our heart above all else...it is the wellspring of life; everything we say and do flows from it.
If we fast forward to verse 64, we see that Zacharias was given the ability to speak again after He confirmed what the Lord directed him to do regarding naming their son John. His first words were words of praise!
"And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God." (v64)
This means that for the duration of her pregnancy, he could not speak. He just had to watch -- he watched God unfold everything the angel foretold in silence. I imagine this prepared his heart to accept the birth of Jesus as well, as that was even less logical from man's perspective than the conception and birth of John the Baptist.
Contemplating this beautiful, detailed account in Luke 1 along with all that's happening in my own life right now, here's what God has been stirring in my heart -
Sometimes God has us sit down and be silent so we will watch His greatness unfold in front of our eyes, without interruption, and independent from anything we've said or done.
The other day, the Lord recalled something to my mind. It was a timeline of sorts; a realization I'd had heading into 2019. At that time, I was seeing the journey I'd been on and was joyfully anticipating the coming year because I felt that I knew God was going to take me further, though I didn't know exactly what that would look like. Working off this timeline, I continued it in my journal -
2016. A year of building for and by myself.
My relationship at this time, ministry, my career. It was the Tower of Babel Part II in my world. I was empty, but my life looked full.
2017. A year of breaking and loss in nearly every aspect of life.
I ended my engagement. My family experienced a great hardship, and loss. I left my job, my grad school plans didn't work out and I entered the abyss of "what now?" I stepped down and away from all ministry. I met emptiness for the first time in a long time.
2018. A year of rebuilding in, for and through the Lord.
I found contentment in singleness. I stepped back into ministry, called by the Lord, and took on a supportive role. Most of the family was healing, together. I found direction in my career and was enjoying where I was, open to where I would go next. My devotional life was reignited. I could feel myself being restored.
2019. A year of growth and restoration.
This was an amazing year for me. I was seeing the Lord move like a mighty wind in every aspect of my life - my own heart, DeckDevotionals, leading worship, youth ministry, my relationships, my job. There was a no emptiness here. I was truly filled with and by Christ.
2020. The year my life was flipped upside down.
Everything changed. Everything. I would walk into 2021 with no part of my life looking like it had in 2020. This was good and ugly all at once. I could see God in it - I felt Him leading - but that doesn't always make things less difficult or painful.
2021. The year of silence.
I can relate to Zacharias is all I'm saying. I feel like God pulled me out of everything I was involved in, zipped my mouth, sat me down and said, "Just sit here and watch what I do." If you know me, you know nothing about sitting still and silent is my natural tendency. Yet, here I am. To be clear and completely transparent, it is not by choice. Much like Zacharias, (though not literally) God has muted me. The only reason I'm even writing this is because I felt God's prompting to do so. This is the first thing I've written in over a month and a half and it's not because the words wouldn't stick to the paper; it's because I couldn't the words to begin with.
So I here I sit in the silence; here I sit with the last five years, and all the lessons I've learned along with all the lessons I ran from. Here I sit contemplating what God will do next, or what He will speak into the silence.
It's a funny thing, really, because at the beginning of the year I wrote on the first page of may journal that I wanted to learn how to truly rest in the Lord this year. I guess I had no idea what that was going to look like, or what God would have to do in order to teach me that.
I'm learning there are times God has us sit still and silent because it's the only way we will watch and listen; times when all I can utter is:
Ok Lord, You have my attention.
I suppose sometimes we don't realize God lost our attention until He sits us down, as the loving Father He is, and speaks ever so softly to our hearts through His love. As I write this, this song lyric from Pat Barrett and Steffany Gretzinger's song "Sails" is running through my head on a loop - I let out the sails of my heart; here I am, here You are.
In my world, that line would read more like, "Here I am, here You are. What now?"
If you can relate, consider that God's response may simply be -
"I just want you to sit here with me for a while."
And let if be that when God "opens our mouth, and our tongue is loosed" again, our first words testify of the greatness of God we've seen and experienced in the silence.