The Woman Who Pleased God

By on October 1, 2014

By Carole Towriss−

“Please be careful, my dear. It is a long journey to Jerusalem at your age.” Elizabeth untied and retied the leather belt around her husband’s cloak.

“At our age?” Zechariah chuckled. “You make it sound like I have one foot in the grave. I am not dead yet.”

She shrugged. “I know. Maybe it just feels like we’re so much older because … we have nothing left to do.”

“Elizabeth, don’t say such a thing. Our lives are not over just because we have no children.” He pulled her close and held her to his chest. “God has decreed this and we must accept whatever He gives us from His hand.”

Elizabeth held back the tears that fought to escape yet again. She would not cry in front of him. Not again.

He kissed her cheeks and opened the door of their modest home. Turning around just as he stepped over the threshold, he said, “And I’m taking Micah with me, so you needn’t worry.” He grinned and headed toward the temple for his annual service.

She smiled back as she shut the door, the weight of worry rolling off her shoulders—for a moment. She leaned back against the solid wood, missing him already. His calm faith and peaceful acceptance had been her anchor these last several years, keeping her from completely falling apart. Yet how could he give up so easily?

The tears flowed freely now that he was gone. Knowing that the time she could bear children was truly and irrevocably past was more than she could bear. Most said it was due to some secret sin of hers, or even Zechariah’s, yet they had prayed and searched their hearts and honestly could not find any way they had offended God. She had borne the shame of barrenness her entire adult life. But at least when there was hope, she could stand it. And now, even that last sliver of hope was gone.

Zechariah would be home today! His two weeks were over. Elizabeth smiled—he still made her heart flutter. She opened the door for the hundredth time. There, in the distance, two figures trudged up the hill. After rushing inside for a cup of cool water, she waited in front of their home for him.

When he drew nearer, she raced to him and threw her arms around his neck. “Zachariah! How I missed you! How are you? How was your journey?”

When he didn’t answer, she pulled back. “Zachariah? Is something wrong?”

He looked to Micah.

“Something happened while he was inside,” Micah replied. “He hasn’t spoken since his day of offering the incense.”

Zachariah stood silent as a statue.

Elizabeth’s stomach soured. She placed her hands on his cheeks. “My husband, is this true? You cannot speak?”

He nodded.

Her chest constricted as if a hand clutched at her heart. “Wh- what happened?”

He motioned to Micah, who retrieved a wax tablet from his bag.

Zachariah took the stylus the younger man offered and punched frantically into the wax, then handed it to Elizabeth.

She glanced at it, then read it aloud.

In the temple, I was visited by the angel Gabriel. He said you will bear a son, and we are to call him John. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. Because I did not believe his words I will be unable to hear or speak until the day this happens.

She looked to Micah. “What do you know of this?”

He shrugged. “Nothing. When he came out, we knew he had seen a vision. He had been in there longer than usual, and he couldn’t speak. It soon became evident he also could not hear us. He did not tell us why. He just finished his service and we came home.”

Elizabeth pondered all she had heard. God had given Sarah a baby in her old age, when she was far older than Elizabeth. Sarah doubted God; she laughed when told the news. Zachariah doubted and now he couldn’t speak.

A baby. Now? It didn’t seem possible. But who was she to doubt an angel?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Elizabeth and Zechariah are described by Luke as “righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly.” They were probably in their sixties, since this was considered “advanced age” at the time. This couple was humble in a time when the priests were often proud, wealthy and arrogant, the upper class of Jewish society. Rather than live in the priestly enclave of Jerusalem, they lived in a village in the Judean hills, far away from temptation and excess.

But as a descendent of Aaron, for two weeks a year, he traveled to the city to serve in the Temple. Each day in Jerusalem, about fifty priests would have been on duty. On this particular day, Zechariah is given a great honor: he is chosen “by lot” to burn incense on the Altar of Incense in the Holy Place. With such a large number of priests, no priest was allowed to serve more than once in his lifetime.

It is while he is offering the incense that he is visited by Gabriel, and told Elizabeth will bear a son.

Barrenness was a horrifying stigma and an acceptable reason for divorce, but Zachariah eschewed this option, choosing instead to remain with his beloved wife, and pray. The heartache they felt when she passed through her childbearing years into that time of life when it is no longer physically possible to conceive must have been unspeakable. So it is no wonder that Zachariah expressed some doubt at Gabriel’s message!

When Gabriel said, “Your prayer has been heard,” it is unclear whether he meant Zachariah’s prayer for Israel as he offered the incense, or his prayers through the years for a child. Either way, both were about to be answered through the birth of his son.

Because shortly after he came home, Elizabeth did conceive. We’ll learn more about the pregnancy and birth of their son, who grew up to be called John the Baptist, next month. For now, we know that both Zechariah and Elizabeth lived honorably. They continued to serve God in every way they knew how, despite their heartache. They had every earthly reason to abandon the God who could be blamed for abandoning them, but they did not.

It is because of this faithfulness in the face of overwhelming disappointment God gave them a child that would become the herald for the Messiah.

 

“The LORD rewards every man for his righteousness and his faithfulness.” I Samuel 26:23 ESV

About Carole Towriss

Carole Towriss grew up in beautiful San Diego, California. Now she and her husband live just north of Washington, DC. In between making tacos and telling her four children to pick up their shoes for the third time, she reads, watches chick flicks, and waits for summertime to return to the beach. You can find out more about her Biblical fiction novels at http://www.caroletowriss.com/.

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The Woman Who Pleased God