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Studies on the Women of the Bible
Davis W. Huckabee
ELISABETH—"God is Swearer, or, God is My Oath"
“There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years,” (Luke 1:5-7).
Here is the first of nine references to the mother of John the Baptist, and these are all found in this chapter. Here was another of the several women that were barren because the Lord had closed their womb to the possibility of childbearing until His own time and purpose was come to pass. Here was also the first of several annunciations.
This has to do with the first of eight distinct annunciations from the Lord as recorded by Matthew and Luke. These are: (1) The one by the angel Gabriel to Zecharias of the birth of his son. (2) Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary of the coming birth of the Lord, (Luke 1:26ff). (3) The annunciation to Elizabeth of the presence of the appointed mother of the Lord, by her unborn baby’s leaping for joy, (1:41ff). (4) The angelic annunciation to Joseph in a dream, of the supernatural conception of Mary, (Matt. 1:18ff). (5) The angelic annunciation in a vision to the shepherds, of the birth of the Savior, (Luke 2:8ff). (6) The Spirit’s annunciation to Simeon that he should not see death until he had seen the Christ, (2:26). (7) Simeon’s annunciation, by prophetic inspiration, to Mary concerning her Son, (2:34-35). (8) The annunciation to the wise men, by the appearance of the star, that the foretold and long expected King of the Jews was born, (Matt. 2:1ff) (B. H. Carroll). Such Divine annunciations, though uncommon, were not unknown to the Lord’s people, for such was the case with Abraham and Sarah, (Gen. 17:15-22), Manoah and his wife, (Judges 13:120), Elkanah and Hannah, (1 Sam. 1:1-20). Davis W. Huckabee, Studies On A Harmony Of The Gospels, pp. 20-21. (Unpublished manuscript).
This couple were godly people by Inspiration’s own testimony, which only shows that often even the most faithful of God’s people may be denied their cherished desires for a time. Yea, sometimes they may live out their entire earthly life without achieving their desires, but when this happens, it just tests their willingness to subject their own wills to the will of God. Such a situation emphasizes the great truth of Romans 14:7-9 that none of us belongs to himself, but we all exist for the glory of God. And if He may deny some of His peoples’ desires He will give even greater blessings in their places so that no one loses by submitting to God’s good will.
In the case of this godly couple it was simply a matter of God waiting until the proper time to enable her to conceive, for had she done so earlier, their son would have been born too early to have been the forerunner of the Messiah. It is like a man in this writer’s first pastorate who was several years older than his wife. He said, “I had prayed for the Lord to give me a wife for several years, and when I finally met her, I found that the Lord had just been delaying while waiting on her to grow up to be of marriageable age? God Himself is above time and space, and so, not subject to either of them, but such is not the case with us, and so, He often must move at the slow pace of His creatures for our sakes. Not only so, but prophecy enters into the matter, and all things must harmonize with Divine prophecy as the following shows.
So that in this Herod’s time the prophecy of dying Jacob, (Gen. 49:10), was fulfilled. The scepter, that is, the government, departed from Judah, and the lawgiver from his feet, which was a certain sign (in order to the fulfilling of the prophecy) that Shiloh, that is, the Messiah, was coming. This for the time. —Matthew Poole, Commentary On The Holy Bible, (vv. ol 3, p. 185.
Herod, generally called The Great, ruled Judaea but only by the appointment of Rome, which caused the Jews generally to continually chafe under this foreign rule, and there were often outbreaks of rebellion against Rome’s rule. But this was simply a Divinely given sign that the time of the coming of the Messiah [Shiloh] was near at hand for those with the spiritual insight to recognize it.
However this had little effect upon this godly older couple, for they were wholly occupied with serving God. It is amazing how little we are affected by mundane things when we are wholly taken up with the Lord and with properly worshipping and serving Him. They were pronounced to be “blameless” in the sight of God, which makes it certain that they were both saved by the grace of God, for all true righteousness is imputed to believers, (Rom. 4:1ff). Their walking in the Lord’s commandments and ordinances was only the evidence of their salvation, and not the cause of it, just as we are saved unto good works, (Eph. 2:10), and not because of them. The majority of people has imbibed the heresy of salvation by good works, and will hear of no other kind.
Elisabeth was not only of the same tribe as her husband, but she also had the same name as an ancient ancestor, for Elisabeth is the same as Elisheba, the wife of Aaron, the eldest son of Levi, (Ex. 6:23), the beginning of the Levitical tribe. From the Scripture, it seems evident that this couple had not yet come to terms with her barrenness, for though the angel recognizes that they continued to pray for a child even as they faithfully ministered to the Lord, yet there was some unbelief, (v. 18).
The number of the priests was so great at this time that each priest would only have the privilege of serving in this capacity one time in his life, and what capacity he served in was determined by lot. And as is often the case God’s blessed truth came to Zacharias while he was already busy serving the Lord, (vv. 8-10). When the angel appears to Zacharias he is in great fear, for priests had sometimes died for not properly executing their office, (Lev. 10:1-3). And since one of the offices of angels is the execution of judgment, (Matt. 13:41-42), Zacharias might well fear until the angel bids him to fear not, but brings the good news that Elisabeth is to bear a son that is to be named John, (vv. 13-14).
This message by the angel is the first message that God has given man in over four hundred years—since Malachi 4:6 had closed the Old Testament revelation. And in the light of this, Zacharias’ response is typical, for though he has continued to pray for a son, he has given up hope, for he was looking too much to human ability, (v. 18). This angel—Gabriel—as the messenger from God Himself, takes offense at Zacharias’ unbelief. As we have before seen in similar circumstances, God often waits until all human hope is gone that He might prove His absolute power in spite of human inability. Though this gracious gift of a son—“John” means grace, or gracious gift—would cause many to rejoice at his birth, yet for the duration of Elisabeth’s pregnancy her husband is stricken dumb and is only able to communicate by signs or by writing, (vv. 14-20). This amazes all of the people that waited outside the Temple, (vv. 21-22).
It was some days later, during which Zacharias ministered silently, that he returned to his home and shortly thereafter the hopelessly barren Elisabeth conceives a child in her old age and she hides herself for five months, (vv. 23-25). She bears witness to the Lord’s graciousness in taking away her reproach, for most Jewish women felt a great reproach in not being able to bear a child, and they were often reproached for this by others as if it was a special curse from God.
Now we have to keep in mind that the birth of John was the subject of several prophesies, to which Gabriel had alluded when he spoke to Zacharias, (vv. 14-17). And no doubt Elisabeth had been told of the applicability of these to their son, causing her to see God’s hand in all this. (Cf. Isa. 40:3-8; Mal. 3:1; 4:5-6). Who can imagine the glorious thoughts that filled the minds of Zacharias and Elizabeth during these months of her pregnancy. And something happens after six months that further confirms the faith of this godly couple. They are visited by the mother of the Messiah’s human nature.
At Elisabeth’s sixth month this same angel Gabriel was sent to the Virgin Mary to announce to her that she was the chosen vessel to bear the Messiah, (vv. 26-35). And part of the confirmation of this to Mary was her barren cousin Elisabeth’s almost miraculous conception, which was an evidence that, ‘with God nothing shall be impossible,” (vv. 36-37). All of this works in Mary a submission to the will of God, (v. 38), and shortly thereafter Mary goes into the hill country to visit Elisabeth and Zacharias at their home. And at Mary’s salutation, John leaped in his mother’s womb at the sound of the voice of the mother of his Lord, (vv. 39-41), thus confirming the faith of both expectant mothers.
Who can even imagine the great time of fellowship these cousins had for the next three months as they conversed about the great privileges that have been given them in being the chosen mothers of the Messiah and of His forerunner/herald? Some of the great things said between them are seen in verses 42-55. Elisabeth’s words are characterized by the Spirit speaking through her, (vv. 41, and Mary’s words are all words of praise to God as her Lord and Savior, (vv. 46-50).
At the end of this three months visit Mary returns home to Nazareth, and almost immediately afterward Elisabeth gives birth to John, (vv. 56-57). One is made to wonder why she returned home so near to the time of Elisabeth’s delivery date, yet there is no evidence that she remained here for this wonderful event. At this time Mary’s own pregnancy may have begun to show, and perhaps she felt the need to return home and to reveal all that was involved in this to Joseph. What a shock this must have been to him when his betrothed returns from a three months visit with her cousin, and she is obviously pregnant, and he knows it cannot be his child! But that is matter for a future study.
When Elisabeth brings forth her son, her husband continues to be unable to speak, and some of the busybody family and friends presume to call the infant by his father’s name, Zacharias, but Elisabeth immediately vetoes that idea, (vv. 57-60). These presumptuous people (every society has such) now appeal to the head of the home to override Elisabeth’s naming of the child, but Zacharias took a writing tablet and wrote on it, “His name IS John,” (vv. 61-63). Sadly such people often are envious of truly godly people and do all in their power to sow discord in their relationship. Possibly some of these had been the ones that reproached Elisabeth for her barrenness. And this act of obedience to the angelic command by Zacharias causes his ability to speak to return, which had been taken away by his original unbelief, (vv. 18-20). Both husband and wife were united in their knowledge of the will of God for this son and they do all in their power to help him fulfill his Divine destiny.
The angelic message had foretold that not only would many rejoice at the birth of John because of personal advantages that would come to them through him, (v. 14), but that he would be great in the eyes of the Lord Himself, (v. 15). This was fulfilled in Matthew 11:10-14 where the Savior Himself bore witness to John being the second greatest in the Kingdom of God, only Himself being greater. This is not obvious in the English version because of an improper translation. Most Protestants and Catholics have no use for John the Baptist when he is properly understood because his preaching and practice indicts their own as being in error. The Greek word rendered “least” is not in the superlative degree, which it would have to be to be properly rendered “least,” but is rather in the comparative degree. It is an adverb of time and should be rendered “later,” for numerous texts emphasize that John began his ministry six months before Jesus began his. And so, Jesus, by his own words, and by the words of John, was “later” in the Kingdom, and John was surpassed in greatness only by Jesus. This is the only way that Matthew 11:11 can be interpreted without some glaring contradictions of Scripture, and this is in harmony with Gabriel’s prophecy, (v. 15a).
This same verse goes on to reveal that John was to be a Nazarite and would be filled with the Holy Spirit from his birth. On the Nazarite vow see Numbers 6:1-8. Separation from uncleanness and unto the Lord was the characteristic of Nazarites. Did you ever know of anyone that was greatly used of God, but who lived a separated life? The phrase “to be filled with the Holy Spirit” refers to a person being under the complete control of the Spirit, and this characterized John the Baptist throughout all his thirty years until he was beheaded. This proves that God can control men even before they are saved, yea, even kings, (Prov. 21:1; Rev. 17:16-17). This cannot mean, as some have erroneously thought, that John was saved from the time of his conception. The filling of the Holy Spirit is always a preparation for speaking the Word of God as is proven by all the different places where this phrase appears in the New Testament. Now in his early years his mother Elizabeth would have been the chief one to teach and to direct his way unto godliness and in her and John’s father were great examples of this.
Because of the fulfillment of a lifelong desire the parents could exult, but also many others would look back to this birth with rejoicing because John would be the means of many being turned back to the Lord, (v. 16). No one of us knows how much cause for rejoicing we may give to others by our faithful lives and witness of the Lord. We must not despair if we do not see outward results of our witness at the time but must rather remain true to our God-given task and leave the success to God. Probably Zacharias and Elisabeth had been dead several years when their son John began to bring many into the Kingdom by his faithful preaching of the Gospel, but this was a direct result of his parents’ godly life styles for many years before this.
With the return of his ability to speak Zacharias praises God and the entire Hill country of Judaea hears of all these marvels, and many laid them up in their hearts and mused over what this child was to be in years to come, (vv. 64-66). Here is an important practice that we all need to cultivate: laying up in our hearts the words of Truth that we hear proclaimed. For, only if we have Truth stored in our hearts can we call it forth to counteract the lies of Satan when he tempts us. All that heard the prophecy of the future ministry of John could see the providence of God in it, and they knew that he was destined to be a mighty servant of the Lord.
From verse 68 to verse 80 we have Zacharias’ hymn of praise. This has long been called the Benedictus because this was the first word in the ancient Latin versions. “Praise is the first word that falls from the mouth of Zacharias as soon as his dumbness is removed, and his speech restored. He begins with the same expression which St. Paul begins several of his epistles.”—Ryle. It has been observed by several about how many key words and doctrines of both the Old Testament and the New Testament are found in this great hymn of praise that Zacharias spoke. Contrary to the view of many liberal commentators that all the prophets were isolated enthusiasts who just happened to use similar language at times, this shows that there was a unity in the messages of all true prophets since the beginning, (vv. 70-72). Nor were these words just in regard to outward civil improvements in their government, as others have thought.
Thus Zacharias, by an infallible Spirit, expounds the covenants and oaths of God to Abraham and David, not as they appear to us at first view, as if they were promises of a mere temporal kingdom, and a victory for the Jews over their enemies, together with a splendid state for them, which was all the scribes and Pharisees, and the generality of the Jews, expected from the Messiah. But as confirming God’s resolution to send the Jews a Savior, who should save them from their sins, the guilt and dominion of them, and from the power of hell, and purchase a spiritual liberty for them to serve the Lord all their days, without fear, in holiness and righteousness, which indeed was the true end of the Messiah’s coming.—Matthew Poole, Commentary On The Holy Bible, (vv. ol 3, p. 193.
John, having grown up in this godly home, would have been heir to all of these great doctrinal truths that his father and mother give voice to in their hymns of praise to God so that there is no room to doubt his doctrinal soundness in all things. Without a doubt he was a phenomenal man so far as Divine Truth is concerned, which probably explains, at least in part, the popularity of his preaching with the masses of Israel, (Mark 1:5; Luke 3:7ff). His outward appearance was not much, nor did he dine fancily, (Matt. 3:4), but he was second only to the Messiah himself in his person and preaching. Like all faithful men of God he antagonized the sinful rebel, the self-righteous and the stubborn ritualist, but he called many of the chosen ones to faith in the coming Redeemer, and prepared these for membership in the first church by baptizing them upon their credible professions of faith.
One thing that needs to be emphasized regarding this godly woman that was John’s mother, is her radical difference from what many modern women aspire to be. Elizabeth was a quiet home-maker and mother. She did not, like many modern women, feel that she had to be constantly flitting here and there, always seeking the limelight, and never content except as she was the center of attention. She was not concerned for the furtherance of her “career,” but she knew that her main purpose in life was to be a proper prophet’s wife. And, later, to prepare her son to be a godly person that would be able to be a proper herald and fore-runner of the Coming One—the Messiah. Nothing that anyone does can compare with being God’s sanctified instrument for the advancement of the Kingdom of God.
For most of her life Elizabeth was nothing more than a godly woman that was married to one of the Temple priests who was himself a godly man. She spent many years of frustration because she was barren and could have no children, and though she had no way of knowing this, her barrenness was of God and for a specific reason. But in God’s own good time—when human ability was utterly beyond hope of remedying the situation, the Divine sovereignty came into play. For as Scripture repeatedly says, “there is nothing too hard for” God, “with God nothing shall be impossible,” but “with God all things are possible,” (Jer. 32:17; Luke 1:37; Matt 19:26), etc.
The problem has always been, not with God’s ability to fulfill His promises, but with the creature’s unwillingness to believe those promises and to rest upon them, as we see in Genesis 18:9-15; Luke 1:18-20; 17:6; Matthew 21:22, etc. From inside the boat in a storm it is easy to pretend to have faith, but to step outside the boat in the midst of a raging storm as Peter did, (Matt. 14:24-33), requires a great deal of faith, and sometimes this faith is not as strong as we think.
Luke 1:80 sums up the early years of the life of John the Baptist by saying, “And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel.” Much of the country near Zacharias’ home was desert. John evidently led a secluded life, such as God often chooses as a place of preparation for His servants. So it was with Moses, Elijah, Paul and others. “Shewing” was often used of someone’s inauguration into public office.
We know not how long Elisabeth and Zacharias lived after the birth of John, but without a doubt they both exercised a great deal of influence upon John in his most formative years. Since both were “well stricken in years,” (1:18), when John was born, it is not likely that they lived until he entered his public ministry at thirty years of age. But however long they lived, they fulfilled their Divine destiny in preparing one to be the Lord’s herald and forerunner, and God always has blessings for His faithful people when they live in His will. May He enable each of us to be as godly and as faithful as were Elisabeth and Zacharias were.
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