In Luke 1:5-7 we are introduced to the parents of John the Baptist, “In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.” Abijah or (Abijam) was the son of Solomon by his Ammonite wife, Naamah. Abijah is in the line of David’s descendants to reign over Israel. Zechariah’s wife was a direct descendant of Aaron. He was a prominent and well-respected member of the Jewish race except they had no children. Herod was the last Idumean. The Idumeans were descents of Edom, a perennial enemy of Israel. Edomites were the offspring of Esau, the twin brother of Jacob. Although Herod was an Idumean by birth, he appears to have been a Jew by religion. He is most famous for all his building projects, especially the Temple in Jerusalem. Edwards says, “The ruins of Herod’s buildings are still today more impressive than anything, ancient or modern, that visitors to Israel are likely to see. Nevertheless, despite his influence on the history, politics, and architecture of the first century, Herod lacked greatness of character and spirit and as a consequence did not change history. Herod sought in vain to immortalize himself and his reign, but at his death in 4 BC, an angel announces the dawn of a new kingdom that will have no end.”[1]

The Messiah was to establish an endless kingdom. The coming of this Messiah was to be prefixed with the coming of a messenger like Elijah who would proclaim the coming of the deliverer. Luke introduces us to a priest named “Zechariah.” The name means, “The Lord has remembered.” There were others with the same name in the Old Testament, but this time the name was to prove dramatically prophetic. But Zechariah and Elizabeth were childless. It’s interesting that in the prescientific age it is boldly pronounced to be Elizabeth’s fault. The text says she was “barren.” There was no greater disgrace for women in Israel. In Luke 1:24 she even refers to her situation as a disgrace or “reproach.” Sarah was barren. God sent her Isaac. Rachel was barren. God sent her Joseph and Benjamin. Hannah was barren. God sent her Samuel. God had a plan for each of these semi-miraculous births. Marshall observes, “A late rabbinic comment observes that whenever Scripture says that someone had no child, later one was born to her. So here the implied parallelism with Abraham and Sarah and other Old Testament couples prepares the reader for the possibility of a miracle.”[2] God opened the womb of Elizabeth in her old age and gave her a son that was to play an important role in the coming of the deliverer of all mankind. Notice too, that these semi-miraculous births were to set the stage for the truly miraculous birth of the Messiah. I believe that the original readers of Luke’s Gospel were well aware of the Old Testament stories of God opening the wombs of barren women. They know what is about to happen. A child is about to be born to this godly couple. The beauty of this couple is that in the face of their major life disappointment they continued to serve God and worship Him.

Both Zechariah and Elizabeth are at the heart of the bridge between the past and the present. Our pain may not be the absence of a child, but there is a myriad of things that can bring disappointment in life. Yet one thing neither Zechariah nor Elizabeth succumbed to was bitterness, even though Elizabeth felt “disgrace.” Bock suggested, “Maybe that is one reason God called them upright and blameless. But good people need to learn to rely even more on God. Sometimes the answer to their disappointment is not clear. Whether it be the loss of a child to premature death, a financial collapse, dealing with a child who falls into calamity or serious sin, or an unfortunate accident, the hard times are not always self-explanatory. God never guarantees that life will come without pain and disappointment. The central issue is how we handle it. Bitterness will yield the fruit of anger and frustration, sapping the joy from life. Trust and dependence will cause us to find fulfillment in ways we would not even have considered otherwise.”[3]

[1] Edwards, James R. 2015. The Gospel according to Luke. Edited by D. A. Carson. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; Apollos.

[2] Marshall, I. Howard. 1978. The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Exeter: Paternoster Press.

[3] Bock, Darrell L. 1996. Luke. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.