Summary: God’s blessings upon us may or may not take the shape of things we want or expect. But any fulfillment apart from God, will be empty.
The blessing of Elizabeth
Most of the passage we are reading is about Zechariah the priest. However, it begins with a telling statement. In the modern west, our culture serves the related gods of
If you don’t have all of these three, you are somehow less fortunate than others who have them. Never mind that they may also have
• financial difficulties,
• relational problems,
• substance abuse issues
• emotional issues
• learning disabilities
In the past and in other cultures, it has been an honor to be old. People were not shy of saying, "I am old and my wife is well along in years." These were facts, and marks of honor and standing. As some have said, "I have lived for many years, which sure beats the alternative."
So though in our culture we cringe a little at Zechariah’s words, for him, they simply relayed facts:
18Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
19The angel answered, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.”
21Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 22When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.
23When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 24After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25“The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”
Luke 1:18-25 (NIV)
Elizabeth was too old to conceive
This is not a problem as such, except that Elizabeth had never had children at all. The importance of children for women in biblical times is legendary. Children, especially sons were a sign of God’s blessing. Lack of children was a sign of a curse. Beyond this, there were practical considerations.
Men were the bread winners in the culture. If a woman’s husband died and there were no males in her family, she was doomed to poverty. She might find herself gleaning in fields like Ruth and Naomi.
In this sense, Elizabeth was like Sarah. Abraham’s wife too was old and childless when God blessed her with the conception of Isaac. Elizabeth’s lack was more than emotional, it was social and economic.
She hid her good fortune
The Bible only says that she hid away. It does not give us Elizabeth’s reason. Perhaps it was due to the infant mortality rate. Perhaps she reasoned that if no one knew about the child and she miscarried, her standing in the community would not change. Follow the logic
• Elizabeth was long barren
• She was old and people knew her
• It is possible that in that time, people had begun to treat her as an individual beyond the size of her family
• her pregnancy would have created a stir and much rejoicing on her behalf
• If then the child miscarried (as could happen with a woman of years) she would become the subject of different regard
• Perhaps she would be pitied
• Perhaps she would be judged
• Perhaps her circle would become at the very least uncomfortable around her
By hiding she could prevent any premature rejoicing and only experience it when the child was born and the initial danger was past.
There may have been other reasons. I like the way the recent movie The Nativity Story used her secrecy as a way to confirm Mary’s encounter with the angel. If Elizabeth were keeping her pregnancy secret from over 100 miles away, how could Mary have known, unless it was revealed to her by God?
These are only guesses. I have known couples who could not bear children who were plagued with pity and questions (both spoken and unspoken) of people. Many times they felt like relationships with others had stalled at the point of discomfort over their childless marriage. Elizabeth may have overcome this impediment and did not want to endanger it.
Here is the fact. Couples who do not have children do not need the judgement or the questions of others.
They need to be appreciated and engaged as people who have a life even without kids. I know this is hard for some people and couples to believe.