Elizabeth - "Women of the Bible"
Elizabeth = Eli-sheba = God is (the) oath.
Some of the story, then Scripture.
At a time when most of us are settling down to a quiet old age, Elizabeth's life took an unexpected turn. She became pregnant, and bore the son she had always hoped for.
It was an unlikely birth, and she gave her son an unfamiliar name. This, and the sudden affliction and recovery of her husband Zechariah caused consternation among Elizabeth's neighbors who discussed, no doubt at some length, the meaning of these events. What would Elizabeth's child become? Certainly something special, something out of the ordinary - a child with a great destiny.
Like her kinswoman Mary of Nazareth, Elizabeth must have pondered all this in her heart.
First, Luke outlined Elizabeth’s family background. She was descended from a long line of priests – Luke established this fact right at the beginning of his gospel, because he wanted to counter the slanders that were being bandied around about Jesus’ legitimacy.
Luke wanted to say, loud and clear, that John and Jesus both came from a respectable, well-connected family, so he began by pointing out that not one but both John’s parents came from a priestly family, and that Elizabeth’s father was a priest - this is what is meant by 'daughter of Aaron'. Her husband Zechariah was a member of the priestly order of Abia.
Despite her impeccable family background, Elizabeth was barren. Childlessness was not just a misfortune, it was a disgrace (see Genesis 16:4, 11; 29:32; 30:1, 1 Samuel 1:5-6, 11, 2:5, 7-8).
But in Elizabeth’s case this could hardly be so, since her reputation was blameless. Instead, there had to be some other reason.
Perhaps, like Sarah (Genesis 18:11) and Hannah (1 Samuel 1-2) she remained barren because God had a greater plan for her. Her barren state would heighten the sense that her impending pregnancy was a miracle.
Having established the credentials of the elderly couple, Luke now set the scene for the first dramatic event.
Immediately inside this gate was the court of Israel, open to every male Jew, priest or layman. Beyond it, in front of the Shrine itself, stood an altar. On either side of the altar was the court of the Priests. Thus, non-priestly men might stand within sight of the altar and take part in the services - but only the priests might actually approach it and the sacred shrine which lay beyond.
The Temple of Jerusalem
Zechariah’s priestly section was taking its turn to offer sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem - although the Jewish people were under Roman occupation, they enjoyed a high degree of religious freedom. Temple worship was sanctioned, as long as it did not hide or encourage sedition.
Zechariah had been chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Temple and offer incense as part of the daily worship at the Temple – only the single priest who had been chosen by random lot, and therefore by God’s hand, could enter the sanctuary.
It was a pivotal moment for him, since the large number of priests, about 8,000 at that time, meant that any one priest could only expect to offer sacrifice once or twice in his lifetime. Now it was Zechariah’s moment.
At about 3pm on this particular day he stepped forward into the sanctuary to offer incense. The people waited outside, as did the other priests. At that moment, an angel appeared at the right side of the altar in front of Zechariah - the right side, because a favored courtier or royal family member always took this position in a royal throne room. This was where the angel now stood.
The angel spoke. It reassured the terrified Zechariah, telling him not to be afraid.
Then it gave him momentous news: his wife Elizabeth would conceive and have a son. Since the hand of God is clearly evident in what is happening, the listener/reader knows that this will be no ordinary child. The angel was specific. The child would have four characteristics:
he would be great in the sight of God
he would drink no wine and thus live the ascetic life of a Nazarene, setting him apart from ordinary people
he would be filled with the Spirit from his conception
he would prepare for the Messiah and thus be a catalyst between Israel and God.
Despite the extraordinary circumstances, Zechariah quibbled. He expressed doubts that this could happen. He discreetly implied that he was no longer capable of sexual intercourse, and that his wife had ceased menstruating.
There was genuine confusion on his part here, but there was also the sense that he was objecting, as he asked for a sign – just as Abraham did (Genesis 15:8), and Gideon (Judges 6:36-40) and Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:8-11).
The angel responded by naming itself – 'I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God'. Only the highest officials in an oriental royal court stood in the presence of the king. Protocol demanded that most people bow or prostrate themselves, so Gabriel was telling Zechariah he had committed an offense in not believing the message.
As punishment Zechariah was reduced to silence, probably becoming both deaf and mute. In one way it was a reassuring miracle, but in another it was quite obviously a punishment, one that would last until the birth of the child set him free.
When Zechariah came out of the Temple he was unable to speak. Clearly something momentous had happened. The priests and people interpreted his silence as proof that he had had some profound religious experience, possibly a vision, but Zechariah could tell them of his experience. Frustrated by his inability to speak, he tried to explain by signing. This had limited success. He finished out his allotted time of office, then headed for home.
Zechariah had doubted but Elizabeth had not, and so now she, not her unfortunate husband, moved into the spotlight, favored above her husband. Home at last, Zechariah found comfort in the arms of Elizabeth. One thing led to another, and she became pregnant – to her surprise and the amazement of her family and friends.
When she realized she was pregnant, she went into seclusion. This meant she did not leave her house for any reason, nor receive any visitors. She stayed like this, leading a calm and quiet life, until her pregnancy became physically obvious to all who saw her.
Now for Scripture.
Luke 1:5-25. JOHN. CONCEPTION.
5-7. Barrenness. Experienced.
8,9. Ministration of Zacharias.
10. The people. Praying.
11. The Vision.
12. Zacharias. Trouble.
13-17. Angel. Promise.
18. Zacharias. Doubt.
19,20. Angel. Penalty.
21. The people. Marveling.
22. The Vision.
23. Ministrations of Zacharias.
24,25. Barrenness. Removed.
Luke 1:5 THERE was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias,
(= remembered of Yah. Pure Levite serving)
of the course of Abia:
("THE COURSE OF ABIA"
This was the eighth of the priestly courses of ministration in the Temple (I Chron. 24:10), and occurred, as did the others, twice in the year.
The "Courses" were changed every week, beginning each with a Sabbath. The reckoning commenced on the 22nd day of Tisri or Ethanim (Ap. 51. 5). This was the eighth and last day of the Feast of Tabernacles = the "Great Day of the Feast" (John 7:37), and was a Sabbath (Lev. 23:39)
The first course fell by lot to Jehoiarib, and the eighth to Abia or Abijah (1Chron. 24:10).
Bearing in mind that all the courses served together at the three Great Feasts, the dates for the two yearly "ministrations" of Abiah will be seen to fall as follows:
The first (*1) ministration was from 12 - 18 Chisleu = December 6 - 12.
The second ministration was from 12 -18 Sivan = June 13 - 19.)
and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.
(= God is (the) oath. He fulfills His oath with Elizabeth and Mary. Aaron's wife, Elisheba [Ex. 6:23])
6 And they were both righteous before God,
(Both were what they were suppose to be. Of the tribe of Levi, they fulfilled the course of Abia, and they were in good standing with almighty God. Those legal requirements were met specifically, you can count on it.)
walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.
7 And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years.
8 And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course,
9 According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense
(He was on duty. It was his time and only he with no replacement was burning incense up to God. The 1st recorded use of incense by man began in disobedience [Num. 16:6], and the last ended in unbelief [v.20])
when he went into the temple of the Lord.
(i.e. "the Holy Place". See Matt. 23:16.)
10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.
11 And there appeared unto him an angel
(Gabriel = mighty man of God.)
of the Lord standing on the right side
(cp. Matt. 25:33. Mark 16:5. John 21:6.)
of the altar of incense.
(See Ex. 30:1-10; 37:25-28.)
12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.
(It is awesome to be in the presence of the supernatural.)
13 But the angel said unto him, "Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.
(= Yahaveh shows favor, or God's gift. 1 of 4 God named before conception.)
14 And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.
15 For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Spirit,
(Gr. Pneuma Hagion, or "Power from on High".)
even from his mother's womb.
16 And many of the children of Israel shall he turn
(in the spirit of Elijah.)
to the Lord their God.
17 And he shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,
(Refers to Mal. 3:1 and 4:5,6.)
and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."
(Put the seal of God in their foreheads with understanding.)
18 And Zacharias said unto the angel, "Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man,
(to Zechariah the promise seemed to come to late; to Mary [v.34] too early.)
and my wife well stricken in years."
19 And the angel answering said unto him, "I am Gabriel,
(The messenger of the restoration [v.26. Dan. 8:16; 9:21], as Michael in the messenger of Israel's deliverance from judgment [Dan. 10:13,21; 12:1. Jude 9; and Rev. 12:7]. Prob. 2 of the 7 angels of Rev. 1:4; 3:1; 4:5; 5:6; 8:2,6; 15:1,6,7,8; 16:1; 17:1; 21:9.)
that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings.
(You asked for a sign, you're going to get one!)
20 And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season."
(In their time and when its right. Zacharias should have known being a priest that this was an announcement of the coming of the Messiah from the book of Daniel. See Dan. 9:21-24. This is the angel that announces and warned of the coming Messiah.)
21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple.
(Because such waiting was usually short.)
22 And when he came out, he could not speak unto them:
(i.e. pronounce the usual blessing [Num. 6:24].)
and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless.
23 And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house.
(Add a couple of days of travel, 30 miles away, plus he was an old man. Arrived home about 23rd or 24th of June.)
24 And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months,
(Probably to avoid all possibility of uncleanness, as in Judg. 13:4,5,7,12-14.)
25 "Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein He looked on me, to take away my reproach among men."
(Cp. Gen. 30:23. 1 Sam. 1:6-10. Hos. 9:14. Contrast 23:29)
More of the story, then Scripture to follow
Mary had been betrothed to Joseph with a formal witnessed agreement, legally binding, between the families of the young people, and a bride price paid to Mary’s family. It was expected that the formal marriage would take place about a year later, when Mary would be taken home to Joseph's family to live. Since later on in the story Mary returned to her home, not Joseph’s, we can assume that Mary and Joseph were not married at this particular time.
Accustomed as we are to benign images of the Annunciation, and of Mary and Joseph with the baby Jesus, we tend to blot out the reality of the situation: a young girl was pregnant, her fiancé knew he was not the father, yet the bride price had been paid.
Leaving Galilee and traveling south, Mary duly arrived at Elizabeth's house in Judea after a journey of about three or four days.
At first glance, this might seem like a commonplace event as two kinswomen, both pregnant, meet each other. But Luke was making oblique references to Old Testament precedents, alerting the reader to a deeper meaning in Elizabeth's story: read 1 Samuel 1:1-2, Judges 13:2, about a couple like Elizabeth and Zechariah, unable to have children, and Genesis 18:11 which describes an elderly couple who thought they would never have a child.
In a moment of penetrating spiritual clarity, Elizabeth recognized she was being visited by the mother of the expected Messiah. She pronounced a blessing on the younger woman:
'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.'
Now more Scripture.
39-56. VISIT OF MARY TO ELIZABETH.
39,40. Mary. Journey.
41-45. Blessing of Mary.
46-55. Hymn of Mary.
56. Mary. Return.
Luke 1:39 And Mary arose in those days,
(went the same day, the day of conception.)
and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda;
40 And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth.
41-45. BLESSING OF MARY.
-41. Exultation of Babe.
44. Exultation of Babe.
41 And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb;
(the spirit enters at the point of conception. This is why abortion is wrong - its murder! Cp. Gen. 25:22.)
and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit:
(The Holy Spirit was present.)
42 And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, "Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit (Messiah) of thy womb.
43 And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
44 For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.
(When does intelligence come in a child's mind?)
45 And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord."
(Its going to happen exactly as the Lord declares a thing. From mother Eve all the way down to Mary, God protected the lineage. God protected that womb umbilical cord to umbilical cord, whereby Satan couldn't interfere with this One that would be a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.)
46-55. HYMN OF MARY.
46-49. Favors to herself. Condensation.
50. Mercy to all that revere Him.
51-53. Favors to others. Discrimination.
54,55. Mercy remembered to Israel.
46-49. FAVORS TO HERSELF.
46,47. Mary rejoicing.
-48. All rejoicing.
46 And Mary said, "My soul doth magnify the Lord,
(How she did love Him. How could she not!)
47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
(See Deut. 32:15. Ps. 24:5; 25:6; 95:1.)
48 For He hath regarded the low estate of His handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
49 For He that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is His name.
50 And His mercy is on them that fear (or revere) Him from generation to generation.
(All generations had opportunity. See 1 Pet. 3:18,19)
51 He hath shewed strength with His arm; He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
(You have free will if you want to mess up. If you want to mess up, go ahead, see where you get.)
52 He hath put down the mighty from their seats,
(Amaziah [2 Kings 14:10]; Uzziah [2 Chron. 26:16]; Nebuchadnezzar [Dan. 5:20]; Belshazzar [Dan. 5:23,30].)
and exalted them of low degree.
(Or humble. His elect. See Rom. 11.)
53 He hath filled the hungry with good things;
(Especially the truth.)
and the rich He hath sent empty away.
(The ones with ill-gotten gains.)
54 He hath helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy;
55 As He spake to our fathers,
(Gen. 17:19. cp. Mic. 7:20. Gal. 3:16. Acts 2:39.)
to Abraham, and to His seed for ever."
56 And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house.
("Returned back" almost peculiar to Luke. Occ. only in Mark 14:40. Gal. 1:17. Heb. 7:1, outside Luke and Acts.)
Now more of the story
Elizabeth would certainly have been surrounded by loving, concerned relatives and friends, especially since her advanced age must have made it a difficult birth.
In ancient times, women hunched themselves over a hole hollowed in the ground, standing on bricks or stones placed at either side. They gave birth in a squatting position, with relatives and friends taking turns to support them under the arms. In the Roman world there were special birthing chairs with a U-shaped hole in the seat and supports for the feet and back, but we have no way of knowing whether this latest medical technology had reached Roman-era Jerusalem.
Elizabeth had a son, and all her friends and relatives were overjoyed for her. She seems to have recovered well from the birth itself, because eight days afterwards she was up and around, ready to attend the circumcision of her son.
A baby was usually named on the day of his circumcision, and a common practice at this time was to name a first son after his grandfather.
In this case however, Elizabeth's extended family seemed to have decided that the baby would be called Zechariah, after his stricken father.
But Elizabeth stepped forward and briskly contradicted them. Her son's name was to be 'John', she said. Everyone disagreed with her, pointing out that there was no family precedent for the name 'John', but Elizabeth stood her ground. She insisted so fiercely that, exasperated, the family members turned to Zechariah for support. Since he could not speak, he asked for a writing tablet - a small wooden tile with a wax surface. With a stylus he scratched a single sentence: 'His name is John'.
Immediately, to the amazement of the onlookers, he regained the use of his speech and hearing. A skeptic no more, his first words were in praise of God. The sound of his voice silenced even the most talkative of his neighbors.
Now some more Scripture.
57-63. JOHN. BIRTH AND CIRCUMCISION.
57. John. Birth.
58. Neighbors. Congratulations.
59-63. John. Circumcision.
-63. Neighbors. Wonder.
1:68-79. PROPHECY. GIVEN BY ZACHARIAS.
72. The Covenant.
73. The Covenant.
Luke 1:57 Now Elisabeth's full time came that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son.
58 And her neighbours and her cousins heard how the Lord had shewed great mercy upon her;
(She had been barren her whole life. This a Divine birth.)
and they rejoiced with her.
59 And it came to pass, that on the eighth day
(8 = new beginnings. See Gen. 17:12. Lev. 12:5. Phil. 3:5.)
they came to circumcise the child; and they called him Zacharias, after the name of his father.
60 And his mother answered and said, "Not so; but he shall be called John."
61 And they said unto her, "There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name."
62 And they made signs to his father, how he would have him called.
63 And he asked for a writing table, and wrote, saying, "His name is John."
(John = grace of Yahaveh, was thus the 1st written word of that dispensation.)
And they marvelled all.
64-79. ZACHARIAS. PROPHECY. FULFILLED AND RENEWED.
64-67. Prophecy. Given to Zacharias.
68-79. Prophecy. Given by Zacharias.
64 And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosed, and he spake, and praised God.
(When God speaks you had better listen. When his tongue was loosed, the Word spread, the Lord is coming. Same message should be spread today. Greatest gift ever given to mankind.)
65 And fear came on all that dwelt round about them: and all these sayings were noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judaea.
(The forerunner of Messiah has been born. The good news was traveling fast.)
66 And all they that heard them laid them up in their hearts (= minds. They meditated), saying, "What manner of child shall this be!" And the hand of the Lord was with him.
(Very few like John. When you make a stand for God, He will always be with you.)
67 And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying,
More of the story.
They were awed and not a little frightened by what they were witnessing. Like neighbors everywhere, they could not wait to pass on the story of what had happened, and discuss its meaning. The son of Elizabeth and Zechariah must certainly be destined for greatness - 'the hand of God was with him', and he would be different and unique. Now the name 'John' seemed appropriate, since without any family precedent, it gave him an identity of his own that had nothing to do with the past.
Their assumption was cemented by the words Zechariah now spoke. This little child would one day be a prophet of the Most High, he said, preparing the way for the Messiah.
This scene is the last we see of Elizabeth. By the standards of the time, she was already elderly, and she may not have lived to see her son grow to manhood.
It has often been suggested that John, described as living in the wilderness (Luke 1:80), may have been a member of the Essenes at Qumran. This group was known to adopt young children and look after them, hoping they would become permanent members of their community. If Elizabeth and Zechariah were both dead the Essenes may have done just this for John.
If so they were disappointed, since John broke away to forge his own ministry in the desert, preparing the way of the Lord.
And the rest of the Scripture.
68 "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for He hath visited and redeemed His people,
(He knew the Dispensation. He knew the meaning of all these things. Cp. Titus 2:14. God will never leave us without a prophet. Father was announcing the coming of the Messiah that had been promised generations earlier.)
69 And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David;
(See Ps. 132:17. 1 Sam. 2:1,10. Ezek. 29:1.)
70 As He spake by the mouth of His holy prophets, which have been since the world began:
(I.e. of old. See Jer. 23:5. Dan. 9:24. Remember, the people in Psalm 74 said that there is no more a prophet. God said, "His holy prophets which have been since the world began". The problem hasn't been the lack of prophets. The problem is that people don't listen to the Word of God.)
71 That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us;
(Know that this is true.)
72 To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant;
(God keeps His Word. Time means nothing to Him. That covenant is God's promise. Do you think He would ever break a promise? Not as long as you see the sun come up in the morning.)
73 The oath which He sware to our father Abraham,
(See Gen. 12:3; 17:4; 22:16,17.)
74 That He would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve Him without fear,
(Believe. Have every intention of following God. We have nothing to fear. We have power over all our enemies!)
75 In holiness and righteousness before Him, all the days of our life.
76 And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways;
(The voice crying in the wilderness. Unction and option of the Holy Spirit working through him. John the Baptist came in the spirit of Elijah. The spirit of Elijah is with all that prepare the way for the 2nd coming of the Lord. God promised salvation to His children through Messiah. He kept His promise. Every day we should take note of our Father's covenant signs. When you see the daily signs, rejoice! Our Father lives!)
77 To give knowledge of salvation unto His people by the remission of their sins,
(Conditional on your part)
78 Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us,
(Daysping - Gr. anatote, rising of light, i.e. dawn, is rendered so in Jer. 23:5 and Zech. 3:8, because of its springing up. Heb. branch. Both meanings [branch and light] are here combined. Cp. Ezek. 16:7; 17:10.)
79 To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
(a Hebraism. Job 10:21; 38:17. Ps. 32:4; 107:10. Isa. 9:2. Matt. 4:16,&c.)
to guide our feet into the way of peace."
(Peace of mind. If you have eyes to see.)
80 And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit,
(He came in the Spirit of Elijah.)
and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel.
(See 10:1. John stayed in the wilderness until the day that his ministry would begin. John grew up in the wilderness and this fulfilled the prophecy, a voice crying from the the wilderness, as he announced the approaching time of the coming ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ.)
Special thanks to Elizabeth Fletcher the author of the story.