Elizabeth, Mother of John the Baptist
Her name means “Consecrated to God” or “God is my oath” or “A Worshipper of God.”
You will find her story in: Luke 1
“Let every heart prepare Him room…”
Christmas is coming so I’m jumping ahead in my chronological study of the Women of the Bible to look at the three women of Christmas. We’ll start with Elizabeth. Her story is so refreshing to read after getting bogged down with the sinfulness and lack of faith in some of our Old Testament women.
Elizabeth’s name, unlike Delilah or Jezebel, brings positive connotations. Very few people in the Bible are praised as much for their godly character as Elizabeth and her husband are.
“They were both lovers of God, living virtuously and following the commandments of the Lord fully.” The Passion Translation – TPT
Gien Karssen says Elizabeth had “an independently developed spiritual life.” Luke 1 shows us a woman of deep faith and godly heritage. She was the daughter of priests. Zacharias was blessed to have her as a wife. Her name actually goes back a long, long way. The first in the priestly line, Moses’ brother Aaron, was married to Elisheba – the Hebrew equivalent of Elizabeth – and their sons were the founders of the Levitical priesthood.
Punished for Being Good?
The women of Elizabeth’s time all secretly longed to become the mother of the Messiah. Zacharias and Elizabeth were God’s faithful servants BUT they were afflicted with what was considered a curse in their day – Elizabeth was barren. Past the age of childbearing, she appeared to have no chance of becoming a mother at all, let alone the mother of the Messiah. Righteous yet suffering? Doesn’t quite seem fair, does it?
“They had waited together these many years, till in the evening of life the flower of hope had closed its fragrant cup; and still the two sat together in the twilights, content to wait in loneliness, till night would close around them.” (Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah Book One, Eerdmans, 1971, Alfred Edersheim)
But Elizabeth and Zacharias show us what to do when God says no. They kept on serving God, trusting Him and kept on praying. In their day, the people gathered to pray twice a day at the temple. Elizabeth was surely part of the crowd praying outside, waiting for her husband to appear after he performed his once-in-a lifetime priestly duty to burn incense before the Lord in Jerusalem.
Okay, I’m getting up on my Soapbox: So where are the (twice a day, daily, weekly, maybe monthly, not even quarterly) prayer gatherings today? Where are the crowds of people gathering together, begging for Christ’s return, begging for the Holy Spirit to rain down in power on Christ’s body of believers, begging for God’s guidance in their lives? We, as the body of Christ, lack zeal for corporate prayer. I know this because I have spent the last 20+ years inviting women to prayer groups. No one has time to fit prayer in their busy schedules. They see it as just another thing to add to their To Do list instead of the source of power and peace that they so desperately need in their lives.
As Elizabeth waited anxiously outside the temple in the Court of Women, the angel Gabriel appears to Zacharias and says: “Your prayers have been answered.” Terrified, Zacharias immediately questions, “How can two old fogies like us have a baby?” It is a reasonable, pragmatic question given the circumstances but it reveals his unbelief. If I’ve learned anything about God, it’s that He has a sense of humor (and that nothing is impossible with Him.) Young people don’t even like to think about senior citizens having sex, but God used an old couple making love to bring a miracle baby into the world. As Ann Spangler says, “God was once again kindling a fire with two dry sticks.”
God had not spoken new words to the Israelites in four hundred years. Now, for a moment, He lifts the veil and lets Zacharias have a peek inside. No wonder Zacharias is surprised. I can’t be too hard on him. What would I do if an angel just showed up with a message from God and my circumstances looked IMPOSSIBLE?
I’m always praying God will show up. Why am I constantly surprised when He does? Zacharias knew God. He knew scripture. He just didn’t believe the fulfillment of a prophecy could happen through him. Isn’t it ironic? John was sent ahead to make the people ready for Jesus and John’s own dad was the first doubter. As I looked at Elizabeth’s life, this sentence written by Gien Karssen, impacted me more than any other:
After her husband’s failure to believe Elizabeth “responded like a good wife who accepts weakness in her life partner.”
She didn’t berate him but kept on loving him even after his failure to believe. After she conceives, Elizabeth goes into seclusion for five months. Zacharias can’t speak and she isn’t leaving the house. I like to imagine the two of them talking about scripture, remembering all the old prophecies and contemplating who their son will be. They obviously knew God’s Word well. When God finally opens his mouth, Zacharias will quote the Old Testament over thirty times in his song of praise (also known as The Benedictus) and filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth will inspire Mary to break forth into a song that will become know as The Magnificat. It happens this way…
Gabriel has been busy. After he speaks with Zacharias, He visits Mary. She decides to come visit her cousin. When Mary arrives, Elizabeth becomes the first person in history to confess Jesus Christ in the flesh.
- Before Mary arrived Elizabeth glorified God for her own miracle pregnancy saying: The Lord has done this for me. He has looked on me with favor.
- But after she hears Mary’s greeting, baby John leaps inside her with joy and she shows she is a prophetess (knowing things she could not possible know without the revelation of God). She encourages Mary proclaiming: Blessed are you among women and your child will be blessed. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill what he has spoken to her!
So here’s the question to ponder:
Do my words cause others to burst into song or do my words bring others down?
How is Jesus involved in Elizabeth’s Story?
Women need other women. Especially when they are pregnant or raising little ones. The support, encouragement and advice women give each other when raising young children is priceless. I love the painting above showing John the Baptist, Jesus, Mary and Elizabeth together. Two women – one older probably past 60, one younger probably only 13 years old – raising their boys, their miracle babies, together. Two women encouraged each other at the birth of John the Baptist and two women – Salome and Herodias (more on them later) – will be responsible for John’s death.
Elizabeth’s prayers were answered in God’s timing. John means God is gracious (the mercy or favor of God). Herbert Lockyer says – “Because of their old age when their son was born, we can assume that Zacharias and Elizabeth both died years before their godly son was cruelly murdered by Herod.” God in His grace, spared Elizabeth from witnessing her son being beheaded. Mary would have to look on as the crowd crucified her boy.
Jesus was so grieved by the gruesome death of his cousin, John, that he withdrew into the wilderness – the place John lived before he began his ministry of preparing the way for Jesus. Jesus said there was no man greater than John. A great man who had a godly mother.
Questions to Ponder
- How do you cope with adversity? Disappointment? Discouragement? Hope deferred? Do you turn to God in prayer first or only as a last resort?
- This quote from the workbook Life Principles from Women of the Bible Book 2 comforted me: Have you prayed about something only to think the answer was “No?” Are you waiting on God about something now? Remember, He cares about the smallest thing and is working all within the big picture of His redemptive plan – that includes you. Trust His timing and His goodness. His blessings may not come until they are almost too late, but God is never late – nor is He ever too early. His always on time, working according to His timing that is always perfect.
- What has the Lord done for you? How has He showed you his favor? Praise Him for it as Elizabeth did.
Lord, this is what struck me about Elizabeth – Your timing is perfect. I see it in the little things like my devotions being just what I need that very day and in the big things like you sending us signs of confirmation to sell our house and move a new direction when we retire. You will always provide what is best in my life because you love to give good gifts. As I wait, may I fill my life with Your Word. It is the light for my feet, the lamp revealing the path You want me to take. Teach me to trust that you are greater than all my trials and to wait with hope. Amen.
The Bottom Line
Things I learned from Elizabeth: Love the doubters. Encourage each other to give glory to God.