47. Elizabeth, Quite A Character


By Jennifer Dills

We read the story of Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah in Luke 1:5-80. This is the only mention of Elizabeth in the Bible. She was the mother of John the Baptist. There are some valuable lessons we can learn from this mother of the one who prepared the way for Jesus.

‘In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly.’ Luke 1:5-6

As a descendant of Aaron and the wife of a Levitical priest, Elizabeth was most likely held in high regard socially and spiritually. The Bible tells us both Elizabeth and Zechariah were righteous and they followed the Lord’s commands blamelessly.

How would others describe you? Could they describe you as righteous or blameless before God?

Note: Blameless doesn’t mean perfect. The NLT reads, ‘Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations.’

‘But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.’ Luke 1:7

We do not know the exact age of Elizabeth, but she was well past child-bearing years. In the Jewish culture of the day, a woman’s value was measured by her ability to bear children. It was considered a disgrace to be unable to have a child. This may have been a source of shame for Elizabeth. Despite this obvious adversity in her life, she still remained faithful to God.

How do you remain faithful when you are in adverse circumstances?

‘Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’ Zechariah asked the angel, ‘How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.’ The angel said to him, ‘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. And 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 appointed time.’ Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realised he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak. When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. ‘The Lord has done this for me,’ she said. ‘In these days he has shown his favour and taken away my disgrace among the people.’ Luke 1:8-25

Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah was chosen, by lot, to go into the temple to burn incense. Due to the number of priests there was only a small chance of being chosen, so this was a once in a lifetime  opportunity for him. While Zechariah was in the temple, an angel of the Lord, Gabriel, appeared to him and told him that Elizabeth would bear a son and they would call him John.

The angel told him what a blessing the baby would be to the nation of Israel and how he would prepare the way for the Lord. Zechariah responded in disbelief. No doubt because of his age and Elizabeth’s age, he thought this was impossible. As a result of his disbelief he is struck mute, remaining so until the child’s birth.

When he returned home from his service in the temple, Elizabeth became pregnant and remained in seclusion for five months. Unlike Zechariah, her response was praise and thanksgiving for this unexpected blessing from God.

What situation in your life has seemed impossible?

How does acknowledging and thanking God for the blessings in your life change impossible situations?

Do you ever stop and recognise God’s timing in the events of your life?

Describe a time in your life when God’s timing altered things?

Read Luke 1:26-56

When Elizabeth was six months pregnant, God sent the same angel to Mary, Elizabeth’s relative. Mary received the news that she would conceive and give birth to a son–not just any son, but the Son of the Most High. Like Zechariah, Mary’s initial response was disbelief. ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’

In answering, the angel noted that nothing is impossible for God, even Elizabeth in her old age was going to have a child. Mary responded in faith, saying, ‘May it be to me as you have said.’

After her encounter with the angel, Mary hurried to visit Elizabeth. Luke tells us that when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

Elizabeth showed true joy for Mary, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear. But why am I so favoured that the mother of my Lord should come to me? Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!’

Elizabeth acknowledged Jesus as Lord even before his birth. Mary responded in song, glorifying God for His goodness and mercy. Elizabeth could have responded in many different ways to Mary’s visit. She could have been jealous that Mary was to give birth to the Saviour. She could have treated Mary poorly, because she was pregnant out of wedlock. Instead she encouraged her and rejoiced with her.

Do you ever experience jealousy when other Christians have different gifts, talents or blessings than you?

Can you rejoice with those that rejoice?

Do you acknowledge Jesus as Lord?

Do you believe God keeps His promises?

Name times when God has kept His promises in your life.

Read Luke 1:57-80

Finally, when the time came for Elizabeth to give birth to a son, her neighbours and relatives shared in her joy. They rejoiced that the Lord had shown her great mercy by giving her a son. Much to their surprise, Elizabeth and Zechariah named their son John as the angel had said. When Zechariah’s mouth was opened, he began to speak, praising God.

He prophesied the coming of Jesus the Saviour and the role his own son would play in God’s plan of redemption. Luke adds, ‘And the child grew strong in spirit, and he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel.’

While we don’t hear anything about Elizabeth following the birth of John the Baptist, I like to think that his mother was there encouraging his spiritual growth. Elizabeth had a vital role in God’s plan. Her role was to raise a son who would point others to Jesus.

As parents, aren’t we all called to do the same?

How can you teach your children (or others) how to point people to Jesus?

Do you feel that you have a vital role in God’s plan?

Are you pointing others to Jesus?


"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."