04.03.02 Lk. 1:18-25
ZECHARIAH MADE SPEECHLESS
18 “How can I know this?” Zechariah asked the angel. “For I am an old man, and my wife is well along in years.”
19 The angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and tell you this good news. 20 Now listen! You will become silent and unable to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.”
21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah, amazed that he stayed so long in the sanctuary. 22 When he did come out, he could not speak to them. Then they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept making signs to them and remained speechless. 23 When the days of his ministry were completed, he went back home.
24 After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived and kept herself in seclusion for five months. She said, 25 “The Lord has done this for me. He has looked with favor in these days to take away my disgrace among the people.”
When Luke wrote this gospel, he placed verses 6-25 in a chiastic outline that is “theme oriented” or better known as a thematic outline. The section above is a portion of that outline.
Just as every course had the opportunity to be in charge of the service once every six months, the head of every priestly family had the opportunity once in his life to enter the Holy Place of the temple. It was there where the altar of incense stood before the veil that concealed the Holy of Holies. As previously stated, this event was highly anticipated by every priest and was considered to be the ultimate sacred event of his life. It was when Zechariah entered the Holy Place that he personally met an angel with whom he conversed. The news of this encounter, underscored by the loss of his speech, sent shock waves throughout the temple.
“How can I know this?” Zechariah was not the only one in biblical history to ask this question. Abraham (Gen. 15:8), Gideon (Jg. 6:17), and Hezekiah (2 Kg. 20:8) had similar questions. However, in this passage, Zechariah was punished for his doubt. Yet later Mary would ask the question, “How will this be?” but would not be punished. Why the difference? The answer is that Zachariah had prayed for a son (Lk. 1:13) but doubted when God answered him. He had little or no faith associated with his prayers. Mary, on the other hand, was faithful and did not doubt God. She merely questioned how it would happen, not if it would happen. The sign Zechariah requested was more than what he had expected. He was stricken with the inability to speak; this authenticated the message and executed judgment upon him.
In the Old Testament several significant men were born under unusual circumstances and only by the intervention of God Himself. They are Isaac (Gen. 21:1), Jacob and Esau (Gen. 25:21), Reuben (Gen. 29:31), Issachar (Gen. 30:17-18), Joseph (Gen. 30:22-24), Samuel (I Sam. 1:19), and Samson (Jg. 13:1-2). Then, after four centuries of prophetic silence came the birth of John the Baptist (Lk. 1:57), but these simply built up to a crescendo of the astounding virgin birth of Jesus (Lk. 2:7).
“You will become silent and unable to speak.” For his lack of faith, Zechariah was struck with the temporary disability of muteness. Notice that the angel said it was for a limited time. Otherwise he probably would have fallen into a depression believing that he was under a permanent damnation of God. People must have thought a number of things, such as entering his service defiled. But the message was very specific. Since he could not speak, from that time onward, he could not perform any priestly duties in the temple until his speech returned.
“The people were waiting…amazed.” The temple rituals were performed in a systematic manner. It was the custom for the people to wait for their Aaronic blessing (Num. 6:24-26) which the priest would grant them at his exit. Since the performance of his work took longer than expected, the people probably wondered if he was dead, reflecting upon the story of the sons of Aaron when they erred in the performance of their priestly duties (Lev. 10:1-3). There was a belief that if the priest was unworthy or had committed a transgression, he could be killed. If this Talmudic tradition is true, it is understandable that the people waiting for Zechariah were not only worried, but were amazed when he did come.
“To take away my disgrace among the people.” Infertility was considered to be a curse of God, a disgrace. It was commonly believed that if a woman could not give birth to children, divine judgment was upon her. Some rabbis went so far as to say that a childless couple was to be lamented as one would lament the dead. The significance of being childless in old age cannot be understood or comprehended in the modern age. It is why Rachel said, “Give me children, or else I will die” (Gen. 30:1). The birth of a child removed reproach and the perceived divine curse. Furthermore, children were considered security for parents in their old age. This is still true in many Middle Eastern cultures today.
. This is illustrated in Appendix 11.
. Tenney, New Testament Times. 139.
. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:257. This writer questions if this belief was true at the time of Jesus, or if it is a later belief imposed upon first century temple history by Talmudic writers. The reason is that if God killed any priest who was impure, had committed a transgression, then how could the high priests Annas and Caiaphas have survived as long as they did. This writer believes that the people were amazed simply because Zechariah was in there for as long as he was, and that the belief of God killing an unworthy priest did not exist at this time. A similar legend says that the priest had a rope tied to his ankle so that if he would be struck down, other priests could pull his body out of the Holy Place. There is no evidence of this in any Jewish writings.