Zacharias was a priest which meant that he was a Levite descended from Aaron. Levites were required to marry Levites and Zacharias was married to Elisabeth who was "of the daughters of Aaron." He was also "of the course of Abia."
1 Chronicles 24:19
These were the orderings of them in their service to come into the house of the LORD, according to their manner, under Aaron their father, as the LORD God of Israel had commanded him.
Chronicles 23:6-24:19, King David divided
the priests into twenty-four groups to serve in the Temple according to
their families. All of the priests would come and serve during the
three great annual feasts (the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of
Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles.) Each individual group or
course would travel to Jerusalem to serve in the temple for a specified
week twice a year. The eighth of these groups was "the course of
Abia" from the family of Abijah.
Only four of these family groups returned to Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity. Those four family groups were then divided once again into twenty four courses and each course assigned one of the original family names. Zacharias was of the course of Abia which was the eighth group to serve in the temple according to the listing in 1 Chronicles 24. In 4BC when this record takes place, Zacharias would have been serving the last week of May.
And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.
Zacharias and his wife Elisabeth were great believers. They walked according to God's Word and the Word says that they were righteous before God and blameless. What a great testimony to this believing couple.
And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years.
It was a disgrace in the Bible land culture of the time to be barren and without an heir. Even though these two believers walked a righteous walk, they were old and Elisabeth had no son. It had been nearly 400 years since the prophet Malachi is recorded to have stood and declared God's Word. Truly a barren time for all Israel.
And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course,
According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.
And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.
Zacharias was privileged to have drawn the altar of incense as his service for this week. This was the most highly regarded service in the daily ministry of the Temple because the ascending smoke of the incense symbolized that prayers for Israel were being lifted to God Himself. This was a rare and very desirable service for a priest to perform and an opportunity that might only come once in a lifetime if at all. The Temple of Solomon was built with an inner chamber called the Holy of Holies which only the high priest could enter once a year. The next section of the Temple was the Holy Place that contained the altar of incense. The priest would enter the Temple and burn the incense and then come out to the people who were praying as he lifted their prayers to God.
And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.
And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.
Angels are messengers. They usually appear as men and speak God's Word. They are not recorded as "having wings, hovering above, or singing" in God's Word and there is no record of a female angel. This angel stood on the right side (the side of blessing) of the altar of incense. Zacharias was not expecting to see anyone in the Holy Place and the angel's sudden appearance was a troubling and fearful experience.
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.
And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.
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 Ghost, even from his mother's womb.
And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.
And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
was in the Holy Place sending the prayers of Israel to God at the altar
of incense. In response to his prayer for Israel God sent an angel
to say that his prayer had been heard and that God would send a man of
God, a prophet, to lead God's people back to Him. And by the way,
Zacharias, this prophet will be your son, John!
Believing is having confidence and trust in information you have received from God to the end that you act upon that information. Even though Zacharias was a righteous man, he had trouble believing the information delivered by the angel. Now, if Elisabeth is going to have a baby, Zacharias is going to have to believe God's Word and take some action.
And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.
The question asked by Zacharias was one of disbelief. You say I am going to have a son? No Way! I'm too old and Elisabeth is too old. Now, if Zacharias persists with this attitude of unbelief, he will not take the action necessary for Elisabeth to conceive.
And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings.
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.
AM GABRIEL! These words should be in all CAPs. When Zacharias
demonstrated his unbelief and questioned the Word of God, the angel became
more forceful. Look Zacharias, I stand in the presence of God and
I deliver His Word! God's Word is true and God's Word WILL be fulfilled!
This is not a negative thing Zacharias. These are glad tidings!
Zacharias could have left the Holy Place and gone about his daily business and never acted on God's Word. He could have walked out and blessed the people and never told anyone about the angel and Word of God delivered to him. The result of his unbelief was that he was not able to say anything. I guess not being able to speak as a result of his questioning must have convinced him that what God said God meant. I guess not being able to speak convinced him to act on God's Word.
And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple.
And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless.
The situation required Zacharias to acknowledge that God's Word means what it says and says what it means. God said, "you will not be able to speak until the Word I have given you comes to pass" and Zacharias could not speak and he remained speechless. But, he did act on God's Word:
And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house.
And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying,
Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.
And in the sixth month [of Elisabeth's pregnancy] the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
Elisabeth was "well stricken in age" while Mary was a young teenage girl. Elisabeth was now six months pregnant and Gabriel was sent with another very important message from God to her cousin Mary.
To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.
The Greek word translated virgin is the word parthenos. Parthenos is a word used for a young woman. In Biblical culture a young woman would not have sexual relations until after the wedding ceremony at a time set by the priest. However, the word parthenos is not used exclusively of a woman who had not had intercourse as the the word virgin is used today. There are Biblical examples of women being called parthenos who have had children before and therefore the word parthenos should be understood simply as a young woman. We know from the rest of the context that Mary was a virgin by today's standards and that she had not had sexual intercourse.
And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.
Mary was highly favoured or graciously accepted by God. She was blessed. She was not and is not "the Blessed Virgin" or "the Mother of God" or any of the other titles that exalt her position above the simple wonderful truth that this was a young woman who loved God and believed His Word to end that she was able to be the mother of Jesus Christ.
And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.
And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.
Gabriel reassured Mary with "Fear not, Mary" and for the second time told her that she had God's favour [grace]. Grace is God's unmerited favour. Mary was not favoured of God because of something she had done. Grace is pure giving from God to man. You don't earn it. God just gives it. Now that Gabriel has Mary's attention . . . here comes the message:
And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus.
He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:
And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
I wonder if Mary even heard past the first sentence. You are going to have a son. Mary was betrothed but not yet married. She was a virgin [by today's definition]. How was she going to have a baby? And not just any baby. This was the Christ promised since Genesis 3:15 and looked for by Israel throughout the old testament.
Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?
Zacharias had asked a question of Gabriel and Mary asked a similar question. The difference is in the heart and mind of the believer. Zacharias questioned the integrity and accuracy of the Word of God delivered. Mary just wanted more information. Mary wanted to know HOW all this would work, but she did not question God's Word.
And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost [THE HOLY SPIRIT - God] shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow [cover] thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
God designed the human body and procreation in the beginning with Adam and Eve. God does not overstep His own design. The only way for Mary to have a baby was for a sperm to fertilize an egg in Mary's womb. God was going to provide the male seed and Mary was going to supply the egg. God would be the father, therefore Jesus would be the son of God. God is a spirit. God was not going to have intercourse with Mary. God was going to CREATE seed in Mary's womb.
Gabriel provided one more piece of information so that Mary could understand God's Word and believe:
And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.
For with God nothing shall be impossible.
Verse 37 - "nothing shall be impossible" are the Greek words:
Gabriel had delivered a lot of information: The grace of God. Mary was going to have a baby boy. She was to name him Jesus. He was going to be the Christ. God was going to plant the seed. God had worked a miracle for her cousin Elisabeth. The word of God is POWERFUL! God gave Mary enough information that she could have confidence and trust in the word and believe it. Now look at the believing of Mary:
And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.
Be it unto me according to thy word!!! That is believing. You get information - What does God's word say? And then you act. Mary got the information and responded "Lets do it!" And that is not all she said. She responded "Behold the handmaid of the Lord."
The Greek word for handmaid is the word doule. Doule is the feminine form of the Greek word doulos. A doulos or doule was a bonded/branded servant. In Bible lands and times there were two kinds of servants. One servant was simply an employee. A doulos was considered part of the family. A doulos servant was a servant who had served a family for many years and been offered his/her freedom. When offered freedom, this servant responded with: "No, I do not want to go free. I love my master and I want to continue to serve the family forever." The master then put a brand on that servant's ear and treated him/her as a trusted member of his family. The master provided for all the doulos' needs and the doulos served faithfully as a trusted member of the master's family.
Mary's response was the response of the doule. If the Christ were to be born, Mary would have to believe God and serve as a trusted branded servant. Mary was not just agreeing to have a baby. She was agreeing to raise the Christ! Be it unto me according to thy word! What a great response to God's Word.
Zacharias questioned God's Word and had to be convinced to believe. Mary just believed and acted. But the greatness of these records is that, in the end, both believers acted on God's Word.