This Week's Focus Passage

This Week’s Focus Passage: Luke 1:20 ‘because thou believedst not my words.’

This Week’s Focus Passage: Luke 1:20

‘because thou believedst not my words.’

      The angel pronounced to Zacharias that he and Elizabeth would indeed bear a son in their old age. Zacharias’ response was, How shall these things be? or actually, Whereby shall I know this? For I am an old man and my wife is well stricken in years? Luke 1 :18. Well stricken in years, supposes that this couple were both well advanced in years, and well beyond the age of reproduction. The expression from the lips of the priest are almost identical to those spoken by Abraham, when he was given a promise from God and said, speaking of that promise, Whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it? That is, the promise of the land along with the promised seed. He has complained to Jehovah God, who had told him that He was his shield and exceeding great reward, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and he that shall be possessor of my house is Eliezer of Damascus. How does that agree, we might will imagine, with Abraham’s protesting, with God’s being his exceeding great reward? In response to Abraham’s complaint that he was childless, and implicit in that reality the added fact that, humanly speaking, he and Sara were well beyond the years of child-bearing, this patriarch is informed that, this man, [Eliezer] shall not be thine heir, but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. Does the question of Abraham, Whereby shall I know? insinuate unbelief, or is he simply asking for a sign, even as Gideon did in later records? We may be warranted to understand that unbelief is not involved in this account by the absence of a word of criticism from the Lord. Something certainly distinguished Abraham from Zacharias, for Abraham was not rebuked, nor stricken dumb.

    But how shall this be? protested Zacharias. Evidently, because of his doubt [unbelief], the angel told him, behold, thou shalt be silent and not able to speak, until the day that these things come to pass, because thou believedst not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season. Indeed, it does seem that the reason for Zacharias’ being stricken with dumbness was because of his unbelief. These are the exact words spoken unto him by the angel. Now that may not seem to be such a terrible punishment for unbelief when we remember the punishment that was meted out to the many in the wilderness, when their carcasses fell in the desert for their unbelief.   

Paul admonishes us not to follow the example of that unbelieving generation ( 1 Corinthians 10:5-6). Comparatively speaking, then, this dumbness does not appear to be nearly so harsh, and since we know that our Lord does all things in righteousness, we are assured that the “punishment fit the crime.” Beside the example of faithful Abraham, in spite of his desire for a sign, Zacharias would have done well to recall to memory the cases of both Samson and Samuel. Surely, he was well aware of their history. Manoah and his wife were barren, but God. Hannah was barren, but God! The Lord had brought conception to the parents of each of these prominent figures in Scripture; Isaac, Samson, and Samuel. It had been well if Zacharias had remembered the words of Jehovah spoken to Abraham on that very occasion of the promise given that Sara would conceive, Is anything too hard for Jehovah? At the set time I will return unto thee, when the season cometh round, and Sara shall have a son.

    Just how does the narrative that we read shortly after of the similar account of the angel manifesting himself to the virgin Mary, and bringing an announcement of the same nature [pun intended]; on this occasion we hear the young maiden as she utters virtually the same words which sound like words of unbelief, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? How can such a thing be; how can a maid bear a child without a man? I am a virgin, we may imagine Mary saying, and have known no man; how therefore is it possible for me to become the mother of a child? Was this not, almost, the identical expression of unbelief that was spoken by Zacharias? And yet, he was severely chastised for his unbelief. Why the distinction? Was it because Mary was a young maiden and was granted some allowance for her immaturity; while Zacharias was an old man, and a priest at that, and therefore should have known better? These things may both be true, but was that, truly, the reason for the distinction? 

    It does appear that the issue of unbelief is inherent in the matter under consideration. And while the distinction may not be incredibly great between the unbelief demonstrated by Zacharias and the, perhaps ‘little faith’ of Mary, perhaps more like the Old Testament saints referenced above, still it must be said, there is a distinction. To conclude otherwise would be to ignore the remark of the angel with respect to the reason for the chastisement, because thou believedst not my wordsWe must also be mindful of the fact that Zacharias only received chastisement; he was not punished as those mentioned earlier; those that were consigned to perish in the wilderness. There is a vast difference between the chastisement of the saint and the punishment of the wicked. The actual matter may be, virtually, the same. The matter itself of blindness was, truly the same, was it not, for Saul as he journeyed to Damascus, as it was for Elymas the sorcerer of whom a Spirit-filled Paul, said, O full of all guile and all villainy, thou son of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, when the apostle pronounced upon him the judgement, thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. Acts 13:9-11. Here, we are witnessed, the fact again, that while the matter, that is of blindness, was the identical issue for both Saul of Tarsus, as it was for Elymas the sorcerer, yet for two entirely different ends; one, to bring an elect child of God to Himself, the other to punish a child of the devil.     

    Believing each of these things to be so, according to Scripture, yet we are brought to understand the, very likely, true and real distinction between Mary and Zacharias, is to be found in a previous verse; namely Luke 1:13, at the first appearance of the angel to Zacharias, when he said to him; Fear not, Zacharias; because thy supplication is heard, and thy wife, Elizabeth 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. Yet, when his prayer was answered, he did not believe it. Does this not speak volumes to us? Do we recognize God’s answers to our prayers?


David Farmer, elder

Fellowship Bible Church


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