400 years of silence.
That’s what Israel experienced after the last words of the Old Testament in Malachi. They had the law of Moses, their history, the poetry and wisdom of the psalms and Solomon’s writings, and the prophetical books.
But they had heard no new word from the Lord in 400 years.
So we can understand Zechariah’s being startled when suddenly an angel appeared before him.
After so long a time of silence, the first message God sends through an angel is, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard.”
Though I’ve read this passage many times, I was focused on the larger context of how it fit in the birth story of Jesus. I must have glossed over the part about answered prayer. Which prayer? Well, from the angel’s continued message, the prayer about a child.
“Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.”
We can forgive Zechariah for being stunned. He replied, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”
Zechariah had probably long ago given up on those prayers and counted God’s answer as a resounding “No.” And now—at this time, at their ages, they were going to have a baby?
As He so often does, God didn’t answer Zechariah’s “How?” He answered with “Who?”
“I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.”
God had sent this good news.
And the news wasn’t just good for Zechariah and Elizabeth. This baby would later become known as John the Baptist.
And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared (Luke 1:14-17).
Gabriel told Zechariah that because the latter did not believe, he would be mute until the promise was fulfilled.
Hannah Anderson suggests that “perhaps God’s reproof was not a punishment for Zechariah so much as an invitation to experience his strength in a way that only happened in weakness. Perhaps God’s ‘now listen’ was not silencing Zechariah so much as quieting him, quieting him long enough to restore his hope” (Heaven and Nature Sing, p. 33).
When Elizabeth did give birth, and neighbors clamored to know the baby’s name, she said “John.” The people were astonished because no one else in their family was known by this name. They appealed to Zechariah, who confirmed by writing, “His name is John,” as the angel had instructed. John, meaning “God is gracious.”
“And immediately [Zechariah’s] mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God” Luke 1:64).
He acknowledged this child would not just bring joy to his and Elizabeth’s life, but he was a part in God’s grand plan of salvation, put in place before the beginning of the world.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace (Luke 1:76-79).
Though God sometimes seems silent, He hears and He cares. And though He answers the immediate concern, He has the larger, longer picture in mind. Besides praying for a child, Zechariah had probably also been praying for the coming of the Messiah. Now their child would have a part in God’s grand plan of redemption. It was John the Baptist who said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) and prepared the way of the Lord.
God had not forgotten His promises then, and He still hasn’t now. He might say “No” or “Not now” when those answers are best. Sometimes the answer to our prayer request is connected to God’s overarching purpose for others as well. When the time is right, He will answer.
(Top photo courtesy of http://www.LumoProject.com.)
(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)
Amen. God hears every prayer. He answers in His own way and in His timing. God bless you and your family. Merry Christmas!
Thank you for this reminder. I needed to hear that again….that God does hear our prayers. So much time, sometimes, makes it seem as if He doesn’t. Thank you again! Merry Christmas! Gpd bless you.
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Very encouraging! Recently I was thinking about the 400 year gap in scriptures. I thought about 400 years ago — which would be 1620, crazy!! That is a LONG time, but God was still working and was faithful. I need to broaden my perspective.
Yes, God always hears our prayers – and answers them as he sees best. And he does not forget any of his promises. How interesting to think about how many years Zechariah and Elizabeth had been praying for a child, and perhaps had STOPPED offering that prayer once it seemed clear she was too old. But God had heard their prayer!
It’s so easy to overlook the significance of Zachariah’s story and silence—I know I’ve never give it much thought before. But maybe he needed that time of quiet to process being the first in 400 years to hear an angel (and allow his neighbors to really start to think instead of just writing Zachariah’s angel encounter off as the ravings of a crazy old man).
What an encouraging reminder to us in our long-awaited prayer requests. I feel like we might be seeing the beginnings of one in our family but the final outcome of it all rests with Him alone. Nonetheless, waiting can be hard and it’s easy to, like Zachariah, think it will just go unanswered.
Ahhhh, the waiting for prayer to be answered Barbara…
But it always is, not necessarily in our timing or in the way we envisage either.
He will answer our prayers indeed. Waiting is one of the great struggles of life, but God hears our prayers and is faithful to remember. Thanks so much for this reminder.
400 years is just way too long for silence, contrast that with today where everything is ‘instant’ to the point we want instant answers to prayer!
And yet in silence Abba Father is still speaking … In His time, making al things beautiful.
Thanks for the admonination.
Indeed He does not forget His promises Ms. Barbara. A wonderful treasure to hold onto in these difficult days. God’s blessings ma’am, and Merry CHRISTmas to you and yours.
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