"Zachariah said to the angel, 'Do you expect me to believe this? I am an old man and my wife is an old woman.'
"But the angel said, 'I am Gabriel, the sentinel of God, sent especially to bring you this glad news. But because you won't believe me, you'll be unable to say a word until the day of your son's birth. Every word I've spoken to you will come true on time -- God's time.'" Luke 1:18-20 (The Message).
Does old age dim one's confidence in a good God, or had Zachariah become so sceptical that not even a high-ranking angel's appearance could convince him that God was actually communicating with him?
Imagine speaking to an angel like that! Surely the presence of an angelic being so awesome that Zachariah was paralysed with fear, would have convinced him that this was no joke, especially after Gabriel had given him details about his son's nature and upbringing.
Gabriel was God's messenger, particularly assigned to carry messages regarding the coming of Messiah. It was he who visited Mary six months later to announce that she was to be the earthly mother of the Messiah.
Why did Zachariah respond with such scepticism? There are probably many reasons. His longing, together with his wife, Elizabeth's, had died as old age took away any hope of their having a child, and with it their confidence that God would finally answer their prayers, regardless of their physical impotence to bear a child.
The angel came so unexpectedly and pounced on him so suddenly that his elderly brain had no time to process this surprise. All he could think of was the state of his body and the body of his wife. He was so much like us. We tend to look at the impossibilities rather than God's promises, and draw our conclusions from what we can see rather than what God said.
Israel reacted in the same way when they were confronted with the prospect of entering and conquering a land that was full of giants and had fortified cities to overcome. They did not reckon on God's promise, made to Abraham centuries before, and the power of God to override natural difficulties with supernatural intervention.
Zachariah's unbelief came with a price. God would not let him off for mistrusting His Word. Zachariah was not only emotionally dumbstruck by the angel's appearance; he would also be literally dumbstruck for the nine months of his wife's pregnancy. This would present him with some unusual difficulties including the neighbours' idea that being dumb meant that he was also deaf! (Luke 1:62).
Fortunately Zachariah's handicap only lasted until the birth of his son. Perhaps it was in the mercy of God that He shut his mouth so that he could utter no more words of unbelief until the promise of God was fulfilled.
How often do we not put God's promises on hold, or even cancel them by our confession of unbelief because we are more impressed by what we can see and hear than what God has said in His Word. We might learn a lesson from this reluctant priest who robbed himself of speech until the Word of the Lord proved him a liar.
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