“The Faith of Zechariah”

Categories: Bulletin Articles, M. W. Bassford

One of the most hopeful things about the Bible is that it chronicles the flaws not only of the wicked, but of the righteous too.  Nearly every Biblical character is depicted as falling short in some way, but despite their failures, they pick themselves up, press on, and eventually receive God’s approval.

We see this pattern in the life of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist.  He is undoubtedly a good man.  Indeed, Luke 1:6 describes both him and his wife as “walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.” 

However, when this good man encounters the angel Gabriel as he serves in the temple, the limitations of his faith become apparent.  Gabriel tells him that he will have a son, but decades of experience have shown him that he and his once-barren, now-old wife are incapable of having children.  He chooses to believe his experience rather than God’s word, and he is stricken with muteness because of it.

Despite his unbelief, after his return from temple service, his wife conceives, and in due time, his miracle son is born.  Then, the Bible story gets weird.  Elizabeth and the family get into an argument over whether the child is going to be named “Zechariah” (after Daddy) or “John” (as Gabriel had said).  She insists on “John”, and the still-mute Zechariah confirms her decision in writing.  At this point, his speech impediment is removed, and he begins to glorify God.

This story doesn’t make much sense to people from our society, so we have to do our best to read it through first-century eyes.  Throughout the Bible, it’s obvious that children, especially sons, are extremely important—even more so than in our time.  Not only did sons provide for their parents in old age, they also—to a people with an uncertain grasp of the afterlife—offered a kind of immortality.  As long as your sons continued, you did too.

This is why the relatives want to name the baby “Zechariah”.  Against all the odds, this faithful, elderly priest is going to have a future!  However, Zechariah knows that his son’s life won’t be about him.  It will be about God.  His course will be so different that only the name given by God, a name that no one in his family ever has worn, would be appropriate.  In affirming God’s choice, Zechariah also affirms that John’s life will be about the hope of Israel, not the hope of Zechariah.

Zechariah’s spiritual struggles resonate with even the best of us.  We too know how hard it is to trust God’s word instead of our experiences.  We know what it’s like when God’s goals for our lives collide with our own.

Faith doesn’t necessarily mean that we get everything right in the moment.  Like Zechariah, we can get ambushed by a spiritually crucial decision we didn’t see coming.  Faith does mean, though, that if we get off track and suffer the consequences, we don’t give up.  We fight through the hard times, we try to figure out where God wants us to go, and we go there.  As Zechariah learned, we too will learn that regardless of what has come before, if we will seek the Lord, we are sure to find Him.