Zechariah: He Doubted God

Dr. Ray Pritchard
Dr. Ray Pritchard

“Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years’” (Luke 1:18).

I probably would have asked the same question.

Many times the ways of God are not obvious. If a man and his wife are elderly, if they have had no children, if she is past normal childbearing years, it would be unusual not to ask a question.

But Zechariah must learn the hard way, which is exactly how most of us learn the same lesson. When God makes a promise, it is folly and disbelief to wonder how he will keep his word. Faith does not reckon with “how.” Faith believes and leaves the “how” in the hands of Almighty God. If we spend too much time trying to figure out “how” God will take care of us, we will talk ourselves into a corner.

In this case, Zechariah talked himself not into a corner but out of talking altogether. He lost his voice and could not speak until the baby was born. This in a way was a great mercy from God. The Lord saved a good man who made a mistake from making an even bigger one. Zechariah’s enforced silence kept him from proceeding from doubt to unbelief. Now he waits and watches and listens, but he does not speak.

Christmas continually reminds us that our ways are not God’s ways. He chooses an older couple, then a younger couple, then the census forces the younger couple to go to Bethlehem where there is no room in the inn, then the angels announce Jesus’ birth to shepherds, then the Wise Men show up, then Herod gets involved, then Joseph and Mary and Jesus make a run for the border to escape Herod’s sinister plot.

Nothing goes the way we would expect it to go if we were planning the birth of God’s Son. But that’s precisely the point. We have our ways, our plans, our ideas, and God has his.

Guess whose plan wins out?

Zechariah regains his voice when John the Baptist is born. All the details fall into place, including the last-minute flight to Egypt, which turns out to fulfill ancient prophecy.

God knows what he is doing, even when the details of life seem to make no sense. He works across the centuries to establish his purposes on the earth. Just because we don’t see it on Tuesday at 6:37 AM doesn’t mean it’s not there.

It just means we don’t see it.
That’s all.

Holy Father, help us to trust you even when we can’t understand your plan. Amen.

Musical bonus: Sometimes called “the echo carol” because of its answering harmonies, While by My Sheep is based on a traditional German melody. You can hear the echoing sounds beautifully performed in this version by the Westminster Choir.

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Originally published December 13, 2016.

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