There has been a class consciousness in almost every culture in history, and the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day was no exception. The upper class of that social structure consisted of the descendants of Aaron, the officiating priesthood. There were about 20,000 of them in and around Jerusalem at the time, and unfortunately many were proud, bigoted, overly indulgent, self-seeking men, religious only in those external matters that would impress other people. The priest in the parable of the Good Samaritan was a typical example. He considered himself to be above helping the unfortunate victim of a mugging and robbery.
But there were a few who were different and among them was an old priest named Zacharias, whose name means “the Lord remembers.” Since the law of Moses insisted that a priest marry only a woman of highest reputation, Zacharias had chosen the daughter of another priest to be his wife. Not only was she a descendant of Aaron, but she bore the name of Aaron’s own wife, Elisheba or Elizabeth, which means “the oath of God.” Their names would spring alive with new significance before the sun set on their life together.
Look, first of all, at their devout example, “And they were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord” (Luke 1:6). The lives of both Zacharias and Elizabeth were pleasing to God. They submitted to the will of God and obeyed the Word of God. And they did it “in the sight of God,” that is, to exalt the Lord alone rather than to make a good showing before men. In that they were different from most of their contemporaries. They did not even care about the status that went with the priesthood. They lived in some obscure village in the hilly region south of Jerusalem rather than, as the other priests, in the elite section of the city itself, or in Jericho, the luxurious city of the palms. Their piety was no outward show; it was a heart relationship with the Lord. They cared more about what God thought of them than what men thought. And that, incidentally, is an important foundation on which to build a good marital relationship. The quality of our walk with God determines our ability to walk happily and harmoniously with each other. And that walk with Him can only grow as we seek to please Him rather than impress men.
That is not to say that Zacharias and Elizabeth had no problems. While many of our problems stem from our own sins, God does allow some to invade our lives for no other purpose but to help us grow. He wants them there, and no amount of obedience can possibly bring immunity from them. Zacharias and Elizabeth had one like that, and it was a big one. “And they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years” (Luke 1:7). It is difficult for us to imagine the intense stigma attached to childlessness for them. Many Jewish Rabbis insisted that it was an evidence of divine disfavor. While Zacharias and Elizabeth may have been righteous before God, some of their friends probably suspected them of serious secret sin. And there was no way to erase that blot. The phrase “advanced in years” meant at least sixty years of age, well beyond the time of childbearing. It was a hopeless situation.
Zacharias could have exonerated himself by divorcing Elizabeth. In their society, barrenness was a commonly accepted grounds for divorce. Zacharias could have gotten rid of her, married a younger woman, had children by his new wife, and gotten that damnable curse off his back. That was the route many other men would have taken. But not Zacharias. Instead he prayed (cf. Luke 1:13). He committed the situation to the one person who could do something about it. And while I cannot prove it, I would imagine that he prayed about it together with Elizabeth, and by that means ministered to her spiritual needs. He was also a man of the Word, as his famous “Benedictus” later revealed (cf. Luke 1:67-79). So he probably shared with his wife the great Old Testament Scriptures which would console her and encourage her in her plight.
That is a husband’s responsibility as the spiritual leader in his marriage. The short time he has known the Lord may hinder him from fulfilling this role effectively at first, but as he grows in his understanding of the Word he will feel more comfortable encouraging his wife through the Word. Too often a wife has to drag her husband along spiritually; she coaxes, begs, and badgers him for every step he reluctantly takes in his spiritual growth. God does not want any of us trying to drag others along spiritually, but he does want husbands out in front, taking the spiritual lead and ministering to their wives and children in the things of Christ.