28 Nov 2010

The Lord Treats His Children Appropriately

Religious 7 Comments

Today the assistant pastor at my church discussed the first two chapters of Luke. I know I have said this before, but I will say it again, because it just jumps out at me when I read these passages, yet I’ve never heard anyone else mention it. But first let’s read a good chunk of the first chapter:

The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold

5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

8 Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 22 When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.

23 When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25 “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”

The Birth of Jesus Foretold

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Do you see it? The angel Gabriel tells Zechariah that his wife will give birth, Zechariah says that’s impossible, and because of this impudence he can’t speak until his son (John the Baptist) is born.

Yet the same angel goes to tell Mary she will give birth, she says that’s impossible, and the angel comforts her.

So here is my take on this:

(1) God is a pushover. Zechariah is an old priest who should know better; Gabriel basically gave him a slap upside the head and said, “Wassa matta witchou?” In contrast, Mary is a young girl who probably wasn’t asking in cynicism and doubt, but more in incomprehension. Just as a human father would understandably react differently with these two cases, so too does God Himself.

(2) For whatever reason, it was necessary that Zechariah be mute for 9 months. For example, this period surely chastened him and made him very serious about his son. Without having the gift of gab, he probably read the scriptures more intensely than he had ever done in his life. It would only be natural, then, that he would raise his son to become a man of incredible zeal.

7 Responses to “The Lord Treats His Children Appropriately”

  1. david says:

    Good catch, Bob. : ).

    Other possibilities:

    3) A virgin birth is an order of magnitude (or two) more to difficult to conceive (no pun intended) of than is the pregnancy of a married couple who while “old” in biblical terms were perhaps not what we might think of as old today?

    4) John the Baptist was in part a “gift” to his parents whereas Mary was primarily a vehicle for the delivery of Jesus to the world.

  2. RG says:

    The first two chapters of Luke paint God as a racist, sexist, age discriminating, child denying disgracer, that steals from those that piss him off. The blessed men in the verses are an elitist that wins an exclusive lottery then burns some incense and the descendant of a murdering imperialist with an arranged marriage to a young pregnant woman.

    I’m not suggesting that Luke’s hearsay about the angel appearances are incorrect nor that this isn’t the Word of God. But it gives me pause.

    • bobmurphy says:

      Yes, I definitely think you had done an anti-religious rant before…

      • RG says:

        Rant? Nah…Anti-religious? Nah…Blasphemous? Absolutely.

        I planted that post to stop your head scratching.

        I’ve a strong belief in God, just not much in man.

      • Bryan Rosander says:

        I believe that there are plenty of other cases in which God deals very differently with people / nations in very similar situations. Habakkuk’s confusion over this matter between Israel and Babylon is classic.

  3. Bill Martz says:

    Mary has taken a vow of celibacy–Joseph is aware of this. Her question is to the matter of how she can keep her vow if she is to conceive. Once Gabriel has satisfied her that she will not have to break her vow, she gives her Magnificat, her great yes.

  4. Per-Olof Persson says:

    Old story:

    A woman with an old husband was miraculously impregnated with a son by Elisha (2K 4:8-17)

    New story.1:

    A woman with an old husband was miraculously impregnated with a son (John the Baptist) promised to be “like the prophet Elijah” (Lk 1:5-17)

    New story.2:

    A virgin was miraculously impregnated with a son (Jesus) (Lk 1:26-31)