And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
- Luke 1:13 – 17
Typically, we read Zechariah’s inability to speak as God’s severe discipline for his doubt.
The story goes something like this. The angel Gabriel comes to Zechariah and pronounces a message of great hope from God. Zechariah’s barren wife will have a son who will be used by God in great ways. And how does Zechariah respond to this joyous but also preposterous proclamation? He asks a question: How can this be? For my wife and I are old. Gabriel then rebukes Zechariah for his doubt and makes him mute until his son is born.
Here’s the overall message: Don’t you dare question God’s word, or God will discipline you.
But wait. What if there is something more going on?
On one level, God’s discipline of Zechariah makes perfect sense. How dare anyone question God’s word, especially a man who served God at the temple?
But on another level it doesn’t make any sense. After all, Zechariah was just doing what people do when they receive a miraculous word from God. He was seeking confirmation. Gideon did this by laying out a fleece. Abraham did this when he wondered how God would keep his promises to him. David did this repeatedly in the Psalms. Mary did this when Gabriel came to her. So why does Zechariah get singled out for asking a question that others have asked before?
I don’t think it’s going too far to wonder if the silence was something more than just God’s discipline. Perhaps the silence was also a gracious gift and a surprising invitation.
Consider for a moment that in taking away Zechariah’s voice, God gave him time to sit quietly with the good news that the Messiah was coming. So for nine months, Zechariah got to ponder God’s promises to him. Essentially, God carved out space for internal quiet and contemplation. It’s not like Zechariah could keep pushing on with life as usual. He would have to slow down. He would have to be more still and silent than he had been for years.
And in silence, the seed of hope that God had planted in Zechariah’s heart was given space grow. God’s word wouldn’t have to compete with all of Zechariah’s words.
So maybe part of Zechariah’s forced silence was to give him a gracious retreat from the world of words to dwell more deeply on God’s word to him. The Messiah is coming and your son gets to play a part in the story.
In our world of countless words and activity, we are rarely, if ever, taught the value of silence and solitude. Even when we go on a retreat, we expect an agenda of speakers who fling words at us and actives that fill the day. So most of us can’t imagine a day of total silence, let alone nine months.
But carving out space for silence and solitude is important because it invites God to speak into our lives and it gives God’s Word space to sink deeply into our hearts. Simply put silence and solitude allow us to perceive and receive what God is already doing and saying.
So in light of Zechariah’s nine months of silence, I’d like to encourage you to find some time today to sit still and reflect on God’s word given to you.
If you are not sure what passage to ponder, slowly reflect on Psalm 46 and give God’s word space to grow in your heart.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
Come, behold the works of the Lord, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah