Righteous and blameless, but barren
To be called righteous by people is a compliment. To be called righteous in the Bible is better, because the Bible is the word of God. That makes it a compliment from God Himself. First, what does it mean to be righteous? Simply put, it means to be a person who does the right thing. “Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous (1Jn 3:7).” It should seem strange that people could be deceived about the simple definition of righteousness, but unfortunately that is the case. People who do not know God and the Bible come up with very twisted definitions of many things. “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter (Is 5:20).” What some people call the right thing is quite far from it. Jesus said, “Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God (Lk 16:15).” So, when the word of God calls someone righteous, it is a great thing.
We know that nobody is righteous within themselves without the grace of God (Rom 3:10-23). God gives us spiritual “credit” we have not deserved by faith (Rom 4). However, His grace does not authorize sin (Rom 6-8). There was a couple in the Bible that do not get much attention, but they were “both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless (Lk 1:6)”. That is a rare and high honor. Who was this special couple? They were Zacharias the Levitical priest and his wife Elizabeth. Although they were righteous and blameless, they had no children (Lk 1:7). They were elderly and past child-bearing years. Today we do not see this as a shame, but back then it was a much bigger issue to Jewish people. While all people were allowed by the law of Moses to enter the Jewish community of believers, there were certain limitations to those who were not born Jews. They were later called proselytes. Also, the law of Moses was not very evangelistic in practice. So, Jews having children was important. Sarah (Gen 12-17), Rachel (Gen 29-30), and Hannah (1Sam 1) show us how difficult it could be for an Israelite woman to not have children.
The angel Gabriel appeared to Zacharias while he was sacrificing incense in the temple in Jerusalem and told him he was going to have a son. This son was John the baptizer who became the fulfillment of prophecy and prepared the nation for the manifestation of their Messiah, Jesus Christ (Mt 3, Lk 3, Mt 11). Jesus said of John, “Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist (Mt 11:11)”. This miraculous pregnancy was also a faith booster for Mary when the same angel appeared to her to inform her that she would be giving birth to the Messiah (Lk 1:34-37).
When the angel told Zacharias he was going to have a child, he doubted. He had concluded that their opportunity had passed. Although he struggled with his faith for this miracle, we do not see him being bitter or discouraged in his relationship with God. He and his wife maintained their righteousness blameless before the Lord into their older years, when the angel Gabriel told him God had heard his prayer (Lk 1:13). Since his response to the angelic announcement was one of unbelief, we can only guess how long before this he had prayed for a child. He had apparently given up on it, possibly many years before. Yet that day, most unexpectedly to him, God sent Gabriel to let him know his prayer never died before God, although it seemed to him like it was never going to happen.
They key to Zacharias receiving the answer after so long was maintaining his righteousness before God all those years regardless of whether or not God gave him his request. Sometimes we do not know what God is doing or seemingly to us not doing. When we do not know what to do, there is one vital thing we can do. We can just keep doing what we know to do that is right. Zacharias did not have to be the one who became the father of John. There was no specific prophecy requiring it. It could have been someone else. Why did God choose him? There are two considerations. God was not going to choose a spiritual derelict for this important thing. Also, perhaps God chose a barren couple to show His miraculous, mighty hand in the events surrounding His first coming as a sign to the people.
So, what about us? Do you ever feel that you have hit a time of spiritual barrenness, and you don’t know what to do? It is great when we have a clear word and direction from God, and things are happening as we expected; but anyone who has been a Christian very long knows it will not always be just like that. Sometimes we just have to walk by faith, follow the lead God has already provided, and do what we know is right until we get that next visitation with a word, a miracle, or a vision. The enemy will tell us we are no longer loved and favored by God. We may see others prospering and walking in joy and wonder what is wrong with us. It is always good to take inventory of where were are spiritually, but we should not condemn ourselves, short-circuit the process, or give up. You just never know when God will surprise you with an answer.