How Will I Know This For Certain?

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. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old …

Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear.

Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear.

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 …

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

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. 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.”

Luke 1:5,7-9,11-13,18-20 NIV

Zechariah, a priest in Jerusalem, had won the lottery — a one-in-20,000 chance to be chosen that day to enter the holy place, burn incense, and offer corporate prayer — in the presence of God himself!*

His duties were prescribed in the Law: “[The priest] must burn fragrant incense on the altar every morning when he tends the lamps. He must burn incense again when he lights the lamps at twilight so incense will burn regularly before the Lord for the generations to come” (Exodus 30:7-8).

Zechariah would have known that offering fragrant incense meant praying (“May my prayer be set before you like incense” Psalm 141:2). Once alone with the Most High, he asked God’s blessing over the nation of Israel and prayed for the coming Messiah. Then I wonder if he lingered a moment longer to pray once again for the thing he had longed for his entire life.

I tend to think that he had given up hope of that request ever coming true. The window of opportunity to have children was shut and it served no purpose to dwell on it. I surmise, rather, that he sighed with regret, “If only I’d have drawn this lot years ago when Elizabeth was still having monthly cycles, I could have asked God for a child in this holy place. Surely he would have answered me then.

Almost on queue, an actual, physical being answered him, “Your prayer for a child has been heard.”

Even though we don’t know what Zechariah prayed exactly, we do know how he answered: “How can I be sure of this?” The New King James Version says “How can I know this?” And the New American Standard Bible adds, “How will I know this for certain?

The author uses the verb ginosko meaningto understand completely.” This same word was also a euphemism for sexual intercourse. In other words, REALLY knowing something or someone.

Zechariah wanted certainty from the angel. He wanted definitive assurance. I don’t blame him. After all, he had probably been disappointed a whole lot over the course of his life. Hopes raised every month, then dashed with the first spot of blood. He was saying, in essence, “You can’t raise my hopes like this, God, then snatch it away. How can I know for certain this will happen?”

And God called that doubt and he gave Zechariah a time-out by taking away his speech.

I find this interesting because there are others in Scripture who ask “how?” when God gives a command or promise. The most obvious is Mary of Nazareth sixteen verses later in the same passage.

And when God told Mary she would have a child, she asked, “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

Luke 1:34 NIV

Mary also used the word ginosko: “How can this be since I know no man?” In today’s vernacular she said, “How is this going to happen since I’m not having sex?” Zechariah gave a sound biological reason for his question as well: “My wife and I are both old and past child-bearing age.”

But in Mary’s case, God called it belief and commended her for it. She just couldn’t imagine such a thing since it wasn’t even on her grid. It was so far out of range of any possibility.

So why was Zechariah’s question not acceptable and Mary’s was? Is it okay for me to ask God questions or will I too be struck dumb?

Since the narrative tells us that Zechariah doubted and Mary believed, we learn that questions can be asked with faith or with unbelief. The Amplified Bible says that “faith comprehends as fact what cannot be experienced by the physical senses” (Hebrews 11:1). From this definition, we can assume that Mary knew for a fact that she would have a baby and simply asked for clarification about how it would work. Zechariah, however, needed proof and assurance before he would believe. Mary inquired, “How will this be?” Zechariah questioned, “How can this be?”

Paul David Tripp, in his book Suffering, says that when you “come to God with sincere questions, asking is an act of faith … [it] is a normal part of a life of faith, and it’s spiritually healthy when it drives you to bring your confusion to the One who has no confusion.”**

Both Zechariah and Mary received what God promised because God is going to do what God is going to do despite the responses of his children. But Zechariah anticipated God’s gift with a closed mouth. Mary enjoyed it with a song (Luke 1:46–55). Mary’s praise was immediate. Zechariah’s was delayed (Luke 1:68–79).

PRAYER

Oh precious Father, thank you for inviting me to ask questions in faith. Forgive me for the times I demand answers or accuse you of not caring or not hearing me or ask for proof in order to believe. Thank you that you fulfill your will for me despite my responses to your directives. Help me to keep praying and trusting you for impossible things until you tell me to stop.

* It is estimated there were about 20,000 priests from the line of Abijah (the only ones who could serve in the temple) at that time. (Guzik, D. “Study Guide for Luke 1 by David Guzik.” Blue Letter Bible. Last Modified 21 Feb, 2017. https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/guzik_david/StudyGuide2017-Luk/Luk-1.cfm)

** Paul David Tripp, Suffering: Gospel Hope When Life Doesn’t Make Sense (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018) 92.

FURTHER STUDY

Exodus 3:10–4:17; Judges 6:12–18; Job 40:1-7, 42:1–6

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s