23 And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house.
24 And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying,
25 Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.
1. Verse 23 winds up Zacharias' priestly responsibilities and records his departure for home. According to the chiastic structure of the text, this parallels verses 8-9 where the normal activities of the priest are interrupted by a divinely controlled "lot" so that he has a special responsibility that leads to a huge interruption of his life and theology.
a. The same "it came to pass" [egeneto] terminology is used -- reverting to the normal course of events.
b.The "days of his service were fulfilled" is a direct reference to 1:8's "he executed the priest's office".
2. Verses 24-25 record both the incipient fulfillment of the angel's words as well as Elizabeth's response.
a. The promise of a son begins with Elizabeth's conception -- this is a parallelism with verse 9's divinely controlled "lot" in that it is a "divinely controlled conception" -- leading to a huge change of life and theology.
b. The response has two parts:
1) She hides herself for five months
2) She says "Yahweh has removed my reproach among men"
1. He creates curiosity by telling us Elizabeth hid herself five months.
2. He unveils her "major fixation" with her comment on what Yahweh has now done.
3. Thus, his focus is upon Elizabeth's response to her conception.
1. Why does she hide herself and why are we told that she did so?
2. Why is having reproach among men such a big deal to her and why are we told that it is?
1. The chiasm addresses these questions with verses 5-7 [...justified...obedient...barren...and old]
a. Justified -- references an earlier exercise of biblical faith.
b. Obedient -- reveals a lifestyle of doing what she is told, but probably not for pure love reasons; rather, in some degree of harmony with "Law" reasons (i.e. to create some basis for expectation of blessing).
c. Barren -- reveals the most painful aspect of her life.
d. Old -- clearly kills expectation and, by implication, raises the issue of how she has dealt with the death of hope in her own heart and mind [this may actually be the most significant issue of the text!].
2. The chiasm addresses these questions with the statements before us [she hid herself and said]
a. The statement is revealing:
1) Elizabeth has been deeply wounded by being subjected to life-long shame in the eyes of men.
2) She gives thought to the fact that Yahweh has "considered" her (plight) and has acted to address her issue effectively.
b. That Elizabeth hid herself for five months is clearly the action of a woman who isn't about to go telling everyone that she is pregnant at this stage in her life until she is unable to hide it anymore.
1) She is not unhappy about it; probably just scared that it isn't real, or that something might go wrong before she gives birth to a live child.
2) The "probably" is the hitch here -- nothing to "believe" in "probably this or that statements".
3) Liddell and Scott Greek-English Lexicon says that Sparta had a "krupteia" (secret service network of spies) and that the verb means to hide from discovery; Luke intensifies the verb with the prefix "peri".
a) The implication is that Elizabeth did not want anyone to know -- but they had to know for her "shame" to go away!
b) Luke clearly isn't telling us this for no good reason, so what is it?
c. The verb "saying" is present tense and is attached to her action of secluding herself.
1) The point is that what she says is the reason she secludes herself.
a) She knows that when the child is born, she will be vindicated from her "shame".
b) She also has to know that if anything goes wrong with the pregnancy, her "shame" will be redoubled.
c) There is a hint here of a kind of disbelief that is not unusual in those who have been "shamed" most of their lifetime -- because God is somewhere in the background of that shame -- and may be the cause of it (Genesis 29:31).
d) The statement is a statement of faith ("Yahweh has considered my shame and has done something to address it"), but the behavior is a behavior of fear that the faith is unfounded. [There is another echo here of Sarai's laughter of unbelief at the announcement of "Laughter's" (Isaac) coming to her household].
e) Conclusion: Elizabeth is afraid to really trust in the Grace of Yahweh even in the face of evidence that it is legitimate and "for" her.
i. The statement indicates what has been, for Elizabeth, the most painful part of the life-long barrenness: the shame among men; not the absence of children in her home.
ii. This most painful thing is too strong to overcome by faith in her husband's strange tale and her own experience of its incipient fulfillment. This is a revelation of the hardness of human hearts--so self-protective that, even in the face of strong evidence of God's Grace, there is a significant hesitation to "go public" with praise.
2) Why "five months" and not "nine"?
a) The number "five" is used variously -- sometimes to indicate a very inadequate, insignificant amount (I'd rather speak 5 words with understanding than 10,000 without it -- I Corinthians 14:19), and sometimes to indicate a very large, highly significant amount (I have bought five yoke of oxen...pray have me excused...behold your one has become five...be thou over five cities -- Luke 14:19 and 19:19).
b) The Lukan record goes on to tell us about some events that happened in the "sixth" month with this five month period as the point of reference (1:26), so it may well be that Elizabeth became a recluse for pretty much the whole pregnancy, but Luke was keeping a time frame in place.
c) The "typical" use of five introduces the idea of inadequacy and suggests that notion be included in whatever conclusions we draw about the meaning of this text.
3) The tension in Elizabeth, the desire to hidecompeting withthe desire to be vindicated...
a) That God would hold Elizabeth back from bearing children [Genesis 29:31] until she was too old to conceive naturally is indicative of the fact that He does not have the same care regarding a person being humiliated before men that men (and women) have. In other words, it is not a significant thing to God that men are subjected to the shame that men heap upon them. If it is not a big thing to God, should it be so to us? The really big issue is whether God is "ashamed" of us. What does it matter what men think? What really matters is what God thinks.
i. Mary was chosen by God to be thought of as an immoral woman by reason of her out-of-wedlock pregnancy.
ii. Jesus was "despised and rejected of men" and this condition has continued to this day.
b) That God would actually give Elizabeth a child by supernatural intervention so that those around her would change their estimation of her, however, indicates that it is not such a small thing to God for His children to be "shamed" by others.
i. Because Jesus was "shamed" before men, God has highly exalted Him and will bring every human knee to bow before Him and acknowledge Him as God's "Highly Favored One". This doesn't sound like He doesn't "care" about our humiliation by men!
ii. There is coming a day when God will reveal His estimation of every individual. In that day, His estimation will be shared by all who observe. Apparently, the issue is not that God does not care; rather, He is biding His time so that when He finally exalts the humiliated, the exaltation will endure for all of eternity.
c) The problem seems to boil down to this: it is a matter of faith as to whether we shall be exalted, or not, and it is a matter of misplaced love to want that exaltation before the Time.
i. It is not wrong to feel the humiliation that men are willing to heap upon us.
ii. It is not wrong to desire that God would correct those who are willing to do this to us.
iii. The error is in buying into the implications of the humiliation so that we lose the sense of God's pleasure with us -- accepting men's attitudes as a reflection of God's! [Even when God is displeased with us because we have lapsed into unbelief and a false love, and become proud or despairing, His displeasure moves Him to correct us, not despise us. Men despise those they look down upon because they are attempting to elevate themselves in the eyes of themselves and others, but God has no such motivation. His motivation is life; theirs is death.]