Revive Our Hearts Podcast

400 Years of Silence Broken

Episode Resources

Learn more about the Bible study: Elizabeth: Dealing with Disappointment.

Watch Nancy teach this series.

Leslie Basham: When you face disappointment, is it necessarily because you’ve done something wrong? Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth says even godly people experience disappointment.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Listen. You can walk with God, you can live an obedient life, and you can still have disappointments and hurts and unfulfilled longings.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts podcast with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Adorned, for January 14, 2019. Nancy’s beginning a new series called “A Portrait of Elizabeth.”

Nancy: Let me encourage you to turn in your Bibles, if you have them with you, to the gospel of Luke, chapter 1. As I sometimes say, if you’re driving while you’re listening to Revive Our Hearts, I would encourage you to keep your eyes on the road and not to open up to this passage.

But if you’re somewhere where you can, open your Bible or scroll on your phone to a Bible app. I always want to encourage you to follow along in the Scripture if you possibly can because it’s the Word of God that’s inspired. It’s the Word of God that speaks to us, changes us, transforms us.

We’re going to take a deep dive into parts of Luke chapter 1 this week, and I want you to be able to see it with your own eyes and to let God’s Spirit speak to your heart, even as He’s been speaking to mine through this passage.

Oh Lord, open our ears, open our eyes, open our hearts. Thank you for the beauty and the wonder and the power of Your Word, and may it go forth and take root and produce much fruit for Your glory in our lives this day. We pray in Jesus’ Name, amen!

Now for some of us, the only time we read or hear about Luke chapter 1 is during the Christmas season. Now we’re past the Christmas season and some of you are wondering, Why are we turning to Luke chapter 1 in January?

Luke 1 is a really important passage because it represents the transition from the Old Testament era to the New Testament era—to the covenant of grace era. It represents the dawning of the light of the gospel into our broken, fallen world. And there’s a woman who plays an important role in this drama, who we’re going to talk about this week.

You may think I’m talking about Mary, who is the best known character in this story, but I want to talk about a lesser known character named Elizabeth. Elizabeth’s story is found in Luke chapter 1. In fact, all we know about her is found in this one chapter in the Scripture.

Let me just let you know, by the way, that our team has produced a new study in our Women of the Bible Series. It’s called Elizabeth: Dealing with Disappointment. It’s a second resource in this series that will ultimately have, I think, six studies. It explores the subject of disappointment through the eyes of Elizabeth.

It’s a deeper look at this chapter, verse by verse. It includes Scripture memory, passages for daily study, group discussion questions. So you can use it to study on your own, you can use it with a small group or with a friend.

Copies are available, and we’d love to send you one as our way of saying “thank you” when you make a donation of any amount to support the work of  Revive Our Hearts. At the end of the program, we’ll tell you how you can do that. We’d love to make this new study available to you: Elizabeth: Dealing with Disappointment.

Today we’re going to look at Luke 1, just at verses 5–7, three verses toward the beginning of this chapter. They give us some background and context for the life of Elizabeth. So let me read the three verses, and then we’ll unpack them phrase-by-phrase.

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.

Let me stop there, and before we go into the story of Elizabeth, I want to just give us some of the background. In that first phrase we have some historical and political context. This was in the days of Herod, King of Judea. This was Herod the Great, who reigned from 37 B.C. to 4 B. C. And let me just say that this king was anything but great! He was actually a cruel tyrant.

He was appointed by Rome. He was kind of a puppet king. He was mentally unstable. History records that he had ten wives; he had at least one of them executed. When his son plotted to poison him, he arranged to have them put to death. After Jesus was born, this same Herod is the one who ordered the slaughter of those little babies and boy infants in Bethlehem in order to protect his own throne.

He defiled the land of the Jews by building ornate temples that were filled with pagan idols, that dotted the landscape of Judea. So there were years of fear, years of hatred, decadence, corruption—not only in the political system, the Roman government, but also among the Jewish people.

Religion, as we study the priesthood and as that unfolds in the gospels, had become a sham! Many of the Jewish priests were corrupt themselves! They were controlled; they were manipulated by Rome. In the world and among the people of God, it had been night for a very long time.

But God was getting ready to shine His light—the light of Christ, the light of the gospel—into the world! And for “such a time as this” God raised up some of His choice servants, including a woman named Elizabeth.

In verse 5, we also read something about her family background. Scripture says, “There was a priest [in these days of Herod, the King of Judea] named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron.” You remember that Aaron was the first High Priest of Israel, way back in the Old Testament, and Zechariah’s wife’s “name was Elizabeth.”

Now, Elizabeth and Zechariah, her husband, represented a faithful, believing remnant of God’s people that was in stark contrast to the spirit of the age in which they lived. Zechariah was a priest. His name means, “God has remembered.” Now, that’s an incredible name in the context of how his story unfolds because for 400 years, there had been silence between the end of the Old Testament and now the dawning of this New Testament era. There were 400 years where God had not spoken at all!

It was tempting for God’s people to think, God has forgotten! He’s forgotten us; He has forgotten His promises!

But that wasn’t true. God always, always remembers! God just doesn’t work on our timetables. There is no one and nothing on this earth that can defeat His eternal purposes. So, think about it, how before all of the coming of Christ to the world unfolded, before this story we’re about to read unfolded, Zechariah’s parents had named him “God remembers.” God remembers!

They were still living in this bleak time, this time where it seemed God had forgotten. They could not see what God was getting ready to do, but by faith they named their son Zechariah: God remembers.

Then we have Zechariah’s wife; her name was Elizabeth. “Elizabeth” is the Greek version of a Hebrew name that we find one time in the Old Testament: the name is “Elisheba.” That was the name of the wife of Aaron, the first High Priest, from whom Zechariah and Elizabeth were both descended.

Aaron’s wife’s name was Elisheba (that’s the Hebrew form), and it means “the oath of God; the oath, the promise of God,” or “my God has sworn.” And so Elizabeth’s parents saw the faithfulness of God, and they attested to it—the fact that God’s Word is powerful, it is trustworthy.

God keeps His promises, and they attested to that when they named their daughter Elizabeth . . . Elisheba . . . the oath of God. And so we have Elizabeth, who’s from a long unbroken line of priests—going all the way back to Aaron—who’s married to a man who is also from a long line of priests.

These are two—husband and wife—who had both grown up knowing the promises of God, the Word of God, and being reminded even by their names that God remembers and God keeps His promises.

As we come to verse 6, we see something about their walk with God, and it’s really an amazing description of them. Scripture says, “And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.”

They were both righteous before God. Now, there’s only one way to be righteous before God, and that is by faith, not their own righteousness, but a righteousness God had given them because they believed what He said to be true. Their hearts were inclined toward Him.

The evidence of their faith, the evidence of their righteousness, was the way they lived—their lifestyle, their practice. The passage says they walked according to “all His commandments” (that would be the moral law of God) and according to all His “statutes.” That would be the ceremonial laws of God, of which there were many in the Old Testament!

The Word of God governed every area of their lives—the little things, the big things . . . everything. They took it all seriously; they took God seriously. They were on the same page. And never can there be a happier marriage than when both husband and wife honor the Lord, fear the Lord, worship the Lord, walk with the Lord, reverence Him and trust Him!

Now, your husband may not do that, or if you’re a man listening to this program, maybe your wife doesn’t do that. That doesn’t mean you can’t be righteous and you can’t walk obediently with Him. But how sweet is it when both husband and wife do the same! They were both positionally righteous before God.

I love the fact that it’s not just Zechariah who’s described this way, but it was true of Elizabeth also. She had her own relationship with God. She wasn’t just riding her husband’s spiritual coattails . . . not just relying on his spirituality. “Oh, he’s the priest. He’s the one who’s spiritual, and I’m just going to live my life.”

No. She was also righteous and walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. For this couple in the vocational service of the Lord, ministry—serving God—wasn’t just a job, but it was a calling. It was a lifestyle. So there was integrity; there was a match between what they were called to do and the life that they actually lived.

So here’s Elizabeth and her husband with an obedient lifestyle, which put her in a position where God could bless her. But here’s what we notice as come to verse 7: her righteousness, her obedience, her faithfulness did not exempt her from disappointments and problems and hurts.

It didn’t wrap her life up in a little cocoon where nothing would ever go wrong, where nothing would ever hurt her. In verse 7 we see that she and her husband had unfulfilled longings. Verse 7, “But . . .”

They were righteous. They had come from this long line of priests. They walked “blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.”

That’s a pretty hopeless statement, particularly for a woman living in that era. It represents decades of hoping and longing and hope deferred and disappointment—month after month, year after year, decade after decade!

And verse 13 (we haven’t come to it yet) but we’re going to see that they had prayed. They had let the Lord know that this is what they wanted, but their situation had not changed. And to make it worse, both were advanced in years! And you see that referred to three times in this chapter. They were old! That’s what that means. They were old; they were past their childbearing years.

That word “barren”—“Elizabeth was barren”—is a word in the Hebrew that sounds like our word for “sterile.” She was barren. Here’s a dictionary definition of the word “barren” (speaking of barren land): “too poor to produce much or any vegetation.” Or, speaking of a place or a building: “bleak and lifeless.”

Here’s another dictionary definition: “incapable of producing offspring, sterile, unproductive, unfruitful.” That’s barren. Some of those descriptions may describe how you feel in this season of life: unproductive, unfruitful, bleak, lifeless. Maybe it’s in regard to not being able to have children, but it could be in other areas as well.

Maybe you feel barren in relation to having health limitations that keep you from being able to serve in ways that you wish you could. I met a woman here this morning—a couple of them—who have Lyme disease, that places restrictions and limitations on their life.

Maybe you feel barren in the sense of being stretched so thin financially that you can barely make ends meet. Maybe you struggle with discouragement or depression and there’s an emotional barrenness that you feel stuck in.

Maybe you feel that your past has left you barren, so there’s guilt and shame and you don’t feel that God could ever really use you. Maybe you feel barren because, in this season, you’re kind of stuck caring for a lot of little ones . . . or maybe for elderly parents.

I have some friends who used to serve in our ministry; they were involved in revival ministry for many years. Then there was a season where they spent seven years caring for a widowed mother with Alzheimer’s. Those were hard years!

It was a barren season. They had had fruitful ministry, and now they were “stuck”—humanly speaking—caring for this needy mother. Maybe you feel barren in one of those—or other—ways. As I was meditating on this passage, I thought of that mandate God gave to Adam and Eve in Genesis chapter 1.

It says [v. 27], “Male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth . . .’” But here’s a woman—Elizabeth (and maybe you identify with this)—who was unable to fulfill this Divine calling. If children are a blessing, as God’s Word says they are, why was God withholding His blessing from her?

Today many women choose not to have children, but in Elizabeth’s day, childlessness was seen as God’s punishment for some hidden sin. It was considered a “reproach.” You’ll see that word later in this chapter. It was seen as a cause for shame, a social stigma. It was humiliating! And Elizabeth and Zechariah would never have an heir! Their family name would not be continued.

It was similar to the struggle other women had experienced before her: that of Abraham and Sarah, that of Hannah and Elkanah in the Old Testament, Jacob and Rachel—other women, couples who had longed for children, to honor the Lord with offspring, but God had withheld that from them for a long period of time.

Elizabeth and her husband were righteous. God had promised in the Old Testament that the righteous would flourish. In their day, childbearing was considered an important way for women to flourish, to be fruitful. But here she is: barren and old. Did that mean that God hadn’t kept His promise?

Would she trust Him when it seemed that they weren’t flourishing and fruitful in the way that they longed for? Furthermore, God had promised that through the woman would come a Messiah, sent to redeem His people from sin.

The Jewish women—faithful, believing Jewish women—longed to be chosen for this purpose. But Elizabeth would never be a candidate to be chosen for that purpose—as far as she knew. And, as far as she knew, there was no hope for this situation to change. As far as she knew, she and Zechariah would never have a child.

So she could have felt overlooked by God, longing for an explanation. But none of this shook her faith in God, her trust in God. She was still obedient, because she wasn’t serving God for His gifts, but just because He’s God, and He’s worthy of our trust and our worship!

Now, what she didn’t know at this point was that God was withholding the blessing of a child intentionally, purposefully, until the fullness of time in order to signal that something extraordinary was taking place with the birth when she finally did have the long-desired child—long after she had given up hope of ever having a child.

Listen. You can walk with God; you can live an obedient life, and you can still have disappointments and hurts and unfulfilled longings. It says she was righteous . . . and she was barren. She walked blamelessly in all the commandments and laws of the Lord . . . and she was barren.

  • You can be righteous . . . and childless.
  • You can be righteous . . . and single.
  • You can be righteous . . . and lose your job.
  • You can be righteous before God, walking obediently with Him . . . and have a terminal illness.
  • You can be righteous, living obediently before God . . . and have a prodigal son or daughter or grandchild.
  • You can be righteous, walking obediently before the Lord . . . and have an unbelieving mate.
  • You can be righteous before the Lord . . . and face painful losses and circumstances.

Not long ago, Robert and I had the privilege (I’ll call it) of attending a memorial service for a man whose family has lived in our area for a long time. I knew this man. I had done business with his business. He was known, as was his family, for loving the Lord, for serving the Lord.

Charles and Stephanie Wesco had been married for fourteen years. God had blessed them with eight children. They had a business in this area, but I remember when Charles told me a few years ago, “We feel like the Lord is calling us to leave our business here and to go and serve the Lord as missionaries in the African nation of Cameroon.”

And so they spent, I think it was two years, traveling around the country (all ten of them!) in this little motorhome, sharing the vision, sharing the burden God had put on their hearts, to reach the people of Cameroon, and raising the financial support to be able to do that as missionaries.

And then, God provided. The time came and they were ready to go. Their church, their families sent them out. They were both from large families, both from ministers’ families. It reminds me a little bit of Zechariah and Elizabeth, except in this case, this couple had eight young children. They packed up; they all were sent off and went to Cameroon.

They were there for twelve days before Charles was shot and killed in a freak, crazy crossfire of a battle that is going on in that country between government forces and insurgent rebel forces. As far as we know, it was not a targeted attack, but his wife was with him in the car as was one of their children.

It was a day before Stephanie was able even to get out of that area to go back and tell the other seven children what had happened. Then they had three hours to pack everything they could—a suitcase each—and get out of that part of the country and then, finally, back to the United States after twelve days of having planted themselves in what they assumed would be for the rest of their lives.

We attended the memorial service. A larger church than their church had to be chosen because there were hundreds and hundreds of people who wanted to come and honor this family. This family honored Christ in that service as Stephanie, this young widow in her thirties, with eight young children . . .

In her Facebook posts, social media, she has honored the Lord in an unbelievable way through this horrendous circumstance. And during the service, Stephanie didn’t speak herself, but one of the men who did read something that Stephanie had written.

I went back to the video this morning of that service and I transcribed this piece that she had written, because I wanted to share a part of it with you. She started out by quoting this hymn that will be familiar to you, perhaps:

All the way my Savior leads me,
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercies
Who through life has been my Guide?
Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort,
Here by faith in Him to dwell!
For I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well.

(“All the Way My Savior Leads Me” by Fanny Crosby)

And then she wrote:

I’m so thankful for the almost fourteen years of marriage the Lord gave me with Charles. The precious memories of serving the Lord together, raising and loving our eight children, praying together and loving each other will be cherished always!

Charles loved our children and me with all his heart, but he loved our Lord most! Those twelve days the Lord gave us in Cameroon will always be treasured for our family. The love the Lord gave our family for the people there has not changed. Although we knew we had to leave, it broke our hearts to do so.

By God’s grace—and because He lives in us—our family will, through His strength, continue to serve the God our husband and daddy loved with all his heart. We desire that Jesus Christ will be lifted up and glorified now and always. May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering.

What an amazing perspective!

Although Zechariah and Elizabeth had not received the desire of their hearts and the answer to their prayers, they trusted that God had an eternal purpose, an eternal plan, that was good. And even in the midst of a life that included ongoing suffering and reproach over their barrenness, they were still righteous and blameless and faithful. They continued serving the Lord even when their desires were not rewarded.

You may not be sure what God is up to in your life in this season—where He’s leading you, how He’s guiding you. You can’t see how He’s going to meet your needs or resolve your circumstances—if ever!—in this life.

The question is: Will you walk obediently—will I walk obediently—when life doesn’t seem to work? When it doesn’t seem to go according to our plans? Will we continue serving Him even when we can’t see the outcome we’ve hoped for?

Oh Lord, we just want to acknowledge that You are worthy of our trust. We want to walk righteously before You, walk obediently in Your commands—even in barren places when it seems there is no hope for our longings to be fulfilled. We know and we trust that You are God, and we will still worship. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

Leslie: That’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, teaching on the life of the New Testament character Elizabeth. I love her reminder of how God is always leading and caring for us, even when we don’t clearly see Him at work.

I know you’ll want to learn even more about Elizabeth and about God’s faithfulness to us even amidst disappointment. Why don’t you get the study Nancy mentioned earlier and go through it with a friend? It’s called Elizabeth: Dealing with Disappointment. We’d like to send you a copy when you donate any amount to Revive Our Hearts. Your gift will help the program continue coming your way each weekday.

To support the ministry, go to ReviveOurHearts.com. You can also call us a 1–800–569–5959. Be sure to ask for the Bible study on Elizabeth. And be on the lookout for a new podcast in February hosted by Erin Davis. The first six episodes are all about Elizabeth, and as you listen week-by-week, it will be like having a discussion group for this study right in your earbuds! Watch for the new podcast Women of the Bible in February!

It’s all too easy to lose hope when facing unanswered questions or deferred dreams. Tomorrow Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth will show us why it’s important to remember the bigger picture in life. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

To close our time today we’re going to hear from listeners in our audience. We asked them what stood out to them about this teaching?

Woman 1: A journey that God has had me on the last couple of years . . . What you just shared, Nancy is a really critical truth that I wish I would have known. I guess a couple years ago as I was walking through a hard spot, that even when you’re obedient, things aren’t alway going to go right.

Depending on your background . . . I think in my background a lot of the Christian walk was reduced to a formula: If you’re obedient, then God’s going to honor your life. That’s what I heard a lot, and I think there’s a lot of truth in that.

But that doesn’t always mean that everything’s going to go perfectly or just the way you want. I just think that acknowledging that truth can really help us as we’re facing some difficult stuff.

Woman 2: I just love how you took the concept of barrenness and spread it out to all the kinds of hurts that can feel that way and all the kinds of losses. Because I think, a lot of times, we can just be reading along and say, “Oh, Elizabeth was barren . . . sad for her . . . I’ve got three kids.”

But I’ve got other barrenness. And to be able to see that in the light of how she walked, just the way that you spread that out, really, to anyone, was perfect!

Woman 3: Barrenness in so many different areas . . . For me, personally, I just had an extremely wonderful period of time with the Lord where I felt His presence and closeness.

But at this season in my life, that’s not where He has me, and He keeps telling me, “Just be obedient.” And so this is just reinforcing that message. Because sometimes you look around, you compare. You don’t want to, but you are comparing yourself instead of resting in and trusting in His faithfulness.

Instead of focused on how faithful I need to be, I’m focused on “me, me, me.” What I do to say, “I’m a godly woman; my godliness rests only on Christ’s righteousness.” So I love that. It’s very encouraging!

Nancy: So sweet! Yes, and I didn’t mention, sometimes it can just be spiritual barrenness—a dry season in the soul. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re doing something wrong. You may be doing something right. God loves you, and He’s pruning you for greater fruitfulness or just wanting to deepen your trust in Him.

It’s not because you have these great emotions or senses of God being real or close, but because you trust that He is, even when you can’t feel it. So those can end up being really important seasons in our lives. “Trusting His heart when we can’t see His hand.” Right?

Woman 4: I loved when you shared about how none of this shook their faith and the fact that she didn’t serve God for the gifts that He was going to give her. She served Him because she was obedient and loved Him. That’s what we do in those times of barrenness.

Nancy: Because He is God, and He is good—even when we don’t see the fruit of that. Even when it doesn’t seem real, it doesn’t feel real, it is real. He is real! And one day we will see, we will experience. Prayer will become praise, faith will become sight, and we’ll look back and we’ll go, “Ohhh! God was good! He was faithful, even when I couldn’t see it!”

I have no idea what we’re going to be saying or doing in Heaven, but it just seems to me if we have any regrets, wouldn’t one of them probably be, “Why didn’t I trust Him more? Why didn’t I trust Him more when I couldn’t see? Why did I doubt His goodness?”

And Elizabeth gives us a positive example, someone who continued to trust when she couldn’t see.

Carrie Gaul: I was just thinking, Nancy. Elizabeth had longed for a baby, they had longed for a baby all of their married life, and God had not answered that prayer in their eyes. And yet their longing for a baby . . . God intended to give them the forerunner of Messiah! The plan was so much bigger than what they ever could have imagined!

Nancy: And how often is that the case when we can’t see it. Because we don’t see what God sees; we don’t know what God knows. It makes me think of Hannah in the Old Testament who longed for a baby. Could God have given her a baby sooner? Of course! Why didn’t He?

Because God was wanting to give her a prophet, Samuel. And the nation wasn’t ready; it wasn’t time. God had bigger purposes than just that woman’s happiness. God had her happiness in mind, and God was going to give her happiness, but ultimately her happiness had to be in the Lord—not in the timing of when this son was given. Same for Elizabeth.

And that’s what happens when you say, “My life is not about me. It’s not about this moment. It’s not about my desires. It’s about His kingdom and His purposes and them being fulfilled. Then you say, “I’m available to be used: to have a child, to have a mate; not to have a child, not to have a mate; to have the timing God wants; to have health, not to have good health. I’m available to be used for whatever will bring the greatest honor and glory to Him in His timing.”

We can’t see what that is now, but we trust. And one day we will see and we will know it was all good—really, really good!

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is reminding you of God’s faithfulness! This program is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the ESV.
 

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