5 When Herod was king of Judea, there was a priest by the name of Zechariah from the priestly group of Abijah. His wife Elizabeth was from the family of Aaron.[b] 6 Both of them were good people and pleased the Lord God by obeying all that he had commanded. 7 But they did not have children. Elizabeth could not have any, and both Zechariah and Elizabeth were already old.
Placing The Story in Our Story
That Herod was king of Judea gives us a time in history – between 37 BCE – 4 BCE – and a place – Judea – our story begins. The story opens about 400 years after we’ve last heard from the prophets of the Old Testament. In that time there has been lots of change: there was a revolt and two dynasties overthrown, leaving the Romans in charge in Judea; Greek and Aramaic have become the common languages; as such, the Jewish scriptures have been translated into Koine Greek (the everyday trading language of the time); the synagogue system has been established, allowing Jews to meet regularly in their own communities to worship; these synagogues are overseen by ‘Rabbi’s’ (or teachers), other rabbi’s roam the countryside teaching wherever they end up; and Judaism had begun to distinguish itself through three main groups: the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. (More about them later.)
A Priest Named Zechariah
Luke’s account begins by introducing us to a priest named Zechariah who is part of the priestly group of Abidjah. What does that mean? It means that Zechariah is from the tribe of Levi. The Levites were appointed by God waaayyyy back in the book of Exodus to serve as priests. (See Exodus 32:28-29 for that story). It was a very special role, and so Levites were seen as “special” Israelites. Then we are introduced to his wife, Elizabeth, as being from the family of Aaron. Aaron was Moses’ brother, and was the first high priest so, again, these are special people, people!
So here we have this couple that is both part of the fancy, special group, and yet, they “are already old” and don’t have children. The blame is laid squarely on Elizabeth’s shoulders, but that was an assumption of the time – because babies grew in women it was assumed that if a baby didn’t grow it was a problem with the woman. And often at the time this was taken even further, and it was assumed that the reason the couple wasn’t able to conceive was because God was not pleased with them. Harsh ideas and harsh words to have to live with. Can you imagine the pain? Some of you don’t have to imagine. There is no truth to these claims, but how much must Elizabeth and Zechariah – who never had the advantage of fertility testing to find out the truth – have questioned what they who were from such esteemed families, they who served in such a special role, had “done wrong” to “deserve” this?
Yet this is the story God enters into. This messy-yet-special-couple is the couple that Luke starts his “Good News Story” with. Because the God of this Story enters in to the specifics of our messy, special, broken contexts – into our stories.
- So what are the specifics of your story?
- Which parts, like Zechariah and Elizabeth do you celebrate?
- In what ways do you feel blessed?
- Are there parts of your story that you feel ashamed by?
- Do you feel like you are ‘less than’ in any way because of some part of your story?
You can find more studies in the book of Luke on our website here.