When he left the Temple, Zechariah expected to hear the chanting of merchants selling their wares.
Silence was everywhere. The harsh quiet made his walk down the long narrow street seem like a journey through chambers of an empty cave.
A beggar reached up, expecting alms. His lips moved, but there was no voice.
The angel had said Zechariah wouldn’t be able to speak, but he couldn’t hear either. How would he explain everything to Elizabeth so she would understand?
No sounds. Only his thoughts, with Gabriel’s words still blasting like a trumpet: Elizabeth will give birth to a son. Even before birth, he will be filled with the Holy Spirit.
What did the angel mean when he said his son would turn Israelites back to God? Sure, there were abuses. He saw them in the Temple, priests driven by greed not kindness. But what had changed that would prompt God to take action now?
Zechariah kicked at a rock and sent it sailing against the building across the street. Why had he been so foolish, not trusting, not believing? Didn’t he know God’s plan had to be better than what he had asked in his prayers? That was the problem with faith. Too often, it was short-sighted.
With God, all things are possible.
For years he had spoken those words, wanting to invoke a miracle. Yet when the angel announced the miracle, he couldn’t believe it. Now, with the plugging of his ears and the tying of his tongue, his affliction was a constant reminder of his failure to believe.
Lost in his thoughts, he made the long walk to his house in the Judean hill country in what seemed to be a short time. He came to the door and knocked. This was a strange feeling, seeing his hand rap on the door, yet with no sound.
“You are home.” Elizabeth looked surprised. “And so soon. Are you well?”
Zechariah shook his head, then pointed to his lips. He extended his open palms in front of him, trying to show his frustration.
Elizabeth didn’t understand.
No doubt, the priest who shoved him out of the Temple thought he had a demon and nothing would have convinced him otherwise. How could he keep his wife from thinking the same thing?
With his index finger, he wrote on his palm, which led Elizabeth to get his writing tablet. If only she could have learned letters in the synagogue instead of from her mother at home.
He would have to make simple words.
No can speak, he wrote. Again he touched his mouth and shook his head. No hear. He put his hand over his ear.
Sympathy filled her eyes, but not with understanding. Just caring. She led him by the hand to a cushion by the table, sat with him, and looked at his tablet. She waited, apparently wanting to hear more.
He wrote, Light. No. She would think of the sun. He scratched through the word. Angel.
Elizabeth’s lips seemed to be asking if he had seen an angel in the Temple. She held her palms upward as if to ask where and how.
Holy Place. Incense.
She touched her lips and moved her hand forward, asking, “What did the angel say?”
We will have son.
“No!” Her expression shouted above the movement of her lips. She didn’t believe him.
Zechariah wiped the tears from his eyes, wishing he could adequately describe his experience. How could he do that?
Three cushions. He could use them to act out what had happened.
One cushion represented the lamp on his left, where he extended seven fingers upward. The cushion on the right—the Table of Showbread.
The cushion in front of him was the Altar of Incense, where he enacted every one of the motions he had used in the Temple, holding the golden censer, waiting for quiet, watching the sweet-smelling cloud rise. He showed his terror when he saw the angel on his right and fell to his knees.
Elizabeth seemed to understand. She was probably thinking his fright had taken his speech and hearing. That was okay. He wasn’t ready to say his affliction was the result of his unbelief.
Zechariah picked up the tablet and wrote again. Yes. A son. Name is John.
Her watery eyes, the hesitant smile—she was starting to believe. Then a look of wonderment, like she was asking, “After so long, why would God do this? Why now?”
God’s plan, he wrote. He shrugged. Know little.
She showed no sign of wanting to prepare the evening meal. Obviously, she wanted to hear more.
In the next two hours, Zechariah wrote all that Gabriel had said, word for word. Many letters were too difficult for Elizabeth, so he had to erase the tablet and start over, writing an explanation she could grasp.
Zechariah felt like a teacher in the synagogue, wanting to build faith in his students, unfolding God’s promises, showing how God’s plan rose above any personal problems they might have.
With each higher level of understanding, Elizabeth showed greater signs of joy. Finally, she leaped up and shouted like no old woman could ever be expected to do. With her hands raised, she danced like a child, overflowing with energy.
Her expression needed no interpretation. She acted as if she was the one who had heard Gabriel’s words, not Zechariah. But there was one important difference.
As soon as Elizabeth had read and understood the angel’s words, she believed. She seemed to be empowered by the message, so much so that her behavior reminded him of how they acted when they were young.
That night they became one—not just in the physical sense, but emotionally and spiritually as well.
How foolish Zechariah had been to doubt God.
All things were possible to those who believed.