This is no shocker to those who know me: I talk… a lot. What do you imagine it would be like to be there when I encounter one of those rare moments when I’m speechless? I guess you could be relieved that I finally stopped gabbing. Would you be perplexed to see this side of me you’d never encountered? Likely some might be super curious as to what could leave me mute!
Believe it or not, even for me, times come when there just isn’t anything to say. Some days there may be mounds of things to say but I’m not sure I have enough voice to speak. Then again, sometimes it’s not the time to talk… sure, I’ve had laryngitis a few times, sat through events or meetings when I needed to be quiet… but there have also been those events when I was unable to speak. And we all can imagine times when words are best left unsaid. And occasionally I’ve been held back from being able to use my voice no matter how much I’d wanted to do so.
Wonder what that was like for Zechariah?
5 When Herod was king of Judea, there was a Jewish priest named Zechariah. He was a member of the priestly order of Abijah, and his wife, Elizabeth, was also from the priestly line of Aaron. 6 Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. 7 They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old.
8 One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple, for his order was on duty that week. 9 As was the custom of the priests, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. 10 While the incense was being burned, a great crowd stood outside, praying.
11 While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. 12 Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. 13 But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. 14 You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth.[b] 16 And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. 17 He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children,[c] and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.”
18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.”
19 Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! 20 But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.”
21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah to come out of the sanctuary, wondering why he was taking so long. 22 When he finally did come out, he couldn’t speak to them. Then they realized from his gestures and his silence that he must have seen a vision in the sanctuary.
Here this man of God has an unimaginable encounter with an angel of the Lord. No one else was there… no one else heard the words… no one knew what had been foretold for Zechariah and Elizabeth… and no one would hear it told for months.
It makes me smirk a little bit when I read about the people waiting for Zechariah, “When he finally did come out, he couldn’t speak to them. Then they realized from his gestures and his silence that he must have seen a vision in the sanctuary.” It might have gone from comical to perplexing to completely baffling when Zechariah emerged unable to speak.
And for more than 9 months Zechariah couldn’t use words to tell them.
23 When Zechariah’s week of service in the Temple was over, he returned home.24 Soon afterward his wife, Elizabeth, became pregnant and went into seclusion for five months. 25 “How kind the Lord is!” she exclaimed. “He has taken away my disgrace of having no children.”
More than 9 months of silence, his speech held back. And then the day of his son’s birth arrives.
57 When it was time for Elizabeth’s baby to be born, she gave birth to a son. 58 And when her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had been very merciful to her, everyone rejoiced with her.
59 When the baby was eight days old, they all came for the circumcision ceremony. They wanted to name him Zechariah, after his father. 60 But Elizabeth said, “No! His name is John!”
61 “What?” they exclaimed. “There is no one in all your family by that name.” 62 So they used gestures to ask the baby’s father what he wanted to name him. 63 He motioned for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s surprise he wrote, “His name is John.” 64 Instantly Zechariah could speak again, and he began praising God.
65 Awe fell upon the whole neighborhood, and the news of what had happened spread throughout the Judean hills. 66 Everyone who heard about it reflected on these events and asked, “What will this child turn out to be?” For the hand of the Lord was surely upon him in a special way.
At just the right time, God restores Zechariah’s voice. His son is given the proper name. More than that, God was praised and His glory revealed.
You know, most of us will never face 9 months of not being able to speak, but there are times when that will happen. Maybe our voice won’t physically be restrained and yet we will find it not our time, words will fail us, courage runs short, or God makes it clear we should be silent.
And we’ll wait.
We’ll wait for God’s perfect timing to restore our “voice” and watch Him work all things to our good. Sometimes the way we see God most at work is when we cannot, when all we can do is watch.
Are there things in your life right now that it is “not the time to talk” about? Things that no words of yours can solve? Circumstances where you are not “allowed” to speak? What will you do while you wait?
‘Cause you could get angry… frustrated… just plain give up hope.
Or you could wait faithfully in the silence, trusting God, prayerfully looking for Him at work.