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I Am Elizabeth

 


I am Elizabeth, wife of Zacharias.
My husband loves me dearly, I know he does. But do you know the heartache of not being able to give him a child? He said that I’m enough, but I see the gleam in his eye when he watches the little ones. He loves to bounce his great-nephews and nieces on his knee, or toss them in the air to catch them. He would make a great dad.

I’m not included with the mothers, because I have no child, nor can I give advice. I can only watch them with wishes unfulfilled and a heart empty.

In a culture where children are your inheritance, and your status is determined by your family size, that puts me rather low. Zacharias comforted me on many nights because my womb was closed.

Many times I asked God, “Why?” or I’d promise Him that I would be the best mother ever…only to experience being in the womanly way the next month. Did the Lord not think that I was worthy?

Zacharias would tell me God had His reasons. I did not want to hear. What important reason could God have that would be good enough to keep me from having a child? I struggled every month to accept that. I’d like to say that I was godly enough to give it to God once, and then I was fine. But I wasn’t.

I’d hold my sisters’ and brothers’ children in my arms, gaze into their tiny faces, and cry inside. Everyone assumed because I had no children, that I would want to do all their extra jobs that they couldn’t do because they were busy with their children. I did. I helped with their little ones. But I longed for my own.

Why does God give that longing to the heart of woman, then not give her a child to hold?
Finally all hope was gone, I was past the womanly way, my time was gone. You would think that the daily submission to God would get easier. Zacharias and I were getting older. Would we die depending upon Zacharias’s nephew to care for us? We would not even die worthy.

I don’t know how Zacharias did it. He reminded me that the Lord was faithful. I clung to that. Although I had to remind myself every day that He knew what was best. Zacharias was loyal and devoted to the Lord, almost to a fault. Always telling me that God gave us the best. How could not having a child be the best? But I gave it to God, daily.

Then one day, Zacharias returned from the Temple after performing his priestly duties. I paused from kneading the bread. Why didn’t he talk to me? Why did he just motion with his hands? Something was wrong. He couldn’t speak. He told me through signs and writing that God had promised us a son who would foretell of the Coming One. Redemption for God’s people was coming!

I stopped kneading and leaned on the bench where I worked. Would we have a son after I had given up? Could I believe that God would make my body young again?

I looked at Zacharias for security. What were his thoughts? His eyes danced and sparkled. In fact, he grabbed my flour-covered hands and danced me around the room. I felt in that dance how he, too, had hurt through the years from our lack. Zacharias had mourned my closed womb; now he acted like a boy, excited for feast day. To think God had opened my womb and had given us a child in our old age. We had been blessed!

In the days to follow, I knew the vision he had seen in the Temple was happening. My body took on a glow that the young mothers had. I could not help but smile when I went to the well to get water and saw young mothers with children. My time had come. The Lord had taken away my disgrace. He had looked with favor upon me. I could not share my joy. I felt watched. The vision at the temple had been told to everyone. I heard the whispers of the women. They could not rejoice with me. It was almost like they felt sorry for me. I stayed in seclusion for five months.

I rested so much more. Many times, I had to stop, even while making a meal. This baby demanded much from my winkled body. My body craved more meats, even fats that I had not wanted for many years. I had to make a longer tunic that would reach around my growing middle.

When I was six months along, Mary came to visit. The moment she entered our house, I felt the babe leap in my womb. I blessed her, “God has blessed you among women. How has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me?”

Mary told of the child that she carried, the Promised One.

The next three months flew as Mary stayed. Her family did not believe her condition was caused by the Lord. But I could look at my growing babe and know the miracles had started. We comforted each other in the midst of the whispers and unbelief of others.

When the child came, and it was time to circumcise and name him, I stood by Zacharias, holding the babe. I told the neighbors and relatives who had come to celebrate with us, “His name is John.”

They ignored me at first. Why wouldn’t we name our only child after Zacharias? We wouldn’t have another one. They pressed me. I shook my head. Finally, they turned to Zacharias, as if to make me see the reason of their plea.

Zacharias motioned for a tablet to write his wishes.
They all waited expectantly, almost smugly.
Zacharias wrote, “His name is John.”
“John? Who’s named John?” Our family thought that we’d lost our senses.
Once Zacharias had proclaimed his son’s name, his tongue was loosened and he could speak. He stood tall and cleared his throat. He spoke in a tone that no one would question, “His name is John.” He made up for the nine months of silence, let me tell you. He praised God. And prophesied of the Coming One.

The people were clearly uneasy. They kept their distance from us, but spread our news to all the neighbors. It surprised me how many family members in other towns of Judea knew about our story. I would hear their whispers, “What will this child turn out to be?”

Everyone advised me… hold him like this, or treat him like that…I smiled, nodded politely. I had watched many mothers. I knew what to do. Hadn’t I promise God in my youth that I could be the best mother?

The most cherished times were when Zacharias and I would watch him sleep. I would push back the sweaty lock of hair that fell in his face and sing of the Coming One.

John grew. He was different. Not only in how he came to us, but how he grew. He didn’t play with other children. He liked being by himself, which was a good thing, because he had no siblings and we weren’t around much of the family. But I worried if he was normal.

Zacharias assured me, “The Lord had His Hand on him. John will shine the light of the Lord into the darkness. He will lead people to know the Coming One.”

The neighbors expected something special from him. I felt pressure to conform to some unwritten standard. How should a child, sent by God, act?

The neighbors accused Zacharias and I of doting on him. “You’ll spoil him.” I didn’t listen. He was my child. We were like grandparents and parents at the same time, giving him all the time and energy that we had. Zacharias would bounce him on his knee and throw him in the air. I would turn away, unable to watch. What if he dropped him? But his laughter and begging for more, would assure me that all was well. When he did fall, I would brush his hair from his forehead and kiss his scrapes away.

Zacharias tried to teach him the duties of the priest. Wouldn’t he take over his role as priest when he was of age? But the more he grew, the more we realized that he would not. I could see that it disappointed Zacharias. How else could John serve God? Zacharias did not express his disappointment to me, but I could tell in his eyes that he did not understand the promise of the Lord that John would prepare the way for the Coming One. How could he do that without being a priest?

But John did listen to the scrolls that Zacharias would read to him. His heart was tender, and he listened with his heart. He ached to know what the Lord had told His people. Watching Zacharias lean back on the cushions and answer John’s questions about the Law and about the prophecies of the Coming Messiah would assure me that all was well. Zacharias’s prophecy that our son would be the man to prepare the way for the Lord would come to mind. The Lord was preparing the man through us. My heart glowed with satisfaction.

Had we doted on him too much? The neighbors seemed to think so. We could only train him to obey God and allow God to train him for what He wanted. Because we didn’t demand that he fulfill the priestly duties, we gave the neighbors something more to whisper about us. I should have ignored it, but it hurt.

As he grew, John did not make friends. In fact, he confronted one of his cousins, James, the brother of Jesus. He told him, “The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent.” They fought over his words.

I cautioned him that he needed to get along with people. I didn’t want him to be disliked by everyone. What kind of life was that? Zacharias reminded me, “The Lord made him so.” Why did the Lord give me a child who told everyone what they did wrong? He would be disliked. He wouldn’t marry. I’d have no grandchildren. I sighed. I must give him to God. Just like I gave my empty womb to Him. What control did I have over him anyway? I wanted to change his life. Didn’t mothers know best? But God had other plans.

There is wisdom in age, and my old age has given me great wisdom. I’ve seen a lot. Zacharias reminded me. “He’s the Lord’s. Allow Him to make John into the man He needs.” Was I just holding him too tightly?

When John became a man, he came to me.
My heart dropped. I could tell by his expression that he would tell me something I wouldn’t like. Tears were already pooling behind my eyes.
“Mother, I am leaving.”
It was more than I thought. “Leaving? Where?
John smiled. He shrugged. “To the wilderness.”
I scurried to make a lunch for him. As if I could feed him for the days that he would stay there.
He laid his hand on my shoulder. “Mom. God will provide.” He picked up the loaf of bread that I had made that morning. “This’ll be enough.”
I nodded, wiping his hair from his face. I tried to be brave, not to show my tears, but they came unbidden. How could I care for my son in the wilderness?
He turned to Zacharias, who stood at the doorway. Zacharias didn’t speak, but hugged him tightly, his face masking the anguish his own heart was feeling.
John hugged him, took one last look around the small house, nodded to us and turned to leave.
I grabbed his arm. “Take your cloak.” I reached up, without thinking to brush his forehead again. It seemed if I didn’t remind him, he would forget to come home. Yet I knew, he would not be returning. I choked out, “Shalom.”
He smiled, hugged me once more. “Be at peace.” And was gone.
How can you “be at peace” when your loved ones are not home?

My days were spent listening for news of where John was. The whispers had already started that he should have stayed to take care of us, his parents, in our old age. We were really feeling our age by now. Even making the fire in the morning to make the bread taxed my hands.

I heard their accusing comments, telling me that I didn’t train him right, that I should have been stricter. I didn’t answer. There was no need. But my heart ached for the son that did not return. I must give my thoughts to God and allow Him to make things right.

Did his cloak keep him warm at nights? Does he eat enough? Could he find shelter from the heat of the day?
Zacharias took a few walks in the desert himself to see if he could find him. I could tell when he returned that he had not. But he would always tell me, “Be at peace.”
Be at peace? When every day I struggled to tell the Lord that John is His! I’d tell Him with my mind, and then try to make my heart listen to my words and believe. It was hard. How do you give the Lord your son? I had to do it every day. Would I call him back from the wilderness and make him a priest? No. Would I want to change him? Sometimes. But he must obey the Lord. This is hard. My mother’s heart wanted to run to the desert and bring him home. My mind would remind me that God knows best, and that I must trust Him. It was battle every day. The only way that I could find peace was to give John back into the arms of the One Who gave him to me. I had to do it every day.

The days turned to months. I still hoped. I prayed for peace. Could we have heard wrong at his birth?

Then news came from neighbors who returned from selling their sheep. They told of a man preaching by the Jordan River. “He tells anyone who will listen to repent.” I smiled. That sounded like my John. “What else does he say?” “The kingdom of God is here.” It was John! I knew it was. Only he could survive that wilderness and tell others to repent.

Zacharias and I went to see him. The journey was hard. We had no donkey to carry us. We had to stop many times to rest. Our old bodies weren’t what they should be. I could barely drag my feet along the dirt pathway. Zacharias guided me around a puddle in the road. He was as tired as I, but he wouldn’t turn back. He asked me again if I am able. I nodded, but didn’t speak. The effort would require too much energy. We continued, determined to see John.

As we got closer to the Jordan River, were joined by others, all going to the River to hear this preacher. My step got lighter. We’d soon see John. We listened to what the people were saying about him. They were excited about what he might tell them. Were people ready to repent? We followed the people to the gathering by the river.

A man stood before them, dressed in camel skins, with a leather belt around his waist. Could that be John? He had lost weight. His skin was darkened by the sun. I didn’t recognize him. I studied his face under his long beard and hair. “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, make ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight. Every ravine will be filled, and every mountain and hill will be brought low; the crooked will become straight, and the rough roads smooth and all will see the salvation of God.”

I gasped. The voice was of my son John. Zacharias’s hand trembled as he held my elbow, supporting me.

This man looked nothing like the John who had left our house. Yet his voice was strong, steady…and John’s! We listened, spellbound, to his words.

A group of men stood at the back, whispering to each other. I recognized them as the scribes and Pharisees from the Temple in Jerusalem. My John had gathered a great following.

John pointed to them. “You brood of vipers. Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit that shows repentance.”

One of them stepped forward in anger. “We have Abraham for our father.”

John laughed and shook his head. “God can raise up Abraham’s children from these stones.”

I trembled and remembered the discussion that he’d with James, his cousin. He would not allow truth to be hidden. What would they do to him?

Zacharias squeezed my elbow. He had forgotten that he was holding me and it hurt. I moved away. What will these rulers do to John?

But John wasn’t finished. “The ax is already laid at the root of the trees; so every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

One man called, “What should we do?”

John turned his attention to the one who asked. “The man who has two tunics should share with him who has none; he who has food give to him who has none.”

The crowd parted as some tax collectors walked to the front. No one would be touched by them. They were Jews, yet they stole from their own people, charging more than what the Roman rulers required. Their expensive cloaks and tunics and jewelry spoke of great wealth gained from their greed.  They were traitors to their own people. Bought by Rome.

Even as the crowd parted to allow them to pass, some spat on them, hissing at them.

John saw them.

I held my breath. What would he say to them? Especially after condemning the Temple leaders of such sin.

The first man of the group bowed low before John. He seemed to have forgotten all his wealth and even his standing that he had worked hard to achieve in the sight of Rome. “Teacher, I want to be baptized.”

The crowd gasped.

John didn’t hesitate. He led the man into that fast-flowing, dirty water and submerged him.

When they reached the shore again, the man embraced John, kissing him on both cheeks. They dripped with water. “Teacher, what shall I do?

John smiled. “Collect no more than what you are told.”

The man nodded. He turned to the group of tax collectors who had come with him. “Let us go and do this thing that he has said.” He seemed the leader of them. He was transformed. Only the Spirit of the Most High could change the hardened heart of a tax collector and make him give up his money.

I stood and listened to my son. My knees trembled. He feared no man. He spoke God’s truth. By his words, this man had repented and was changed.

I remembered all the neighbors’ whisperings at how wrong Zacharias and I had been in our training. My heart filled with joy. We had followed the Lord. We had trained John right. And now John was pointing people to the Most High.

The repentance of the tax collector seemed to cause a stirring in a group of soldiers. One called to John, “What about us, what should we do?”

Were they just hecklers, testing John’s words?

But John did not hesitate. “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely. Be content with your wages.” Soldiers were known to accuse Jews falsely. Their wages were close to poverty, but they could supplement it with what they took from townspeople.

I studied the soldier’s face.  He did not ignore John’s words, but considered them.

Zacharias whispered in my ear, “Truly the Spirit of the Lord is in our midst.”

We listened, spellbound, not only because it was our son who shared the Words of the Lord, but because his words changed lives.

The crowd watched, expecting something. Whispers passed among them. “Is this the Christ?”

As if he heard them, John spoke, “I am not the Christ.”

One Pharisee shouted, “Who are you then? Elijah?”

“I’m not.”

“A prophet?”

“No.”

“Who then? So we can answer those who sent us.”

“I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness. Make the Lord’s way straight.”

The Pharisees confronted him, “Why do you baptize, if you’re not a prophet?”

John answered, “I baptize with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I. I’m not fit to remove His sandals. He will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. He will gather His own, but burn with an unquenchable fire those who are not His.”

My heart could not hold the feelings that I had. Memories of John telling others to repent… We had prepared him for the Lord’s work. The Desired One was coming.

Zacharias led me to a place on the hill, where we could rest while we watched and heard John. When we settled on the ground, I breathed deeply. I hadn’t realized that I had held my breath over his messages to the people.

The people were hungry to hear the Words of the Lord.

Even though the words were the Lord’s, my mother’s heart wanted to tell him. “Soften your words. Don’t stir up anger.” But I knew that was my way, not the Lord’s. I tried to allow God to give me peace, especially when I thought of what could happen to John when he angered certain men. I glanced back at the religious rulers. They would report to the others in Jerusalem. It would not go well for John, if he ever stepped inside the Temple. I almost laughed out loud. John would not enter the Temple…he looked like a man gone mad. He would not be allowed even on the stairs of the holy Temple. What did that say of the Temple when the man God sent could not enter the place where God was to be worshipped?

I thought about the many times Zacharias and I had tried to make John a priest. That was not God’s Way. He was proclaiming the words of the Lord. The Lord’s ways were not my ways.

As we listened and watched, one man stepped forward. He looked familiar. Was that Mary’s Son?

John hesitated. Had he lost confidence? I strained to hear their words. John seemed confused. “You are mightier than I. I’m not fit to untie your sandals. I need to be baptized by You, and yet You come to me?”

Jesus bowed. “Permit it at this time, for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”

John turned to the crowd. “Behold, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world! He is higher in rank than I, for He existed before me. I testify that this is the Son of God.”

I watched my son baptize the Son of God. God knew how to make a mom’s heart complete. I glanced at Zacharias. His shoulders were back as straight as a soldier’s. The Lord had chosen to use us to bring his forerunner into the world and train him to be His spokesman.

Zacharias and I lingered, watching our son proclaim the Desired One’s coming. God had given me peace. Later, we followed him when the sun turned dark. We met his disciples, those who learned at his feet. While he spoke to them, in a little cove away from the crowds, Jesus walked by. John pointed again and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” Two of his disciples stood and followed Jesus.

I felt hurt, “Why didn’t they stay with you?”
John corrected me. “Mom, they follow the Christ!”
I nodded, quick to acknowledge my hasty mouth. It was my mother’s heart talking and not my mind

We traveled home. Satisfied. Glad for the trip, but weary. It was hard to be satisfied with the day’s routine after seeing John and Jesus. I listened for any news. Later, when the Jordan River was low, we heard of John spending time in Aenon near Salim, because there was enough water. John seemed to be losing popularity. I asked Zacharias about it.

“Elizabeth, he is not the Christ. He is sent ahead of Him. I spoke with him before we left. He understood his position. He told me that Jesus must increase and that he must decrease. Our son has done his job. He does not seek followers. He points them to the Desired One.”
I nodded. That was true. It was a mother’s heart again, hurting for her son.

I worried over John’s outspokenness. Who would he anger that would cause him harm? I did not have long to wait. I was at the well, filling my vessel. I had paused, trying to find strength to lift the water to my shoulder. Sometimes I wished Zacharias could get the water, my bones did ache so.

The woman came hurrying to the well. “Elizabeth, have you heard?"
Of course, I hadn’t heard, and I probably didn’t want to hear, but I couldn’t lift the water.
“John has finally said too much. You should have trained him not to speak so boldly.”
Now, I didn’t want to move. “My John? What have you heard?”
“He spoke against King Herod, telling him of his sins."
I dropped the vessel. The water poured down my leg. “What has happened?”
“Herod has John in prison.”
I sat there unable to move. John had spoken only truth. All the Jews knew of Herod’s evil, even as he built our Temple, he desecrated it with workers from Babylon and Assyria. He put idols in the temple. He taxed us heavily for his own lavish spending.…He had recently taken his brother’s wife as his own. And now, he had my John.
The woman looked at me. “Elizabeth, you really must go home! You’re all wet. Look at your tunic!”
I looked down, but did not see. All that I could see was my son in prison.
I don’t know how I managed to go home that day. I don’t even remember what I did when I got there.

Zacharias listened with quiet acceptance. Almost like he expected it.
I clung to him, hoping after I cried that it would be just a bad dream. It was not.

We listened to any news that came to our village, listening for any hope of his life being spared. I knew he would not change his words. He spoke the truth with boldness, confident that God was with him.

Herod questioned him, listening to his words. I hoped it was enough to grant his freedom. But the news gave me little hope. It seemed only a matter of time. We prayed for his safety. I tried to avoid the well when others were there, yet I wanted to hear any news. I was torn to know, yet not know.

I knew in my heart before the news reached us. I felt it. John was gone. My son was dead.

The news confirmed what I already knew. Herod had given a party. He promised to grant his wife’s daughter any wish. She wanted John’s head.

In my grief, I focused on one thing, John’s head. I thought of those curls that I would brush from his infant face while he slept. Of that stubborn lock of hair that fell over his eyes when he bent over his reading. Of his long hair from living in the wilderness. I would touch it now, if only I could.

The news jarred Zacharias. He never rose from the bench, where he sat when he received the news. His head slumped forward onto the table.

After the sun had set and the room had grown quite dark, I spoke to him. When he did not answer, I brought a candle to see him better. Zacharias was gone.

How is a mother to live longer than her son? How would I continue without my husband? Although old, we weren’t supposed to die of a broken heart. We were to die with satisfaction and in peace.…Hadn’t the Lord promised John would be the forerunner? I sat beside Zacharias, as if he could still bring me security and comfort. I held his hand, even though there was no warmth in it.

I understood the coming of the Desired One better. He would make restoration complete. He would give us new life. I would again see Zacharias and my John one day. We would be together, and at peace. But first, the Coming One must do His work.

As I bowed my head in submission to the will of the Lord, I was grateful to have a mother’s part in bringing the news to a waiting world. But a mother’s heart is not without pain. I linger, when those I love have gone on. But I look to the Coming One, Who will give, even this old mom, peace. He will bring redemption and make all things right.



Author of Biblical fiction, married to my best friend, and challenged by eight sons’ growing pains as I write about what matters.

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