Grit is developed over time. The long-suffering of lifelong barrenness had produced in Elizabeth a peculiar holiness (Luke 1:6, ESV). What was considered a curse on her womanhood and indeed her personhood revealed a depth of purpose that can only be seen by one who presses into, rather than away from, the harsh weathering of suffering.
Elizabeth, Oath of God: an old woman, well beyond child-bearing years. She was a daughter of Aaron, born from priests and married to a priest. Not only familiar with all God required for holiness, but had a front-row seat her entire life to the inner workings of temple life. Her and her husband are acclaimed in their righteousness before God and man.
Have you ever felt a period of silence from the Lord? How about 400 years? God had been so visible and vocal amongst Israel, and then–nothing. God left them with a promise; “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” [Malachi 4:5-6, ESV].
Breathing in the scent of incense, chosen, seemingly at random, Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah, fulfills his priestly duties. As quickly as it had come upon them, the silence is broken, and the angel speaks the same words over a fearful Zechariah.
This old couple will have a child after all of this time. They will raise him up under an oath and he will prepare hearts for promise fulfillment. Zechariah, blameless before God, utters doubt and is reminded that silence does not ever mean God is idle. Voiceless man walks away from Holy conversation, and goes home to a confused, but Godly wife.
To hear life changing news is one thing, but to have it written is another. I imagine her reading those words over and over, tracing each precious etch with wrinkled and calloused hands. God has spoken. He has foretold a child, your child. Our child. Did she sense even then as her curse lifted with the life of this baby, that he was paving the way for a world set free? Did she feel in her aged womb the stretching and heaviness of life ready to be unleashed?
Her husband returns home from worship and she is left to wonder at all that God has called her to. Elizabeth draws herself into seclusion. Many great theological minds have speculated at Elizabeth’s reasoning behind her seclusion. Was she protecting her pregnancy, possibly having faced many miscarriages and not wanting to endure another? Was she afraid to tell people too soon? Or was she considering the most impactful and timely way to reveal such a mighty act of God?
A daughter of Aaron, Elizabeth would have been very knowledgeable of the ways of the priesthood. Seclusion was not something she would have done out of fear or doubt, but as a rhythm of holiness. In my understanding of the priesthood, seclusion was used in two ways: for those unclean to separate from society in pursuit of healing, cleansing, repentance–to return to the community whole and clean; and for newly dedicated priests to spend a short time separated before starting their service.
Elizabeth would see her isolation through the lens of God’s calling. “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people” [Luke 1:25, ESV]. You see, she had spent a lifetime in the depths. She was considered blameless before God, but the whispers of her barrenness haunted her. Failure shadowed her even as her strength of character shone with righteousness. Now God has removed her shame! Human instinct (maybe I speak only for myself) would be to rub it in her accusers faces, take her newly formed bump and show those young women how wrong they were about her.
Instead she hides herself. Strong’s Lexicon defines it: “to conceal on all sides or entirely, to hide, seclude” [Strong’s G4032]. Elizabeth tucks herself fully into the One whose glory she seeks. She recognizes that he has not only rescued her and blessed her, but her seclusion from society never separated her from the love of the God who has seen her all of her days. Her grit is a beacon for Israel, a light that says, “All glory be to God! Whose silence made us seek and whose promise was never far off even in our darkness.”
Mary’s arrival brings Elizabeth’s isolation to an end. This moment is almost too much for my heart to relay. John quickens in Elizabeth’s belly and she knows God’s perfect plan (God’s spirit quickens within her even as her preborn son does!) To have been Mary, meeting Elizabeth with news that was so absurd and mysterious, probably grasping for the right words to share a secret so great. To walk into the room of this godly older woman and to share such an intimate moment!
THE SILENCE IS BROKEN! Darkness is lifted!!!
Elizabeth, aged, pregnant, woman of grit and glory rises to meet the woman carrying the joy of the world. Elizabeth is a woman undone, not before man, but before a holy God. Grit for this mother-to-be lies in her ability to wait; and when the waiting is over, to glory only in the God who has graciously kept her waiting.
Featured image by Cristian Newman on Unsplash