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The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
FROM THE MANGER IN BETHLEHEM TO THE BAPTISM IN
THE ANNUNCIATION OF ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST
(St. Luke 1:5-25.)
It was the time of the Morning Sacrifice.1
As the massive Temple gates slowly swung on their hinges, a three-fold blast
from the silver trumpets of the Priests seemed to waken the City, as with the
Voice of God, to the life of another day. As its echoes came in the still air
across the cleft of the Tyropon, up the slopes of the Upper City, down the
busy quarters below, or away to the new suburb beyond, they must, if but for a
moment, have brought holier thoughts to all. For, did it not seem to link the
present to the past and the future, as with the golden chain of promises that
bound the Holy City to the Jerusalem that was above, which in type had already,
and in reality would soon descend from heaven? Patriot, saint, or stranger, he
could not have heard it unmoved, as thrice the summons from within the
Temple-gates rose and fell.
presume, that the ministration of Zacharias (St. Luke i. 9) took place in the
morning, as the principal service. But Meyer (Komm. i. 2, p. 242) is
mistaken in supposing, that this follows from the reference to the lot. It is,
indeed, true that, of the four lots for the priestly functions, three took
place only in the morning. But that for incensing was repeated in the evening
(Yoma 26 a). Even Bishop Haneberg (Die Relig. Alterth. p. 609) is
not accurate in this respect.
It had not come too soon. The Levites on ministry, and those of
the laity, whose 'course' it was to act as the representatives of Israel,
whether in Palestine or far away, in a sacrifice provided by, and offered for,
all Israel, hastened to their duties.2
For already the blush of dawn, for which the Priest on the highest pinnacle of
the Temple had watched, to give the signal for beginning the services of the
day, had shot its brightness far away to Hebron and beyond. Within the Courts
below all had long been busy. At some time previously, unknown to those who
waited for the morning - whether at cockcrowing, or a little earlier or later,3
the superintending Priest had summoned to their sacred functions those who had
'washed,' according to the ordinance. There must have been each day about fifty
priests on duty.4
Such of them as were ready now divided into two parties, to make inspection of
the Temple courts by torchlight. Presently they met, and trooped to the
well-known Hall of Hewn Polished Stones,5
where formerly the Sanhedrin had been wont to sit. The ministry for the day was
there apportioned. To prevent the disputes of carnal zeal, the 'lot' was to
assign to each his function. Four times was it resorted to: twice before, and
twice after the Temple-gates were opened. The first act of their ministry had
to be done in the grey dawn, by the fitful red light that glowed on the altar
of burnt offering, ere the priests had stirred it into fresh flame. It was
scarcely daybreak, when a second time they met for the 'lot,' which designated
those who were to take part in the sacrifice itself, and who were to trim the
golden candlestick, and make ready the altar of incense within the Holy Place.
And now morn had broken, and nothing remained before the admission of
worshippers but to bring out the lamb, once again to make sure of its fitness
for sacrifice, to water it from a golden bowl, and then to lay it in mystic
fashion - as tradition described the binding of Isaac - on the north side of
the altar, with its face to the west.
2. For a description of the details of that service, see 'The Temple and its Services,' &c.
3. Tamid i. 2.
we reckon the total number in the twenty-four courses of, presumably, the
officiating priesthood, at 20,000, according to Josephus (Ag. Ap. ii. 8), which
is very much below the exaggerated Talmudic computation of 85,000 for the
smallest course (Jer. Taan. 69 a), and suppose, that little more than one-third
of each course had come up for duty, this would give fifty priests for each
week-day, while on the Sabbath the whole course would be on duty. This is, of
course, considerably more than the number requisite, since, except for the
incensing priest, the lot for the morning also held good for the evening
5. Yoma 25 a.
All, priests and laity, were present as the Priest, standing on
the east side of the altar, from a golden bowl sprinkled with sacrificial blood
two sides of the altar, below the red line which marked the difference between
ordinary sacrifices and those that were to be wholly consumed. While the
sacrifice was prepared for the altar, the priests, whose lot it was, had made
ready all within the Holy Place, where the most solemn part of the day's
service was to take place - that of offering the incense, which symbolised
Israel's accepted prayers. Again was the lot (the third) cast to indicate him,
who was to be honoured with this highest mediatorial act. Only once in a
lifetime might any one enjoy that privilege.6
Henceforth he was called 'rich,'7
and must leave to his brethren the hope of the distinction which had been
granted him. It was fitting that, as the custom was, such lot should be
preceded by prayer and confession of their faith8
on the part of the assembled priests.
6. Tamid v. 2.
26 a. The designation 'rich' is derived from the promise which, in Deut.
xxxiii. 11, follows on the service referred to in verse 10. But probably a
spiritual application was also intended.
so-called Shema, consisting of Deut. vi. 4-9; xi. 13-21; Num. xv. 37-41.
It was the first week in October 748 a.u.c.,9
that is, in the sixth year before our present era, when 'the course of Abia'10
- the eighth in the original arrangement of the weekly service - was on duty in
the Temple. True this, as indeed most of the twenty-four 'courses' into which
the Priesthood had been arranged, could not claim identity, only continuity,
with those whose names they bore. For only three, or at most four, of the
ancient 'courses' had returned from Babylon. But the original arrangement had
been preserved, the names of the missing courses being retained, and their
number filled up by lot from among those who had come back to Palestine. In our
ignorance of the number of 'houses of their father,' or 'families,' which
constituted the 'course of Abia,' it is impossible to determine, how the
services of that week had been apportioned among them. But this is of
comparatively small importance, since there is no doubt about the central
figure in the scene.
question of this date is, of course, intimately connected with that of the
Nativity of Christ, and could therefore not be treated in the text. It is
discussed in Appendix VII.: 'On the Date of the Nativity of our Lord.'
was the eighth course in the original arrangement (1 Chr. xxiv. 10).
In the group ranged that autumn morning around the
superintending Priest was one, on whom the snows of at least sixty winters had
fallen.11 But never
during these many years had he been honoured with the office of incensing - and
it was perhaps well he should have learned, that this distinction came direct
from God. Yet the venerable figure of Zacharias must have been well known in
the Temple. For, each course was twice a year on ministry, and, unlike the
Levites, the priests were not disqualified by age, but only by infirmity. In
many respects he seemed different from those around. His home was not in either
of the great priest-centres - the Ophel-quarter in Jerusalem, nor in Jericho12
- but in some small town in those uplands, south of Jerusalem: the historic
'hill-country of Judea.' And yet he might have claimed distinction. To be a
priest, and married to the daughter of a priest, was supposed to convey twofold
honour.13 That he
was surrounded by relatives and friends, and that he was well known and
respected throughout his district, appears incidentally from the narrative.14
It would, indeed, have been strange had it been otherwise. There was much in
the popular habits of thought, as well as in the office and privileges of the
Priesthood, if worthily represented, to invest it with a veneration which the
aggressive claims of Rabbinism could not wholly monopolise. And in this
instance Zacharias and Elisabeth, his wife, were truly 'righteous,'15
in the sense of walking, so far as man could judge, 'blamelessly,' alike in
those commandments which were specially binding on Israel, and in those
statutes that were of universal bearing on mankind.16
No doubt their piety assumed in some measure the form of the time, being, if we
must use the expression, Pharisaic, though in the good, not the evil sense of
to St. Luke i. 7, they were both 'well stricken in years.' But from Aboth v. 21
we learn, that sixty years was considered 'the commencement of agedness.'
to tradition, about one-fourth of the priesthood was resident in Jericho. But,
even limiting this to those who were in the habit of officiating, the statement
seems greatly exaggerated.
Ber. 44 a; Pes. 49 a; Vayyikra R. 4.
14. Luke i. 58, 59, 61, 65, 66.
15. dikaioV - of course not in the strict sense in which the word is
sometimes used, especially by St. Paul, but as pius et bonus. See Vorstius
(De Hebraism. N.T. pp. 55 &c.). As the account of the Evangelist seems
derived from an original Hebrew source, the word must have corresponded to that
of Tsaddiq in the then popular signification.
16. entolai and dikaiwmata evidently mark an essential division of the
Law at the time. But it is almost impossible to determine their exact Hebrew
equivalents. The LXX. render by these two terms not always the same Hebrew
words. Comp. Gen. xxvi. 5 with Deut. iv. 40. They cannot refer to the division
of the law into affirmative (248) and prohibitive (365) commandments.
There is much about those earlier Rabbis - Hillel, Gamaliel,
and others - to attract us, and their spirit ofttimes sharply contrasts with
the narrow bigotry, the self-glory, and the unspiritual externalism of their
successors. We may not unreasonably infer, that the Tsaddiq in the quiet
home of the hill-country was quite other than the self-asserting Rabbi, whose
dress and gait, voice and manner, words and even prayers, were those of the
religious parvenu, pushing his claims to distinction before angels and
men. Such a household as that of Zacharias and Elisabeth would have all that
was beautiful in the religion of the time: devotion towards God; a home of
affection and purity; reverence towards all that was sacred in things Divine
and human; ungrudging, self-denying, loving charity to the poor; the tenderest
regard for the feelings of others, so as not to raise a blush, nor to wound
their hearts;17 above all,
intense faith and hope in the higher and better future of Israel. Of such,
indeed, there must have been not a few in the land - the quiet, the prayerful,
the pious, who, though certainly not Sadducees nor Essenes, but reckoned with
the Pharisaic party, waited for the consolation of Israel, and received it with
joy when manifested. Nor could aught more certainly have marked the difference
between the one and the other section than on a matter, which must almost
daily, and most painfully have forced itself on Zacharias and Elisabeth. There
were among the Rabbis those who, remembering the words of the prophet,18
spoke in most pathetic language of the wrong of parting from the wife of youth,19
and there were those to whom the bare fact of childlessness rendered separation
a religious duty.20
Elisabeth was childless. For many a year this must have been the burden of
Zacharias' prayer; the burden also of reproach, which Elisabeth seemed always
to carry with her. They had waited together these many years, till in the
evening of life the flower of hope had closed its fragrant cup; and still the
two sat together in the twilight, content to wait in loneliness, till night
would close around them.
is, perhaps, no point on which the Rabbinic Law is more explicit or stringent
than on that of tenderest regard for the feelings of others, especially of the poor.
18. Mal. ii. 13-16.
19. Gitt. 90 b.
20. Yeb. 64 a.
But on that bright autumn morning in the Temple no such
thoughts would come to Zacharias. For the first, and for the last time in life
the lot had marked him for incensing, and every thought must have centred on
what was before him. Even outwardly, all attention would be requisite for the
proper performance of his office. First, he had to choose two of his special
friends or relatives, to assist in his sacred service. Their duties were
comparatively simple. One reverently removed what had been left on the altar
from the previous evening's service; then, worshipping, retired backwards. The
second assistant now advanced, and, having spread to the utmost verge of the
golden altar the live coals taken from that of burnt-offering, worshipped and
retired. Meanwhile the sound of the 'organ' (the Magrephah), heard to the most
distant parts of the Temple, and, according to tradition, far beyond its
precincts, had summoned priests, Levites, and people to prepare for whatever
service or duty was before them. For, this was the innermost part of the
worship of the day. But the celebrant Priest, bearing the golden censer, stood
alone within the Holy Place, lit by the sheen of the seven-branched candlestick.
Before him - somewhat farther away, towards the heavy Veil that hung before the
Holy of Holies, was the golden altar of incense, on which the red coals glowed.
To his right (the left of the altar - that is, on the north side) was the table
of shewbread; to his left, on the right or south side of the altar, was the
golden candlestick. And still he waited, as instructed to do, till a special
signal indicated, that the moment had come to spread the incense on the altar,
as near as possible to the Holy of Holies. Priests and people had reverently
withdrawn from the neighbourhood of the altar, and were prostrate before the
Lord, offering unspoken worship, in which record of past deliverance, longing
for mercies promised in the future, and entreaty for present blessing and
peace,21 seemed the
ingredients of the incense, that rose in a fragrant cloud of praise and prayer.
Deep silence had fallen on the worshippers, as if they watched to heaven the
prayers of Israel, ascending in the cloud of 'odours' that rose from the golden
altar in the Holy Place.22
Zacharias waited, until he saw the incense kindling. Then he also would have
'bowed down in worship,' and reverently withdrawn,23
had not a wondrous sight arrested his steps.
the prayers offered by the people during the incensing, see 'The Temple,' pp. 139, 140.
22. Rev. v. 8; viii. 1, 3, 4.
23. Tamid vi. 3.
On the right (or south) side of the altar, between it and the
golden candlestick, stood what he could not but recognise as an Angelic form.24
Never, indeed, had even tradition reported such a vision to an ordinary Priest
in the act of incensing. The two super-natural apparitions recorded - one of an
Angel each year of the Pontificate of Simon the Just; the other in that
blasphemous account of the vision of the Almighty by Ishmael, the son of
Elisha, and of the conversation which then ensued2526
- had both been vouchsafed to High-Priests, and on the Day of Atonement. Still,
there was always uneasiness among the people as any mortal approached the
immediate Presence of God, and every delay in his return seemed ominous.27
No wonder, then, that Zacharias 'was troubled, and fear fell on him,' as of a sudden
- probably just after he had spread the incense on the altar, and was about to
offer his parting prayer - he beheld what afterwards he knew to be the Angel
Gabriel ('the might of God'). Apart from higher considerations, there could
perhaps be no better evidence of the truth of this narrative than its accord
with psychological facts. An Apocryphal narrative would probably have painted
the scene in agreement with what, in the view of such a writer, should have
been the feelings of Zacharias, and the language of the Angel.28
The Angel would have commenced by referring to Zacharias' prayers for the
coming of a Messiah, and Zacharias would have been represented in a highly
enthusiastic state. Instead of the strangely prosaic objection which he offered
to the Angelic announcement, there would have been a burst of spiritual
sentiment, or what passed for such. But all this would have been
psychologically untrue. There are moments of moral faintness, so to speak,
when the vital powers of the spiritual heart are depressed, and, as in the case
of the Disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration and in the Garden of
Gethsemane, the physical part of our being and all that is weakest in us assert
following extract from Yalkut (vol. i. p. 113 d, close) affords a curious
illustration of this Divine communication from beside the altar of incense:
'From what place did the Shekhinah speak to Moses? R. Nathan said: From the
altar of incense, according to Ex. xxx. 6. Simeon ben Asai said: From the side
of the altar of incense.'
25. Ber. 7 a.
to the Talmud, Ishmael once went into the innermost Sanctuary, when he had a
vision of God, Who called upon the priest to pronounce a benediction. The token
of God's acceptance had better not be quoted.
27. Jer. Yoma 42 c.
28. Instances of an analogous kind frequently occur in the Apocryphal Gospels.
It was true to this state of semi-consciousness, that the Angel
first awakened within Zacharias the remembrance of life-long prayers and hopes,
which had now passed into the background of his being, and then suddenly
startled him by the promise of their realisation. But that Child of so many
prayers, who was to bear the significant name of John (Jehochanan, or
Jochanan), 'the Lord is gracious,' was to be the source of joy and gladness to
a far wider circle than that of the family. This might be called the first rung
of the ladder by which the Angel would take the priest upwards. Nor was even
this followed by an immediate disclosure of what, in such a place, and from
such a messenger, must have carried to a believing heart the thrill of almost
unspeakable emotion. Rather was Zacharias led upwards, step by step. The Child
was to be great before the Lord; not only an ordinary, but a life-Nazarite,29
as Samson and Samuel of old had been. Like them, he was not to consecrate
himself, but from the inception of life wholly to belong to God, for His work.
And, greater than either of these representatives of the symbolical import of
Nazarism, he would combine the twofold meaning of their mission - outward and
inward might in God, only in a higher and more spiritual sense. For this
life-work he would be filled with the Holy Ghost, from the moment life woke
within him. Then, as another Samson, would he, in the strength of God, lift the
axe to each tree to be felled, and, like another Samuel, turn many of the
children of Israel to the Lord their God. Nay, combining these two missions, as
did Elijah on Mount Carmel, he should, in accordance with prophecy,30
precede the Messianic manifestation, and, not indeed in the person or form, but
in the spirit and power of Elijah, accomplish the typical meaning of his
mission, as on that day of decision it had risen as the burden of his prayer31
- that is, in the words of prophecy,32
'turn the heart of the fathers to the children,' which, in view of the coming
dispensation, would be 'the disobedient (to walk) in the wisdom of the
just.'33 Thus would
this new Elijah 'make ready for the Lord a people prepared.'
29. On the different classes of Nazarites, see 'The Temple, &c.,' pp. 322-331.
30. Mal. iii. 1.
31. 1 Kings xviii. 37.
32. Mal. iv. 5, 6.
33. St. Luke i. 17; comp. St. Matt. xi. 19.
If the apparition of the Angel, in that place, and at that
time, had overwhelmed the aged priest, the words which he heard must have
filled him with such bewilderment, that for the moment he scarcely realised
their meaning. One idea alone, which had struck its roots so long in his
consciousness, stood out: A son - while, as it were in the dim distance beyond,
stretched, as covered with a mist of glory, all those marvellous things that
were to be connected with him. So, when age or strong feeling renders us almost
insensible to the present, it is ever that which connects itself with the past,
rather than with the present, which emerges first and strongest in our
consciousness. And so it was the obvious doubt, that would suggest itself,
which fell from his lips - almost unconscious of what he said. Yet there was in
his words an element of faith also, or at least of hope, as he asked for some
pledge or confirmation of what he had heard.
It is this demand of some visible sign, by which to 'know' all
that the Angel had promised, which distinguishes the doubt of Zacharias from
that of Abraham,34
or of Manoah and his wife,35
under somewhat similar circumstances - although, otherwise also, even a cursory
reading must convey the impression of most marked differences. Nor ought we
perhaps to forget, that we are on the threshold of a dispensation, to which
faith is the only entrance. This door Zacharias was now to hold ajar, a dumb
messenger. He that would not speak the praises of God, but asked a sign,
received it. His dumbness was a sign - though the sign, as it were the dumb
child of the prayer of unbelief, was its punishment also. And yet, when rightly
applied, a sign in another sense also - a sign to the waiting multitude in the
Temple; a sign to Elisabeth; to all who knew Zacharias in the hill-country; and
to the priest himself, during those nine months of retirement and inward
solitude; a sign also that would kindle into flame in the day when God would
loosen his tongue.
34. Gen. xvii. 17, 18.
35. Judg. xiii 2-21.
A period of unusual length had passed, since the signal for
incensing had been given. The prayers of the people had been offered, and their
anxious gaze was directed towards the Holy Place. At last Zacharias emerged to
take his stand on the top of the steps which led from the Porch to the Court of
the Priests, waiting to lead in the priestly benediction,36
that preceded the daily meat-offering and the chant of the Psalms of praise,
accompanied with joyous sound of music, as the drink-offering was poured out.
But already the sign of Zacharias was to be a sign to all the people. The
pieces of the sacrifices had been ranged in due order on the altar of
burnt-offering; the priests stood on the steps to the porch, and the people
were in waiting. Zacharias essayed to speak the words of benediction,
unconscious that the stoke had fallen. But the people knew it by his silence,
that he had seen a vision in the Temple. Yet as he stood helpless, trying by
signs to indicate it to the awestruck assembly, he remained dumb.
36. Numb. vi. 24-26.
Wondering, they had dispersed - people and priests. The day's
service over, another family of ministrants took the place of those among whom
Zacharias had been; and again, at the close of the week's service, another
'course' that of Abia. They returned to their homes - some to Ophel, some to
Jericho, some to their quiet dwellings in the country. But God fulfilled the
word which He had spoken by His Angel.
Before leaving this subject, it may be well to inquire into the
relation between the events just described, and the customs and expectations of
the time. The scene in the Temple, and all the surroundings, are in strictest
accordance with what we know of the services of the Sanctuary. In a narrative
that lays hold on some details of a very complex service, such entire accuracy
conveys the impression of general truthfulness. Similarly, the sketch of
Zacharias and Elisabeth is true to the history of the time - though Zacharias
could not have been one of the 'learned,' nor to the Rabbinists, a model priest.
They would have described him as an 'idiot,'37
or common, and as an Amha-arets, a 'rustic' priest, and treated him with
The Angelic apparition, which he saw, was wholly unprecedented, and could
therefore not have lain within range of common expectation; though the
possibility, or rather the fear, of some contact with the Divine was always
present to the popular mind. But it is difficult to conceive how, if not true,
the invention of such a vision in such circumstances could have suggested
itself. This difficulty is enhanced by the obvious difference between the
Evangelic narrative, and the popular ideas of the time. Far too much importance
has here been attached by a certain class of writers to a Rabbinic saying,39
that the names of the Angels were brought from Babylon. For, not only was this
saying (of Ben Lakish) only a clever Scriptural deduction (as the context
shows), and not even an actual tradition, but no competent critic would venture
to lay down the principle, that isolated Rabbinic sayings in the Talmud are to
be regarded as sufficient foundation for historical facts. On the other hand,
Rabbinic tradition does lay it down, that the names of the Angels were derived
from their mission, and might be changed with it. Thus the reply of the Angel
to the inquiry of Manoah40
is explained as implying, that he knew not what other name might be given him
in the future. In the Book of Daniel, to which the son of Lakish refers, the
only two Angelic names mentioned are Gabriel41
and Michael,42 while the
appeal to the Book of Daniel, as evidence of the Babylonish origin of Jewish
Angelology, comes with strange inconsistency from writers who date it in
But the question of Angelic nomenclature is quite secondary. The real point at
issue is, whether or not the Angelology and Demonology of the New Testament was
derived from contemporary Judaism. The opinion, that such was the case, has
been so dogmatically asserted, as to have almost passed among a certain class
as a settled fact. That nevertheless such was not the case, is capable
of the most ample proof. Here also, with similarity of form, slighter than
usually, there is absolutely contrast of substance.44
word +wyrh or 'idiot,' when conjoined with 'priest' ordinarily means a
common priest, in distinction to the High priest. But the word unquestionably
also signifies vulgar, ignorant, and illiterate. See Jer. Sot. 21 b,
line 3 from bottom; Sanh. 21 b. Comp. also Meg. 12 b; Ber. R. 96.
to Sanh. 90 b, such an one was not even allowed to get the Terumah.
39. Jer. haSh. 56 d, line 10 from bottom.
40. Judg. xiii. 18.
41. Dan. ix. 21.
42. x. 21.
43. Two other Angels are mentioned, but not named, in Dan. x. 13, 20.
44. The Jewish ideas and teaching about angels are fully given in Appendix XIII.: 'Jewish Angelology and Demonology.'
Admitting that the names of Gabriel and Michael must have been
familiar to the mind of Zacharias, some not unimportant differences must be
kept in view. Thus, Gabriel was regarded in tradition as inferior to Michael;
and, though both were connected with Israel, Gabriel was represented as chiefly
the minister of justice, and Michael of mercy; while, thirdly, Gabriel was
supposed to stand on the left, and not (as in the Evangelic narrative) on the
right, side of the throne of glory. Small as these divergences may seem, they
are all important, when derivation of one set of opinions from another is in
question. Finally, as regarded the coming of Elijah as forerunner of the
Messiah, it is to be observed that, according to Jewish notions, he was to
appear personally, and not merely 'in spirit and power.' In fact,
tradition represents his ministry and appearances as almost continuous - not
only immediately before the coming of Messiah, but at all times. Rabbinic
writings introduce him on the scene, not only frequently, but on the most
incongruous occasions, and for the most diverse purposes. In this sense it is
said of him, that he always liveth.45
Sometimes, indeed, he is blamed, as for the closing words in his prayer about
the turning of the heart of the people,46
and even his sacrifice on Carmel was only excused on the ground of express command.47
But his great activity as precursor of the Messiah is to resolve doubts of all
kinds; to reintroduce those who had been violently and improperly extruded from
the congregation of Israel, and vice-versa; to make peace; while, finally, he
was connected with the raising of the dead.4849
But nowhere is he prominently designated as intended 'to make ready for the
Lord a people prepared.'50
45. Moed k. 26 a.
Kings xviii. 37 (in Hebr. without 'that' and 'again'); see Ber. 31 b, last two lines.
47. Bemidbar R. 14. Another view in Par. 13.
48. This in Shir haSh R. i. ed. Warshau, p. 3 a.
49. All the Rabbinic traditions about 'Elijah as the Forerunner of the Messiah' are collated in
50. I should, however, remark, that that very curious chapter on Repentance, in the
Pirké de R. Elieser (c. 43), closes with these words: 'And Israel will not make great repentance till Elijah - his memory for blessing! - come, as it is said, Mal. iv. 6,' &c. From this isolated and enigmatic sentence, Professor Delitzsch's
implied inference (Zeitschr. fur Luther. Theol. 1875, p. 593) seems too
Thus, from whatever source the narrative may be supposed to
have been derived, its details certainly differ, in almost all particulars,
from the theological notions current at the time. And the more Zacharias
meditated on this in the long solitude of his enforced silence, the more fully
must new spiritual thoughts have come to him. As for Elisabeth, those tender
feelings of woman, which ever shrink from the disclosure of the dearest secret
of motherhood, were intensely deepened and sanctified in the knowledge of all
that had passed. Little as she might understand the full meaning of the future,
it must have been to her, as if she also now stood in the Holy Place, gazing
towards the Veil which concealed the innermost Presence. Meantime she was
content with, nay, felt the need of, absolute retirement from other fellowship
than that of God and her own heart. Like her husband, she too would be silent
and alone - till another voice called her forth. Whatever the future might
bring, sufficient for the present, that thus the Lord had done to her, in days
in which He looked down to remove her reproach among men. The removal of that
burden, its manner, its meaning, its end, were all from God, and with God; and
it was fitting to be quite alone and silent, till God's voice would again wake
the echoes within. And so five months passed in absolute retirement.
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