Elizabeth: Disgraced No Longer

Posted on January 20, 2019

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By David Ettinger

Read her account in Luke 1:5-23.

A Wonderful Woman of God
It’s almost impossible to read the short account of Elizabeth and not get the impression that she was among Israel’s finest women. In describing Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah, Luke writes, “Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly” (Luke 1:6).

elizabeth
Marina Berti as Elizabeth in “Jesus of Nazareth”

These are not just careless platitudes being slung around without thought. They are the words of highest praise placed into Luke’s consciousness by the Holy Spirit. To get an idea how highly regarded Elizabeth was, just consider how difficult it is to observe all the Lord’s commands and follow them blamelessly. Elizabeth was not a woman to whom much fault could be attributed.

And yet, she condemns herself with her own words. After becoming pregnant in her old age following years of heartbreaking barrenness, she says, “The Lord has done this for me. In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people” (Luke 1:25).

Cultural Misconceptions
Disgrace? Elizabeth? The two words don’t jibe. It’s true that Elizabeth couldn’t bear children most of her life, but did that make her a disgrace? Did her family and neighbors regard her as such? Chances are they highly respected and honored her.

However, regarding the issue of children, they no doubt wondered about the reason for Elizabeth’s inability to bear. In those days, physical considerations generally weren’t regarded. In the minds of Israelite society, no children meant God’s punishment. Someone in the family, the general thinking went, must have done something very bad to incur God’s wrath. This “something very bad” was the reason, the people concluded, why Elizabeth could not have children.

But did this make Elizabeth a disgrace? Why such self-condemnation?

Perhaps a clue to Elizabeth’s mindset lies in a rather enigmatic phrase found in the book of Daniel. In foretelling the future Antichrist, the prophet writes, “He will show no regard for the gods of his ancestors or for the one desired by women, nor will he regard any god, but will exalt himself above them all” (Daniel 11:37).

It’s the phrase “the one desired by women” we want to look at.

book of luke

The ‘Desired’ One
Who is this one desired by Israelite women?

This phrase has no negative implication whatsoever. The “desired” one is not some impossibly handsome man women must have. Instead, “the one desired of women” takes us all the way back to the Garden of Eden. Following the fall of Adam and Eve, God tells Eve: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15).

For centuries, Hebrew people knew for certain that this “offspring” of the woman was the promised Messiah of Israel. Israel’s Messiah would one day come into the world through childbirth, and one fortunate, chosen and blessed Israelite woman would be the one to bear Him.

When Jewish daughters reached an age of understanding, their mothers would drill into their heads the possibility that one day they could be the mother of Israel’s Messiah. “Perhaps, my daughter,” a hopeful mother would say, “you will be the blessed one to bear the Hope of Israel.”

This is “the one desired of woman” referred to by Daniel. Young Jewish girls grew up with the anticipation that they would bear Israel’s Messiah. So long as they were physically productive, Hebrew women lived with the promise that every pregnancy could result in the birth of the Messiah.

Barrenness, however, destroyed that hope. It was a tragic proclamation, of sorts, that blared to all of Israel: “This woman will not be giving Israel its Messiah. The Lord has closed her womb and has denied her the privilege of this singular blessing.”

God’s Grace
Elizabeth was barren, pronounced unfit to bear the Messiah (to the people’s way of thinking), hence her self-perception of hopelessness and disgrace.

God, however, in His love and grace never viewed Elizabeth this way. He loved her and rewarded her for her long years of faithfulness. No, her child would not be the Messiah, but he would be the next best thing: the forerunner of Israel’s Promised One (Luke 1:76-79). What an incredible honor for an Israelite woman!

Elizabeth a disgrace? Not on your life!