Abraham’s and Sarah’s early responses to God’s pledge that they would have a son and become a great nation were something less than faith-filled. Abraham, for example, pointed out to God that in his currently childless family, one of his servants stood to inherit everything (Gen. 15:1–3). And Sarah is famous for laughing to herself at such an absurd promise: “After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?” (Gen. 18:10–14).
Zechariah was a priest, so one might think he would have trusted and rejoiced in the angel’s message. Instead, like Abraham and Sarah and so many other believers throughout history, his response was less than exemplary. “How can I be sure of this?” he asked, then informed the angel of the obvious fact that he and his wife were elderly (v. 18). He gave no indication he had heard the prophecies about spiritual greatness and Elijah.
Gabriel did not argue, offer proofs, or even restate the promises, but rather responded with a simple statement of his identity and mission: “I stand in the presence of God” (v. 19). Gabriel was rebuking Zechariah, saying, how could you possibly doubt my message, given who I serve? This statement was the ultimate guarantee that the news was trustworthy.
This implied rebuke was swiftly made explicit: because of Zechariah’s lack of faith, he would not be able to speak until the angel’s words came to pass (v. 20).
Though the people waiting outside showed no special interest in the content of Zechariah’s vision, he must have been able to share the news with Elizabeth, perhaps through gestures and writing. She responded with praise and faith (v. 25), unlike her husband.
As we shake our heads at Zechariah’s shortsightedness, we should probably shake our heads at our own lack of faith as well. We would do even better to follow the exhortation in today’s verse: “Be merciful to those who doubt” (Jude 22).