In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.
These verses are a contradiction in terms, especially to the Jewish mindset. To be barren, to be childless was seen to be judgement from God. It was the opposite of being blessed; it was being cursed. No doubt there were those who would whisper about Elizabeth and her husband – what was it they had done to warrant such a punishment?
And yet already the statement has been made – that they were, in fact, not unrighteous but righteous. They observed the Lord’s commands blamelessly.
I won’t necessarily choose such small sections every time. But this got me thinking somewhat. Is there a contemporary equivalent to this? Do some, on seeing the suffering or illness or others, think there is some cause behind it?
You must have some secret sin in your life (poke, poke).There has to be a reason you are going through this (poke, poke).Your faith must be somewhat lacking (poke, poke).
It reminds me that Job’s friends were good at poking. God was angry with them because of it (Job 42:7).
Here we see that it is perfectly possible to be good, upright, and without blame – and still suffer. Elizabeth and Zechariah had impressive credentials…both descended from the priestly line (and the mention of Aaron, the first High Priest, always packs a punch), but still things weren’t OK for them!
It frustrates me when some Christians flaunt their ‘prosperity gospel’. God wants to make you happy and healthy and wealthy now! (Jesus said it was pretty tough for the rich to enter the kingdom of God, in fact). The New Testament gives no sign that we are to have it cushy and comfy and full of this world’s wealth. rather we’re told to store up heavenly treasure, not grab at this world’s riches.
The New Testament makes it clear that Christians will not be free from suffering – and are blessed if they suffer for their faith. Suffering is something to be accepted. Actually it’s even more discomforting than that. We should rejoice in it.
No, prosperity teaching holds no water with me. God will bless me with lots of money?? Did our suffering Saviour go through that hideous death to get us the latest fashion? I don’t think this is the gospel. I think it is a distortion of everything Christians are called to be.
I’ve gone off the passage somewhat, but I wanted to follow my thoughts for a while.
NB Someone asked me what translation I’m using. The one you see here is the NIV. But I also use the NRSV regularly. I find it refreshing to read different translations, swapping them round every now and then. It means I don’t become over-familiar, and lose sight of the meaning.