Like Moses, Elizabeth was a Levite descendant. Elderly and pregnant with John the Baptist, her son was the forerunner to the Savior. Esau McCaulley’s Reading While Black* highlights the significance of God’s choice of Elizabeth to bear a son who would announce the coming Messiah. Elizabeth represented both communal and personal suffering, which God would begin to address in the birth of her son. Like all her people, she lived under the oppressive rule of the Romans, but as a Levite, the worship of her tribe reminded the people of God’s character in saving the Hebrews from slavery. As a barren woman, Elizabeth did not have the joy or reassurance of children to care for her in her old age or to carry on their family name. Scripture is laden with descriptions of the social stigma and pain associated with barren women. God interceded in this situation with a son in her old age, healing her personal suffering. But this son also addressed the communal need for a liberating God, symbolized in John the Baptist residing in the desert like Moses. God chose Elizabeth to honor God’s liberation of the Levites while also demonstrating his personal concern for the suffering of individuals.
Beyond the symbolic choice of Elizabeth, Luke contrasts her reaction to conceiving a child to that of her husband Zechariah. God struck Zechariah mute because of his doubt in God’s word, whereas the Holy Spirit filled Elizabeth with the gift of prophecy to speak of the Lord. When Mary came to visit, Elizabeth identified her as the mother of her Lord. She too, was the one to declare the name of her own son, John. Zechariah’s speech only returned when he agreed with her.
Elizabeth begins the cluster of New Testament women prophets who informed the people of Jesus’ coming significance. She was the first to identify the Lord. In Elizabeth’s presence, Mary prophesied what has been called the Magnifcat, revealing that Jesus’ coming will overturn the powerful to raise the weak. And when the infant Jesus entered the temple with his mother, Mary, and Joseph, Anna recognized Jesus and with her gift of prophecy she taught the people who were assembled.
To see more on God’s empowerment of women at critical times, read: “At Critical Moments,” by Kristina LaCelle-Peterson, August 10, 2011.
*As an Amazon Associate CBE earns from qualifying purchases