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Though he may have had a rather common name (there are no less than twelve Zechariahs mentioned in the Bible), this particular Zechariah stood out as father to the forerunner of the Messiah.
Zachariah was the father of John the Baptist. Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, echoed a recurring theme from the Jewish story: barrenness and the accompanying sense of emptiness. In their world, bearing children meant the all-important survival of the family line. Being unable to conceive was taken as the absence of God’s blessing.
However, Zechariah had been blessed in other ways, and there was no question of his integrity. A member of the Levite priestly class, he belonged to one of twenty-four divisions (his was the division of Abijah) that took turns serving in the temple at Jerusalem. According to the Gospel writer Luke, both he and his wife were blameless in God’s sight. Luke wanted to make sure his readers understood that their barren situation was in no way the result of some undisclosed sin.
One day during his service, Zechariah was chosen to burn incense before the Most Holy Place inside the temple. Given the number of priests available for service, it was not an honor that one received very often. For Zechariah, an already unforgettable experience was made even more unusual by the appearance of an angel who announced the impossible: Zechariah and Elizabeth would bear a son. Their son would be subject to a lifetime Nazirite vow, much like Samson, and he would be counted as the greatest of the old prophets ( Matthew 11:7–13).
Zechariah seemed to believe it was too good to be true, despite knowing the stories of Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Hannah. In response to his demand for a sign, the angel gave him one: He would be mute until the child was born. Having gotten the message but being unable to share it with others (see Luke 1:22), Zechariah returned home. Everything happened just as the angel said it would.
Zechariah appeared once more in the story, overruling the custom of naming the firstborn after the father in order to obey the angel’s instructions. The story reveals that the naming of the child, which took place at his circumcision on the eighth day, was apparently a community affair.