God chose Abraham and his nephew entered into his blessings merely by accompanying him everywhere. Lot’s separation from his uncle under the urging of his shepherds drove him out of that blessed zone, into partnership with sin, leading him to lose out on all that he had. God desires to keep us in a blessed state of abundance but we miss out on that due to our own sinful deeds, for we stray away from under His Divine presence. God is under no obligation to anyone to choose him/her and place them in a special category of empowered ones.
Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth are chosen – The qualifying reasons for Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth were, first, their being from the priestly class of Abijah and Aaron (Luke 1:5-6). Second, righteousness before God and finally they ‘walked in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord’. Elizabeth was from the priestly line of Aaron and both were found most suited for being chosen for being parents of John the Baptist because of this.
As per the procedures established by King David for the priests to serve in the Temple of God in Jerusalem, lot was cast to select the priest to offer incense in the Holy place before the LORD. This was a once in a lifetime blessing, for someone may never get a chance to do this ever. Zacharias’ wife Elizabeth was barren and they were both ‘well advanced in years’ almost in a state of having given up any hope of having a child. God chooses people and gives them a place in history, His story, by blessing them beyond imagination. John the Baptist was a herald announcing the coming of the Messiah and the other task for him was to prepare the Lamb of God for His ministry. The priest checked and certified the acceptable condition of the animals brought for sacrifice to the LORD. Also it was the priest who would then prepare the sacrifice by laying on of hands and transfer of sins on to the animal.
Even after Elizabeth conceived ‘she hid herself five months’ saying that the LORD has ‘looked on me to take away my reproach among people’ (Luke 1:24). This is the time when pregnancy is least noticeable and she did not try to hide that but to spend time with the LORD and to meditate on the destiny of her child. ‘Death and life are in the power of the tongue’ (Proverbs 18:21) and Elizabeth probably also did not want to allow others who would visit to congratulate on her state to say anything that was not in line with God’s word and plan. Angel Gabriel told Zacharias about a son being born to him but he said to the angel, ‘How shall I know this? For I am an old man and my wife is well advanced in years’ (Luke 1:18-20). Zacharias’ attitude was probably to protect himself from disappointment for he looked at his situation first and then on what God is able to do. The angel of the LORD identifies himself as ‘Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God’ to let Zacharias know the authority that was behind the proclamation of the ‘good news’ to him. John the Baptist must fulfill the prophecy regarding the Messiah by being herald, announcing His arrival.
Zacharias was made mute to firstly, stop him from saying something contrary to God’s plan, though he could not stop the promise. Second, he lost his ability to enjoy the promise for the punishment was that he could not declare the blessing to others and he could not even pronounce the benedictory blessings of Numbers 6:24-26 to the people waiting outside who would respond, ‘Blessed be the LORD God, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting’.
The difference in faith and its result is seen differently in both husband and wife. Angel Gabriel told Zacharias that he will be ‘mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words’. There is a warning for teachers, ‘that we shall receive a stricter judgment’ (James 3:1). Zacharias was a priest but on that particular day he represented whole of Israel and others before God to offer incense on everyone’s behalf. If their representative faltered in his faith how could they be expected to be strong in faith? His wife on the other hand, separated herself to be with the LORD God for five months.
When Mary entered their house and greeted Elizabeth, not only John the Baptist ‘leaped in his mother’s womb’ in joy but ‘Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit’ (Luke 1:41-45). She immediately spoke with a loud voice to Mary, ‘Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb. By why is this granted to me, that the mother of My Lord should come to me?…. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord’. She regarded the highly blessed state of Mary and her own lowly position and in the power of revelation from the Holy Spirit could understand the fulfillment of long wait for the Messiah. Zacharias could speak immediately after his son’s name as John was written by him on a tablet on the eighth day as was the custom (Luke 1:63-64).
Difference between walking before God and standing in His presence- Elijah told king Ahab of Israel, ‘As the LORD God of Israel lives, before whom I stand’ and then declared that there will be no ‘dew nor rain for three years, except at my word’ (1 Kings 17:1). Angel of the LORD after declaring to Zacharias about a son being born to them ‘who will be great in the sight of the LORD’, revealed his identity as ‘Gabriel who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings’ (Luke 1:19-20). And then Zacharias was made mute by him, ‘because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time’ as per natural laws about child birth.
Noah was found ‘perfect in his generations and he walked with God’ and ‘found grace in the eyes of the LORD’ (Genesis 6:8-9). He was chosen to make the Ark and God restarted the process of domination and subduing of the earth through his family. God chose Abram and blessed him with various promises, to make him a great nation; make his name great; to be a blessing; to bless those who blessed him and to curse those who cursed him and finally that ‘in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed’ (Genesis 12:2-3). LORD God Jehovah God told Abram, ‘I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless (Genesis 17:1). Noah was chosen by God for his own righteousness as compared to others of his era while Abraham’s righteousness was as per his faith in God and His word. Abraham’s blessings were extraordinary affecting various nations on the earth and he was called to surrender and be under God’s guidance to become perfect. This was to be a continuous and long time work.
Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, instructed his palace manager to select suitable persons out of the children of Israel taken captive and from his own descendents. They were required to have specific qualifications, no blemish , good looking, gifted in all wisdom, possessing knowledge and quick to understand, ability to serve in king’s palace with ability to learn the language and literature of the Chaldeans. Nehemiah was the cup bearer (not a waiter but a close counselor) for king Artaxerxes and obtained permission to repair the walls of Jerusalem and was later appointed governor. Those who stand in the presence receive the blessing of being companion, friend, counselor and messenger of the dignitary and carry his authority. This appointment was given after much training, testing and observation and the appointee was supposed to have reached a certain standard.
Prophet Elijah had developed a close relationship with God through study, understanding and obedience to the Scripture to be blessed in this manner. Angel Gabriel is the special messenger of God who carries important messages from God to His specially chosen and blessed ones. They operate in the name and authority of the one in whose presence they stand and receive all their provisions also from the same. Nehemiah carried letters from the king to the governors of the region to be assured of their help for his work in Jerusalem. Elijah was provided ‘bread and meat in the morning and evening’ at the Brook Cherith and later looked after by the widow of Zarephath, till he was commanded by the LORD to return back.
God breathed into the human form made from the earth and he ‘became a living being’ (Genesis 2:7). The Jews take this to be a ‘speaking being’ imbued with the same authority as God to speak and see the result. Adam’s naming of all animals and birds resulted in his declaring each one’s role on earth, for he walked and stood in the presence of God in the Garden of Eden. Those who walk before God do not enjoy such authority and power though they are assured of God’s provision and protection. All believers have been blessed with both these blessings, while we stand and live in the presence of the Holy Spirit, we also walk before Him for daily transformation into the image of the Son of God.
Role of man in his transformation by the Holy Spirit – God knows that no human being can ever be perfect, Abraham was called out to be perfect by walking before God, while God helps him in this walk. A believer today has a major advantage, though we inherit the blessings of Abraham through faith, we have the additional advantage of indwelling Holy Spirit to strengthen and guide us every moment of our lives. Holy Spirit is not trying to exercise control through minute to minute checks but our free will is respected. Our conscience is touched when we attempt to walk on a path of sinfulness and this goes on till, after a while, He gives up and leaves us to our sinful life to come out once in a while to guide/suggest changes. God desires, not that we should reach His standard of perfection but to live as per His teaching, His word and aspire to achieve that state with human potential. God does not expect that anything more than an individual’s maximum potential be surrendered to God and this would vary for everyone.
The call to Abraham was not to ‘be perfect’ but it has two elements. The other part of the calling is ‘walk before Me’ which itself will lead you on to the path of perfection. Attempting to live in obedience to God and His Word in itself is human perfection, though faults remain. The Hebrew word used here has an implication of walking despite opposition while listening to the inner voice and not depending on outward situation. Apostle Paul has also shown the similar way, ‘be not confirmed to this world; but be transformed by the renewing of your mind’. King David is known as a ‘man of God’s heart’ but he was far from perfect. The difference is his heartfelt plea of repentance in Psalm 51. He was blessed with a heart that could cry out in awe to God, ‘What is man that You care for him, and the son of man that You visit him?’ (Psalm 8:4). Despite being denied permission by God to make the Temple in Jerusalem, he did all that he could to facilitate the work, without any complaints.
To achieve this renewing of the mind we are blessed to have God partnering with us in the form of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit of God is not the spirit of fear, ‘but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind’, to enable us to make right decisions with full knowledge to make His will as my will (2 Timothy 1:7. Mary surrendered to the Divine command by saying, ‘Behold the maidservant of the LORD! Let it be to me according to your word’ (Luke 1:38). Thereafter whatever was spoken by anyone regarding Lord Jesus, ‘she pondered them in her heart’ (Luke 2:19. It was this walk towards perfection that enabled Stephen to face death by stoning or Apostle Paul and others faced similar fate at the hands of Roman authorities. Lord Jesus provided us the image and reflection of what we were created and then blessed us with the ‘Other Helper’ to lead us on in obedience to the Divine teaching to be transformed into that ‘image’.
Every believer has to be careful lest the Lord reject his works as worthless and say, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me’ (Matthew 7:21-23). Mary obeyed and praised God while Zacharias was made mute and this us what we also have to guard against. Abraham lived his life with faith in the LORD God and could readily offer his ‘only son Isaac, whom you love’ on mount Moriah, believed to be the same mountain range where later, David built the Temple and God offered and accepted the sacrifice of His own Son Lord Jesus on the cross.
Like Apostle Paul we have to live in this belief that, ‘All things work out for good to them that love God, to them that are the called according to His purpose’ (Romans 8:28). Having suffered all through his life unimaginable physical abuse as a believer, he could write this from the Roman prison in his last letter ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith’ (2 Timothy 4:7). Can I say this today and will I be able to say so when the call comes to go home!
God provided everything to mankind upfront and not hidden somewhere. Lord Jesus declared openly, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes unto the Father, but by Me’ thus revealing His Divine status. Anyone who follows Him not only receives eternal life but here on earth also walks and lives in His power and authority. The only thing needed is to remain in His Word, meditating on it day and night so that His holy presence remains with us. Strength, power, wealth and status are all gifts of God and we must remain perpetually in attitude of gratitude towards Him!