Scripture Reference—Luke 1:5-80
Name Meaning—Elisabeth means “God is my oath” that is, “a worshiper of God.” In his hymn of praise, uttered soon after the birth of his son John, Zacharias alludes to the significance of his wife’s name when he said, “the oath which God swore to Abraham.” The son was called John by divine command, and means “the mercy or favor of God.”
Family Connections—Luke describes Elisabeth as “one of the daughters of Aaron” which means she came of an honored priestly line (Exodus 6:23). She was the wife of a priest, Zacharias, of the course of Abia, that is one of the sets of priests who ministered in the Temple from Sabbath to Sabbath (1 Chronicles 24:10). There was thus a priestly descent on both sides. Priests were allowed to marry pious women (Leviticus 21:7). Elisabeth became the mother of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus Christ. Assessing the life and character of Elisabeth we know that she was prominent as—
It is said of both Elisabeth and Zacharias that they were “righteous before God, walking in all the commandments of the Lord blameless.” What a coveted commendation! The priestly wife was a woman of unusual piety, strong faith and spiritual gifts. All through her life she preserved the blessed traditions of Aaron and his descendants.
Righteous toward God and most faithful to her husband we yet have five words containing a world of heartbreak and disappointment, “And they had no child.” For years they had both prayed and longed for a child; now they were both well-stricken in years and the prospect of natural childbearing was past. A childless state, more so for the daughter of a priest and the wife of a priest, was humiliating, for in Israel it was the dream of every woman that it might be her privilege to be the mother of the Messiah, promised to Eve, earth’s first mother.
For this beloved wife with a pious heart and cultivated intellect, God performed a miracle, as He did for Mary her cousin. “She conceived a son in her old age.” It was while Zacharias was exercising his holy office in the sanctuary that the angelic messenger appeared and said, “Thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.” Although beyond the age when the birth of a child was possible, did Zacharias and his wife believe that God was able to do the impossible, and even at their advanced age remove their “reproach among men”? Well, the miracle happened. God gave Elisabeth conception, and after six months of her pregnancy, another miracle happened when without cohabitation Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit.
Zacharias, who had been struck dumb as a sign that God would fulfill His word and grant him a son, had his speech restored when John was born. He hailed John’s birth with a God-glorifying song in which he said of the God-given child, “Thou shalt be called the prophet of the highest.” This famous son, who came to prepare the way of the Lord, was privileged to have such godly parents to teach him ineffaceable lessons. But John was also directly nurtured by God in the deserts where he lived “till the day of his shewing unto Israel.” Thus, as Donald Davidson reminds us in Mothers of the Bible—
It was not at his mother’s knee that John learned the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, but out on the lonely desert where in the silence and the solitude he found close fellowship with God, and came to know the secrets of His will.
Because of their old age when their son was born, we can assume that Zacharias and Elisabeth both died years before their godly son was cruelly murdered by Herod.
But Elisabeth was a privileged woman in another way in that she was the first woman to confess Jesus in the flesh. When she was six months with child she was visited by her cousin Mary and as soon as the Virgin entered the home, the babe leaped in Elisabeth’s womb, as if to welcome the One whom Mary was to bear. Both mother and child were affected by the Holy Spirit, and Elisabeth gave Mary the most honorable of names, “The mother of my Lord.” Elisabeth knew the Messiah was come and she prayed to Him and confessed Him. All Messianic hopes were about to be fulfilled for, “There, beneath that woman’s clothes, my Saviour is concealed.” It was her Spirit-filled greeting which prompted Mary to reply in a song called, The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-56; compare 1 Samuel 2:1-10).
For queens and females of all walks of life Elisabeth has been a favorite name, evidenced by the fact that in America alone there are almost two million females bearing such an honored name. If only all who bear this name would be “righteous before God” and blameless in character, what a mighty spiritual force they would be in the life of the nation of which they are a part. The present sovereign of Great Britain is Queen Elizabeth II, who seeks to live a life beyond reproach, and who manifests deep interest in Dr. Billy Graham’s work.