Everybody familiar with the Christmas story knows that Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist, was not able to speak for the nine months his wife Elizabeth was pregnant. This was because Zachariah did not believe the word of God spoken to him by Gabriel when the angel told him about John’s coming birth.
Many, however, are not aware that Zachariah was also unable to hear during those nine months. This becomes clear in Luke 1:62. When John is born, Zachariah’s neighbors want to know what he wants the baby to be named. They are not able to speak to him, but must communicate with him in other ways in order to learn that Zachariah wants to name his son John.
The Greek word for being mute often included the additional infirmity of deafness. Even in English we often combine the two, when we refer to a deaf-mute. It makes sense that God would strike Zachariah with deafness as well; he didn’t believe what he had heard from Gabriel. God reminds him of his disobedience by not allowing him to hear anything during Elizabeth’s pregnancy. It was a lesson he needed to learn. Maybe the next time he heard God’s Word, he would be quick to believe and obey it!
James teaches this same principle when he tells his believing readers that they are to be quick to hear God’s Word (Jas 1:19). Clearly, he doesn’t mean that we should just hear it. We must be quick to take in, believe, and do what the Word says (Jas 1:22).
The author of Hebrews gives us a good description of the importance of listening to God’s Word and putting it to use. When we hear the Word of God and put it into practice–which implies that we believe what we hear–we are able to take in more (Heb 5:13-14). That is how Christian maturity occurs.
But the opposite reality is implied here. If we don’t hear what God says—if we don’t believe it—we cannot take more in. We lose the ability to hear it. We cannot learn more.
Zachariah is a graphic illustration of what James and the author of Hebrews teach about hearing the Word of God. For nine months, he could not hear. In Luke 1, both Elizabeth and Mary prophesy (Luke 1:41-55). Zachariah was not able to hear what was said, even though this occurred in his home. What else did he miss out on?
We can look at a guy like Zachariah and laugh. We might even say that we would never be that stupid. But we are certainly capable of doing what Zachariah did; in fact, we see it happen all the time. The clearest example I see occurs when I’m around people who hear about Free Grace theology but do not believe it. If you spend time with such a person, you notice that they become unable to hear the Scriptures as a whole. They twist them. It is like a kind of deafness falls upon them.
Even believers can become deaf to what God has to say. Zachariah was a believer. But if you don’t hear, you won’t be able to hear. The lesson is clear: Don’t be like Zachariah.