Elizabeth, Mother of John the Baptist

Elizabeth, a descendant of Aaron, was selected by God to be the mother of John the Baptist, the great prophet who would prepare the way before Jesus Christ.

Elizabeth in the Bible

Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, appears in only one chapter in the Bible—Luke 1. However, we later read an astonishing scripture that reflects on this woman of faith. In Luke 7:28 it says: “Among those born of women, there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist.”

John the Baptist was the greatest prophet, and his father and mother were instrumental in teaching him the ways of God.

Elizabeth’s ancestry

Luke 1:5 says, “There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.”

Most people quickly read over this passage and don’t realize what is being revealed. Zacharias, John’s father, was a priest of God. To serve as a priest in the temple, one had to be of the tribe of Levi and, more specifically, of the Levitical family of Aaron. And clearly we see that Elizabeth was also of the house of Aaron.

Here is a married couple with a profound lineage—both were from Aaron’s priestly family.

We also read in the next verse that they both were “righteous” and “blameless” as they were walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord.

What kind of people were they? God chose Zacharias and Elizabeth for the special task of rearing and teaching a miracle child He provided.

Priests and Levites

The Bible reveals that they had already been chosen, in a sense, to be servants of God. What did God have in mind when He chose the Levites and the house of Aaron (the priests)?

The Bible reveals that they were given specific responsibilities related to taking care of the tabernacle and carrying out the work of the tabernacle, which included the various animal sacrifices (Exodus 27:21; 18:1; 30:30; Numbers 25:11-13). These sacrifices taught people about the penalty of sin and prefigured Jesus giving His life as a sacrifice for our sins.

During the reign of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, we also read that some of the priests, Levites and leaders within the kingdom “went throughout all the cities of Judah and taught the people” (2 Chronicles 17:9).

Malachi 2:4-7 affirms that the Levites and priests had been chosen by God to teach in His name: “Then you shall know that I sent this commandment to you, that My covenant with Levi may continue. … My covenant was with him, one of life and peace, and I gave them to him that He might fear Me; so he feared Me and was reverent before My name. The law of truth was in his mouth, and injustice was not found on his lips. He walked with Me in peace and equity, and turned many away from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should keep knowledge, and people should seek the law from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.”

Zacharias and Elizabeth

Zacharias and Elizabeth had faithfully kept the covenant of their God, and they had been reverent and had upheld God’s name. They spoke truth, and they walked in all the commandments of God and were blameless.

So Zacharias and Elizabeth were faithful to God, as Levites and the priestly family of Aaron were supposed to be. These were the kind of parents God chose to instruct John the Baptist.

The mothers of leaders in the Bible are often noted for their influence in the rearing and teaching of their sons. An example of this is recorded in Proverbs 31:1: “The words of King Lemuel, the utterance which his mother taught him.” Later we read of the evangelist Timothy’s faith, which dwelt first in his grandmother Lois and in his mother Eunice (2 Timothy 1:5).

So, not only did God have mercy on Elizabeth to grant her a child, but He also knew that both Elizabeth and Zacharias would teach John the right way. The godly upbringing that John experienced undoubtedly helped him fulfill his prophesied ministry of turning “the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:5-6).

Where did Elizabeth live?

The Bible tells us Elizabeth lived in the hill country of Judah. We’re told where Elizabeth and her husband, Zacharias, lived in the passage regarding Mary, the mother of Jesus, coming to visit when Elizabeth was pregnant with John the Baptist.

“Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth” (Luke 1:39-40).

The hill country in this passage likely refers to “the region in the vicinity of Jerusalem.” The city was “probably a Levitical city, and the residence of Zacharias when he was not employed in the temple” (Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible).

Elizabeth’s changed life

When God chose Elizabeth to bear John the Baptist, her life changed. She was elderly and had never had children. At that time, being barren would have been considered a reproach to Elizabeth. It would have been a personal source of grief to her.

But God changed all that. Her reputation as a woman who was barren changed to one who had a miraculous birth in old age. Elizabeth expressed her appreciation for God’s blessing: “Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people” (Luke 1:25).

Perhaps some, hearing about this miracle, may have even thought of the patriarch Abraham and his wife, Sarah, who had borne Isaac in their old age by a miracle from God. The similarity of the cases could have been noted. In fact, similar phraseology is used of both Elizabeth and Sarah:

  • “For with God nothing will be impossible” (Luke 1:37).
  • “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” (Genesis 18:14).

John the Baptist would grow up to become a faithful messenger of the Lord. Imagine the special calling, the challenges of rearing such a son! Zacharias and Elizabeth taught him the Holy Scriptures, including the prophecies that pertained to him and his purpose.

John, even from his mother’s womb, was filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:15). He was also prohibited from drinking any wine or strong drink. He was prophesied to be great in the sight of the Lord, and through his ministry he would turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He was to go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, and to make ready a people prepared for the Lord (Luke 1:16-17).

Did Elizabeth raise John the Baptist as a Nazirite?

Because the angel who announced that Zacharias and Elizabeth would have a son said he was to “drink neither wine nor strong drink,” some have wondered if John the Baptist was under the vow of a Nazirite.

According to Numbers 6, there were three requirements for separating oneself to God under this special vow. A person who entered this vow was not to drink wine or similar drink or even eat grapes in any form. This person was also not to cut his or her hair, and he or she was to never go near a dead body (verses 2-6).

While we know that John the Baptist was not to drink wine or strong drink, we don’t know whether he adhered to the other requirements of the vow of a Nazirite. What we can conclude from the fact that John the Baptist did not drink wine (Matthew 11:18; Luke 7:33) is that he and his parents were committed to his fulfilling the role for which he had been born.

Elizabeth’s sayings

God recorded some of Elizabeth’s actions and words for us in the Bible. She became a special support and encouragement to Mary, the mother of Jesus.

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, Mary came to visit her. Mary had just conceived in her womb, in a miraculous pregnancy, the Lord Jesus Christ. Elizabeth was inspired by the Holy Spirit to exclaim to Mary: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy” (Luke 1:42-44).

Elizabeth’s short, inspired speech has become a permanent message of truth for all to read, being recorded in the Bible—the inspired Word of God.Elizabeth’s short, inspired speech has become a permanent message of truth for all to read, being recorded in the Bible—the inspired Word of God. In this brief instant, Elizabeth herself became a messenger of the Lord of hosts: “Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1:41). Elizabeth spoke inspired truth.

Such inspired thoughts edify and uplift those who hear them. Elizabeth’s next inspired words were an encouragement to Mary and a universal message to women: “Blessed is she who believed, for there shall be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord” (Luke 1:45).

Elizabeth herself had believed; she knew in faith that God would fulfill the things she had been told. Mary also had believed in the fulfillment of God’s words concerning the babe in her womb, and so she became the mother of the Lord Jesus Christ.

All of us today who believe and endure faithfully will receive the end of our faith—the salvation of our souls (1 Peter 1:9).

When Elizabeth gave birth three months after this meeting with Mary, she knew God had ordained that her baby should be called John, a name of Hebrew origin meaning “God is gracious” (TheMeaningofNames.org). God had been gracious in granting Elizabeth and Zacharias a child.

Elizabeth knew what the angel had told Zacharias: “You shall call his name John” (Luke 1:13). When the time came to circumcise John, Zacharias was unable to speak. So it was up to Elizabeth to stand up to relatives and friends and oppose them concerning their proposed name for the baby.

Luke 1:59-61 tells the story of what happened: “So it was, on the eighth day, that they came to circumcise the child; and they would have called him by the name of his father, Zacharias. His mother answered and said, ‘No, he shall be called John.’ But they said to her, ‘There is no one among your relatives who is called by this name.’”

It took courage for Elizabeth to stand firm and obey God.

Her husband backed her up. They were a team that always obeyed God. Zacharias asked for a writing tablet, and wrote: “His name is John” (Luke 1:63).

These two parents knew what God had instructed them to do, and they were determined to do it. Immediately God gave Zacharias his speech back, and he glorified God. He then was also filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied of what God was doing and what his son John would do.

Elizabeth, a woman of firsts

Elizabeth was a woman of firsts in at least two ways:

  • Elizabeth was the first woman mentioned in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 1:5). In his account Luke is especially prolific in including stories of people, including many women. In a society that had a rather low view of women, Luke’s recognition of three important women (Elizabeth, Mary and Anna) in the beginning of his book, and many more in successive chapters, shows that he and Christianity respected all people regardless of their status or gender.
  • Elizabeth is the first person in Luke’s Gospel to refer to Jesus as Lord. Elizabeth, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, referred to Jesus (who was in Mary’s womb at the time) as “my Lord” (Luke 1:43). In a male-dominated society, some no doubt found it startling for Luke to document Elizabeth as the first to utter this profound truth.

Lessons from the life of Elizabeth in the Bible

What should we conclude from Elizabeth’s life of faith? First, God was merciful to her. Elizabeth believed and bore a son in her old age, which was a miraculous blessing from God. The message that Elizabeth taught, the lesson that God recorded in the Bible, is to believe what God says He is going to do even if it seems impossible. She also taught the message that if you do what God says to do and believe, you will be blessed by seeing the fulfillment of what was promised.

God chose a woman of faith and obedience to rear and teach an important prophet. It is by the Holy Spirit and by the Word of God that one is to teach and to inspire others.

As parents, all of us should have that same desire to teach and inspire our children in the ways of God. It is true that John the Baptist was special, and there was none like him—the greatest of all the prophets—but there is a lesson here for all of us.

Both Elizabeth and Zacharias taught their son about God and the role and mission God wanted him to fulfill. Are we doing that with our children? Do our children know the ways of God and do they know why they were born? Isn’t it time we follow the example set by Elizabeth and Zacharias?

For more information, please read the articles in the “Parenting” section of this website.

About the Author

John Foster

John Foster

John Foster grew up in the Chicago, Illinois, area and began attending the Church of God with his parents in 1958.

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