So now that we have a brief outline of who Elizabeth was—and who we are—as women declared righteous in God’s sight, I want to spend our next bit of time considering five effects of this righteousness through faith in Elizabeth’s life & what it teaches us about our deep comfort and hope in the midst of suffering:
1. Elizabeth’s identity of righteousness resulted in a kind of joy, humility, and wonder that was forged in the fire of affliction.
We see in verses 39–45 Elizabeth’s response to Mary’s visit. When John leaps inside Elizabeth’s womb at the presence of Jesus—even as Jesus was in Mary’s womb—Elizabeth cries out “And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”
Now, I am sure that if I had been barren my whole life and God had miraculously allowed me to conceive the one that would prepare the way of the Lord, my first words would probably be something like: “Mary! I’m pregnant!”
But here Elizabeth is so overwhelmed by the presence and goodness of the Lord that she cries out with wonder that she is even in the presence of the mother of her Lord, her Lord whom she loved. Elizabeth’s identity of righteousness meant that she lived in wonder at the goodness of the Lord and had a humility and joy before Him that was only strengthened in having witnessed His faithfulness and goodness through her years of suffering.
2. Elizabeth’s identity of righteousness also gave her the faith to take God at His word.
In verse 45 Elizabeth pronounces blessing on Mary as she says, “and blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” These words are spoken over Mary, but you could also take these words of Elizabeth and point them back to Elizabeth. For example, in verse 60 we see that Elizabeth goes against what is expected of her to name her son Zechariah because she believed God’s words that the child in her womb would be the herald of the Messiah.
She therefore had the faith to take God at His Word that the child should be named John according to God’s command. You see, Elizabeth trusted God with her soul, with her eternity; so she could also trust Him with the details of her life even when God called her to do things that didn’t make sense to those around her. Since her identity was one of being righteous in God’s sight, she could say yes to God knowing that God’s ways are always ways of love and faithfulness.
3. Elizabeth being clothed in God’s righteousness made her delight in savouring God and His character and ways.
Elizabeth knew that she was not her own; her life was hidden in God. And God was her first love, her first delight. And we see this as she keeps herself hidden for the first few months of her pregnancy. Verses 24–25 tell us that Elizabeth kept herself hidden for five months after she conceived.
Why did she do this? It seems a bit odd, but it is actually a beautiful act of worship. In verse 25 we see that Elizabeth spent the silence of those months meditating on God’s goodness. Her first response to God’s work in her life was to retreat into solitude with the Lord and soak in time enjoying this miracle alone with the One she loved the most. Since God was her chief delight, her righteousness, her refuge, she had a certain solemn joy that marks those in close communion with the Lord.
C.H. Spurgeon put it well when he remarked, “I do not wonder that, in her solemn joy, she shunned the gossips of the neighborhood and kept herself in seclusion. I do believe that there is many a soul which, when it has found Christ, feels itself much too full of joy to speak, and asks not for a crowded temple, but for a quiet chamber where the heart may pour itself out before God.”
4. Elizabeth being called righteous meant that even in the midst of suffering she could live in the freedom and light of God’s grace.
We just saw in verse 25 how Elizabeth declares that God had taken away her reproach. What does reproach mean? Having “reproach among people” means living with constant disapproval, criticism, shame. And I think we all know to some degree or other what it feels like to feel reproach.
But an effect of Elizabeth’s righteousness was that she knew God had taken her reproach upon Himself and set her free. And not only did He take away reproach, but He also imputed to her His righteousness. How? Through the salvation bought by the baby in Mary’s womb. Why? Well, we can look at the name of the baby in Elizabeth’s womb. John means “Yahweh is gracious” or “Our Lord is gracious.” Elizabeth knew that she had a gracious Lord and could live in the freedom of that because she knew that she was clothed in His righteousness.
5. And five, and this is the last we will look at, is that Elizabeth being declared righteous in God’s sight meant that in the middle of a life she didn’t expect, maybe a life she didn’t even want at times, she was able to live a life of joyful surrender.
Since God has shown His great love for us by forgiving us and imputing to us His righteousness, we can trust Him even in the valleys. And there is a joy that comes with trusting God because we surrender our lives to the one who is most gracious and who loves us most and best. So we can say joyfully and without fear, “My life is yours, Oh Lord. Let it be with me just as you say.”
We see that Elizabeth’s name means “God is my Abundance.” What a fitting name for a woman who, clothed in the righteousness of God, was able to boldly trust God in the midst of great suffering.
Sisters, I am praying that we will all be encouraged by these five effects in our own lives. God has promised that each of us will face suffering in this life. May those around us see us living out our lives not pulling ourselves up by our boot straps but on our knees clinging to the righteousness of Christ alone. A righteousness that God alone can clothe us in, a righteousness that those around us in the schemes will perish without, a righteousness that forges hearts of joy in affliction, that gives us the faith to take God at His Word, that makes God our chief delight, that gives us freedom from shame, that gives us the power to surrender our lives to God.
God help us. Amen.
This is the second and final part in a series on what women can learn from the life of Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist. You can read part one here.