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The Life of Elizabeth 1: The Shame of Her Infertility

The Life of Elizabeth Day 1 – The Shame of Her Infertility

A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed. (Proverbs 15:13, ESV)

Have you ever felt the crushing weight of sorrow so heavily you can barely breathe? I believe Elizabeth knew that feeling. For the next few days, I want to share with you some of what I’ve learned and come to love about the New Testament woman Elizabeth. Thankfully, Elizabeth’s sorrow is only a part of her story. As we unravel the few details Scripture gives us of her life, we’ll discover what a remarkable example she is to follow as a woman of faith, strength, and humility—inspiring characteristics which she consistently lived out despite her sorrow and circumstances.

Elizabeth and her husband, Zechariah, both of them descendants of Aaron, lived in the hill country of Judea, just outside of Jerusalem. For many of their years together, they undoubtedly lived under the weight of oppression, uncertainty and perhaps even fear. Under the rule of Rome and at the mercy of the infamously cruel, blood-thirsty king Herod, they were in the midst of a fierce political domination. The world around them was full of depravity and unrest. Immorality was rampant. And the religious leaders of the day? They were pompous, self-seeking and corrupt. All of this, coupled with the fact that there had been no prophet or prophecy for four hundred years, was almost enough to generate the false notion that God had deserted them. Undeniably, like so many others of their day, they were desperately longing for the “redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38), the dawning sunrise that was to arrive from on high to give light to their dark world (Luke 1:78,79).  

However, the unsettled conditions of the outside world were not Elizabeth’s only distress. Perhaps of an even greater weight was the sorrow she bore daily within her own spirit—an inescapable ache that filled the deepest recesses of her tender heart. What was it that troubled her so? The Gospel writer Luke plainly tells us her plight: Elizabeth was barren—unable to have a child! For some, trials last only days. But for others, those days turn into months, stretching even into years. 

Dear Elizabeth was just such a case. Month after month, year after year, she would have prayed, possibly even begged, for the Lord to open her womb. Yet right up until the time Scripture introduces her to us and she is said to be “advanced in years,” it had remained empty. Little by little, the hope of bearing a child must have slipped through the cracks of her broken heart until she could do no more than accept the sorrowful lot she had been given.

It would have been overwhelming enough to privately suffer the burden within her own heart, but added to that, Elizabeth lived under the dark cloud of barrenness in a culture that scorned women who were unable to bear children. How difficult it must have been for her to make any public appearance. The whispers and words of gossipers would not have escaped her ears and would have set her face aflame with shame, certainly adding to her already broken heart. There would have been no escaping the reproach from the people of her community. In fact, Luke 1:36 alludes to the fact that her barrenness was her label. To those in Elizabeth’s community, it’s what defined her. Surely her sorrow was a spirit-crushing weight.

Like Elizabeth, many of us know the sorrow that unanswered prayers can bring. We’re familiar with what it means to lay our longings and requests before the throne of grace only for them to seemingly go unheard. It’s painful and difficult to be patient and keep up hope as we pray and wait for the desires of our hearts, maybe desires that look like some of these:

  • A call from a prodigal child
  • A good report from the surgeon
  • The return of a drifting spouse
  • The call from the adoption agency
  • A job to pay the bills
  • A relationship to be restored

Sometimes the answers are delayed, but sometimes they simply never come. And some days the weight of our burden is just more than our heavy hearts can handle. 

I don’t believe we are ever promised in Scripture a guaranteed escape from our sorrow or pain this side of eternity, but plenty of times we are assured of God’s help and strength in it. Our High Priest sympathizes and is aware of our heartache. He sees our tears and truly feels our pain. He is our Comforter and Confidant, and He promises that He will never, ever leave us alone.  

Friend, if your sorrow is soul-crushing today, can I gently turn your heart towards these promises? In them you will find Him, and He is everything you need.
The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18, ESV)

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