Elizabeth in the Bible was the wife of a priest named Zechariah; she was also a cousin of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Elizabeth and Zechariah are called righteous and blameless, “And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” Luke 1:6
Elizabeth was barren; she was unable to have children. “And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years” Luke 1:7. When Elizabeth is first mentioned in the Bible, she is an old woman, as Luke puts it, “advanced in years” (Luke 1:7). This could mean anything from late middle-age to old age. In any case, she was past child-bearing age (Luke 1:18).
When Zechariah was in the temple offering incense to the Lord, the angel Gabriel appeared to him, saying that he and Elizabeth would soon be parents; they were to name the baby John. This baby would grow up to be “great before the Lord” and bring joy and gladness to them, as well as to many other people (Luke 1:14–15). Zechariah was doubtful because of his wife’s age and the fact that he was himself old (Luke 1:18), so Gabriel—the same angel who appeared later to Mary—told Zechariah that he would be unable to speak until the prophecy was fulfilled in the birth of John (Luke 1:19–20, 26–27).
Elizabeth, when finding herself pregnant, kept herself in seclusion for five months. She said, “Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.” Luke 1:25. Six months after Elizabeth conceived, Mary also became pregnant, and she went to visit Elizabeth, because the AngelGabriel had told her of Elizabeth’s pregnancy “And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible”. Luke 1:36–37
It is a sign of God’s love and care that he placed these women in the same family. He could have just as easily made them strangers to one another, but, by making them relatives, He gave them mutual comfort and encouragement. Especially for Mary, the experience of being pregnant outside of wedlock would have been frightening and shocking. But God provided Elizabeth as a comforting presence—a trusted and known relation and older woman who was going through a similarly miraculous event. The Holy Spirit was the one who told Elizabeth of the Christ in Mary’s womb.
“And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her. And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord”. Luke 1:38–45
The Holy Spirit told Elizabeth of Mary’s condition even before Mary could say a word.
Eight days after Elizabeth’s child was born, several neighbors and relatives were there for the ceremony of circumcision. It was during this time that children were officially given their names, and Elizabeth declared her baby’s name to be John—Zechariah was still unable to speak.
The neighbors questioned Elizabeth about the name; none of her relatives had ever been called John—certainly they should name him Zechariah. But Zechariah procured a tablet and wrote on it the name of John. In this he showed his faith in the angel’s prophecy, and, with that, Zechariah was able to speak again (Luke 1:57–64).
Elizabeth’s son grew up to be John the Baptist, who ministered “And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”(Luke 1:17) and was the prophet who prepared the way of the Lord, fulfilling Malachi’s prophecy (Malachi 3:1; Luke 1:76; John 3:1–6).