The Consequence of Unbelief: The Lesson of Zechariah
When God speaks, nothing gets in His way. There are no boundaries He won’t cross in performing His word. All things are subject to Him. As the Beginning and End, He calls the shots.
One of those boundaries includes our lack of faith or belief. He’ll cross them. If you’ve been given a promise or word from God, yet are struggling with doubt and unbelief, I want to encourage you today. God is not limited or hindered by it – not one iota. The LORD gets His way, and once He’s decreed it – it’s DONE.
The story of Zechariah is a perfect example to us of just how far God is willing to go in fulfilling His word, and the consequences of unbelief. And although the story is encouraging, Zechariah’s experience was not a pleasant one. I believe God wants to reveal to all of us just how intent He is on fulfilling His word.
This is a long post, but get ready. It’s worth it. Please take the time to read it, because I believe you will be deeply encouraged.
Disagreement, Argument, and Unbelief
The lesson of Zechariah is one of disagreement, and whether you want to term it that way or not, essentially that is what happened. Disagreement only occurs when we do not believe. Zechariah did not believe the LORD. Let’s find out what the consequence was to that disbelief or disagreement. To truly understand the full context, let’s read the story:
There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years. And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his course, according to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.
And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Eisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. 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.
And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.
And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings. And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.
And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple. And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless, (Luke 1:5-22, KJV).
I love this. Can you get the gist of this conversation? I am really amused by it, actually. This incredible angel, Gabriel, at the very onset has to settle Zechariah’s fear, which he also had to address with Mary when he visited her six months later (see Luke 1:26, 27). So, obviously there is a natural element of fear with angelic visitations (which we see throughout the word of God in other books such as Isaiah, Daniel and Revelation). Angels are genuinely fearsome beings. That is a point we need to establish up front. So Zechariah’s initial response to Gabriel should not surprise us.
However, his rationale is deeply flawed. Let’s point out that Gabriel’s opening salutation offers no formal introduction. And if we parallel his visit to Mary, he doesn’t reveal himself to her either, by name or otherwise. Gabriel’s salutation to Zechariah is this: “Your prayer has been heard.”
That is good news! And not only heard – but answered. Let’s keep in mind that as a high priest, Gabriel’s news of John’s birth is a prophetic fulfillment of what Malachi declared, which Zechariah would have both studied and even anticipated. Wow! That is AWESOME! Yet strangely, we don’t find Zechariah jumping for joy. Instead, we find him contending with God. Let’s consider why.
I believe Gabriel’s salutation offers a two-fold answer to prayer: both to Zechariah’s personal prayers for a child, and his intercession on behalf of the people, which he was conducting at present. This was indeed serious business. But let’s remember the context of Gabriel’s announcement: the answered prayer is in relation to Elisabeth bearing a son. I think we can all agree that couples who cannot bear children pray for them diligently – and they do so in earnest. And despite this incredible news Zechariah remains both unconvinced and apparently ungrateful.
His ingratitude is revealed by his contrary reply, evoked by a bitter and impenetrable heart. It is evident that Zechariah’s heart had been hardened by bitterness and subsequent unbelief (see Hebrews 12:15). Yes, I think it’s very possible that we may be seeing some deep bitterness here. For anyone who has labored in prayers that have long gone unanswered, I trust we can all agree it’s understandable. Let’s remember that Gabriel’s announcement is bestowed with tidings of “joy and gladness”. But Zechariah is unable to receive, hence the ingratitude. He struggles with this prophetic word, making the case that he and his wife are both old.
Wow. That went over like a lead balloon.
Okay, did you notice that he did not argue Elisabeth’s being barren? Never brought it up, although this would have been a valid point. He didn’t even go there. I think he may have thought that was a moot point since a birth was being overtly declared. So, he contends with Gabriel by addressing a lesser point – the only other point there is – their age. He essentially says, “How can this be? We’re old!” Christ said that out of the heart the mouth speaks. I wager that is a bitter heart of unbelief talking here. Remember, this is a man serving God as a high priest in God’s temple, offering solemn prayers for His people, while his own have gone unanswered – for years. That hurts, no matter how you slice it.
But God had a purpose in the divine timing of Zechariah’s visitation. Little did Zechariah know that he and Elizabeth were chosen to bear Elijah who would prepare the way of the LORD according to Malachi.
Let’s look at the exchange here:
Pain aside, Gabriel is not impressed. In good humor, can you imagine a heavenly eye roll? As if old is something God has not dealt with before (i.e. Abraham and Sarah). Only then does Gabriel give a response. This is where I get amused. If I can translate it properly, it would go something like this: “Ahem, Zechariah, do you realize who you’re talking to here? I’m Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God. Are you really going to challenge me on this? What I said will come to pass in its appointed time, so until it does, I’m going to shut your mouth. Because if you don’t believe or agree, I don’t need you speaking anything contrary to this word I’ve decreed – because it’s from God.”
That is rough, but you get it, right? This was not up for debate. And the consequence of Zechariah’s unbelief was just – he was struck dumb. And truly, I don’t believe this was an issue of punishment. Rather, it was a issue of protection. God simply was not going to allow him to speak anything contrary to the word He decreed. Words carry the power of life and death, and God diligently watches over His word to perform it. Anything contrary will be promptly addressed. God had decreed life: A prophetic child was going to be born. So, this isn’t about Zechariah’s feelings. It’s about his soon-to-be-son, John. Although severe, Zechariah got what he deserved. God is just. Who knows how awry this conversation could have become if Gabriel hadn’t shut him up? Would he have poisoned Elizabeth’s faith as well? As a high priest, I dare say Zechariah could have been stricken with much worse. But he got off easy. He went back to the people unable to speak. And he remained speechless until the word of God was fulfilled.
Good job, Gabriel! And did God’s word come to pass? You bet it did. Right on time.
Point and case here is this: God will do whatever it takes to protect His word, and He expects us to believe Him and agree with Him. There are consequences when we don’t. When you receive a word from God, it’s on His terms and in His timing – not yours. He is responsible for bringing it to pass – not you. All you get to do is say, “Yes, Sir. I agree. Let it be as you have spoken. Just tell me what to do.” And unless you get an order from Him, all you get to do is agree and believe. If we are honest, that is often harder than being given a task and having a direct part to play.
Our goal is to cooperate with God in whatever manner He determines.
God is just. He cannot lie. He is obligated to perform His word. In doing so, He’ll also fiercely protect it. He watches over it diligently until it comes to pass because He is faithful. He will remove every boundary and everything in His way to do that – even if it means your mouth.
The Evil Heart of Unbelief
Gabriel called it, and he pulled no punches. He told Zechariah precisely why he was being struck dumb: because he did not believe him. So let’s talk about this element of unbelief, because God has a lot to say about this, and it’s important to address. In fact, it’s critical. Let’s go to the book of Hebrews.
Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith, Today if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness: when your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years. Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do always err in their heart; and they have not known my ways. So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.)
Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end; while it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation. For some, when they had heard, did provoke: howbeit not all that came out of Egypt by Moses. But with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcasses fell in the wilderness? And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not?
So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.
Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his, (Hebrews 3:7-19 and 4:1, 9-10, KJV).
For those of you who do not know, Israel’s time in the wilderness with God was tumultuous for several reasons. They were constantly complaining against Him, falsely accusing Him of dragging them out there to kill them, and then demanding their needs be met on their terms. They even threatened to return to Egypt. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. With all of this banter, God was not pleased. In fact, He was angry. Israel experienced a dichotomy of sorts: they knew Him in His anger in the midst of His blessing. Reading the book of Exodus is like reading a novel. I encourage you to take the time to read it for yourself if you haven’t already. You’ll quickly get a very clear picture of the God we serve, and Israel’s legacy. You’ll also understand why it’s one of the greatest stories in all of history.
Israel was an infant nation whom God reared in the land of Egypt for four centuries prior to the Exodus. God had several reasons for doing that which I cannot cover here. But let it suffice to say that this was no accident. It was very deliberate, indeed, playing a vital part of God’s eternal plan. However, by the time Israel experienced the Exodus, they were literally millions upon millions of people. Israel did not know their God, and their hearts were enslaved although they had been set free. Their hearts were handicapped with unbelief. They did not know how to believe. Faith in God was something they did not yet have, because although they had seen Him perform numerous miracles on their behalf, they did not know His ways. That is the verdict God speaks of in Hebrews. And it’s responsible for a nation who fell dead in the desert. Israel did not yet know their God.
Trust is something earned within the human heart. And although God’s character is flawless and entirely deserving of such trust, Israel simply could not give it to Him. Their hearts were handicapped by slavery, even as Zechariah’s heart was handicapped by bitterness. There was not one authority figure they could trust. God was very displeased with this, and He called the verdict: They had a heart of unbelief, and God calls the heart of unbelief evil.
Why is unbelief evil? Because it is responsible for sin and rebellion. It’s a direct insult to God’s character. When we can’t believe God we call Him a liar by saying and doing things contrary to His word and His will. We are unable to cooperate with Him. We go astray by going our own way. This evil heart of unbelief is responsible for Israel’s repeated waywardness, which God calls a spiritual ‘whoredom’, because she was unfaithful to Him. He made Israel His chosen bride, and she played the harlot with other nations (see Hosea).
The sin of unbelief is a serious offense to God
even as faith delights His heart and moves Him to perform miracles.
Where there is unbelief, the fear of God is missing. The fear of God is what keeps us from evil (see Proverbs 1:20-33).
We are clearly told that unbelief is exactly what Zechariah demonstrated here. God calls it evil. Unbelief is responsible for sin and disobedience. And so we shouldn’t be surprised at the consequence he experienced. Only once the word of God was fulfilled did Zechariah again speak (see Luke 1:57-66).
The Faithfulness of God
If you have a promise from God, I urge you to believe Him. Regardless of the terms upon which that promise was given, you need to agree with Him and demonstrate your faith by your actions and words. The act of believing Him is part of your cooperation with God, even when it means you don’t understand and have no power to bring it to pass.
Sometimes we just have to walk it out. And the only part we get to play is to say, even as Mary did, “Behold the servant of the Lord. Let it be unto me according to your word.” That’s all we can do. And for God, who is sovereign, that is enough. Truly, it is.
So what pleases God? FAITH. And we know by the scriptures we’ve already read, that we can only enter into His rest when we believe Him. Because we need to understand that what God has spoken and decreed will always come to pass. Unless He outlines conditions for that specific word wherein you become personally responsible to Him, that word is going to come to pass – whether you believe it or not.
Faith Under Fire: Handling Doubt & Unbelief Appropriately
We all struggle with doubt and unbelief at times. How we handle it is the key. So, let’s talk about that for a moment as well. We are all human, and sometimes our hearts need that extra affirmation and encouragement. Even when our faith is strong, the enemy brings us plenty of reasons to doubt. When our faith is under fire we need to learn how to respond appropriately. That is our spiritual responsibility. No one else can do that for us.
What we need to be careful about is speaking contrary to those things God has decreed on our behalf – and then acting on those words of doubt and unbelief. Although our hearts may be heavy with doubt, we can still choose to act upon faith, and continue to speak the truth, rejoicing in God’s faithfulness. When we speak words of doubt, fear, unbelief, and despair – this does us no favors whatsoever. And if we act on them, we’re digging ourselves a spiritual hole. All this does is create discouragement, and give the enemy a playground. When you speak words contrary to the words God has declared over your life, you become responsible for those words and the environment they create, as well as the consequences those words bring. Despite what you see, you must learn to agree with God and choose to believe Him.
Faith is not a feeling. It is demonstrated by action and evidenced in our speech.
Your words hold the power of life and death.
Speak the words of God in the face of doubt and unbelief despite what you feel.
Despite what you feel, you must learn to speak and act on faith, even in the glaring face of doubt. Despite all your best reasons not to believe, you cannot afford it. Don’t go there. Always say and do according to faith and agreement with God. Go have a good cry out. Do whatever you need to do to encourage yourself. But never cater to the enemy. It’s too expensive.
Our faith can wax and wane upon many variables. We all go through times of trial. God will prove us. And although God wants our faith firm, steadfast and established, He understands our moments of weakness. He is compassionate. How we handle those moments with Him are opportunities for growth in Him. Our sanctification is always His desire. He will always reward faith under fire. With that said, yielding to doubt and unbelief is never permissible with God. He calls this evil, and it is equivocal to despair. That is dangerous territory. It’s not an option He offers us. Despair will always take you down a path that is deadly. So we must learn how to address doubt and unbelief promptly and appropriately with God. He is our Savior in all things, and He is able to save your faith. When the storm is raging we must learn to pray it through with Christ at the helm lest we shipwreck.
Zechariah’s story is a lesson for all of us. If we simply cannot believe – we either choose to speak what God does, or we need to shut our mouths. I don’t want God doing that for me. No, thank you. I’ve learned that when I am tempted by doubt, unbelief, and discouragement – to keep my mouth shut. I try very hard not to rehearse it. I have to go back to His Word and encourage myself. I also go to Him and confess my doubt and unbelief. I ask Him for strength and encouragement, which He is always faithful to give.
When God is Silent
We’ve talked about Zechariah’s silence, having been struck dumb. But what about when God is silent? In both cases God uses silence to protect His word. This is an area where God is often misunderstood, and I believe He wants to openly address this.
Paul and John both heard things uttered by God in their heavenly visitations which they were commanded not to write or speak. There is a reason those mysteries were cloaked in divine secrecy. To this day they never reached the human realm. Paul and John took those words and revelations to the grave.
God has secrets He is not obligated to share.
God has demonstrated intimacy with select individuals throughout the ages whom He has found worthy of His trust. That divine trust is very precious, because He will hold us responsible for what He shares. On this note, I’ve learned to deeply appreciate God’s silence.
When I have legitimate questions, I ask God (see the post on Mary for questioning God appropriately). Yet sometimes God does not answer my questions. He’s not obligated to my curiosity although I want to know His secrets. I’ve learned very well that God does not disclose those things He’s trying to protect and preserve from our human frailty. He simply does not require my personal involvement. He doesn’t need my mouth running about it, my brain on it, or my hands in it. Period. Sometimes, He’s very silent. I’ve learned that’s a good thing, and that it’s okay.
God has secrets that He keeps from us.
When He chooses silence, He is protecting His word.
There are mysteries and secrets we’ll never know until the very end.
I’m now okay with His silence. In times past His silence would solicit an anxiety in me that pushed me over the edge. It doesn’t rattle my cage anymore. I trust His judgment. I know He hears me, and when I don’t get an answer, I now understand how to interpret His silence. I want you to understand His silence, too. However, by no means does this indicate that you can not or should not ask. I ask God questions all the time. In fact, I’m one of the most inquisitive people you’ll ever meet.
With that said, sometimes I think we ask God the wrong questions. Sometimes we ask the right questions, but with the wrong heart, even as Zechariah did. Sometimes, perhaps we fail to ask Him at all out of fear of what He may say. I want to encourage you to ask the right questions with the right heart. Ask all you want. God is a Father who loves His children. He understands our questions and He has all the answers. There is not a question you can ask, for which He doesn’t have the answer. But frame those questions with a heart of faith – and be sure you’re ready to accept the answers He gives. Sometimes His answers are hard to hear, and despite our curiosity, He lovingly preserves our hearts and protects His word with silence.
God preserves our hearts and protects his word with
I’ve learned to be grateful for that silence. There are things I wish He hadn’t told me, that once He disclosed I became pained by and responsible toward – simply because I would not let it go. So, I want you to learn to be grateful, too.
We are responsible for the knowledge He chooses to reveal to us.
God is faithful, and when He speaks, just get ready. Because it’s coming to pass in its appointed time and season.
Let’s learn to agree with God. Let’s believe Him. Let’s cooperate. Let’s enter His rest. Because you know what? In His book – it’s already DONE. And anything less than faith in Him is an insult to His character and integrity.
He cannot lie. And His silence is, many times, golden.
A Life of Faith
There are many ways God can silence us. Don’t make God silence you.
Faith is what genuinely pleases God. It delights His heart. Because faith is not about emotional hype. Faith, we are told, is evidenced in our actions and words, which must be congruent to be effective. We can not say one thing, but do another. That is hypocrisy – not faith.
Contrary to popular belief, our faith has nothing to do with God and His faithfulness or His ability to perform His word, because God is the same regardless of what we think or believe of Him. Instead, it has everything to do with the condition of our own heart toward God. Our faith reveals our heart – not His. Nor does it reveal His ability to perform His word. He is Faithful. He is True. He is Righteous. That is not merely His character – it’s who He is. He is literally the embodiment of these virtues. So let’s understand that God looks for our faith in Him – not merely His abilities.
God will always perform His word. And to disbelieve Him is a discredit to His character. Unbelief is a direct insult to God. Unbelief is evil because it calls God a liar. And if God fails to perform what He has spoken, His character is then flawed. That is why the scriptures say that for His name’s sake He will do X, Y, Z. God has a reputation to uphold. He is perfect. God will never let His character be in question. And when we question His faithfulness with our doubt and unbelief, that is a serious offense to Him.
It is upon this premise of upholding God’s character and reputation that Moses was successful in pleading with Him for the sins of Israel. God was so angry He wanted to destroy them all. But Moses quickly reasoned with God telling Him, “What will the nations say? That you brought out your people to kill them?” God listened to Moses and Israel was spared. I call that a divine set up. God let Moses’ heart be tested on that one, which revealed his character as well. And you know what? God was pleased. He relented.
Let’s understand God’s responsibility. It’s to perform His word. Our responsibility is to believe Him. We often get the two mixed up. We try to perform only what God can do, and really He doesn’t need our hands in it at all. He merely wants our agreement with Him demonstrated in our faith. That means we obey Him in our words and actions. Unless He outlines specific contingencies to us, we need to bow our knee in surrender and just say, “Okay, Lord! I trust You. Let it be as You have spoken.”
And if there is anything more He needs you to do, He’ll show you. Trust Him for that in being of ready heart to obey.
Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;), (Hebrews 10:23, KJV).
Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him, (Hebrews 10:28, KJV).
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen, (Hebrews 11:1, KJV).
But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him, (Hebrews 11:6, KJV).
Zechariah’s lesson is one all of us can learn from. Know this: Your belief in God will always be rewarded. And God is always faithful, whether you believe Him or not. Your faith, or the lack thereof, does not change who He is, the truth He has declared, or the word He has decreed. But it will change how He deals with you.
Don’t make God silence you. And don’t misinterpret His silence.
LESSON LEARNED FROM ZECHARIAH: God does not give us permission to not believe Him. There are consequences for unbelief – just as there are rewards for faith. You choose. But His word is going to come to pass – because He is Faithful and True (see Revelation 19:11).
Cheers & Shalom,