The Gospel of Luke is the longest of the four Gospel narratives, but we need to remember that when it was first written it was a scroll. The information one could put on a scroll was limited. Although authors today are able to write large volumes having 600 or more pages, it wasn’t like this in the 1st century AD. By comparison the Gospel of Luke, the longest Gospel narrative, is less than 100 pages by today’s standards. Space was a premium! Luke had to limit himself to what was important to say and not be carried away in digression, concerning unnecessary events. Why, therefore, does he believe the fact that Elizabeth hid herself for five months is important?
Luke begins his story about Elizabeth by telling us that she was a daughter of Aaron, the first Jewish high priest, and she was righteous (Luke 1:5-6). She and her husband were blameless, as far as the Law was concerned. This means she kept short accounts with the Lord. When she sinned, she repented and sought to walk with integrity before God. Yet, she was barren (Luke 1:7) and beyond her childbearing years. This was apparently interpreted by some to mean sinful or at least unclean, since she was not blessed by God in their eyes (cf. Deuteronomy 7:14). Moreover, the Jewish Talmud tells us that such a thing was grounds for excommunication from the Jewish community (Babylonian Talmud – Pesachim 113b – 18). The fact that this was not done to Zacharias and Elizabeth tells us that, although this was the opinion of some important Jews of the first century AD, it was not the law of the land. Nevertheless, the stigma was there (cf. Luke 1:25).
Certainly, the shame Elizabeth felt was not exclusive to a first century context. Sarah felt it (cf. Genesis 16:5); Rachel wanted to die rather than bear it (Genesis 30:1), and Hannah, Samuel’s mother, wept bitterly, because she had no child (1Samuel 1:6-10). This Greek word, oneidos (G3681) is found only in Luke 1:25, but it is related to several other Greek words. It is a noun, but the verb is oneidezo (G3679), which Luke uses it in Luke 6:22 for suffering shame for the name of Christ. It is used again for what they did to Jesus on the cross (Matthew 27:44; Mark 15:32). In fact, we are called upon to separate ourselves from the world and purposefully bear the shame (oneidismos – G3680) of Christ (Hebrews 13:13).
Luke tells us that Elizabeth hid herself five months (Luke 1:24), and the reason she offers is that the Lord had looked upon her to take away (G851) her shame among men. This same Greek word for God taking away (G851) Elizabeth’s reproach or shame is used for taking away our sins in Romans 11:27. I believe Luke is showing in Elizabeth that the Lord bore our sins away with all our shame (cf. Hebrews 12:2) and now is exalted sitting at the right had of the Father (Philippians 2:9), and we look for that time when God will take away our shame when his adoption of us will be manifest to all (Romans 8:23), when our mortal bodies will be swallowed up in immortality (1Corinthians 15:54), when our present appearance will be exchanged for one similar to Jesus’ own glorious body (Philippians 3:21; cf. 1John 3:1-2).
While Elizabeth couldn’t have understood this theology, she was painfully aware of her shame among men, but she was also aware that God had promised to take away that shame. His work in her was hidden in the first month, so for the next five months (and by implication throughout the rest of her pregnancy) Elizabeth hid herself from others, interrupted only by Mary’s visit. Why did she hide? I believe it was so no one could make light of God’s work—perhaps implying danger of a miscarriage, or indulging themselves in rash speaking that would imply her pregnancy was otherwise a common matter (cf. Judges 13:4). Rather, we should see her behavior as an extension of Zacharias’ silence, but in a positive manner. She waited in the days of her pregnancy when the Lord was working, looking forward to the day when she could present her babe as the joyful gift of God that he was, and, when she did, all marveled at the work of God and asked: “What manner of child will this be?” (Luke 1:57-58, 63-66).