John the Baptist was among some of the characters of the Bible whose birth was announced before his birth had taken place. The events leading to his birth are narrated in Luke 1:5-13. His mission was also clearly spelt out. He was a man sent from God to bear witness about the light—Christ (John 1:6-7). His father was a priest and his mother also came from a priestly family— (Luke 1:5). These were not an ordinary couple. The Bible had a good testimony about them: “…they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord” (v.6).
However, despite this endearing testimony about them, Scripture points us to a problem they had: “But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years” (v.7). Their situation was bleak. Not only was Elizabeth barren, but they were both old beyond child bearing age.
This part of their story defeats the popular notion among some section of Christians that believers cannot have problems. Here was a family described as “righteous and walking blamelessly before God”, yet they had no child; Elizabeth was barren. One day something occurred which changed their situation. They had a visitation from an angel with the promise of a child: “And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and a fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and c you shall call his name John (v.12-13).
Chosen By Lot
At the back of this visitation however is an incident in the narrative worth our attention. It is tucked away in v 9 — an ordinary human activity: “according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense”. Zechariah was chosen by lot to serve in the temple on this particular day.
This is informative. Since it was a usual activity—“custom of the priesthood”, we could infer that, the lot could have fallen on anyone precluding Zachariah. Since it was the way of choosing who to serve, I believe there have been many times others have been chosen and not Zechariah. But on this pivotal day, the lot fell on Zachariah and that was the day he had this life changing encounter. Though human hands were involved in this act, clearly it was by divine providence Zachariah was chosen: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD” (Proverbs 16:33).
What Then Is Providence?
God the great Creator of all things doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, according to His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy (WCF5.1).
In the Bible, we see many instances where the providence of God is displayed. Joseph’s story gives us one of the crystal examples of God’s providence and sovereignty. You know the story. He was sold into slavery and ended up as the prime minister of Egypt; second in command to Pharaoh.
Towards the end of his story in Genesis 50:15-21, he told his frightened brothers who sold him that “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (v20). Here is a clear picture of God’s providence. They sold him into slavery, but God’s hand was at work upholding, directing, disposing, and governing all actions (See Acts 2:22-23, 1Corinthians 2:8-9).
What’s The Essence of Divine Providence For Us Today?
Every doctrine the Bible teaches matters because doctrine matters. Our beliefs inform how we live. How we respond to life’s challenges and opportunities is undergirded by our belief system. God’s providence must banish fear in our lives. The future is uncertain; but we know God is always in control and this gives us confidence regardless of what we face today and in the future: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28)