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Luke 1:11 Just then an angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and gripped with fear.

13But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. 14He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He shall never take wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb. 16Many of the sons of Israel he will turn back to the Lord their God. 17And he will go on before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their childrena and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

18“How can I be sure of this?” Zechariah asked the angel. “I am an old man, and my wife is well along in years.”

19“I am Gabriel,” replied the angel. “I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20And now you will be silent and unable to speak until the day this comes to pass, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled at their proper time.”

Perhaps they prayed to have a son when they were younger.

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  • I am not clear what you are asking. They may well have prayed, younger. But they received no angelic visitation prior to this one. The unbelief is of the words spoken during that immediate visitation. – Nigel J Jan 1 at 16:16
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    That's precisely what I was trying to get at. I'm wondering if I was on the right track or there could be other explanations. – Tony Chan Jan 1 at 16:31
  • In that case, good question and up-voted +1. – Nigel J Jan 1 at 17:05
  • Thanks. That's one thing I like about this platform. There are diverse explanations. – Tony Chan Jan 1 at 18:09
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    It is impossible to answer - BUT - I have no doubt that that what is reported is correct - Zechariah and his wife had prayed as the Scripture says. End of story. – Dottard Jan 1 at 20:29
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First - you need to understand that Zacharias was not praying for an ‘offspring’. This assumption you take, as expressed in your title is incorrect. You need to consider the context before applying interpretation. So let’s briefly consider that context.

Zacharias was the High priest. They had a role, they daily entered the temple and recited a ‘prayer’ as per the assigned liturgy for that day according to the Jewish calendar.

The benediction for that day came from Malachi, chapter 4. And, the benediction included a petition (prayer) asking for the Messiah to come, And that would have included this ... praying for the Messiah.

MAL 4:5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet. Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. 6 And he will turn The hearts of the fathers [snip]

And it was this ‘prayer’ that the angel heard. And, the angel confirmed this in Luke .. a little further down from the verse you quoted, but still fully in context!

LUKE 1:16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’

Zacharias was not going into the temple, a unique privilege that came from his role as High Priest, to pray [selfish] prayers for himself. But, God did answer his wife’s prayers through fulfilling the prophecy in Malachi.

We need to use context. And, this includes understanding second temple practice, and understanding the times. For example, Mary (Elizabeth’ cousin) would not have been surprised by the angels message that she would bear a child - the Messiah - that was an aspiration of many young Jewish women. (To be the one through whom the Messiah would be born.)

So, to answer your Q as in the title - no, Zacharias did not pray for a son, he ‘prayed’ that the Messiah would be born. And, yes, Elizabeth did pray for a son - as was ‘culturally’ true for all Jewish women. But, for the Messiah to come, one, in the spirit of Elijah, would first have to come and prepare the way.

Now to answer the point you brought up in a comment, he had to be made ‘dumb’. Jews knew full well the power, or ability of the ‘tongue’ (words) to bring change. Proverbs is full of admonitions against a ‘loose’ tongue. This was a Messianic prophecy that would be fulfilled through Zacharias and Elizabeth - so the angel was within his jurisdiction to use his powers to ensure it was fulfilled.

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This could be a case of praying for Peter’s Miraculous Escape From Prison.

King Herod arrested Peter and the church was praying for his release:

Acts 12:5 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.

God answered their prayer and sent an angel to lead Peter out of prison. Then a funny thing happened when Peter tried to rejoin the church. They were still praying.

12 Peter went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. 13Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door. 14When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!”

When their prayer came true, they didn't believe it!

15“You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.”

Zechariah might have suffered from the same unbelief while praying for a son. Maybe praying for a son was his wife's idea and he was just going along with her, so the angel muted him. I find humor in both stories.

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