Luke 1 tells the story of Zechariah's vision and conception of John the Baptist. It ends like this (Lk 1:24-25):

After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25 “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”

If I was a childless lady like Elizabeth in a situation like this, I would try hard to make whole Judea to know about my pregnancy. Well, I'm exaggerating, but remaining in seclusion seems to be one of the least likely reactions for a woman whom the Lord "has shown his favor and taken away (her) disgrace among the people."

A custom to stay secluded few months after conception seems unnatural too - it would be more logical if it took place directly before (and after) the birth.

I can imagine some form of personal "thank you" to Lord. It would seem as a natural explanation of this act, but I don't understand why she expressed it by seclusion and not by any other way.

Is there anything important in the Biblical or cultural context, that would shed some light on Elizabeth's motivation?

4 Answers 4


Interesting question. Ultimately, however, about the only way your question can be answered is with a mixture of content: part "biblical and cultural context," and part "sanctified imagination" (i.e., opinion). I'll tackle each part of the mixture, with my primary emphasis on the cultural context.

In ancient NME culture, for a married woman to remain childless was considered as Elizabeth herself said, a "disgrace." One of the words for a childless wife in those days was indeed demoralizing: barren! (If you were to ask me to say the first word that comes into my mind when you say the word barren, I would be sure to say desert! My point: the word probably cut like a knife when it was uttered in the presence of a childless woman in those days.)

A barren womb in Elizabeth's day (not to mention the barren women who were part of the historical narrative in the Tanakh) was a source of shame, disgrace, and embarrassment. Her "failure" to provide her husband with a son to carry on the family name was even cause for divorce. Moreover, in a society in which women in general, with very few exceptions, did not even qualify as second-class citizens, for a woman to be unable to give her husband a child served to compound her lowly status.

According to Hector Avalos, another way of looking at barrenness is as ab-normal and as a disability, associated as it was in Tanakh with illness (Deuteronomy 7:14) and with an affliction, which was not only under the control of a "divine sender/controller" (see Genesis 29:31, where YHWH opened Leah's, but not Rachel's, womb), but was also considered something which could be healed, as in the case of the women in Abimelech's household, whom God made barren for a time because of Abraham's treachery (Genesis 20:17)!

Fertility, on the other hand, was highly prized in ANME culture, and it was considered the "norm," but also a blessing from God (or "the gods of fertility"!). Jacob on his deathbed, for example, linked the work of the Almighty (El Shaddai) with "blessings of the breast and of the womb" (49:25). Notice, too, Sarah did not necessarily blame God for her barrenness, but she thought, rather, God had prevented her from getting pregnant (Genesis 16:2), which is quite accurate, since God planned only to delay her pregnancy until such a time that only a miracle could make it happen for both her and husband Abraham!

In concluding this cultural/contextual part of my answer, we can safely conclude the denigration of woman by other women for being barren (e.g., Hagar in Genesis 16, and Peninah in 1 Samuel 1:6) was hard for infertile women to bear.

As for the second part of my answer, the opinion part, there are any number of possibilities for Elizabeth's self-imposed seclusion for five months:

  • Her advanced age, combined with her concern about "what people might say about her" if she were to announce to the world she was pregnant! Put yourself in her place. If you and your husband were well beyond childbearing years, would you be eager to let the world know--at least before you obviously began to "show"? I don't think so! I myself would not want people to think me crazy for claiming something so preposterous, humanly speaking.

  • If most, or all, of her "peers" had already died, before whom would she be able to "show off" her blessed condition?

  • Perhaps since her husband Zechariah had been struck dumb by the angel who announced the miraculous pregnancy to him in the temple, Elizabeth, too, decided to remain dumb, so to speak, for a time. When Mary the mother of Jesus arrived at month five, however, she may have ended her self-imposed seclusion.

  • Her seclusion was simply her way of dealing with this remarkable situation. Perhaps she was an introverted and inward person who, like Mary, liked to treasure things up in her heart, rather than broadcasting things to the world.

You and other readers can probably suggest a multitude of other reasons for Elizabeth's seclusion. It is pretty clear to me, however, that each possibility or explanation is at best conjecture.

  • @rhetorician-I would agree, given the 'miraculous' nature of her visitation, and the fact that her husband had a very severe speech impediment would lend anyone to seek 'privacy', rather than explain to all her gossipy neighbors. The 'exception' of course was Mary, who understood the 'uniqueness' of her circumstances, having a 'unique' circumstance of her own. And Elizabeth's response to Mary, which triggers the 'Magnificat' is recorded for all generations.
    – Tau
    Dec 20, 2013 at 3:45
  • Like Gone Quiet said, first few paragraphs are not necessary, I already knew that. But the end of your answer really helped me, so +1 and accepted.
    – Pavel
    Dec 20, 2013 at 8:15
  • @Pavel: Thank you. My tendency to use 50 words when 5 will do is a failing of mine, which I'm working on. Don Dec 20, 2013 at 18:07

There are a couple possiblities that present themselves that have some support.

One possibility stems from what may be observed sociologically. Women will often refrain from announcing their pregnancy until they are beyond the stage where most miscarriages might occur. For one barren for so long, it would be difficult to endure feeling that shame removed and then returned if the baby were lost early on. She may thus, have just been waiting until the pregnancy was more secure to make it known.

Another possibility is that perhaps she considered herself to be more vulnerable to miscarriage if she was out and about early on. Going out in a community exposes one to more bacteria and the chance of infection or even physical danger. Thus, she may have lay low for the first critical months for the pregnancy to protect the baby.

Here is an article about miscarriage that would seem to support either scenario. Interestingly they classify miscarriage in the article to babies lost before the 20th week (five months) Among reasons given for miscarriages are infection and trauma to the mother.

  • +1. A good point. I'm not sure what did Elizabeth know about miscarriage, but she must have known there is such a risk. I don't consider changing accepted answer, but I think this is as good as Rhetorician's answer.
    – Pavel
    Dec 20, 2013 at 19:51
  • 1
    We did the same thing: waited to announce until the time when most miscarriages occur was past. Hadn't considered that.
    – Frank Luke
    Dec 20, 2013 at 20:31
  • 2
    @Sarah-A good answer-considering Elizabeth's age. But how would you take into account her husband's inability to speak on her behalf when questioned,"How did this all come about?"
    – Tau
    Dec 21, 2013 at 3:10
  • @user2479 Are you asking how concern about miscarriage could be present when the father had received promise from God? Good point! If the father believed the message concerning John, rule out the possibility of their acting out of fear of miscarriage. It would not rule out the possibility that the mother would take special precaution to protect the child early on from infection or danger. Also, the father was unable to speak because he did not believe what was told him. Thus they may still have been fearful supporting the possibility even more. Thank you!
    – user2027
    Dec 22, 2013 at 9:19
  • @Sarah-I was thinking more along the lines of "How am I able to explain the circumstances of my pregnancy, when my husband can't talk?" But you're right-unbelief could certainly be a motivating factor-which makes Mary's visit that much more important.
    – Tau
    Dec 22, 2013 at 9:52

I do think that the theory that Elizabeth was 'hiding' to maintain the viability of the pregnancy is a good one and I would add that it fits in with the overall sanctification (separating unto God) of the child and future prophet John the Baptist. Maybe and even more importantly it fits in with the announcements of Gabriel to the father Zacharias; that the child will be a Nazarite. See Luke Chap. 1 vs. 15 "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." From the Luke narrative after Elizabeth speaks in vs. 25 and hides 5 months in vs. 26....a month latter the virgin Mary receives a visit from the same Angel and is told that her cousin Elizabeth "has conceived a child in her old age" and is 6 months pregnant. When Mary visits, Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Ghost vs. 41 and the "babe leaped for joy in my womb" No doubt as the angel Gabriel for told, John was filled with the Holy Ghost even in the womb.


Among other things Elizabeth was a witness. If everyone knew of her pregnancy, it would not have the same affect. The angel said, "And did you know that your barren cousin is six months pregnant ..." -- way beyond a time of guessing if she was pregnant. I believe this was to verify that 'Nothing is impossible with God!'

  • Welcome to BH.SE! Please take the tour to get a feel for how the site functions. You need to explain more fully what you have said. For example, what did Elizabeth witness, and how is it relevant to her seclusion?
    – enegue
    Mar 8, 2018 at 21:10

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.