Zechariah (I'll refer to him as "Z" hereafter because writing his full name makes me tired) is a pretty interesting guy. Jewish priest and father of John the Baptist........not the Old Testament son of Berekiah, son of Iddo, although he's interesting in his own right.
Z and his wife Elizabeth were good people and pretty old. They had no children but they had obviously wanted them. They had probably asked God for a child for 5, maybe 6 decades and I'm sure they had come to the reality that it wasn't going to happen. Z's turn to serve in the temple came up and he went before the presence of God to do what was commanded. In the middle of his incense burning, an angel told him that he and Elizabeth would have a son. Z asks the angel, "how can I be sure of this?" I'm pretty sure we skip over that question more easily than we should. Z had been pleading for this blessing for so, so long. The question he asks is a loaded one. Do you think Z was bitter? Do you think he wanted to ask God something like, "where have you been?" or "what took you so long?" or "why would you do this now when I'm too old to be the father I want to be?". Or, maybe in one of his bolder mindframes, wag his hand in God's face and say "you know what, don't even bother because I probably won't live long enough to hear this kid's first words". Remember, he was old. The angel quickly reminds Z that he was sent by the Almighty and then tells him that he will be "silent and not able to speak".
If you read Luke 1, you'll get the full story. As a little one, I learned that Z couldn't speak for a while. On the surface, I fail to see how this would be much of a punishment, but then again, I don't do much talking. But read verse 62 and the entire story takes a devastating turn. This verse says that the people around Z would "make signs" when they wanted to communicate with him. One does not make signs unless speaking to a deaf person. In addition to being unable to speak, Z was also unable to hear. Why is this devastating?
Imagine praying for one thing with your spouse for as long as you can remember. After years and years of dreaming and planning and hope fading to disappointment, you find out that your dream is about to become reality. Now imagine not being able to hear your spouse's joy. Imagine not being able to talk about it and plan for it. Imagine Z not being able to hear Elizabeth explain to him what it feels like for her son to kick inside her. Think about him not being able to hear his son cry for the first time. Z didn't get his hearing back for 8 days after John was born. Can you imagine that week? How long it had to have been? Can you see why Z's first words when he could speak again in verse 64 were to praise God?
The lesson here might be for us to deal openly with our bitterness and disappointments because our God's loving discipline is so effective.