top of page

Zechariah Wins the Lottery: A Dream Come True! Luke 1:5-25, by Dr. Terry Harman

Updated: 1 day ago

Lifting holy hands at the golden altar of incense

Lifting Holy Hands, photo by Aaron Harman © 2005

First Time for Everything

We are told, “There is a first time for everything.” This may be true. Imagine if a “once in a lifetime” opportunity comes your way. A “once in a million chance” happens to you. You finally get to experience it. It is one of the best things that has ever happened to you. Hold on to that memory. Now that you have experienced a dream come true, it will never happen again! This is the story of Zechariah from the house of Abijah.


Zechariah’s Story

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.  But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.  Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. Luke 1:5-10 ESV


Zechariah Wins the Lottery

In the heart of the first century Jerusalem stood The Second Temple, commonly known as Herod’s Temple. Inside the Holy Place, directly in front of the veil that separated the Holy of Holies, stood the Golden Altar of Incense flanked by the Menorah to the south and the Table of Showbread to the north.

Inside the Holy Place of the Tabernacle of Moses

Inside the Holy Place photo by Terry Harman, © 2007

Every morning and evening at the time of the daily Tamid offering (9:00 AM and 3:00 PM) the Menorah would be tended and fresh embers and a new supply of incense would be burned upon the Golden Altar. Ministering at the Altar of Incense was as close to the Shekinah as a regular priest would ever be. Only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies once a year on Yom Kippur.

By decree, the descendants of Levi, not all born of Aaron's bloodline, were entrusted with the sacred responsibility of caring for and serving at the Tabernacle and later the Temple. King David divided the Levites into smaller bands, ensuring each family a portion of service, and divided the priests into 24 divisions, each taking its turn in the sacred rites of worship (1 Chronicles 28:12-13). Zechariah was of the House of Abijah, the eighth of twenty-four divisions. Luke informs us that Zechariah’s dream came true, “he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense” (1:9).

The Once in a Lifetime Honor

This daily routine could have become a stale ritual whereby the priest would perform his duties without enthusiasm. To prevent this ritual from growing old and monotonous, only first-timers were chosen to bring the incense offering. A lottery system was implemented to determine who would offer the incense. Why? Rabbi Joshua Heller explains the lottery to first timers was used “to ensure continued novelty and freshness of the time-honored ritual.” (1)


“The Talmud (T.B Yoma 26a) proposes one reason for this practice -- anyone who offered the incense was assured of wealth, and there was a desire to make sure that that blessing would be spread as widely as possible. This practice had the equally important auxiliary effect of ensuring that each day, there would be someone coming to the morning's routine with the excitement of doing something for the first time. The incense was not only a column of smoke but also a breath of fresh air.” (2)


Zechariah’s Destiny

For Zechariah, each turn of the lot was a dance with destiny, a glimpse into the divine choreography of his life. Zechariah’s destiny was not to win the lottery. His once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was not the assurance of wealth but an answer to his prayer (1:13) for a male heir to carry the legacy of the House of Abijah – one who would minister and serve at the House of the Lord. As Zechariah’s tale unfolds, so too, the story of a son comes to light through a messenger of God.

The Golden Altar of Incense and Zechariah Luke chapter one

Luke 1:11-17 ESV

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 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 you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

Zechariah’s Legacy

Zechariah was in his old age and he still had one prayer that remained unanswered. Yet he showed up for his two weeks of duty at the Temple. He was steadfast in his commitment to the covenant and was ready to serve the Lord.

Zechariah's legacy was right around the corner and he did not know it. He won the lottery of a lifetime. He was chosen to offer the incense at the golden altar inside the Holy Place. Within the order of Abijah lies not only the echoes of David's legacy for a Temple, but also the promise of a son for Zechariah, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” and with the same “power of Elijah” (vv. 15-16) This son would turn the hearts of many toward the Lord (v. 16) and prepare the nation for one to come – Jesus of Nazareth, the cousin of John the Baptizer. John would be born six months after John (Luke 1:24-45).



I do not know how Zechariah and Elizabeth endured the years of yearning to be parents. It is easy to become discouraged when our prayers go unanswered. Doubt and resentment can creep in and sidetrack us from the work of the Lord. Our prayer life and spiritual disciplines begin to suffer.


All my children are healthy. I am blessed. I admit I do not know what it is like to want a child and not be able to conceive. I have two friends who cannot conceive. Both are in ministry, and both would make the best parents any child could ever wish for. I do not have an answer.


Zechariah continued to pray despite his years. The angel of the Lord confirmed this when he said, “your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.” We are not told how long Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth prayed for a child. All we know is both were very old (v.7).


After years of prayer, both could have become bitter being childless. After all, not only was Zechariah from the priestly household of Abijah, but his wife Elizabeth was a descendent of Aaron, the first High Priest (v.5). Luke the physician makes sure we know the barrenness was not due to sin. Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous and blameless in the sight of God (vv. 6-7).


I do not know what you prayed for years on end. I do not understand the reason for the delay. This I know. Continue to pray and seek the Lord’s healing and guidance. If you feel like throwing in the towel and giving up on prayer, please reconsider. Don't give up even if you are up in age. Your destiny and legacy may be just one more prayer away.

If this blog helps you, I have another suggestion. Instead of donating to The Tabernacle Man why not bless one of your neighbors who is struggling financially? Mow the lawn of that widow or invite him or her to your table for a meal. Randomly do some act of kindness for someone you do not know. Call your minister, priest, or rabbi and thank them for what they do for the congregation and the community. Support your local house of prayer with your time, talent, and treasure. You have been blessed to be a blessing.


 (2)   ibid.

36 views0 comments


Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
bottom of page