Elizabeth smiled faintly at the thought. The aged lady was on her death bed now, but even this was a time of joy as she remembered the moment she knew for certain her Messiah had come.
At every remembrance of her cousin Mary's surprise visit years earlier, Elizabeth thought of the scent of bread. It had been wafting from her oven and throughout her home when she looked up and saw the young figure standing before her, when she heard Mary's voice, when her own womb moved so suddenly that she touched her belly and gleamed.
Thereafter, Elizabeth scarcely could bake bread without thinking of her Savior or think of her Savior without smelling bread . . .
Perhaps this is the scenario Elizabeth enjoyed as she was ushered into eternity. The Bible states Elizabeth (or Elisabeth), wife of the priest Zacharias (or Zecharias) and herself a descendant of Aaron, was a righteous woman chosen by God to bear John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ. Her cousin, Mary, was still a virgin when the angel Gabriel announced to her that she would bear the Savior of the world and that Elizabeth, an aging woman who had been barren, also was expecting.
Mary sought out Elizabeth, traveling some 50 miles from Nazareth to a Judean hill hamlet, believed to be Ein Karem, about four miles northwest of Jerusalem. When Mary greeted her cousin, the Holy Spirit prompted Elizabeth's baby to move inside her womb.
"'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy'" (Luke 1:42-44).
Pastor John MacArthur notes that Elizabeth's expression was not in praise of Mary but in praise of the Child whom she bore.
"She greeted Mary not with skepticism but with joy," MacArthur writes. "She understood the response of the child in her own womb. And she seemed to comprehend the immense importance of the Child who Mary was carrying. All of this must be attributed to the illuminating work of the Spirit."
Elizabeth was mighty in spirit through her faith and devotion, yet her most endearing characteristic was her joy. Her faith is evident in that she never questioned God's indescribable blessing, whereas her husband was must and apparently deaf because of his doubt. Her devotion is evident in that when she became pregnant, she kept herself in seclusion for five months, likely redeeming the time back to God in deep gratitude.
It is then that her joy begins to shine forth.
"This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He looked with favor upon me, to take away my disgrace among men" (v. 25). Her disgrace. Elizabeth wasn't just barren. She was called barren. (v. 36) Everyone knew it.
"A childless state, more so for the daughter of a priest and the wife of a priest, was humiliating, " writes Bible teacher Henry Lockyer. "For in Israel it was the dream of every woman that it might be her privilege to be the mother of the Messiah, promised to Eve, earth's first mother."
Elizabeth responded honorably to the Lord's blessing, drawing nearer to Him. She was joyous, though understanding that along with privilege comes responsibility. She realized that when God performs a monumental work in someone's life, there is no room for self-aggrandizement. All credit is due the Lord. So Elizabeth "kept herself in seclusion" until just before Mary visited her in her sixth month of pregnancy, and the neighbors who had once called Elizabeth barren apparently didn't know of the miracle until after John was born. (v. 58) The Bible states they then joined Elizabeth in her joy.
Verse 56 states that Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months before returning to Nazareth. Its parenthetical placement just before the account of John's birth suggests Mary left beforehand. However, scholarly opinion is split on the subject, and it is such a beautiful thought that Mary could have midwifed her own Child'sher Savior'sforerunner. Did the Servant's mother help prepare the way for the one who prepared the way of the Lord?
"Elisabeth's story ends as her son's story begins to unfold," writes biographer Edith Deen. "We can only hope that she lived to rejoice in his early ministry, while good tidings were reaching forth and turning many to repentance. The tribute of John the Baptist to Jesus as one mightier than himself and his beautiful spirit of renunciation when he said, 'He must increase, but I must decrease' (John 3:30) are a reminder of the spirit of his noble mother."
So perhaps Elizabeth smiled on her death bed. She did not fear dying. She knew her Savior before He was even born, had known Him since her own son within her womb announced the Messiah's presence for the first of many times. Elizabeth closed her eyes, drew one last, deep breath, and recalled the smell again.
It was the scent of the Bread of Life.