Luke 1:5-13 (NIV)

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.
Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.
11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.

What was Zechariah's prayer? One easy guess would be that he was praying for a son, but verse 7 states that his wife was barren and that both were very old, so by this point, why would Zechariah still be hoping or praying for a son? His prayer could also have been something else and God just chose to give him a son as something like a bonus, or a reward, or a gift. At a shallow reading, there don't really seem to be any clues as to what Zechariah's prayer was.

Hence, I'm asking: is there any tradition or exegesis from any branch of Christianity that states what Zechariah's prayer was? If there is a small number of different traditions, please list them together in one answer. If there are somehow a large number of different traditions, please say so and give the most widespread/mainstream ones. I expect that there'll be at least a Catholic tradition and/or an Orthodox tradition.

5 Answers 5


The other interpretation of Zechariah's prayer is related to the specific duty he was performing in the temple that day. The twice-daily incense offering is closely related to the Holy Place and our ability to enter into God's presence. This is especially seen on the Day of Atonement when the incense offering is used by the High Priest in preparation to enter the Most Holy Place.

So the incense offering is related to the atonement of our sins and our entry into God's presence. Since Zechariah was offering one of these daily incense offerings it would be quite likely that his prayer was related to the atonement of his people and their entry into the presence of God.

"May the merciful God enter the Holy Place and accept with favor the offering of his people."

With that idea, perhaps the answer to Zechariah's prayer is that a son will be coming to him to prepare the way for the fully realized entry into God's presence in the physical form of the coming Messiah.

This idea is not original to me. Here is one link to this line of thought that Zechariah was offering the traditional prayer for God's people.


AS Kohen ( Priest ) Zachariah would have been praying the Amidah from what I've learned. These are 18 prayers that the Jews would pray three times a day , http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amidah .

Avot ("Ancestors") this prayer offers praise of God as the God of the Biblical patriarchs, "God of Abraham, God of Isaac and God of Jacob

Gevurot ("powers"), this offers praise of God for His power and might. This prayer includes a mention of God's healing of the sick and resurrection of the dead.

Kedushat ha-Shem ("the sanctification of the Name") this offers praise of God's holiness.

Binah ("understanding") this is a petition to God to grant wisdom and understanding.

Teshuvah ("return", "repentance") this prayer asks God to help Jews to return to a life based on the Torah, and praises God as a God of repentance.

Selichah, this asks for forgiveness for all sins, and praises God as being a God of forgiveness.

Geulah ("redemption") this praises God as a rescuer of the people Israel.

Refuah ("healing") this is a prayer to heal the sick.

Birkat HaShanim ("blessing for years [of good]"), this prayer asks God to bless the produce of the earth.

Galuyot ("diasporas"), this prayer asks God to allow the ingathering of the Jewish exiles back to the land of Israel.

Birkat HaDin ("Justice") this asks God to restore righteous judges as in the days of old.

Tzadikim ("righteous") this asks God to have mercy on all who trust in Him, and asks for support for the righteous.

Bo'ne Yerushalayim ("Builder of Jerusalem") asks God to rebuild Jerusalem and to restore the Kingdom of David.

Birkat David ("Blessing of David") Asks God to bring the descendant of King David, who will be the messiah.

Tefillah ("prayer") this asks God to accept our prayers, to have mercy and be compassionate.

Avodah ("service") this asks God to restore the Temple services and sacrificial services.

Hoda'ah ("thanksgiving") this is a prayer of thanksgiving, thanking God for our lives, for our souls, and for God's miracles that are with us every day.

Sim Shalom ("Grant Peace"); the last prayer is the one for peace, goodness, blessings, kindness and compassion.

These are the prayers that Zachariah would have been , praying in the temple while offering incense.

  • Hi, this question is asking about Christian traditions about these prayers. Can you identify any specific branch of Christianity which has this perspective?
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jan 2, 2014 at 6:47

From the Novel The Nativity Story by Angela Hunt, Zachariah was praying to God for a child while he was burning incense.

I don't know how the author came with that idea.

But I think, looking at the context (verse 7-13) the writer (Luke) simply assume that the reader will understand that Zachariah was asking for a child.

This can be understood if we look back at the time of Jesus. Being without a child was painful and disgraceful. Especially, a male child was considered a great blessing. So, obviously, Zachariah was praying for a child.

The verse itself has a proof in it. It says,

“Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John"

As we see, first Gabriel mentioned about Zachariah's prayer, and the next words the answer to it.

Let me include that story from The Nativity Story:

Page 15: Zachariah inhaled the sweet perfume of incense as he waited for the Levite worship leader's command. He lifted his gaze to heaven. While the worshipers outside this room offered the prescribed prayers, he couldn't but add the habitual plea of his heart: Jehovah my God, your name is from everlasting, and there is no God beside you. If it is possible I have pleased you, my King, once again may I beg you to grant my prayer for a son before I breathe my last-

  • 1
    The fact thathe could have been praying something does not prove that he was. There must be more evidence in order to draw that conclusion.
    – Caleb
    Commented Feb 6, 2013 at 14:57
  • @Caleb I think the words “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John." are a proof to itself. And my answer still stands despite the down vote :)
    – Mawia
    Commented Feb 7, 2013 at 4:42
  • First, the downvote wasn't from me. Second, the evidence you give in your comment is far more clear and to the point than what is in your answer. I would encourage you to edit that verse and its implications into your answer. Your last paragraph perhaps adds some backdrop to the primary evidence of that verse, but in the current wording does not stand well on it's own as evidence. That was my point.
    – Caleb
    Commented Feb 7, 2013 at 12:05
  • @Caleb Thanks for the correction. Updated my answer as well.
    – Mawia
    Commented Feb 7, 2013 at 12:13

I wonder if his prayer wasn't answered in verse 16. The hearts of the children of Israel being turned to God.

I think Zechariah was shocked by the way God was going to answer this righteous request (he and Elizabeth are described as righteous ), and obviously literally "couldn't believe it!" (Judging by the discipline that followed.)

But, the life of this Spirit filled child was the answer to his prayer and would bring much joy! I don't believe he was praying for something he didn't think could happen.


Zechariah must have prayed for the consolation of Israel (Luke 2:25) and for the redemption in Jerusalem (Luke 2:38; Redeemer - Messiah). Jews never wanted Romans to rule them.

I don't think he was praying for a son. It is because he was not able to believe even when angle promised him a son. He must have certainly prayed for a long time to have a son and might have given up praying because both he and his wife have crossed natural child bearing abilities. God in HIS own time answered when Zechariah interceded for others before the golden altar on behalf of all Jews, by blessing him with a miracle child, who in turn a forerunner of Messiah, Redeemer and Comforter of all.

No doubt he could not pronounce blessings (Num 6:24-26) before all Jews who were waiting out side the temple because of his unbelief.


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