My point is: Were they used to seeing false angels such that he'd doubt one even in the place of the incense?
As a priest, he'd probably know a lot of Jewish history and the numerous appearances of Angels from God
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Zechariah had a number of precedents which would have been an example to him.
Firstly, Abraham had been visited by three 'men' and the narrative is written in a mysterious way, indicating the nature of that 'visitation' :
And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground, And said, My Lord . . . . [Genesis 18 2,3 KJV]
And they said unto him, Where is Sarah thy wife? [verse 9]
And he said, I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son. [verse 10]
Manoah's wife was barren and an angel visited them and a promise was made and Manoah said :
Now let thy words come to pass. [Judges 13:12 KJV]
Manoah believed the angel. And so did Abraham believe the visitation he had received :
And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara's womb: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.
[Romans 4: 19-22, KJV ]
When Zechariah prevaricates and says :
Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years ?
[Luke 1:18 KJV] . . .
. . . . the angel Gabriel responds :
I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings. And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, [Luke 1: 19b, KJV]
One imagines the mighty Archangel drawing himself up in a slightly frosty response, somewhat indignant at the unbelief of the Levite priest. 'I am Gabriel . . . '
And Gabriel uses just a tiny fraction of his immense powers to chasten the Levite with dumbness for the next nine months.
Later, Mary shows no such unbelief and accepts a far, far greater message, only asking the perfectly legitimate question (there being no precedent to the import of the angelic revelation) 'How shall it be, seeing I know not a man ?'
Not, how shall I know this (for she has already been made aware of the fact) but she asks 'how' as to the means of the staggering miracle with which she is being presented.
So, in summary 'Why would he doubt ?' : well, he should not doubt, for there was ample precedent and example for him to believe and follow.
So why did he doubt ?
Maybe because for four hundred years there had been no further scripture written after Malachi's prophecy. Only there had been the translation of Hebrew into Greek (LXX).
Maybe because of what was going on in the temple, if the things that Jesus corrected, physically, had already begun.
Maybe because of his age and the weariness of waiting for the redemption of Israel.
Maybe because of the activities of scribes and Pharisees and doctors of the law and the Herodians and the relatives of the High Priest : again, assuming that what we see in the days of Jesus' ministry had already become established in Zechariah's day.
Maybe because of discouragement.
Maybe because of age.
Maybe because of weariness.
(I speak as a man of sixty eight years myself.)
Maybe all of this.
And who, then, shall point the finger and condemn ?
There is no evidence in scripture that 'false angels' were seen, either regularly or at all. And I can see no reason, therefore, for that to be a factor in Zechariah's mind as to doubting what had been said to him.
Had that been the case, the narrative would surely have informed us of that factor.
Why would Zachariah doubt Angel Gabriel?
Surely the Scriptures give us the reasons.
Zechariah asked the angel, "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years." - Luke 1:18
Would not any of us doubt what was said in such circumstances. Seeing an Angel when one is an old man in itself would make most of us question ourselves if we are really loosing our marbles!
After all, did not Sarah laugh (doubt) to herself at the angelic news about herself bearing a son, just like Zachariah.
12 Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?
13 And the Lord said unto Abraham, Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old?
14 Is any thing too hard for the Lord? At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.
15 Then Sarah denied, saying, I laughed not; for she was afraid. And he said, Nay; but thou didst laugh. - Genesis 18:12-15
With God all things are possible.
“When the angel came to Sarah, she didn’t rejoice like Mary did. And that got me thinking about Zechariah and when the angel came to him, he kind of has a similar reaction, but the angels reacted in different ways,” wondered Uriel. He asked Patrick Madrid, why did God punish Zechariah for his reaction, but not Sarah?
“The reason that Mary was not punished, obviously, yes she was full of grace, but it has nothing to do with her accepting the message gracefully. The problem there is that it seems Mary had made, although scripture in no explicit way tells us this, the Church fathers who comment on it say that Mary almost certainly had taken a vow of perpetual virginity even through she was betrothed and was going to be married, that she was going to live in a virginal marriage with her husband, Saint Joseph. So in her case, the reason she was greatly troubled was because she knew, in her heart, that God knew that she had made this vow of virginity. And so the angel’s message to her didn’t make any sense. Like, why would God send an angel to tell me I’m going to have a child when God knows that I’ve vowed virginity?” explained Madrid.
“In the case of Zechariah, he doubted what the angel told him, that his wife Elizabeth would have a child in her old age. Because he’s thinking, well she’s well past the point of childbearing so how’s that going to work? So it was his doubt that caused the punishment.”
Then Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel said to him in reply, “I am Gabriel, who stand before God. I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news. But now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled at their proper time.”
Now in the case of Sarah, it seems that the punishment was played out in a different kind of way. Because we’re told that she laughed when the three men … said to Abraham and Sarah that she would have a child because she was an old woman at that time as well. Now, she did in fact have a son and the son Isaac was born to her in her old age, but notice all the trials and travails that she went through.”
And Sarah was listening at the tent door, which was behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; Sarah was past childbearing. Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” And the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?’ Is anything too difficult for the Lord?”
She went through this hardship of seeing this rivalry between Ishmael, that was born to her maidservant Hagar, and how Ishmael lorded it over Isaac, because ‘I am the firstborn son of Abraham.’ Even to the point of seeing her son taken away from her by Abraham to go up to the mountain—Mount Moriah—on which he was told by God to sacrifice his only son. So, I would say that the punishment that Zechariah experienced immediately by being struck down was similar to the way in which Sarah experienced the kind of punishment for her doubt, but it was extended over time in her case and it was not the same kind of punishment. But she too, you might say, was chastised by God for doubting,” said Madrid.