And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. And the angel answering said unto him, 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, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season. And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple. And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless. – Luke 1:18-22
Are we not the same way sometimes? God will hit us square in the face with an obvious act of His providence and we freeze in our tracks uncertain whether we should act.
Zacharias does get a sign, but it is not exactly what he was expecting. He will receive a very strong chastisement from God in the form of silence. He will not be able to speak until Elisabeth gives birth. Moreover, we learn a few verses later that people must make hand signs at him in order to communicate. This means Zacharias is deaf as well! He will be in complete silence for over nine months.
This chastisement may seem harsh but consider that it is given in love because it is God giving it. Zacharias sinned with doubting words. For nine months he will not be able to repeat that sin. God has made it impossible! Not only that, he will not be able to hear the doubts of others either! He will live for nine months in complete silence with only the promise of the Angel Gabriel to ponder. But being a priest, he knew the content of Gabriel’s has always been, “the Messiah is coming.” Think of it, he had nine months of silent reflection that the son he was about to have in answer to prayer will be the forerunner of the Messiah!
We should rejoice in the love and mercy of God because even when we doubt, He is faithful to love and fulfill His promises (and perhaps teach us a few things along the way).