Gabriel Visits Zacharias  
Priestly Duties. The priest was part of the division of Abijah. Abijah was one of twenty-four divisions of the Levitical priests. 1 Chronicles 23-24 lists all of the twenty-four divisions. Abijah is found in 1 Chronicles 24:10. King David had divided the Levitical priests into divisions when there were too many priests to perform the work at the temple. According to David’s guidelines, each division served at the temple twice a year and at the major holidays. Fifty-six priests from one of the divisions served each day. It has been estimated that there were as many as 8,000 to 18,000 priests throughout Israel at that time. Consequently, the priest who offered incense at the Altar of Incense in the Holy Place each day was determined by a random lot as we will see shortly. However, a priest could only offer this service once in his lifetime.
The Couple. Zacharias and Elizabeth were both descendants of the Levitical priestly line. The Holy Spirit tells us that God considered both of them to be righteous individuals.

They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years. (NASB) Luke 1:6-7

We discover that they had no children and both of them were now senior citizens. Zacharias had been faithfully serving as a priest for many years while Elizabeth mourned because she had never had a child (Luke 1:25). She must have been a godly woman who struggled quietly and with grace. What an awesome holy couple they were! Difficulties in life either grow us or break us. It is our choice.
The Dream. We do not know what year or day; but on one special day, Zacharias had the desire-of-his-life finally come true.

Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. (NASB) Luke 1:8-9

He would finally be able to enter the Holy Place and offer incense to God. This was a once in a lifetime event. Can you imagine his excitement? His heart may have been skipping beats, and his blood pressure may have been high. I would imagine that he was nervous. His emotions were probably all mixed together. This was a wonderful privilege.
Before a priest entered the Holy Place to offer incense, it was the custom for the people who were standing between the Holy Place and the Bronze Altar to leave the courtyard area and to begin praying. Everyone would be praying for him as he entered the Holy Place. Zacharias was going to enter the Holy Place alone. There would be no one nearby.
Layout of Herod's Temple
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