For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. – Luke 1:44
We are told in the opening chapter of Luke’s Gospel that Zacharias and Elizabeth, parents of John the Baptist, kept themselves in isolated conditions during the early months of her pregancy. Zacharias became temporarily mute, a consequence of his disbelief in the prophecies heralded from the angel Gabriel [i]. Elizabeth, on the other hand, kept herself in seclusion during the first five months [ii].
At this point in her pregnancy, the boy growing in Elizabeth’s womb had developed into a functional human being. John’s head is full of hair; he even has hair on his eyebrows and eyelashes! Nails have grown on his fingers and toes. His bones and muscles are working insofar that he can kick and move around and play. Footprints and fingerprints are forming. Sucking motions can be made with his tiny mouth.
Three months earlier, John’s ears began to form. As soon as five weeks after conception his developing outer ear looks somewhat like a wrinkled mouth just above the shoulder. During this stage, the auditory canal and the eardrum had developed. From the pharynx, a bulge of mucous membrane emerges, giving rise to his middle ear, where primordial develop into malleus, incus, and stapes. The middle ear will maintain its
connection with the air passages through the Eustachian tube. In the nearby picture you can see the outer ear taking shape at four months. By the time Elizabeth leaves her place of isolation to reveal her pregnancy, John’s ear is completely formed!
There is evidence that babies can hear a great deal as early as 14 weeks into the pregnancy. One might object that if a person dives under water and someone talks to him, he hears only muffled sound. While under water, the sound is muffled by the cushion of air remaining in the auditory canal outside the eardrum. But the developing baby living in amniotic fluid has no muffling air cushions around its eardrum – and water conducts sound better than air does. The notion that the fetus lives in a silent world is pure fantasy, unfounded in reality.
In fact, the baby can hear his mother’s voice, the rumblings in her stomach and the sounds she makes eating and drinking. We also know the baby hears sounds outside her body: the voices of people, music, and street traffic. The baby hears all this noise, and more, and gets used to it. Hence, a newborn is already used to an environment which is not silent.
In the sixth month, we are told the Virgin Mary is visited by the angel Gabriel, the same messenger who had made the previous birth announcement to Elizabeth [iii]. Mary learns from Gabriel that Elizabeth, too, is pregnant. She immediately makes her way from Nazareth to somewhere in the hill country Judah, roughly eighty miles south, where Zacharias and Elizabeth made their home. During the journey Mary undoubtedly ponders the good news and the excitement builds.
When Mary arrives as Elizabeth’s house, she greets her with hugs and kisses, disclosing the surprising news that she also is bearing a Child. The two soon-to-be-mothers were told previously that their boys would work together [iv]. Elizabeth’s son, John, would be a great preacher filled with the Holy Spirit and would turn back the sons of Israel to the Lord their God. Mary’s Son, Jesus, would be the long-awaited Messiah and possess the throne of King David, reigning over it forever [v].
Tiny John, accustomed to a quiet life inside his mother’s womb, senses his mother’s happiness and leaps for joy himself! His father cannot speak. His mother is a recluse. For months he lived a voiceless life. But now he hears the loud sounds around him and joins the celebration!
Although we know that babies can hear sounds inside the womb, we are grateful that our compassionate Creator did not permit unborn children to possess a vocabulary or understand words they heard until after they are born. For a moment put yourself in the place of an unborn child. Imagine the horror learning that your own mother is plotting to terminate your life. Ponder the terror as you hear the abortionist say to a nearby nurse, “Hold his feet still while I insert the scissors into the back of his skull…”
[i] Luke 1:20, 22
[ii] Luke 1:24
[iii] Luke 1:26f
[iv] Luke 1:16-17;
[v] Luke 1:32-33