Grace Words

A Daily Bible Reader's Blog

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Zechariah 14

Remember: Zechariah is doing his work as a prophet in a very small window of time. The temple has yet to be rebuilt. The city of Jerusalem, twenty years after the first return of the exiles, still lies in ruins. The Jewish inhabitants of the land have some wealth – though even that seems to be slipping through their fingers – and pride, but nothing is turning out as it should.
The reason things are not progressing as they hoped has to do with their own moral failings. Idolatry is still a problem (12:2). Prophets who claim to speak for God – but really don’t – are still trying to guide the people. And the people are listening, filling the land with sin and impurity.
God feels wounded (12:10).
It doesn’t have to be this way. Things can be better, if the Jewish people will but renew and pursue a relationship with God. They can be the leading nation of the world. God will make it so. But God isn’t going to just make it happen. “Holy to the Lord” will not be inscribed on that which is not really holy, not really dedicated to God.
There is much in chapters 12 – 14 that seems to Christians like the arrival of the glorious judgment of God – God’s reign over the whole earth for example and His name being the only name (14:9). God’s reign cannot be over the lives of people who will not yield to Him. Glory will not just appear. The appearance of God will not automatically change the hearts of people. Instead, we should understand that the blessing of God’s promise and coming will only apply to those whose hearts have already been made ready for it. A heart will not exult over Christ’s return if it is not already exulting over belonging to God.

Zechariah 8

Just as Americans remember September 11, 2001, so Jewish people of Zechariah’s day remembered the tenth day of the tenth month when Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem. They remembered the ninth day of the fourth month, the day the Babylonians breeched Jerusalem’s wall. They remembered the seventeenth day of the fifth month when the Babylonian invaders destroyed Solomon’s temple. They remembered the assasination of King Gedeliah in the seventh month.
Like September 11, these were sad days and the exiles had made them a time of mourning and fasting. But having returned to Jerusalem from captivity, should they continue to remember them? This is the question the people of Bethel ask their brethren in Jerusalem.
“Of course,” God replies. But they should be remembered with joy.
Absolutely. These days marked a turning point in Israel’s history, moving from a time of sin to a time of righteousness. At least, they should. The problem was, the days were not all that great.
God acknowledges this fact in 8:9-11. But God promises a wonderful time to come. Israel will become famous and everyone will want to go to Jerusalem. Prosperity will abound and God’s presence will be obvious.
When did this happen?
It didn’t.
Because Israel never took seriously God’s covenant requirements: to speak the truth, to render justice in their courts, and seek to do what is right (8:14-17).
God’s promises are not without qualification. One cannot expect the blessings of God when all the while living in rebellion to His will. God doesn’t work that way.

Zechariah 07

One of Satan’s more successful tactics is to get God’s people to focus more on religion believing that is the way to holiness. However, what it does is take our attention off what really matters to God.
Zechariah 7 offers a case in point.
Keep in mind that it is nearly twenty years after the first exiles returned to Jerusalem. They returned with the intent to rebuild the temple, then the city. They have done neither.
But they have been religious.
They have instituted “fasts” (without Divine authorization) in the fifth and seventh months as religious observances. It’s important to note that “fasting” as an ordinance from God occurs in the law only (possibly) on the “day of Atonement” (see Leviticus 16:29). The fast in the fifth month was to commemorate the destruction of the temple by the Babylonians (2 Kings 25:8ff). The fast in the seventh month was to remember and mourn the murder of Gedaliah (2 Kings 25:25). As we shall see in chapter 8, there was also a fast in the fourth month and another in the tenth month. By observing these fasts, God’s people were being “religious.” They were not, however, being godly. The Lord says they were doing these religious things for themselves – not in worship of God.
Though they were religious, it did not translate into holiness, for they continued to neglect justice and mercy, as well as the care of the powerless and oppressed in their society (see vss. 9-10).
We too can be “religious.” There’s nothing wrong with religious observance. Where it goes wrong is when it is substituted for obedience to God. Then, religion and all its trappings become worthless.

Tuesday, October 7. Zechariah 8 – 10

Does God ever cast off His people?

If ever you were inclined to say “yes,” Zechariah 10 should provide a clear rebuttal. It is late in the 6th century B.C. The northern kingdom of Israel has been gone for over 200 years. The people of the southern kingdom have returned to rebuild their nation, but it hardly looks like a nation. After twenty years out of exile, the temple has only just been finished. The city of Jerusalem still lies in ruins. To a Jew living in Jerusalem, looking around at their sad condition, he would no doubt say: “God has cast us off.”

But God hasn’t. He fully intends the restoration of His people and so the tribes of Joseph (the northern kingdom) will be restored as well as the southern kingdom of Judah. Together they will constitute God’s people, his Kingdom. This is the message of chapter 10.

Whenever I think of texts like this, I think of the story of the prodigal son. The father, seeing the return of his wayward child a “long way off,” ran to meet him. We liken this to the reception God gives when a wandering child returns to God. But there is a difference. The father in the story thought his boy “lost” or dead. God never loses sight of his children, wayward or not.

Don’t get the wrong idea: This doesn’t mean once we are God’s children we remain forever approved by Him. We do not. We do, however, remain His children.

Monday, September 30. Zechariah 12 – 14

There is great tension in Zechariah. On the one hand, God desires and promises to bless His people. But on the other hand, they remain undeserving. Throughout the book, “leadership” has never been far from the mind of Zachariah and the Lord – leadership both good and bad. In chapter eleven, because of poor leaders, God puts Zechariah in charge of His people. But they do not listen to Zechariah. Though the Lord blesses His people in chapter twelve, they turn on Him and pierce His side – a text used later by John to refer to Jesus (John 19:34-37).

Yet, in chapter thirteen, God provides cleansing. In fact, the cleansing is mentioned twice: first from a fountain, and second through the work of another leader, a shepherd whom the Lord Himself strikes (a text used later by Matthew and Mark to refer to Jesus).

Confused yet?

These final chapters were intended to be confusing and precisely because of the tension between God and His people, what He wants to do, and what He has to do. God desires to forgive and bless. But the people are determined to live their own way, so God must punish and discipline. God longs for peace. His people long for peace. But each wants a peace of their own design. And so, back and forth it goes, with God blessing and punishing, the people rejoicing and disobeying, and all the while, leaders who are both good and bad.

It would appear that despite the exile, nothing has changed since the days of Moses.

Sunday, September 29. Zechariah 8 – 11

In oracles against His own people, nations comprising the rod of God’s discipline come to Israel and Judah from the north. Jeremiah’s vision of the boiling pot tipping south, about to pour its painful contents on the land is just one example of that (cf. Jeremiah 1:13-16). But in chapter nine of Zechariah, the promises of God are to come from the north. It is to be the Lord Himself, leading his army against those who oppressed His people. Hadrach was north of Syria and south of that came Hamath and Damascus.

Surprisingly, the cities that follow are along the Israeli coast: Sidon, Tyre, Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Gaza. These cities were intended to belong to Israel, but they never had. That’s why this text is so surprising. God is promising a conquest Israel had always been promised but which she had never received. God is coming and his empire will encompass the earth and His people will be blessed as never before. Notice the words: The Lord their God will save them on that day as the flock of his people. They will sparkle in his land like jewels in a crown. How attractive and beautiful they will be! Grain will make the young men thrive, and new wine the young women.

Zechariah is speaking in the fifth century B.C. The Israelites who heard his promise must have, in time, viewed the promise as empty . . . unless, in time, they understood it to refer to the coming of the Messiah. Both Matthew and John use it that way and the crowds who welcome Jesus acknowledge the imagery. But the Messiah riding on the foal of a donkey was only part of it. What about the completeness of it, the triumph and recognition of God’s people?

Jesus came to initiate the fulfillment of such prophecies as this. But their complete fulfillment awaits the second coming of the Christ when the seventh trumpet will sound and the “mystery of God will be accomplished, just as He announced to His servants the prophets” (Revelation 10:7).

Friday, September 27. Zechariah 1-3

In the first six chapters of Zechariah we have eight visions. Chapter three introduces us to the fourth one in the series. In the first three, the focus is on the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple and the glory of Israel. The nations constituting the rod of God’s disciplining wrath are condemned and the Lord promises to bring them into His nation. To the first readers, this is a promise of triumph for Israel, but it is in reality a promise of triumph for God, the achieving of His eternal dream.

In chapter three, the Lord turns from the city, temple, and Israel’s glory to the priesthood. As exemplary as the priest Joshua has seemed up to this time, we get a look at him from God’s perspective here. He is a sinner. Satan stands before God to accuse Joshua, but God instead rebukes Satan. In essence: “You should be ashamed of yourself.” God is unwilling to condemn Joshua. After all, he represents Israel, the “apple of [the Lord’s] eye” (2:8). Rather than condemn, God forgives.

Forgiveness is represented by dressing Joshua in clean clothes, and the sight of God’s forgiveness is so exciting to Zechariah that he can’t help shouting “put a clean turban on his head!”

God’s people are all “burning sticks, snatched from the fire.” But for God’s grace and action, we would be consumed. But because God loves us, we’ve been rescued, clothed anew with His forgiveness. The result is a life of peace that we invite others to, a seat under the vine and fig tree of God’s protective care.

Saturday, September 29. Zechariah 8 – 11

What’s going on with God in Zechariah?

    One minute He is making the most marvelous promises to His people.  “Jerusalem will be called the City of Truth . . . Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with cane in hand because of his age.  The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there . . . The seed will grow well, the vine will yield its fruit, the ground will produce its crops, and the heavens will drop their dew” (from chapter 8).

    The next minute, He says “I will hand everyone over to his neighbor and his king.  They will oppress the land and I will not rescue them from their hands” (from chapter 11).

    It’s as if God has become bi-polar.

    But no.  There is a simple explanation.

    The promises of God are what the Lord wants for His people.  But it cannot come to pass as long as the people live outside God’s will.  How can Jerusalem ever be called the “City of Truth” when its inhabitants plot evil against their neighbor and “love to swear falsely?”

    It can’t.  And so the prophet speaks of two worlds: the one that is, and the one that could be.

    We too live between two worlds, and our eternal destiny is bound up with the one we cling to in this life.

Friday, September 28. Zechariah 5 – 7

    At some point, visitors from the Jewish colony in Babylon arrived with gifts for the Jews in Jerusalem.  God specified that part of this gift was to belong to Him, and that part was to be made a crown for Joshua, the High Priest.

    The passage takes us a bit by surprise.  We would expect Zerubbabel to be crowned king; after all, it is he who is of David’s line, not Joshua.

    But purpose of this “word of the Lord” (vs.  9) is not really to crown Joshua king.  After all, the crown does not stay with Joshua, but becomes a part of the artifacts in the temple.  Secondly, the oracle speaks of a time to come because God says “this will happen” if you dilligently obey the Lord.

    This word of the Lord looks forward to a day when the work of king and priest becomes united, and is the clearest text in the Old Testament of God’s intent.

    Jesus, of course, becomes the fulfillment of this promise as both king and priest.

    We are reminded as the chapter comes to a close that God’s promises are conditional: conditional on the Lord’s people being faithful to the leading of God.  God’s promises do not just take place.  They take place when God is ready, but also, when His people are ready.

Thursday, September 27. Zechariah 2 – 4

     Haggai is divided up by dates the author references for the messages given to him. Zechariah also has dates, but his book is arranged more by the different ways he presents his message.  It can be divided into seven parts as follows:

1)    Dated the 8th month of Darius’ second year, the prophet assures the people that God’s words have always come true.  Nothing has changed.  1:1-6.

2)    Eight “visions” emphasize

    a)    God knows what is going on in the world and with His people.  He is determined to bless His own (first vision – 1:7-17).

    b)    God intends to punish those who have made life so miserable for His people (second vision 1:18-21).

    c)    Jerusalem will be rebuilt and it will be glorious (third vision 2:1-10).

    d)    God’s forgiveness and cleansing is promised (fourth vision 3:1-10).

    e)    God Himself will accomplish this (fifth vision 4:1-14)

    f)    Sin is condemned (sixth vision 5:1-4).

    g)    Sin is banished (seventh vision 5:5-11).

    h)    Peace will come to the people of God (eighth vision 6:1-8).

3)    In 7:1-14, the prophet Zechariah is involved in an object lesson that unites the monarchy and priesthood if Judah.

4)     Dated the 4th day of the 9th month of Darius’ fourth year, God emphasizes his determination to bless his people (7:1 – 8:23).

5)    An “Oracle” (9:1 – 11:3) again promising blessing to the people of God.

6)    An object lesson calling all of God’s people, especially their leaders, to turn from sin (11:4-17).

    If you see a lot of the message of the New Testament here, then you can understand why this book is so crucial to understanding the goal of God in sending Jesus.  At the end of chapter 2, and repeated again in chapters 8 and 14, is a reference to bring together all nations.  This is not a global political system, but accomplished in Christ, it is the unity of mankind in a common faith, ethic, and hope.