Zechariah 7 – The Evidence of a God Centered Faith

In this chapter we get more historical specificity for the context of the story. It starts with, “In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah on the fourth day of the ninth month, the month of Kislev.” One commentary sets the date at December 4, 518 B.C., and invoking the name of this specific king in his fourth year we know the temple is moving toward completion. Remember that it was King Cyrus who sent the exiles back to begin the building of the temple, then it was stalled for 18 years. When Darius took over and rebuilding started again, enemies of the people tried to stop them. Darius commanded that the initial order from Cyrus be found in the government archives, and it was, so the rebuilding commenced.

A delegation of exiles (we know they were exiles because they have Babylonian names) from Bethel come to ask the priests a question, and thus inquire of the Lord: “Should I mourn and fast in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?” There was only one fast required of the Lord on the day of atonement, but over the many years of Israel’s sordid history numerous other mournings and fasts became part of the people’s traditions. The Lord was not impressed. Speaking through Zechariah:

“Ask all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted?

He also asks when they were prosperous prior to their exile, did they not just feast for themselves? Rhetorical questions obviously. What the Lord wants is more than religious observance because such observance easily turns into being about “me”! And when things are going well, it’s easy to forget the Lord and focus on “me.” Here is, however, what a life focused on God looks like:

And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: “This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. 10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.’

In other words, if you love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, then the perfect corollary will hold: you will love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus even adds that, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” In other words, there will be perfect harmony of thought and action in love if God is our God. Given we are sinful, even if saved, human beings, this is really hard, but that’s why as his children in Christ our promised salvation is sanctification every bit as much as justification. In our struggle to embody this kind of love, we should never forget our God’s promise to us through the Apostle John: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” God’s justice demands that he do both! Certainly now, but the “all” can only point to eternity.

But in ancient Israel their hope was more opaque, and the Lord ends this chapter reminding them of their hardhearted rebellion that brought them to this place. They needed constant reminding that by nature they refused to pay attention, stubbornly turned their backs, made their hearts hard and would not listen to the law or the words of the Lord sent through earlier prophets. So the Lord was angry. In our natural state we are no different. And that is the point: we need a salvation that comes from outside of ourselves.

Apologetics point: Many people who struggle with belief in God or who have a hard time accepting Christianity wonder why God doesn’t more clearly reveal himself to us. Many of these same people, and I think many Christians too, think that in the Bible God made himself easier to believe in, made himself obvious, difficult to ignore. There are a few cases when this was the case, and it made absolutely no difference to the fallen human heart. But most of the time the Lord never directly addressed his people in any supernatural way. He rather spoke through the prophets. So Zechariah gets a word from the Lord, or says he does, and comes to the people with that word. How do they know it is actually from the Lord? Well, they really don’t. Ancient Israelites often had a hard time telling false from true prophets, and would much rather the true prophets just shut up!

It’s actually much easier today to believe in God through science (natural revelation), Scripture (the whole history of redemption told and explained in one book), and in Christ, the one who makes sense of literally everything. As C.S. Lewis put it so well:

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else.

 

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Zechariah 5 & 6 – “Behold, the man” is our Priest and King Jesus!

There are more visions in these chapters that speak to God’s working on behalf of the remnant back in Jerusalem. It’s all very symbolic stuff, but what Zachariah sees in chapter 5 are the means by which the Lord is cleansing the land of sin. The first vision is of a flying scroll, a very large scroll, that says all liars and thieves in the land will be banished. The second is a of a woman in a basket. She represents the iniquity of the people throughout the land, and she will be captured in the basket, a lid put on, and carried off to Babylon. The Lord is starting something new in Jerusalem and he is making sure sin doesn’t get in the way to mess it all up, as sin always does.

The first part of chapter 6 is a vision of four chariots and different colored horses “coming out from between two mountains—mountains of bronze!” There is much disagreement as to what this all means, but they are coming from standing in the presence of the Lord and going throughout the whole earth. Most agree this reflects some kind of judgment against the nations. This is the end of Zecharaiah’s visions.

Next the Lord tells him to get the silver and gold that the exiles brought back from Babylon, make a crown, and set it on the head of Joshua the high priest. This is clearly Messianic because a priest could never become king in Israel, and the crown will not actually be worn by Joshua, but kept in the temple as a memorial representing a coming priest and king of the same name whom we know as Joshua of Nazareth. In fact this is all but explicitly stated in these words:

12 And say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: for he shall branch out from his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord.

The words, “Behold, the man” are the same words that Pilot used when he introduced the scourged and beaten Jesus to the hostile Jewish crowds before his crucifixion. The word branch is also used numerous times in Isaiah and Jeremiah to refer to the coming Messianic king, so this Joshua and his crowning are a picture of what is to come:

13 It is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two.’

Two what? It can only be priest and king. The high priest, which this Joshua was, mediated God’s presence and forgiveness to the people, while the king ruled the people. Given Jewish history, the phrase “a priest on his throne” was a completely incongruous figure. Those two just didn’t go together, but here is the Lord saying they most definitely will. Of course we know who this refers to now and it makes perfect sense, but you have to wonder what the people thought of it then. This temple he will build has to be a much greater building, and in fact won’t be a building at all! It will be us!

The final verse speaks of “those who are far away” coming to help build “the temple of the Lord.” The salvation and presence of God with his people was always intended to go far beyond the nation of Israel, and we see the result of God’s people spread throughout the world today. And with all the talk of God’s doing and establishing, the chapter ends on sort of a strange note:

This will happen if you diligently obey the Lord your God.

But it is not so strange when you realize that God’s working is rarely done apart from human agency. There is no contradiction in, “Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain.” We build, we work, we struggle, even as the Lord builds through us. His power animates all things, including us.

Zechariah 4 -‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty

Chapter 4 is a message of encouragement to the people during the rebuilding of the temple, and to those looking to the God’s ultimate purposes in history, the redemption of his people and the world. The theme of it all being God’s work is carried over from the previous chapter because the accomplishment of our salvation from sin is all God’s work. In this chapter we see that the physical temple will have something to do with all this, but it clearly points to something beyond itself, as are the people who are leading the rebuilding, Joshua and Zerubbabel. It’s easy to see in hindsight, as the New Testament writers do, that this all refers to Christ and his Church, but you wonder how the people of the time took it. They knew their work was important, but they must have had an inkling that something bigger was going on here.

Zechariah, probably worn out from his previous visions, is awakened from sleep by the angel and asked what he sees. He can’t quite understand, but it’s a golden lampstand with a bowl on top with “seven lamps on it, with seven channels to the lamps.” It is a vision related to the temple and God’s presence, but the point is a simple one every Christian should meditate on every day of their lives:

So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.

The rebuilding of the temple hasn’t gone smoothly. There have been delays and threats from enemies, but the Lord wants his people to know it is ultimately not up to them. This work will be finished because no obstacle is too big for the Lord Almighty! Pointing to this temple, and beyond, the Lord tells them:

“What are you, mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of ‘God bless it! God bless it!’”

The work will be done no matter what it looks like now, something for us to keep in mind as we struggle against ourselves and the gravitation pull of sin in a fallen world. And the capstone of this finished building points forward to a cornerstone to come (Zech. 10:4), as Paul calls Jesus, the chief cornerstone, of a building not made with human hands. Zerubabbel plays the key role in this rebuilding project pointing as a type of Christ, as we saw from the final words of Haggai. He lays the foundation of this temple, and his hands complete it, just as Christ is the foundation and completion of the spiritual temple, his Church.

Zechariah 3 – The Filth of Sin Can Only Be Cleansed by a Sovereign Act of Almighty God

Zechariah is one of only three books in the Old Testament where Satan gets a starring role. The others being I Chronicles and Job (mentioned 11 times!). In this chapter he is doing to Joshua the high priest what comes naturally to him given his name, accusing him. That’s what Satan always does, accuses, and I think he shows up in this chapter because the Lord is giving us a very big picture lesson. It is a vision of the gospel, and it can bear no other interpretation.

“The Lord,” says to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! Another veiled reference to the Trinity, or he would just say, “I rebuke you.” Then we are told it is the Lord “who has chosen Jerusalem.” What is the point of putting that in the narrative? After what, a thousand years of rebellion, after he has scattered his people and allowed the city to be destroyed, he in what appears to be anger asserts Jerusalem is his? Remember the context is the remnant coming back to Jerusalem. At the end of the previous chapter we read of the Lord’s declaration of a universal salvation, and that again he would choose Jerusalem. This place, this city, is from where the salvation of mankind is to come. And he chose it specifically in spite of what the people had done, not because. It is a sovereign act of his mercy and grace, and Satan doesn’t like it one bit!

So what exactly is Satan accusing Joshua of? It doesn’t say directly, but we can infer from the text. Right after he rebukes Satan, the Lord says, “Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?” Is this, then, not a picture of complete, sovereign mercy and grace? What could be more helpless than a burning stick in a fire? Not much the stick can do to save itself, now can it. Then to fill in the picture of exactly what this helplessness refers to we’re told that “Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel.” Of the word filthy Strong’s Concordance says:  from an unused root meaning to issue; soiled (as if excrementitious). In other words he was covered in poop! What in the world? But we see from the very next verse what this filth represents:

Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.”

Then I said, “Put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the Lord stood by.

It is our sin! That is the object of Satan’s ire. And who hasn’t felt the sting of his accusations; we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, according to this chapter way short! You might say, shit short! We are by nature filthy, smelly sinners worthy of condemnation. But by a sovereign act of Almighty God he takes away our sin and clothes us in garments of righteousness. And what exactly did Joshua do to “deserve” this? Nothing! As do we in our own salvation. As Charles Hodge says, it is the sovereign, supernatural work of God in the soul of man.

Then the Lord tells him without equivocation exactly how all this is going to happen. Joshua and his associates are “symbolic of things to come.” He is going to bring his “servant, the Branch.” Then he sets a stone in front of Joshua that has seven eyes on it, seven being the symbolic number of perfection in Scripture. This perfection will be all seeing. And to what end is all this symbolism:

I will remove the sin of this land in a single day.

How in the world could he do that? Another Joshua, crucified on a Roman cross some 500 years into the future would take away the sins of the world on a Good Friday afternoon. I suppose a pious believing Jew could say the text says “this land” so it can’t refer to Jesus, but throughout the Old Testament “the land” is often referred to in symbolic and eschatological terms. The last simple words of the chapter give it this latter, eschatological sense:

10 “‘In that day each of you will invite your neighbor to sit under your vine and fig tree,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

The essence of sin is alienation, from God, ourselves, and others. This simple invitation is another piece of the symbolism of the chapter. And think about it, why is Joshua the lead character in the symbolic picture of the salvation to come? Because he’s the high priest, and his job is to enter the Holy of Holies once a year into the presence of God to atone for the sins of the people. When this happens as Zechariah’s vision proclaims, God’s presence will be available to all his people, and we now know in the person of the Holy Spirit. Alienation becomes shalom in us, and one day all the world.

 

 

Zechariah 2 – The Lord Himself is Our Protection and Our Glory

Chapter 2 starts with a vision of a man with a measuring line who is going to measure how big the city of Jerusalem is. When the exiles return they will find a city with no walls, and that was not a good thing in the ancient world. Without walls a city had no defense, and surrounding nations would surely take advantage of that. We can read the interesting story of the rebuilding of the walls in Nehemiah, and how the situation was a precarious one. In this chapter we see a bit deeper into why they were able to succeed. The Lord was to be their wall until the physical one was finished.

And I myself will be a wall of fire around it,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will be its glory within.’

No doubt this hearkens back to the pillar of fire that led Israel in the wilderness so long ago. Let their be no doubt in the people’s minds, God himself is their protection, even when they do build a wall. And the glory of God’s people is never their strength or wealth or popularity, or whatever, but God himself, his presence “within.” It is all of God, so that no one may boast.

Then we read the Lord imploring the people to come back from the places he has scattered them. No doubt the people after 70 years had gotten comfortable and used to the lands where they had settled. Plus the generation that had known the land of Israel and Jerusalem had died, so all they had was the oral tradition of what “the old country” was like. And I think we see an indication of the Trinity in these verses because the Lord himself will judge the nations that have plundered Israel:

For this is what the Lord Almighty says: “After the Glorious One has sent me against the nations that have plundered you—for whoever touches you touches the apple of his eye— I will surely raise my hand against them so that their slaves will plunder them. Then you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me.

The “Glorious One” and the Lord Almighty are the same person, while the one sent is the one above who himself will be the wall of fire above, and the city’s “glory within.” And the final verses of the chapter almost seem like a confusion of persons

10 “Shout and be glad, Daughter Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,” declares the Lord. 11 “Many nations will be joined with the Lord in that day and will become my people. I will live among you and you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you. 12 The Lord will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land and will again choose Jerusalem. 13 Be still before the Lord, all mankind, because he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.”

The Lord Almighty and the sent one are clearly both divine. There are two distinct persons, yet God has declared himself one. It would be into the fourth century AD before God’s people could get a grasp on exactly how this could be, but this text alone, among many others in the Old Testament show us that the concept of the Trinity is all over the Bible. We also see that in the day this happens we will witness the universality of the salvation God himself will provide. This story is way bigger than one people and one city. To this day billions of people call on the name of the Lord.

 

Zechariah 1 – Israel Returns to God and Experiences His Power

Zechariah, whose name means “the Lord remembers,” lived at the same time as Haggai when the remnant had returned from Babylon and was rebuilding the temple. So his prophecies were around 520 BC, and speak not only to the current historical moment of the rebuilding of the temple, but to the coming reign of the Messiah. Many of his visions read like the Book of Revelation or Daniel.

I, as I’ve said numerous times before, love the historical specificity of Bible, of which the first verse of this first chapter is a good example:

In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo.

God’s revelation to man never reads like a fairy tale, or like the Greek, Roman, or other ancient myths; it reads like history. And archaeology backs up that it is accurate history. This word of the Lord is a call for the people to return to the Lord, and not to be like their forefathers who would not listen and turned away from the Lord. But these returned exiles were not like their forefathers and repented. They learned from God’s judgment and didn’t ignore it. Then even more historical specificity:

On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, the month of Shebat, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo.

This word is a vision of encouragement to the people, and includes an appearance of the angel of the Lord. In the vision horses of different colors with riders go throughout the world and report that “the whole world is at rest and in peace.” Then the angel of the Lord pleads with the “Lord Almighty,” why is the world at peace while his anger is still against his people. Basically, isn’t 70 years enough? In fact, yet. The Lord is angry with the nations who think they are secure, but he will bless and comfort Zion and Jerusalem when his house is rebuilt. Israel will know peace and prosperity again. It was four years from the day of this prophecy that the temple was rebuilt.

Finally, the vision ends with “four horns,” which in the bible means power, so these four were the nations that made war and scattered Israel. God promises through what he calls “craftsmen” that he will take care of these horns. No earthly power can stand against Almighty God, and that power is available to his people if they would only return to him. In this period of Israel’s history they happily did, but we know what happens when Almighty God comes to save his people in the person of Christ. But we who have accepted Christ have this Almighty power, not only available to us as Israel did, but within us! We are now the temple of the Living God! I thought of what Paul says in 2 Corinthians as contemplate this power:

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

I did a Bible word search for the word “power” and it is used 135 times in the New Testament.That would be a fantastic word study to do. God with Israel is showing his power over the nations to bless his people, and eventually through Christ has revealed to us a spiritual power available to all who believe in him. The rest of the book of Zechariah reveals that to us.

 

Haggai 2 – God’s Covenant and Spirit are Our Confidence

Chapter 2 is a sometimes confusing mix of the historical and eschatological, but the beauty of both is that they rest not on God’s people, but on God’s promises, not on human effort, but God’s Spirit (v. 5). In the first five verses Haggai’s prophecy, the Lord speaking through Haggai, addresses these three:

  1. Zarubabbel, the governor of Judah (they couldn’t have a king at this time as they were still ruled by the Persians).
  2. Joshua, the high priest.
  3. The remnant of the people.

The message he has for them is one of encouragement:

Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am withyou,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’

And it is encouraging to the degree that it ultimately doesn’t depend on them. It depends, rather, on God’s covenant promises and his Spirit, so the indicative drives the imperative. Unfortunately, most Christians get this backward because they confuse sanctification with justification. If, they tend to think, I just do more of this or that, or less of that or this, then God will be more favorably disposed toward them. This is subtle because of course they believe in the gospel, and God’s mercy and grace, his forgiveness, but they still don’t fully trust that Christ’s righteousness is theirs. And it is exactly so because of what the Lord here tells the remnant of the Jews, because of his covenant, and his Spirit in and among us.

The next several verses are a perfect example of the confusion I mention above. It says the whole of the heavens and earth will be shaken, then this:

I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty.

What in the world is “desired by all nations”? I don’t know exactly, but I think a clue is what we’ve seen throughout the prophets, that judgment and salvation go hand in hand. All nations want ultimately what they can’t have, which is perfect peace and prosperity. We live in a fallen, tragic, endlessly frustrating, and in the end futile world. We all end up with dirt in our face. But we long for more because we know there must be more. As I’ve heard it said, we have infinite longing and only finite capabilities to fulfill it. What we want, then, what is “desired by all nations,” is only what God himself can fulfill.

‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

The only peace that ultimately matters is peace with God. That is what we truly desire. Pascal says it with typical perspicacity:

What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.

And Augustine with his poetic simplicity

You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.

And finally the Apostle Paul:

[S]ince we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ . . .

Haggai can only be pointing to Christ because God cannot grant peace apart from his justice being satisfied. There is nothing arbitrary, a la the God of Islam, about God granting peace, praise the Lord!

The rest of the chapter is God’s affirmation to the remnant that he will most definitely bless their work on this temple, which ushered in a period in Jewish history called second temple Judaism. All of it paving the way for the Messiah who will save God’s people. This is clearly confirmed by “the Lord Almighty” in the last verse when he promises Zerubbabel, “I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you.” We find this same Zerubbabel in Matthew and Luke in the lineage of Christ. The Lord is reestablishing his promise of the salvation to come through David’s line.