Monthly Archives: November 2017

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.

Haggai 1 – God’s Presence is What Separates His People From All Others

The historical background for the little “book” of Haggai is post-exile Jerusalem. A remnant has returned to Jerusalem, and Persian King Cyrus (who destroyed the Babylonians) allowed the Jews to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. All the details are in Ezra and Nehemiah. There are four prophecies, and they are all given on specific dates in 520 BC. Of Haggai:

He began his ministry about sixteen years after the return of the Jews to Judah (ca. 520 BC). The work of rebuilding the temple had been put to a stop through the intrigues of the Samaritans. After having been suspended for eighteen years, the work was resumed through the efforts of Haggai and Zechariah. They exhorted the people, which roused them from their lethargy, and induced them to take advantage of a change in the policy of the Persian government under Darius I.

Near the beginning of the first chapter the Lord rebukes the people for living in their “paneled houses,” while his house “remains a ruin.” Twice (verses 5 & 7) we read that “this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Give careful thought to your ways.'” Then he proceeds to tell them that they’ve done all kinds of other work, but have nothing to show for it. The Lord has not blessed them, or more accurately, withheld his blessing from them.

When I underlined those words my “ways” as a young Christian no doubt I thought of them in terms of morality. As many Christians do, I tended to see the Christian life in moralistic terms rather than a life lived in the reality of God’s presence through what Christ accomplished for me in the gospel. Big difference! This is what I’ve come to call the radical relational reversal. In theological terms it’s called justification. Christ took the wrath of God against me for my sin, and endured the punishment I deserved. He took the wages of sin, death, for me! As a result, once I believed Christ’s righteousness was then given to me, and I went from God’s enemy to his child. Now instead of wanting to hide from God, or trying to gain his favor through obedience to the law (morality), I want to please him as I would a daddy, or Abba Father.

I think the temple in a sense functioned in the same way in the historical context of God’s people. They had been judged for this sin, and he now brought them back to the land. After the exile, he wants them to know that the only thing that separates them from every other people on earth is his presence. And the temple is the symbol and reality of that presence. It is God’s mercy and grace revealed in their midst.

This has definite historical meaning, and eventually eschatological meaning, but it’s instructive for our own lives. When we prosper in a thing, it is a direct result of the Lord’s blessing. All good things come from his hand. Another way to look at giving careful thought to our ways is the Lord’s exhortation to understand who exactly it is that is God (not us!), and that we are contingent, dependent beings that rely on the Lord, as Paul says, for life, breath, and everything else. Or as Solomon said in Psalm 127:1: “Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain.”

Haggai is a unique voice among the prophets because the people did something they never did before: they obeyed! They realized that unless the Lord’s presence was with them, they were nothing, not even a people. Reflecting on 18 years of fruitlessness will do that to you. Obviously what we’re doing isn’t working, so let’s give God a try! And there is no indication that the Lord had sent other prophets prior to Haggai. But when he did they were ready. They are lead by two men, Zerubbabel (who is significant in the lineage of the Davidic King to come), and Joshua. Haggai told the people that that Lord is with them, and

They came and began to work on the house of the Lord Almighty, their God, 15 on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month.




Zephaniah 3 – The Glorious Future of the Children God Born of his Favor

Amidst all the horrific images and promises of judgment and destruction in this little book, chapter 3 is filled with hope. Yes there is still some promise of judgment to come, but we get some beautiful descriptions of the telos of it all, the end or purpose for which all of the judgment is happening. As we’ve seen over and over again in the prophets, judgment and salvation are inextricably wound together as if in a very fine thread. You don’t know where one ends and the other begins, and such is this chapter. This melding of judgment and salvation finds it’s ultimate fulfillment in Christ. Could this bloody mess of a human being hanging on a Roman cross cursed of God actually be our salvation? Knowing the Old Testament, and prophets like Zephaniah, turns this into a rhetorical question.

The chapter starts with a typical recitation of the sins of “the city of oppressors, rebellious and defiled!” Her officials, prophets, and priests are completely corrupt, but the recitation ends with a declaration of the perfection of God’s character:

The Lord within her is righteous;
    he does no wrong.
Morning by morning he dispenses his justice,
    and every new day he does not fail,
    yet the unrighteous know no shame.

This is truly the heart of the matter: God is perfect, and we are wretched sinners. How could Zephaniah say “every new day he does not fail” when the world is more or less a hell hole? Isn’t this why so many people want nothing to do with him? God has obviously failed, they logically conclude, if he couldn’t keep the world from being this way. But we must understand this one thing: The Bible, God’s revelation and communication to man, was not written to justify God to us, but us to God. We believe Zephaniah because God’s definition of things is the true nature of things. His is the ultimate big picture of which we are a very small part, and our time on earth a very small piece. We declare he cannot fail because he knows the beginning from the end, and this chapter gives us a glorious picture of that end.

Then we see another recitation and judgment promised to the nations, and that “The whole world will be consumed by the fire of my jealous anger.” But the very next verse is a promise of the mercy and grace and salvation to come:

“Then I will purify the lips of the peoples,
    that all of them may call on the name of the Lord
    and serve him shoulder to shoulder.

Like I said, a very fine thread. How is it that the “whole world” will be consumed, and yet he will purify them so they may all call on his name? Maybe the consuming fire is one of judgment and purification at the same time? More importantly, we notice that this salvation is completely of the Lord. We don’t and can’t purify ourselves! We also know that the “all” cannot refer to each and every person, but to all nations, which the Lord promised would be blessed through Abram’s seed, that is Christ! One more thing. All the religious striving of every human being is fruitless apart from the supernatural work of God in the soul. People spout about God (lips) all the time, but idolatry and self-justification are the only result without God’s transforming work by his Spirit. Here is what will characterize these people:

12 But I will leave within you
    the meek and humble.
The remnant of Israel
    will trust in the name of the Lord.

What a contrast! The haughty pride and vanity and violence of the wicked versus the meek and the humble who know and trust their Lord. This of course refers to the historical remnant of Israel and Judah, but ultimately refers to us! All the last verses of the chapter and book speak of the great and glorious future the “remnant of Israel,” and the “Daughter of Zion” and “Jerusalem.” There is an historical restoration, but what it points to is an ultimate restoration where “The Lord has taken away your punishment.” The Lord, “The King of Israel” will do this. Because here is the bottom line of all of redemptive history:

17 The Lord your God is with you,
    the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
    in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
    but will rejoice over you with singing.”

As hard as this is to believe sometimes (always?), it is we, his people, in whom he takes great delight! Let us rest in that. As the great 19th century theologian Charles Hodge put it perfectly, “According to the Bible the favor of God is the life of the soul.”

Zephaniah 2 – God’s People and God’s Judgment

Chapter 2 begins with Zephaniah, or the Lord through Zephaniah, imploring his people to repent and seek the Lord that they might be sheltered from God’s wrath. Or as it’s called, “the day of the Lord’s anger.” The chapter is several prophecies about Judah’s neighbors who have not treated them well, and when a nation mistreats God’s people, they will pay the price. And in the midst of all this destruction we are told that “the remnant of the house of Judah” will inherit the land. Even though his people sin and will be judged, they will ultimately be treated differently, a notion modern people are loathe to ascribe to God. How dare he make distinctions! That’s so unfair! But the whole purpose of the Old Testament is to point us to the ultimate salvation of God’s people. Not all people, not just any people willy nilly. No, God’s specific people. As I’ve mentioned here before, the name given Jesus was given so that he could save “his people” from their sins.

And for those who don’t treat “his people” well, it ain’t gonna be pretty. But notice that in this prophecy of doom, there is promise of a universal salvation to come as promised long ago to Abraham (“All the nations of the earth will be blessed through you.”):

10 This is what they will get in return for their pride,

    for insulting and mocking
    the people of the Lord Almighty.
11 The Lord will be awesome to them
    when he destroys all the gods of the earth.
Distant nations will bow down to him,
    all of them in their own lands.

There is always this thread running through the prophets, the bad news of judgment with the good news of salvation to come. It’s almost like the two cannot be separated. “The Lord will be awesome” shows itself in both salvation and judgment; in fact salvation must come through judgment. Which, of course, only makes sense in Christ. By taking the judgment due us, he became our salvation. As Paul says, Jesus is now “our righteousness, holiness and redemption.”

As for those who will experience only judgment, the destruction will be total. One of the nations that is prophesied against here is Assyria, and specifically the great city of Nineveh. From the perspective of Zephaniah and the people of his time, that such a city could become “utterly desolate and dry as the desert” would have seemed impossible. As we learned in Jonah, the city had more than 120,000 people, which for the time was huge. For us it would be like New York City disappearing. I also learned that it had massive walls surrounding it that to any who saw them appeared impregnable. But here is what is predicted to happen, and what in fact happened:

15 This is the city of revelry
    that lived in safety.
She said to herself,
    “I am the one! And there is none besides me.”
What a ruin she has become,
    a lair for wild beasts!
All who pass by her scoff
    and shake their fists.

It’s destruction was so great that it completely disappeared from history (sometime after 606 BC), covered in dust and dirt until archaeologists discovered that it really did exist in the 19th century. All that’s left are two large mounds. God’s judgments are true and sure, which is why the call to humble ourselves before him at the beginning of the chapter is a very good idea.

Zephaniah 1 – God’s Wrath: The Wages of Sin Must be Paid

Can it be, another prophet preaching doom and destruction? I guess that was the prophet’s job description. And Zephaniah starts out, and ends this first chapter with, an especially scary doomsday scenario:

“I will sweep away everything
    from the face of the earth,”
declares the Lord.
“I will sweep away both man and beast;
    I will sweep away the birds in the sky
    and the fish in the sea—
    and the idols that cause the wicked to stumble.”[

“When I destroy all mankind
    on the face of the earth,”
declares the Lord,


In the fire of his jealousy
    the whole earth will be consumed,
for he will make a sudden end
    of all who live on the earth.

Yikes! And in between he’s going to do something similar to Judah and Jerusalem. This sin stuff is serious business, and God’s judgment is fierce. Which makes it all the more astounding that you rarely hear about it in so many Evangelical churches. I went to a large Evangelical church for almost 10 years, and not once did I hear the word “wrath” from the pulpit. Oh, I take that back. The pastor did use it once, but that was in reference to Herod and the slaughtering the babies in Bethlehem. Every Sunday they did a confession of sin, and proclaimed forgiveness, but never once was it explain what exactly we were forgiven from! Well, we’re forgiven from what we read about here, God’s wrath and judgment against sin. And this judgment carried out against the whole human race is yet to come. Either God’s wrath is satisfied against us in Christ, or against us. The wages must be paid.

But like most human beings, Judah and Jerusalem didn’t believe judgment would actually come. They mistook God’s forbearance and patience for acceptance, or at least lack of interest. God, they think, doesn’t actually care what we do. Look how long, they further think, we’ve been doing these things and nothing! It will always be thus. But it will not:

12 At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps
    and punish those who are complacent,
    who are like wine left on its dregs,
who think, ‘The Lord will do nothing,
    either good or bad.’

We tend to think that Bible times were so much different than our times, that the Lord made himself so obvious that people were compelled to believe. He didn’t. Prophets were really no different than any preacher in our day: both proclaimed the word of a God their hearers couldn’t see, or directly hear. And when dozens or hundreds (or our case, thousands) of years go by, people tend to think, nothing is ever going to happen, that things will always go on as they have, and they can live as if they are not going to be accountable for their lives.

But the great and dreadful day of the Lord will come, and it will not be pretty. And Zephaniah reminds us that:

18 Neither their silver nor their gold
    will be able to save them
    on the day of the Lord’s wrath.”

Only God himself in Christ can save us from God himself! From his wrath. I love the phrase, God’s wrath has been fully satisfied in Christ. Therein lies our only hope.