Growing in Christ
"He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures." Luke 24:45
Zechariah urged the remnant returning from exile to be faithful to the Lord
Practical and Pastoral Observations on the Book of Zechariah (please read each chapter slowly and meditatively before reading observations below):
Introduction: Zechariah (a common name in scripture, meaning "Yahweh remembers" and used in the OT of 27 others) was a descendant of both a priest and member of the governing body (through his grandfather Iddo). Zechariah was a contemporary of the prophet Haggai (Ezra 5:1; 6:14) call Israel to faithfulness following their return from exile in Babylon. The visions can be divided as follows: the visions of the present (chs 1-6), and visions of the near future (chs 9-11) and visions of the more distant future (chs 12-14). Chapter 7 and 8 respond to a question brought to him by a delegation from the city of Bethel. The following chart may be helpful:
Zechariah's prophecies contain many promises of the Messiah (3:8; 9:9, 16; 11:11-13; 12:10; 13:1,6) including Christ's second coming (6:12; 14:1-21). (Only Isaiah prophesizes more in anticipation of Christ's coming.)
God's Word is true: whether it is a word of warning (v.6) or promise; whether those who speak it are yet living or dead.
Repentance brings blessing: Three months after the call to repentance of Zechariah 1:1-6 and of Haggai 2:10-23 the people repented, began to rebuild the temple and God spoke words of comfort and encouragement (Zech. 1:7ff) including the eight visions of the first six chapters.
Vision of the Horses and Horns: Horns were symbols of strength (as horns of a bull); the four horns (v.19) represented power of the Gentile nations (Assyria, Egypt, Babylonia, Medo-Persia). Though Israel has been oppressed by each of these powers, God remains greatly concerned for His people and will restore them (v.16-17).
Though God brings punishment to those refusing His gracious offer of redemption and refusing their responsibility to bring His grace to the nations (here, Israel, now extended to Christ's followers), His purpose is limited punishment rather than destruction (v.15), so that His people will repent and return to their redemptive calling.
We must therefore encourage those who have suffered for their wilfulness (though not all suffering is for wilfulness, some is), reminding ourselves and others that God's ultimate purpose is not the consequences of our wilful decisions but our redemption and service towards the healing of the nations in His Kingdom.
v.3: "Return to Me," declares the LORD of hosts, "that I may return to you."
My Prayer: Father, help me stand strong in the face of those who constantly accuse You of injustice for allowing the consequences of their wilfulness, when it is they, rather than You, who are unjust. Lord, thank you that by Your great mercy You limit the consequences of our sin and continue to receive those who turn to You allowing us to be agents of your grace to the nations.
Vision of the Surveyor: God will keep His promise to restore those who return to Him (v.6-7) after experiencing the judgment of exile for idolatry. Not only that, but the restoration God will bring will be beyond measuring (v. 4).
The Glory of God's Kingdom: The Kingdom God will bring is expansive (v.4) and unspeakably glorious (v. 5). God Himself will be in our midst and draw many nations (v.11) to Himself. The contrast between judgment and blessing is beyond measure.
v. 5: "I will be a wall of fire around her (Jerusalem, God's people), and I will be the glory in her midst." v. 10: "Sing for joy and be glad, O daughter of Zion; for behold I am coming and I will dwell in your midst, " declares the Lord."
Inviting All to Participate: Zechariah and all God's people are to call those who live yet in exile to leave their bondage and return to the Lord (v. 6-7 are expressions of that call).
Warning to Those who Plunder God's People: God warns those who threaten to harm His people that he who touches them, touches the apple of His eye (v.8) and that He in turn will cause them to be plundered by the weakest and most oppressed among them (v.9). This warning is particularly applicable to those who persecute God's people unjustly.
My Prayer: Father, thank you for the hope and courage You give through these glorious promises and realities. Thank you that Your promises are always true and strengthen our hearts against encroaching evil. Cause us to know Your presence, Lord, even when our eyes are dim.
The nations will come to Jerusalem when the presence of God in her midst is evident. While final fulfilment is eschatological it's always true in the day-to-day of our lives: may we live in love and grace and forgiveness, hope and joy in such a way as to draw men and women living in darkness to desire His presence also.
Restoration: At the return of Israel from exile God restored Joshua to be high priest, restored Israel to its priestly position before God and to bless the nations and refigured the cleansing to be brought by the Messiah who would "remove the iniquity of the land in one day" (v.8-10).
Overcoming the Accuser: God overcomes the accuser (Satan, v.2) and restores those who walk in His ways (v.7) to free access into His presence.
We do not outside of God have authority over Satan but can say, "The Lord, who died to redeem us and who broke the power of death, rebuke you!"
Note v.2: "The LORD said to Satan, "The LORD rebuke you Satan! Indeed, the LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?"
Plucking "Brands from the Fire:" God's mission and ours is to pluck "brands from the fire" (v.2). God in this way saves us from Satan's design on us and so we in turn are in co-mission with God by His grace to save others.
Consequences: This has many practical outcomes to be lived out: e.g.
I will know my authority in the Lord against Satan.
I will be confident in my restoration from sin to priestly mediation between God and man.
I will pluck "brands from the fire".
I will walk in His ways and enjoy access in His presence (v.9).
My Prayer: Father, I praise you that You overcome Satan and pluck us as brands from the fire, delivering us eternally from the evil one! How magnificent is Your grace and power and sacrifice in our behalf! Lord, by Your Spirit, fill me also with Your Spirit of compassion and passion for the lost! In Christ's name, Amen.
God Encouragement and Call: God pours out His Holy Spirit, symbolized in the vision by olive oil from the two trees (v.12) into the lamps on the golden lampstand (v.2, 12). The lamps symbolize the role of light-bearing or witness to the world, both for the "two anointed ones," Israel's anointed priest and king, and for Israel as a whole as God's witness to the world.
v.6: "Not by might or by power, but my My Spirit, says the LORD of Hosts."
v.10: "For who has despised the day of small things?" (in this instance the smaller Temple of Zerubbabel compared with the destroyed larger Temple of Solomon)
God's Holy Spirit is our Source for Mission: God empowers his anointed light-bearers, by His Spirit (v.6) to overcome "mountains" (v.7) in order to witness to the nations. This encouragement was directed to Zerubbabel, the anointed king, and Joshua (Jeshua) the anointed high-priest, in this chapter but extends throughout history to us in our missions contexts.
I will draw near to the Lord for the anointing of His Holy Spirit.
I will depend not on human might or power by on Him (v.6).
I will not be intimidated by challenges ("mountains") before me (v.7) or despise good in small quantities (v. 10).
My Prayer: Father, it's so easy to be overwhelmed by weakness within or by the work of the evil one without. Thank you for the encouragement of this chapter. Help me to rely on You moment by moment, trust the power of Your Spirit and be bold and obedient always.
God will not be mocked or ignored: God judges evil and those who violate His covenant (v. 1-4) and removes wickedness from among His people, in this case to Babylon (v. 5-11), a land of idolatry and exile from which a remnant of those punished for idolatry have recently returned.
Sin is an ever-present danger, even for those who have just been disciplined for ignoring Yahweh and His covenant, choosing instead to go their own way. I must be ever vigilant over my own heart and turn away from the temptations which follow even grace and forgiveness.
Don't be worn down: We must not be na´ve about the power and dangers, subtle and brazen, of sin against the Holy One who calls us to share in His holiness. The world may mock or ignore the only Holy, True and Living God, but the pain engendered by doing so litters history with human misery. The way back home is so open and welcoming - "Turn back, oh man" - Godspell
My Prayer: Father, though Your invitation to walk with You in covenant holiness is so often and tragically ignored, rejected, mocked and misrepresented, keep the fire of Your Holy Spirit burning clear and high in me. Keep me boldly calling, people who know You and those who don't, to enter Your covenant and know You, delight in You and resist every temptation of the enemy of our souls to turn aside.
Vision of God's Sovereignty: In Zechariah's first and last visions, God sends horses to patrol the earth. Both visions show God's sovereignty and passion for righteousness. Mighty servants go from His presence to do His bidding (v.5) including the punishment of Babylon, land of the north (v.8), entirely overrun by Persia 3 years after this prophesy. The whole world is under God's dominion. Cf. v.5: "These are the four spirits of heaven, going forth after standing before the Lord of all the earth" (to do His bidding).
Reconciler and King: In God's appointment of Joshua (v.11) to be crowned as both priest and king (v.13), Jesus (a common variant by vowel pointing, of Joshua) is prefigured. The Branch (v.12) was a messianic title (cf. 3:8) and the crown of two bands, gold and silver from the exiles' offering for temple reconstruction (v.10-11), pointed to the Messiah being both High-Priest and King, offices previously separated.
Trust, Peace, Obedience: I will trust God's ability to patrol the earth and know what is going on, including unrighteousness to be made right. I will be at peace even as I fight evil, within and without. I will obey Messiah Jesus who is my rightful King as well as High Priest who overcomes my sin and reconciles me to God.
My Prayer: Thank you Lord that you rule all the earth. Thank you that your servants go forth from heaven to do what you command. Thank you that you, through Jesus the Messiah, who is both Restorer (priest) and King, will restore all things.
Zechariah 7 (The next two chapters respond to an immediate practical question, before moving to visions of the future in chapter 9)
The Root of the Matter: God is never satisfied with surface questions or with external appearances (v.3) but looks always at the heart and root of the matter (v.4-14). We can never hide this from Him and are always responsible to Him for it.
The men from Bethel (v.2) asked how long it was necessary to grieve national tragedies: should they continue to fast in the fifth month, commemorating the burning of the first temple by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC (Jer.52:12-13) or the seventh month, commemorating the assassination of Gedaliah, governor of Judah (2 Kings 25:23-25). Zechariah does not respond directly until 8:18-19, addressing first the root issue underlying the the cause of these events: Israel's refusal to hear God.
Compassionate Hearts: God does not ask us to keep fixed fasts of our own creation. The more important matter is to keep our hearts right and for justice, kindness and compassion to flow freely and widely (v.9-10):
"Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do no devise evil in your hearts against one another."
Refusing to Hear: The practical outcomes of hard hearts rejecting God (v.12) include unanswered prayer (v.13), desolation and desertification (v.14). I will not be satisfied with outwards appearances to impress myself or others, but submit my heart to the Lord continually for His correction and purification.
My Prayer: Father, how your eyes see beyond ours. How you always see rightly and to the root. How I need to hear your voice continually to keep from going astray. Father, give me a heart always to seek and hear your voice, to love your word and truth and to live it completely and immediately. For your Glory! Amen.
Promise of Restoration: God's character and greatness will be seen in the restoration of His remnant. God promises to restore Jerusalem to truth and holiness (v.3) in which there is safety (v.4-5) and prosperity (v.12). The promise of restoration is conditional: there must be pure hearts and ethical behaviour which makes for peace (v.15-16). The world will be fascinated and ask to come to know this God also (v.21-23).
Zechariah here (8:19) answers the question of 7:3 about whether fasting the four national tragedies should continue. The fasts will be turned to feast days when God's people are restored. Loving truth and peace is more important than mechanical fasting.
God's Over-arching Purpose: In this the Lord demonstrates His purpose for His people: God saves us that we may be a blessing to the nations (v.13; Genesis 12:3). An unsaved, lukewarm or compromised people cannot be the redemptive blessing the Lord desires for the nations. This is the reason the Lord always calls His people higher.
I will therefore seek the Lord in such a way as to make His blessings possible to His people (v.16) and thereby His people to be a blessing to the nations (v.13).
God is Greater: Human obstacles abound but v. 6: "Thus says the Lord of hosts, "If it is too difficult in the sight of the remnant of this people in those days, will it also be do difficult in My sight?" declares the Lord of hosts."
My Prayer: Father, thank you for your constant purpose through the ages. You desire to save a people that they may extend your redemptive blessing to the nations. Thank you for your encouragement to those who respond "Do not fear; let your hands be strong (v.13)." Thank you that your purpose and victory is sure.
Zechariah 9 (Chapters 9-14 are an apocalyptic vision of the future)
God's Grace: God turns His enemies (v.3,6) to be part of His people (v.7). Through the coming of the Messiah (v.9) will come the end of war (v.10). (Parenthetically, the contrast between the power of Greece (v.13) and its head Alexander the Great, and Jesus (v.9) could not be more stark: Jesus is just, brings salvation and is humble - the King I love.)
God's mission - setting free the captives from sin and oppression (Luke 4:18) - is based on His blood covenant with us (v.11). Throughout scripture is the recognition that life is in the blood (Lev. 17:14), therefore blood alone is of equal value to life and can be exchanged for it. This is the basis of Christ's atonement for us.
Our Strength: Jesus, the Prince of Peace, by giving His blood for us, dispels fear, making us, even in the most difficult of circumstances (e.g. empty cisterns used as dungeons, v.11), "prisoners of (or with) hope", set free to receive double goodness from His hand (v.12).
v.10: The bow of war will be cut off. He will speak peace to the nations and His dominion will be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.
My Prayer: Father, thank you for Jesus, the Prince of Peace who gives hope in all circumstances and final victory. Lord, strengthen me today for the challenges and evil I may face in it, and enable me to emerge victoriously with joy and praise to You.
Some suggest a different and later authorship for chapters 9-14 due to differences in style and reference to Greece as a future dominant power (e.g. 9:13). This is a problem only if one rejects God's ability to speak of the future. Even if one rejects reference (without using his name) to Alexander the Great, it is clear that Jesus fulfilled the promise of v.9, a wonderful example of predictive prophesy and confirmation of Jesus as Messiah.
Choosing Rightly: The primary contrast made is between "teraphim" (household gods used in divination e.g. Gen. 31:19; 2 Kings 23:24) and false shepherds (v.2); and the LORD Yahweh who restores and shepherds His people rightly for salvation (v.3-4).
God is our true shepherd (v.2), strengthens His people, has compassion on us and answers our prayers (v.6). Though we sin, the Lord forgives and does not reject us when we return to Him (v.6). Rather, He makes our hearts glad (v.7) and restores us - at multiple levels - from where we've been scattered (v.9-10). The cornerstone from Judah (v.3) - also called "tent peg" (keeping His people secure) and "bow of battle" (victor, freeing His people from captivity) - are Messianic images of the Saviour.
When errors have been made and hope is low, Zechariah reminds us that turning from our pride to the Lord brings reason to expect strength and blessing.
Application: I will discern carefully and reject those who claim to know the way but do not, able only to lead astray. Such persons are all around: v.2b: "The people wander like sheep, they are afflicted, because there is no shepherd." I will listen rather for His voice and follow the Lord - over difficult terrain and in the face of opposition perhaps - but to blessing.
My Prayer: Father, thank you for your faithfulness when we wander. Thank you that You restore as though we had not done so. Better yet, keep us from wandering, walking daily close in Your presence.
Yahweh is the Good Shepherd, represented in this period to His covenant people by Zechariah who prefigures Christ; but both God and Zechariah are rejected by them as their shepherd, to their tragic loss (v.4-6).
His People Reject Him: Zechariah is released/rejected from his responsibility for the wages of a slave, 30 shekels (v.12); the number of coins given to Judas for Jesus, Matt. 26:15, also cast into the temple, and sent on his way. Not only is Israel unwilling to advance God's redemptive mission to the nations (Gen.12:3) but unwilling to live themselves in the good of right relationship with Him. The result is unspeakable (v.16).
v.3 "There is a sound of the shepherds' wail, for their glory is ruined; there is the sound of the young lions' roar, for the pride of the Jordan is ruined." (The shepherd grieves at the ruin of the flock, the lions rejoice.)
Personal Application: I will invite a wondering sheep to return to the Good Shepherd today.
My Prayer: Father, there is nothing sadder than your dishonour by those who reject you and the eternal loss suffered. I would speak prophetically to those in this danger. Father, turn the hearts of the nations.
Zechariah 12 (Chapters 12-14 contain Zechariah's second vision, literally "burden of the word of the Lord")
The Word of God in the heart of the person receiving it is variously described as a fire or here, burden (v.1). God's word requires urgent expression; the relief of letting it out to be heard. The power of the God who speaks is expressed in v.1: "The burden of the Word of the Lord... who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him" - this God will make it so.
The City of David: God will, in a final attack of the nations on Jerusalem, send its attackers reeling back (v.2) as they find the city unmoveable (v.3). Its defenders will be supernaturally powerful (v.8) and its attackers destroyed (v.9).
Me whom they have pierced: A remarkable prophesy is that "they will look on Me whom they have pierced" (v.10). It is Jesus who was pierced (John 19:37; Rev.1:7), yet God says it was Himself - a prophesy both of the incarnation and of God-in-Christ's crucifixion.
The context of both the attack on Jerusalem and of Jerusalem's mourning for their piercing of the Messiah appears to be linked to "the plain of Megiddo" (v.11), i.e. Armageddon.
Personal Application: I will speak God's word bold and not attempt to hold it in (v.1). I will not be shaken when the nations gather to attack the City of David (v.2-9). I will rejoice as recognition dawns regarding Him "who they have pierced" (v.10-14).
My Prayer: Father, what a day will be the return of Christ when the nations will not be able to dislodge the City of David but rather mourn Him who they have pierced and recognize You as the One Who Is.
Cleansing: God calls His people not only to mourn (12:12) for their sins but to cleanse sin and impurity (13:1) from among them; specifically idols associated with unclean spirits (v.2) and false prophets (v.3-6). All idols, ancient or modern, have spirits and false prophets which draw people away from the Lord.
False Prophets: Historically the Israelites had tolerated false prophets and killed the Lord's true prophets. In the future, false prophets would set aside the robe (v.4) of the true prophet and pretend to be a farmer (v.5), claiming the self-inflicted wounds of ecstatic frenzy in idol worship were an accident sustained at the home of a friend (v.6).
Judgement: Cleansing takes place also through judgement. At a point yet to come two-thirds of Israel will be removed through judgement (v.8) and those who remain will acknowledge the Lord (v.9).
The Messiah: Before judgement, salvation is always offered. Verse 7 contains a remarkable reference to the death of Christ, not only as God's true shepherd but also as God's "associate" (sometimes translated "companion" or "partner"), indicating a previously inconceivable equality with God, of which Jesus will later say "I and the Father are one. (John 10:30)"
Personal Application: I will come to the Lord for cleansing, quickly and often. I will view judgement, not essentially as a bad thing, but as a necessary component of cleansing where the need for cleansing has not been acknowledged. Without cleansing, personal and global history goes from bad to worse. Cleansing as such is an expression of God's grace.
My Prayer: Father, thank you for the cleansing stream that flows from your grace. I run to You for cleansing quickly and often as I run to You as the Light in whom I see myself rightly and clearly, so as to see what to bring to You for cleansing.
God with intervene personally in a final cleansing and putting right the effects of the fall (Gen.3). In a time of desperation in which wicked forces are overwhelming God's people (v.1-2), Yahweh personally (v.3) in Christ, will stand on the Mount of Olives (v.4) bringing victory and restoration to His people, accompanied by the holy ones (v.5), angels and/or believers from heaven. Yahweh will then be the only King over all the earth (v.9). Blessing will flow (v.8) to all who worship Him (v.16) and plagues to those who refuse (v.12-15). In that day everything, down to the bells on horses' harnesses, will be Holy to the Lord (v.20).
This powerful apocalyptic image is often referred to in the New Testament and subsequent Christian literature as our strong hope in difficult and evil days. v.4: In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives...v.5: Then the LORD, my God, will come, and all the holy ones with Him!
Evil Cleansed, Suffering Ends: The day will come when evil is cleansed and suffering is ended; our search-and-rescue mission too will have come to an end. On that day we will live in security, peace and shalom (v.11) in the presence of the King. There will be no shortages or temptation to grasp (v.14), but only an atmosphere of worship and thanksgiving, and praise to God that the power of evil finished and His glory alone endures.
I will have courage and hope in the Lord regardless of how dark (through human rebellion empowered by evil spiritual forces) history becomes.
I will stay in close communion with the Lord, tuning my ear to hear and obey the voice of the Good Shepherd, in preparation and through that time.
I will worship the Lord that day of human rebellion will end and be replaced with celebration and glory.
My Prayer: Praise You Lord for this powerful and certain hope in dark days, knowing You will be faithful to Your promise to end human rebellion, cleanse evil, and bring about the renewal of all things to Your glory!