Thursday, 25 December 2014

(360) December 26: Zechariah 1-3 & Revelation 17

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­
As you read consider what lessons there are for Christian service.

To ponder:
Zechariah prophesies at the same time as Haggai, and refers to the same characters (1v1, Ez 5v1, 6v4). God’s first word is that he was very angry with the people’s forefathers, and so they are to return to God with the promise that he would return to them. They are not to be like their forefathers who refused to listen to the previous prophets and so ignored God. The LORD points out that they are all dead, but his words through his prophets overtook them in judgement. And so we read the people repented, acknowledging God did what was deserved just as he said he would (1v2-6). Every generation of Christians is responsible not to sin as the previous generation did, knowing that God’s word stands forever, and so our short lives must be lived accordingly (1 Pet 1v24-2v2).
            What follows in the book are eight visions. The first is of four horses - a man on a red horse amongst myrtle trees in a ravine, with red, brown and white horses behind him. Zechariah asks the meaning and an angel (also meaning messenger) says he will show him. A man standing amongst the trees then says the horses are those God has sent throughout the earth. It seems this man might be the angel, as the horses then report to the angel standing amongst the trees that they have found the whole world at peace. Zechariah distinguishes another angel – the angel of the LORD, who asks God how long he withhold mercy from Judah and Jerusalem that he has been angry with for the seventy years of the exile. God then speaks comforting words to the angel talking with Zechariah. The sense is that the world should not be at peace, having treated Judah so harshly. This teaches that those who do evil do go unpunished at times. However, God sees all, and will punish in the end. So the angel tells Zechariah to proclaim that the LORD says he is jealous for Jerusalem and Zion, presumably because they loved other things above him. But although he was a little angry with them, he is very angry with the nations, as their treatment of Judah went beyond what was a just punishment for them. God therefore declares his presence will return to Jerusalem with mercy, his temple will be rebuilt and he will restore the city – signified by his measuring line (see 2v1-5), a tool used in building. He adds that the towns of Judea will again “overflow” with prosperity, Zion be comforted (after its hardships) and Jerusalem be chosen (as God’s city, see 2v12, 3v2). 
            Zechariah then sees four horns (symbolising strength), and the angel explains they are those that scattered Judah, Israel and Jerusalem. The number four signifies this opposition being from the whole world (as 1v8-10, 2v6). God then shows Zechariah four workmen, who he is told come to terrify and throw down the horns. The repetition of what the nations did stresses the greatness of God in dealing with them. Zechariah then sees a man with a measuring line who goes to measure the dimensions of Jerusalem. Another angel tells Zechariah to speedily tell the man the city will be without walls because of how many men and livestock will be in it. And it can be without walls because God will protect it as a shield of fire – like the pillar of fire protecting the people from Pharoah’s armies (Ex 14v20). Moreover, God’s glory and so presence would be within it (2v1-5). Certainly after the city’s rebuilding under Nehemiah, its population spread beyond its walls. But this prophecy is fulfilled ultimately in the new Jerusalem, which is a symbol for the people of God that are an innumerable great multitude, and that fill the new creation, with all evil firmly shut out.
            In the light of this God calls those remaining amongst the people of Babylon (described as the daughter of Babylon, in the north) and the other nations throughout the world they have been scattered to, to flee, and by implication settle in Judea. 2v8-12 may refer to Zechariah, but the detail seems to fit the angel better. It literally reads “after glory sent me” – and refers to the individual being sent against the nations who plundered God’s people, and then raising his hand in judgement, so the people (who were their slaves) will in turn plunder them. This could only be said of Zechariah in the sense that his words were against the nations. We’re told the people will then know the individual concerned was sent by God. This all resonates with the angel of the LORD fighting for Israel after the Exodus (Ex 33v2). The people are referred to as the apple of God’s eye as an expression of being the ones he delights in as one would an apple.
            Here God tells the people to shout with joy for he is coming and will living amongst them. And in that day many from the nations will join with the LORD and become his people too, and the angel will live amongst them, no doubt to ensure their protection. It’s a picture of the nations being united to Christ by faith. And God will inherit Judah as his portion in the “holy” land and choose Jerusalem (2v10-12). This language portrays the people as God’s treasured possession, chosen from the whole world (as Ex 19v5-6, 1 Pet 2v9). All mankind are therefore called to still themselves before God, as he rouses himself to act (2v13). Such reverent acknowledgement of him can be the only right response.
            We must remember chapter 3 is a vision too, and so not literally seen. The high priest Joshua is standing before the angel of the LORD with Satan at his right hand accusing him, presumably for his sin. As often the case, the angel of the LORD is spoken of as the LORD. Here he speaks to Satan, calling he LORD to rebuke him. The reason is that God has chosen Jerusalem and therefore snatched Joshua, with the other returnees, from the fire of his judgement on Judah. The question that follows is how this means that Joshua can’t be condemned for his sin. The answer follows, as the angel instructs others (angels) to take of his filthy clothes, promising rich garments to replace them as “I” (the angel as the LORD) have “taken away your sin.” Perhaps, wanting Joshua to be appropriately dressed as a high priest, Zechariah can’t help but request that they then put a clean turban on his head. And they do, as they clothe him (3v1-5). The angel then charges Joshua that if he keeps God’s law he will govern his temple and its courts and have a place amongst the heavenly assembly. But what follows is striking: Joshua and his associates (presumably fellow priests) are said to be symbolic of what is to come (3v6-8). Most likely in context they are symbolic of the removal of sin from the whole land (3v9), and so teach that all who walk in God’s ways will be cleansed and given a place in heaven, and serve as priests over the temple, which is now the church, and eventually the whole new creation.
            3v9 tells us God will bring his servant “the branch” – referring to the promised Messiah sprouting from Jesse’s line (see Is 11v1). At this point Zechariah is instructed to see a stone set in front of him. The word translated eyes may mean eyes (signifying God’s complete - 7 - knowledge of sin) or springs (signifying his complete cleansing of sin). The promise to engrave it looks to the engraving of priestly stones with the names of tribes of Israel (Ex 28v21, 29) to be born into God’s presence, reminding him that the priest represents and stands for them. The point is therefore that the coming of the Messiah will be accompanied by God removing the sins of his people (including those form the nations, 2v11), which are represented by Joshua. Then the people will live in harmony together in a blessed land (3v12). This is a critical vision, as it clarifies to the Jews resettling the land in partial fulfilment of God’s promises, that they cannot be fully fulfilled until he deals with sin.

Praying it home:
Praise God that he deals with sin so that we can receive all he promises. Pray that you would wholeheartedly walk in his ways.

Thinking further:
To read the NIV Study Bible introduction to Zechariah, click here.

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