Saturday, 27 December 2014

(362) December 28: Zechariah 7-8 & Revelation 19

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 God looks for his in his people.

To ponder:
Chapter 7 takes place two years before the temple is completed (7v1, Ezr 6v15). But it is already becoming what it should be – the place people come to seek the LORD (compare 8v20-23). So the people of the city of Bethel sent some men to ask the priests and prophets whether they should continue to fast in the fifth month of the year as they had for the last seventy, no doubt in mourning whilst the people were in exile. We should remember Bethel was previously a key site for Israel’s (the northern kingdom’s) idolatry. Things are starting to change. But God’s response is given not just to these people but to all throughout the land and to the priests: He asks whether it was really for him that the people fasted in the fifth and seventh months, adding that it was for themselves that they feasted too. The point is that it is no good going through the motions. God looks at motivation. He seeks those who conduct their religious activity for him, not for the sake of their own pride, self-satisfaction or pleasure. He adds that this is just what he had proclaimed through earlier prophets when the land was at rest and prosperous. It’s a good reminder during the feast of Christmas. And in what follows, we see that if the people had learnt that lesson their land would not have been lost. So God’s word then came to Zechariah, stating that what he desires (and still does) is that his people administer justice, mercy and compassion to one-another, not oppressing the needy or thinking evil of each other (7v2-10). He explains that in the days of Israel’s prosperity the people hardened their hearts, refusing to listen to the law or the prophets of verse 7, who were sent by God’s Spirit. So the LORD was very angry and refused to listen to the people, scattering them among the nations, and leaving the land so desolate that it couldn’t be lived in (7v11-14). The implicit question God therefore puts to his hearers (and so to us) is whether they will be any more devoted to him than their ancestors, or suffer a similar fate.
            The word of chapter 8 begins with God’s burning and so intense jealousy for Zion, implying great desire for her exclusive love. This aptly follows the previous oracle urging the people act from heart that are devoted to him. Now God declares he will return to live in Jerusalem, which will be called the city of truth (ie. faithfulness) and holy mountain (because it is set apart as the place of God’s presence). This implies God will transform his people from their innate stubbornness. And so the city will display the marks of God’s blessing, which to Zechariah’s hearers were people living to old age and being fruitful in childbirth (8v1-5). God throughout is God Almighty, stressing his ability. He therefore declares that although this will seem marvellous to the remnant, it won’t to him, as it is easy for him to achieve. And at its heart will be the covenant relationship in which he brings his people back from east and west to be his people, with him as their God – being faithful and righteous to them, no doubt in keeping his promises to the patriarchs, and to blessing the people’s obedience (8v6-8). In the light of this, he addresses them as those who heard the prophets (Zechariah and Haggai) who were there when the foundation of the new temple was laid, and urges them to strenuous work so it will be built (8v9).
            Various contrast now follow to highlight what this will result in. So, before this men and animals received nothing back for their work (wages) and lived in fear of harm as God had turned them against one-another. But now, God promises not to deal in that way with the people. Now he will give rain and good harvests as an inheritance for this remnant of survivors (the blessings of Deut 28-30). And whereas they had been an object of cursing (ie. of scorn) among the nations, now God will save them so they will be a blessing, in context, by drawing the nations to the LORD (8v23, fulfilling Gen 12v3). Indeed, in promising this to Israel (north) as well as Judah (south), God implies something more than currently existed – in which Israelites from the whole world would return. Again, with this in their sights, the people are urged to hard work without fear (8v9-13).
            The knowledge of our coming blessing, should encourage us to wholehearted effort in the building of the church too. But it should also motive us to godliness out of a loving desire to please this God of grace, and out of delight in sharing in his kingdom. To this end, the contrasts continue: Just as God had previously determined disaster, now he is determined to do good so the people need not be afraid – presumably of his wrath and so of being re-conquered by enemies. They are therefore to speak truth to each other, act justly in the courts, not plot against each other or swear falsely, as God hates such things. And returning to the fasts, he says those of the fourth, fifth, seventh, and tenth months will become joyful festivals, as there will be nothing more to mourn. In other words, the people’s lives will be marked by joy (see Acts 2v46). So the people should love truth and peace. More than that, many people from many cities will urge one-another to come and seek and pray to the LORD (as prompted the vision, 7v1-2). Moreover, at a ratio of ten (signifying many) to one, many from powerful nations will take hold of Jews and ask to go to the LORD with them because they have heard he is with them (8v14-23). What a reversal of fortunes, being fulfilled ever since Gentiles joined with the apostles and first Jewish converts. They come with them into the temple of the church, and to God through Christ.

Praying it home:
Praise God for the joy and blessing that mark being a Christian. Pray that in the light of it you would work with strong hands to build his church.

Thinking further:
None today.

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