Sunday, 28 December 2014

(363) December 29: Zechariah 9-11 & Revelation 20

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

To discover:­
As you read consider how all this looks to Christ.

To ponder:
We begin with an oracle of judgement. Verse 1 may speak of all peoples looking to the LORD to act, but more likely of him having his eyes on them (as 9v8). 9v1-4 relate to cities north of Israel, stressing the destruction of Tyre (and Sidon) in particular. Despite its skill and wealth, it will be consumed, losing all it has attained. 9v5-8 turn to Philistia. Their cities will look on in fear, losing hope that they might be spared. So Gaza will lose her king, Ashkelon be deserted, and foreigners will take Ashdod. No doubt by these means, Philistine pride will be cut off. Yet it seems a refining will also take place, as God promises that he will stop them eating blood or idolatrous food, so bringing them in line with his law. And those surviving his judgement will belong to him, even becoming leaders in Judah, with Ekron being incorporated into his people as the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem before David took it. We are then told God will keep watch to defend his house (ie. people) so they are never again oppressed. This all looks to the inclusion of Gentiles as equal with Jews in the kingdom of Christ, and its ultimate security in glory.
            Here the people (daughter) of Zion (ie. Jerusalem) are called to shout with joy on seeing their king coming. He is righteous, and so able to rule justly and wisely, and he has salvation – in context, meaning rescue from oppression (as 9v8). So he comes not in a chariot or on a war-horse (as v10) ready to fight, but gently on the foal of a donkey – also the mark of the king who would receive the obedience of the nations (Gen 49v10-11). We therefore read that God will remove the emblems of battle from Ephraim (the north) and Jerusalem (the south), implying a reunited nation under this king, who will proclaim peace to the nations of the world, and whose rule will extend to its far reaches (9v9-10). Jesus identified himself with all this in choosing to enter Jerusalem on a donkey. It was a claim to be the one establishing a worldwide kingdom of peace.
            God then declares that on the basis of the blood of his covenant with Israel, that in the daily sacrifices atoned for their sin, he would deliver them from captivity. This is described as a waterless pit, where prisoners would die of thirst, and so may imply not simply the captivity of exile, but that of death itself. No doubt it is because of this promise that these are prisoners “of hope.” And God calls them to return to their fortresses, presumably as a way of stressing they will be secure. Indeed, the promise that he will restore twice as much means their experience in the land will be better, or twice more joyful, than it ever was (9v11-12).
            What follows changes the picture from peace to war. Judah is God’s bow, filled with the arrow of Ephraim as Zion overcomes Greece like a warrior’s sword. Indeed, at God’s trumpet blast he is pictured marching south in storm (a sign of his awesome presence), with a vivid picture of his people following him, overcoming their enemy with slingstones (perhaps implying ease), drinking their blood like wine, as with the bowl of blood poured on the altar in sacrifice (9v13-15). This implies their victory is an act of judgement on their enemies’ sins, and probably looks to how God’s people will exercise such victory by sharing in Christ’s judgement of the nations (Rev 2v26-27). The point is that God will make his people victors over evil, and so save them on that day from all potential oppressors. They will then sparkle like jewels, thriving on abundant harvests and wine - implying a life of ongoing joy, perhaps reflecting the light of God’s glory (9v16).
            By calling people to ask God for rain, chapter 10 distinguishes him from idols who have no such power, and who therefore speak deceit only in the sense that prophets who claim to have words from them must be lying. This means the people wander like sheep without a shepherd – oppressed by these lies, and with no ruler to deliver or guide them. Because of this God’s anger burns against their leaders who should be their shepherds. Yet he promises to care for his flock (Judah) himself, making them strong and dignified. Numerous metaphors then stress the stabilising strength of rulers which will all come from Judah, and like mighty men overcome the people’s enemies because God is with them. And so God promises he will strengthen Judah and save Joseph (the north), restoring them, because of his compassion, to the point where it will be as if he never rejected them. Again, this is because he is their God and will answer their prayers. In addition to Judah, the Ephraimites (north) will also therefore be like mighty men, with glad hearts and children. God will gather them in from their exile, especially from Egypt and Assyria (ie. Babylonia), causing them to remember him and return. Indeed, so many will come that they will populate Gilead and Lebanon to the east and north of the land, and there will not even then be enough room. Just as God parted the red sea, they will pass through the sea of trouble. Assyria’s pride will be humbled and Egypt’s sceptre (rule) pass away. But Ephraim will be strengthened and walk in God’s name (10v1-12).
            It’s a picture of God totally transforming his people’s fortunes in compassion for them, making them secure and righteous. It was partially fulfilled in the following years, but will be fully only in the new creation where in Christ all faithful Israelites will be raised from death and united in these sort of numbers, with their enemies suffering judgement. It is no surprise then, that in what follows the nations (of v10) are called to wail because their famous forests will be destroyed by fire – a metaphor for the destruction of proud rulers or peoples (see Is 2v12-18). And the rulers of these nations are said to wail at the ruin of their land – the pasture where they shepherded their sheep, or thicket where they roamed as lions (11v1-3). The point is that it is now given to Israel as the meek inherit the earth.
            From 11v4 Zechariah is asked to prophetically act out God’s dealings with Israel. What follows could be a retelling of their pre-exilic past. But, in context, it seems to refer to some future time after the reunification of the nation predicted in chapters 9 and 10. Zechariah is to pasture the flock marked for slaughter – which later seems to be a group of God’s people (11v11). Their buyers are probably occupying powers who oppress (slaughter) their captives, yet go unpunished. Their sellers are their own shepherds, Israel’s leaders, who praise God because by serving their oppressors to the detriment of the people, they get rich – just as the leaders did in Jesus’ day. Here God declares that he will have no pity on the people but hand them over to being oppressed by one-another and their own king (11v4-6). Zechariah then explains that he pastured the flock, and especially the oppressed, and with staffs called favour and union, reflecting God’s grace and the unity to the nation to that point. It’s not clear who the three shepherds he gets rid of in one month are (11v8). They may be three categories of leaders, or refer to leaders in general. Portraying the LORD, Zechariah says how the flock detested him and he hated them. He therefore said he would no longer be their shepherd but let them die and feed on each other, and he broke the “favour” staff and revoked his covenant with “the peoples” – perhaps indicative of his guarantee that the nations would not attack, or that those in Judah would be safe. 11v11 could refer to sheep traffickers or the poor of the flock. Either way, what is pictured is Israel’s leaders or people paying Zechariah off with the equivalent amount required just for the death of a slave, so that he (representing God) would no longer be their shepherd. Of course, this patterns the priests through Judas getting rid of Jesus, the divine-shepherd (Matt 26v14-16, 27v1-10). And so Zechariah sarcastically terms the money the “handsome price they priced me” (representing God), and is told to throw it into the potter’s house – perhaps for him to make an idol with as an alternative. In the light of this, Zechariah broke the “union” staff, symbolising division with the nation, as occurred through Christ. He was then told to take up the equipment of a foolish or wicked shepherd to symbolise God raising up such a shepherd (ruler) who would not care for the people, but feed on and hurt them. It’s not clear who this refers to, but could refer to all evil rulers from the time of Christ, providing a warning to the shepherds of God’s church too. A woe is pronounced against this shepherd for deserting the flock. In desiring the destruction of his arm and right eye, it declared he would be unable to protect his sheep (the people) against any enemies (11v7-17). So having rejected the LORD they would again be subject to oppression.
Praying it home:
Praise God for his readiness to shepherd his people personally as Christ. Pray that many would join his kingdom.

Thinking further:
None today.

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