Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Zechariah 10

The return of Judah (vs. 1-12)—The last few chapters of Zechariah are quite difficult, among the most challenging in the Bible. They appear to be Messianic, but it’s not always clear. There are some verses in chapter 10 that point to the church age, and I will look at them as I precede through this chapter. But I’m not going to be dogmatic about anything because of the obscurity of the material.

IF we assume the church age is meant, then all the material here must be understood spiritually. Does the term “in the latter rain” mean the “last days,” i.e., Christian dispensation. Possibly. Regardless, blessings flow from the Lord (v. 1); idols (worldly things) are useless, and false prophets “tell false dreams” and “comfort in vain” (v. 2). Those who lead His people astray make the Lord angry, but He will “visit” His flock, the “house of Judah” (the church?), and will give them strength “in the battle” (against sin and our enemies). Verse 4 in one which leads me to believe this is a Messianic passage: “From him [Judah] comes the cornerstone,” a term elsewhere used for the Christ (cf. Isaiah 28:16). And indeed, the Lord did come from Judah. It is possible that the first three verses apply to the Jews before Christ, leading into the “cornerstone” of verse 4. It’s just not terribly clear. Regardless, once that cornerstone is set, we shall “be like mighty men,” and we “shall fight because the Lord is with us” (v. 5). In other words, He will give us the victory. He will also provide strength and restoration (v. 6). The thought in that verse, “I will bring them back” (the house of Judah and the house of Joseph, i.e., all of Israel) is another clue that we might be dealing with the church age here. God had already brought the Jews back from captivity, so in this case, we are “brought back” from the captivity of sin. He will hear our prayers (v. 6). There will be rejoicing and peace (v. 7), redemption (v. 8), fellowship (v. 9), and salvation from sin and captivity. The references to Egypt and Assyria have to be figurative, representing bondage and captivity, and are used in Messianic passages elsewhere in the Old Testament (see Micah 5 for an example). While the Lord provides all these blessings for His people, He will plague His enemies: “all the depths of the River [Euphrates] shall dry up” (v. 12). The Assyrians were totally dependent upon that river for their existence; if it dried up, so would they. That’s what happens to those who live ungodly lives. And again, the Lord will strengthen us and be our God (v. 12). This is pretty typical language in the prophets for the Messianic period and that’s why I believe such is what Zechariah is writing about.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Zechariah 9

Prophecy against Syria and the Philistines (vs. 1-8)—As I’ve noted in earlier minor prophets posts, a lot of the prophets have “burdens” against foreign powers. In this case, Zechariah pronounces doom against two of Israel’s ancient enemies, Syria and Philistia. The “Hadrach” of verse 1 is a valley near Damascus, and “Hamath” (v. 2) “borders on it.” It’s interesting, in verse 1, “For the eyes of men and all the tribes of Israel are on the LORD.” Is Jehovah going to punish these wicked peoples or not? I suppose we could ask the same thing today about some of the evil cities of our generation, and the answer would be the same—“yes,” but in God’s own time. Tyre and Sidon thought they were invincible (v. 3), but the Lord would destroy them. The other great cities of the Philistines, Gaza, Ekron, Ashkelon, and Ashdod, would also come in for destruction: “I will cut off the pride of the Philistines” (v. 6). Tyre and Sidon were subdued by Alexander the Great some 150-200 years after Zechariah wrote (it’s hard to pinpoint the date of this part of his prophecy). Some of the cities mentioned above were actually destroyed before the days of Zechariah, which have led some to conclude that somebody else, perhaps Jeremiah or Hosea, wrote this section of the book. That’s possible, I suppose, but it seems more likely to me that Zechariah is speaking, in effect, in the “prophetic past”; these things have already happened as a warning to other cities who rebel against God, in this case, Tyre and Sidon. It’s not a major point.

The coming King (vs. 9-17)—This section is definitely Messianic, as verse 9 refers to the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. A very clear statement of that event. He will establish a peaceful kingdom. “I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the horse from Jerusalem”—the ending of spiritual war (see also Isaiah 2 and Micah 4), and “He shall speak peace to the nations” (v. 10). The “nations” are the Gentiles; Christ is our peace (John 14:27; 16:33; Eph. 2:14). He will also rule universally: “His dominion shall be 'from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth'" (v. 10). He is indeed King of kings and Lord of lords (I Tim. 6:15), and has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18). Prisoners and captives (spiritual) will be set free from hopeless circumstances (“waterless pit,” v. 11), and blessings will be doubled (v. 12). God’s people will be exalted against those who oppose them (v. 13). He will lead them and fight for them and defend them (vs. 14-15), and they shall be victorious. He will save them and exalt them (v. 16). God’s goodness and beauty are “great” (v. 17), and youth will thrive and prosper (v. 17). Some of this is pretty difficult, and there are those who think the reference to Judah, Ephraim, and Greece in verse 13 make much of this passage literal, because, indeed, the Jews did have to deal with Greek oppression for a couple of centuries. But the context begins with a Messianic reference (v. 9), and I don’t see a change to literalness anywhere, so I’m sticking with a spiritual interpretation for the Christian age. Zechariah is one of the most difficult prophets to understand, and the next five chapters aren’t going to be any easier.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Zechariah 8

The Lord’s zeal for Zion and Jerusalem (vs. 1-8)—Chapter 7 speaks of God’s punishment of the former people because of their refusal to hear the message He sent via the prophets. But chapter 8 is a declaration of hope. Jehovah is still zealous for His people, Israel (v. 2), and will return and “dwell in the midst of Jerusalem” (v. 3), “the city of truth.” The peace and prosperity of the city is pictured in quaint terms in verses 4 and 5: “Old men and old women shall again sit In the streets of Jerusalem, each one with his staff in his hand because of great age. The streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.” It will be a marvelous thing that He will do (v. 6), bringing His people back from wherever they have been scattered (vs. 7-8). “They shall be My people and I will be their God, in truth and righteousness” (v. 8). To indicate the emphatic truth of this section, seven times the phrase “thus says the Lord” (or some equivalent) is found. God only has to say something once for it to be true; with this repeated emphasis, we are impressed with the determination of the Lord to fulfill His promise.

Prosperity upon righteousness (vs. 9-17)—The Lord does expect something in return, of course. Those who, currently, had been heeding the preaching of the prophets are given encouragement in verse 9: “Let your hands be strong…that the temple might be built.” Don’t be discouraged by what happened before “these days [when] there were no wages…no peace…” (v. 10). That’s not the way it will be now: “’I will not treat the remnant of this people as in the former days,' says the LORD of hosts” (v. 11). There would be prosperity and abundance (v. 12). Israel’s enemies will no more frighten them (v. 13). Just as the Lord had determined to punish their fathers because of iniquity, He is just as determined “to do good to Jerusalem and to the house of Judah” (vs. 14-15). Yet…”these are things you shall do…” (v. 16). These promised blessings are not unconditional. Jehovah expected the people to speak the truth, do justice, have a pure heart, “not love a false oath” (vs. 16-17)—in other words, live a righteous, godly life in return for His favors. That had/has always been the case, of course. Subsequently, we will see that the Jews, for their part, were not terribly faithful to the Lord’s requests, and there would be problems as a result. But God’s blessings are available for those who put themselves in a position to receive them.

Mourning turned into joy (vs. 18-23)—Thus, the fasts and mournings the Lord had been asked about in chapter 7 will be a thing of the past. They would be turned into “joy and gladness and cheerful feasts” (v. 19). “Therefore love truth and peace.” People from all over will come together and “pray before the Lord and seek the Lord of hosts” (vs. 20-21), even “many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem” (v. 22). Other “nations” always refers to non-Jews (Gentiles), and more often than not refer to the Messianic, church age. But that doesn’t seem to be the case here. There just don’t seem to be any other references, in this chapter, to the Messiah or Christian dispensation. This is all in answer to the question asked in chapter 7. The bottom line is, Jerusalem and Judah will be so fruitful, so well provided for by God, that “ten men from every language of the nations shall grasp the sleeve of a Jewish man, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you’" (v. 23). All men will want to take part in the glory and grace God’s provides for His people. Palestine was a land “flowing with milk and honey” and just waiting for a people who would humbly submit themselves to the Lord. The Jews never really did, even after the captivity, though there would be no more idolatry and worship of Canaanites gods and goddesses. That is the one lesson they learned from their exile in Assyria and Babylon.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Zechariah 7

Question regarding prayer and fasting (vs. 1-14)—We are two years later now (v. 1, cf. Zechariah 1:1), and men were sent (by somebody, the Hebrew is unclear and thus the best versions are, too) “to the house of God to pray before the Lord” (vs. 2-3). They asked the priests and the prophets, “Should I weep in the fifth month and fast as I have done for so many years?” (v. 3). This “weeping” and “fasting” was inaugurated as a result of the destruction and burning of the temple by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. Since the people had now returned home, should they continue this memorial? The Lord’s response through Zechariah was a rebuke.  They had not really mourned over their sins against Jehovah; they were only sad because of the loss of their temple (v. 5). What the Lord really wanted was obedience (v. 7). In verses 9 and 10, He lays out before them, in general, what He expects: “'Execute true justice, show mercy and compassion everyone to his brother. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. Let none of you plan evil in his heart against his brother.'” As the prophets had told the people time and time again, ceremonial rituals were vain unless accompanied by a righteous, holy lifestyle. Their fathers had refused to heed that message (v. 11). “Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the LORD of hosts hath sent in his spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the LORD of hosts” (v. 12). Thus, when calamity came upon them, and they cried out to Jehovah, but “I would not hear” (v. 13). He scattered them among the nations, and their land lay desolate (v. 14). The chapter ends there, but the warning is plain: Hear and obey the Lord or disaster will come. A simple chapter which is very illustrative of man vs. God. Man wants to get by with as little as possible. God has given us His word and thus our responsibilities towards Him. We refuse to obey, ruin results, we cry out to Him, but it’s too late. Happens over and over and humanity never learns.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Zechariah 6

The four chariots (vs. 1-8)—These visions do not get any easier. The prophet sees four chariots coming from between two bronze mountains. Bronze represented in the ancient world solidity and strength, but in this vision, solidity and strength of what? Well, the angel told Zechariah in verse 5 that the chariots “are four spirits of heaven, who go out from their station before the Lord of all the earth.” Clarke’s idea that the four chariots represent four kingdoms (Assyria, Babylonians, Persians, and Greeks) doesn’t seem to fit the text. I’m a little skeptical about being that specific here, especially given the angel’s words in verse 5. So, since the chariots are from heaven, the brass mountains must represent some kind of celestial strength. The purpose of the chariots was to “walk to and fro throughout the earth” (v. 7). To keep an eye on what is going on? We aren’t specifically told and the references are obscure. The horses are of various colors; red can represent blood, or courage, black is death, white is purity or victory, dappled is anybody’s guess; perhaps a mixture of prosperity and adversity, as one commentator suggests. The “north country” is probably Babylon, or at least that’s what Zechariah’s readers would probably have believed. My best guess for this vision is that God is sending our His emissaries into all the world (“four” is the world number) to keep an eye out in behalf of His people. Especially in the north, where trouble nearly always comes from. Again, it is a very vague prophesy (to us), and perhaps made more sense to the people of Zechariah’s day. And perhaps not.

The Branch (vs. 9-15)—This vision is a little easier to comprehend. Three men, Heldai, Tobijah, and Jedaiah, came from Babylon, bearing gifts. We know nothing of these men other than what is stated here. Their gift of silver and gold was to be immediately taken to the home of a man named Josiah, the son of Zephaniah. Again, we know nothing of this man. Elaborate, dual, crowns were to be made and placed on the head of the high priest, Joshua. This is totally symbolic of the Messiah, of Whom the rest of this section is devoted. The dual crowns represent kingship and priesthood; Joshua was only priest, so he cannot literally be meant here. But verse 12 introduces for us “the BRANCH,” the Messiah, as is evident from other Old Testament passages that refer to the Messiah under that figure (cf. Isa. 11:1; Jer. 5:23). Now we move into the Christian age. The Messiah, “shall build the temple of the Lord” (the church, v. 12), and “He shall bear the glory” (v. 13). He “shall sit and rule on His throne,” and—very important—“He shall be a priest on His throne” (v. 13). Notice, He will be a priest and king at the same time. This can only refer to the Messiah. It is also very much worth noting that His priesthood and kingship are simultaneous. But as a result, they cannot be earthly, as premillennialists teach. Jesus cannot be a priest on earth (Hebrews 8:4) because He is from the wrong tribe; only Levites could be priests. So Jesus can’t be a priest on earth. But since He is going to be priest and king at the same time, and He can’t be a priest on earth, He can’t be a king on earth, either! This wipes out the 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth. Because of His work as priest and king, He is better able to keep peace (“the counsel of peace shall be between them both,” v. 13). The crown given to Joshua will be a “memorial in the [literal] temple”—a constant reminder of this prophesy—to the ones who brought the gift from Babylon (v. 14), but also to “those from afar” (v. 15). They will have a part in building “the temple of the Lord” (the church). “Those from afar” are the Gentiles, who obviously also make up part of the church. When all this happens, we will know this is the work and voice of the Lord (v. 15). A marvelous prophesy of the church.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Zechariah 5

The flying scroll (vs. 1-4)—Zechariah’s next vision was of a flying scroll (v. 1). It’s length and width, 30 feet x 15 feet (v. 2), was the same dimensions as the temple porch (I Kgs. 6:3), where the law was usually read, thus seemingly implying that the scroll was divinely authorized. The scroll was flying (its curses were swiftly to visit the transgressors?), and it was open, thus none could be excused for not knowing its contents, viz., no one can be excused for not knowing God’s laws. The angel told Zechariah that the scroll contained “the curse that goes out over the face of the whole earth” (v. 3). This seems to indicate universal judgment, though the ASV’s “land” very possibly limits it to the Jews or the Babylonians. Regardless, there will be punishment for malefactors (v. 3). Verse 4 is largely a repetition of verse 3, only that the Lord speaks openly, rather than through the angel. Whether this is intended as universal or local (Babylon or Judea), the message of full judgment against sin is clear—“it [the curse] shall remain in the midst of his house and consume it, with its timber and stones”—totality (v. 4).

The woman in the basket (vs. 5-11)—Zechariah is then commanded to “lift your eyes now, and see what this is that goes forth" (v. 5). Zechariah sees a basket with a woman in it. The KJV and ASV use the word “ephah” instead of “basket,” and this is a little more accurate; the ephah represented an ordinary measure of grain. A lead disc (NKJV; “talent of lead,” KJV, ASV) is placed over the basket to secure the woman inside (vs. 7-8). The angel tells Zechariah that the woman (or the whole thing) represents wickedness (v. 8). The “wickedness” almost assuredly was the impiety and iniquity of the Jews (v. 6); the “earth” (NKJV, KJV) or “land” (ASV) means Judea, and again, the ASV may have the better sense here. Zechariah then spots two women, “coming with the wind in their wings, for they had wings like the wings of a stork” (v. 9), and they pick up the basket and haul it off. “Where are they carrying the basket?” Zechariah asks the angel in verse 10. “And he said to me, "To build a house for it in the land of Shinar; when it is ready, the basket will be set there on its base" (v, 11). This is a little obscure, but I think the following may be the fundamental thought. “Shinar” is “Babylon,” which symbolizes here all the foes of the people of God. Sin will be taken away from His people and dwell among those who oppose Him and His cause. The intended purity of God’s followers is being illustrated. Get sin out from among us and into the world where it belongs.