REFLECTIONS ON THE WRITING PROPHETS
‘Reflections’ on the Writing Prophets 47
Z e c h a r I a h
We closed our ‘reflection’ last week on a high note of encouragement for the Israelites as Zechariah spoke prophetic words about the end of this age and the coming salvation of the Jews. Reminding ourselves that the Scriptures did not originally have chapters and verses, the switch to a burdensome oracle about nations and people groups close to Israel is a bit of a surprise. But there is a ‘sting in the tail’ . This prophecy is really about God’s judgement of those nations and people groups. We do not know the location of Hadrach, except that it was in Assyria, ancient enemies of Israel. Damascus and Hamath also in Assyria were conquered by Alexander the Great. This justifies the descriptor that “The eyes of men and all the tribes of Israel are on the LORD” as they witnessed the judgment of the LORD on those people. Tyre (at that time a small island about 1/2 mile off shore) and Sidon (in today’s Lebanon) are described as “very wise” because they built watch towers and fortifications against attack. Ezekiel mentions this wisdom (Ezekiel 28:12), but also talks of the satanic influences which caused them to falter (Ezekiel 28: 18,19). These cities were situated in land allotted to Asher when the Israelites occupied the land, but the Asherites found the resistance too great and gave up on attempts to occupy them (Joshua 19:24).
The oracle continued with the mention of cities in the south of the land. Gaza, (well known today as home to over 2 million muslims), Ashkelon (just north of Gaza) and Ashdod* “a mixed race shall settle in Ashdod, and I will cut off the pride of the Philistines …. But he who remains , even he shall be for our God, and shall be like a leader in Judah” *(a modern port city today with a large Moroccan Jewish population) and Ekron (a Philistine stronghold in those days), all came under the scrutiny of the LORD because of their opposition to Israel. And then comes the “sting in the tail”. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold your King is coming to you: He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, a foal of a donkey” (See Matthew 21:2) .This prophecy in Zechariah, which speaks of a day over 500 years later, was given to the people who had just returned to the land after 70 years of captivity in Babylon. They had been expelled from the land of Israel for disobedience and idolatry. Is it possible to imagine a more encouraging word for them? Down for the count … and now raised from the proverbial ‘canvas’ to be victors. We have the advantage, which they did not, of knowing that prophecy was fulfilled in Yeshua when He came to this earth 2,000 years ago. To them however, it was expectantly very close. No human timeframe accompanied that prophetic word. An herein is another important lesson. Each generation after receiving that prophecy had that to look forward to. Their promised King was coming. And again, because we have the advantage of hindsight, we know that the intervening period was not easy. They were overcome, successively, by Greek and Roman conquerors. We might say they were justified in growing weary of ever seeing their King taking His place and ruling over them. And when He did come to them, He did not fulfil their expectations. They expected a battle hardened warrior, maybe riding on a red horse, who would rid them of their conquerors, the Romans at that time. They got a baby boy, born in Bethlehem. A short time later, taken by His parents to Egypt to avoid being killed by Herod. They did not connect Him with the words given, by the LORD, to Zerubbabel. “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit”. And had they forgotten that their King would come “lowly, and riding on a donkey”? So the lesson? God’s timing is His alone. What He expects of us is what He expected of them, trust in Him. For that lack of trust, we know they were once more, but this time for the last time, expelled from the land. But now they are returning in droves. We cannot leave this without remembering the prophetic words STILL to be fulfilled. Let us not repeat the mistake of those Jewish people of 2,000 years ago. God said it and it WILL happen. Our Messiah IS coming back to Jerusalem to reign and rule with a rod of iron.
Now notice the repetition of these promises as we continue in our ‘reflection’. In God’s word, repetition means emphasis. “I will strengthen the house of Judah, and I will save the house of Joseph. I will bring them back, because I have mercy on them, they shall be as though I had not cast them aside; for I am the LORD their God, and I will hear them”. It is true that God did bring them back from Babylon. It had already begun. That in itself is a fulfillment of prophecy which was observed by the people of that day. But there are some words a little later in our text which speak of a future time. I believe that time to be with us now. “I will whistle for them and gather them, for I will redeem them; and they shall increase as they once increased (Genesis 15:5) I will sow them among the peoples, and they shall remember Me in far countries; they shall live, together with their children, and they shall return”. There is no suggestion that such a situation prevailed when they came back from Babylon was there? We are seeing that great surge of immigration to the land in our generation.
Zechariah’s prophetic words changed from being an encourager, urging the people to continue the building of the walls of Jerusalem and the temple courts. He now is given a much greater vision and message about the drawing to a close of the days of this age and preparation for the age to come. In our world of today, we are beset by systemic anti semitism. God’s people throughout the ages have paid a heavy price for their faithful adherence to Torah observance, the most obvious outward sign of their allegiance. Do you think God expects believers to offer them support?
REFLECTIONS ON THE WRITING PROPHETS
‘Reflections’ on the Writing Prophets 46
Z e c h a r i a h
Just two years after Zechariah first heard the LORD’s prophetic message, He spoke to Zechariah again. The restoration of the temple was well advanced, but the reconstruction of the walls was still only making slow progress. It seems that since the fall of Judea, 70 years earlier, national remembrances of mourning and fasting had been instituted in the fifth and the seventh month of the calendar. Now that the work was proceeding, a delegation from Bethel came to Jerusalem to enquire of the priests and prophets whether or not those fasts should continue. Thus Zechariah heard from the LORD. And His message was unflattering! I am reminded, as I write, of the response the LORD gave to Samuel (1 Sam 16:7) in relation to the choice of David as king. “For the LORD does not see as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart”. In similar manner the LORD questioned the motivation of the people in that act of national mourning. In paraphrase “Are you sure you did that for ME? When you eat and drink do you not do that for yourselves? I would have been more impressed if you had taken heed to the words of the many prophets I sent to counsel you to change your lifestyle in conformity to the covenant you made with Me”.
Then He gave Zechariah some specific, and very direct, words to convey to the delegation from Bethel. “Execute true justice, show mercy and compassion everyone to his brother. Do not oppress the widow and the fatherless, the alien or the poor. Let none of you plan evil in his heart against his brother”. I am sure that if we stopped to think carefully about those words (which are all words directly quoted from the Torah of God), we would readily find parallels which apply just as much today as they did in the circumstances of the people in Zechariah’s day. Then comes the shock. For many today, regardless of the circumstance, the reaction of the people is identical. “But they refused to heed, shrugged their shoulders, and stopped their ears so that they could not hear. Yes, they made their hearts like flint, refusing to hear the law (Torah) and the words which the LORD of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets. Thus great wrath came from the LORD of hosts”. Now my dear friends, we need to ask ourselves an important question. How relevant to us are the prophetic words of God conveyed through His esteemed prophets? And IF they are not for us, why are they so prominently recorded in the Scriptures? Remember yet again, these are words from our Creator, who said of Himself “I am the LORD, I do not change (Malachi 3:6). Any who conclude that these words are not for today (and there are many believers in that category), according to this word from Zechariah, it will bring “great wrath from the LORD of hosts”.
As chapter 7 closes, Zechariah moves from a word for the generation of his day to a prophetic word for generations which are both past for us, and still future for us. The scattering of the people among the nations, and the great desolation of the land, which took place during the years of terrible drought in the land, from about 137 CE up until the very late 1,800’s, is prophesied. But then we have a resounding word of immense encouragement. “I am zealous for Zion with great zeal; with great fervour I am zealous for her”. Take a moment to let that sink in. The word ‘zealous’ is an adjective describing a person’s attitude. It means to be “ardently active in support of”. And “Zion” is broadly a descriptor of Israel, but specifically the place where the temple stood in Jerusalem. So as we read the words which follow that statement of ‘zeal’, we may be sure that they are sincere and heartfelt words of the LORD. “I will return to Zion, and dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. Jerusalem shall be called the city of truth, the mountain of the LORD of hosts, the holy mountain”. I note that the temple which was in the process of restoration did not have “the Ark of the Covenant” in the Most Holy place. Or at least it is not mentioned. And the prophet Jeremiah, writing about 100 years earlier told us that “It will come to pass … that they will say no more ‘the ark of the covenant of the LORD’ it shall not come to mind nor shall they remember it, nor shall they visit it, nor shall it be made ever more” (Jeremiah 3:16). My conclusion is that this promise of God to return to Zion refers to the time when He, in the person of Messiah Yeshua, will reign from Jerusalem.
Adding to this amazing prophetic word, Zechariah is told “Behold, I will save My people from the land of the east (which is where Babylon was situated) and from the land of the west (just look at any map of the world); I will bring them back, and they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem, they shall be My people and I will be their God, in truth and righteousness”. It is worthy of our careful consideration that the population growth of the land of Israel in the last 70 years, from about 800,000 in 1948 to 9,500,000 today (2022), leads to a conclusion that only now, in our generation, are we seeing clear evidence of the fulfilment of this prophetic word of Zechariah. ALL believers should view this situation with excitement and zeal. The truth is different. But there is still more to come according to this prophetic word. There is a day coming when “In those days 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’. I make NO claims of prophetic insight such as God gave to Zechariah, but I do not think we have to wait for that day. God speaks to us now, through this prophecy of Zechariah. We are free to join with His beloved people now, sharing the blessings of truth which God so zealously seeks people who are His to embrace.
REFLECTIONS ON THE WRITING PROPHETS
‘Reflections’ on the Writing Prophets 45
Z e c h a r I a h
The sixth vision given to Zechariah is that of a flying scroll. He was even able to quote the exact dimension of that scroll. Surprise surprise! It just happens to be the same size as the Holy Place in the Tabernacle of God. Because we are told it represents curses applicable to “thieves and perjurers” we conclude that it is representative of a “Godly standard”. Bringing judgment on those guilty of violation of that standard. It represents the divine standard by which men are measured. Now it would be comforting if this applied only to the ones to whom Zechariah was sent. But it goes further. “This is the curse that goes out over the face of the whole earth … it shall enter the house of the thief and the house of the one who swears falsely by My name. It shall remain in the midst of his house and consume it, with its timber and stones”. No-one is exempt from this judgement, not then, not now. This IS the word of the LORD. “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).
Then a seventh vision. A woman sitting in a basket. Zechariah was told that the woman represented “wickedness”. This is seen as a sign that some of the darker elements of the life the people had lived while in exile in Babylon had been brought back to the land with them on their return. Evidently that wickedness needed to be dealt with decisively. So in the vision two more women, likened to having wings like a stork, an unclean bird (Deut 14:18), so representing an evil force, carry the basket away. And where do they take it? Back to Babylon, (the ‘Babel’ of Genesis 10:10) in the land of Shinar. Why? “To build a house for it in the land of Shinar, when it is ready, the basket will be set there on its base”. And if only Zechariah had been privy to the Revelation of Yeshua given to John, (Rev 18) he would have known that there will be great rejoicing in heaven (Rev 19) when Babylon is finally dealt with.
Finally an eighth vision about chariots and horses coming from between two mountains. We are not told where or what these mountains represent. Some commentators have speculated that they could possibly be Mt Zion and the Mount of Olives, because that is where Yeshua is destined to return to rule and reign for 1,000 years. Babylon would have been been defeated, and the battle for Jerusalem won. Beyond speculation is that these chariots represent “Four spirits of heaven, who go out from their station before the Lord of all the earth”. It is presumed that this charge will be given to angelic bodies to accomplish. It will be their responsibility to execute judgement on behalf of the King. Two of the chariots will head towards the north and two towards the south. We may be certain that no place will be hidden from them. It will be the time of separation for the “sheep nations and the goat nations’ (Matt 25). There are a number of places in the Scriptures which allude to and describe the severity of God’s judgement. But ‘severity’ does not imply unfairness. And here is a timely lesson for us today. God sent prophets to utter warnings and to counsel change in people’s relationship to Himself. This whole series of ‘reflections’ has dealt with them. Later He sent His Son Yeshua, and followed that up with Apostles and teachers. He has given many signs of the end of days, some of which we see happening in our lifetime. And this is a lesson from Zechariah. There will be a day of reckoning. God’s judgment will be fair … but exactly as He has said.
As we come to the end of our ‘reflection’ on this passage of Scripture, we come to a prophecy which goes well into the future, some of which we have seen, but those in Zechariah’s day did not! “Behold, the Man whose name is the Branch! From His place He shall branch out, and He shall build the temple of the LORD”. The Hebrew word (‘tsemach’) translated ‘branch’ here, is literally and figuratively “a sprout”, something which starts small and grows. It is mostly associated with Messiah Yeshua, as in this translation. That is amplified by reference to the temple and the description of priestly activity which follows. But it also has the meaning of a growing relationship. It is a relationship which began when Yeshua first came to this earth and called people to Himself in worship. Moving from what had become a strict religious code, identified by Yeshua as the ‘traditions of men’ in Pharasaic Judaism. In contrast, the focus on true Torah observance and worship, centred on the teaching of Yeshua in Matthew 5 to 7, known as ‘the sermon on the mount’. It is the way of discipleship which is sometimes referred to as Messianic Judaism. And the final words of our passage today seem to encapsulate a test of how we might know exactly where we stand on this matter.
“Now the elaborate crown (which was placed on the head of Joshua the High Priest in Zechariah’s day, but will one day in the future be placed on the head of King and High Priest Yeshua) shall be for a memorial in the temple of the LORD (which they were restoring at that time ,but which was subsequently burned down again in 70 CE) … Even those from afar shall come and build the temple of the LORD. Then you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. And this shall come to pass if you diligently obey the voice of the LORD your God”. It is a sad fact that many believers today do not consider that there will even be another temple built. The prophecy of Zechariah challenges us in a personal way. We need to consider who are “those from afar”, who are prophesied to ‘come and build that temple’? Or do we reject the prophecy out of hand?
I am always challenged by the way in which God speaks through His anointed prophets. And seemingly to every generation!
REFLECTIONS ON THE WRITING PROPHETS
‘Reflections’ on the Writing Prophets 44
Z e c h a r I a h
Zechariah is given vision of a dispute in heaven. It is like a courtroom scene in which opposing parties argue a legal case before a judge. Joshua, the High Priest who accompanied Zerubbabel on his return from Babylon, is on trial. He is clothed in “filthy garments”. His advocate,“the Angel of the LORD”. The prosecutor, and accuser, Satan (formerly also an angel with ambition above his station!). The Judge, the LORD God Almighty. The charge, against Joshua seems to be that his accuser thought him unworthy of the office of High Priest, representative of the ‘people of God’. Why? Along with the people of Judea, Joshua had already been condemned, by God, and exiled to Babylon for his part in the failure of the people to keep their covenant and practise idolatry. The evidence, for all to see, being his “filthy garments”. Satan was delighted at God’s judgment of Judea in exiling them to Babylon. God’s chosen thrown out of the Land. God’s plan for His people at an end. Game, set, and match, to Satan.
Now there is an important lesson for believers today in what follows. Jude in his short letter (Jude 1:9) has a report of another heavenly dispute. The subject is different, but the advocates and the Judge are the same. And this is the lesson. In both cases it is the LORD who rebukes Satan. Even the ‘chief of Angels’ does not confront Satan directly. If Michael the archangel, does not rebuke Satan directly, it seems unwise for me, a mere mortal to do so. And yet I have many times heard enthusiastic believers throw themselves into such a conflict with a loud “I rebuke you Satan”. Learn from Michael! I do not glorify Satan by reminding myself that he is a powerful enemy. Not to be tangled with, but dealt with by Almighty God (Revelation 20: 2 and 10).
And so it was that Satan was given the message. “The LORD rebuke you, Satan! The LORD who chose Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not a brand plucked from the fire?” What Satan considered to be ‘game. set, and match’ was just a corrective measure by the LORD to bring His people back to Himself. “The brand plucked from the fire”. To make the point more graphically, the LORD continued “Take away the filthy garments from him”. Then addressing Joshua “See I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes”. And herein lies another lesson. Only the LORD our God has power to accomplish that. By the breath of His mouth He can make the vilest person clean. He did, and He does. But there is much more to be learned here. Immediately following this transformation, ‘the Angel of the LORD’ spoke again in admonishment of Joshua. It is a conditional message. “If you will walk in My ways, and if you will keep My command, then you shall also judge My house, and likewise have charge of My courts”. It is very comforting to accept the blessing of God. Less comforting to even acknowledge that there might be some admonishing conditions attached to such blessing, let alone accept them. Friends, there are plenty of “IF’s” in the Scriptures. Too many of us have acquired the skill of myopically removing them from the text!!
Then, in a most enlightening way, for us living today, Zechariah joins Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Jeremiah, and the Psalmist (118) in being shown the advent of the Messiah of God. It is referred to as “a wondrous sign”, and so it is. “My servant, the BRANCH, the Stone”. All descriptors of Messiah Yeshua. We are blessed to be able to see that in history. Zechariah’s audience had faith alone as their assurance of God’s wondrous sign. And yet still future for us to receive by faith alone “And I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day. In that day says the LORD of hosts, everyone will invite his neighbour under his vine and under his fig tree”. Our God is a trustworthy, covenant keeping, God. And there is more. Zechariah is shown a golden seven branched lamp stand and two olive trees constantly feeding the lamps. That speaks of the temple which at that time had not been repaired. God had called both Haggai and Zechariah to encourage the people to get on with the task of mending of the walls and restoring the temple. They were quite discouraged and severely hampered in that work. How could they possibly get that done with such obstacles in their way? So the word the LORD gave Zechariah for Zerubbabel, the man chosen to lead the Judeans back to the land from Babylon. “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the LORD of hosts”. It sounds rather too easy doesn’t it? But it was not. The obstacles and the challenges remained. But the will and determination of the people doing the work was uplifted by the knowledge that they were about the LORD’s business. How do we know that? Because the word of the LORD to Zechariah said so, and he passed that word faithfully to the people. “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of the temple, his hands shall also finish it. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you”.
Then Zecharaiah wondered about the two mysterious olive trees which continuously fed the lamps of the golden lamp stand. The LORD told him they represented the two “anointed ones, who stand beside the LORD of the whole earth”. Well, the two most prominent people there at the time were Zerubbabel, who led the people back from Babylon, and Joshua, the High Priest who stood in the court with this ‘filthy garments’ at the beginning of our text. Commentators point out that Zerubbabel was a direct descendant of David, and Joshua, the High Priest, was a direct descendant of Eleazar, who succeeded his father Aaron as High Priest when he died.
Now isn’t that an interesting point at which to end our ‘reflection’ this week?