Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Message Of Malachi. Day 4, Ungodly Priests

We have already learned that the problem God is dealing with in the book of Malachi is a problem of the heart. Many of the people's hearts have cooled toward God. Their hearts are still lukewarm enough to go through the motions of worship, but as we learned earlier in the week, the quality of their offerings and sacrifices betrays their lack of respect toward the Lord. The Lord has harsh words today for the ungodly priests who accept such offerings and who do not stand up for what is right. The priests bear a greater responsibility than the regular citizens to lead godly lives, since the citizens look to the priests for an example to follow. A corrupt priesthood gives the people an excuse to become corrupt themselves. The primary duty of religious leaders is to lift up the name of the Lord, so when they fail to carry out this duty the people find it easier to shirk their own duties toward the Lord. In Malachi's day the priests weren't honoring the name of the Lord or holding Him in high esteem, so it's easy to see why the citizens stopped bringing their best to the house of the Lord.

"And now, you priests, this warning is for you. If you do not listen, and if you do not resolve to honor My name,' says the Lord Almighty, 'I will send a curse on you, and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have already cursed them, because you have not resolved to honor Me.'" (Malachi 2:1-2) The blessings mentioned here may be the gifts and offerings that the priests had a right to share in. The priests made their living from the temple. The Lord did not intend for a priest's attention to be divided between serving in the house of God and having to work outside the temple to provide for his family. In 1 Corinthians 9 the Apostle Paul points out that the commandment not to muzzle the ox who treads the grain (Deuteronomy 25:4) also applies to the priesthood and to those who preach the gospel, "Don't you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered at the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel." (1 Corinthians 9:13-14)

The Lord gave no territory in the promised land to the priestly tribe of Levi because, "They shall live on the food offerings presented to the Lord, for that is their inheritance. They shall have no inheritance among their fellow Israelites; the Lord is their inheritance, as He promised them...This is the share due the priests from the people who sacrifice a bull or a sheep: the shoulder, the internal organs and the meat from the head. You are to give them the firstfruits of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the first wool from the shearing of your sheep, for the Lord your God has chosen them and their descendants out of all your tribes to stand and minister in the Lord's name always." (Deuteronomy 18:1-5) When the priests accepted lame and blind and sick animals at the temple, they were dishonoring both the Lord and themselves. The priests and their families had to eat the meat of these unwell animals, so in essence when they denied God the best they were also denying themselves God's best. Whenever we refuse to bless the Lord we are essentially refusing blessings for ourselves. It's simply the way things work in God's economy. When He tells the priests He has already begun to curse their gifts, we find that they have actually cursed themselves by their own behavior. They have brought judgment upon themselves, and it's only going to get worse if they don't repent. The Lord has the power to strike the crops with drought or to allow disease to invade the flocks and herds. Then what will the people be able to bring to the temple? Where will be the healthy bull or sheep to eat for food? Where will be the firsfruits of the grain and the olive oil and the wool that the priests are used to receiving?

"'Because of you I will rebuke your descendants; I will smear on your faces the dung from your festival sacrifices, and you will be carried off with it. And you will know that I have sent you this warning so that My covenant with Levi may continue,' says the Lord Almighty. 'My covenant was with him, a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him; this called for reverence and he revered Me and stood in awe of My name. True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin.'" (Malachi 2:3-6) Dung from a sacrifice was considered unclean and it had to be burned outside the gates. In Malachi's day the priesthood has become just as unclean in the Lord's eyes as a pile of dung. To come in contact with offal was to be ceremonially unclean for a period of time, and the hearts of the priests have fallen so far from God that to Him they look the same as if they have rubbed their faces in dung. In other words, their faces are covered with shame, something that David promised would never happen to the one who reverences the Lord, "Those who look to Him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame." (Psalm 34:5)

The Lord reminds the priests how far they have fallen from the example their ancestor Levi set. He did what a priest is supposed to do: he revered the name of the Lord and taught the truth of God's word. In faithfully performing these two duties he turned many from sin. The generation of priests in Malachi's time look nothing like their ancestor Levi. The Lord can hardly tell they are related to Levi at all. "'For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, because he is the messenger of the Lord Almighty and people seek instruction from his mouth. But you have turned from the way and by your teaching have caused many to stumble; you have violated the covenant with Levi,' says the Lord Almighty. 'So I have caused you to be despised and humiliated before all the people, because you have not followed My ways but have shown partiality in matters of the law.'" (Malachi 2:7-9)

Matters of the law were brought before the priests and they were to judge these matters according to God's word, but here we learn that they have been giving special treatment to certain persons. They are showing partiality to those who are in close relationship to them or to those who are influential or wealthy or powerful. But God's laws apply equally to everyone. The priests are giving the people a false idea about the character of God when they judge with partiality. God does not twist the law to allow certain persons to escape penalty. God doesn't care how much money we have in the bank or what position we hold in the community or how highly esteemed we are by our friends. He judges by His word, and only by His word. The person God holds in high esteem is the one who is "humble and contrite in spirit" and who "trembles at My word". (Isaiah 66:2)

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Message Of Malachi. Day 3, Giving God Our Best

The Lord accused the people in yesterday's passage of bringing offerings and sacrifices that don't meet the criteria of the law. The people were going through the motions of worship but had lost the heart of their worship, becoming lukewarm in their devotion to God. Today the Lord further explores the topic of their failure to give Him their best. They have been bringing the worst of their herds and flocks to the temple, offering animals that are blind or sick or lame. The Lord pointed out in yesterday's study that they wouldn't dare offer such animals to their governor (pechath, indicating a Persian lieutenant or viceroy). In ancient times a person could pay his taxes with animals or goods instead of money. A vassal state, such as Malachi's nation was at the time, could pay tribute with animals. But they had to be the best, and no citizen of Jerusalem would have even thought of offering a blind or lame or sick animal to a Persian official, yet they were offering these to Almighty God.

The Lord looks on the inappropriate offerings that are brought to Him at the temple and remarks sarcastically, "'Now plead with God to be gracious to us. With such offerings from your hands, will He accept you?'---says the Lord Almighty." (Malachi 1:9) This verse causes me to picture someone bringing the least valuable lamb from his flock and presenting it to the Lord, then stepping back and piously praying, "Lord, show us grace! Show us mercy!" Such a thing is offensive to the Lord. If we refuse to give Him our best, how can we expect to receive His favor? The refusal to give God our give Him something that costs a symptom of a lukewarm heart. The bringing of inappropriate offerings and sacrifices in the book of Malachi is an outward symptom of an inward problem: the people are withholding their best offerings from God because they are withholding their hearts from God.

The people's insincerity makes the Lord feel weary. Have you ever known someone whose professed devotion to you was fake and whose compliments were insincere? It's wearisome to deal with a person like that. It makes us wish they'd just leave us alone. The Lord knows that feeling! "'Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on My altar! I am not pleased with you,' says the Lord Almighty, 'and I will accept no offering from your hands. My name will be great among the nations, from where the sun rises to where it sets. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to Me, because My name will be great among the nations,' says the Lord Almighty." (Malachi 1:10-11)

When we studied the book of Isaiah we noted a number of references to a time when the Gentiles would come to believe on the God of Israel. Here in Malachi we find more proof that something is going to happen that will turn the world upside down. In Malachi's day the Gentiles were still bowing down to idols, engaging in useless and repetitive pagan rituals, and calling out the names of gods who did not exist. In Malachi's day the hearts of the Gentiles did not belong to the Lord, but then neither did the hearts of many of God's people Israel. The "pure offering" the Lord is looking for is the heart that is completely devoted to Him. The literal offerings and sacrifices made at the temple in Malachi's times reflect a coolness of the heart, so the Lord points out that although His name doesn't appear to be revered very much at Jerusalem in those days, His name is going to be great among the Gentiles.

Why is this going to happen? Because God is going to give His best! He's going to give His only Son. Because God did not withhold His very best from mankind, millions of hearts from "the nations" have turned to Him and have devoted to Him the "pure offering" of faith and devotion. This does not mean that the Lord has rejected Israel or that any of His promises to her have been made void. The Apostle Paul, a man of the tribe of Benjamin and a former Pharisee, vehemently refutes the very idea that God has turned His favor from Israel. "Did God reject His people? By no means!" (Romans 11:1) Chapter 11 of the book of Romans deals with the great mystery in which salvation came to the Gentiles through the Jews and how salvation will come to the Jews through the Gentiles. It is too lengthy to include in our study today, but if you have the time it would be good to read it along with our passage from Malachi. From the very beginning it was always God's intention to make Jews and Gentiles part of the same family. His family will be made up of the natural children (the Jews) and the adopted children (the Gentiles). How will He do this? Through the best gift He ever gave: His one and only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Lord now concludes His discourse on the pitiful offerings He has been receiving at the temple. He says that by bringing inappropriate offerings the people have profaned His name. "But you profane it by saying, 'The Lord's table is defiled,' and, 'Its food is contemptible.' And you say, 'What a burden!' and you sniff at it contemptuously,' says the Lord Almighty. 'When you bring injured, lame or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?' says the Lord. 'Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king,' says the Lord Almighty, 'and My name is to be feared among the nations.'" (Malachi 1:12-14) The people who are engaging in insincere worship are as weary of it as the Lord is. (This is not to say that all the people were insincere; God has always had His faithful ones in every era. In our own times there are those in the church whose hearts are sincerely on fire for God and then there are those who are active in church work for reasons of their own.) Good works done in our own strength are wearying to both body and mind, but good works done through the power of the Holy Spirit are invigorating and energizing.

Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament. We find the Lord's grace displayed in the fact that He ends the Old Testament by pointing out what a sacrifice should not be, and that He begins the New Testament by providing mankind with everything a sacrifice should be. He hands down a stinging indictment in Malachi over the blemished sacrifices the people are bringing to the temple, yet He is still willing to offer the "acceptable male" of His own flock for the sins of mankind. An "acceptable male" had to be without defect or blemish according to the laws found in Leviticus 22, and so God offered His only Son, the perfect and holy Lamb of God, in whom was found no fault or defect or blemish. After reading the derisive commentary we find in the short book of Malachi on the state of the people's hearts, we might expect the Lord to throw up His hands in defeat and say, "I'm done!" But instead the New Testament opens with this surprising and welcome announcement, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29)

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Message Of Malachi. Day 2, Lukewarm Worship

The message of Malachi is that the worship of the Lord has become halfhearted in the years following the rebuilding of the temple. Apathetic worship such as this is can also be called "lukewarm". The Lord had to deal with a lukewarm Israel in the last century before Christ, just as He will have to deal with a lukewarm church in the last century before the return of Christ. This is how the Lord feels about lukewarm devotion, according to His admonition to the church of Laodicea in Revelation 3:15-16, "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm---neither hot nor cold---I am about to spit you out of My mouth."

Lukewarm liquid tastes disgusting. For example, I always make a big pot of coffee before working on the blog, but sometimes I forget about my cup until about an hour later when I absentmindedly pick it up and take a mouthful only to realize it has become sickeningly lukewarm. I love hot coffee, and I can even drink cold or iced coffee, but lukewarm coffee is just nasty. This is how the Lord says He feels about lukewarm worship. He loves it when our hearts are on fire for Him. He can even respect a cold heart in a way, because coldhearted people aren't being hypocritical by pretending to worship Him; they are honest at least. But lukewarm worship makes Him sick to His stomach. 

The people expected the return to the land to be the beginning of a return to their former glory. They believed the Lord would remove the yoke of Persia and make Israel a sovereign nation again with her own king. They even thought the King of kings might enter the world scene upon their return from exile and that the kingdom of the Lord would commence. But none of these things have happened and they have lapsed into an attitude of "same old, same old". They aren't even bringing their best offerings and sacrifices to the temple, as required by the law, but are bringing God blemished sacrifices. The priests, who should have turned away blemished sacrifices, are going about their duties as if the offerings meet the requirements of the law. So today the Lord wants to know where is the respect that He deserves. He says, "'A son honors his father, and a slave his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due Me?' says the Lord Almighty." (Malachi 1:6a) An order to honor our fathers and mothers is included in the Ten Commandments, so the Lord asks, "If you consider Me your father, why do you not honor Me?" The word of God also commands us to honor Him as Lord, so He wants to know, "If I am Lord, where is My respect?"

The Lord holds the priests to a higher standard of accountability than He holds the people, for they are to set a godly example for the people to follow. "'It is you priests who hold contempt for My name.' But you ask, 'How have we shown contempt for Your name?' 'By offering defiled food on My altar.' But you ask, 'How have we defiled You?' 'By saying that the Lord's table is contemptible. When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?' says the Lord Almighty." (Malachi 1:6b-8) 

The sacrifices the people are bringing to the temple aren't costing them anything. They are giving the Lord the animals from their flocks and herds that are useless to them. This negates the entire meaning of sacrifice. If it doesn't cost us anything to follow the Lord, are we really following Him at all? Have we lapsed into a lukewarm condition? Have we become comfortable there? The Lord Jesus never taught about a "comfortable" religion or a "comfortable" relationship with Him. He taught that following Him would cost us something. (Luke 14:25-34) 

In some areas of the world being a Christian can cost a person his life. We may never be called upon to be martyrs, but following the Lord may cost us a promotion because we aren't perceived as team players if we don't party with our co-workers. It may cost us some popularity at school or in the community because we don't engage in the same behaviors as the "in" crowd. It may cost us personal pain when we have to say no to things when our carnal natures are begging us to say yes. It may cost us some time with our favorite hobbies or activities while we devote ourselves to the study of God's word and to prayer. If we have become comfortable, and if our relationship with Christ isn't costing us anything, and if we are pretty cozy and contented where we are, perhaps we have gradually cooled off like that nasty cup of coffee that I forgot to drink while it was hot. This is a challenge to me to examine my own worship life and to step it up wherever needed. Let's not bring God the halfhearted offerings of a lukewarm heart. Let's do what Christ told us we would have to do if we want to experience the thrilling and satisfying life of walking in His footsteps.....take up our cross and follow Him. (Matthew:24) 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Message Of Malachi. Day One, The Lord's Love For Israel

The final prophet of the Old Testament is Malachi, whose name means "My Messenger". Some scholars believe Malachi was his proper name, while others believe it was a title. Nothing is known about this man other than that he was God's chosen messenger for a particular time in Israel's history.

This book begins about a hundred years after the exiles returned from Babylon to rebuild. It's believed that Malachi was a contemporary of Nehemiah, who was a governor of Judah. Nehemiah led the project of rebuilding the wall and he helped the people to renew their dedication to the Lord. But because he was an official of King Artaxerxes of Persia, he was called back to the king's service for a period of time, and during that time the people backslid into some of their old habits. When he returned he found some rooms of the temple had been defiled and used as a dwelling. Those in charge of paying the priests and musicians of the temple had been withholding their wages, causing these men to leave their work at the temple to go home and try to make a living at farming. Work was being done on the Sabbath. Perhaps worst of all, Nehemiah learned that many of the men had married pagan wives during his absence. This is the environment into which the prophet Malachi speaks the message of the Lord.

When we studied the book of Zechariah we found the people discouraged by the monumental task of rebuilding the temple, but by Malachi's time that task has been completed. The people are still deeply discouraged. They keep comparing what they have now with what they had before the Babylonian invasion. They keep longing for the former glory of their sovereign kingdom. They are now nothing but a small outpost belonging to the kingdom of Persia. They want the glory of Israel restored now. They want the kingdom to come now. Because things didn't fall into place the way they hoped and expected on their return to the land, they have begun to blame God and to accuse Him of not loving them anymore. Their resentment toward Him has caused them to lapse into some of the same old sins they took part in before the fall of the nation, not taking into account that it was these very sins that led to the fall of the nation. Like most of us have done at one time or another, they blame God for their troubles instead of accepting that their troubles have been the consequences of their own actions.

Our text begins, "A prophecy: The word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi. 'I have loved you,' says the Lord. But you ask, 'How have You loved us?'" (Malachi 1:1-2a) The Lord reminds the people of His covenant love for them, a love that can never be shaken. But in their self-pitying mood they ask, "How have You loved us? If You loved us, wouldn't You have already restored our glory as it was in the golden age of our kingdom? Wouldn't You have overthrown the Persians and made us sovereign over our nation again? Wouldn't You have defeated our every enemy and given us dominion over them?"

We often make the mistake of assuming what we would do if we were God. The people believe if they were God they would have handled things differently. But we have to keep in mind that God, as a loving Father, does what's best for us and not necessarily what is pleasant for us. The reason the nation is nothing but a vestige of what it once was is because the people did not remain faithful to God. Restoring their former glory too quickly would not be good for their character. When we were children, didn't we take our disobedience less seriously if our parents reinstated our privileges too soon? Didn't that make us more likely to repeat the same disobedience, considering the consequences weren't that harsh? God knows what He's doing by not bringing in His kingdom in the days following the Babylonian exile. He knows what He's doing when He allows the nation to remain subject to another empire. The current difficulties are not proof that God doesn't love them, but that He does.

The Lord now provides an example of His love for the people. He has preserved them. He has protected them. He has returned them to the land. The way God has dealt with the descendants of Jacob is a sharp contrast to how He has dealt with the descendants of Esau. "'Was not Esau Jacob's brother?' declares the Lord. 'Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.'" (Malachi 1:2b-3) Before Jacob and Esau were born, the Lord chose one and rejected the other. He was able to do this because He knew what kind of man each of them would become. God made His statement about these two before either of them had done anything good or bad, but that's because to God the future is as real as the present. He knew what kind of men Jacob and Esau would be, and He knew what kind of nations Israel and Edom would be. Therefore, God was not unrighteous when He chose one of these men over the other and one of these nations over the other.

The Edomites made themselves the enemies of Israel. They refused passage to the children of Israel on their Exodus from Egypt. They fought against King Solomon, opposed King Jehoshaphat, and rebelled against King Jehoram. Edom eagerly aided the Babylonians in destroying Jerusalem. Several Old Testament prophets predicted the judgment of Edom, for anyone who curses God's people will be cursed, according to the promise God made to Abraham. (Genesis 12:3) By Malachi's day the Edomites had been conquered by the Nabateans in around 500 BC. The Nabateans were so successful in erasing the proof that the Edomites had ever possessed the territory that for centuries the existence of the Edomites was considered legend and not fact. It was only after archaeologists found references to Edom in Egypt and Assyria that their existence was proven. The Lord is saying, "If I did not love you, Israel, would I not have done to you what I have done to Edom?"

The Lord continues, "Edom may say, 'Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins.' But this is what the Lord Almighty says: 'They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the Lord. You will see it with your own eyes and say, 'Great is the Lord---even beyond the borders of Israel!'" (Malachi 1:4-5) The prophets of the Lord had nothing good to say about Edom; instead they repeated over and over that it would be destroyed and never rebuilt. But the Lord always promised to preserve and rebuild Israel. Yes, Jerusalem has fallen several times. Yes, the temple has been destroyed twice. Yes, God has put Israel through the refiner's fire time and again. But all of this was intended as correction and not destruction. God was dealing with Israel as a man deals with his children. A father doesn't kill his children for disobedience; he corrects and instructs his children. The same is true with God. The one He loves He chastens. "Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as His children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?" (Hebrews 12:7) God, however, was not dealing with Edom as His children, for Edom was never His. Just as Esau had no heart for God, neither did the nation he founded. Esau's descendants also had no heart for God's people Israel. This is why there is no nation of Edom today. But there is a nation of Israel, because God's covenant with Israel endures and His love for Israel is everlasting.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Zechariah's Vision Of The King. Day 31, The Eternal Kingdom

In Monday's study Zechariah foretold the return of the King and His miraculous deliverance of His people Israel from her enemies. Zechariah continues his description of the day in which the King returns. "On that day there will be neither sunlight nor cold, frosty darkness. It will be a unique day---a day known only to the Lord---with no distinction between day and night. When evening comes, there will be light." (Zechariah 14:6-7)

These verses above remind me of the account of the sun standing still in the book of Joshua. A coalition of five kingdoms banded together to attack Gibeon. The Gibeonites appealed to Joshua and his fighting men for help and they came to the rescue. As the battle raged on, the day passed by, and Joshua needed more time to finish vanquishing the foe, so he asked the Lord to make the sun and moon stand still in the sky. "So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies." (Joshua 10:13a) The Bible tells us that "there has never been a day like it before or since". (Joshua 10:14a) Just as the sun did not go down on the day Joshua avenged his people, the sun will not go down on the day the King avenges His people. It appears that the sun will never go down again, for when the Apostle John describes the New Jerusalem, the capital city of the world after the King comes to reign, he says, "The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp." (Revelation 21:23)

"On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half of it east to the Dead Sea and half of it west to the Mediterranean Sea, in summer and in winter." (Zechariah 14:8) The prophet Ezekiel foresaw this river in Ezekiel 47 and the Apostle John envisioned it in Revelation 22. The earth will be restored to an Eden-like state when the King reigns over it, with living water flowing from His throne and with trees growing on both sides of the river that bear fruit every month of the year.

Next we find our key verse from the book of Zechariah. Everything in this book has been leading up to the moment when the King ascends to the throne and reigns over His kingdom. "The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and His name the only name." (Zechariah 14:9)

"The whole land, from Geba to Rimmon, south of Jerusalem, will become like the Arabah. But Jerusalem will be raised up high from the Benjamin Gate to the site of the First Gate, to the Corner Gate, and from the Tower of Hananel to the royal winepresses, and will remain in its place. It will be inhabited; never again will it be destroyed. Jerusalem will be secure." (Zechariah 14:10-11) What welcome news this must have been to the people of Zechariah's day who were faced with the difficult task of rebuilding following the devastation of war. This is welcome news to the Jewish people of every era, because a day is coming in which Jerusalem will forever be secure.

"This is the plague with which the Lord will strike all the nations that fought against Jerusalem: Their flesh will rot while they are still standing on their feet, their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths. On that day people will be stricken by the Lord with great panic. They will seize each other by the hand and attack one another. Judah too will fight at Jerusalem. The wealth of all the surrounding nations will be collected---great quantities of gold and silver and clothing. A similar plague will strike the horses and mules, the camels and donkeys, and all the animals in those camps." (Zechariah 14:12-15) This passage likely describes the same judgment that Ezekiel foresaw falling on Israel's enemies in the end times in Ezekiel 38 and 39. The prophet Daniel and the Apostle John both predicted a coalition of ten kings (Daniel 7:24, Revelation 17:12) who would come against Israel in the last days. The nations the Lord strikes in our passage of Zechariah today may represent these kingdoms that will band together to try to destroy Israel.

"Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord Almighty, and to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles. If any of the peoples of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord Almighty, they will have no rain. If the Egyptian people do not go up to take part, they will have no rain. The Lord will bring on them the plague He inflicts on the nations that do not go up to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles. This will be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that do not go up to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles." (Zechariah 14:16-19) The Festival of Tabernacles was kept to commemorate the forty years in the wilderness. Israel's wanderings are forever over when her King comes to reign, so the Festival of Tabernacles will still be kept to celebrate the fact that Israel  will be permanently settled in the promised land. She will never again be surrounded by enemies because the nations of the world will be joined to her and to her King.

"On that day 'Holy To The Lord' will be inscribed on the bells of the horses, and the cooking pots in the Lord's house will be like the sacred bowls in front of the altar. Every pot in Jerusalem and Judah will be holy to the Lord Almighty, and all who come to sacrifice will take some of the pots and cook in them. And on that day there will no longer be a Canaanite in the house of the Lord Almighty." (Zechariah 14:20-21) "Holy To The Lord" is what was engraved on the headband of the high priest. When the King reigns, everything on earth will be made holy and pure by Him. Even the horses will wear these words on their bells. Even common cooking pots will be like consecrated vessels.

The word translated "Canaanite" also means "traffickers", but with a sinister twist that indicates they are unscrupulous and deceitful merchants. The Canaanites are the people the Lord commanded Israel to drive out of the promised land, although Israel never fully carried out His orders. But when the Lord is King over all the earth, the entire world will become like the promised land, and nothing impure will ever enter it. When the Apostle John envisioned the Lamb of God seated on the throne, he was assured that nothing deceitful or impure would ever enter into the city. (Revelation 21:27a, Revelation 22:15) Only those whose names are "written in the Lamb's book of life" will enter in. (Revelation 21:27b) On that day the Lord will make everything new and will restore the earth to the conditions it enjoyed before the fall of man. "No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His servants will serve Him. They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever." (Revelation 22:3-5)

Thank you for coming along with me on this thirty-one day journey through the book of Zechariah. May the King bless you for the time you spent in His holy word.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Zechariah's Vision Of The King. Day 30, The King Returns

Zechariah gives us a dreadful glimpse of the battle of the end times, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The miraculous deliverance the Lord promised to the Jews will be theirs when the King returns to reign forever.

"A day of the Lord is coming, Jerusalem, when your possessions will be plundered and divided up within your city walls. I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it; the city will be captured, the houses ransacked, and the women raped. Half of the city will go into exile, but the rest of the people will not be taken from the city." (Zechariah 14:1-2) Many scholars apply these two verses to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD and I agree that this part of the prophecy was fulfilled when Rome, made up of a coalition of all the nations she had already conquered, plundered Jerusalem and perpetrated war atrocities on the people and took nearly 100,000 Jews captive. But like a number of Biblical prophecies, I think this one is twofold, for the mighty victory that follows did not take place after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 AD. Another battle is yet to that will be won by Israel's King.

The Lord Jesus gave a twofold prophecy regarding the fall of Jerusalem and the dark days of the end times in Matthew 24. He provided this glimpse into the near future and the far future in one seamless tale, though thousands of years would separate both events. I think there is a good reason for this: the years in between are what are known as "the times of the Gentiles". In 70 AD the Jews effectively lost all claim to being a sovereign state, stopping the clock of Israel in a sense, because "the times of the Gentiles" began. (Luke 21:24b) A sign that the clock of Israel is about to begin ticking again is her reinstatement as a sovereign nation in 1948, but it cannot yet be said that Israel is not still "trampled on by the Gentiles". (Luke 21:24a) I believe the Lord skipped over the period of time between the fall of Jerusalem in the first century AD and the final battle of Jerusalem because that period of time contains the church age. The gospel began in Jerusalem and ever since has been spreading throughout the world. This age must be fulfilled before the time of the end. As the Lord Jesus said, "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." (Matthew 24:14)

Jerusalem is probably the most fought-over territory in the whole world. During the final war, when the nations are gathered together against her, the King bursts onto the scene like a mighty warrior charging into the fray. "Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations, as He fights on the day of battle." (Zechariah 14:3)

"On that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south. You will flee by My mountain valley, for it will extend to Azel. You will flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with Him." (Zechariah 14:4-5) The prophet Isaiah predicted this day, saying to his people, "But your many enemies will become like fine dust, the ruthless hordes like blown chaff. Suddenly, in an instant, the Lord Almighty will come with thunder and earthquake and great noise, with windstorm and tempest and flames of a devouring fire." (Isaiah 29:5-6) In the 28th chapter of Ezekiel the prophet describes enemies coming against the Jews in the last days and the Lord's retribution against these enemies, "This is what will happen in that day: When Gog attacks the land of Israel, My hot anger will be aroused, declares the Sovereign Lord. In My zeal and fiery wrath I declare that at that time there shall be a great earthquake in the land of Israel." (Ezekiel 38:18-19)

Little is known about the earthquake that occurred during the reign of King Hezekiah of Judah. The prophet Amos mentions it in passing in Amos 1:1, but apparently it was of such a frightening magnitude that the people fled the city while it was happening. When the King returns and shakes the earth, He will use the earthquake as a means to save His people by opening up a way of escape for them.

Meeting God, or any supernatural messenger of His, has always been a horrifying experience for the characters of the Bible. There is something terrible about His holy majesty, and I think that's because when man sees God as He is, man sees himself as he is. Bible scholar Barry G. Webb describes the moment of the Lord's appearing like this, "It is clearly, at one level at least, a moment of terror, as mere human beings are confronted with the world-shaking power of God. is a moment of liberation; their great and awesome God has stepped in to save them. The splitting of the Mount of Olives recalls the dividing of the Red Sea at the exodus from Egypt---the experience of deliverance par excellence in the Old Testament." (from The Message Of Zechariah, pg. 178-179)

Zechariah foresaw the King riding a donkey, an animal of peace, at His first advent. But at His second advent the King comes to wage war. We find Him in Revelation 19 charging into battle on a warhorse, accompanied by the armies of heaven. This corresponds to what Zechariah tells us today, that, "The Lord my God will come, and all His holy ones with Him."

In tomorrow's study the book of Zechariah comes to its glorious conclusion with the King of all kings setting up His eternal kingdom. The One whom Zechariah envisioned as King and High Priest and the Good Shepherd will be the political and spiritual leader of the world, yet for all His awesome power and majesty He will know how to tenderly care for His flock.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Zechariah's Vision Of The King. Day 29, The Shepherd Struck And The Sheep Scattered

The portion we study today involves the striking of the Good Shepherd, who is the same person as the Messiah and King we have seen in the book of Zechariah. When this Shepherd is struck, His sheep will be scattered, a verse given clearer focus in portions of the New Testament that we will view today.

We have been treated to a look at several facets of the King's character through the visions of the prophet Zechariah. We saw Him riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, the animal a king rides when he comes in peace, so we know this King brings an offer of friendship with Him. We found Him portrayed as both King and High Priest, the eventual political and spiritual leader of the world, when the high priest Joshua symbolically stood in for Him and wore both the turban of a priest and the crown of a king. This means He will be able not only to bring us closer to God, but that His government will be run according to the righteous laws of God. He was represented as the Good Shepherd who loves and cares for the flock and gives particular care to those who have been oppressed. This is a Man who sounds like He has every attribute we could possibly want in a political and spiritual leader. We would expect the world to bow down and swear its allegiance to Him, yet today we find Him "punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted". (Isaiah 53:4b)

The Lord, in the person of God the Father, is speaking today's prophecy. "'Awake, sword, against My shepherd, against the one who is close to Me!' declares the Lord Almighty." (Zechariah 13:7a) This is an instance where I prefer the wording of the KJV, "Awake, O sword, against My shepherd, and against the man that is My fellow". Calling the shepherd "My fellow" is a more accurate translation of the original text. Many characters of the Bible were close to the Lord. Enoch and Noah had such wonderful relationships with the Lord that they were said to have "walked with God". Abraham was known as the "friend of God". But to call someone a "fellow" of God implies much more than a relationship built on faith; it implies equality. "Fellow" in this context is defined as someone's "companion, counterpart, duplicate, equal, image, look-alike, partner, peer, or twin". Who could God possibly call His equal, His look-alike, His peer? This can be none other than God the Son who is "the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of His being". (Hebrews 1:3)

Why would the Lord order a sword to come against His righteous and holy Son? Why do we find the Son punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted? Because it's our punishment that fell on Him! He endured the stripes that were meant for our backs. He wore the crown of shame that should have been placed on our sinful heads. The wages of sin are death, and we had fully earned those wages, but God the Son stepped up to pay our ransom. He offered Himself in our place, suffering a separation from the Father that He had never before experienced, so that we need never be separated from the Father.

Our text continues, "Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn My hand against the little ones." (Zechariah 13:7b) During the Last Supper, before Jesus and the disciples went out to the Garden of Gethsemane where He would be arrested, He applied Zechariah 13:7 to Himself, "This very night you will all fall away on account of Me, for it is written: 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.'" Later that same night the prophecy was fulfilled when the chief priests and elders sent a band of soldiers to seize Jesus in the garden. He said, "'But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.' Then all the disciples deserted Him and fled." (Matthew 26:56) When they saw their Shepherd stricken, the disciples scattered just as Zechariah foretold.

It's not only the small flock of the disciples that would be scattered after the Good Shepherd was stricken. The Christians would soon be scattered due to religious persecution, but this led to the gospel going out to the world. The Jews would soon be scattered by the Romans following a failed uprising against Roman rule. After slaughtering over 1.1 million Jews during the fall of Jerusalem, the Romans took nearly 100,000 Jews into slavery, causing them to be scattered among the territories held by Rome and eventually causing their scattering throughout the world. "'In the whole land,' declares the Lord, 'two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it. This third I will put into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold.'" (Zechariah 13:8-9a) This verse foretells the dispersion of the Jewish people in the centuries since the Shepherd was struck. It may also apply to the "time of trouble for Jacob" foretold in Jeremiah 30:7. This corresponds to the Great Tribulation foretold by Jesus in Matthew 24:21 and described in detail by the Apostle John in the book of Revelation, after which a believing remnant (that came to faith during the end times) will remain and will call on the name of their King and Shepherd and High Priest: the Lord Jesus Christ.

Of this faithful remnant the Lord says, "'They will call on My name, and I will answer them; I will say, 'They are My people,' and they will say, 'The Lord is our God.'" (Zechariah 13:9b) During this past week the Lord made several promises that were going to be fulfilled "on that day". In the Bible, "on that day" has to to with the end times and with the eternal Messianic kingdom. Israel will experience her complete regathering and restoration "on that day". Israel will be gathered together, along with the believing Gentiles, as one nation literally under God. The Shepherd who was stricken for the sins of mankind will watch over His flock forever.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Zechariah's Vision Of The King. Day 28, A Fountain Of Cleansing/An End To Idolatry And False Prophecy

We move from a fountain of tears in Chapter 12 to a fountain of cleansing in Chapter 13. We concluded yesterday with the children of Israel mourning for the One who was pierced, and today we find that from this piercing flows a fountain able to cleanse mankind from all sin and unrighteousness.

The prophet Zechariah begins our passage by telling us these things will take place "on that day". As we learned previously, the term "on that day" is used in end times prophecies in the Bible. It looks ahead to the "day of the Lord" and to the kingdom age beyond that day. In Chapter 13 we are looking at the kingdom age when the King of kings will reign from David's throne forever. His people, who rejected Him at his first advent, are ready to receive Him now. In yesterday's study we found the Lord granting them a spirit of grace and supplication; this is why they mourned for the One who had been pierced. But it is this very piercing that brings deliverance to the nation. It is this very piercing that is able to make new creatures of us all. As the old song says, "What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus."

"On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity." (Zechariah 13:1) This fountain has been open to David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem (in other words, Israel) since Jesus of Nazareth was crucified. Many of the Jews believed on Him in those days. Many Jews have believed on Him since. But in the days when He comes again to His own, His own will receive Him like never before. There will be a wide-scale turning to Christ among the Jews such as there has never been during any other age. In the first century AD we found the Gentiles believing the gospel and flocking to the Lord Jesus in droves; the same thing will happen among the Jews "on that day".

The Lord speaks now in His own words, "'On that day, I will banish the names of the idols from the land, and they will be remembered no more,' declares the Lord Almighty." (Zechariah 13:2a) We have looked at a verse from Chapter 14 before, and will be studying it more fully later on, but idols will be abolished because, "On that day there will be one Lord, and His name the only name." (Zechariah 14:9b) It cannot be said that Israel is bowing down to literal idols in our times. Most of the Gentile nations are not bowing down to literal idols anymore. But we have all bowed the knee to something other than God, because anything we have ever put before God is an idol to us. This might take the form of seeking wealth or renown. It might be valuing a person or our relationship with them above our relationship with God. It might simply be choosing our own way instead of following God's laws, in which case we have made gods of ourselves. On that day, never again will the name of any other god pass through human lips. Never again will there be any separation between man and his Maker.

The Lord promises to remove something else from the land. "I will remove both the prophets and the spirit of impurity from the land." (Zechariah 13:2b) On the one hand we might be tempted to conclude that prophecy is removed because it is no longer needed. After all, the Lord Himself will be living among His people. While it's true prophecy will not be needed when we are able to see the Lord face to face, the prophets in this verse are so closely linked with "the spirit of impurity" that the Lord is likely speaking of the false prophets. There were a number of these in the land before the downfall of Israel and Judah. The righteous prophets, such as Isaiah and Jeremiah, were scorned in favor of the false prophets who promised victory from their enemies and peace to follow. Jeremiah urged the people to turn back to the Lord and repent instead of listening to the empty promises of the false prophets who "fill you with false hopes". (Jeremiah 23:16) A day is coming in which no one will ever prophesy lies in the name of the Lord again.

The godly prophets of the Old Testament warned of the coming destruction of Israel by Assyria and Judah by Babylon if the people did not repent, but the false prophets assured them their God was with them. This assurance removed any need for repentance, as if simply being the children of Abraham was enough to cause God to close His eyes to sin. The false prophets swore Jerusalem would never fall because God's temple was there. But God has never wanted to live in a sanctuary or a temple; He wants to live in our hearts. False teaching did not only spring up in the days of ancient Israel and Judah, but it still springs up today in the Christian community as well. We have to be alert to the danger of believing that because we are called by His name, the Lord Jesus will overlook sin. We are not above correction simply because we belong to the body of Christ, for whom the Lord loves He chastens. (Proverbs 3:12, Hebrews 12:6) The Lord chastened His chosen people Israel because He loved them and, like a any good parent, He did not want to see them going down the wrong path. The Lord also loves the church and will chasten its members as needed.

Is there anything more wicked than a false teacher? A person like that has a great deal of power and influence, so his judgment is especially harsh. "And if anyone still prophesies, their father and mother, to whom they were born, will say to them, 'You must die, because you have told lies in the Lord's name.' Then their own parents will stab the one who prophesies." (Zechariah 13:3) Bible scholar David Guzik says of this verse, "Zechariah prophesies a coming day when public opinion will not tolerate false prophets. There will be such a commitment to the Lord and His truth that even the family of a false prophet will condemn the false prophet." Some scholars take verse 3 literally since it fulfills the law in Deuteronomy 18:20, "But a prophet who presumes to speak in My name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death." Other scholars take the verse more symbolically, believing it refers to the cutting off of the relationship with a person who prophesies falsely, because in the church age we are told to have nothing to do with false teaching (1 Timothy 4:1-7) and to have nothing to do with those who claim to be in Christ but whose mode of living is immoral (1 Corinthians 5:11)

"On that day every prophet will be ashamed of their prophetic vision. They will not put on a prophet's garment of hair in order to deceive. Each will say, 'I am not a prophet. I am a farmer; the land has been my livelihood since my youth.' If someone asks, 'What are these wounds on your body?' they will answer, 'The wounds I was given at the house of my friends.'" (Zechariah 13:4-6) False prophets, especially pagan ones, had a practice of cutting themselves in their religious rituals. When Elijah had his showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, we saw the false prophets cutting themselves as if by the shedding of blood they could persuade a non-existent god to hear their pleas. A time is coming when the one who once prophesied falsely will give some other explanation for the cuts on his body. He will want to disassociate himself from his former lifestyle as much as he possibly can.

It's difficult to determine exactly what the former false prophet means when he will say the wounds on his body are wounds "I was given at the house of my friends". Some commentators have attempted to use this as a reference to the wounds of Christ because, in a sense, He was wounded at the house of His friends, and because in some of the older English versions of the Bible we find the questioning of the former false prophet rendered like this, "What are these wounds in thine hands?" But a proper translation of the original Hebrew would read like this, "What are these wounds between your hands?", meaning the trunk of the body. The NIV and several other modern translations have more correctly expressed the verse this way in line with the original language, "What are these wounds on your body?" It's hard to explain how the wounds of Christ would fit into this passage, since it deals with a spirit of false prophecy and the penalty of death on the one who lies in the Lord's name. The Lord was accused of being a false prophet, and that is the only sense in which I can see He would fit into this passage at all. If He had indeed been a false prophet, then His wounds were deserved and His death was warranted. If we are to find the Lord Jesus anywhere in verses 4 through 6, it is in His role as a substitute...a sacrificial lamb. He took the wounds that should have been ours. He suffered the death that should have been ours. He hung on the cross for our sins, for all our lies and hypocrisies and false doctrines and idolatries. We have a fountain of cleansing today because He was pierced for our transgressions and because the punishment we deserved fell on Him. This is why He has been given the name above all names and why, when He reigns over the earth, His name will be the only name.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Zechariah's Vision Of The King. Day 27, The One Who Was Pierced

In Thursday's study we looked ahead to a final battle on earth, one that will be waged over the ancient soil of Jerusalem. God promised to deliver His people Himself. No credit was given to brilliant battle strategy or to the superior training of Israel's soldiers or to advanced military weaponry. Israel's defender in that battle is going to be God. Israel's defender has always been God. Because He is going to deliver her unharmed from the battle of the end times, she is going to turn to Him like never before. The King she previously rejected is going to become indescribably precious to her.

After the battle has been won, the Lord says, "And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication." (Zechariah 12:10a) The dictionary describes grace as "the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings". In Chapter 11 we found Zechariah, in acting out the role of the Good Shepherd, breaking the shepherd's staff that had been named "Favor". This represented God taking His protective hand off of Jerusalem and the temple during the days of the Roman Empire following the crucifixion of Christ, but it did not indicate a permanent severing of God's grace toward Israel.

God is not only going to pour out free and unmerited favor, but He is going to bestow what just may be the greatest gift of all: a spirit of supplication. The dictionary defines "supplication" as "an act of humble prayer, entreaty, or petition". What better gift could we receive from God than a spirit that seeks after Him and longs to know Him? Left to our own devices, we tend to wander from Him. If He had not created us with a hollow place inside our souls that only He could fill, would we ever lift our hands to Him in supplication? Would we ever call out His name? God is promising His people a gift that never stops giving. He will pour out His grace on them by giving them a spirit that seeks Him, and in return for seeking Him, He will pour out even more grace. It's a never-ending circle of blessing.

What we should find most stunning about our passage today is that God pours out the spirit of grace and supplication on His people not when they are at their best, but after they have already pierced the King who came in the name of the Lord. "They will look on Me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for Him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for Him as one grieves for a firstborn son." (Zechariah 12:10b) This sorrow is godly sorrow, not the type of sorrow that leads to feelings of condemnation. It's the type of sorrow the Apostle Paul said was good for us, "Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret." (2 Corinthians 7:10a) What greater grace can there be than this? God gives us a spirit of supplication that brings us to repentance, and then He accepts our repentance! The entire work of salvation, from beginning to end, is God's alone. In our passage yesterday we found Him supernaturally delivering His people from their human enemies, but His greatest work on mankind's behalf is His supernatural deliverance from sin.

Who is "the one they have pierced"? It is God who is speaking. He has been speaking of Himself and what He intends to accomplish. The One who was pierced is God in the person of the Son, the King who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to shouts of praise containing Messianic phrases only to be pierced by nails and thorns and a sword several days later. This is the Good Shepherd and the King of the book of Zechariah. This is the One who "came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him" in the gospel according to John. This is the only child of the living God, the firstborn Son, the One whose birth the prophet Isaiah announced like this, "For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over His kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this." (Isaiah 9:6-7) How can the One who was rejected and pierced reign from David's throne forever? How can those who pierced Him find healing in His wounds? Because "the zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this"! It is God alone, through grace alone, who bestows upon any of us the favor we couldn't earn and didn't deserve.

Before we conclude the final verses of Chapter 12 we need to stop and consider the fact that we all pierced our King. Both Jews and Gentiles participated in the crucifixion. It was the Jewish religious leaders who cried out, "Crucify Him! We have no king but Caesar!" But they could not have put Jesus to death without the help of the Roman Empire. Under Roman rule, the Jews could not carry out the death penalty on anyone. Only a Roman citizen who held the rank of governor or higher could sign a death warrant. It may have been the Jews who cried out to Pontius Pilate to crucify the King, but it was the Gentiles who nailed Him to the cross. We all contributed to His death because we have all sinned. We earned the death penalty for ourselves but our King extended unmerited grace to us when "He took up our pain and bore our suffering...He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:4-6)

Zechariah tells us what happens when God's people accept their King, "On that day the weeping in Jerusalem will be as great as the weeping of Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. The land will mourn, each clan by itself, with their wives by themselves: the clan of the house of David and their wives, the clan of the house of Nathan and their wives, the clan of the house of Levi and their wives, and all the rest of the clans and their wives." (Zechariah 12:11-14) The nation mourned and wept bitterly when the godly King Josiah of Judah was killed at Hadad Rimmon. His death was a great loss to the nation, but an even greater loss to the nation was sustained when the Lord Jesus Christ was crucified. A day is coming in which Israel will accept the King she once scorned and all twelve tribes will be united in the worship of the Son of David and Son of God. Zechariah describes for us the weeping that will occur when at last the King is accepted by His own. This weeping is not the weeping of the lost, but of the rescued. This mourning is not the mourning of the condemned, but of those whose freedom has been won by their King. None of us comes to godly repentance without also mourning that our sins pierced the Son of God. We each had a hand in His suffering and death. It is grace alone that compels Him to offer us the opportunity to also share in His glory.

We conclude today with this worship song link whose lyrics are drawn from Isaiah 53. It speaks of the One who was pierced for us.
By His Wounds

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Zechariah's Vision Of The King. Day 26, War In The End Times/God's Miraculous Deliverance

We concluded Chapter 11 with a look at the wicked shepherd. By Zechariah's day, all twelve tribes of Israel had experienced the oppression of wicked shepherds, both from within and from without the kingdom. Israel and Judah both suffered under several wicked kings. Both nations endured false prophets and priests who were only out for their own gain. Both nations were defeated by pagan kings and taken captive to foreign lands. But Zechariah also looked far into the future and saw the most wicked shepherd of all: the Antichrist. Today he looks far into the future again and foresees a war that will be centered on Jerusalem in the last days. He also sees God's amazing deliverance of His people.

"A prophecy: The word of the Lord concerning Israel. The Lord, who stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundation of the earth, and who forms the human spirit within a person, declares:" (Zechariah 12:1) The Speaker of this prophecy introduces Himself. He is the maker of heaven and earth. He is the creator of all mankind. He is the giver of life and breath. His word can be trusted. When God makes a promise, it's as good as done.

"I am going to make Jerusalem a cup that sends all the surrounding peoples reeling. Judah will be besieged as well as Jerusalem." (Zechariah 12:2) Jerusalem is the most fought over "cup" in the world. The peoples surrounding Israel desire to seize this cup from Jewish hands and drink it down to the dregs. But it won't be a cup of blessing to anyone who dares to drink it; it will be a curse. In our study of the book of Zechariah, we previously looked at God's promise to Abraham and to the nation that would spring from him, "I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse." (Genesis 12:3a) Woe to the nation who oppresses Israel! Fighting against Israel is the same as fighting against God.

Next we begin a series of prophetic statements about things that will occur "on that day". In the Scriptures this usually indicates apocalyptic prophecy. "On that day" is generally associated with the end times and with "the day of the Lord". The Lord says, "On that day, when all the nations of the earth have gathered against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations. All who try to move it will injure themselves." (Zechariah 12:3) This likely refers to what is known as the Battle of Armageddon from Revelation 16. This is when the wicked shepherd known as the Antichrist becomes the leading political figure in the world and the heads of many nations ally themselves with him to make war against the nation of Israel. In our own times there is a great deal of hatred in the world for the nation of Israel. She is surrounded by enemies who would love to wipe her from the face of the earth, but the Lord promises to make her capital city of Jerusalem "an immovable rock". This is not only for her own sake, but for the sake of all the nations, because God will keep His promise to Abraham that "all peoples on earth will be blessed through you". (Genesis 12:3b) Why are all peoples blessed through Abraham? Because there will be those from every nation who believe on the name of Israel's King and Messiah, the Seed of Abraham, the Lord Jesus Christ.

"'On that day I will strike every horse with panic and its rider with madness,' declares the Lord. 'I will keep a watchful eye over Judah, but I will blind all the horses of the nations. Then the clans of Judah will say in their hearts, 'The people of Jerusalem are strong, because the Lord Almighty is their God.'" (Zechariah 12:4-5) At the time of this great war, the Lord will frustrate the plans of the battle strategists. He will sabotage the military equipment of the enemies of Israel. As in the days of old, God will supernaturally deliver His people. God alone has been His people's protector. Israel has survived because of God's protective hand on her, which is why the clans of Judah will attribute the strength of the people of Jerusalem to the Lord Almighty. He is Israel's sword and shield; He always has been.

"On that day I will make the clans of Judah like a firepot in a woodpile, like a flaming torch among sheaves. They will consume all the surrounding peoples right and left, but Jerusalem will remain intact in her place." (Zechariah 12:6) The Lord previously vowed to be "a wall of fire" around Jerusalem and to be "its glory within". (Zechariah 2:5) The fire is a metaphor for the power of God as He fights for Israel. When He speaks of this fire devouring the enemies but leaving Jerusalem safe and unharmed, I am reminded of the comforting words of Psalm 91, "A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked." (Psalm 91:7-8)

"The Lord will save the dwellings of Judah first, so that the honor of the house of David and of Jerusalem's inhabitants may not be greater than those of Judah." (Zechariah 12:7) The word translated here as "dwellings" would be better rendered as "tents". It indicates impermanent and movable abodes. Those living in tents may represent the poor of the land or those who have been scattered and oppressed. As we learned earlier in the week, the Good Shepherd particularly cares for the "oppressed of the flock". (Zechariah 11:7) The Good Shepherd, as opposed to the wicked shepherd, cares for the lost, seeks the young, heals the injured, and feeds the flock. (Zechariah 11:16) When we studied the book of Proverbs we learned that King Solomon had an especially soft heart toward the poor and the oppressed. A greater King than Solomon, the Lord Jesus Christ, displayed deep compassion for the poor and the oppressed. He even made the statement that, "The good news is preached to the poor" (Matthew 11:5b) because in His time many great religious orators and famous philosophers charged a fee to hear them speak, whereas Jesus made the gospel free to anyone willing to listen. God has deep compassion on the poor and needy, on the oppressed, and on the ones who have no defender.

"On that day the Lord will shield those who live in Jerusalem, so that the feeblest among them will be like David, and the house of David will be like God, like the angel of the Lord going before them. On that day I will set out to destroy all the nations that attack Jerusalem." (Zechariah 12:8-9) David was known as a mighty warrior who had slain "his tens of thousands". (1 Samuel 18:7) In the day of the Lord even the weakest person in the nation will be mighty like David. In the day of the Lord the house of David will be like God, for the King sitting on David's throne will be God in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. God has always been the glory of Israel, spiritually speaking, but in that day He will literally become the "glory within her" as He promised through the prophet Zechariah. The glory within her will be the One sitting on the throne, who is crowned with many crowns, whose name is Faithful and True, who is the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Zechariah's Vision Of The King. Day 25, The Rise Of A Wicked Shepherd

We concluded yesterday with Zechariah being paid the insulting sum of thirty pieces of silver for his work of shepherding the flock. He broke one of the staffs he had been carrying, the one known as Favor, to signify the trouble that would come on the nation when it would reject another shepherd: the Good Shepherd.

Today he breaks the other staff. "Then I broke my second staff called Union, breaking the family bond between Judah and Israel." (Zechariah 11:14) The relationship between Judah and Israel had begun to break up in the days of King Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, when the kingdom split in two. The differences between them continued to grow after that, with the northern kingdom replacing worship at the temple with worship of the golden calves at Dan and Bethel. By the time of Jesus, the gospels show us the contempt the people of Judah felt toward those of the northern kingdom, known as Samaritans in the New Testament because the capital of the northern kingdom was Samaria. After the fall of Jerusalem and the temple to the Roman army, any semblance of a united nation was shattered as the people were scattered and dispersed throughout the world.

"Then the Lord said to me, 'Take again the equipment of a foolish shepherd. For I am going to raise up a shepherd over the land who will not care for the lost, or seek the young, or heal the injured, or feed the healthy, but will eat the meat of the choice sheep, tearing off their hooves." (Zechariah 11:15-16) The flock in today's passage, just as in yesterday's, represents the people of Zechariah's nation. The shepherd symbolizes the leadership of the nation. So who is this wicked shepherd the Lord says He is going to raise up? God had already raised up several wicked shepherds during the history of Israel as a form of discipline on the people. When the nation rejected God as their king and insisted on having a human king like all the nations around them, the Lord gave them King Saul, a man plagued by so many insecurities that he eventually descended into fits of madness. When the northern kingdom fell into idolatry, the Lord raised up the nation of Assyria, whose kings laid siege to the land until Israel was defeated and carried into captivity. When the southern kingdom fell from faith, the Lord raised up Babylon, whose king defeated the people and carried them away. When the nation rejected the Lord Jesus Christ and cried out, "We have no king but Caesar!", it was "Caesar" who killed their citizens by the tens of thousands and carried tens of thousands of them away. In the last days, when perilous times shall come and men will be lovers of their own selves (2 Timothy 3:1-2), the Lord will allow the most wicked shepherd of all, the Antichrist, to be raised up. He will be worse than all the wicked shepherds of history rolled into one.

The judgment upon wicked shepherds is harsh. They are in a position to set godly examples for the people but instead have led them farther into sin. They bear the greater punishment because they bore the greater authority. "Woe to the worthless shepherd, who deserts the flock! May the sword strike his arm and his right eye! May his arm be completely withered, his right eye totally blinded!" (Zechariah 11:17) A curse is pronounced on the leader who does not care for his flock.

Is there anything worse than a leader who exploits his people? Is there anything more dishonorable than a leader who cares more for his own skin than for those he has sworn to protect? There have been, and will continue to be, religious and political leaders who are only out for themselves. They feel no bond of unity toward their flocks because there is no love in their hearts for them and there is no love in their hearts for God. As Bible scholar Barry G. Webb points out in his book The Message Of Zechariah, "True unity between people depends on union with God. Where that basic relationship is fractured, all other relationships eventually decay as well." The wicked shepherd cares nothing for the flock because he does not consider them his, in contrast to the Good Shepherd who loves the flock and identifies Himself with it. The Lord Jesus describes the wicked shepherd, who does not love the sheep, like this, "The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it." (John 10:12)

But there is a Good Shepherd who loves the flock more than He loves His own life. The Lord Jesus says of Himself, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." (John 10:11) What more can we ask for in a shepherd than this? He loved us more than His own life!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Zechariah's Vision Of The King. Day 24, Thirty Pieces Of Silver

The parable here in Chapter 11 either involves the Lord asking Zechariah to act out what the Good Shepherd (the Messiah) will do later, or else the Lord is speaking to the Messiah Himself. Bible scholars are divided in their opinion on this. I feel it's easier to read the chapter if we assume Zechariah acts out the parable by taking a leadership role that symbolizes the role the Messiah will take. I think it's likely that Zechariah "shepherds" his people by preaching and prophesying to them. His words will be rejected, just as the words of many of the Old Testament prophets before him were rejected, just as the words of the prophets after him were rejected, and just as the words of the Lord Jesus were rejected.

We concluded yesterday with Zechariah telling us he shepherded he flock, giving special care to those who were weak and oppressed. He carried two staffs, calling one "Favor" and the other "Union". Now he tells us that one of his first administrative duties is to remove three wicked shepherds from their posts, "In one month I got rid of the three shepherds." (Zechariah 11:8a) The identity of these three shepherds is not clear. They may have been three literal persons, such as priests or prophets who were speaking falsehoods to the people in Zechariah's day. They may represent three classes of people, such as kings and priests and prophets, since the Good Shepherd will be all three rolled into one: Prophet, Priest, and King. Another possibility is that these three shepherds represent the final three kings of Judah whose reigns were short and ended suddenly. Yet another possibility is that these shepherds are the classes of religious leaders who most despised Jesus when He came: the priests and Pharisees and scribes.

We would expect the "flock" to care for a shepherd who loves them and who has their best interests at heart, but this is not the case. "The flock detested me, and I grew weary of them and said, 'I will not be your shepherd. Let the dying die, and the perishing perish. Let those who are left eat one another's flesh." (Zechariah 11:8b-9) We have to keep in mind that Chapter 11 deals with a fall of Jerusalem and a destruction of the temple that was still far in the future in Zechariah's day. This would occur after the literal Good Shepherd has been rejected, when God will say, "I will give everyone into the hands of their neighbors and their king. They will devastate the land, and I will not rescue anyone from their hands." (Zechariah 11:6)

This prophecy refers to the destruction of the city by the Romans in 70 AD when Emperor Nero sent an army to quell the rebellion against Roman rule over Judea. While the fight for the holy land was going on, Nero killed himself and General Vespasian was called home from the battle to be crowned Emperor. Vespasian's son Titus, whom we studied several days ago, orchestrated the siege on Jerusalem, intending to starve the people into surrendering. This was a common tactic in ancient times when cities were protected by walls. It was easier to trap the people behind the city walls until they gave up than to fight a long and bloody battle. During a lengthy siege the people trapped inside a city often resorted to eating the dead, which may be what verse 9 is referring to when it says, "Let those who are left eat one another's flesh." Zechariah does not go into detail about what a dreadful day it will be when Jerusalem falls, but the tragedy of 70 AD caused the death of more Jews than did the Holocaust. In addition, another 97,000 were taken prisoner to be sold as slave laborers, while thousands of others were taken to the Roman arenas where they were torn apart by lions for the amusement of the spectators.

When Zechariah finds he is hated by the flock, he tells us he does this, "Then I took my staff called Favor and broke it, revoking the covenant I had made with all the nations. It was revoked on that day, and so the oppressed of the flock who were watching me knew it was the word of the Lord." (Zechariah 11:10-11) The words "in that day" are believed to be the day in which the Messiah, the Good Shepherd, is rejected by His people. In that day the staff of Favor will be broken.

In Chapter 10 we saw a glorious future for Israel. Today's passage is not meant to negate the beautiful promises of our previous chapter. I believe God had to give His people the good news before the bad news. How else were they going to hang on? The fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD put an end to any semblance of a Jewish state until Israel once again became a sovereign nation in the world in 1948. During those long centuries the people needed a hope to cling to, and that hope comes from God's word. In verses 10 and 11 God is saying He's going to take His protective hand off the nation for a period of time and that He will no longer hold back the nations from doing what they want in the holy land.

Zechariah, acting out his role as shepherd, is done with this flock. He wants to be given his severance pay. "I told them, 'If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it.' So they paid me thirty pieces of silver." (Zechariah 11:12) He says, "If you think my work was worth anything, give me my pay. If not, then don't." In order to insult him, they weigh out thirty pieces of silver, the price of a slave. Not only was this the price of a slave, but it was the price of a dead slave in Exodus 21:32. If a man owned an ox that was known to be violent, and if that ox pierced another man's slave through, the owner of the ox had to pay the slave's master thirty pieces of silver. The ox then had to be stoned to death.

The flock is saying to Zechariah, "You are no more use to us than a dead slave." Zechariah's nation is the flock that will pierce the Good Shepherd through and will consider Him worth no more than a dead slave." When David foresaw the suffering of the Messiah, he said, "They pierce My hands and My feet." (Psalm 22:16) The prophet Isaiah said of Him, "He was pierced for our transgressions". (Isaiah 53:5) Not only was Jesus pierced through the hands and feet during the crucifixion, but to determine whether death had occurred a Roman soldier pierced His side. (John 19:34) John then quotes the book of Zechariah where it is prophesied that the flock who rejected the Good Shepherd will someday, "Look on Me, the One they have pierced, and they will mourn for Him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for Him as one grieves for a firstborn son." (Zechariah 12:10) But all is not lost, for when Zechariah foresees the people mourning the One they have pierced, it is in a day when the Lord once again shows them His favor. It is in a day when they will turn to the Good Shepherd and will desire His leadership over them. But before that day comes, the flock will face the penalty for having pierced their Shepherd, just as in the book of Exodus the ox who pierced a slave had to bear the penalty of its actions.

What is Zechariah to make of this paltry sum he has been paid? "And the Lord said to me, 'Throw it to the potter"---the handsome price at which they valued me! So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them to the potter at the house of the Lord." (Zechariah 11:13) This parable that's being acted out in Zechariah's day was literally fulfilled when Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus of Nazareth for thirty pieces of silver. This is the "handsome price" at which the Good Shepherd was valued by the religious leaders of His day. Jesus was followed by thousands because of the miracles He performed. He was thronged on every side whenever He went out in public. He could barely take a step without the crowds pressing in on Him. And yet the religious leaders delighted in insulting His work, the kingdom of God work, by valuing His services at no more than they would value the services of a dead slave.

Judas may have been a member of the Zealots, the rebels who wanted to overthrow Rome's rule over the holy land. He may have believed Jesus was the One behind whom the nation would rally. Jesus did things no other man had ever done and He was of the royal line of David, so He must have looked like the perfect candidate to lead a successful rebellion. It's believed by a large number of scholars that Judas intended to force Jesus' hand by betraying Him, that Judas thought the people would rise up in His defense, that Jesus would miraculously deliver the nation from foreign rule, and that He would be crowned king. But instead Judas saw Jesus condemned to death, so he tried to take back his betrayal by returning the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders. They scoffed at him and informed him his sins were on his own head. "So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. The chief priests picked up the coins and said, 'It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.' So they decided to use the money to buy the potter's field as a burial place for foreigners." (Matthew 27:5-7)

Thus the words of our chapter today were fulfilled. Zechariah threw the thirty pieces of silver into the house of the Lord just as Judas threw the thirty pieces of silver into the temple. Zechariah says the thirty pieces of silver were thrown to the potter, and this was fulfilled when the thirty pieces of silver Judas gave back were used to buy the potter's field. The thirty pieces of silver paid upon the death of a slave was "blood money" just as the thirty pieces of silver paid for Jesus was "blood money". It was the price of a man's life. It was the price paid for the priceless blood of Christ who gave Himself for us. He was valued at so little because He considered us worth any price. We were the ones who were slaves, held captive by our sins. But He was willing to take our place to set us free.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Zechariah's Vision Of The King. Day 23, Wicked Shepherds

Chapter 11 deals with the fall of Jerusalem and the temple to the Romans in the first century AD. Yesterday we learned that the leadership of the nation would once again fail to lead the people in the right direction. They were not going to be good shepherds of the flock of Israel. Today the Lord talks about His flock, about the wicked shepherds who lead the flock, and about the Good Shepherd who loves the flock.

The Lord gives specific instructions in today's passage and scholars disagree as to whether He is speaking to Zechariah and asking him to play-act the role of the Good Shepherd (the Messiah) or whether the Lord is speaking to the Messiah Himself. This section reads as if it is Zechariah who is performing the action because it is spoken in the first person, but we have seen the coming King speak for Himself in the first person in the book of Zechariah, so I can't come to any firm conclusion either way.

Our section begins with this, "This is what the Lord my God says: 'Shepherd the flock marked for slaughter.'" (Zechariah 11:4) Astonishing as this may be after reading of the future glory of Israel in Chapter 10, the "flock marked for slaughter" in Chapter 11 is Israel! But who has marked them for slaughter? Not God, but the wicked shepherds (the religious and political leaders) who should be guiding them closer to the Lord but instead are going to lead them farther from Him. In modern times the sheep intended to be sent to the slaughter house would be marked with a specific tag in the ear, but in ancient times the leader of the flock would paint a stripe on the wool. The Lord is saying this is what the bad leaders of the nation are doing to the people. The evil behavior of those who should be shepherds is going to bring the downfall of the nation and the slaughter of its citizens.

"Their buyers slaughter them and go unpunished. Those who sell them say, 'Praise the Lord, I am rich!' Their own shepherds do not spare them." (Zechariah 11:5) Those who should have cared the most for their people sold them out instead. By the time of Jesus, the priests and teachers of the law had become "blind leaders of the blind" (Matthew 15:14) who gloried in their own wealth and status in the community and looked down in contempt on the flock they were meant to shepherd.

The Lord says that a day is coming in which He will not spare the flock from her enemies. This will happen in a time after Good Shepherd has been rejected and condemned by the religious leadership of the nation. It will happen because, as the Apostle John said, light came into the world but men loved darkness rather than light. (John 3:19) "'For I will no longer have pity on the people of the land,' declares the Lord. 'I will give everyone into the hands of their neighbors and their king. They will devastate the land, and I will not rescue anyone from their hands.'" (Zechariah 11:6) This foretells the fall of Jerusalem and the burning of the temple by the Roman army in 70 AD. We took a brief look at this tragedy in yesterday's study. The fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD effectively put an end to the Jewish state until 1948.

The speaker of Chapter 11 obeys the word of the Lord by shepherding the flock. This could mean that Zechariah, as a stand-in for the Good Shepherd, preaches and prophesies to the nation. Or this could be the Messiah Himself speaking here, "So I shepherded the flock marked for slaughter, particularly the oppressed of the flock. Then I took two staffs and called one Favor and the other Union, and I shepherded the flock." (Zechariah 11:7) The Good Shepherd cares for the flock and gives special attention to the poor and needy. It is thought that the staff marked "Favor" likely represents God's protective hand on His chosen people Israel, and that the staff marked "Union" symbolizes a united twelve tribes of Israel. The Good Shepherd is came not only to care for the southern kingdom of Judah, where Zechariah lives, but for Israel as a whole.

When David referred to the Lord as his Shepherd, he said, "Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me." Psalm 23:4) The Good Shepherd in David's song carried two rods or staffs, just like the Good Shepherd in the book of Zechariah. The Good Shepherd brings favor and unity upon those who put their trust in Him, but we will learn in tomorrow's passage that the flock despises and rejects Him. The leadership of the nation thinks so little of Him that they value Him at the price of a foreign slave. Zechariah tells us today that the religious elite of the community will think nothing of selling out their own people in order to fulfill their own greed and covetousness. In tomorrow's lesson they think nothing of selling the Good Shepherd for thirty pieces of silver.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Zechariah's Vision Of The King. Day 22, The King Rejected

We concluded Chapter 10 with the Lord's promise to restore Israel, a promise which will not find its complete fulfillment until the kingdom comes. I think the Lord must have made the beautiful promises in Chapter 10 of Israel's future glory because He has some bad news to deliver in Chapter 11.

The rebuilding of the temple was completed in the sixth year of Darius while the prophet Zechariah was still a young man. Now, many years later, he receives the word that Jerusalem will be invaded again and the temple will fall. He learns that the nation's leaders, symbolized by shepherds in this chapter, will lead the people astray just as they did in the past. He learns that a Good Shepherd is coming who will care for the flock, but the nation will reject His leadership.

This must have been shocking news for anyone who lived in Zechariah's time when it looked like at last their fortunes were turning around! How awful it must have been to know that, though Israel would never truly bow her knees again to false gods, she would bow her knees to legalism and the traditions of men rather than to the word of God. No wonder God had to give the good news of Chapter 10 before giving the bad news of Chapter 11! If He had not, what future hope would the Jews have been able to cling to after the fall of Jerusalem and the temple in 70AD? If the Lord had not sworn by His own holiness that Israel would endure through the ages and that she would at last be ruled over by her own King, how would she have made it through the centuries since? Just as the Lord promised an end to the captivity in Babylon, He has also promised an end to all foreign rule over His people and an end to Israel's oppression by the nations.

Chapter 11 begins with this mournful wail, "Open your doors, Lebanon, so that fire may devour your cedars! Wail, you juniper, for the cedar has fallen the stately trees are ruined! Wail, oaks of Bashan; the dense forest has been cut down! Listen to the wail of the shepherds; their rich pastures are destroyed! Listen to the roar of the lions; the lush thicket of Jordan is ruined!" (Zechariah 11:1-3) Lebanon was famous for its superior cedars. King Solomon imported a great deal of cedars from Lebanon both for the temple and for his own palace. The "doors" of verse 1 may symbolize the temple doors and the coming destruction of the temple by the Roman army. In addition, the references to "Lebanon" and "Bashan" indicate the direction from which the destruction would come, as this is the route General Vespasian's forces took, under the direction of his son Titus, when advancing upon Jerusalem to quell the rebellion there.

I think it's worth taking the time to note something here. Earlier in the book of Zechariah we found him announcing the arrival of the King who would come into the city mounted on a donkey to the accompaniment of shouts of praise. This was fulfilled when Jesus of Nazareth, of the tribe of Judah, of the line of King David, declared Himself the Messiah and King by entering Jerusalem by this method on what became known as Palm Sunday and The Triumphant Entry. The triumph of that moment was short-lived, since He was crucified later that same week, but something very momentous and prophetic occurred as Jesus reached the point in the road where He could look down over Jerusalem. The gospel writer Luke tells us, "As He approached Jerusalem and saw the city, He wept over it and said, 'If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace---but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you.'" (Luke 19:41-44)

Jesus was sitting on His donkey in the same place the Roman general Titus would sit on his warhorse about forty years later as he plotted how best to lay siege to the city. Jesus wept with a broken heart as He saw what would befall His people when Rome would build an embankment against the city and hem the people in on every side. In ancient warfare it was often easier to starve people into surrendering than to fight them into surrendering, so Titus built seigeworks all around the city and he cut down every tree within a nine-mile radius to build them. Zechariah foresaw the destruction of the forests in the prophecy given to us in today's passage. He says, "Wail, you juniper, for the cedar has fallen; the stately trees are ruined! Wail, oaks of Bashan, the dense forest has been cut down!"

As we continue on this week in Chapter 11 we will find Zechariah's prophecy lining up perfectly with the words of Jesus in Luke 19. When Jesus wept over the coming fall of Jerusalem, He stated that this would happen because His people rejected Him as King. He had presented Himself as the "Good Shepherd" who cares for the sheep, unlike the nation's leaders who had fallen into legalism and hypocrisy. He was rejected as the Good Shepherd, just as the good shepherd we will see later in Chapter 11 will be rejected. Jesus was betrayed for thirty pieces of silver, the least amount that could be paid for a man since it was the price of a slave. The good shepherd of Zechariah's prophecy will not be paid the wages to which he is entitled, but his work will be valued at the insulting sum of thirty pieces of silver.

We are going to learn from Zechariah's prophecy that the King he foresaw so triumphantly entering Jerusalem is not going to assume the throne of David at His first advent, nor is He going to overthrow Israel's enemies, nor is the kingdom going to come. All these things would have happened if His people had been able to "recognize the time of God's coming to you", and if they had "known what would bring you peace", as the Lord said in the gospel according to Luke. But we can cast no judgment upon Israel, for didn't we all at one time deny the very One who could bring us peace? When we clung to our own stubborn ways, weren't we opposed to the leadership of our Good Shepherd? When we were living in our sins, weren't we all like sheep who had gone astray?

Praise be to the name of the Lord for not giving up on us when we persisted in going our own way! Though we rejected Him for a time, He did not reject us. He kept entreating us and making His offer of peace. The same can be said for His people Israel. A future hope awaits her. A future glory is hers. God is not finished with her.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Zechariah's Vision Of The King. Day 21, The Restoration Of Israel In The Kingdom Age

The Lord speaks today of restoring His people. He is compassionate toward them and will strengthen and save them.

"I will strengthen Judah and save the tribes of Joseph." (Zechariah 10:6a) By Zechariah's day the nation of Israel had been split apart for about four hundred years. Ten tribes seceded and formed the northern kingdom during the days of King Rehoboam, the son of Solomon. The other two tribes became the southern kingdom. The Lord, however, still views Israel as a whole. He promises to strengthen Judah (the southern kingdom of Judah and Benjamin combined) and to save the tribes of Joseph (the ten northern tribes combined). Judah remained loyal to the Lord longer than the northern kingdom of Israel did; this is why Judah did not fall to Babylon until about one hundred years after Israel fell to Assyria. Judah also remained more faithful to God during captivity than Israel, so God has returned her to the land to rebuild. Her faith has been small at times, but the Lord promises to rebuild it as surely as He intends to rebuild the temple and the city. I am reminded of what the Lord Jesus said to the church at Philadelphia, "I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept My word and have not denied My name." (Revelation 3:8b) The Lord is saying something similar to Judah, "I know you are feeling weak and discouraged. I know you have little strength, but I will be your strength!"

The Lord also vows to save the tribes of Joseph, meaning the ten northern tribes. The northern kingdom fell away from God faster than the southern kingdom and she fell farther from God than the southern kingdom. But nothing is impossible for God. His arm is never too short to save. (Numbers 11:23) This should be an encouragement to us about our loved ones who are living far from the Lord. Their situation may look impossible to us, and it may be impossible for any human help to do any good, but nothing is too hard for God.

Why is God going to do so much good for Judah and Israel? Because of His great love! "I will restore them because I have compassion on them. They will be as though I had not rejected them, for I am the Lord their God and I will answer them." (Zechariah 10:6b) At one time the Lord had to say to His people, "But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear." (Isaiah 59:2) For a time the Lord had to take His protective hand off the people and allow them to be defeated and taken captive. But God did not intend to reject them forever. He shut His ears until the season of correction was finished. Like a responsible parent, God had to discipline bad behavior. But like a good and loving parent, God placed a limit on the time of discipline. He's not going to leave Israel and Judah in "time out" forever.

"The Ephraimites will become like warriors, and their hearts will be glad as with wine. Their children will see it and be joyful; their hearts will rejoice in the Lord. I will signal for them and gather them in. Surely I will redeem them; they will be as numerous as before. Though I scatter them among the peoples, yet in distant lands they will remember Me. They and their children will survive, and they will return." (Zechariah 10:7-9) This promise echoes the one given through the prophet Jeremiah prior to the fall of Jerusalem, "'So do not be afraid, Jacob My servant; do not be dismayed, Israel,' declares the Lord. 'I will surely save you out of a distant place, your descendants from the land of their exile. Jacob will again have peace and security, and no one will make him afraid. I am with you and will save you,' declares the Lord." (Jeremiah 30:10-11a) This prophecy has been fulfilled in part. The ancient return to the land in Zechariah's day began the fulfillment of it. In modern times the recreation of the sovereign nation of Israel in 1948 fulfilled even more of it. But the final restoration and glory of the nation of Israel will occur when her King comes to reign over her.

"I will bring them back from Egypt and gather them from Assyria. I will bring them to Gilead and Lebanon, and there will not be room enough for them. They will pass through the sea of trouble; the surging sea will be subdued and all the depths of the Nile will dry up. Assyria's pride will be brought down and Egypt's scepter will pass away. I will strengthen them in the Lord and in His name they will live securely,' declares the Lord." (Zechariah 10:10-12) The Lord is using the names of these nations as symbols for sin and idolatry and bondage. By Zechariah's day the slavery in Egypt was long past and the nation of Assyria had already fallen. The Lord mentions Egypt and Assyria to represent all He has saved Israel from and all He will save Israel from. Who can release us from the power of sin? Who can set the captive free? Who can remove the idols from our lives and make His name the only name? No one but the Lord Almighty! He vows to do for Israel what she has not been able to do for herself, just as He promises to do for you and me what we have not been able to do for ourselves.