Saturday, September 30, 2017

Zechariah's Vision Of The King. Day 14, Blessings For Jerusalem

Yesterday the Lord had a word for the people who had been observing fasts in the wrong spirit. He did not say they could not continue observe a fast to commemorate the destruction of the temple. although He never commanded them to do so. He was not finding fault with the idea of the fasting itself, but with the spirit in which it was done. Their mourning on that day was a mourning for what they had lost politically and materially, but the Lord wanted to help them to realize they should be mourning for what they had lost spiritually.

We have been created to desire fellowship with our Creator more than anything else. The first commandment the Lord gave is, "You shall have no other gods before Me," and gods don't necessarily have to be graven images. They can be anything that is more important to us than the Lord. In yesterday's passage the Lord asked the people to stop and think about why they were fasting and mourning. He asks this because He wants to help them. He knows that if they place Him in His proper place in their lives, all other things will fall into their proper places.

Nevertheless, though they have failed at times to make God the only god in their lives (as we all have at one time or another), He yearns to bless them. He intends to bless them. Chapter 8, which we will have to study in two parts, deals with God's undying love for Israel and His unbreakable promises to her.

Zechariah says, "The word of the Lord Almighty came to me." (Zechariah 8:1) Amen! What a wonderful thing it is when the word of God leaps off the page and speaks directly to us in our situation. How refreshing it is when hope springs up anew in our souls.

"This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'I am very jealous for Zion; I am burning with jealousy for her.'" (Zechariah 8:2) I think one of the best ways to express this thought is to compare it to the overwhelming love a parent feels for a child. Those of you who are parents, don't your hearts burn for your children? Don't you want the absolute best for them? When they are happy, you rejoice with them. When they are hurt, you are hurt. When they stray from the family or from the faith, aren't you like the father of the prodigal son who stands outside every day looking down the road hoping to see that wayward child on his way home? This is how the Lord feels about Israel. He says, "I love Israel so much that My heart is almost bursting. I will bless her not because she has always done what is right, but because My love compels Me to extend mercy to her." Isn't that how you feel about your children? Even when they've been disobedient, you don't disown them. You still love them. What you want most is to be in close relationship with them and to see them prosper.

God's love won't allow Him to disown these people who have, at times, disowned Him. "This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'I will return to Zion and dwell in Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the Faithful City, and the mountain of the Lord Almighty will be called the Holy Mountain.'" (Zechariah 8:3) These promises began to be fulfilled in Zechariah's day and will find their complete fulfillment during the kingdom of the Messiah when "the glory and honor of the nations" will be brought to Jerusalem, which will be the political and spiritual capital of the world under the King of kings. (Revelation 21:26)

The city that once was so desolate, so utterly destroyed by the king of Babylon, will again ring with the happy shouts of laughter. The rebuilding has been backbreaking work. Enemies have opposed it from every side. Discouragement caused the temple project to fall by the wayside for a long time. So now the Lord paints a picture the people can view in their minds. Whenever they feel discouraged about the work remaining to be done, they can envision the finished product. "This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each of them with cane in hand because of their age. The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.'" (Zechariah 8:4-5) One reason that not all the exiles returned with the group that included Zechariah is because many of them were too elderly or infirm to participate in the work. They did not want to hinder the work in any way, so they were waiting for the city to become habitable again before making the journey. But as the Lord promised earlier in the book of Zechariah, the city and the temple will be rebuilt. The project will be successful because God is involved in it. They can count on it!

Have you ever felt so overwhelmed by a monumental task or by a difficult situation that you said to yourself, "I can't do it"? Have you ever stated with certainty in your heart, "This is impossible"? That's how the people at Jerusalem felt on the day Zerubbabel set the first foundation stone of the temple in place. They stood there and gazed at the foundation stone, then they turned and looked at the enormous pile of rubble beside it and thought to themselves, "There is too much to be done. We can't do it. It's impossible." That might have been true if the rebuilding depended solely upon the strength of man. But God assured the people that the rebuilding depended upon His inexhaustible power. (Zechariah 4:6) The people who are going to witness the rebuilt temple and city, and who are going to see the promise come true that boys and girls will play in the streets once again, will be almost disbelieving that such a tremendous thing has been accomplished. The Lord knows this is how they will feel and so He says to Zechariah, "This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'It may seem marvelous to the remnant of this people at that time, but will it seem marvelous to Me?' declares the Lord Almighty." (Zechariah 8:6)

In other words, is anything too hard for the Lord? What seems practically unbelievable to the people will be nothing but an ordinary day's work for Him. This is the God who spoke the universe into existence out of nothing. Can He not also rebuild Jerusalem? Can He not be trusted to keep His promises? Before Jerusalem fell to Babylon, the Lord commanded the prophet Jeremiah to buy a field there and to have the purchase witnessed. At that very moment the city was under siege. It must have seemed crazy to the people there that Jeremiah would buy real estate just before the city was captured. But this field was intended as a sign to Jeremiah and to the people that God was going to return them to the land. It appeared impossible on that day, but God said to Jeremiah, "I am the Lord, the God of mankind. Is anything too hard for Me?" (Jeremiah 32:27)

We will be faced with tremendous tasks in this life. We will encounter difficult situations. These things may genuinely be too hard for us to overcome in our human strength. But nothing is too hard for God. If He has made you a promise, He will keep it. The keeping of the promise doesn't depend on your strength, but on His.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Zechariah's Vision Of The King. Day 13, Fasting Acceptable To The Lord

In today's passage we find a delegation of men coming from Bethel to ask a question regarding the observance of a fast. Zechariah gives them the answer he receives from God.

"In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah on the fourth day of the ninth month, in the month of Kislev. The people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-Melek, together with their men, to entreat the Lord by asking the priests of the house of the Lord Almighty and the prophets, 'Should I mourn and fast in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?'" (Zechariah 7:1-3) The rebuilding of the temple took a great leap forward in the second year of King Darius and it was completed in the king's sixth year. Here in Chapter 7 the rebuilding is about halfway complete, so the people of Bethel want to know whether they should keep observing a period of mourning and fasting that commemorates the destruction of the first temple.

The day of mourning and fasting took place on the tenth day of the fifth month because, "On the tenth day of the fifth month, in the nineteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard, who served the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. He set fire to the temple of the Lord, the royal palace and all the houses of Jerusalem. Every important building he burned down." (Jeremiah 52:12-13)

We might expect Zechariah to speak comforting words to this delegation. We might think he's going to tell the people to stop looking backward and start looking forward. But instead the Lord reveals the hypocrisy of their hearts to the prophet and he calls them out for it. "Then the word of the Lord Almighty came to me: 'Ask all the people of the land and the priests, When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months, was it really for Me that you fasted? And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves? Are these not the words the Lord proclaimed through the earlier prophets when Jerusalem and its surrounding towns were at rest and prosperous, and the Negev and the western foothills were settled?'" (Zechariah 7:4-7)

The Lord says it's immaterial to Him whether they continue to observe a fast that He never commanded them to observe. The only fasting the Lord ever commanded was to take place on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) which coincidentally begins this very evening of September 29, 2017. In His reply to the delegation who asked about the fast of the fifth month, the Lord mentions not only the fast of the fifth month, but the fast of the seventh month that had to do with the assassination of the Jewish governor Gedaliah. Gedaliah had been appointed by the king of Babylon to oversee the remnant of the people left in Judah. Gedaliah was the last Jewish man who held any authority in the region until King Darius appointed Zerubbabel governor of Judah. The Lord had not commanded the people to observe either the fast of the fifth month or the fast of the seventh month. True fasting to the Lord was to come to Him with repentant spirits and broken hearts, to mourn over their broken relationship with Him rather than to mourn over the destruction of the temple or the end of Jewish sovereignty over the holy land. In essence He's saying, "Your fasting has been about the things that happened as a result of falling away from Me. It has not been about feeling sorrowful that you fell away from Me in the first place. You want your temple back. You want your nation back. These things are understandable, but above all these things you should want Me back."

Lest we think we can point a finger at the people of Israel or shake our heads over their conduct, we must stop and consider the times we've mourned more over the consequences of our sins than over the sins themselves. Sin separates us from God and mars our relationship with Him. The distance sin creates between us and our Lord should break our hearts far more than any other consequences of our actions.

This is the fasting that is acceptable to the Lord, "And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: This is what the Lord Almighty said: "Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.'" (Zechariah 7:8-10) The Lord asks, "Do you want to honor Me? Then treat your fellow man fairly. Love those around you and show compassion toward them. You know the commandments and the law: obey them. You can't say you love Me if you refuse to obey Me." The Lord Jesus said the same thing in John 14:15, "If you love Me, keep My commands." We can't claim to love the Lord while living in opposition to Him. The proof of our love is in the way we conduct our lives.

The Lord reminds the people that their ancestors refused to heed the warnings of the prophets. The destruction of the temple and the loss of their sovereignty over the land was a direct result of their refusal to listen. "But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears. They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the Lord Almighty had sent by His spirit through the earlier prophets. So the Lord Almighty was very angry. 'When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen,' says the Lord Almighty. 'I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations, where they were strangers. The land they left behind them was so desolate that no one traveled through it. This is how they made the pleasant land desolate.'" (Zechariah 7:11-14) He reminds them, "Your circumstances of today, and of the past seventy years, are a result of refusing to hear My words. Do not ignore the prophet Zechariah as you ignored the prophets of the past. The Babylonians aren't to blame for what happened to you; you are to blame for what happened to you. Now you have an opportunity to move forward. I'm giving you a fresh start, so begin in the right spirit."

The Lord could point His finger at each of us and say the same thing about all the unpleasant consequences we've ever suffered because of our sins: "You are to blame for what happened to you." Or, as the prophet Isaiah put it, it was our sins that separated us from our God. (Isaiah 59:2) But thanks be to God, just as He offered His covenant people a fresh start, He offers us all a fresh start. We don't have to repeat the mistakes of the past. We don't have to live unfulfilling lives separated from fellowship with our God. As the saying goes, when we feel far from God, we are the ones who moved. But thankfully He makes us the same offer He made to the people of Zechariah's day, "Return to Me and I will return to you." (Zechariah 1:3)

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Zechariah's Vision Of The King. Day 12, A Crown For Joshua The High Priest

The series of eight visions is finished and now God speaks directly to Zechariah by some other manner.

Today's passage is rich with Messianic prophecy. Zechariah tells us, "The word of the Lord came to me: 'Take silver and gold from the exiles Heldai, Tobijah and Jedaiah, who have arrived from Babylon.'" (Zechariah 6:9-10a) These three men arrive with an offering of silver and gold sent by the Jews still living in Babylon.

The Lord gives clear instructions about what Zechariah is to do after taking possession of the offering, "Go the same day to the house of Josiah son of Zephaniah." (Zechariah 6:10b) Josiah is likely a metalworker. He will be commissioned to make something special with the gold and silver.

"Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest, Joshua son of Jozadak.." (Zechariah 6:11) Zerubabbel, the governor and prince of the line of David, would have held title to the kingship of the nation had Persia allowed the people to re-establish the monarchy. He is not mentioned here and we don't know his reaction to seeing a gold and silver crown placed upon the head of the high priest, but it's important to keep in mind that God is not making Joshua the king of Judah. Joshua can't be made the king of Judah since he springs from the line of Levi. He has the right to minister before God as a priest, but not as a king. Judah is the royal line of the nation of Israel, and only a man descended from David has the right to the throne. As if we needed more proof that Joshua is not now the king of Judah, we will learn in verse 14 that his wearing of the crown is momentary and symbolic. So we have to ask ourselves: what did God mean by placing a king's crown on the head of the high priest? And why did He want the crown kept as a memorial of what He did on this day?

Zechariah's main message is always that the King is coming. The word he receives from the Lord in today's passage has Messianic implications. The placing of the crown upon Joshua's head foretells of One who will hold both the office of king and priest at the same time. This is what the Lord orders Zechariah to say while ceremonially placing the crown on the head of the high priest, "Tell him this is what the Lord Almighty says: 'Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the Lord. It is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two.'" (Zechariah 6:12-13) The Lord is using the crown and the high priest Joshua as symbols of things to come. Joshua is not building the temple; Zerubbabel is the man building the literal temple of Zechariah's day. The Lord said earlier in the book, "The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple: his hands will also complete it." (Zechariah 4:9) We know by this that the temple God speaks of today is another temple, the one the Messiah will establish when He reigns as both king and high priest.

Joshua is acting as a stand-in for the One who is to come. This is why the Lord instructs Zechariah to say, "Here is the man whose name is the Branch." Joshua cannot possibly be the man whose name is the Branch; the Branch is clearly to come from David's line. (Jeremiah 23:5, Jeremiah 33:15) Joshua represents the King who holds the mighty scepter in one of David's Messianic psalms, "The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind: 'You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.'" (Psalm 110:4) King David foresees the Messiah as a king and a priest at the same time, just as Melchizedek was. In Genesis 14 we meet this mysterious figure known as Melchizedek, king of Salem, who was also a priest of God. He was not of the nation of Israel, which did not yet exist in the days of Abraham, and therefore he was not of the priestly line of Levi. But God, who is sovereign over all and chooses whom He will, made this man Melchizedek a priest. God, who is sovereign over all, has the authority to make the Messiah both a king and a priest, as Zechariah says in verse 13, "There will be harmony between the two." There is no contradiction found in the making of one person both a king and a priest; a precedent was set for just such a dual office in Genesis.

The Apostle Paul, who is believed to be the author of the book of Hebrews, says of Jesus of Nazareth, of the line of David, who has the right to hold the office of priest though He is not of the line of Levi and more specifically is not of the line of Aaron, "Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins...And no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was. In the same way Christ did not take on Himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to Him, 'You are My Son; today I have become Your Father.' And He says in another place, 'You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.'" (Hebrews 5:1,4-6) Paul takes these two quotes from Psalm 2:7 and Psalm 110:4. God chooses the high priest. He has the right to select the man He wants to stand before Him as a mediator between Himself and the people. He appointed Melchizedek even though he was of another nationality and not of any tribe of Israel. In the same way God has the authority to appoint a high priest from the nation of Israel but of another tribe than that of Levi.

The high priest entered into the Most Holy Place once a year on the Day of Atonement to make an offering for sins using the blood of animals. This rolled back the sins of the people for another year. But Christ took His own blood and entered the Most Holy Place of heaven to make an offering for our sins so perfect and holy that it could roll them back forever. Paul sets forth Jesus as the mediator of the new covenant, for upon His death and resurrection the old covenant of the law was fulfilled and satisfied in Him, and now we live under the new covenant of grace...of salvation by faith and not by works. The Apostle Paul points out that when Christ entered the Most Holy Place, "He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by His own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption." (Hebrews 9:12)

So we see that the crowning of the high priest Joshua is symbolic of One who will hold the offices of king and priest (whose name Jesus, the Hebrew Yeshua, is a variation of Joshua and means "rescuer" or "deliverer"), and that the temple Zechariah speaks of is not the temple presently under reconstruction in his day, but a temple that is to come. After completing the ceremony of the crowning of Joshua, the Lord says, "The crown will be given to Heldai, Tobijah, Jedaiah and Hen son of Zephaniah as a memorial in the temple of the Lord. Those who are far away will come and help to build the temple of the Lord, and you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you. This will happen if you diligently obey the Lord your God." (Zechariah 6:14-15) "They that are far off" refers to the Gentiles, to those who are not the covenant people of the Lord. This was not fulfilled in Zechariah's time. The Gentiles weren't a great deal of help with the rebuilding of the temple; in fact, most of the Gentiles surrounding Jerusalem hindered the project. But a day is coming in which those who once were far off from Israel but who have been brought near by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:13) will be joined with Israel in the worship of the One who is both king and high priest. Christ will be the political leader of the world and He will be the spiritual leader of the world. And the temple He builds will not be an earthly one made by hands. There will be no need for a temple then; the temple will be Christ Himself, as the Apostle John saw in his vision of the reign of Christ, "I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord Almighty and the Lamb are its temple." (Revelation 21:22)

Everything that takes place in our passage today is symbolic of something else, of something yet to come, of something better. A King is coming to rule the world in peace and righteousness. A high priest is coming who can absolve us of our sins. No literal temple will be needed in that day when we will be able to worship our Lord and King and Priest face to face.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Zechariah's Vision Of The King. Day 11, Four Chariots, Zechariah's Eighth Vision

Today Zechariah sees a new vision, one which symbolizes the power of God and the armies of heaven that are waiting for the word to execute God's judgment upon the earth.

"I looked up again, and there before me were two chariots coming out from between two mountains---mountains of bronze." (Zechariah 6:1) The significance of the mountains of bronze is not clear. The opinion of some scholars is that these symbolize the two bronze pillars that stood in Solomon's temple: one being named Jakin (He establishes) and the other being named Boaz (in Him is strength). Since Zechariah's visions up til now have all been connected with the temple in some way, this explanation makes as much sense as any other, and more than some. A great deal of bronze was used in both Solomon's temple and in the wilderness sanctuary. Other Bible scholars feel that these mountains of bronze represent Mount Zion and Mount Moriah or Mount Zion and the Mount of Olives. Most of all, though, bronze in the Bible appears to stand for power and strength. We find references to bronze walls, to bronze pillars, to bronze shields, to bronze tools, to bronze shackles, to bronze altars, to bronze kingdoms, to bronze statues, and to a King whose feet glow like bronze (Revelation 1:15,2:18) symbolizing His authority and power and His right to judge the world.

"The first chariot had red horses, the second black, the third white, and the fourth dappled---all of them powerful." (Zechariah 6:2-3) Scholars in earlier centuries equated these four chariots and their horses with ancient kingdoms that correspond to those in Daniel's prophetic visions: Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. Others, in more modern times, connect them with the four horsemen of the apocalypse in Revelation and their tasks of bringing warfare, famine, pestilence, and death. Still others believe these represent the armies of God being sent out to the four corners of the world to judge the world of its wickedness, or to punish the nations that are enemies of Israel. Zechariah is going to ask the angel who these chariots and horses represent, and the angel's answer doesn't completely clear the matter up for us, but I tend to agree with the opinion that these chariots and their horses are the armies of heaven who are waiting for God to send them out into the world.

"I asked the angel who was speaking to me, 'What are these, my lord?' The angel answered me, 'These are the four spirits of heaven, going out from standing in the presence of the Lord of the whole world. The one with the black horses is going toward the north country, the one with the white horses toward the west, and the one with the dappled horses toward the south." (Zechariah 6:5-6) The word translated here as "spirits" is the Hebrew "ruah" which can mean the life or being of a person or animal, or it can mean breath or wind. We don't know for certain whether these chariots and their horses symbolize literal nations or armies, but we can be certain they are sent by God. They are on a mission for Him. We get the sense of Him breathing on them and fanning them out in all directions. There is also an element of swiftness involved, like a rushing wind. The Bible tells us that God is patient and kind and longsuffering, but when judgment comes it is depicted as coming swiftly. We are not told where the chariot with the red horses goes, but since the other chariots went toward the north, west, and south, we can conclude that it must have gone east. Some commentaries offer the opinion that part of the text has been lost in antiquity.

These war horses are chomping at the bit, ready to go and perform the Lord's will. "When the powerful horses went out, they were straining to go throughout the earth. And he said, 'Go throughout the earth!' So they went throughout the earth." (Zechariah 6:7) The hosts of heaven stand poised at all times to execute God's judgment upon the earth. It is only His grace and mercy that holds them back until the proper time. As James Coffman points out in Coffman's Commentaries On The Bible, "The eagerness of the angelic host to execute the judgments of God upon powers hostile to His will appears here, indicating that God restrains the powers ever poised to pour out His wrath upon the ungodly. At the proper moment, God will give orders to "loose the four angels that are bound at the great river Euphrates" (Revelation 9:14) That same principle of God's restraining powers that would destroy men is apparent here. In this connection, it should be remembered that the human race was sentenced to death in Eden, that the sentence was never repealed, and that, in time, it will be summarily executed. God, however, will not suffer the frustration of His purpose of redeeming the full harvest of the saved from this earth; and, therefore, the great destructive forces that are always ready to execute men are by the Father's gracious love and longsuffering restrained."

The Apostle Peter explains the judgment that is waiting to break out, and the Lord's patience and longsuffering, by comparing them to the judgment that fell in the days of Noah. The Lord destroyed the sinful world at that time by water, but a final dispensation of judgment will occur in the last days when "the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:7-9) As an eternal being, God has the time to be patient. He has existed since eternity past and will exist through eternity future. If He did not hold back the forces of holy judgment, we would all have already been consumed, but it's His desire to be patient and kind toward us. He would far rather welcome us back into His arms as repentant prodigal children than to have to destroy us by the brightness of His holiness. As the prophet Jeremiah gratefully pointed out, it is only by "the Lord's great love that we are not consumed". (Lamentations 3:22)

Zechariah's eighth vision concludes with this, "Then he called to me, 'Look, those going toward the north country have given my Spirit rest in the land of the north.'" (Zechariah 6:8) Nations to the north were Assyria (conquered by Babylon) and Babylon (conquered by the Medes and Persians). By Zechariah's day the Lord had already executed judgment upon two great nations that oppressed His people. He tells Zechariah that His spirit is at rest in the land of the north because His anger has been spent there. His wrath has been satisfied there. Literal Babylon is no more, but we spoke earlier in the week of a spiritual Babylon that remains to be judged: the spirit that lives in opposition to God in the hearts of the ungodly, and the Babylon of greed and covetousness that is the world system of the last days. There also remain other nations to be judged, such as Gog and Magog (perhaps representing a future coalition of Iran and Russia) who will come against Israel in the last days but who will be defeated by the Lord as described in Ezekiel 38 and 39. God's spirit will be at rest in the north when He overthrows the armies who come against Israel in the last days. God's spirit will someday be at rest, and the whole earth will be at rest, when He has put down all rebellion against His authority and when the King of kings sits on the throne of David to rule the world. We must always keep in mind that, although the main goal of the people of Zechariah's day was to rebuild the temple, Zechariah is continually looking forward in time to the coming of the King and the arrival of His kingdom.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Zechariah's Vision Of The King. Day 10, The Woman In A Basket, Zechariah's Seventh Vision

Today's vision is even stranger than yesterday's vision of a flying scroll. Zechariah sees a measuring basket with a woman inside.

"Then the angel who was speaking to me came forward and said to me, 'Look up and see what is appearing.' I asked, 'What is it?' He replied, 'It is a basket.' And he added, 'This is the iniquity of the people throughout the land.'" (Zechariah 5:5-6) The word translated "basket" here is "ephah", which is a measuring unit for grain. Its volume was about give gallons.

We found Judah falling into idolatry and hypocrisy before she was defeated and taken captive by Babylon. The captive people of Judah have been released now that Persia has conquered Babylon, and we never find them falling on their knees to false gods again, but they must beware of falling for another type of idolatry: greed. The use of the ephah basket is symbolic of trade and commerce, of prosperity, and of a busy and bustling society. The Lord has promised to restore Judah's fortunes, but apostasy often follows on the heels of prosperity. It is a common human failing to think less about God during comfortable times than during lean times.

The children of Israel who came out of captivity in Egypt had a tendency to turn to idols after having witnessed the religious practices of the most idolatrous nation on earth at that time. The people of Judah have just come out from under the rule of two of the most prosperous ancient empires of the ancient world: Babylon and Medo-Persia. They have witnessed the lavish lifestyles and the immense wealth of these two nations. The danger now is not so much that Judah will bow to foreign gods but that she will bow to the gods of greed and covetousness.

Zechariah continues his description of the vision, "Then the cover of lead was raised, and there in the basket sat a woman! He said, 'This is wickedness,' and he pushed her back into the basket and pushed its lead cover down on it." (Zechariah 5:7-8) The angel raises the heavy lead cover on the basket to show Zechariah what is inside. To the prophet's surprise, the small basket holds a woman.

Some versions of the Bible render the lead cover as a "lead talent" which would be used as a weight on the scales when measuring out goods to be sold. When we studied the book of Proverbs we found Solomon deploring the wicked practice of using dishonest scales and dishonest weights to cheat people, "The Lord detests dishonest scales, but accurate weights find favor with Him." (Proverbs 11:1) We also find the prophets Hosea, Amos, and Micah speaking out against the use of dishonest scales and weights. (Hosea 12:7, Amos 8:5, Micah 6:11) The Lord hates dishonesty. He hates the wickedness of greed. After giving Zechariah a brief glimpse of what is in the basket, the angel quickly pushes wickedness back down into the measuring basket and shoves the heavy lead weight on top of it so the woman cannot escape. The last thing Judah needs is a new form of idolatry.

Many of us would refuse, even under threat of death, to bow to a false idol. But how many of us have ever bowed the knee to greed, even if it was only for a moment? What would we be willing to do if it meant we'd never have to worry about money again? It's a lot easier to shrug our shoulders at the sin of greed than at the sin of bowing before an image. Greed is a far more acceptable sin in the eyes of the world, but that's what makes it so prevalent and so dangerous.

Next the prophet sees two more women, and they have a different role to play than that of the woman in the basket. "Then I looked up---and there before me were two women, with the wind in their wings! They had wings like those of a stork, and they lifted up the basket between heaven and earth." (Zechariah 5:9) These women fly up on large, strong wings and take hold of the basket to lift it from the land of Judah. They are about to remove this wickedness---this sin---from the nation.

"'Where are they taking the basket?' I asked the angel who was speaking with me. He replied, 'To the country of Babylonia to build a house for it. When the house is ready, the basket will be set there in its place.'" (Zechariah 5:10-11) These women are taking the basket filled with wickedness back to the place where rebellion against God began. They are taking it to the area where man attempted to build a tower to reach the heavens because they did not believe God's promise that He would never cover the world with a flood again. In the original language the word used here for "Babylonia" is "Shinar", also known as "Babel". The Lord is sending wickedness back to its beginning. The women are going to place it not in a house, as the NIV translates it, but on the type of pedestal or foundation which was used to set large idols. In the plain of Dura there is still a large square foundation which may actually be the one upon which King Nebuchadnezzar placed the golden image that he commanded all the people to worship. This is the type of setting upon which the angel is telling Zechariah the basket of wickedness will be placed, for the type of wickedness enclosed in the basket is simply idolatry in another form. Satan has learned that most people in modern times will not bow down before an image. All he's done is cloak idolatry to disguise it so that we will find it more acceptable. Serving money is the same as serving a false god.

It's no coincidence that these women take the basket filled with the wickedness of greed back to Babylon, for "Babylon" is the name that will be used for the corrupt world financial system in the last days. Revelation 18 describes the enormous wealth and the immense greed present in the economy of the end times. There will be the finest of jewels and precious metals, the best of food and wine, the most expensive and exclusive brands of clothes, and the flashiest of transportation. The world, under the one currency system of the Antichrist, will appear to have it all. The Babylon of the end times will stand as the ultimate symbol of prosperity. God will have no place in such an economy or in the minds of those who bow to the idol of greed. But the cup of Babylon's sins reaches its fullness and runs over in Revelation 18 and her doom comes upon her suddenly.

God will be God. There is no other. Every knee will bow to Him someday and every tongue will confess He is Lord. He will put down the final rebellion of symbolic Babylon just as easily as He put down the first rebellion in literal Babylon. Since the beginning, many "gods" and many kingdoms have risen and fallen, but God and His kingdom will stand forever. When the King comes and reigns over the world from David's throne, sin will be removed from Judah forever, just as the women who lifted the basket from the earth were removing sin from the land. And just as the women lifted the basket up between heaven and earth, so also Christ was lifted up between heaven and earth to take away the sins of the world.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Zechariah's Vision Of The King. Day 9, The Flying Scroll, Zechariah's Sixth Vision

Today we study the short vision of the flying scroll which has its roots in the renewal of the covenant that Moses mediated between God and the people after the release from captivity in Egypt.

Zechariah tells us, "I looked again and there before me was a flying scroll." (Zechariah 5:1) This is a vision Zechariah is having, and although it may seem to us to be quite an odd one, he sees a very large scroll hanging in midair. This is not a spaceship. This is not a visitation by aliens. This is a vision with very vivid imagery that symbolizes God's law.

The angel asks Zechariah about the vision, "He asked me, 'What do you see?' I answered, 'I see a flying scroll, twenty cubits long and ten cubits wide.'" (Zechariah 5:2) The dimensions of this scroll match those of the Most Holy Place and also the dimensions of Solomon's porch. The reason for this is not clear, which is why so many commentators disagree on its significance. All of Zechariah's visions have regarded the rebuilding of the temple, so naturally this vision would be connected with the temple in some way. Perhaps the dimensions of the scroll match the dimensions of the Most Holy Place because the presence of God is going to fill the Most Holy Place in the restored temple. Or perhaps the dimensions of the scroll match the dimensions of Solomon's porch because this is where the word of God made flesh will be standing centuries later when He clearly identifies Himself as the Messiah by saying, "I and the Father are one." (John 10:30)

The angel explains the meaning of the scroll. "And he said to me, 'This is the curse that is going out over the whole land; for according to what it says on one side, every thief will be banished, and according to what it says on the other, everyone who swears falsely will be banished.'" (Zechariah 5:3) The scroll is covered in writing on both sides like the tablets of the Ten Commandments. These commandments contain warnings against two sins mentioned in verse 3: stealing and taking the Lord's name in vain. (The English translation of verse 3 could lead us to believe it's speaking of bearing false witness, but when we get to verse 4 we will find that it concerns swearing in the Lord's name.)

Why are the words of God on the scroll referred to as a "curse"? Because the people will be judged by them. The word of God is a fountain of life to those who love Him and keep His commandments, but the word of God is a curse to those who transgress His laws. Bible scholar James Coffman points out that the same word rendered "curse" in verse 3 is the same word used in connection with "covenant" in Genesis and Deuteronomy. It would appear that God is reminding the returned captives to remember the covenant He made with them. They have been given a fresh start. The temple is going to be rebuilt. Life is going to resume a semblance of normalcy. They must not slide back into sin. Sin is what led to the downfall of the nation in the first place, and not keeping the laws of God's covenant is what sent them into captivity in a foreign land.

The angel tells Zechariah how the Lord intends to use the flying scroll and the words written on it, "The Lord Almighty declares, 'I will send it out, and it will enter the house of the thief and the house of anyone who swears falsely by My name. It will remain in that house and destroy it completely, both its timbers and its stones.'" (Zechariah 5:4) This destruction may refer to the cutting off of the evildoer from the tribe of Israel, as specified in Deuteronomy 29:20-21, "The Lord will never be willing to forgive them; His wrath and zeal will burn against them. All the curses written in this book will fall on them, and the Lord will blot out their names from under heaven. The Lord will single them out from all the tribes of Israel for disaster, according to all the curses of the covenant written in this Book of the Law."  Moses warned the people that the one who persists in going his own way even though he knows better will suffer the curses written in the law. But he also promised if they carefully follow the terms of the covenant, "You will prosper in everything you do." (Deuteronomy 29:9)

Just as God renewed His covenant with the people after they came out of captivity in Egypt, in Zechariah 5 we find Him renewing His covenant with the people after they came out of captivity in Babylon. The Lord told the people in Deuteronomy 30 that even if they sinfully fell away from Him and ended up in captivity in a foreign land, He would return them to their homeland and restore their fortunes if they repented, "Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord you God will gather you and bring you back." (Deuteronomy 30:4) He has kept His word. He has done His part. Now it's their turn to do their part.

I believe when Zechariah related the vision of the flying scroll to the people, they couldn't help thinking about the day when Moses stood before Israel and related to the nation the words of the living God, "See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to Him, and to keep His commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him. For the Lord is your life, and He will give you many years in the land He swore to give your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)

Zechariah reminds the people, just as Moses did, "The Lord is your life! Cling to Him and all will be well with you. The Lord is your protection in this land. The Lord is your strength. The Lord is your source of power. Never let Him go!"

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Zechariah's Vision Of The King. Day 8, The Gold Lampstand And The Two Olive Trees, Zechariahs Fifth Vision, Part Two

Yesterday we ended our time of study with the Lord sending a message to Zerubbabel, the governor, promising him that the temple would be completed not by the strength of man but by the power of God, "'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the Lord Almighty."

The message continues today, "What are you, mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of 'God bless it! God bless it!'" (Zechariah 4:7) The ruins of the temple in Zechariah's day look like a mighty mountain of rubble. The task appears monumental. The enormity of the project is enough to make anyone slump his shoulders in defeat and walk away. But God says to Zerubbabel, "I am a mountain-moving God! I am going to smooth the way for you. I am going to remove all the opposition of your enemies. I am going to lift up the discouraged hearts of your people. You will complete the project and set the final, crowning stone in place to the sound of joyful shouts."

The return of the people to the land, the rebuilding of the temple, and the installation of a leader from David's line are all a foreshadowing of what will take place when the Messiah comes to reign. Zerubbabel was not the Messiah. The return to the land following the Babylonian captivity was not the final fulfillment of the prophecies of the Messianic kingdom. The temple we find the people trying to rebuild is not the eternal temple but one that was rebuilt and then later destroyed. But sometimes we need refreshment along the journey, don't we? We need a reminder that we serve a God who keeps His promises. The time for His kingdom to come was not yet at hand in Zechariah's day, but God sent some refreshment to His people, a little foretaste of what is to come when this prophecy given by Isaiah will at long last come true, "Comfort, comfort My people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for her sins. A voice of one calling: 'In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken." (Isaiah 40:1-5)

Zerubbabel is not the only one for whom God promises to move mountains. He also promises to move mountains for the King of kings. Nothing is going to hinder this King from claiming His kingdom. This prophecy was partially fulfilled in the days when Jesus of Nazareth walked the earth, when the Roman Empire maintained a vast network of roads like no nation before them. Had Jesus been born at an earlier date, He would not have had such freedom to travel and such easy access to remote villages. He also would not have enjoyed the safety and peace that the Roman Empire vigorously enforced. The empire under whose iron boot the nation was held fast is the nation the Lord used to make straight paths for His Son.

We also learn that the Lord made His Son's path straight in a different way. In the New Testament we find John the Baptist identifying himself as the voice from Isaiah's prophecy, the voice that calls in the wilderness to make straight paths for the Lord. John's job was to prepare the hearts of the people to hear the words of Jesus Christ, to level the mountains of mental resistance and to raise up the valleys in their hearts that had been created by sin and defeat. Both literally and spiritually, God the Father made a straight highway for Christ to travel. Someday Isaiah's prophecy will find its complete fulfillment when Christ reigns over the whole world from the throne of David. Nothing will be allowed to impede His succession to the throne. God will move any mountain that tries to stand in His way.

When God makes a promise, we can take it to the bank. It's as good as done. "Then the word of the Lord came to me: 'The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple; his hands will also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you. Who dares despise the day of small things, since the seven eyes of the Lord that range throughout the earth will rejoice when they see the chosen capstone in the hand of Zerubbabel?'" (Zechariah 4:8-10) The Lord promises, "The temple will be completed in the lifetime of Zerubbabel. He who laid the foundation will also set the capstone. Do not look at the foundation stone and feel defeated when you see how much is left to do. Every project has to begin somewhere. If you don't lay the foundation you will never raise the walls. If you never raise the walls you will never set the roof in place. One thing has to build on another, so be courageous. Stand up straight and strong and confident. What I have promised I will also do."

"Then I asked the angel, 'What are these two olive trees on the right and the left of the lampstand?' Again I asked him, 'What are these two olive branches beside the two gold pipes that pour out golden oil?' He replied, 'Do you not know what these are?' 'No, my lord,' I said. So he said, 'These are the two who are anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth.'" (Zechariah 4:11-14) We studied the lampstand yesterday and spoke about how the Hebrew word used for the lampstand in Zechariah is the same word that was used for the lampstand in the tabernacle in Exodus. This light was to be kept burning around the clock as a symbol of God's constant presence with the people. The priests who served in the tabernacle, and later in the temple, had to keep the lampstand supplied with oil so the light would not go out. In Zechariah's vision he sees two olive trees who are supplying the lampstand with an uninterrupted source of oil through golden pipes. He is curious about what this means and is told that these trees symbolize two anointed ones (literally two sons of oil) whom God has chosen to serve Him. Most mainstream Bible scholars equate these two anointed ones with Zerubabbel the governor who is the political head of the nation, and with Joshua the high priest who is the spiritual head of the nation. In their day God anointed them to serve Him by serving the people.

There is also a New Testament connection regarding two anointed ones who will serve the Lord. In Revelation we find the Lord describing two witnesses who will preach the gospel to the world during the last days, "And I will appoint My two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth. They are 'the two olive trees' and the two lampstands, and they 'stand before the Lord of the earth.'" (Revelation 11:3-4) The identity of these two anointed ones is not known, and their ministry will take place several thousand years after the lifetimes of Zerubbabel and Joshua, but their existence proves to us that God has His anointed ones in every age. He always has men and women in every period of time who serve Him by serving the people. In the Old Testament days we had the prophets. In our day we have church leaders, teachers, Christian speakers, Christian musicians, and regular citizens who simply give their testimonies about the Lord in both words and deeds. The main message in all of this, and in the imagery of the lampstand and the olive trees, is that the power comes from God. God is present with His people. God supplies everything His people will ever need. The journey often seems long and difficult, but God provides times of refreshing when we need it. So let's never despise the day of small beginnings. If God is in the work, our success is guaranteed.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Zechariah's Vision Of The King. Day 7, The Gold Lampstand And The Two Olive Trees, Zechariahs Fifth Vision, Part One

We will be studying Zechariah's fifth vision in two parts, for there is more to be said about it than we can study in one post. This chapter is rich with symbolism and we want to make sure we thoroughly take it in.

Many commentators feel that Zechariah experienced all of his visions in the same night, one after the other. This would naturally make anyone tired and overwhelmed, and it would appear that Zechariah falls asleep between the fourth and fifth visions, "Then the angel who talked with me returned to me and woke me up, like someone awakened from sleep. He asked me, 'What do you see?' I answered, 'I see a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top and seven lamps on it, with seven channels to the lamps. Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.'" (Zechariah 4:1-3)

The Hebrew for "lampstand" in this passage is "menorath", more commonly known as a menorah, and it is the same word that is used for the lampstand Moses was commanded to make for the tabernacle in Exodus 25:31-40. The lampstand of the tabernacle was to be kept burning day and night as a symbol of God's constant presence with His people Israel. In Zechariah's day the primary focus of the people was the rebuilding of the temple, so the vision of the lampstand is a sign that the rebuilding will be accomplished. But as we will see, it will not be accomplished by the will of man, but by the power of God. God is Israel's strength and shield. It is God who made Israel a chosen people. It is God who brought Israel out of captivity. It is God who promised that Israel would never cease being a nation before Him. (Jeremiah 31:36) He is the source of all light, all power, and all protection for His people.

Zechariah wants to know more about the lampstand he sees in his vision, along with the two olive trees. "I asked the angel who talked with me, 'What are these, my lord?' He answered, 'Do you not know what these are?' 'No, my lord,' I replied. So he said to me, 'This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: 'Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the Lord Almighty." (Zechariah 4:4-6) This is a message for Zerubabbel, a prince of the line of David, the man whom Cyrus of Persia appointed governor of Judah. The Lord is saying to him, "Take heart! I know you've faced much opposition in the rebuilding. I know you've had your own moments of discouragement, plus you've shouldered the heavy burden of the discouragement of the people. But the power to do this great work does not lie in you or in the people. The power is from Me. I will accomplish all that I have promised."

We find a number of people in the Scriptures whom God called to do a great work. Many of them felt unequal to the task ahead. That's a good sign, for the person who knows he must depend on God is a person God can use. Please don't let feelings of inadequacy stop you from fulfilling your destiny in the Lord! A humble spirit is a spirit God can work with. Instead of feeling discouraged, use your feelings of inadequacy as a reason to call upon His unlimited power. God doesn't expect you or me to complete our tasks alone, just as He never expected His people to rebuild the temple alone. The lampstand in the Old Testament is a reminder to the people that God is always with them and that He is the source of their power. He is still the source of our power today in 2017. In everything we do, let's rely on Him. Let's not allow the fear of letting ourselves down, or of letting God down, stand in our way. He is not going to let us down.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Zechariah's Vision Of The King. Day 6, The High Priest, Zechariah's Fourth Vision

Today Zechariah sees a vision concerning Joshua the high priest, a Levite and the son of Jozadak. This is the man who will minister before God on behalf of the people in the rebuilt temple. Joshua, along with Zerubbabel the governor and the grandson of King Jehoiachin of Judah, are the leaders of the nation. These two men led the first wave of freed captives back to Jerusalem, and they carried with them the temple vessels that Nebuchadnezzar had taken to Babylon. Though the Persians would not allow Judah to re-establish a monarchy, the nation at this time enjoys a good deal of sovereignty under the leadership of their governor and high priest.

But there is a problem. Before the downfall of Judah the priesthood had become corrupt. There's no use having a new temple if the same old sins are going to enter into it. So Zechariah sees a vision of the high priest being accused of sins by Satan, and then being made fit by the Lord to stand before Him as a mediator between God and the people.

We recall there has been an angel by Zechariah's side while he experiences his visions, and this is the being who is with him now as he says, "Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. The Lord said to Satan, 'The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?'" (Zechariah 3:1-2) We learn from David in Psalm 109:8 that the accuser of a person stands at his right hand in court. Satan wants the Lord to find Joshua unfit to mediate for the people, thus leaving them in their sins. Satan wants the Lord to find you and me unfit to serve Him too. Satan accuses us day and night according to Revelation 12:10. But thanks be to God, the One seated on the throne doesn't waste time on this nonsense, but says instead to our accuser, "The Lord rebuke you, Satan! This servant of Mine has been made right with Me by My grace. I snatched this one from the path to perdition in the same way a man might snatch a stick out of the fire. I am the Master and I alone can judge whether My servant is worthy." Amen! As the Apostle Paul said to those who criticized the servants of God, "Who are you to judge someone else's servants? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand." (Romans 14:4)

"Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before Him, 'Take off his filthy clothes.' Then He said to Joshua, 'See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.'" (Zechariah 3:3-4) Only the Lord can make us clean. Even on our best behavior we are not worthy on our own to stand before the Lord, as the prophet Isaiah pointed out, "All our righteous acts are like filthy rags". (Isaiah 64:6) Joshua is doing the best he can as a human being and as a priest, but even at his best he is an imperfect creature. Only the Lord can impute true righteousness upon him, or upon you and me as well. The Lord alone takes away our sin.

Since the high priest represents the people, making him acceptable before the Lord is the same as making the people acceptable before the Lord. The Lord has chosen this period of time to be kind to Judah, to build her up and not tear her down, to restore her fortunes, to rebuild what enemy Babylon had torn down. Judah's time of rebuke and correction is over for now, and Zechariah's vision is the proof of this. So is our next verse, "Then I said, 'Put a clean turban on his head.' So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the Lord stood by." (Zechariah 3:5) This is the turban the high priest would wear while entering the Most Holy Place once a year on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). This turban had an engraved golden plate attached to it that read "Holy To The Lord". (Exodus 28:36) Placing the clean turban on Joshua's head indicates that he has been made holy to the Lord and that he has been made fit, by the Lord's grace, to intercede on behalf of the people.

The One seated as Judge now gives His orders to the high priest. He also speaks of the peace that will someday reign in the kingdom of the Messiah. "The angel of the Lord gave this charge to Joshua: 'This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'If you will walk in obedience to Me and keep My requirements, then you will govern My house and have charge of My courts, and I will give you a place among these standing here. Listen, High Priest Joshua, you and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring My servant, the Branch. See, the stone I have set in front of Joshua! There are seven eyes on that one stone, and I will engrave an inscription on it,' says the Lord Almighty, 'and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day. In that day each of you will invite your neighbor to sit under your vine and fig tree,' declares the Lord Almighty." (Zechariah 3:6-10)

Both Isaiah and Jeremiah spoke of the Messiah as the "Branch", and Isaiah referred to Him as the "root of Jesse", Jesse being the father of King David. In the book of Zechariah the return to the land, the rebuilding of the temple, the governorship of Zerubbabel of the line of David, and the high priesthood of Joshua of the line of Aaron, were signs that God will indeed accomplish all He has promised regarding the Messiah and King and His eternal kingdom. God kept His promise to bring the people back from captivity, so He can be trusted to keep all His other promises. Zerubabbel, the man who holds legal title to the throne of David, is the political leader of the nation. Joshua, a Levite and descendant of Aaron, is the spiritual leader of the nation. These things foreshadow the coming kingdom of the Messiah, who will be both King and High Priest at the same time. He alone will hold the title to the throne of David. He alone will be able to mediate between God and man and make us "Holy To The Lord".

The Apostle Paul spoke of Jesus Christ as our high priest. Though He was not of the line of Aaron, He was made a priest upon the oath of God, just as Melchizedek was in Genesis 14. Melchizedek was not of the line of Aaron; Aaron hadn't even been born. But he was appointed a priest by the oath of God, and as Paul points out in the book of Hebrews, the oath overrides genealogy. So now the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is able to be both King and High Priest. He will hold both offices, being both the political leader of the world and the spiritual leader of the world. He is the One who clothes us in clean garments. He is the One who takes away our sins. He is the One who stands before God as our defense attorney and rebukes the accusations of Satan. With His perfect blood, He made a sacrifice on our behalf once and for all. Now He can place the words upon our heads "Holy To The Lord". The restoration of the political leadership of the line of David, and the restoration of the spiritual leadership of the line of Aaron, are signs in the book of Zechariah that the Lord will one day place on the throne of David the One who holds legal title to it, and He will also establish the priesthood of the only One who is truly worthy to enter into the Most Holy Place on our behalf.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Zechariah's Vision Of The King, Day 5. A Man With A Measuring Line, Zechariah's Third Vision

We concluded yesterday with Zechariah's vision of the four craftsmen, or carpenters. This was a sign to him that the temple and Jerusalem would be rebuilt. Today's vision builds on that theme.

"Then I looked up, and there before me was a man with a measuring line in his hand. I asked, 'Where are you going?' He answered me, 'To measure Jerusalem, to find out how wide and how long it is.'" (Zechariah 2:1-2) Any sensible architect will measure the space available before drawing up blueprints. Any talented carpenter will make precise measurements before beginning to cut lumber.

An angel has been at Zechariah's side up to this point, and now he begins to take his leave of the prophet. "While the angel who was speaking to me was leaving, another angel came to meet him and said to him: 'Run, tell that young man, 'Jerusalem will be a city without walls because of the great number of people and animals in it. And I myself will be a wall of fire around it,' declares the Lord, 'and I will be its glory within.'" (Zechariah 2:3-5)

Bible scholar David Guzik says of verses 1 through 5, "God promises to bring so many people to Jerusalem that the crowds will overflow the wall of the city---but that won't matter because God will be their protection, not walls. He will be a wall of fire all around her. This prophecy had a short-term fulfillment in God's protection of the rebuilding, and blessing of the city under Ezra and Nehemiah, but clearly its ultimate fulfillment is rebuilding under the rule of the Messiah. Today Jerusalem is indeed a city without walls, because in modern warfare they are useless in defending the city. Ultimately Jerusalem will be a city without walls because the Prince of Peace will reign from Jerusalem and He will be her protection."

The Lord now calls to His people to return from captivity. When Zechariah returned from Babylon (now long under the rule of Persia), he returned with over 42,000 captives. But many still remain in that foreign land. They were born there, just as Zechariah was. We know he was, for the angel refers to him as a "young man". The captivity lasted seventy years and is about twenty years in the past at this point; therefore, pretty much everyone still living in the territory of Babylon was born there. A great deal of them feel comfortable there. They are integrated into the culture and enjoy a fair amount of freedom under the Persian ruler. Life is easy and prosperous, so they ask themselves, "Why go back and fight against enemies and fight against the thorns and decay that have grown up around Jerusalem and the temple? The rebuilding is going to be a backbreaking job. Why put ourselves through that?" They have not felt the pull of their homeland as Zechariah, along with well over 40,000 other Jews, felt. So the Lord calls them, "'Come! Come! Flee from the land of the north,' declares the Lord, 'for I have scattered you to the four winds of heaven,' declares the Lord." (Zechariah 2:6)

We know that not everyone took heed to the Lord's command because we find an enormous community of Jews still living under Persian rule in the territory of Babylon during the time of Esther. They came within a hair's breadth of being completely annihilated by the plot of the wicked and anti-Semitic Haman. Had they returned to Jerusalem during the days of Zechariah, they would not have fallen under this threat. But who are we to point fingers at them? We can't, for which of us has never ignored the Lord's call to come out of some situation or some sin? Many times in my life the Lord called to me, 'Come out!' and I said, "No! I'm comfortable here. Life is easy here.' The Lord urged me, "Flee! Flee from the land of captivity!" and I said, "I'm not a captive! I'm free to do as I please." There is no captivity like sin and disobedience. The people who remained in Babylon believed they had all the freedom they needed during the reigns of the Persian kings, but they did not realize they were still bound in invisible shackles. True freedom only comes when we are walking in sync with our Savior. It is when the Son sets us free that we are free indeed. (John 8:36)

The call to come out of Babylon is urgent. Though no immediate threat to their lives is looming, there is an immediate threat to their spiritual health. They must flee that land as quickly as Joseph fled the clutches of Potiphar's immoral wife. "Come, Zion! Escape, you who live in Daughter Babylon!' For this is what the Lord Almighty says: 'After the Glorious One has sent me against the nations that have plundered you---for whoever touches you touches the apple of His eye---I will surely raise my hand against them so that their slaves will plunder them. Then you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me.'" (Zechariah 2:7-9) The Lord announces His intention to throw down every nation that ever has oppressed Israel or ever will oppress her. In Zechariah's time Babylon had already fallen to the Medo-Persian Empire, which in turn would fall to Greece under Alexander the Great. Several commentators point out that the Lord is speaking not only of the fall of literal Babylon, but also of the eventual fall of spiritual Babylon. Babylon is a word equated with sin and rebellion in the Scriptures, since Babel was the site of man's first rebellion against God. In time the Lord will put down all rebellion against His sovereign rule. On that day and forevermore He will be a wall of fire of protection around His people Israel and around all who call upon His name.

We know that the Lord is speaking of the future Messianic kingdom, for Chapter 2 concludes with this passage which appears to be spoken by the Messiah Himself, "'Shout and be glad, Daughter Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,' declares the Lord. 'Many nations will be joined with the Lord in that day and will become my people. I will live among you and you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent Me to you. The Lord will inherit Judah as His portion in the holy land and will again choose Jerusalem. Be still before the Lord, all mankind, because He has roused Himself from His holy dwelling.'" (Zechariah 3:10-13) This is the day in which the Lord's words of Revelation 21:3 come true, "And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Look! God's dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God himself will be with them and be their God."

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Zechariah's Vision Of The King. Day 4, Four Horns And Four Craftsmen, Zechariah's Second Vision

The angel is still present with Zechariah to guide him through this next vision. "Then I looked up, and there before me were four horns. I asked the angel who was speaking to me, 'What are these?' He answered me, 'These are the horns that scattered Judah, Israel and Jerusalem.'" (Zechariah 1:18-19) In the Bible a "horn" usually denotes strength and authority, particularly that of a king or kingdom. David sometimes referred in the psalms to his "horn", meaning his authority and right to rule, for which he gave the Lord all the credit.

In Zechariah's vision these four horns likely represent four kingdoms. Scholars have some differences of opinion regarding precisely which kingdoms these are. Some prefer to stick with the ancient kingdoms that existed in Zechariah's day, or which had already come and gone by Zechariah's day, such as Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, and Medo-Persia. This leaves out all the nations that would be future enemies of Israel after Zechariah's time, but perhaps this is what is intended, for the angel uses the past tense when he says these nations "scattered" Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem. Other Bible scholars take a futuristic view of Zechariah's vision and include Greece and Rome. They conclude that these four horns represent Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. But this leaves out the powerful nation of Assyria to whom the ten tribes of Israel had already fallen long before Zechariah's day. This futuristic translation also leaves out more modern enemies, such as Germany under Adolf Hitler. There are other Bible scholars who believe the four horns symbolize oppression from every side and that these horns stand for north, south, east, and west. Personally, I prefer this last opinion, for Israel has been attacked and oppressed from all four corners of the compass. Even today she sits surrounded by enemies. Jerusalem itself has been attacked at least fifty-two times, has been captured and recaptured forty-four times, besieged twenty-three times, and destroyed twice. Truly Israel has had to fear danger from every side, from every point of the compass, from north and south and east and west.

This vision could not have been a happy one for Zechariah, but the tone of it is about to change. In yesterday's passage we found the Lord affirming His promise to rebuild the nation, and He spoke of His anger toward those who harmed His people. While it's true that He allowed His people to be captured because of their idolatry, He intended these circumstances to be a temporary form of correction. But the nations to whom Israel and Judah fell went beyond the boundaries the Lord set for them in His discipline of His people. Assyria in particular seemed to revel in cruelty toward captive Israel. The Lord said in our study yesterday that the nations who came against His people "went too far with the punishment". He said He was very angry with those nations, indicating His intent to overthrow them.

So now we move on from the imagery of the four powerful horns that scattered the people of Judah and Israel. "Then the Lord showed me four craftsmen." (Zechariah 1:20) Four new characters, these craftsmen, are in view and their appearance must give Zechariah some reassurance. Craftsmen would not come unless something was to be rebuilt. In the original Hebrew the word the NIV renders as "craftsmen" is "carpenters". We are going to learn something surprising about the power of these carpenters.

When he sees these four characters, Zechariah tells us, "I asked, 'What are these coming to do?' He answered, 'These are the horns that scattered Judah so that no one could raise their head, but the craftsmen have come to terrify them and throw down these horns of the nations who lifted up their horns against the land of Judah to scatter its people.'" (Zechariah 1:21) I wonder if this statement puzzled and shocked Zechariah. How can carpenters with hammers and nails overthrow kings and kingdoms? Can carpenters wield more power than kings? They can if they are commissioned by the Lord! The message of the book of Zechariah is that a King is coming, and an eternal kingdom. The rebuilding of the temple is the beginning of the fulfillment of this promise. Though no temple is present in Jerusalem today, the return of the people to their homeland and the rebuilding of the temple in Zechariah's day was still the beginning of the fulfillment of this promise. The Lord kept His promise to bring the people home from captivity in Babylon and to restore their nation. He will continue to keep all His promises regarding the nation of Israel, the temple, and the coming King and His kingdom.

Barry G. Webb, in his book The Message Of Zechariah, states, "The revolutionary message of this vision is that the judgment of the world is already being put into effect wherever God deploys His workmen. Through them God brings His kingdom into the world, a kingdom that will eventually sweep away and replace every earthly power." This is the kingdom that the book of Zechariah concerns, for he will be granted a vision of the coming King, and he will say of Him in Zechariah 14:9, "The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and His name the only name."

Amen! May Your kingdom come, Lord!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Zechariah's Vision Of The King. Day 3, The Man Among The Myrtle Trees: Zechariah's First Vision

"On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, the month of Shebat, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo." (Zechariah 1:7) This vision comes to Zechariah about three months after the Lord calls him to be a prophet to the nation.

"During the night I had a vision, and there before me was a man mounted on a red horse. He was standing among the myrtle trees in a ravine. Behind him were red, brown, and white horses." (Zechariah 1:8) This type of imagery would have been familiar to anyone under Persian rule, as Judah was at that time. Persian rulers kept companies of horses and riders roaming the kingdom at all times in order to watch over their territories and the people in them. Since Zechariah's primary theme is that the King and His kingdom are coming, this imagery is quite significant. Darius the king of Persia has secured protection for the Jewish people as they rebuild the temple, and he has even helped to supply their needs, but he is not the king who has sent emissaries to check on the work. Though he has promised to defend their right to rebuild, Darius is not going to be angry with these people if they fail to complete the project for their God. He is not emotionally or spiritually invested in this endeavor. But another King is, and He has sent emissaries on horseback to check on the work. The rebuilding of the temple is kingdom work...His kingdom work. Here is Someone who is emotionally and spiritually invested in this project which, as we learned yesterday, has fallen drastically behind.

"I asked, 'What are these, my lord?' The angel who was talking with me answered, 'I will show you what they are.'" (Zechariah 1:9) Here we learn that there is an angel leading Zechariah through his vision, so we now have two characters: an angel and the man among the myrtle trees. It's not unusual in the Scriptures to find an angel by the side of the person experiencing visions. When we studied the book of Daniel we found him receiving the interpretations of his visions from an angel, and when we studied the book of Revelation we found an angel guiding the Apostle John through his visions.

"Then the man standing among the myrtle trees explained, 'They are the ones the Lord has sent to go throughout the earth.' And they reported to the angel of the Lord who was standing among the myrtle trees, 'We have gone throughout the earth and found the whole earth at rest and at peace.'" (Zechariah 1:10-11) In some of my commentaries I found the opinion that this angel of the Lord represents a Christophany: an Old Testament vision of the pre-incarnate Christ. But we cannot be certain of this. There are portions of the Old Testament in which a good case can be made for the "angel of the Lord" being Christ, but there are other portions where it would be quite a stretch to interpret the verses this way. In Zechariah's vision we may have to be content with not knowing the exact identity of either the angel or the man among the myrtle trees.

We would expect it to be good news that the earth is at rest and at peace, but we will find that the angel is distressed at this news. The entire region under Darius' rule was indeed enjoying a time of stability. The Persian Empire was at its peak during the reign of this man who was not in line for the throne but who overthrew the usurper Guamata who tried to pass himself off as a son of Cyrus the Great upon the death of Cyrus' son Cambyses. Darius was the son of Hystaspes, a satrap appointed by Cyrus, and he quickly quelled any rebellion against his rule. As we learned yesterday, he secured protection for the Jewish people to rebuild the temple without interference from their enemies. So the fact that the region is at rest, and the Jews have been given the peace to rebuild but have not rebuilt, causes the angel to cry out in distress. "Then the angel of the Lord said, 'Lord Almighty, how long will You withhold mercy from Jerusalem and from the towns of Judah, which You have been angry with these seventy years?' So the Lord spoke kind and comforting words to the angel who talked with me." (Zechariah 1:12-13) The seventy years predicted for the captivity are finished. They have been finished for some time, but much of the land still lies in ruins. Zechariah called the people to repentance and, as we studied yesterday, many answered this call. The Lord invited them to return to Him, promising He would also return to them. The angel now asks when the Lord intends to return. How long before He comforts Judah? How long before He rebuilds His people both literally and spiritually?

"Then the angel who was speaking to me said, Proclaim this word: This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'I am very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion, and I am very angry with the nations that feel secure. I was only a little angry, but they went too far with the punishment.' Therefore this is what the Lord says: 'I will return to Jerusalem with mercy, and there My house will be rebuilt. And the measuring line will be stretched out over Jerusalem,' declares the Lord Almighty. 'Proclaim further: This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'My towns will again overflow with prosperity, and the Lord will again comfort Zion and choose Jerusalem.'" (Zechariah 1:14-17) The angel interprets for Zechariah what he has heard from the Lord. The Lord is saying, "Do not fear. I will keep every promise ever made to My people. I will punish your enemies. I will build you up. As I promised in the days prior to the captivity, through My servant the prophet Jeremiah, 'In the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem that are deserted, inhabited by neither people nor animals, there will be heard once more the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, and the voices of those who bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord, saying, 'Give thanks to the Lord Almighty, for the Lord is good; His love endures forever.' For I will restore the fortunes of the land as they were before,' says the Lord." (Jeremiah 33:10b-11) This is why Zechariah says these words are "kind and comforting". God re-affirms His covenant with His people. He restates His promises to rebuild the nation, and God has never broken a promise.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Zechariah's Vision Of The King. Day 2, Return To The Lord

Yesterday we learned the time period in which the prophet Zechariah lived. We know little else about him, other than that he was the son of Berekiah and the grandson of Iddo. Berekiah and Iddo were common Old Testament names. A prophet named Iddo is found in the Chronicles, and although he lived too far back in time to be Zechariah's grandfather, he could have been an ancestor of Zechariah. In Ezra 5:1 we find Zechariah referred to as "a descendant of Iddo", so it's possible Iddo was a family name and that the spirit of prophecy ran deep in Zechariah's family line.

Zechariah begins his ministry the same way John the Baptist later will: with a call to repentance. "The Lord was very angry with your ancestors. Therefore tell the people: This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'Returns to Me,' declares the Lord Almighty, 'and I will return to you,' says the Lord Almighty." (Zechariah 1:2) He reminds the people that the Lord was angry with the idolatry and hypocrisy of their ancestors. These things led to the fall of the nation of Israel to Assyria and the fall of the nation of Judah to Babylon. Now the Judean exiles are back in their homeland, presented with a fresh start. Zechariah warns, "Don't make the same mistakes your ancestors made! Keep in mind that it didn't work out so well for them. The captivity of sin should be completely foreign and alien to the children of God, but if you fall back into it, the Lord is able to send you into literal captivity to a foreign land, just as He did with your ancestors."

The people of Zechariah's day were not bowing down to false idols, but difficult circumstances had caused them to lose their sense of purpose in regard to the rebuilding of the temple. The intense opposition that came against them would have been enough to make anyone want to quit. Quitting would have been excusable except, as both Haggai and Zechariah point out, their purpose was a divine purpose. The rebuilding of the temple should have been the first priority, a goal that nothing should have been allowed to hinder. This is the current problem in their lives and this is why Zechariah begins with such a stern warning. The prophet Haggai, a contemporary of Zechariah, uses the whole first chapter of his book to admonish the people for their neglect of the temple. They have built houses for themselves and have planted crops and have been getting on with their own lives while the temple lies in ruins. They are in danger of putting themselves before God, which is a form of idolatry. They must attend to God's temple first so they will always remember to put God first. Then they will be able to courageously say, as David did, "I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With Him at my right hand, I will not be shaken." (Psalm 16:8) They need the visible landmark of the temple in their midst to remind them that God is in their midst and that He alone is their source of security.

Zechariah continues, "Do not be like your ancestors, to whom the earlier prophets proclaimed: This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'Turn from your evil ways and your evil practices.' But they would not listen or pay attention to Me, declares the Lord. Where are your ancestors now? And the prophets, do they live forever? But did not My words and My decrees, which I commanded my servants the prophets, overtake your ancestors?" (Zechariah 1:4-6a) He points out that their ancestors rejected the warnings of the prophets to their own peril. The things the prophets predicted came to pass when the people refused to repent. The Lord's word stood the test of time, though their ancestors and the prophets have passed on. God did what He said He would do if His people did not turn back to Him. He is still capable in Zechariah's day of bringing woe and captivity upon them if they don't give Him their whole hearts. He is still capable of this in our own day.

"Then they repented and said, 'The Lord Almighty has done to us what our ways and practices deserve, just as He determined to do.'" (Zechariah 1:6b) Many of the people repented at the words of Zechariah. They agreed with his assessment that their forefathers sinned and that they reaped the rewards of their sin. They agreed that they too had sinned in not getting on with what God commanded them to do.

In our own lives, just as in the lives of the people of Zechariah's time, our sins aren't just what we do, but what we don't do. As Jesus' brother James points out, "If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn't do it, it is sin for them." (James 4:17) Zechariah's people knew they were commanded to build the temple but they had not done it. What good things has the Lord commanded us to do that we have not done?

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Zechariah's Vision Of The King. Day 1, Introduction

Who is Zechariah, the prophet to whom the Lord entrusted a vision of the coming King? The Bible introduces him like this, "In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo." (Zechariah 1:1)

Now we know the time period in which he lived. It was during the reign of Darius 1 Hystaspes, otherwise known as Darius the Great, the third Persian king of the Achaemenid Empire. Darius followed Cyrus the Great and Cyrus' son Cambyses, and he reigned from 522 BC to 486 BC. (This Darius is not to be confused with Darius the Mede from the book of Daniel.) As we learned from our study of Daniel, Cyrus the Great of Persia conquered the Babylonian Empire and granted the captive Jews the freedom to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and their homeland.

Cyrus, however, did not allow the Jews to re-establish their own monarchy. He intended for Palestine to remain subject to him, but he did not want to supply the manpower to rebuild the region which the Babylonians had so horribly devastated. So he gave the Jews permission to return and supplied the resources for them to begin the work. Rather than allowing them to have their own king, Cyrus appointed Zerubbabel, a prince of the line of David, governor of Judea. The books of Nehemiah and Ezra describe the difficulties the Jews encountered while trying to rebuild and the opposition that came against them. Over time they lost their enthusiasm and neglected to complete the construction of the temple. Ezra tells us that due to the extreme opposition of the enemies of the Jews, "Thus the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia." (Ezra 4:24)

What happened in the second year of the reign of Darius that caused the work to suddenly take a giant leap forward? For one thing, the Lord raised up men like Haggai and Zechariah to admonish the people for their lack of enthusiasm and to encourage them in their efforts. For another thing, while the people were getting their hearts right again, the Lord put a stop to the opposition of the people of the Trans-Euphrates. These people sent a letter to Darius questioning the authority of the Jews to rebuild the region, asking him to make certain whether Cyrus the Great had indeed given them permission to do so. Cyrus was a fantastic record-keeper, and Darius' men found in the archives a scroll upon which Cyrus had written his decree to allow the Jews to return to their land and rebuild the temple. So Darius ordered, "Do not interfere with the work on this temple of God. Let the governor of the Jews and the Jewish elders rebuild this house of God on its site." (Ezra 6:7) In addition, Darius decreed that these men of the Trans-Euphrates were to assist the Jews in their efforts. The orders of Cyrus the Great were to be carried out, and woe to anyone who hindered the work, for Darius declared, "May God, who has caused His name to dwell there, overthrow any king or people who lifts a hand to change this decree or to destroy this temple in Jerusalem. I Darius have decreed it. Let it be carried out with diligence." (Ezra 6:12)

It is at that time that the temple project has new life breathed into it. "So the elders of the Jews continued to build and prosper under the preaching of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah, a descendant of Iddo." (Ezra 6:14a) Zechariah, whose name means "the Lord remembers", had returned from Babylon with the appointed governor Zerubabbel and more than 42,000 exiles to restore the temple and the nation. In the second year of the reign of Darius, in the fall of the year, the word of the Lord comes to Zechariah. The Lord appoints him a prophet to the people at around the same time He appoints Haggai a prophet to the people. But he grants each of these men a different message. The Lord gives Haggai the task of stirring up the hearts of the people to return to the work, while He gives Zechariah the task of stirring up the hearts of the people to return to the Lord. The people had failed to fully carry out either of these commissions. Zechariah will begin his ministry by crying out to the people, "Return to the Lord and He will return to you!"

Zechariah must help the people get their hearts right with the Lord, for the King is coming, and His people must be ready to receive Him.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 100, The Woman Of Valor, Part Three

We conclude our study of the woman of valor, and the book of Proverbs, today. I want to thank you for spending these one hundred days with me in the word of God! I promise you it won't be wasted. God will honor our devotion to His word and He will use it in our lives in some marvelous ways.

We are looking at the final portion of Chapter 31 which describes the woman of valor, the godly woman, the type of woman every single man should be looking for when he starts thinking about getting married. We've already learned she's a smart businesswoman whose husband trusts her to make financial decisions of her own. He supports her goals in life just as she supports his. Since her main goal in life is to help her family prosper in every way, we find her always at work doing good for her household, whether that work is in the home or outside the home.

"She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks." (Proverbs 31:17) This woman keeps herself fit, not so she can measure up to society's standards of beauty, but so she can be healthy enough to do all that she needs to do and wants to do. This verse makes a very important point for all girls and women, in that the main goal of fitness should be taking care of the bodies God gave us.

I hit my teen years at about the time when "thin was in". Curvy models were out of style. All the actresses and models of the 1980s were skinny as a rail and they have been ever since. I've had an unhealthy obsession with thinness for most of my life, then I hit my 40s and found it was taking twice as much effort with exercise and diet to get half the results. In desperation to boost my metabolism, I started weight training several times a week. That's when the Lord unexpectedly taught me something new concerning what fitness is all about. I can now take more pleasure in feeling strong than in worrying about the numbers on the scale. I've decided to focus on how it feels to be able to work harder and to have more endurance and energy during the day than whether I can still fit into a particular size. I believe the woman of Proverbs 31 focused on her health and strength rather than her weight or waist measurement. I picture her with her sleeves rolled up, biceps flexing as she grinds grain or kneads bread or weaves clothes. She's not worried about being a size zero; she's concerned only with keeping her body fit and healthy so she can enjoy the work and the fun activities in her life. We will all be much happier if we accept God's definition of beauty and fitness rather than society's definition. A godly woman who loves and serves the Lord is the most beautiful creature on earth.

"She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night. In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers." (Proverbs 31:18-19) Even at home in the evening this woman is not idle. She lights the lamp when it gets dark and continues with her tasks.

Her trading is so profitable that she is able to help those less fortunate. "She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy." (Proverbs 31:20)

"When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet. She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple." (Proverbs 31:21-22) She makes warm and beautiful clothes and bed coverings for her family. The items she makes are both practical and attractive. Like most women, she enjoys having beautiful things in her house and wearing pretty clothes. There's nothing wrong with that as long as we don't become shallow and vain, caught up in a form of idolatry that values possessions more than godliness.

Next we learn that her husband has a fine reputation in the community, and the author indicates her husband owes much of his success to her. "Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land." (Proverbs 31:23) You've probably heard the saying, "Behind every successful man is a woman," and the husband in Proverbs 31 is respected in his community because of the woman who supports and encourages him. He is able to be successful because she is a faithful, trustworthy, and godly woman. Likewise, she is able to be successful because he supports and encourages her. He's a faithful, trustworthy, and godly man.

"She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes. She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness." (Proverbs 31:24-27) She trust in the Lord and doesn't fear the future. She knows the word of God and is able to impart wise instruction to her children. She is always available for her children: being involved with their activities, knowing all their friends, and showing interest in the daily happenings of their lives.

"Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: 'Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.'" (Proverbs 31:28) The children of this loving mother absolutely adore her. Her husband does too. He can't believe his luck in being the man who won her hand in marriage, happily exclaiming, "I have the best wife in the whole world!"

"Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate." (Proverbs 31:30-31) The world may look only at the outward man, but the Lord looks on the heart. He is pleased with this godly woman who honors His name and obeys His word. He invites everyone in her home and community to praise her character, for she deserves recognition. She is beautiful in the sight of the Lord and in the eyes of her husband, children, and neighbors. If we are going to try and model ourselves on anyone, it should be this woman, not some celebrity on the cover of a magazine. There is no woman more fit than the one who takes care of herself so that she can take care of others and be able to work for the kingdom of God. There is no woman more beautiful than the one who glows from within because of the love and security she has found in her Savior.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 99, The Woman Of Valor, Part Two

The author concluded yesterday by telling young men that a woman of valor is far more valuable than rubies. This is because, "Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life." (Proverbs 31:11-12) This woman can be trusted with anything. Her husband has no worries she will be unfaithful to him or that she will be wasteful with money or resources. He can go about his duties in the confidence that she is going about hers. Both participants in this marriage feel secure in their relationship and are true helpmates to each other.

The woman of Chapter 31 is not a lady of leisure. She has servants, but she works as hard as anyone else in her household. "She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands." (Proverbs 31:13) She doesn't get up in the morning and sigh heavily and say, "Oh no! Look at all this work I have to do!" The author says she works "with eager hands". She enjoys performing the work the Lord has given her to do.

"She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar." (Proverbs 31:14) The health of her family is of concern to her, so she seeks out the best marketplaces. She isn't afraid of trying something new and she regularly purchases exotic foods from other countries. A varied diet is a healthy diet. This woman enjoys serving delicious and nutritious meals to her household.

"She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family and portions for her female servants." (Proverbs 31:15) How many of you ladies get up before daylight to start taking care of your household? There's no virtue in laziness, as Solomon has told us again and again in the book of Proverbs. The woman in this chapter gets up and gets on with it. This is what many of us ladies do and what many of our mothers did. I remember my mother getting up every morning well before daylight to cook breakfast and to pack my dad's lunch for work and to get me ready for school. I don't ever recall her complaining about any of it. She simply did what needed to be done. I think this is a quality I most admire in other women: the determination to do what needs to be done. We won't always feel like doing everything that needs to be done. It won't always be convenient. It certainly won't always be easy. But a woman of valor will press on anyway. My mother has gone on to be with the Lord, but she used to say that willpower is one of the most important virtues a person can possess, and the older I get the more I  agree with her. Nothing much would ever get done if we all waited til we felt like doing it. We might as well get up and get on with it.

The woman of Proverbs 31 also works outside the home. "She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard." (Proverbs 31:16) She's a businesswoman. She is smart and recognizes a good deal when she sees it. She knows how to make her ventures profitable. The author tells us she does these things "out of her own earnings", which means she does her part to add to the finances of the household. We will learn tomorrow that she runs a profitable trading business and that this business earns enough to help keep the household running, plus there is enough left over for her to give to the poor.

We often make the mistake of picturing wives of ancient times doing nothing but cooking and having babies, but in reality they did so much more. We see the woman of valor in Proverbs 31 enjoying the freedom to work in the home, to work outside the home, and to volunteer in her community. Her husband is not restricting her activities. She's not the type to make rash decisions or to invest money unwisely, therefore her husband trusts her implicitly. If she thinks something is a good deal, it is a good deal. If she wants to run a trading business from home, he's all for it. He supports her goals in life just as she supports his. We see an equality in their relationship. The author will not come out and expressly say that this husband and wife are very happy together, but we know they are. As we will learn in tomorrow's study, she does everything she can to encourage him and uphold his reputation in the community. She's the woman behind the man and he knows he wouldn't be as successful as he is without her. At the same time, she knows she wouldn't be as successful as she is without him, because he encourages her to be all she can be and he takes great pride in her accomplishments. This is the portrait of a beautiful relationship, a true partnership, just as the Lord intended marriage to be.