ZEPHANIAH 2-3: Clear in Zephaniah’s prophecy is the vision of God as Lord of all nations, and not just of Judah and Israel. The fearsome images of judgment are tempered in Chapter 3 by images of restoration and a remnant of the righteous who survive the storm of judgment. I believe that this promise of a remnant (3:12-13) along with Psalm 37, is what Jesus and his audience would have had in mind when he said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”. The meek are a humble and lowly people, who “will take refuge in the name of the LORD,” the remnant of Israel after judgment has passed, “who do no wrong, And tell no lies, Nor will a deceitful tongue be found in their mouths.” The meekness of which Jesus spoke means allying ourselves in covenant trust with him.
With Haggai we come to the post-exilic prophets, preaching for the restoration of Zion, the Temple and Judah. He is independently attested to by Ezrah (5:1 and 6:14). God spoke through Haggai to challenge the priorities of the returnees, who, for some time after their return from Babylon, did not get beyond their survival needs to rebuild the Temple, and therefore the religious life, of Zion. But this is self-defeating, God shows in 1: 5-11. They must “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Mt. 5:31) in the form of the Temple and the sacrifices, if they are to survive and thrive.
In the second oracle, in chapter 2, God encourages Zerubabel, Persian-appointed Jewish governor for Judah and Jerusalem, to proceed with the construction of the Temple, with the promise that the glory of the latter temple will exceed that of the first (2:9-10). From later Christian perspective, this promise came to fulfillment with the presentation of Christ in the temple, and with his cleansing of it, and finally, with his taking on of its roles. Once the temple construction is underway, God then promises to bless the people with abundance, rather than scarcity, and to make Zerubabbel like his “signet ring” (a sign of intimacy, power and agency), regardless of the threats of the nations. In such ways, Zerubabbel prefigures Christ.
Zechariah is another post-exilic prophet, dealing with similar times, issues and people as Haggai. Ezra attested to both Zechariah and Haggai as prophets encouraging the rebuilding of Zion and the temple. The first six chapters are arranged around eight visions that employ images and symbols we will see again in the New Testament, especially John’s Revelation. The first vision (1: 1-17) assures us of God’s knowledge and vision of all four corners of the earth, and thus of his power and authority to mete out justice to the nations, especially to those which exceeded in cruelty their mandate to discipline Judah (Babylon). The second vision (1:18-20) symbolizes God’s work of humbling and destroying the nations that oppressed his people. The third vision assures us of the way in which God cherishes his people, and will even increase their numbers beyond what the city of Zion could hold, from among the nations even (2:1-13). The fourth vision (chapter 3) concerns Joshua, the high priest. It also includes Satan, the adversary or accuser in the court of heaven, who does have a charge to lay against Joshua, perhaps related to his impurity from having lived in Babylon. But God justifies him, as God does for us, who also stand under the accusations of Satan. Joshua’s justification and installation as high priest also implies peace and justice for the land, according to the words, “under his vine and fig tree (3:9).”
The fifth vision (ch. 4) has elements that will reappear in John’s Revelation, in which Jesus, as king and high priest, combines the functions of Zerubabbel (governor) and Joshua (high priest), the two “Anointed of the Lord (4: 14). Again, the imagery is meant to encourage the rebuilding of the temple.
The sixth vision (ch. 5) calls the people to build not only a temple of stone, but a temple of righteous, faithful relationships. For the scroll of judgment is going out against perjury and theft. If it is wickedness that the people want, for that they can follow the basket with the woman, representing a deity of Babylon, back to Babylon, in the seventh vision.
In the eighth vision (ch. 6), the four chariots symbolize the omnipresence of God’s Spirit, to all four corners of the earth, where they carry out God’s judgments and promises. The crown and the Branch (6:
12) or Shoot, may apply to Zerubabbel again, but never did he, nor any other Israelite, really fulfill the role of a king until Jesus, the Shoot from the Stump of Jesse.
As the people returned from Babylon, what were they to do with some of the rituals of mourning and fasting they had developed while in Exile (chapter 7)? The answer then was as before the Exile: do not substitute ceremonialism for justice, nor ritualism for righteousness. Covenant faithfulness one toward another and toward God will be a feast to make you forget the years of exile.
PSALM 67 opens the veil on worship liturgy in the ancient Temple, with its repeated refrain, “May the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you.” (verses 3 and 5). In addition to obvious elements of worship, the Psalm touches themes of evangelism (“all the ends of the earth”) and peace, peace among nations and with Creation (“the land shall yield its fruit”), all based on righteousness, or a right relationship with God.