ZECHARIAH 8-14: Chapter 8 contains stirring images of peace for the city of Zion, the presence of the elderly and of the young, full harvests and freedom from fear, festivals, worship and a compelling witness to the world (v. 23). Here we also encounter the earliest Biblical reference to the word, “Jew,” along with other contemporary uses of that word in Ezrah and Nehemiah. Related to the word for “Judean,” it seems to have come into usage with and after the Babylonian Exile.
God promises Judah security against the enemy nations (ch. 9), but true peace will come with a king, “lowly and riding on a donkey,…” through whom God “will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations (9: 9-10).” This was the very prophecy Jesus invoked, symbolically, in his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
Other Gospel-related prophecies appear, such as the one which Matthew referenced, about the thirty pieces of silver (Zech. 11:12-1;3 Mt. 27:10) and the giving of the spirit of grace and supplication by which “they will look upon the One they have pierced…and mourn (Zech. 12: 10).” According to Zechariah, they will mourn in repentance. Jesus invoked the image of the shepherd being struck and the sheep being scattered (Zech. 13: 7-8; Mt. 26:31).
Zechariah’s focus on shepherds (teachers and priests) and prophets (ch. 13) is all about God’s plan to purify the people and give them peace. Ch. 13 gives a few interesting details about the nature of divination and false prophecy at the time, that it included self-mutilation to help induce visions (13: 6). Chapter 14 continues the tradition of Ezekiel and others who foresaw a final, climactic and cataclysmic showdown in Judah between God and the hostile nations (Ez..38; Rev. 20, “Gog and Magog”). The details about the Lord’s return, and the split of the Mount of Olives, explain why many Orthodox Jewish people have sought to die and be buried in or near Jerusalem, so that they would be the nearest and first to rise again at “The Day of the Lord.” This may explain why so many widows were part of the first church in Jerusalem (Acts. 4).
The final image, of holiness and sanctification, down even to the level of cooking pots and bells on horses’ trappings, reinforces the scope and completeness of God’s coming victory. If the last verse is to be interpreted to say, “There will be no merchant in the house of the Lord in that day,” rather than “Canaanite” as some translators put it, then this too could have been part of the subtext for Jesus’ action of cleansing the temple (Mt. 21: 12-13). But let’s not lose the bigger picture of Zechariah among the details of prophecies and fulfillment: of cleansing, security and restoration for God’s people, and of victory for God.
…may not be a name so much as a title. In Hebrew, Malachi means “messenger.” Through his messenger, God confronts Israel with some very pointed questions, meant to expose their doubt, carelessness, dispirited and casual worship, rampant divorce, and the neglect of tithes, among other faults. In league with all of Israel’s other prophets, The Messenger takes the people to task for injustice, insincerity, exploitation, sorcery and magic arts, idolatry and immorality. Evidently, the Exile did not cure all these spiritual ills. He also turns the people’s attentions to the future, when God shall visit and purify the people, beginning with the priests (ch. 3), a promise that begins to find surprising fulfillment with Jesus’ cleansing of the temple (Mt. 21). Even more clarity emerges as to God’s fairness and a final reckoning, with the image of a book (3: 16-18), later known as “The Book of Life” in John’s Revelation. The promise of Elijah’s return, “before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD,” (4:5) is why many Jewish families set an empty, extra chair at the table for the Passover Seder meal, in addition to the concluding words, “Next year in Jerusalem!” Jesus saw it fulfilled with the ministry of John the Baptist (Mt. 17:13). With Malachi concludes the testimony of the Hebrew Prophets, except for John the Baptist, among whom Jesus included him.
SOME MORE THOUGHTS ON HEBREW PROPHECY:
I recently saw someone wearing a t-shirt with the words, “10-21-11; The End and the Beginning.” It referred to the latest calculations of Harold Camping of Family Radio fame as to when the world as we know it will end, and the eternal reign of Christ begins.
Bummer. I was hoping it would be today. Yesterday I hoped the same thing. Tomorrow, if I get to see it, I’ll hope the same thing again. A Bible teacher worth his or her salt would not give me five months, let alone five days, to prepare for the culmination of history. He or she would urge us to get our house in order NOW, as do all the Biblical prophets.
Given the terrible track record of all such predictions, given the fact that Jesus himself told us that even he did not know the date nor time, I can safely join millions of other Christians in asking Mr. Camping and Family Radio to just stop this nonsense. They already blew any shred of a legitimate claim to prophethood on May 21 of this year. I would also tell the young woman in the t-shirt that she does not need prophetic clothing; she is a living sign and fulfillment of Biblical prophecy, according to Zephaniah 3:12-13.
Prophets of the stature of Jeremiah, Isaiah or Zechariah tower above our moral and spiritual landscape, not only because of what they said, but because of what they paid for saying what they said. Isaiah did not die a natural death; Jeremiah was taken against his will into Egypt where he died in grief and hope; Habakkuk grieved over the coming judgment he foresaw; lament is not far from the tongues of any of the prophets. Their harps are often “tuned to mourning,” for their own sinfulness as well as that of the people. That should make us pause before we wrap ourselves in the mantle of prophecy today, point fingers declare our indignation and call down wrath on others.
But just as often the prophets spoke of hope. Not in terms of magical, wishful thinking for immunity to the laws of God, conscience and consequences, but in terms of purification and restoration after we repent from or pay for our infractions against the laws of God, conscience and consequences.
We must also know the Hebrew prophets if we are to better know and understand the life and work of the capstone to their school, Jesus, who is more than a prophet.
…gives us some glimpses of worship in the ancient Hebrew temple, for example, in verses 24-27, where the procession of worshipers, by their functions and tribes, is an image of the worshipers and tribes, and the movement of God, during the Exodus, in verses 7-8. The liturgy of Ps. 68 even includes a word from a prophet, “I will bring them from Bashan; I will bring them from the depths of the sea…….” (vv. 22-23), “Mt. Bashan” refers to the Golan Heights today, in Syria, to the north of Judah and Jerusalem. Psalm 68 may then have originally been a psalm calling upon God’s power and guidance when going into battle against enemies to the north, such as the Arameans. That would explain the militaristic language of verse 23. Yet there is also mention of Egypt (“the beast among the reeds) and Cush, modern-day Sudan and Ethiopia. So Ps. 68 may have had more liturgical applications whenever the people of God were under threat, whoever the enemy was.
Psalm 68 may also have served to celebrate annual commemorations of God “ascending,” that is, taking his throne in the temple of Zion (v. 17). The language of neighboring tribes, about their gods “riding on the storm” with the attendant blessing of rain, is borrowed, used and reinterpreted in Psalm 68, to show that God’s gift of rain is a victory over the rain and fertility gods of the neighboring nations.
Note some of the names for God, such as “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows” (v. 5), and “The One from Sinai” v. 8 and “A God who saves” (v. 20).
The application of verse 18 (“When you ascended on high, you took many captives; you received gifts from people”) to the spiritual gifts and offices of the New Testament (Eph. 4: 1-13), tells us how this Psalm speaks to an international and unarmed people, the church. Our victory, and God’s victory, is in our overcoming, by God’s gifts and power, the spiritual enemies within us and among us, that divide us and keep us enslaved to immaturity, injustice and immorality.