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Zechariah 1-3: Return to Me Print E-mail
Sunday, 14 March 2010

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One of the major themes in the minor prophets is the call to repent.  The pre-exilic prophets are continually warning Israel about impending judgment and encouraging them to turn from their sin and rebellion.  We know that the Lord did indeed judge Israel and many were carried into Exile because they ignored the warning of the prophets.  Yet, the prophets after the Exile are still calling Israel to repent and turn to the Lord.  They do not want the present to make the same mistakes that their parents and grandparents made.  They want them to learn from those mistakes and to turn and follow hard after the Lord.

The book of Zechariah begins with this call to return to the Lord.  Look at 1:1-6.  Zechariah follows on the heels of Haggai.  He too is encouraging the people to obey the Lord by rebuilding the Temple.  Thus, his first message to them from the Lord is simple: Return to me, declares the Lord of hosts.  Zechariah reminds them of the sin of the former generation.  He reminds them of God’s response to that sin: The Lord was very angry with your fathers.  He does not want them to be like their fathers.  The prophets preached to them and they ignored the warning.  They only recognized the truth after they had already been carried off to Babylon.  Zechariah points out that this is exactly what God had told them would happen.  Unfortunately, they chose not to listen until it was too late.  Zechariah does not want the present generation to ignore God’s word.  Thus, his message to them is to repent and return to the Lord.  And it is a message that comes with hope, for the Lord says that if they return to Him, He will return to them.

Israel did in fact listen to Zechariah and Haggai.  As we saw last week, they turned from their selfishness and did not act like their fathers.  They obeyed the Lord by beginning to rebuild the Temple.  Yet, as they struggled on in that labor, it seems that they grew discouraged.  Haggai reminded them that the Lord was with them and that the Temple they were building would be greater than the Temple of Solomon (see Haggai 2:1-9).  Zechariah encourages them as well.  Five months after the initial call to repentance, Zechariah records eight visions that the Lord gave him one night.  These visions make up the first six chapters of the book.  We will look at the first four this week and the last four next week, Lord willing.  God has promised to be with His people if they will return to Him.  Yet, what does it mean for the Lord to return to you?  I believe we see at least three reasons for returning to the Lord in these first four visions.  What are these reasons?

First, the Lord will judge the nations.

One concern that the people of Israel were surely struggling with was the prosperity of the nations.  It seemed as if the Lord actually favored their enemies.  Yet, the first two visions make it clear that that is not the case.  The first vision (1:7-17) involves a report from those that the Lord has sent to patrol the earth.  What do they report?  Look at 1:11.  Everything is at rest.  This seems like a good report.  Yet, again, Israel struggled with the fact that the nations who did not follow the Lord were at rest.  Even the angel responds at this point and asks how long the Lord will wait.  But the Lord answers and makes it clear that He is angry with the nations.  Look at 1:15.  It was the Lord who raised up the Assyrians and the Babylonians to punish His people.  Yet, this does not mean that they were without guilt.  He is sovereign, but they are still responsible for the way they treated Israel.  And the Lord reminds the people that their actions will not be overlooked.  He has not left Israel to side with the nations.

In the second vision, we see again that God is going to judge the nations.  Look at 1:18-19.  This vision involves four horns.  These horns represent the nations that have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.  Four is probably not the number of nations, but rather a number that points to completeness (as in four directions).  What will happen to these nations, these horns?  Look at 1:20-21.  The Lord will raise up four craftsmen who will cast down the horns of the nations.  In other words, the Lord is going to judge these nations who scattered Judah.  They may appear to be powerful and mighty, but they are no match for the Lord.  He will defeat them.  Israel can return to the Lord and continue to trust in Him because He will defeat all their enemies.

Second, the Lord will bless His people.

Not only will the Lord judge the nations, but He will prosper His people.  Even though it seems that the Lord favors the nations, He makes it clear in the first vision that Israel is still His chosen people.  Look at 1:12-14.  The Lord still loves His people.  And He is committed to their well-being.  In fact, He tells them that the Temple will in fact be rebuilt.  Look at 1:16-17.  The Lord is going to see to it that their labors in building the Temple will not be in vain.  He will bless Jerusalem (and even the surrounding cities) with prosperity.  He has not forgotten that they are His people, thus the Lord will again comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem.

In the third vision (2:1-13) we are given further details for the Lord’s blessing of Jerusalem.  This vision involves a man using a measuring line to measure the city.  This signifies that the city will be rebuilt.  Even though it lay in ruins, it would not stay that way.  Yet, it will not just be rebuilt, but the Lord tells them that it will overflow with people.  Look at 2:3-4.  The city will have so many inhabitants that it will not be able to have walls.  So then, how will it be protected?  Look at 2:5.  The Lord will be the wall of protection.  He will shield her inhabitants from the enemy.  It seems that this prophecy will not be ultimately fulfilled until the return of Christ (as we see with many of the prophecies in Zechariah).  Christ will save a people by dying for them on the cross and being raised from the dead.  These people will dwell safely and securely with Him and one day, the new Jerusalem will come and it will overflow with inhabitants.

Going on, we see that part of God’s blessing for His people is the plunder of the nations.  Look at 2:8-9.  The nations who plundered Israel will soon be plundered.  Again, I think this ultimately points to the future when the nations will bring their gifts to the Lord and His people (see Revelation 21:24-26). 

Finally, as we saw in the book of Haggai, God will bless His people with His own presence.  Look at 2:10-13.  Amazing.  God encourages the people to continue in their faithful service of building the Temple by promising that His presence would be with them.  The Lord told Israel when they first built the Tabernacle that He would dwell with them.  Now again, He promises to be with them.  And make no mistake about it, the greatest blessing the Lord can bestow upon a person or a people is His presence.  If the Lord is with you, who can be against you?  Thus, Israel needs to continue in their labors to build the Temple since the Lord promises to bless them in all of these ways. 

Third, the Lord will remove iniquity.

These blessings are tremendous, but what is the Lord going to do about Israel’s sin?  In one sense, we could say that He has already punished them with the Exile.  Yet, is there more to be done?  The fourth vision (3:1-10) deals with this question.  The vision involves Joshua, the High Priest, standing before the Lord as a representative of the people.  Look at 3:1.  Joshua stands and faces the Accuser.  Yet, before the enemy can even begin to accuse, the Lord speaks.  Look at 3:2.  The Lord reminds the enemy that Israel is His chosen people.  He has set His sovereign grace upon them and brought them through the fires of His judgments.  In light of such truth, the enemy says nothing for what can He say?  God is in control.  He is the Judge.  So then, what will the Judge do with the iniquity of Israel?  Look at 3:3-5.  What amazing grace?  The Lord removes the filthy garment that represents the sin and rebellion of Israel and replaces it with pure vestments and a clean turban.  The Lord transforms Joshua from a broken, filthy sinner to one prepared to serve in the house of God, which he would do as High Priest.  One commenter notes: “Assured of Yahweh’s favor, the community could continue their building efforts untrammeled by doubt and uncertainty.  The removal of the filthy garments silenced the accuser, making his charge baseless, because the supreme Judge has done the unthinkable: he has removed the guilt of the people by a sovereign act of grace.”   Sovereign grace conquers sin!

Yet, how could God just remove Israel’s guilt and still be holy?  This question will not be fully answered until the ministry of Christ.  Yet, it is this ministry that this fourth vision ends up pointing to.  After Joshua’s iniquity is removed, the Lord charges him to serve faithfully and obediently (just as He calls all of His redeemed people to serve).  Then He promises to send the Branch.  Look at 3:8-10.  The Lord is going to send His servant the Branch and He is going to remove the iniquity of this land in a single day.  Surely this points us to the work of Christ on the cross.  He is the righteous Branch who came to deal with sin.  He took upon Himself the filthy clothes of Joshua (and everyone else) and purchased our pardon.  Those who repent of their sins and trust in Him are now clothed in His righteousness.  God is the just justifier through Christ.

So then, we see in these visions why the people of Israel should return to the Lord and continue in obeying Him.  But what about us, why should we return to the Lord?  In short, for the same reasons.  The New Testament teaches us that the Lord will indeed judge the nations.  In fact, there is coming a day when all will be judged.  So even when we are discouraged by the prosperity of the wicked, we know the outcome if they do not repent.  Return to the Lord for judgment is coming.  Likewise, God has blessed and will continue to bless His people.  Unfortunately, this point is misunderstood by many.  They think that the Lord is going to bless them with money and comfort.  Rather, the Lord blesses us with everything we need for godliness (see Hebrews 13:20-21).  And just as He promised Israel, He blesses His new covenant people with the gift of His presence through the Holy Spirit.  He is always with us.  Return to the Lord because of His promise of blessing.  Finally, we return to the Lord because He will forgive us in Christ.  Christ as our representative took our sin upon Himself and dealt with it at the cross.  We have been clothed with His righteousness.  Return to Him, trust in Him, serve Him faithfully because of all that He has done for us by sending His servant the Branch.  Amen. 

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 23 March 2010 )

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