Monday, November 30, 2009

Reflections on Matthew 4

    Matthew 04 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert, so that the devil could test him.
  2. After Jesus had gone without eating for forty days and nights, he was very hungry.
  3. Then the devil came to him and said, "If you are God's Son, tell these stones to turn into bread."
  4. Jesus answered, "The Scriptures say: 'No one can live only on food. People need every word that God has spoken.' "
  5. Next, the devil took Jesus to the holy city and had him stand on the highest part of the temple.
  6. The devil said, "If you are God's Son, jump off. The Scriptures say: 'God will give his angels orders about you. They will catch you in their arms, and you won't hurt your feet on the stones.' "
  7. Jesus answered, "The Scriptures also say, 'Don't try to test the Lord your God!' "
  8. Finally, the devil took Jesus up on a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms on earth and their power.
  9. The devil said to him, "I will give all this to you, if you will bow down and worship me."
  10. Jesus answered, "Go away Satan! The Scriptures say: 'Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.' "
  11. Then the devil left Jesus, and angels came to help him.
  12. When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he went to Galilee.
  13. But instead of staying in Nazareth, Jesus moved to Capernaum. This town was beside Lake Galilee in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali.
  14. So God's promise came true, just as the prophet Isaiah had said,
  15. "Listen, lands of Zebulun and Naphtali, lands along the road to the sea and east of the Jordan! Listen Galilee, land of the Gentiles!
  16. Although your people live in darkness, they will see a bright light. Although they live in the shadow of death, a light will shine on them."
  17. Then Jesus started preaching, "Turn back to God! The kingdom of heaven will soon be here."
  18. While Jesus was walking along the shore of Lake Galilee, he saw two brothers. One was Simon, also known as Peter, and the other was Andrew. They were fishermen, and they were casting their net into the lake.
  19. Jesus said to them, "Come with me! I will teach you how to bring in people instead of fish."
  20. Right then the two brothers dropped their nets and went with him.
  21. Jesus walked on until he saw James and John, the sons of Zebedee. They were in a boat with their father, mending their nets. Jesus asked them to come with him too.
  22. Right away they left the boat and their father and went with Jesus.
  23. Jesus went all over Galilee, teaching in the Jewish meeting places and preaching the good news about God's kingdom. He also healed every kind of disease and sickness.
  24. News about him spread all over Syria, and people with every kind of sickness or disease were brought to him. Some of them had a lot of demons in them, others were thought to be crazy, and still others could not walk. But Jesus healed them all.
  25. Large crowds followed Jesus from Galilee and the region around the ten cities known as Decapolis. They also came from Jerusalem, Judea, and from across the Jordan River.

The first 30 years of Jesus' life established His humanity. Now, in Matthew's account, His divinity is being established. First there was His baptism by John in the previous chapter and now there is His temptation by Satan. The question that arises here is whether or not Jesus could have actually given in to the temptations and sinned. A common response is to say that if He couldn't have sinned then He wasn't fully human. On the other hand if He could have sinned He wasn't fully divine. But to come from a different perspective we might ask whether Satan was testing Jesus' humanity or His divinity. My response is that Satan was testing Jesus' divinity, for it was His divinity that was a threat to Satan. If Jesus' mission were fulfilled, Satan and death would be defeated.

Satan's temptations of Jesus followed a pattern that are characteristic of his temptations of everyone: physical appetite, personal gain, and an easy path to power. Satan's ploy is to misuse God's Word. As a side-note, we should pay attention to the use of scripture in this exchange between Satan and Jesus. Both use it, and in the process valid scripture for us. Scripture that some scholars arrogantly question as to their authenticity, are matter-of-factly used by both Jesus and Satan. But, back to Satan's temptations. Half truths are an effective ploy. Enough truth is present to gain our trust causing us not to examine the claim closely enough to catch the falsehood. In this encounter with Jesus, Satan's third and climactic temptation offered Jesus the opportunity to accomplish God's purpose for Him without the pain of the cross. It is God's plan that Jesus rule the world, and Satan is presently "the prince of this world," so it was in his power to give Jesus the kingdoms of the world. But gaining rule of the world through Satan's offer would be a very distorted fulfillment of God's plan and would not fulfill God's purpose for Jesus having rule.

Having passed the test of Satan's temptations, Jesus was ready for ministry. We should also note that Jesus' ministry did not begin until John's ministry was completed. It was upon hearing of John's arrest that Jesus withdrew into Galilee and began to minister. His message sounds very similar to that of John's, "Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near!" He wasted no time in recruiting His disciples. He had three years in which to prepare these men for the task of carrying on His ministry after He was gone. Christ's call to any of us to follow Him comes at a price. The price includes placing Christ above family, above our life's profession, and above our possessions. Christ's call to these men involved those costs. They left their profession of fishing, they left their father, and they gave up their livelihood. Jesus outlines these costs to following Him in Luke 14:26ff.

Jesus' ministry launched in a big way. It was not long before large crowds were following Him and His disciples. Jesus' took His ministry to the Jews, teaching in their synagogues. And what He taught was the "good news of the kingdom." His teaching and preaching were accompanied by His healing of "every disease and sickness among the people." His healing ministry authenticated His teaching and preaching ministry. We should be careful to keep in mind which is priority. As is human nature to do, our temptation is to focus on and settle for temporal and immediate benefits at the exclusion of deferred eternal benefits. Many a human ministry has highlighted the healing ministry to almost complete exclusion of the eternal message of good news of the kingdom. But Jesus' ministry was primarily an eternal one.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Reflections on Matthew 3

    Matthew 03 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Years later, John the Baptist started preaching in the desert of Judea.
  2. He said, "Turn back to God! The kingdom of heaven will soon be here."
  3. John was the one the prophet Isaiah was talking about, when he said, "In the desert someone is shouting, 'Get the road ready for the Lord! Make a straight path for him.' "
  4. John wore clothes made of camel's hair. He had a leather strap around his waist and ate grasshoppers and wild honey.
  5. From Jerusalem and all Judea and from the Jordan River Valley crowds of people went to John.
  6. They told how sorry they were for their sins, and he baptized them in the river.
  7. Many Pharisees and Sadducees also came to be baptized. But John said to them: You bunch of snakes! Who warned you to run from the coming judgment?
  8. Do something to show that you have really given up your sins.
  9. And don't start telling yourselves that you belong to Abraham's family. I tell you that God can turn these stones into children for Abraham.
  10. An ax is ready to cut the trees down at their roots. Any tree that doesn't produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into a fire.
  11. I baptize you with water so that you will give up your sins. But someone more powerful is going to come, and I am not good enough even to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
  12. His threshing fork is in his hand, and he is ready to separate the wheat from the husks. He will store the wheat in a barn and burn the husks in a fire that never goes out.
  13. Jesus left Galilee and went to the Jordan River to be baptized by John.
  14. But John kept objecting and said, "I ought to be baptized by you. Why have you come to me?"
  15. Jesus answered, "For now this is how it should be, because we must do all that God wants us to do." Then John agreed.
  16. So Jesus was baptized. And as soon as he came out of the water, the sky opened, and he saw the Spirit of God coming down on him like a dove.
  17. Then a voice from heaven said, "This is my own dear Son, and I am pleased with him."

Matthew suddenly takes us from Christ's birth in chapters 1 and 2 to John the Baptist in chapter 3. We have jumped some 30 years. Matthew continues to tie the events of his gospel to prophecy, pointing out the prophet Isaiah's mention of John who was to be "A voice of one crying out in the wilderness." The message he was to preach being to "Prepare the way for the Lord; make His paths straight!"

While Jesus' birth drew small-scale, though significant, attention, people flocked to John. They were more than curiosity seekers as well. Curiosity may have drawn many to John, but having heard his message, they confessed their sins and were baptized by him. The attention John received drew the Pharisees and Sadducees who, to our knowledge, had paid no attention to Jesus' birth. No doubt these men came primarily to check him out and determine if he should be permitted to continue. Given John's message of repentance and the message he gave the Pharisees and Sadducees, it becomes apparent that John was preparing the way not only for the Messiah but was ushering in a new day, a new era in God's dealings with mankind. He was announcing the approaching kingdom of heaven.

Through God's covenant with Abraham and the nation of Israel He demonstrated His desire for a personal relationship with man and that this relationship must be based in man's righteousness and faithfulness to God as the one god. This covenant with Abraham's people also demonstrated that man's relationship with God was not based on man's merit but on God's mercy and choice. It further demonstrated that man was incapable through religious practices to attain the righteousness necessary for this relationship with God. John's message of repentance introduced a new concept to the Jewish people and religious leaders of his day. The concept of repentance and the producing of fruit consistent with that repentance. Entry into this kingdom of heaven required such repentance and fruit.

John challenged the Pharisees and Sadducees to produce this fruit. He made no assumption that because of all their religiousity this fruit was present. Furthermore, John told the religious leaders not to presume their heritage as children of Abraham was sufficient or that it was appropriate fruit. In 3:10 he said to them, "Therefore every tree that doesn't produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire." This is understood as a reference to Judaism. Unless it produced fruit in keeping with repentance God was about to remove it. It was about to be cut down.

The chapter concludes with Jesus' baptism. Jesus came on the scene of John's preaching and baptizing. To all those present He would have been just another Jew coming to hear John preach. Was there a large crowd present? Were the Pharisees and Sadducees still present? We don't know. But those who were present were in store for a wondrous event. The initial exchange between Jesus and John probably made little sense to those present, but what followed no doubt got their attention. Why did Jesus allow John to baptize Him if the baptism represented repentance and Jesus had no sin of which to repent? One thought is that if Messiah were to "provide righteousness for sinners, He must be identified with sinners." (The Bible Knowledge Commentary)

Of greater significance, though, is what happened when Jesus emerged from the water. The heavens opened and He saw "the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on Him." (3:16) Then a voice from heaven said, "This is My beloved Son. I take delight in Him!" Present in this scene was the trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus was officially authenticated on that occasion and His ministry begun.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Reflections on Matthew 2

    Matthew 02 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. When Jesus was born in the village of Bethlehem in Judea, Herod was king. During this time some wise men from the east came to Jerusalem
  2. and said, "Where is the child born to be king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."
  3. When King Herod heard about this, he was worried, and so was everyone else in Jerusalem.
  4. Herod brought together the chief priests and the teachers of the Law of Moses and asked them, "Where will the Messiah be born?"
  5. They told him, "He will be born in Bethlehem, just as the prophet wrote,
  6. 'Bethlehem in the land of Judea, you are very important among the towns of Judea. From your town will come a leader, who will be like a shepherd for my people Israel.' "
  7. Herod secretly called in the wise men and asked them when they had first seen the star.
  8. He told them, "Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, let me know. I want to go and worship him too."
  9. The wise men listened to what the king said and then left. And the star they had seen in the east went on ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.
  10. They were thrilled and excited to see the star.
  11. When the men went into the house and saw the child with Mary, his mother, they knelt down and worshiped him. They took out their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh and gave them to him.
  12. Later they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, and they went back home by another road.
  13. After the wise men had gone, an angel from the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up! Hurry and take the child and his mother to Egypt! Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is looking for the child and wants to kill him."
  14. That night, Joseph got up and took his wife and the child to Egypt,
  15. where they stayed until Herod died. So the Lord's promise came true, just as the prophet had said, "I called my son out of Egypt."
  16. When Herod found out that the wise men from the east had tricked him, he was very angry. He gave orders for his men to kill all the boys who lived in or near Bethlehem and were two years old and younger. This was based on what he had learned from the wise men.
  17. So the Lord's promise came true, just as the prophet Jeremiah had said,
  18. "In Ramah a voice was heard crying and weeping loudly. Rachel was mourning for her children, and she refused to be comforted, because they were dead."
  19. After King Herod died, an angel from the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph while he was still in Egypt.
  20. The angel said, "Get up and take the child and his mother back to Israel. The people who wanted to kill him are now dead."
  21. Joseph got up and left with them for Israel.
  22. But when he heard that Herod's son Archelaus was now ruler of Judea, he was afraid to go there. Then in a dream he was told to go to Galilee,
  23. and they went to live there in the town of Nazareth. So the Lord's promise came true, just as the prophet had said, "He will be called a Nazarene."

The wondrous events surrounding Jesus' birth did not end when He was born. Prior to His birth we would include in the 'wondrous events' the appearance of angels to both Mary and Joseph, Mary's immaculate concept, along with the appearance of angels and shepherds on the night of His birth. Now we have the appearance of wise men, or Magi who were directed by a star. What kind of star is it that one can follow to a precise point? Whatever it was, it was not likely a star high in the heavens, but rather a manifestation of some sort at a lower altitude, and definitely a 'wondrous event.'

How did the Magi connect the star to the King of the Jews? That was another wondrous event, for they must have had a special revelation to have made the connection. When the Magi inquired of Herod concerning this King of the Jews, what caused Herod to connect this to the Messiah? This may well be numbered among the wondrous events. Another occurrence, or maybe I should say lack of occurrence, that might be counted a wondrous event was the failure by any Jewish leader to appear in Bethlehem curious about this unusual birth. The appearance of the magi is thought to have been about two years after Christ's birth. By this time it would seem that word would have gotten around about the birth in Bethlehem. We know shepherds witnessed the birth. Did they not pass word of the birth? Were the citizens of Bethlehem not aware of angels and lights, etc. on the night of the birth? Then, two years later, there was the appearance of the Magi which disturbed not only Herod but "all Jerusalem," followed by Herod's strange inquiry of the chief priests and scribes concerning the Messiah. Should not all of this have aroused some interest or curiosity on the part of the chief priests and scribes? And yet, to our knowledge, no Jewish religious leaders came on the scene in Bethlehem in connection with Jesus' birth. This seems to me to be intentional on God's part.

Following the visit of the Magi they were directed in a dream not to go back to Herod, and Joseph was directed in a dream to take his family to Egypt. The wondrous events continue. How did Herod's killing of the young boys fit in? We know it was a fulfillment of prophecy, but what was its purpose? Whatever its purpose, it should have been another factor to gain the attention of the chief priests. The wondrous events continue following the death of Herod. How old must Jesus have been by this time? Joseph was directed in a third dream to return to Israel. As the family returned to Israel, a fourth dream directed Joseph not to make their home in the region of Judea but to go to the more remote area of Nazareth in Galilee. This, too, was a fulfillment of prophecy.

The signs were there for the spiritually attuned to be aware that God was up to something in relation to Christ's birth. Might we be better prepared for life's occurrences, big and small, if we are closely attuned to God and what He desires to reveal to us?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Reflections on Matthew 1

    Matthew 01 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Jesus Christ came from the family of King David and also from the family of Abraham. And this is a list of his ancestors.
  2. From Abraham to King David, his ancestors were: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah and his brothers (Judah's sons were Perez and Zerah, and their mother was Tamar), Hezron; Ram, Amminadab, Nahshon, Salmon, Boaz (his mother was Rahab), Obed (his mother was Ruth), Jesse, and King David.
  3. (SEE 1:2)
  4. (SEE 1:2)
  5. (SEE 1:2)
  6. From David to the time of the exile in Babylonia, the ancestors of Jesus were: David, Solomon (his mother had been Uriah's wife), Rehoboam, Abijah, Asa, Jehoshaphat, Jehoram; Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, Manasseh, Amon, Josiah, and Jehoiachin and his brothers.
  7. (SEE 1:6)
  8. (SEE 1:6)
  9. (SEE 1:6)
  10. (SEE 1:6)
  11. (SEE 1:6)
  12. From the exile to the birth of Jesus, his ancestors were: Jehoiachin, Shealtiel, Zerubbabel, Abiud, Eliakim, Azor, Zadok, Achim; Eliud, Eleazar, Matthan, Jacob, and Joseph, the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus, who is called the Messiah.
  13. (SEE 1:12)
  14. (SEE 1:12)
  15. (SEE 1:12)
  16. (SEE 1:12)
  17. There were fourteen generations from Abraham to David. There were also fourteen from David to the exile in Babylonia and fourteen more to the birth of the Messiah.
  18. This is how Jesus Christ was born. A young woman named Mary was engaged to Joseph from King David's family. But before they were married, she learned that she was going to have a baby by God's Holy Spirit.
  19. Joseph was a good man and did not want to embarrass Mary in front of everyone. So he decided to quietly call off the wedding.
  20. While Joseph was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord came to him in a dream. The angel said, "Joseph, the baby that Mary will have is from the Holy Spirit. Go ahead and marry her.
  21. Then after her baby is born, name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."
  22. So the Lord's promise came true, just as the prophet had said,
  23. "A virgin will have a baby boy, and he will be called Immanuel," which means "God is with us."
  24. After Joseph woke up, he and Mary were soon married, just as the Lord's angel had told him to do.
  25. But they did not sleep together before her baby was born. Then Joseph named him Jesus.

History just seems to happen without reason or rhyme. We live one day after another and life goes on without any seeming purpose or plan. This, of course, is how many see life, even how they see creation. It just happened! But these first two chapters of Matthew make it clear that behind it all is a Great Planner. The lineage from which Jesus was born - all planned. The location of His birth - planned. The appearance of the magi which also caused the death of many boy babies - all planned, as was also the escape of Jesus' family into Egypt and then resettling later in Nazareth. None of it was by accident. Why was it planned that way? That part we do not know, nor does it matter. All that matters is that God planned it and carried it out, and it was good.

Matthew's account of the birth of Christ came some 500 years after the last prophetic mention of His coming by Malachi. Matthew begins his account by establishing for Jewish readers that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah through a trace of His lineage. This lineage began with Abraham and traces through three periods of 14 generations each: Abraham to David, David to the Babylonian exile, and the exile to the birth of Christ. Each period would be of approximately 500 years. The purpose of Matthew's lineage was to establish Christ's royal line from David, thus showing Him to be legal heir to the throne.

Normally the task of tracing a lineage of such significance would have fallen on the temple scribes, but by the time Matthew wrote his account the scribes had a compelling interest in Christ NOT being the Messiah. They had crucified Him! So why didn't they check it out before they crucified Him? Did not word get to the religious leaders concerning the unusual events surrounding Jesus' birth? Should not these events have peaked their interest in checking the records and the prophecies? As we will see in the next chapter of Matthew's account the inquiries of the wise men should seemingly have aroused the interest of the chief priests and scribes who told Herod, at the inquiry of the wise men, that the Messiah would be born in "Bethlehem of Judea." But why did Herod ask about the Messiah? Did he know of the prophesied Jewish Messiah? Did he know of the connection between the Messiah and the "King of the Jews" about whom the wise men asked? Many questions, but the only answer we can give is that this was God's plan.

Following the lineage, Matthew gives the incredible account of Mary and Joseph's role as parents of the Messiah. This account establishes for us Christ's virgin birth, which is incredible in itself. Although Mary and Joseph fulfilled a role they had been destined to fulfill, let's not presume them to be puppets. They could freely choose their response to the circumstances in which they found themselves the same as we can and do. They were evidently individuals who had hearts of obedience to the Lord. Nor should we underestimate the pressures they were under to make the choices they did. Their choices were contrary to tradition which can apply overwhelming pressure. And Mary's pregnancy before marriage was an infringement of the law of Moses, punishable by death. Mary was very much at Joseph's mercy, and Joseph acted with both honor and courage. He and Mary both must have been extremely criticized. But to what extent they were criticized we cannot be certain without knowing the extend to which Mary's pregnancy was public knowledge.

Joseph's visit by an angel confirmed his lineage as a "son of David," and thus in line to be the father of the Messiah (even though he was not the physical father), and the angel divulged God's plan that Joseph should follow. As for assumptions, neither should we assume that God only reveals His plans on such momentous occasions. He is ready and willing to reveal His plans to each of us on any occasion if we will inquire and pay attention.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Reflections on Malachi 4

    Malachi 04 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. The day of judgment is certain to come. And it will be like a red-hot furnace with flames that burn up proud and sinful people, as though they were straw. Not a branch or a root will be left. I, the LORD All-Powerful, have spoken!
  2. But for you that honor my name, victory will shine like the sun with healing in its rays, and you will jump around like calves at play.
  3. When I come to bring justice, you will trample those who are evil, as though they were ashes under your feet. I, the LORD All-Powerful, have spoken!
  4. Don't ever forget the laws and teachings I gave my servant Moses on Mount Sinai.
  5. I, the LORD, promise to send the prophet Elijah before that great and terrible day comes.
  6. He will lead children and parents to love each other more, so that when I come, I won't bring doom to the land.

Malachi concludes with a foretelling of the "great and awesome Day of the LORD." This day is at the time of Christ's Second Advent, and is a time when the wicked will be destroyed. But for those who look to Christ, there will be joy. The wicked will no longer be a threat to the Christ followers but will instead be ashes under their feet. At the conclusion of chapter 3 the Israelites were charged with saying harsh things against the Lord, claiming there was nothing gained by keeping His requirements. The wicked were actually better off, they said, since they prospered in their wickedness and escaped His judgment. Then 3:18 says, "So you will again see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him." On the Day of the Lord that difference between the righteous and wicked will be apparent.

Why would one choose to follow God and serve Him? Why should we desire to be obedient to His commands and follow His leading in our lives? Many answer that question, in their actions at least, by saying, "it is that I might prosper." Their attitude is, "If I am not prosperous and life is not without its problems there is no reason to even think about God or to serve Him." But such an approach to life is like a blind person walking around without guidance at risk of falling into a hole or bumping into something. Only God sees the future from the present and knows what lies ahead. Only God really knows what will make our lives worthwhile. Why should we not seek His guidance for life? Besides, God made us and provides everything we have. Why would we not want to serve Him out of gratitude if for no other reason?

Malachi's closing comments are an exhortation to "Remember the instruction of Moses My servant, the statutes and ordinances I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel." In preparation for the Day of the Lord God will send Elijah the prophet to bring reform among the people that they might again adhere to the Law of Moses. But if reform does not result, the Lord "will come and strike the land with a curse."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Reflections on Malachi 3

    Malachi 03 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. I, the LORD All-Powerful, will send my messenger to prepare the way for me. Then suddenly the Lord you are looking for will appear in his temple. The messenger you desire is coming with my promise, and he is on his way.
  2. On the day the Lord comes, he will be like a furnace that purifies silver or like strong soap in a washbasin. No one will be able to stand up to him.
  3. The LORD will purify the descendants of Levi, as though they were gold or silver. Then they will bring the proper offerings to the LORD,
  4. and the offerings of the people of Judah and Jerusalem will please him, just as they did in the past.
  5. The LORD All-Powerful said: I'm now on my way to judge you. And I will quickly condemn all who practice witchcraft or cheat in marriage or tell lies in court or rob workers of their pay or mistreat widows and orphans or steal the property of foreigners or refuse to respect me.
  6. Descendants of Jacob, I am the LORD All-Powerful, and I never change. That's why you haven't been wiped out,
  7. even though you have ignored and disobeyed my laws ever since the time of your ancestors. But if you return to me, I will return to you. And yet you ask, "How can we return?"
  8. You people are robbing me, your God. And, here you are, asking, "How are we robbing you?" You are robbing me of the offerings and of the ten percent that belongs to me.
  9. That's why your whole nation is under a curse.
  10. I am the LORD All-Powerful, and I challenge you to put me to the test. Bring the entire ten percent into the storehouse, so there will be food in my house. Then I will open the windows of heaven and flood you with blessing after blessing.
  11. I will also stop locusts from destroying your crops and keeping your vineyards from producing.
  12. Everyone of every nation will talk about how I have blessed you and about your wonderful land. I, the LORD All-Powerful, have spoken!
  13. You have said horrible things about me, and yet you ask, "What have we said?"
  14. Here is what you have said: "It's foolish to serve the LORD God All-Powerful. What do we get for obeying him and from going around looking sad?
  15. See how happy those arrogant people are. Everyone who does wrong is successful, and when they put God to the test, they always get away with it."
  16. All those who truly respected the LORD and honored his name started discussing these things, and when God saw what was happening, he had their names written as a reminder in his book.
  17. Then the LORD All-Powerful said: You people are precious to me, and when I come to bring justice, I will protect you, just as parents protect an obedient child.
  18. Then everyone will once again see the difference between those who obey me by doing right and those who reject me by doing wrong.

The first five verses of this 3rd chapter move rapidly across time. Verse one speaks of God's messenger who will be sent to "clear the way before Me." Following the messenger will come the "the Lord you seek." This is all thought to be a reference to John the Baptist who cleared or prepared the way for Jesus who is the "Lord you seek" who "will suddenly come to His temple." Thus we have here a reference to Christ's First Advent. The following verses, however, jump to Christ's Second Advent when He will come in judgment like a "refiner's fire." Verse 5 gives a whole litany of those against whom He will bring judgment.

God made a covenant with Israel and to their good fortune He had not changed from it, otherwise He would have already destroyed them. He had withdrawn His blessings and had sent enemies against them to punish them and sent them into exile, but He had not destroyed them. Now, in verse 7, God tells Israel that if she will but return to Him He will also return to her. But the question is, how can Israel return to God? God's answer to that question is for them to stop robbing Him. And, of course, the next question is, "How do we rob You?" They were robbing Him by withholding the tithe and the offerings from Him. God challenged them to test Him on this. He challenged them to bring to the temple the full tithe and see if He wouldn't pour out on them a blessing without measure. He would bless them so abundantly that other nations would notice and consider them fortunate.

The chapter concludes with another charge against Israel - they were speaking harshly against God. What were they saying against Him? That it was useless to serve Him. They asked what they had gained by keeping God's requirements and being mournful over their sins. Had they truly kept God's requirements and repented of their sin they might be justified in these charges, but as with any of us who play at religion hoping to receive God's special favor but who don't genuinely seek God, they were trying to make the rules. They were expecting God to play by their rules instead of the other way around. And though they claimed to be keeping God's requirements, they were only keeping those that this wished to keep.

Because of this attitude that they hadn't gained anything by keeping God's requirements, they concluded the wicked were better off. The wicked seemed to test God and escape. If that was what they thought, then God was going to show them "the difference between the righteous and the wicked." He was going to keep a "book of remembrance" of those who truly feared Him and had high regard for His name. He would remember them and bless them and then the people would "see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him."

Monday, November 23, 2009

Reflections on Malachi 2

    Malachi 02 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. I, the LORD All-Powerful, have something else to say to you priests.
  2. You had better take seriously the need to honor my name. Otherwise, when you give a blessing, I will turn it into a curse. In fact, I have already done this, because you haven't taken to heart your duties as priests.
  3. I will punish your descendants and rub your faces in the manure from your animal sacrifices, and then be done with you.
  4. I am telling you this, so I can continue to keep my agreement with your ancestor Levi.
  5. I blessed him with a full life, as I had promised, and he kept his part of the agreement by honoring me and respecting my name.
  6. He taught the truth and never told lies, and he led a lot of people to turn from sin, because he obeyed me and lived right.
  7. You priests should be eager to spread knowledge, and everyone should come to you for instruction, because you speak for me, the LORD All-Powerful.
  8. But you have turned your backs on me. Your teachings have led others to do sinful things, and you have broken the agreement I made with your ancestor Levi.
  9. So I caused everyone to hate and despise you, because you disobeyed me and failed to treat all people alike.
  10. Don't you know that we all have God as our Father? Didn't the one God create each of us? Then why do you cheat each other by breaking the agreement God made with your ancestors?
  11. You people in Judah and Jerusalem have been unfaithful to the LORD. You have disgraced the temple that he loves, and you have committed the disgusting sin of worshiping other gods.
  12. I pray that the LORD will no longer let those who are guilty belong to his people, even if they eagerly decide to offer the LORD a gift.
  13. And what else are you doing? You cry noisily and flood the LORD's altar with your tears, because he isn't pleased with your offerings and refuses to accept them.
  14. And why isn't God pleased? It's because he knows that each of you men has been unfaithful to the wife you married when you were young. You promised that she would be your partner, but now you have broken that promise.
  15. Didn't God create you to become like one person with your wife? And why did he do this? It was so you would have children, and then lead them to become God's people. Don't ever be unfaithful to your wife.
  16. The LORD God All-Powerful of Israel hates anyone who is cruel enough to divorce his wife. So take care never to be unfaithful!
  17. You have worn out the LORD with your words. And yet, you ask, "How did we do that?" You did it by saying, "The LORD is pleased with evil and doesn't care about justice."

In the previous chapter the charge was brought against Israel and Judah that they dishonored God by going through the motions of worship, considering it to be a nuisance, and thus dishonoring God. Their attitude may have been driven from their thinking that God didn't love them, which they assumed to be the case because of their exile and persecution. But in this thinking they had completely missed the point of their exile. They caused the exile, not God. It was their turning from God to idols and their injustice and wickedness that caused the exile. Now that they were beyond the exile and were rebuilding their lives back in their homeland, they were blaming God and doing no better in honoring or worshiping Him.

Malachi begins chapter two with a charge and a warning against the priests. The charge was that they were not giving the people true instruction in the law, nor were they honoring God. We already know from chapter 1 they were offering before God sacrifices that were unacceptable. And since they were not giving true instruction to the people they were causing them to stumble. Because of these practices and failures, they were warned that unless they began to honor God and to properly instruct the people they would be removed from their positions as priests. The blessings they gave the people would turn into curses and they would be despised and humiliated before the people.

Beginning with verse 10 another charge is brought. This one is against the people but is undoubtedly a result of the priest's failure to give true instruction of the law. They were charged with marrying the daughters of idol worshipers. The Israelites were forbidden by the law to marry pagan wives. One reason for this prohibition was to keep them from sinking into idol worship themselves. Another reason was to keep the blood lines pure. To this point following the exile, no charge had been brought against Israel for worshiping idols. But they were headed in that direction by marrying these pagan wives. Not only were they marrying these pagan wives, they were divorcing their Jewish wives to do so. They were doubly charged. Malachi made it clear that God considered such divorce to be a treacherous act against the wife of their youth, and that by doing so they were covering their garments with injustice.

Furthermore, the Lord was wearied by their words. While they were doing these things they were making themselves feel good by proclaiming that they were doing good in the Lord's sight. They were even questioning, "Where is the God of justice?" They were acting unjust but were accusing God of injustice. This is very common practice that results from turning away from God. A practice that is prevalent today. We turn values upside down. As long as we seek God and His teachings we have a clear understanding of what is just and what is right. But when we turn from God's values we make up our own values and then charge God with injustice when He does not observe our set of values.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Reflections on Malachi 1

    Malachi 01 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. I am Malachi. And this is the message that the LORD gave me for Israel.
  2. Israel, I, the LORD, have loved you. And yet you ask in what way have I loved you. Don't forget that Esau was the brother of your ancestor Jacob, but I chose Jacob
  3. instead of Esau. And I turned Esau's hill country into a barren desert where jackals roam.
  4. Esau's descendants may say, "Although our nation Edom is in ruins, we will rebuild." But I, the LORD All-Powerful, promise to tear down whatever they build. Then everyone will know that I will never stop being angry with them as long as they are so sinful.
  5. Israel, when you see this, you will shout, "The LORD's great reputation reaches beyond our borders."
  6. I, the LORD All-Powerful, have something to say to you priests. Children respect their fathers, and servants respect their masters. I am your father and your master, so why don't you respect me? You priests have insulted me, and now you ask, "How did we insult you?"
  7. You embarrass me by offering worthless food on my altar. Then you ask, "How have we embarrassed you?" You have done it by saying, "What's so great about the LORD's altar?"
  8. But isn't it wrong to offer animals that are blind, crippled, or sick? Just try giving those animals to your governor. That certainly wouldn't please him or make him want to help you.
  9. I am the LORD God All-Powerful, and you had better try to please me. You have sinned. Now see if I will have mercy on any of you.
  10. I wish someone would lock the doors of my temple, so you would stop wasting time building fires on my altar. I am not pleased with you priests, and I refuse to accept any more of your offerings.
  11. From dawn until dusk my name is praised by every nation on this earth, as they burn incense and offer the proper sacrifices to me.
  12. But even you priests insult me by saying, "There's nothing special about the LORD's altar, and these sacrifices are worthless."
  13. You get so disgusted that you even make vulgar signs at me. And for an offering, you bring stolen animals or those that are crippled or sick. Should I accept these?
  14. Instead of offering the acceptable animals you have promised, you bring me those that are unhealthy. I will punish you for this, because I am the great King, the LORD All-Powerful, and I am worshiped by nations everywhere.

The previous two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, addressed a remnant of Israel that had just returned to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon. The relationship of these people to God was more a heritage than a reality. They were attempting to rebuild and return their homeland to some semblance of its former state but had little interest in rebuilding the temple and restoring their relationship with God. Haggai encouraged them to get at the task of rebuilding the temple and thus rebuilding their relationship with God. He held before them their covenant relationship with God and projected into the future to what God yet intended to do through her. Zechariah picked up where Haggai left off attempting to restore hope for this people by painting a picture of God's plans to give them a Messiah who would eventually reign over all the nations and bring worldwide peace.

Here, now, is Malachi who comes on the scene some 100 years later and little has changed for Israel. Yes, the temple has been rebuilt as has the wall and much of Jerusalem, but they are still under the rule of Persia and are angry with God over what they consider to be their hopeless plight. As is so often the case, they have the cause and affect of their situation reversed. They blamed God for their situation and were angry with Him because of it and thus were not just going through the motions of worship, but were actually desecrating it. But in reality their situation was due to their own sins. A covenant relationship with covenant rewards and blessings requires faithfulness to the covenant by both parties. God had been faithful to Israel but Israel had not been faithful to Him. Therein lay the problem. But it seems to be one of the quirks of human nature to blame God for whatever goes wrong, overlooking our part in it, while crediting ourselves for whatever goes right, overlooking God's part in it.

Malachi addresses this blame-game from the beginning of his prophecy. In their blame of God for their situation Israel had asked the question, "How has God loved us?" In response to that question, God, through Malachi, went back to Israel's roots. God chose their forefather, Jacob, to bless over his twin brother Esau. Since Esau came out of the womb first, making him the elder, by tradition he should have been chosen for the blessing. But God chose Jacob instead. It was not based on tradition or on merit. God simply chose to bless Jacob and his descendants. As for Esau, everything he did came to ruin. The unspoken message here to Israel is, "That could have been you." But it wasn't. God chose to bless Israel and was faithful to do so for nearly 1,000 years. But now Israel has come on hard times due to her rejection of the One who blessed her and she is asking, "How have You loved us?"

Next, Malachi moves on to Israel's dishonor of God. If God is their father, where is the honor? In all cultures a son honors his father and a servant his master, but where is Israel's honor of God their father? Rather than honor Him they have despised him. But Israel dares to ask, "How have we despised Your name?" And the answer is, "By presenting defiled food on My altar." Instead of bringing the best they have to offer to God, they bring their rejects, animals that are blind and lame and sick. Animals they would otherwise discard. That is what they offer the Lord. Their discards. Despite this treatment of God, they ask for His favor. God's response to this was to say, "I wish one of you would shut the temple doors, so you would no longer kindle a useless fire on My altar! I am not pleased with you," says the LORD of Hosts, "and I will accept no offering from your hands." Their worship was useless. In fact, it was not worship at all. Worship is aimed at honoring and giving praise to the one who is the object of that worship. But through the rituals they called worship they were actually dishonoring God who was the intended recipient of these actions. For all the good their so-called worship was doing, they may as well have shut up the temple and quit.

In the concluding verses of the chapter God says to them in effect, you consider worship to me a nuisance and scorn it with stolen and sick animals, but My name will be great among the nations. "Incense and pure offerings will be presented in My name in every place." Implied in these statements of verse 11 was that God would be honored in every place except in Israel. The undertone of this message brings a warning for Israel if she persists in this attitude.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Reflections on Zechariah 14

    Zechariah 14 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. The LORD will have his day. And when it comes, everything that was ever taken from Jerusalem will be returned and divided among its people.
  2. But first, he will bring many nations to attack Jerusalem--homes will be robbed, women raped, and half of the population dragged off, though the others will be allowed to remain.
  3. The LORD will attack those nations like a warrior fighting in battle.
  4. He will take his stand on the Mount of Olives east of Jerusalem, and the mountain will split in half, forming a wide valley that runs from east to west.
  5. Then you people will escape from the LORD's mountain, through this valley, which reaches to Azal. You will run in all directions, just as everyone did when the earthquake struck in the time of King Uzziah of Judah. Afterwards, the LORD my God will appear with his holy angels.
  6. It will be a bright day that won't turn cloudy.
  7. And the LORD has decided when it will happen--this time of unending day.
  8. In both summer and winter, life-giving streams will flow from Jerusalem, half of them to the Dead Sea in the east and half to the Mediterranean Sea in the west.
  9. Then there will be only one LORD who rules as King and whose name is worshiped everywhere on earth.
  10. From Geba down to Rimmon south of Jerusalem, the entire country will be turned into flatlands, with Jerusalem still towering above. Then the city will be full of people, from Benjamin Gate, Old Gate Place, and Hananel Tower in the northeast part of the city over to Corner Gate in the northwest and down to King's Wine Press in the south. Jerusalem will always be secure and will never again be destroyed.
  11. (SEE 14:10)
  12. Here is what the LORD will do to those who attack Jerusalem: While they are standing there, he will make their flesh rot and their eyes fall from their sockets and their tongues drop out.
  13. The LORD will make them go into a frenzy and start attacking each other,
  14. until even the people of Judah turn against those in Jerusalem. This same terrible disaster will also strike every animal nearby, including horses, mules, camels, and donkeys. Finally, everything of value in the surrounding nations will be collected and brought to Jerusalem--gold, silver, and piles of clothing.
  15. (SEE 14:14)
  16. Afterwards, the survivors from those nations that attacked Jerusalem will go there each year to worship the King, the LORD All-Powerful, and to celebrate the Festival of Shelters.
  17. No rain will fall on the land of anyone in any country who refuses to go to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD All-Powerful.
  18. This horrible disaster will strike the Egyptians and everyone else who refuses to go there for the celebration.
  19. (SEE 14:18)
  20. At that time the words "Dedicated to the LORD" will be engraved on the bells worn by horses. In fact, every ordinary cooking pot in Jerusalem will be just as sacred to the LORD All-Powerful as the bowls used at the altar. Any one of them will be acceptable for boiling the meat of sacrificed animals, and there will no longer be a need to sell special pots and bowls.
  21. (SEE 14:20)

Zechariah's prophecy culminates in the great "day of the Lord." In this last chapter of the book we have one of the most detailed descriptions of Christ's millennial reign given in scripture. The chapter begins with the bringing of Gentile nations in battle against Jerusalem. This is thought to be just prior to the events of chapter 12. Here the Lord brings the nations against Jerusalem in what may be the so-called Battle of Armageddon which happens during the Tribulation. The nations are being victorious, dividing plunder from the city among themselves as the inhabitants watch. They will take half of the city into exile, leaving the rest there. Just when it seems that all is lost for Jerusalem, there is a sudden turn. The Lord goes "out to fight against those nations." (verse 3) This is the point of the battle described in chapter 12.

Beginning with verse 3 of this 14th chapter, the tables have turned. The Lord is leading the battle against the gathered nations from His position on the Mount of Olives. His means of turning the battle against the attacking armies is an earthquake that splits the Mount of Olives in half, "forming a huge valley, so that half the mountain will move to the north and half to the south." In orchestration with the earthquake there will be darkness caused by an absence or diminishing of sunlight and moonlight. There is a familiarity about these events that reminds one of the day of Christ's crucifixion. On this day the whole world order will change. "On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half of it toward the eastern sea and the other half toward the western sea, in summer and winter alike. On that day Yahweh will become king over all the earth--Yahweh alone, and His name alone." (verses 8-9) This day, with the new world order it brings, will come peace to the people of Jerusalem. They "will live there, and never again will there be a curse of destruction. So Jerusalem will dwell in security."

Meanwhile, the armies that warred against Jerusalem will be struck - both man and beast - with a plague causing their flesh to rot. This will be accompanied by a great panic that will turn man against man within the armies. Then the inhabitants of Jerusalem will gather the plunder of these armies, much of which was probably what the armies had just gathered from these inhabitants.

With the destruction of the armies that warred against Jerusalem, all becomes calm. Then the survivors from all nations will worship the Messiah in Jerusalem. Those who do not go to worship the Messiah will go without rain. No longer will the Lord tolerate any rival worship of other gods or idols. No longer will people be allowed to credit inanimate objects with what God has done!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Reflections on Zechariah 13

    Zechariah 13 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. In the future there will be a fountain, where David's descendants and the people of Jerusalem can wash away their sin and guilt.
  2. The LORD All-Powerful says: When that time comes, I will get rid of every idol in the country, and they will be forgotten forever. I will also do away with their prophets and those evil spirits that control them.
  3. If any such prophets ever appear again, their own parents must warn them that they will die for telling lies in my name--the name of the LORD. If those prophets don't stop speaking, their parents must then kill them with a sword.
  4. Those prophets will be ashamed of their so-called visions, and they won't deceive anyone by dressing like a true prophet.
  5. Instead, they will say, "I'm no prophet. I've been a farmer all my life."
  6. And if any of them are asked why they are wounded, they will answer, "It happened at the house of some friends."
  7. The LORD All-Powerful said: My sword, wake up! Attack my shepherd and friend. Strike down the shepherd! Scatter the little sheep, and I will destroy them.
  8. Nowhere in the land will more than a third of them be left alive.
  9. Then I will purify them and put them to the test, just as gold and silver are purified and tested. They will pray in my name, and I will answer them. I will say, "You are my people," and they will reply, "You, LORD, are our God!"

The oracle begun in chapter 12 continues into chapter 13. Toward the end of chapter 12 the people of Judah and Israel at Christ's Second Advent came to repentance over their rejection of the Messiah after seeing Him fight for them when all the nations surrounded Jerusalem to destroy them. Now, in chapter 13, there is a purifying of the people from their idolatry. Leading up to Christ's Second Advent there is thought to be a period of tribulation during which time people will worship a beast in the Lord's temple. It is cleansing from this idolatry and other related idolatry that may be particularly in mind here.

Along with the cleansing from idolatry will be a removal of false prophets. This comes also with the removal of "the unclean spirit from the land." It would seem the two go together. Deuteronomy prescribes the death penalty for false prophets and that seems to come into play here where the closest of kin, the parents, enforce this law. Verse 3 says of the false prophet, "His father and his mother who bore him will say to him: You cannot remain alive because you have spoken falsely in the name of the LORD." Actually, verse 2 says, "I will remove the prophets," as if all prophets will be removed. But then, at Christ's Second Advent there will be no need for prophecy and it may be that any prophet will be a false prophet. The attitude at that time will be so strong against prophecy that no one will want to even have the appearance of a prophet.

Verses 7-9 seem to move backward in time to Christ's First Advent. Verse 7 speaks of the Lord striking His shepherd which may be a reference to Christ's crucifixion. Following this striking of the shepherd the sheep, Israel, will be scattered and the Lord will turn His hand against them. This is thought to refer to events following Christ's crucifixion on up to His Second Advent. During this intervening period Israel will be scattered, two-thirds will be cut off and die, and a third will be left. This remaining third will be purified by fire as silver and gold are refined.

It is difficult with the jumping around of time periods and events to get a concise picture of events, but if we unite this scenario with the conclusion of chapter 12 and the opening of this 13th chapter it may be this remaining one-third of Israel that is present at Christ's Second Advent when Jerusalem is surrounded by all the nations and Israel is delivered by the Messiah and mourns over their previous rejection of Him. It is even possible that the siege of Jerusalem is a part of this trial by fire that purifies the people.

From the time of the Lord's covenant with Abraham He envisioned the time when Israel would "call on My name, and I will answer them. I will say: They are My people, and they will say: The LORD is our God." Although there were glimpses of this during the Old Testament period, they were short glimpses. But following Christ's Second Advent and the purifying of Israel by fire and her mourning over her rejection of the Messiah at His First Advent, God's vision for Israel may finally be fulfilled.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Reflections on Zechariah 12

    Zechariah 12 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. This is a message from the LORD about Israel: I am the LORD! I stretched out the heavens; I put the earth on its foundations and gave breath to humans.
  2. I have decided that Jerusalem will become a bowl of wine that makes the neighboring nations drunk. And when Jerusalem is attacked, Judah will also be attacked.
  3. But I will turn Jerusalem into a heavy stone that crushes anyone who tries to lift it. When all nations on earth surround Jerusalem,
  4. I will make every horse panic and every rider confused. But at the same time, I will watch over Judah.
  5. Then every clan in Judah will realize that I, the LORD All-Powerful, am their God, and that I am the source of their strength.
  6. At that time I will let the clans of Judah be like a ball of fire in a wood pile or a fiery torch in a hay stack. Then Judah will send the surrounding nations up in smoke. And once again the city of Jerusalem will be filled with people.
  7. But I will first give victory to Judah, so the kingdom of David and the city of Jerusalem in all of their glory won't be thought of more highly than Judah itself.
  8. I, the LORD God, will protect Jerusalem. Even the weakest person there will be as strong as David, and David's kingdom will rule as though my very own angel were its leader.
  9. I am determined to wipe out every nation that attacks Jerusalem.
  10. I, the LORD, will make the descendants of David and the people of Jerusalem feel deep sorrow and pray when they see the one they pierced with a spear. They will mourn and weep for him, as parents weep over the death of their only child or their first-born.
  11. On that day the people of Jerusalem will mourn as much as everyone did for Hadad Rimmon on the flatlands near Megiddo.
  12. Everyone of each family in the land will mourn, and the men will mourn separately from the women. This includes those from the family of David, and the families of Nathan,
  13. Levi, Shimei,
  14. and all other families as well.

Chapters 12-14 comprise another of Zechariah's Oracles concerning Israel and center in on the city of Jerusalem at a future time related to Christ's Second Advent. "The prophecies of these chapters rank among the most significant in the Old Testament." (The Bible Knowledge Commentary)

The first 4 verses speak of a siege against Jerusalem. It seems that all nations of the earth are drawn to this siege. For some reason the Gentile nations seem compelled to rise up against the city. Although we may not know the circumstances compelling this drive against Jerusalem, we know the Lord is behind it. And the Lord says, regarding those who are a part of the siege, that He will make Jerusalem "a cup that causes staggering for the peoples who surround the city." The Lord will be fighting this battle on behalf of Israel. It will not be Israel's military might that causes this staggering of those surrounding the city. For the Lord will "strike every horse with panic and its rider with madness. I will keep a watchful eye on the house of Judah but strike all the horses of the nations with blindness." The mention of horses here raises the question of whether the passage is speaking figuratively or literally. There are commentators on both sides of this question. Though our curiosity seeks to know which is true, the point is that God will throw into confusion those who lay siege to Jerusalem.

This siege apparently serves to unify Judah and Israel. It seems possible in verse 5 that in the beginning of this siege Judah is among those surrounding Jerusalem. But as she sees God's intervention on behalf of Israel she unites with Israel. Then it seems that God makes Judah the prominent force against those surrounding the city. On that day He will make even the weakest among them as strong a warrior as David in his day, resulting in the destruction of all the nations that come against Jerusalem.

What comes next may be the most amazing part of these events. Once the nations laying siege against Jerusalem are defeated the Lord will "pour out a spirit of grace and prayer on the house of David and the residents of Jerusalem, and they will look at Me whom they pierced." This will bring a tremendous mourning among the people and leaders in Jerusalem. The cause of their mourning will be their previous rejection of the Messiah. What a great day that will be!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Reflections on Zechariah 11

    Zechariah 11 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Lebanon, open your gates! Let the fire come in to destroy your cedar trees.
  2. Cry, you cyprus trees! The glorious cedars have fallen and are rotting. Cry, you oak trees of Bashan! The dense forest has been chopped down.
  3. Listen! Shepherds are crying. Their glorious pastures have been ruined. Listen! Lions are roaring. The forests of the Jordan Valley are no more to be found.
  4. The LORD my God said to me: Tend those sheep doomed for slaughter!
  5. The people who buy and butcher them go unpunished, while everyone who sells them says, "Praise the LORD! I'm rich." Not even their shepherds have pity on them.
  6. Tend those sheep because I, the LORD, will no longer have pity on the people of this earth. I'll turn neighbor against neighbor and make them slaves of a king. They will bring disaster on the earth, and I'll do nothing to rescue any of them.
  7. So I became a shepherd of those sheep doomed to be slaughtered by the sheep dealers. And I gave names to the two sticks I used for tending the sheep: One of them was named "Mercy" and the other "Unity."
  8. In less than a month, I became impatient with three shepherds who didn't like me, and I got rid of them.
  9. Then I said, "I refuse to be your shepherd. Let the sheep that are going to die, go on and die, and those that are going to be destroyed, go on and be destroyed. Then let the others eat one another alive."
  10. On that same day, I broke the stick named "Mercy" to show that the LORD had canceled his agreement with all people.
  11. The sheep dealers who saw me knew right away that this was a message from the LORD.
  12. I told them, "Pay me my wages, if you think you should; otherwise, forget it." So they handed me my wages, a measly thirty pieces of silver. Then the LORD said, "Throw the money into the treasury." So I threw the money into the treasury at the LORD's temple.
  13. (SEE 11:12)
  14. Then I broke the stick named "Unity" and canceled the ties between Judah and Israel.
  15. Next, the LORD said to me, "Act like a shepherd again--this time a worthless shepherd.
  16. Once more I am going to let a worthless nobody rule the land--one who won't care for the strays or search for the young or heal the sick or feed the healthy. He will just dine on the fattest sheep, leaving nothing but a few bones."
  17. You worthless shepherd, deserting the sheep! I hope a sword will cripple your arm and blind your right eye.

This amazing chapter tells of the coming years of void in Israel's covenantal relationship with God. Zechariah has been giving the returned exiles a ray of hope which lay in the coming Messiah and His eventual earthly reign in the Millennium at His Second Advent. But the Babylonian exile will not be the last great sorrow for the Jewish people. Up until Zechariah's day, though Israel went through times of punishment, God never withdrew His protective hand from them, thus limiting the destruction on the people and their land. But that will change, as we see in this chapter, with their rejection of the coming Messiah. At that point God will annul His covenant with them and withdraw His protective hand from them. Verses 2 & 3 describe the outcry at the destruction that will take place. This is thought to have taken place at the hands of the Romans in 70 AD.

In the first 11 verses we are told of the utter destruction of Israel's land and people. Zechariah was told by God to "Shepherd the flock intended for slaughter." This difficult passage is thought by some to be a directive by God for Zechariah to portray Israel's true Shepherd-Messiah. So Zechariah "shepherded the flock intended for slaughter, the afflicted of the flock. I took two staffs, calling one Favor and the other Union, and I shepherded the flock." (verse 7) The staff "Favor" depicted God's benefits toward His people, and the staff "Union" the union of Israel and Judah as one nation. But in his role as the True Shepherd, Zechariah grew impatient with Israel, particularly because they detested him, and he cut the staff "Favor" in two, thus signifying God's annulment of His covenant with Israel.

Beginning with verse 12, Christ's betrayal by Judas was foretold. Israel's appraisal of the True Shepherd's worth is depicted in Zechariah's wage of 30 pieces of silver. Thus, Israel paid this insulting price for the life of the One who was and is to be their salvation. With her rejection of the True Shepherd, the Messiah, Israel will accept in His place a worthless shepherd, which some believe to be the end-time Antichrist. This shepherd will be the opposite of Christ, the True Shepherd. He will have no concern for the flock, and instead of defending and caring for the flock, this worthless shepherd will destroy the flock.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Reflections on Zechariah 10

    Zechariah 10 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. I, the LORD, am the one who sends storm clouds and showers of rain to make fields produce. So when the crops need rain, you should pray to me.
  2. You can't believe idols and fortunetellers, or depend on the hope you receive from witchcraft and interpreters of dreams. But you have tried all of these, and now you are like sheep without a shepherd.
  3. I, the LORD All-Powerful, am fiercely angry with you leaders, and I will punish you. I care for my people, the nation of Judah, and I will change this flock of sheep into charging war horses.
  4. From this flock will come leaders who will be strong like cornerstones and tent pegs and weapons of war.
  5. They will join in the fighting, and together they will trample their enemies like mud. They will fight, because I, the LORD, will be on their side. And they will crush the enemy cavalry.
  6. I will strengthen the kingdoms of Judah and Israel. And I will show mercy because I am the LORD, their God. I will answer their prayers and bring them home. Then it will seem as though I had never rejected them.
  7. Israel will be like a tribe of warriors celebrating with wine. When their children see this, they will also be happy because of me, the LORD.
  8. I will give a signal for them to come together because I have rescued them. And there will be as many as ever before.
  9. Although I scattered my people in distant countries, they won't forget me. Once their children are raised, they will return--
  10. I will bring them home from Egypt and Assyria, then let them settle as far as Gilead and Lebanon, until the land overflows with them.
  11. My people will go through an ocean of troubles, but I will overcome the waves and dry up the deepest part of the Nile. Assyria's great pride will be put down, and the power of Egypt will disappear.
  12. I'll strengthen my people because of who I am, and they will follow me. I, the LORD, have spoken!

Zechariah's prophecy is addressed to a people who had just returned from an exile in Babylon due to their idolatry and lack of justice. Those he addressed were born in Babylon and to a great extent had lost their sense of national identity, and in particular, God's purpose for this people. To a great extent, Zechariah was teaching them through his foretelling of what is to come of their purpose as God's people. Chapter 10 begins with a lesson about the sin of idolatry.

Do you want rain in the spring for abundant crops? Ask the Lord who makes the clouds, gives the showers, and provides the crops. Idols can provide none of this. Neither can idols speak, but the reference in verse 2 of them speaking falsehood is likely referring to the priests of the idol worship. Idolatry leaves the people to wander like sheep without a shepherd. God will get rid of the shepherds who have turned to idolatry and left the people adrift. In their place He will give the people a new and trustworthy Shepherd who will deliver them. Out of Judah will come the cornerstone (a reference to the Messiah) who will restore Judah and Joseph. Judah is a reference to the Southern kingdom and Joseph to the Northern. In other words all Israel will be restored.

With the Messiah as Israel's Shepherd, God will then call together all Jews who are scattered throughout the nations. He "will whistle and gather them because I have redeemed them." They will again be as numerous as they once were. In restoring and regathering His people, the Lord will remove all obstacles to their restoration. As the Lord took the people through the obstacle which the Red Sea presented to Israel's escape from Egypt under Moses' leadership, so He will remove all obstacles to gathering His people from the lands to which they were scattered on this occasion.

God's ways and plans are sure. We can depend on them completely. But we respond to God completely in faith. God's plans for Israel, establish with Abraham, will be fulfilled regardless of all evidence in past and present history to the contrary. As followers of God we have to ask ourselves who it is that we follow when outward evidence seems to contradict God's claims and promises. Do we walk by faith or by sight? If by faith, then we hold strong to God's claims and promises. If by sight, then we falter when circumstances seem to contradict His promises. From my perspective, the basis of it all goes back to creation. Is God the Creator or not? If He is, then there is nothing of which He is incapable of doing. Nothing will thwart His promises or His plans. I can utterly depend on Him regardless of what circumstances may present.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Reflections on Zechariah 9

    Zechariah 09 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. This is a message from the LORD: His eyes are on everyone, especially the tribes of Israel. So he pronounces judgment against the cities of Hadrach and Damascus.
  2. Judgment will also fall on the nearby city of Hamath, as well as on Tyre and Sidon, whose people are clever.
  3. Tyre has built a fortress and piled up silver and gold, as though they were dust or mud from the streets.
  4. Now the Lord will punish Tyre with poverty; he will sink its ships and send it up in flames.
  5. Both Ashkelon and Gaza will tremble with fear; Ekron will lose all hope. Gaza's king will be killed, and Ashkelon emptied of its people.
  6. A mob of half-breeds will settle in Ashdod, and the Lord himself will rob Philistia of pride.
  7. No longer will the Philistines eat meat with blood in it or any unclean food. They will become part of the people of our God from the tribe of Judah. And God will accept the people of Ekron, as he did the Jebusites.
  8. God says, "I will stand guard to protect my temple from those who come to attack. I know what's happening, and no one will mistreat my people ever again."
  9. Everyone in Jerusalem, celebrate and shout! Your king has won a victory, and he is coming to you. He is humble and rides on a donkey; he comes on the colt of a donkey.
  10. I, the LORD, will take away war chariots and horses from Israel and Jerusalem. Bows that were made for battle will be broken. I will bring peace to nations, and your king will rule from sea to sea. His kingdom will reach from the Euphrates River across the earth.
  11. When I made a sacred agreement with you, my people, we sealed it with blood. Now some of you are captives in waterless pits, but I will come to your rescue
  12. and offer you hope. Return to your fortress, because today I will reward you with twice what you had.
  13. I will use Judah as my bow and Israel as my arrow. I will take the people of Zion as my sword and attack the Greeks.
  14. Like a cloud, the LORD God will appear over his people, and his arrows will flash like lightning. God will sound his trumpet and attack in a whirlwind from the south.
  15. The LORD All-Powerful will protect his people, and they will trample down the sharpshooters and their slingshots. They will drink and get rowdy; they will be as full as a bowl at the time of sacrifice.
  16. The LORD God will save them on that day, because they are his people, and they will shine on his land like jewels in a crown.
  17. How lovely they will be. Young people will grow there like grain in a field or grapes in a vineyard.

The remaining chapters of Zechariah consist of two Oracles that look forward to the Messiah in both His First and Second Advent. Chapters 9-11 focus mostly on Christ's First Advent "stressing the theme of His rejection but also outlining Israel’s prophetic history to the end times." (The Bible Knowledge Commentary)

This chapter begins with a removal of Israel's enemies, a process that will happen over centuries up until Christ's Second Advent when He will reign in peace. Much of the destruction of the enemies mentioned in these verses is attributed by conservative commentators to Alexander the Great. In his marches to do battle with these nations, he marched back and forth past Israel but never attack her (verse 8), which is attributed to God's protection.

Verse 9 announces Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a donkey. His entry on a donkey denotes His coming in peace. Israel is to see Him as their King who will reign in righteousness and in victory. Under His reign "the bow of war will be removed." Verse 10 refers to Christ's millennial reign in which He will reign over the whole earth. "His dominion will extend from sea to sea."

Verse 11 drops back to Zechariah's time saying that Israel's exiles will be set free and return to the stronghold, Jerusalem. Then, in verse 13, the Lord says He "will bend Judah as My bow; I will fill that bow with Ephraim. I will rouse your sons, Zion, against your sons, Greece. I will make you like a warrior's sword." This is thought to be a reference to the conflict of the Maccabees with the various Antiochus who were Greek rulers of Syria. The Lord will give Israel victory over these Greek rulers and ultimately, "on that day," He will save them from all their enemies and they will be "like jewels in a crown." Verses 16 and 17 take us again to Christ's Second Advent.

This "day" when Christ will return and rule the earth is a day of victory not only for Israel, but for all who place their trust in Christ the Messiah.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Reflections on Zechariah 8

    Zechariah 08 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. The LORD All-Powerful said to me:
  2. I love Zion so much that her enemies make me angry.
  3. I will return to Jerusalem and live there on Mount Zion. Then Jerusalem will be known as my faithful city, and Zion will be known as my holy mountain.
  4. Very old people with walking sticks will once again sit around in Jerusalem,
  5. while boys and girls play in the streets.
  6. This may seem impossible for my people who are left, but it isn't impossible for me, the LORD All-Powerful.
  7. I will save those who were taken to lands in the east and the west,
  8. and I will bring them to live in Jerusalem. They will be my people, and I will be their God, faithful to bring about justice.
  9. I am the LORD All-Powerful! So don't give up. Think about the message my prophets spoke when the foundation of my temple was laid.
  10. Before that time, neither people nor animals were rewarded for their work, and no one was safe anywhere, because I had turned them against each other.
  11. My people, only a few of you are left, and I promise not to punish you as I did before.
  12. Instead, I will make sure that your crops are planted in peace and your vineyards are fruitful, that your fields are fertile and the dew falls from the sky.
  13. People of Judah and Israel, you have been a curse to the nations, but I will save you and make you a blessing to them. So don't be afraid or lose courage.
  14. When your ancestors made me angry, I decided to punish you with disasters, and I didn't hold back.
  15. Now you no longer need to be afraid. I have decided to treat Jerusalem and Judah with kindness.
  16. But you must be truthful with each other, and in court you must give fair decisions that lead to peace.
  17. Don't ever plan evil things against others or tell lies under oath. I, the LORD, hate such things.
  18. The LORD All-Powerful told me to say:
  19. People of Judah, I, the LORD, demand that whenever you go without food as a way of worshiping me, it should become a time of celebration. No matter if it's the fourth month, the fifth month, the seventh month, or the tenth month, you should have a joyful festival. So love truth and live at peace.
  20. I tell you that people will come here from cities everywhere.
  21. Those of one town will go to another and say, "We're going to ask the LORD All-Powerful to treat us with kindness. Come and join us."
  22. Many people from strong nations will come to Jerusalem to worship me and to ask me to treat them with kindness.
  23. When this happens, ten people from nations with different languages will grab a Jew by his clothes and say, "Let us go with you. We've heard that God is on your side." I, the LORD All-Powerful, have spoken!

The previous chapter began a series of four messages, two of which were in that chapter and the other two in this chapter. They were initiated by a delegation from the town of Bethel who came to Zechariah with a question. They wondered if they should continue to observe two fasts that had been established while they were in exile. They were fasts of mourning commemorating events of sorrow for them. The Lord did not answer them until the fourth message in the series which comes toward the end of this 8th chapter.

Chapter 8 opens with the third message. It is a message of hope for the remnant gathered back in Jerusalem. A time will come in which the Lord will return to Jerusalem. Then the people will be able to sit along the streets in peace while the children play. At that time the Lord will gather all His people back to Jerusalem and they will again be His people and He their "faithful and righteous God." When will this take place? That is a difficult question to answer and receives differing answers by various commentaries. To a degree, at least, there was some fulfillment in the lifetime of those original recipients of the message. History does not appear to bear out an extensive fulfillment of it even yet. But then, that depends on how you interpret the promise and history itself. My thought is that there seems to be a pattern to both Zechariah's and Haggai's prophecies, both of whom were contemporaries, of bouncing back and forth between the present time in which they spoke and the time of Christ's second advent with little reference to the lengthy period between. If that is understood correctly, then the intent of this third message would likely fall into that pattern as well.

Having said all that, the bulk of this third message seems to be in the present for its recipients. Verse 9 begins an encouragement to the people in their task of rebuilding the temple. Verses 14-17 speak of a renewed relationship between the Lord and His people. Moving beyond those years of punishment for His rebellious people, the Lord says, "so I have resolved again in these days to do what is good to Jerusalem and the house of Judah." But the people must hold up their end. They must "Speak truth to one another; render honest and peaceful judgments in your gates. Do not plot evil in your hearts against your neighbor, and do not love perjury." No more empty ritual. It is changed lives the Lord wants.

The fourth message in the series begins in verse 18 and brings with it the answer to the question raised by the delegation from Bethel. What about those fasts established while they were in exile? Yes, they will continue, but they will become "times of joy, gladness, and cheerful festivals" rather than times of mourning. The remainder of the message appears to jump the centuries and go to Christ's second advent, describing a time when Israel will fulfill God's original intent for her and will point all nations to Him.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Reflections on Zechariah 7

    Zechariah 07 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. On the fourth day of Chislev, the ninth month of the fourth year that Darius was king of Persia, the LORD again spoke to me.
  2. It happened after the people of Bethel had sent Sharezer with Regem-Melech and his men to ask the priests in the LORD's temple and the prophets to pray for them. So they prayed, "Should we mourn and go without eating during the fifth month, as we have done for many years?"
  3. (SEE 7:2)
  4. It was then that the LORD All-Powerful told me to say to everyone in the country, including the priests: For seventy years you have gone without eating during the fifth and seventh months of the year. But did you really do it for me?
  5. (SEE 7:4)
  6. And when you eat and drink, isn't it for your own enjoyment?
  7. My message today is the same one I commanded the earlier prophets to speak to Jerusalem and its villages when they were prosperous, and when all of Judah, including the Southern Desert and the hill country, was filled with people.
  8. So once again, I, the LORD All-Powerful, tell you, "See that justice is done and be kind and merciful to one another!
  9. (SEE 7:8)
  10. Don't mistreat widows or orphans or foreigners or anyone who is poor, and stop making plans to hurt each other."
  11. But everyone who heard those prophets, stubbornly refused to obey. Instead, they turned their backs on everything my Spirit had commanded the earlier prophets to preach. So I, the LORD, became angry
  12. (SEE 7:11)
  13. and said, "You people paid no attention when I called out to you, and now I'll pay no attention when you call out to me."
  14. That's why I came with a whirlwind and scattered them among foreign nations, leaving their lovely country empty of people and in ruins.

The account of Zechariah's eight night visions concluded in chapter 6. Most of the focus in those visions was on the future reign of the Messiah at His second advent which is yet to take place. Chapter 7 returns to the present for Zechariah and those returned exiles in Jerusalem that he is addressing in this prophecy. In chapters 7 and 8 he delivers four messages which come two years after the visions of the previous chapters.

Triggering the messages of this chapter and the next is the coming of an entourage to Zechariah from the town of Bethel which is just north of Jerusalem. This entourage was sent by the people of that town to inquire of the prophet and priests about continuation of a fast they had observed in the fifth month of each year during their exile. Instead of an immediate answer to their question, the Lord uses this as a teaching opportunity. First, the Lord asks a question of His own, "When you fasted and lamented in the fifth and in the seventh months for these 70 years, did you really fast for Me? When you eat and drink, don't you eat and drink simply for yourselves?" Not waiting for an answer, the Lord asked another question, "Aren't these the words that the LORD proclaimed through the earlier prophets when Jerusalem was inhabited and secure?"

After 70 years in exile had anything really changed? I would answer that with a yes and a no. No, the practices of the people in their ritualistic worship practices had not really changed, but yes, the reason for such practices may have changed. Prior to the exile the people went through the motions of worship with their routine observances and feasts, but their did not do it for the Lord, only for themselves. Alongside these practices they were also worshiping idols. Their hearts were in rebellion against the Lord. This group asking the question of Zechariah were still observing routine practices of worship that may still have been more for themselves than for the Lord, but was not their motivation more out of ignorance than from rebellion? This was a totally new generation that had been born in Babylon. They were Jews doing what Jews do and that may have been all there was to their observances. So God was questioning their motives of worship and bringing to their attention the reason for their exile. It was because their predecessors were guilty of the charge the Lord was putting before them - observing religious practices for selfish reasons.

So the question has been raised, "What are your motives for worship observances?" Had the Lord given a simple yes or no answer to their question of continuing the fifth and seventh month fasts they would have simply returned home and continued their meaningless routine worship practices. Instead, He raises the question of motive and then He tells them how they can give true worship to the Him. He does this by telling them what their ancestors failed to do. They can give the Lord authentic worship in this way: "Render true justice. Show faithful love and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the stranger or the poor, and do not plot evil in your hearts against one another." True worship to the Lord is observed through obedience. This lesson can also be turned to us. Through our customs of a weekly "worship" service in our churches we come to think of worship as what we do on Sunday at a church. And, yes, there is worship entailed in that practice. But if the obedience does not accompany this observance in our daily lives, that Sunday practice of "worship" is meaningless. That, I believe, is the message the Lord had for this entourage standing before Zechariah.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Reflections on Zechariah 6

    Zechariah 06 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Finally, I looked up and saw four chariots coming from between two bronze mountains.
  2. The first chariot was pulled by red horses, and the second by black horses;
  3. the third chariot was pulled by white horses, and the fourth by spotted gray horses.
  4. "Sir," I asked the angel. "What do these stand for?"
  5. Then he explained, "These are the four winds of heaven, and now they are going out, after presenting themselves to the Lord of all the earth.
  6. The chariot with black horses goes toward the north, the chariot with white horses goes toward the west, and the one with spotted horses goes toward the south."
  7. The horses came out eager to patrol the earth, and the angel told them, "Start patrolling the earth." When they had gone on their way,
  8. he shouted to me, "Those that have gone to the country in the north will do what the LORD's Spirit wants them to do there."
  9. The LORD said to me:
  10. Heldai, Tobijah, and Jedaiah have returned from Babylonia. Collect enough silver and gold from them to make a crown. Then go with them to the house of Josiah son of Zephaniah and put the crown on the head of the high priest Joshua son of Jehozadak.
  11. (SEE 6:10)
  12. Tell him that I, the LORD All-Powerful, say, "Someone will reach out from here like a branch and build a temple for me. I will name him 'Branch,' and he will rule with royal honors. A priest will stand beside his throne, and the two of them will be good friends.
  13. (SEE 6:12)
  14. This crown will be kept in my temple as a reminder and will be taken care of by Heldai, Tobijah, Jedaiah, and Josiah."
  15. When people from distant lands come and help build the temple of the LORD All-Powerful, you will know that the LORD is the one who sent me. And this will happen, if you truly obey the LORD your God.

We have in this chapter the eighth and last vision. All eight visions came to Zechariah in a single night providing the returned exiles a glimpse of the future. The message given through this glimpse could be interpreted as saying, "you may be defeated now, but those who are on the Lord's side will win in the end."

This eighth vision portrays four chariots that come toward Zechariah from between two mountains of bronze. One team of horses is red, the second black, the third white, and the fourth dappled. If there is significance regarding the mountains and the color of the horses, it is obscure and any attempt to give them meaning would be extremely speculative. The angel describes the horses as "the four spirits of heaven going out after presenting themselves to the Lord of the whole earth." The black and the white horses go to the land of the north which is understood as Babylon, and the dappled horses go to the land of the south which is understood as Egypt. The red team of horses apparently go to patrol the earth. As a conclusion to the vision, the Lord says to Zechariah, "See, those going to the land of the north have pacified My Spirit in the northern land." No report is given of those going to the south or those patrolling the earth. Our understanding of this vision is that the Lord destroyed the nations - Babylon and Egypt - that presented so much persecution to His people, the Israelites. Once these enemies of Israel were defeated the Lord's Spirit was pacified.

Following this last vision a symbolic act of crowning the high priest took place. An offering of silver and gold was taken from three returned and unknown exiles and from this offering crowns were made to place on the head of Joshua, the high priest. This event is thought to be symbolical of the crowning of the Messiah for His millennial reign. A high priest would never be crowned, but the Messiah will be both priest and king. Following this crowning, it is said that "People who are far off will come and build the LORD's temple." This, too, is thought to be a millennial reference. With the Messiah as priest and king, people from far off, representing both Jews and Gentiles, will come to rebuild the temple.

To return to our opening comments in this reflection, the message here for those exiles who had just returned to Jerusalem in defeat was that those who are on the Lord's side will win in the end. I believe they were being encouraged to not give up but to be faithful to the Lord. Those who are faithful followers of the Lord will not escape defeat and persecution at the hands of wicked people, but they will be victorious in the end. There is reason to remain faithful and to not give up.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Reflections on Zechariah 5

    Zechariah 05 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. When I looked the next time, I saw a flying scroll,
  2. and the angel asked, "What do you see?" "A flying scroll," I answered. "About thirty feet long and fifteen feet wide."
  3. Then he told me: This scroll puts a curse on everyone in the land who steals or tells lies. The writing on one side tells about the destruction of those who steal, while the writing on the other side tells about the destruction of those who lie.
  4. The LORD All-Powerful has said, "I am sending this scroll into the house of everyone who is a robber or tells lies in my name, and it will remain there until every piece of wood and stone in that house crumbles."
  5. Now the angel who was there to explain the visions came over and said, "Look up and tell me what you see coming."
  6. "I don't know what it is," was my reply. "It's a big basket," he said. "And it shows what everyone in the land has in mind."
  7. The lead cover of the basket was opened, and in the basket was a woman.
  8. "This woman represents evil," the angel explained. Then he threw her back into the basket and slammed the heavy cover down tight.
  9. Right after this I saw two women coming through the sky like storks with wings outstretched in the wind. Suddenly they lifted the basket into the air,
  10. and I asked the angel, "Where are they taking the basket?"
  11. "To Babylonia," he answered, "where they will build a house for the basket and set it down inside."

Visions six and seven are described in chapter 5. It is thought by many commentaries that Zechariah is seeing into the far future to a time of judgment that will usher in Christ's return and millennial reign.

In the sixth vision the prophet sees a flying scroll that is the size of the tabernacle - 30 feet by 15 feet. It has writing on both sides. One side addresses those who are thieves and the other those who swear falsely. The scroll will be sent out to enter the houses of those who are thieves and who swear falsely and will destroy the houses it enters. The seventh vision follows immediately and is of a measuring basket with a lead weight for a lid or cover. When the cover is lifted a woman can be seen inside the basket. She is said to be Wickedness and the cover is quickly set back down so she does not escape. Then two other women, with wings like a stork, appear to lift the basket between earth and sky and take it to the land of Shinar where a shrine will be built for it. The basket "will be placed there on its pedestal." Some see this as a return of the wickedness of idolatry to its place of origin in Babylon.

Other than their reference to judgment for sin and wickedness, we must speculate concerning the meaning and timing of these visions. Considering the visions and theme that have already transpired in Zechariah, it would seem to me that all of this refers to Christ's return when Israel will finally fulfill her priestly role. Zechariah is relating all of this to a remnant who have just returned to Jerusalem following 70 years exile in Babylon. They are having to be prodded to rebuild the temple and move forward in their God-appointed purpose, but they undoubtedly are not so certain they have a purpose any longer. So Zechariah is telling them through these prophecies that God is not through with them. His purposes will not be fulfilled in them in their lifetime, but they have a purpose and need to get busy.

If Israel is to be God's instrument of salvation for all the nations, though, she must be cleansed of her unrighteousness, both then and later. In this respect, these two visions in chapter 5 may have both a present and future significance, though the fullness of their meaning would lie in the future.