Wednesday, September 30, 2015

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)

Time frames can become confusing in these passages. We have already read, in this last oracle which began in chapter 12, how the nations gathered against Jerusalem and the Lord protected Jerusalem against them. But now, in chapter 14, we are reading that the city will be captured and looted and "half the city will go into exile." (V. 1) Then, after these events, "the Lord will go out to fight against those nations." (V. 3)

Rather than being a linear presentation of events, it is thought that Chapter 14 is returning to the earlier events in which the nations gathered against Jerusalem. But what was not mentioned earlier was that before the Lord intervened the city was captured and half the people taken into exile. Many explain this as occurring during a period known as the Great Tribulation when the Jews come under unprecedented persecution.  Then, toward the end of this tribulation, Jesus returns to earth to reign for 1,000 years. It is the returned Jesus who many think is the "Lord" who intervenes on behalf of Jerusalem in this passage. This thinking is encouraged by the cosmic events that are described in conjunction with His intervention. He splits the Mount of Olives forming a huge valley, there will be a great earthquake, and the heavenly lights (stars, sun, & moon) will lose their brilliance.

Beginning with verse 8 we are given a description of Jerusalem after the Messiah's intervention and defeat of the armies gathered against the city. Living water, evidently a perpetual flow of water, will flow out from Jerusalem in two directions, both east and west, each flowing to the sea. A possible result of the earthquake, Jerusalem will become a continental divide. Furthermore, the Messiah will become king, not only of Israel, but over the whole earth. Jerusalem will never again face the curse of destruction. The Lord will use a plague to defeat the armies that came up against Jerusalem. It will be a terrifying plague in which their flesh and eyes and tongues rot away as they stand on their feet. The armies will panic and begin killing each other.

With the Messiah established as king over all the earth, people from all nations will go to Jerusalem annually to worship the King and observe the Festival of Booths. Those who make the annual pilgrimage will flourish, but those who do not will not have rainfall. It would seem that the division between sacred and secular will be lost at this time as the words "Holy to the Lord" will be inscribed on everything.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

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!"

Zechariah began an oracle in the previous chapter that continues into chapter 13. The phrase, "On that day," continues to be used frequently in the oracle, a phrase that refers to the day of the Lord at the end of time. In the previous chapter we read of the Lord's protection for Israel through a time of great tribulation when all the nations of the world are against the nation. As we come to this chapter, that time is past and it is now a time of cleansing from sin for Israel. For the cleansing "a fountain will be opened for the house of David." (V. 1) This fountain was opened at Calvary, but Israel will be just then, on the day of the Lord, taking advantage of it. Witnessing the amazing way God delivers them through the time of tribulation, they are ready to accept Jesus as their Messiah.

Israel's cleansing will include ridding the nation of idolatry and false prophets, sins that have greatly plagued Israel. On that day, the Lord will "erase the names of the idols from the land." There will be no more remembrance of them. Also on that day, false prophets and unclean spirits will be removed from the land. As prescribed in Deuteronomy 18:20, in that day, false prophets will be put to death. The vigilance against false prophets will be so great that any who have practiced it will lie and say they are farmers if asked what he does.

Verse 7 is thought to be a Messianic reference. The Lord commanding the sword to strike "My shepherd" being reference to offering His Son on the cross. When He died the sheep were scattered. This scattering could be a reference to the scattering of the Jews in A.D. 70 when Jerusalem was destroyed by Rome. And they have been scattered ever since. The refining of Jews described in Vv. 8 & 9 with only a third surviving suggests that the awakening of the Jews on that day to accept Jesus as Messiah will happen for only a third of them.

Monday, September 28, 2015

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.

The oracle that begins with chapter 12 is an end time prophecy, pointing to a time that God will make Israel all He intended her to be. At the time of Zechariah the nation consists of only a remnant of what it once was. Though many of the people had returned from exile, there were still many people who were scattered. They have been a scattered people ever since, even though they currently have an established nation once again. Amazingly, the Jewish people, whether living in Israel or not, have maintained an identity.

"On that day" is referred to multiple times thoughout this oracle which continues to the end of the book of Zechariah. It refers to "The Day of the Lord" which occurs in the last days. The opening verses of chapter 12 describe yet another siege against Jerusalem that will occur during a time of tribulation toward the end time. It will be a tribulation unlike any other. In this siege the nations of the world are gathered against Jerusalem but they are unable to prevail. This is because it is the Lord's battle and not Israel's. This is borne out in several statements: "Look, I will make Jerusalem a cup that causes staggering for the peoples who surround the city." (V. 2) "On that day I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples; all who try to lift it will injure themselves severely." (V. 3) "I will strike every horse with panic and its rider with madness." (V. 4) "On that day I will make the leaders of Judah like a firepot in a woodpile, like a flaming torch among sheaves; they will consume all the peoples around them on the right and the left." (V. 6) "On that day the LORD will defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the one who is weakest among them will be like David on that day, and the house of David will be like God, like the Angel of the LORD, before them." (V. 8)

When God has won a victory for Jerusalem over the nations gathered against her He will "pour out a spirit of grace and prayer on the house of David and the residents of Jerusalem" (V. 10) and they will have an awakening in which they recognize Jesus as the Messiah. And then there will be a great mourning in Israel that will extend to everyone. As the people of Israel mourned the fall of Jerusalem prior to Zechariah's time, "on that day," they will mourn the Messiah whom they had rejected.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

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.

Chapter 10 picked up the theme of the bad shepherds of Israel who led the people astray. Chapter 11 continues this theme, projecting way into the future to the result of bad leaders or shepherds. Previous to this the bad shepherds of Israel had led them into worship of other gods resulting in the destruction of the nation and 70 years of exile in Babylon. But Zechariah looked ahead now to bad shepherds of Israel who led the people to reject the Good Shepherd, Jesus. This would lead to another destruction of Jerusalem and another dispersion of the people, one that was more widespread, dispersing the people into many nations and not just one.

Though verses 4-14 are difficult to follow, we understand that Israel's rejection of the Good Shepherd, Jesus, would result in God's withdrawal of His compassion for Israel. In 70 AD the Romans would destroy Jerusalem and the people scattered. The chapter concludes with a word of woe to worthless shepherds who desert the flock. May their strength and sight be taken from them.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

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!

Israel is told in verse 1 to ask for the rain they need from the Lord and not from idols or diviners. He will provide the rain and the resulting crops. It was Israel's leaders who led the people to idols and diviners where they received only falsehood and illusions, providing empty dreams and empty comfort. They became a people who wandered like sheep without a shepherd. The Lord would punish the leaders and He would lead them. This is what the Lord intended for Israel in the first place, that He would be their leader with no need for a king. But the people insisted on a king like the other nations and God granted their wish. But in doing so they were led astray. We become upset with God when He does not grant us what we ask for, but we do so in ignorance. God is merciful when He does not grant what we ask for, saving us from what would be harmful to us rather than beneficial as we imagine.

The dispersion of Israel and return to Jerusalem in Zechariah's day was a picture of what will take place when Christ returns. Since her rejection of Christ as the Messiah with His first coming, Israel has been widely dispersed in the world and will continue to be dispersed. But in conjunction with Christ's return God will draw the dispersed Israel back to her homeland. He will "whistle" for the people and they will be gathered. Though God sowed "them among the nations," (V. 9) they will remember Him "in the distant lands" and they will return. He will remove all obstacles to their return as He did when leading them from Egypt to their promised land.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

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 (9-14) record two oracles. In this first oracle, God was pronouncing judgment on the enemies of Israel. These included Assyria, Syria, Tyre, Sidon, and Philistine. A remnant of the Philistines who survive this destruction will follow the God of Israel and be like a clan of Israel who worship the Lord. Some believe these nations were brought down by the army of Alexander the Great, citing that the path of destruction he wreaked and the time period correspond to the description of these verses. They also see verse 8 referring to God protecting Israel from Alexander's army as he marched his army "back and forth" but never against Israel.

Verse 9 gives a pronouncement of the coming Messiah who was to be Israel's coming King. His reign of peace would be made known with His riding into Jerusalem on a donkey rather than on a war stallion. We see the fulfillment of this pronoucement in the gospels. However, the prophesies in verses 10-11 point yet to the future when Christ's reign will be worldwide and the whole world at peace.

The Lord calls to the exiles to "Return to a stronghold," (V. 12) which would be the stronghold of Jerusalem. Though Jerusalem was not a physical stronghold in Zehariah's day, it represented God's stronghold, and it was their hope. It would be there God promised to "restore double to you." (V. 12) The narrative glides back and forth between the present for the returning exiles and the future. Verse 13 is thought to refer to the War of the Maccabees which took place a century and a half before the time of Christ. The remaining verses of the chapter likely refer to a period near the end times when much of God's promises for Israel will be fulfilled.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

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!

As a parent who balances love with discipline, God's message to Israel in the beginning verses of chapter 8 was of His love for her. She was still "licking her wounds" from God's disciplining action against her and had not yet recovered, but God said to her, "I am extremely jealous for Zion; I am jealous for her with great wrath." (V. 2) It was true God had abandoned Israel because Israel had abandoned Him, but He had plans to "return to Zion and live in Jerusalem." (V. 3) Whereas to this point Israel had be unfaithful, when God returned to Jerusalem the nation would be known as faithful.

When God returns to Jerusalem, the nation will no longer be under a threat of invasion, but will be at peace. Then the old people can sit leisurely in the streets while children fill the streets in play. This will be possible because the Lord will protect them from "the land of the east and the land of the west." (V. 7) And He will bring the scattered remnants of Israel back to live there again. Given Israel's current conditions in Zachariah's day, all of this seemed incredible, maybe even unbelievable. But the Lord declared it and so it would be. Israel still waits for the fulfillment of these promises.

The Lord encouraged the people to "Let your hands be strong," for the rebuilding of the temple. In so doing, they would be doing more than rebuilding a building. They would be rebuilding their relationship with God. Feeling rejected by God, how could the people be sure of the future blessings He promised? He reminded them that He fulfilled the punishment He promised, and as surely as He did this, He would fulfill His promises of blessings. This meant that instead of treating them as He had done in former days, He would bless them. They would no longer be a curse among the nations, but a blessing. Not only would they be blessed, but they would bless others.

When Israel is again faithful to God, 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." (Vv. 16-17) When one loves God and is faithful and obedient to Him, what does it look like? Verses 16 & 17 describe it. We might expect that God would describe faithfulness and obedience to Him in terms of faithfulness in our observance of worship practices and not having any other gods. But if our focus is on those things, they become an end in themselves. Worship, no matter how faithfully it is observed, is meaningless if it does not lead to love toward others.

The message from the Lord that begins in verse 18 returns to a question that was raised in chapter 7. A delegation from Bethel asked if they were to continue to observe two fasts that were instituted while they were in exile to commemorate the fall of Jerusalem. God's initial response to the question was to ask who they observed it for, and the implied answer was that they observed it for themselves. But now, in 8:19 the Lord tells them that in the future they will not only observe the two fasts they asked about, but will include two others not mentioned. All four fasts were instituted in rememberance of events that occurred in the last days before the fall of Jerusalem. However, these four fasts will, in the future, become feasts and times of joy and gladness. Even painful experiences become joyful remembrances when they draw us to the Lord.

In those days, when the joy of Israel is so great, people from other nations will want to join them as they go to worship the Lord their God.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

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.

Chapter 7 brings the first of four messages God delivered through Zechariah. Two years have passed since the last vision given in chapter 6, and the people were about halfway through the temple construction. In response to a question raised by a delegation of people who came to Jerusalem from Bethel, an Israelite town just north of Jerusalem, the Lord gave this message to Zechariah.

The question asked by this group seems legitimate on the surface, though the Lord's response clues us in that it may have lacked sincerity. During the 70 years of exile the Israelites had observed two fasts annually in commemoration of the fall of Jerusalem. This delegation raised the question of whether or not they should continue to observe these two fasts in the fifth and seventh months. In response, the Lord asked in affect, "Who did you do it for? Was it for Me?" The fasts had been instituted by the people and not by the Lord, and were for their benefit and not His. They ate and drank simply for themselves.

It was unnecessary for them to be asking this question, for the Lord had already addressed it through the prophets prior to the exile. They should look into these earlier messages. This had become the nature of all their religious festivals. Rather than directing their attention to the Lord, which was the purpose of the festivals, they simply ate and drank for themselves. The time for putting up with their empty rituals was past. It was time for reality.

A second message begins in verse 8. In the context of the first message, the Lord seems to have been saying, "Your concern is misplaced. It is not ritual with which I am concerned, but with obedience to my teaching." The pre-exilic Israel had lost their concern for justice and had oppressed the helpless and plotted evil against one another. If the present inhabitants of Israel were to be faithful to the Lord and enjoy His blessings, they needed to "Render true justice." (V. 9) The previous, pre-exilic generation had, "refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder; they closed their ears so they could not hear." Since they would not listen to the Lord, the Lord finally turned a deaf ear to them. When they saw Jerusalem falling and finally called out to the Lord, He did not listen. It was they, and not the Lord, who had "turned a pleasant land into a desolation."

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

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.

The first eight verses of chapter 6 relate the eighth and final vision that was given Zechariah. It is a vision of judgment on the Gentile nations who were a threat to Israel. In the context of the book of Zechariah in which the remnant of returned exiles to Israel were being encouraged to rebuild the temple, this vision helped to provide assurance of God's protection as they went about the task of rebuilding. Vulnerable to attack by their enemies as a small remnant with no army and living in a city without walls, God was their protection, providing greater security than any army. The vision and its imagery conveyed the mighty forces that were protecting them.

Leaving the vision, verses 9 and following return to the current scene of returned exiles from Babylon. Zechariah was to take an offering of silver and gold a contingent of exiles had brought with them from Babylon and make crowns to be placed on the head of Joshua, the high priest. Zechariah was also to convey a message to Joshua from the Lord, "Here is a man whose name is Branch; He will branch out from His place and build the LORD's temple." (V. 12) The name "Branch" has messianic significance, in this case likely sending the message that Joshua's task of rebuilding the temple would be representative of the Messiah establishing the millennial temple following His second Advent.

The crown placed on Joshua would be placed in the completed temple by the delegation (Heldai, Tobijah, Jedaiah, and Hen) who had provided the gold and silver for it, serving as a memorial to their offering. The final verse of the chapter seems to have both a current as well as a future meaning. As Joshua and the people were obedient to the Lord in rebuilding the temple, "people who are far off" will come and build the Lord's temple. God would provide the help, which could have been the Lord's leading of more and more exiles to return to their homeland. This appears to be representative of the people from many nations who will return to help build the millennial temple.

Monday, September 14, 2015

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."

Zechariah's sixth and seventh visions are recorded in chapter 5. The sixth was of a flying scroll which aimed judgment at those who were thieves and those who swore false witness using the Lord's name. It is of interest that one sin is against man and the other against God. In Matthew 22:38-40, Jesus said that, "All the Law of Moses and the Books of the Prophets are based on these two commandments," which are to love the Lord and to love others. This suggests the possibility that the judgment aimed at thieves and those who swear falsely was addressing not just those two sins but that they were representative of the whole law. The vision declared a curse on the houses of thieves and those who swear falsely, bringing destruction on them.

Verses 5-11 reveal the seventh vision which was of a basket used to measure grain. The basked had a lead cover which, when lifted, revealed a woman in the basket. The woman was wickedness personified. Having revealed the woman in the basket, she was shoved back down and the cover returned to the basket. Then two other women, who had wings, came and lifted the basket, carrying it away to Babylon where a shrine was built for it and it was placed on a pedestal.

Unfair business practices had become so prevalent in Israel that dishonest gain of riches had become a god they worshiped. The basket represented the dishonest measuring tools they used in business to gain their dishonest profits. The basket, along with the wickedness it contained, were removed from Israel and taken to Babylon which was the base of such practices and where they were enshrined as a god.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Reflections on Zechariah 4

 Zechariah 04  (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The angel who explained the visions woke me from what seemed like sleep.
  2. Then he asked, "What do you see?" "A solid gold lampstand with an oil container above it," I answered. "On the stand are seven lamps, each with seven flames.
  3. One olive tree is on the right side and another on the left of the oil container.
  4. But, sir, what do these mean?"
  5. Then he asked, "Don't you know?" "No sir," I replied.
  6. So the angel explained that it was the following message of the LORD to Zerubbabel: I am the LORD All-Powerful. So don't depend on your own power or strength, but on my Spirit.
  7. Zerubbabel, that mountain in front of you will be leveled to the ground. Then you will bring out the temple's most important stone and shout, "God has been very kind."
  8. The LORD spoke to me again and said:
  9. Zerubbabel laid the foundation for the temple, and he will complete it. Then everyone will know that you were sent by me, the LORD All-Powerful.
  10. Those who have made fun of this day of small beginnings will celebrate when they see Zerubbabel holding this important stone. Those seven lamps represent my eyes--the eyes of the LORD--and they see everything on this earth.
  11. Then I asked the angel, "What about the olive trees on each side of the lampstand? What do they represent?
  12. And what is the meaning of the two branches from which golden olive oil flows through the two gold pipes?"
  13. "Don't you know?" he asked. "No sir, I don't," was my answer.
  14. Then he told me, "These branches are the two chosen leaders who stand beside the Lord of all the earth."

Zechariah was given a fifth vision. In it he saw a gold lampstand with a bowl on its top. There were seven lamps on the stand with a channel or conduit from the bowl to each lamp. Beside the lampstand were two olive trees, one on either side. The idea was that the olive trees provided perpetual oil to the bowl which supplied the lamps which could burn continuously.

Zechariah enquired about the meaning of what he saw. The reply was a message for Zerubbabel rather than an answer to the question. Zerubbabel was the governor of Judah and tasked with rebuilding the temple. As mentioned in the reflections for chapter 1, construction on the temple had begun 16 years earlier but the people had become discouraged and construction halted. Now, through this vision, the governor was being encouraged to renew efforts on the temple.

While the discouragement that halted construction was no doubt related to a lack of military power to protect workers along with a lack of manpower for the work, God was telling Zerubbabel that success in rebuilding the temple was not dependent on these factors. It was dependent on God's Spirit. No obstacle (mountain) was sufficient enough to stop Zerubbabel in his efforts as long as he was working in the power of the Holy Spirit. He would succeed and the capstone, denoting completion of the temple, would be brought out to be put in place amidst shouts of "Grace, grace to it!"

Zerubbabel was assured that completion of the temple was a sure thing (V. 9), and those who scoffed at the small work force available for the rebuilding would be silenced. The Lord would rejoice along with all Israel at the completion of the temple.

Zechariah asked again about the meaning of the two olive trees (V. 11) and was told, "These are the two anointed ones . . . who stand by the Lord of the whole earth." (V. 14) The two anointed ones are generally understood to refer to priests and kings who were anointed by God when appointed to their respective positions. In this context they are thought to refer specifically to Joshua, the high priest at this time, and Zerubbabel.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Reflections on Zechariah 3

 Zechariah 03  (Contemporary English Version)
  1. I was given another vision. This time Joshua the high priest was standing in front of the LORD's angel. And there was Satan, standing at Joshua's right side, ready to accuse him.
  2. But the LORD said, "Satan, you are wrong. Jerusalem is my chosen city, and this man was rescued like a stick from a flaming fire."
  3. Joshua's clothes were filthy.
  4. So the angel told some of the people to remove Joshua's filthy clothes. Then he said to Joshua, "This means you are forgiven. Now I will dress you in priestly clothes."
  5. I spoke up and said, "Also put a clean priestly turban on his head." Then they dressed him in priestly clothes and put the turban on him, while the LORD's angel stood there watching.
  6. After this, the angel encouraged Joshua by telling him that the LORD All-Powerful had promised:
  7. If you truly obey me, I will put you in charge of my temple, including the courtyard around it, and you will be allowed to speak at any time with the angels standing beside me.
  8. Listen carefully, High Priest Joshua and all of you other priests. You are a sign of things to come, because I am going to bring back my servant, the Chosen King.
  9. Joshua, I have placed in front of you a stone with seven sides. I will engrave something on that stone, and in a single day I will forgive this guilty country.
  10. Then each of you will live at peace and entertain your friends in your own vineyard and under your own fig trees.

Chapter 3 describes Zechariah's fourth vision which represents Israel's spiritual cleansing. Israel had rebelled against the Lord for centuries leading to her exile. But the Lord was taking her back and reinstating her in a close relationship with Himself which required that her sins be removed or forgiven.

The scene of this fourth vision was in the temple with Joshua, the high priest, standing before an Angel of the Lord and Satan standing at his right side. Joshua was representing all Israel in this scene and Satan was doing what he does - accusing. He was bringing up all Israel's sins. But the Lord was also doing what He does, which was being merciful and forgiving. The Lord rebuked Satan, showing that He was not going to listen to his accusations against Israel. Instead, the Lord instructed that Joshua's filthy clothes, representing his sin and the sin of Israel, be taken off, thus removing the guilt. Then the Lord instructed them to place splendid robes on him, representing his cleanness and that of Israel after their sin guilt was removed. Then a turban was placed on his head which may have represented Joshua's reinstatement as priest.

As the vision continued into verses 6-10, Joshua, the high priest, was given instructions by the Lord. He was to walk in "My ways," being personally upright, and he was to keep "My instructions," and fulfill his priestly duties as prescribed. If he were faithful in doing those two things he could expect to "rule My house," that is, continue to serve in the temple, "take care of My courts," which was to keep idolatry and other religious defilement from the temple, and the Lord would also "grant access among these who are standing here," which was possibly giving him access to God comparable to that of the angels who was among those "standing here."

Following His instructions to Joshua, the Lord foretold of the coming Messiah, saying that, "I am about to bring My servant, the Branch." And when this happens, the Lord says, "I will take away the guilt of this land in a single day." The Messiah is the Sin-Remover. When will He remove Israel's guilt in a single day? As with much of prophecy, the timelines run together. Some believe this event will occur when Christ returns which is the only time period with which we have any certainty of the conditions of peace and prosperity described in verse 10, "On that day, each of you will invite his neighbor to sit under his vine and fig tree."

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Reflections on Zechariah 2

 Zechariah 02  (Contemporary English Version)
  1. This time I saw someone holding a measuring line,
  2. and I asked, "Where are you going?" "To measure Jerusalem," was the answer. "To find out how wide and long it is."
  3. The angel who had spoken to me was leaving, when another angel came up to him
  4. and said, "Hurry! Tell that man with the measuring line that Jerusalem won't have any boundaries. It will be too full of people and animals even to have a wall.
  5. The LORD himself has promised to be a protective wall of fire surrounding Jerusalem, and he will be its shining glory in the heart of the city."
  6. The LORD says to his people, "Run! Escape from the land in the north, where I scattered you to the four winds.
  7. Leave Babylonia and hurry back to Zion."
  8. Then the glorious LORD All-Powerful ordered me to say to the nations that had raided and robbed Zion: Zion is as precious to the LORD as are his eyes. Whatever you do to Zion, you do to him.
  9. And so, he will put you in the power of your slaves, and they will raid and rob you. Then you will know that I am a prophet of the LORD All-Powerful.
  10. City of Zion, sing and celebrate! The LORD has promised to come and live with you.
  11. When he does, many nations will turn to him and become his people. At that time you will know that I am a prophet of the LORD All-Powerful.
  12. Then Judah will be his part of the holy land, and Jerusalem will again be his chosen city.
  13. Everyone, be silent! The LORD is present and moving about in his holy place.

God's role for Zechariah was to give those returning to Jerusalem hope for the future, encouraging them to rebuild. This He did by giving Zechariah a series of visions of the future. The first two of these visions are recorded in chapter one. The first was of a man on a red horse standing in the myrtle trees. Zechariah's message for Israel from this vision was that although the Lord had been angry with Israel and punished the nation, the Lord had returned to Jerusalem and His temple would be rebuilt and Israel would again prosper. In the second vision Zechariah saw four horns and four craftsmen and was given the message that the nations that scattered Judah and Israel would be dealt with.

Now, in chapter two, Zechariah is given a third vision. In it, a surveyor was measuring Jerusalem, and the message of the vision was that, "Jerusalem will be inhabited without walls because of the number of people and livestock in it." And furthermore, the Lord, "will be a wall of fire around it, and I will be the glory within it." The message that renewed prosperity was coming to Israel was continued in this third vision. Through the measuring of the city Israel was told that the current dimensions of Jerusalem would not hold the number of people that would eventually inhabit the city. Nor would walls be necessary around the city, for the Lord would be as a wall of fire around it and the glory within it. Their safety was guaranteed.

In verses 6-8 the Lord's message to Israel through the first three visions is given more detail. The Israelite exiles still living in Babylon were encouraged to "Leave the land of the north," and return to Jerusalem. 70 years had passed since the Israelites had been captured and marched as prisoners to Babylon. Any who might still be living who had been among those prisoners would be too old to consider a return to Jerusalem. This message was to those Israelites who had been born in Babylon. They were being encouraged to leave the only home they had known and return to a place that was in ruins and had no military security. The Lord was assuring them that He was guaranteeing their safety for He was about to deal with those nations who were a threat to them. Furthermore, the Lord conveyed to them how important they were to Him. As important as "the pupil of His eye."

The joy and blessings of the Lord for those who chose to follow Him did not lie in Babylon but in Jerusalem. If the wanted what the Lord offered they needed to get up and leave Babylon and go to Jerusalem. This is a message that we need to grasp still today. The blessings of the Lord cannot be enjoyed unless we relocate, leaving the place where we have been and going to the place the Lord has for us. For the Israelites it involved a geographical relocation. For us its primary message is that we cannot remain as we were before following the Lord if we want to enjoy the life He offers. Our life must change and take on the life that He has for us. It is accepting a whole new way of life.

The final verses of chapter two (10-13) tell of a wonderful time of joy and gladness when the Lord would take possession of Judah and Judah would be joined by many other nations who would also turn to the Lord. Though life as God's possession is not described, it is clear that it is a life to be desired, that no other way of life matches up to it.

As with most of the books of prophecy, the message moves back and forth between the present, the near future, and the far future. Often it is difficult to determine what is intended to be near future and what is far future. But with our perspective of over 2,000 years of history since this prophecy was recorded we realize that the message of verses 10-13 has not yet taken place and we must conclude that it is yet future.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Reflections on Zechariah 1

 Zechariah 01  (Contemporary English Version)
  1. I am the prophet Zechariah, the son of Berechiah and the grandson of Iddo. In the eighth month of the second year that Darius was king of Persia, the LORD told me to say:
  2. Israel, I, the LORD All-Powerful, was very angry with your ancestors. But if you people will return to me, I will turn and help you.
  3. (SEE 1:2)
  4. Don't be stubborn like your ancestors. They were warned by the earlier prophets to give up their evil and turn back to me, but they paid no attention.
  5. Where are your ancestors now? Not even prophets live forever.
  6. But my warnings and my words spoken by the prophets caught up with your ancestors. So they turned back to me and said, "LORD All-Powerful, you have punished us for our sins, just as you had planned."
  7. On the twenty-fourth day of Shebat, which was the eleventh month of that same year, the LORD spoke to me in a vision during the night: In a valley among myrtle trees, I saw someone on a red horse, with riders on red, brown, and white horses behind him.
  8. (SEE 1:7)
  9. An angel was there to explain things to me, and I asked, "Sir, who are these riders?" "I'll tell you," the angel answered.
  10. Right away, the man standing among the myrtle trees said, "These are the ones the LORD has sent to find out what's happening on earth."
  11. Then the riders spoke to the LORD's angel, who was standing among the myrtle trees, and they said, "We have gone everywhere and have discovered that the whole world is at peace."
  12. At this, the angel said, "LORD All-Powerful, for seventy years you have been angry with Jerusalem and the towns of Judah. When are you ever going to have mercy on them?"
  13. The LORD's answer was kind and comforting.
  14. So the angel told me to announce: I, the LORD All-Powerful, am very protective of Jerusalem.
  15. For a while I was angry at the nations, but now I am furious, because they have made things worse for Jerusalem and are not the least bit concerned.
  16. And so, I will have pity on Jerusalem. The city will be completely rebuilt, and my temple will stand again.
  17. I also promise that my towns will prosper--Jerusalem will once again be my chosen city, and I will comfort the people of Zion.
  18. Next, I saw four animal horns.
  19. The angel who was sent to explain was there, and so I asked, "What do these mean?" His answer was, "These horns are the nations that scattered the people of Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem, and took away their freedom." Then the LORD showed me four blacksmiths, and I asked, "What are they going to do?" He replied, "They are going to terrify and crush those horns."
  20. (SEE 1:19)
  21. (SEE 1:19)

Zechariah came on the scene in 520 b.c., nearly twenty years after Israel began returning to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon. Soon after the return had begun, rebuilding of the temple began, but the people had become discouraged and construction stopped for 16 years. Two months before Zechariah began his ministry, God raised up the prophet Haggai to encourage the people to renew their efforts to rebuild the temple. Coming on the heels of Haggai's ministry, Zechariah's task was to first motivate spiritual renewal which he approached by revealing to them God's plans for Israel's future. Through spiritual renewal he then led the people to renew their efforts to rebuild the temple.

Though Zechariah used God's plans for Israel's future as motivation for their spiritual renewal, he began, in these first verses of his book, by pointing out the futility of continuing in the ways of their ancestors. Their ancestors had not listened to the prophets and where were they now? The words of the Lord delivered by His prophets overtook them and their refusal to repent and return to the Lord led to the destruction of Jerusalem and their exile in Babylon.

Zechariah's first of eight visions was told, beginning in verse 7. In the vision Zechariah saw a man on a red horse standing in the myrtle trees. Other horses, presumably also with riders, stood with him. The man on the red horse reported to an angel that they had patrolled the earth and found only "calm and quiet." The earth was at peace and the inference was that Israel could be at ease concerning her safety.

The angel then conveyed the Lord's words to Zechariah. The Lord had been a little angry with Israel but the nations had made his intended punishment worse for Israel. But the Lord had now "graciously returned to Jerusalem," and "My house will be rebuilt within it." Furthermore, the Lord said, "My cities will again overflow with prosperity." The Lord was giving hope to Israel concerning her future. The temple would be rebuilt and the nation would prosper.

In quick succession Zechariah had a second vision. In it he saw four horns and four craftsmen. The horns represented the nations that had scattered Judah and Israel and the craftsmen represented the forces that would deal with these nations. The craftsmen would terrify and cut off the horns of those nations.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Reflections on Micah 7

 Micah 07  (Contemporary English Version)
  1. I feel so empty inside-- like someone starving for grapes or figs, after the vines and trees have all been picked clean.
  2. No one is loyal to God; no one does right. Everyone is brutal and eager to deceive everyone else.
  3. People cooperate to commit crime. Judges and leaders demand bribes, and rulers cheat in court.
  4. The most honest of them is worse than a thorn patch. Your doom has come! Lookouts sound the warning, and everyone panics.
  5. Don't trust anyone, not even your best friend, and be careful what you say to the one you love.
  6. Sons refuse to respect their own fathers, daughters rebel against their own mothers, and daughters-in-law despise their mothers-in-law. Your family is now your enemy.
  7. But I trust the LORD God to save me, and I will wait for him to answer my prayer.
  8. My enemies, don't be glad because of my troubles! I may have fallen, but I will get up; I may be sitting in the dark, but the LORD is my light.
  9. I have sinned against the LORD. And so I must endure his anger, until he comes to my defense. But I know that I will see him making things right for me and leading me to the light.
  10. You, my enemies, said, "The LORD God is helpless." Now each of you will be disgraced and put to shame. I will see you trampled like mud in the street.
  11. Towns of Judah, the day is coming when your walls will be rebuilt, and your boundaries enlarged.
  12. People will flock to you from Assyria and Egypt, from Babylonia and everywhere else.
  13. Those nations will suffer disaster because of what they did.
  14. Lead your people, LORD! Come and be our shepherd. Grasslands surround us, but we live in a forest. So lead us to Bashan and Gilead, and let us find pasture as we did long ago.
  15. I, the LORD, will work miracles just as I did when I led you out of Egypt.
  16. Nations will see this and be ashamed because of their helpless armies. They will be in shock, unable to speak or hear,
  17. because of their fear of me, your LORD and God. Then they will come trembling, crawling out of their fortresses like insects or snakes, lapping up the dust.
  18. Our God, no one is like you. We are all that is left of your chosen people, and you freely forgive our sin and guilt. You don't stay angry forever; you're glad to have pity
  19. and pleased to be merciful. You will trample on our sins and throw them in the sea.
  20. You will keep your word and be faithful to Jacob and to Abraham, as you promised our ancestors many years ago.

Micah describes the condition of the nation. The godly and upright people had vanished and he compared seeking them and not finding them to going into the vineyard after the grape harvest to find that there were no clusters left for him to eat. No one could be trusted. Everyone waited in ambush for one other. This was true even within families, for "A person's enemies are the people in his own home." But Micah was determined to remain faithful to the Lord. He knew God was his only hope for salvation.

Speaking in verses 8-13 as a representative of the nation, Micah addressed the enemies who God used to bring judgment on them. These enemies should withhold their rejoicing over the fall of Judah for her condition would not last and the fall of her enemies will come. Judah's fall was due to her sin, but once God was finished punishing her He would restore her and she would "see His salvation."

At that time those who had taunted Judah saying, "Where is the LORD your God?" would be put to shame when they saw the Lord restore the nation. But their shame will be even greater when God's judgment is turned on them and the earth becomes "a wasteland because of its inhabitants, and as a result of their actions."

Micah concluded the book exalting God for what He will do for Israel in the future. Yes, the nation will go through a time of suffering but God will restore her and will do "wondrous deed" in the process such as He did "in the days of your exodus from the land of Egypt." Those nations who caused Israel to fall will see this and be put to shame for they will be powerless to stop this restoration of Israel. Furthermore, they will be powerless to stop God's judgment of themselves.

Micah praised God for there is no other like Him whose anger does not last and He delights more in "faithful love" than in anger. God has not forgotten His promise to Abraham, for He will "show loyalty to Jacob and faithful love to Abraham, as You swore to our fathers from days long ago."

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Reflections on Micah 6

 Micah 06  (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD said to his people: Come and present your case to the hills and mountains.
  2. Israel, I am bringing charges against you-- I call upon the mountains and the earth's firm foundation to be my witnesses.
  3. My people, have I wronged you in any way at all? Please tell me.
  4. I rescued you from Egypt, where you were slaves. I sent Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to be your leaders.
  5. Don't forget the evil plans of King Balak of Moab or what Balaam son of Beor said to him. Remember how I, the LORD, saved you many times on your way from Acacia to Gilgal.
  6. What offering should I bring when I bow down to worship the LORD God Most High? Should I try to please him by sacrificing calves a year old?
  7. Will thousands of sheep or rivers of olive oil make God satisfied with me? Should I sacrifice to the LORD my first-born child as payment for my terrible sins?
  8. The LORD God has told us what is right and what he demands: "See that justice is done, let mercy be your first concern, and humbly obey your God."
  9. I am the LORD, and it makes sense to respect my power to punish. So listen to my message for the city of Jerusalem:
  10. You store up stolen treasures and use dishonest scales.
  11. But I, the LORD, will punish you for cheating with weights and with measures.
  12. You rich people are violent, and everyone tells lies.
  13. Because of your sins, I will wound you and leave you ruined and defenseless.
  14. You will eat, but still be hungry; you will store up goods, but lose everything-- I, the LORD, will let it all be captured in war.
  15. You won't harvest what you plant or use the oil from your olive trees or drink the wine from grapes you grow.
  16. Jerusalem, this will happen because you followed the sinful example of kings Omri and Ahab. Now I will destroy you and your property. Then the people of every nation will make fun and insult you.

Was the Lord being unjust in His charges against Judah and pronouncement of coming destruction? Was it God, maybe, who was at fault, driving Judah to rebel against Him? God, through Micah, was giving Judah the opportunity to make a case against Him. "Plead your case," He said, "and let the hills hear your voice." In other words, make your case before the whole world. "What have I done to you," He asks. "How have I wearied you?"

Having challenged Judah to make her case against Him, God began to point out times in the past when He had helped them and not hurt them. In doing so He pointed to some highlights in Israel's history, ones that were repeatedly referred to when being reminded of how God had brought Israel out of slavery to where she was at the present. I do a similar thing from time to time, recalling those events in my life when God blessed me or redirected my life in significant ways. When I do this it is always the same occasions for they are the markers in my life reminding me of what God has done for me.

The interesting thing is that there are times in my life that were not so good and I could recall these times also and possibly turn them into grievances against God as if He caused those hurtful events. But the reason those rather negative events don't come to mind is that they were, in most instances, the events that God turned into the blessings and life changing occasions for good in my life. In other words, those times of blessing and change for good were usually brought about by the negative events which God turned into blessing. So the negative is overridden by the positive and is forgotten in my memory unless I work to dredge them out.

So it was in Israel's history. All of the blessings pointed out in these verses, and similar verses throughout the Old Testament, were prompted by a negative experience which God turned into a blessing. It was the blessing, then, that was remembered rather than the negative experience. So what charge was Judah going to bring against God when He had turned their negative experiences into blessings?

In verses 6-8 Micah came to the heart of worship for those who worship the God of Israel which includes those who are followers of Jesus. It is a defining difference between worship of God and the worship of other religions. Other religions define ritualistic practices aimed at appeasing the god they worship and bringing the favor and blessing of that god on the lives of the worshipers. However, the lifestyle and behavior of the worshiper is not addressed. The worshiper can, for the most part, live as they wish.

Judaism also had it rituals and sacrifices, though they were aimed not so much at the appeasement of God but rather at atonement for the sins of the people. But their behavior and lifestyle was at the heart of their relationship with their God, for the laws He had given them are all about love for God and love for one's neighbor. If one is concerned for these two loves, their lifestyle is of great concern, for everything we do has an impact on our relationship with God and with other people.

This comes to the point of Micah's message in verses 7-8. "Would the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousand streams of oil," he asked in verse 7? And then he answered the question in verse 8, "He has told you men what is good and what it is the LORD requires of you: Only to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God." All the sacrifices they could possibly offer to God were of no significance if they didn't live justly and walk humbly with God. Yes, ritual offerings and sacrifices were a part of their worship, but they meant nothing if the people didn't live lives of justice and faithfulness to the teachings of God.

God's message through Micah comes in verse 9 to the outcome of the lifestyle Judah had chosen to live. She had turned from God to find her "blessings" from other sources. These sources were primarily through their own ability to devise wicked schemes to cheat people for their own profit. The outcome Judah could now expect, and which was already beginning to take place, was a lack of return on all her efforts. Whatever they did would turn to nothing, be it food crops, olives for oil, grapes for wine, etc.

They would go hungry and would fail to reap the benefit of their efforts in other ways. What the people were able to reap and store would be taken at the point of a sword. Judah would become "a desolate place," and the people would bear the Lord's scorn.