weekly word – 4/18/24

Zechariah 8

Zechariah 7 and 8 are two halves of God’s response to the inquiry about the Jewish fasts commemorating God’s judgment in the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem. In the last chapter, we saw God reply that He had never commanded any of these fasts. Instead, His desire was that they obey His word by making legal decisions that family apply the Torah, showing faithful love within the community, and refraining from abusing the least powerful people in the nation.

In chapter 8, God replaces their vision of Jerusalem’s dreary past with a vision of its glorious future in verses 1-8

The word of the Lord of Armies came: The Lord of Armies says this: “I am extremely jealous for Zion; I am jealous for her with great wrath.” The Lord says this: “I will return to Zion and live in Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the Faithful City; the mountain of the Lord of Armies will be called the Holy Mountain.” The Lord of Armies says this: “Old men and women will again sit along the streets of Jerusalem, each with a staff in hand because of advanced age. The streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls playing in them.” The Lord of Armies says this: “Though it may seem impossible to the remnant of this people in those days, should it also seem impossible to me?”—this is the declaration of the Lord of Armies. The Lord of Armies says this: “I will save my people from the land of the east and the land of the west. I will bring them back to live in Jerusalem. They will be my people, and I will be their faithful and righteous God.”

First, God says He will return to Jerusalem to personally dwell there (8:3). Everything else that happens after this is a consequence of God’s sanctifying presence:

  • Jerusalem will be called “the Faithful City”, its mountain called “the Holy Mountain” (3)
  • Men and women will grow old in Jerusalem and young children will be safe in the streets (4-5)
  • God will bring back every remaining Israelite into Jerusalem from around the world. (6-8)
  • They will be faithful to Him and enjoy His righteousness and faithfulness to them (8)

Here God describes the glorious future of Jerusalem. What He describes is such a contrast with the memory of Babylon’s destruction of Jerusalem. In that period, the people were unfaithful, unholy, unsafe, scattered by God, and separated from His presence. But in this future kingdom of the Messiah, all those dark realities would be reversed by God’s physical and spiritual presence among His people.

Based on these hopeful prophecies, God then tells Zechariah a series of present-day commands in verses 9-13:

The Lord of Armies says this: “Let your hands be strong, you who now hear these words that the prophets spoke when the foundations were laid for the rebuilding of the temple, the house of the Lord of Armies. For prior to those days neither people nor animals had wages. There was no safety from the enemy for anyone who came or went, for I turned everyone against his neighbor. But now, I will not treat the remnant of this people as in the former days”—this is the declaration of the Lord of Armies. “For they will sow in peace: the vine will yield its fruit, the land will yield its produce, and the skies will yield their dew. I will give the remnant of this people all these things as an inheritance. As you have been a curse among the nations, house of Judah and house of Israel, so I will save you, and you will be a blessing. Don’t be afraid; let your hands be strong.”

Notice how God begins and ends this paragraph with the same phrase, “Let you hands be strong”. That phrase means that the people should take courage and engage their strength in the rebuilding project without a doubt about its importance or success.

In former days, there was a lack of wages and safety during the siege, when God “turned everyone against his neighbor”. But since that judgment has passed, the people must realize God will bless their efforts with rain and fruitfulness.

The next little oracle in verses 14-17 repeats this encouragement and reminds the people of God’s moral imperatives, which far outweigh the man-made ceremonial traditions of fasting:

For the Lord of Armies says this: “As I resolved to treat you badly when your ancestors provoked me to anger, and I did not relent,” says the Lord of Armies, “so I have resolved again in these days to do what is good to Jerusalem and the house of Judah. Don’t be afraid. These are the things you must do: Speak truth to one another; make true and sound decisions within your city gates. Do not plot evil in your hearts against your neighbor, and do not love perjury, for I hate all this”—this is the Lord’s declaration.

Three parts of this oracle are worthy of observation. First, God continues to assure the people that He will bless them in their present endeavors. Second, we read the command “Don’t be afraid” again, which is repeated from the last paragraph. And third, God reminds the people of their need to focus on living lawfully and harmoniously with each other in several ways which are related back to the imperatives of chapter 7:

  • speak truth to one another
  • make true and sound decisions
  • do not plot evil in your heart against your neighbor
  • do not love perjury

In other words, man-made fasts won’t get them God’s blessing. God’s blessing comes when they respond to His loving protection by showing a similar kind of loving protection to each other in the nation. 

In the last section of chapter 8, verses 18-23, God directly addresses the question brought up in chapter 7 about fasting:

Then the word of the Lord of Armies came to me: The Lord of Armies says this: “The fast of the fourth month, the fast of the fifth, the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth will become times of joy, gladness, and cheerful festivals for the house of Judah. Therefore, love truth and peace.” The Lord of Armies says this: “Peoples will yet come, the residents of many cities; the residents of one city will go to another, saying: Let’s go at once to plead for the Lord’s favor and to seek the Lord of Armies. I am also going. Many peoples and strong nations will come to seek the Lord of Armies in Jerusalem and to plead for the Lord’s favor.” The Lord of Armies says this: “In those days, ten men from nations of every language will grab the robe of a Jewish man tightly, urging: Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”

In the future, God promises to turn those fasts into feasts, cheerful festivals, because they will mark the reversal of His cursing to blessing for all Israel. 

But for now, God’s command is simple “Love truth and peace” (8:19). That is, do not burden yourselves with keeping the traditions of men; rather, honor the command of God. Again, God returns to the vision of the future, glorious Jerusalem in reminding the people of their obligation to represent God to the nations. As the people worship God in truth and peace now, they start to spread the knowledge of God to those nations.

As I reflect on these two chapters, I’m reminded as a pastor of all the events and traditions that fill the year for the church. As nice as they are, none of them will change us on its own. The only way a human being matures into the image of Christ is by seeking Him out through His word and responding to Him with heartfelt submission. We don’t need to add commands; we just need to guard the ones He’s given us.

Pastor David