Flee to be Free (Zechariah 2:6-13)

With a new year comes a bevy of resolutions to change your life. According to the Bible, change occurs through repentance. Repentance is hard because it means fleeing from the sinful things you love. It means laying down the idols of power, approval and control. But with repentance comes the blessing of freedom. Freedom from slavery to sin. Freedom from God’s judgment.

In Zechariah 2, God commands the exiles to come out Babylon. Coming out of Babylon leads to blessing, for Babylon will be judged and God’s people will be restored.

Zechariah 2:6-13

[6] The Lord says, “Come away! Flee from Babylon in the land of the north, for I have scattered you to the four winds. [7] Come away, people of Zion, you who are exiled in Babylon!”

[8] After a period of glory, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies sent me against the nations who plundered you. For he said, “Anyone who harms you harms my most precious possession. [9] I will raise my fist to crush them, and their own slaves will plunder them.” Then you will know that the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has sent me.

[10] The Lord says, “Shout and rejoice, O beautiful Jerusalem, for I am coming to live among you. [11] Many nations will join themselves to the Lord on that day, and they, too, will be my people. I will live among you, and you will know that the Lord of Heaven’s Armies sent me to you. [12] The land of Judah will be the Lord’s special possession in the holy land, and he will once again choose Jerusalem to be his own city. [13] Be silent before the Lord, all humanity, for he is springing into action from his holy dwelling.”

What does the vision mean?

The whole vision is wrought with difficult parts. For example, does the passage refer only to Zechariah’s day, the future, or a combination of both?

I think that 2:6-7 refer to the future for two reasons. First, the return mentioned here is worldwide in scope: the exiles come from “the four winds” (i.e. the whole world). It is also not surprising that Babylon is used to symbolize the evil world system which opposes God’s people (Revelation 17-18). The second return from exile is greater than the first because it is world-wide in scope. Second, Israel’s exile had two components: physical and spiritual. So although the people returned physically to the land, they still did not return spiritually to the Lord (Hence the command: “Return to Me!” 1:3).

Next, in 2:8, the speaker changes and refers to Zechariah’s day. The speaker is no longer the Lord, but Zechariah. Zechariah explains his ministry. After God revealed His glory to him, God sent him out to prophesy against the nations. God will come in judgment against the pagan nations because of what they have done to Israel (1:9).

After a message of judgment against the nations, Zechariah records a word of future hope for Israel. God is coming to them! When God comes, “many nations will join themselves to the Lord on that day, and they, too, will be my people” (1:10). Alongside the incorporation of the Gentiles in God’s people, God’s glory returns to the land (1:11-12).

Finally, everyone is commanded to be silent before the Lord, because of His great work (1:13).

When will these things be?

It’s important that biblical prophecy is not abstracted from the person and work of Jesus Christ. On the other hand, both Jesus’ cross and second coming are part of His work. So not every prophecy points to His first coming, but some point to His end of the age return. In many cases, both aspects of His work—Jesus’ first and second coming—are in view due to the already/not yet nature of God’s kingdom. In other words, some prophecies have a beginning fulfillment in Jesus’ first coming, with a climactic second fulfillment at His second coming.

It is probably that case here. Jesus came to the earth and dwelt among us (John 1:14). After Jesus’ ascension, through the preaching on Pentecost, many nations joined themselves to the Lord (Acts 2:41). The restoration of God’s people begins through the death and resurrection of Jesus. He is forming a restored Israel, which first begins with Jews and Gentiles turning in faith to the Messiah, and is later culminated in Israel (as a nation) coming to Christ which in turn triggers even more Gentiles being included in God’s people (Romans 11:11-15).

So what does this mean for me?

Zechariah 2 is a call to you for repentance. It is a call to “flee from Babylon,” the evil world system which ensnares all of us to some degree. What do you love more than Jesus? Is it power? Do you need to be right all the right? Do you always need to get your way? Is it approval? Are you workaholic because need someone to validate you? Is it comfort? Do you try to achieve comfort at all cost, even getting mad when you are inconvenienced?

Release your idols and come to Jesus this year. He will give you the freedom you long for.

Great Walls of Fire! (Zechariah 2:1-5)

 “Will things ever turn around?” I think that’s a question all of us have asked ourselves at one time. Zechariah probably asked himself that question on a daily basis. At the time, things look bleak for the returned exiles. Their city lies in ruins. The city walls are torn down. Things seem hopeless. God, however, keeps surprising Zechariah with messages of hope and restoration. He promises to return to Jerusalem and restore her fortunes, and judge her enemies. (1:14-17, 18-21). In addition, God again gives Zechariah a vision of Jerusalem’s future restoration.

Zechariah 2:1-5

[1] When I looked again, I saw a man with a measuring line in his hand. [2] “Where are you going?” I asked. He replied, “I am going to measure Jerusalem, to see how wide and how long it is.” [3] Then the angel who was with me went to meet a second angel who was coming toward him. [4]The other angel said, “Hurry, and say to that young man, ‘Jerusalem will someday be so full of people and livestock that there won’t be room enough for everyone! Many will live outside the city walls. [5] Then I, myself, will be a protective wall of fire around Jerusalem, says the Lord. And I will be the glory inside the city!’”

The substance of the vision is found in verse 5: God will protect Jerusalem and be the glory in her midst. God will be a wall of fire around Jerusalem, which is symbolic of God’s protective presence.[1] The use of fire recalls Exodus where God led Israel by a pillar of fire (Exodus 13:21). God also came down in the form of fire at Sinai (Exodus 19:18). In contrast to the helpless community of Zechariah’s day, God will protect His people so that they will never fear invasion.

Much more, God Himself “will be the glory inside the city!” (2:5). When the first temple was constructed, God’s glory filled it (2 Chronicles 5:14). Later, because of Israel’s sin, God’s glory vacated the temple (Ezekiel 10:18-19).

According to this vision, God’s glory would not be confined to the temple; it would fill the whole city! Zechariah 14 confirms this: common household pots and utensils in Jerusalem would be considered “holy”…the same designation of pots and utensils used in the temple. In other words, God’s glorious presence, which was at first confined to the temple, will encompass all of Jerusalem!

Beeline to Christ

Jesus the Christ is the hinge on which all of God’s work turns. His body is the true temple and those who are now united with Christ comprise God’s Last Days temple (John 2:21-22; Ephesians 2:11-22). In addition, God’s glorious temple presence will descend from the heavens and fill the whole new creation (Revelation 21-22). But all of God’s restorative purposes could only happen through the desolation of His Son. Only through His Son leaving the glories of heaven could God turn His affection toward sinners.

Present Humiliation, Future Glory

The story of Jerusalem is much like the story of any Christ-follower, because it is ultimately the story of Christ. Jesus lived a life of suffering and humiliation. He was a man of sorrows who was rejected by His own people. He had no place to lay His head. He marched to the cross to die the most dishonorable death of His day. But His suffering and humiliation was not the end of the story.

And it’s not the end of your story too. It is true that all Christians follow in Christ’s footsteps of suffering (1 Peter 2:21). But we also know that “the suffering of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glories which will be revealed to us!” (Romans 8:18).

So although your current situation may seem pretty pathetic, all is not lost. Just as God was working through the small community of Zechariah’s day, He can also work through you. Even if you are laboring under the strain of suffering, you have a more glorious future awaiting you than you can even imagine. It will be glorious that you won’t even remember the pain. That’s a hope worth holding on to.

 

 

 

 

 


[1] I think the vision makes clear that the wall of fire is not to be taken literally because Jerusalem is described as being inhabited “without walls”  (2:4, NASB). The New Living Translation obscures the meaning of this important phrase. Thus, if the walls of fire were to be taken literally, the author would be implying that Jerusalem doesn’t have walls, but has walls!  I don’t think that in the new Jerusalem that people will have to make it through a literal wall of fire in order to enter the city. It’s a symbol for God’s protective presence.

Four Horns and Seventy Years Ago (Zechariah 1:18-21)

Zechariah and his contemporaries are trying to rebuild their lives after seventy years of exile. Back in the Promised Land, the Jewish community faces innumerable obstacles to actually accomplishing anything of significance. Then God sends another vision to Zechariah. After Zechariah sees a vision at night of horses in a valley (1:7-17), God gives him a vision of four horns and four blacksmiths (1:18-21).

Zechariah 1:18-21

[18] Then I looked up and saw four animal horns. [19] “What are these?” I asked the angel who was talking with me. He replied, “These horns represent the nations that scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.” [20] Then the Lord showed me four blacksmiths. [21] “What are these men coming to do?” I asked. The angel replied, “These four horns—these nations—scattered and humbled Judah. Now these blacksmiths have come to terrify those nations and throw them down and destroy them.”

Altar

I think that the New Living Translation gets it right when it identifies the horns as “four animal horns.” But four animal horns are typically associated with the altar of sacrifice. (See the picture on the left). In addition, if these animal horns were just free-floating horns, why would God send blacksmiths to deal with them instead of someone likes farmers or sheepherders? The answer is that Zechariah saw an altar with four horns.

What do the horns represent? The angel gives the answer: “These horns represent the nations that scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem” (1:19). I don’t think that the horns represent four specific nations, but rather the totality of nations. The Bible talks about the “four corners of the earth” and the “four winds.” I don’t think that even the biblical writers believed the world was flat. So they used expressions like that to express “completeness” or “totality.”

So Zechariah sees an altar with four horns. Then he sees four blacksmiths. The purpose of the blacksmiths is to “terrify those nations and throw them down and destroy them” (1:21). In the vision, the blacksmiths are coming to dismantle the altar. The dismantling of the altar represents judgment rendered on the nations, which exiled Israel, by other nations. Namely, it is a vision which shows Babylon and Assyria primarily being judged for the exile by Persia.

Why?

The question is “why?” Why would God give Zechariah this vision and why is this vision placed at this point in the book? Remember, this vision primarily has to do with the past: the judgment rendered on Babylon and Assyria by the Persians. But I think that God is using the past to encourage Zechariah’s future. In other words, God is saying: “Look at how I worked in the past by judging Israel’s oppressors! My plan is rolling forward. Like Miley Cyrus, it can’t stop, it won’t stop.”

I also think that the vision of the four horns functions like a hinge between 1:12-17 and 2:1-5. In both of those sections, Lord promises restoration for His people. Specifically, Jerusalem would be restored with an overflowing prosperity and populace (1:17; 2:4). But how does Jerusalem’s restoration come about? Through the judgment of the pagan nations, which is symbolized by the vision of the four horns! The vision of the four horns depicts God’s past judgment on the pagan judgments which is a pledge of God’s future judgment and subsequent restoration of His people.

What About Me?

So how does this intersect with your life? The passage focuses on God’s judgment and His sovereignty. It stirs in me a longing for the world to be made right. Evil will not get its way forever. God will work on behalf of His people—those who are “in Christ”—and judge His enemies. But also, I know that the decisive victory was won on the cross as Christ “disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross” (Col. 2:15). So I can rest easy today because I know that my future is secure. Although I may suffer physically, my spiritual life is secure. And a physical existence beyond comprehension awaits me at the resurrection on the Last Day.

How Long, O Lord? (Zechariah 1:7-17)

When your country has been invaded, its defenses torn down, and its capital city burned with fire, you probably need some hope. When your people have finally returned to the land, attempt to rebuild the main city and main religious center, you will probably be quite uncertain as to what will happen next.

That is the scenario which Zechariah finds himself in. The Israelites are back in the land after seventy years of exile. Now rebuilding must commence. Both Jerusalem with its walls and the temple lay wasted. So what will happen next in Israel’s history? Will Israel survive? Will the temple be rebuilt? Those are the questions that Zechariah 1:7-17 deals with.

Scene One: A Man on a Horse

[7] Three months later, on February 15, the Lord sent another message to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah and grandson of Iddo. [8] In a vision during the night, I saw a man sitting on a red horse that was standing among some myrtle trees in a small valley. Behind him were riders on red, brown, and white horses. [9] I asked the angel who was talking with me, “My lord, what do these horses mean?” “I will show you,” the angel replied. [10] The rider standing among the myrtle trees then explained, “They are the ones the Lord has sent out to patrol the earth.” [11] Then the other riders reported to the angel of the Lord, who was standing among the myrtle trees, “We have been patrolling the earth, and the whole earth is at peace.”

Zechariah receives a vision from God at night. Essentially, he sees an army in a valley. That must have been a pretty unnerving for Zechariah! “Was this army going to attack Israel?” he may have thought. The meaning of the vision is that the army of horses were God’s agents who patrolled the earth. The idea of patrolling the earth signifies God’s sovereignty over human affairs.

The agents find “the whole earth is at peace.” Probably, the “whole earth” refers to the Persian Empire which was in control of Israel at the time. The Persian Empire was at peace, while the exiles of Israel were laboring under intense distress. Yet, in the midst of such discouraging news, Zechariah can take some hope because the army is not set to destroy Israel. Rather, they give the report of their patrol.

Scene Two: The Lament—How Long, O Lord?

[12] Upon hearing this, the angel of the Lord prayed this prayer: “O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, for seventy years now you have been angry with Jerusalem and the towns of Judah. How long until you again show mercy to them?” [13] And the Lord spoke kind and comforting words to the angel who talked with me. [14] Then the angel said to me, “Shout this message for all to hear: ‘This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: My love for Jerusalem and Mount Zion is passionate and strong. [15] But I am very angry with the other nations that are now enjoying peace and security. I was only a little angry with my people, but the nations inflicted harm on them far beyond my intentions.[16] “‘Therefore, this is what the Lord says: I have returned to show mercy to Jerusalem. My Temple will be rebuilt, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, and measurements will be taken for the reconstruction of Jerusalem.’[17] “Say this also: ‘This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: The towns of Israel will again overflow with prosperity, and the Lord will again comfort Zion and choose Jerusalem as his own.’”

Upon hearing the report, the angel of the Lord (who is probably also the man on the red horse), laments, “How long until you again show mercy to [Israel]?” The pagan nations are prospering while God’s people suffer. How long will that last?

God gives hope to Zechariah. One day, He will turn His affection back toward His people and they will be restored.

When will these things take place? It’s difficult to know with certainty, but the text probably has a near and a far fulfillment. In a real sense, God did allow the temple to be rebuilt in Jerusalem. And many Jews did return back to Jerusalem. And yet, these promises look for a glorious restoration beyond the time of the first return from exile.

The glorious restoration, however, also occurs in two “parts” if you will: an already fulfillment with the coming of Jesus, and a not yet fulfillment at the end. Christ is the true temple (John 2:21; 4:14, 21-24). And now, all those united to Christ by faith are already part of God’s temple (Eph. 2:21; 1 Pet. 2:5).

And yet, we have not received the fullness of our salvation. We long for the New Jerusalem—symbolic of God’s glorious presence—to come down out of heaven and rest upon the earth, so that all the earth becomes God’s glorious temple.

So Zechariah 1:7-17 is all about hope. We can have hope in God’s promises. He will bring restoration. And that restoration has begun in and through Jesus Christ.

Coming Home (Zechariah 1:1-6)

Diddy’s newer-ish song (or it is Puff Daddy, or  P.Diddy? I can’t keep up), “Coming Home” is an “autobiographical” account of his desire to return home to his family. In the song, Diddy admits some mistakes he has made, but there is an absence of a real acknowledgement of his sins and turning away from those things.

In a way, the whole book of Zechariah is an invitation to come home. The key difference is that God invites the returned exiles to embrace repentance and then come home. Ironically, in a sense the exiles are already home—they have physically returned to the land of Palestine. But the exiles still need to embrace repentance and come home spiritually.

Unfortunately, the idea of repenting is grotesque to some people. But Zechariah teaches that repentance is the pathway to receive God’s restoring work:

Zechariah 1:1-6 (NLT)

In November of the second year of King Darius’s reign, the Lord gave this message to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah and grandson of Iddo:

[2] “I, the Lord, was very angry with your ancestors. [3] Therefore, say to the people, ‘This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.’ [4] Don’t be like your ancestors who would not listen or pay attention when the earlier prophets said to them, ‘This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Turn from your evil ways, and stop all your evil practices.’

[5] “Where are your ancestors now? They and the prophets are long dead. [6] But everything I said through my servants the prophets happened to your ancestors, just as I said. As a result, they repented and said, ‘We have received what we deserved from the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. He has done what he said he would do.’”

Rely on God’s Word (1:1)

Isn’t it weird that the book of Zechariah opens with a pretty specific date? “In November of the second year of King Darius’s reign.” This date sets Zechariah’s prophetic activity at a particular time in history. God’s word comes to His people in history. It is not merely infallible spiritual truth injected into a fallible historical husk, which can then be shucked off. God is the God over history. He works in world history, and He works in your history. Repentance means relying on His word: heeding His warnings, trusting His promises, and ultimately, embracing Christ as Savior.

Return to God’s Way (1:2)

The call of repentance is the call to come home. To return to God. This text points out that if the returned exiles would return to God, then He would return to them! I believe in God’s total sovereignty over all history and life. But God desires a personal relationship with His people so I don’t think it’s good to so emphasize God’s sovereignty that God seems unconcerned, uncaring, and unemotional.

God does respond to His people!
“You will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).

Turning from your sins means God will accept you back through the sacrifice of Christ:
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9)

Recall God’s Warning (1:3-6)

The essence of God’s warning is this: “All your ancestors are dead, but My Word continues on. Repent, or you too will pass away.” God’s Word will come to pass and will be accomplished! Will you resist it? Or will you submit to it and obey it?

 

God’s restoring work comes through repentance: turning away from your sins and embracing God’s way. With the coming of Jesus, God has made a way for all people to be accepted: coming to Christ for forgiveness.

But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. Romans 3:21-22  (NLT)

God Renews, Restores, Repairs

The book of Zechariah can be summed up in one word: Restoration. It’s about the restoration of Israel’s land, temple, city, priesthood, prophetic office, and even the people. Just as every aspect of Israel had been corrupted by sin and lead to exile, so also, every part of Israel will be renewed, restored.

A Brief History: Slavery, Freedom, Exile

Israel’s history roughly covers three “periods.” Israel was first enslaved in Egypt. God then sent Moses to lead Israel out of Egypt through the great event known as the Exodus. God redeemed His people, and gave them freedom. God brought Israel out from the land of slavery into the Promised Land of Palestine. On the way to her inheritance, Israel received God’s Law at Sinai. If Israel would obey the Law, then she would have long life in the land. Disobedience, however, would lead to exile, being kicked out of the Promised Land.

Unfortunately, Israel did not obey the Law of the Lord, and was sent away into exile. Due to God’s mercy, exile is not the end for Israel. God sends His prophets to Israel and they promise that a day is coming when Israel will return from exile. The return from exile will be characterized by the resurrection from the dead, the restoration of the temple, and the ushering in of the new creation.

After seventy years in Babylon, Israel did return, but not in the glorious way expected by the prophets. The question persisted: You can get the people out of Babylon, but how do you get Babylon out of the people? The answer unfolded in the Hebrew Bible is that the exile has two dimensions: a physical return, and an even greater spiritual return.

The Message of Zechariah

It is at this moment when Zechariah the prophet steps on the scene. Zechariah is prophesying in Israel when the people have physically returned from exile. Israel is back in the land. But the people have not experienced the greater return from exile. The people are waiting for the return, or to use exodus language, the Second Exodus.

The reason why the people have not experienced the greater return—and restoration—is because sin had not been dealt a definitive blow. The returned exiles are just as sinful as the generations which lead up to the exile (as demonstrated in both Zechariah and Malachi). When the new day dawns, however, sin will be wiped away and restoration will commence. God’s restoration will cover all aspects of Israel life:

Land

“I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day” (3:9).

“‘It will come about in that day,’ declares the Lord, ‘that I will cut off the names of the idols in the land, and they will no longer be remembered’” (13:2)

Temple

“Look, a man whose name is Branch, for He will branch out where He is; and He will build the temple of the Lord” (6:12)

Prophecy

“I will also remove the prophets and the unclean spirits from the land” (13:2).

Priesthood

“Thus, He will be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices” (6:13)

City

“I will return to Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the City of Truth, and the mountain of the Lord of hosts will be called the Holy Mountain” (8:3)

Why Does This Matter?

Zechariah matters because it points to Jesus. Jesus is the One whose sacrificial death on the cross puts away sin and makes restoration possible. It is Jesus’ resurrection which ushers in the new creation into this broken, fallen world. What God will do for Israel, He will do for the whole world. Amazingly, the prophet Jeremiah talks about a return from exile for Gentile (non-Jewish) nations (Jeremiah 12:14-17). Zechariah also talks about Gentiles being made family with the Jews:

“Many nations will join themselves to the Lord in that day and will become My people.”

All people can be made family together through faith in the One man, Jesus Christ. So, Zechariah is all about restoration. And restoration comes through Jesus.