– Israel, over their history, had a short time where Jerusalem was the city of God’s blessing, but during the end of the reign of Solomon, things changed radically.
– From the beginning of the divided kingdom, Israel (the northern 10 tribes under Jeroboam) and Judah (the southern 2 tribes of Judah and Benjamin under Rehoboam) were overtaken with idolatry.
– The Northern tribes:
– 1 Kings 12:25-33 tells how Jeroboam, the first king of the northern 10 tribes of Israel, instigated the worship of 2 golden calves in Bethel and Ai to keep the people from going back to Jerusalem to worship and thereby remembering their rebellion against the rightful king and their rebellion against the Lord.
– This continued on through the reigns of 12 kings, over 150+ years of time.
– God sent prophet after prophet to warn both the northern kingdom and the southern kingdom, but nobody listened.
– In 722 BC, 2 Kings 16:6-8 records how the 10 northern tribes were conquered and carried off into exile because of their constant and unrepentant idolatry, and they’re lost in history to this day.
-The Southern Tribes
– Babylon conquered Israel in 605 BC and took a majority of the nation into 70 years of captivity.
– After the 70 years, 2 Chron. 36:22 records how God stirred up the heart of Cyrus to fulfill that prophecy by Jeremiah and Ezra 1 records how in 538 BC Cyrus let the Israelites return to their land and rebuild their city and their temple.
– But, the people got so settled in Babylon that when it came time to leave, slightly fewer than 50,000 came back to Israel (Neh. 7:66-67).
– Nehemiah and Ezra tell us that they faced tremendous persecution.
– Ezra 3 tells us that they rebuilt the altar, laid the foundation of the temple, started working on the temple walls and had re-instituted the sacrificial, but Ezra 4:4-5 tells us that the temple rebuilding was stopped.
– “Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build 5 and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia”.
– This discouragement lasted 18 years!
– The northern tribes were completely lost in history and though the southern tribes went into captivity and returned, they were overcome by fear and thought that God’s blessing was lost forever.
-The prophets Haggai and Zechariah appear in Israel in Ezra 5:1.
– Haggai informed the nation that they Lord wanted the work to resume, and Zechariah brought encouragement to continue the work.
– Zechariah is a book of blessings; a book full of prophesies that are meant to comfort and encourage the Israelites who are facing opposition back in their land.
– In Zechariah, God delivers prophecy after prophecy of blessing for Israel, but that blessing comes with conditions. Right in the first 6 verses, God states what has to come first.
– In Zech 1:1-6 we see the 3 prerequisites of divine blessing:
Walking through the text:
Prerequisite #1: Revelation
– V. 1 – “In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius…”
– Haggai spoke in the sixth month, so this tells us how close together these prophecies were.
– “…The Word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, son of Iddo“
– This is where blessing starts; a Revelation from God!
– Where would Israel find out why God’s blessing was missing from their temple and their nation?
– How would they figure out what was going on and why God hadn’t restored Israel to it’s former glory?
– They needed the word of the Lord:
– In the Old Testament, God spoke through his prophets both via verbal oracles and written oracles.
– Israel needed to know what God had said about their scenario, and they had two options:
– Prophets weren’t running around and speaking God’s word for most of Israel’s history, and in the time that prophets weren’t around, Israel “heard God’s voice” through the scriptures.
– That wasn’t the case now, since “The Word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah…”
– Israel was about to get exactly what they needed to know what was going on with God and their scenario, and divine revelation precedes divine blessing since you cannot do what God wants you to do if you don’t know what God wants you to do.
– Though prophets are no longer around, we still have God’s very words from God’s very mouth available to us; his word was written down through his prophets and preserved for us! The fact that there aren’t prophets running around these days is no excuse for playing the “ignorance of God’s will” card: we can still hear God’s voice and must.
– If you are wanting God to bring a blessing into your life, you need to find out what God says about his blessings and trust God to bring that blessing he’s said he’ll bring it and/or keep the promises he has made! Don’t trust God to bless you in a way he’s never said he would or keep promises he’s never made.
Prerequisite #2: Repentance
– V. 2 – 3 – “The LORD was very angry with your fathers. 3 Therefore say to them, ‘Thus declares the LORD of hosts: Return to me, says the LORD of hosts, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts.”
– V. 2 “The LORD was very angry with your fathers”
– The first word God gives is that he does not allow sin to go unpunished!
– The response God required was based on objective truth and historic facts: Israel was involved in centuries of idolatry and the captives knew why they were in Babylon!
– Daniel 9:3-15 includes a long prayer that Daniel made on behalf of Israel that openly admits that Israel rebelled against God, ignored his prophets for centuries, and “As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us; yet we have not entreated the favor of the Lord our God, turning from our iniquities and gaining insight by your truth.” (9:13)
– V. 3 “The Lord of hosts” –
– Yahweh Tsaba‘oth.
– In the OT times, a “host” was a large group, and large groups were usually either the army that was coming or the people that were fleeing.
– Best translated “Lord of armies”
– This is a military title for God: this isn’t the name he calls himself when he’s happy.
– 1 Sam. 17:44-45 – “The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field.” 45 Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.”
– The Lord calls himself “The Lord of Hosts” three times in one verse and repetition is a reminder of who is speaking through Zechariah; the commander and chief of all commanders and chiefs. He’s not here to bring a “care card”, but is there in his military office to demand terms of surrender.
– What does the Lord of Hosts say?
– V. 3 “Return to me and I will return to you”
– Lit. “turn to me”
– God wanted Israel to turn to him:
– This was a command to surrender: to turn away from idolatry and turn to God.
– This was a command to surrender: to turn from disobedience to obedience.
– This was a command to surrender: God was calling his wife, Israel, back home from her life or prostitution.
– “and I will return to you”
– Literally – “and I will turn to you”
– God was not suggesting that he had forgotten Israel:
– Isaiah 59:1-2 – “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; 2 but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.”
– God couldn’t turn and bless a sinful Israel; The Lord of Hosts couldn’t have dealings with a rebel state that was in active rebellion against him! God needed Israel to make peace with him, and that only came with unilateral surrender.
– God doesn’t put up with any allegiance to anyone or anything outside of himself. Everyone who follows Yahweh needs to fly a white flag.
– If you want God’s blessing in your life, it starts with revelation and is always followed up with repentance; God brings blessings on his terms, not yours, and his terms always include the word “turn”.
– Just in case Israel was tempted to think that they would get some sort of special treatment, God gives a third prerequisite for blessing…
Prerequisite #3: Remembrance
– V. 4 – “Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets cried out, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, Return from your evil ways and from your evil deeds.’ But they did not hear or pay attention to me, declares the LORD.”
– The message that God had for Israel was nothing new; God had been calling Israel to “turn!” for hundreds of years!
– In fact, we all get the same message that they got:
– Remember those who came before: learn from their bad example and turn back to the Lord of Hosts!
– Every believer needs to remember 3 things:
a. V. 5 “Your fathers, where are they?”
– They are dead.
– Those who disobey eventually die; God’s patience is vast but not endless.
– You don’t get unlimited chances to obey.
b. V. 5 “And the prophets, do they live forever?”
– They are dead.
– God doesn’t continually send warnings; Israel’s history has very little time marked by active prophesy and after Malachi, there would be 400+ years of prophetic silence.
– You don’t get unlimited chances to hear the warnings God sends you.
c. V. 6 “But my words and my statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not overtake your fathers? So they repented and said, ‘As the LORD of hosts purposed to deal with us for our ways and deeds, so has he dealt with us.”
– God’s word of warning came to pass for them because every word of his comes to pass!
– After the captivity, even the Israelites realized that God’s warnings had all come to pass:
– Ezra 5:12 – “But because our fathers had angered the God of heaven, he gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this house and carried away the people to Babylonia”
– Nobody gets special treatment, especially you.
– You need to remember what the Lord has promised and done so that you end up diving into the same errors as those who came before you.
– God’s blessing in your starts with revelation, is followed up with repentance and is anchored in remembrance that God always keeps promises to bless and curse!
– This is the real meaning of the biblical phrase “Be holy for I am holy” (Lev. 11:44-45; Lev. 19:2, 20:7; 1 Peter 1:15-16): it’s a threat. God is holy and will act in an upright way, even when you don’t…so be holy or else you’re placing yourself in contest with his own holiness, and God will uphold his holiness at your expense (i.e. he will discipline you and/or worse). God is no idolater; he loves you, but not more than he loves himself.
– This now sets up Zechariah 7:7-17: Zechariah’s first night vision. This is the passage where we’re ultimately headed, and this is the passage that the Lord has really burned into my heart over the last 2 years. This contextual set up is important, because:
a. It’s necessary to get just what was going on in Zechariah’s day and how bad things were going for Israel.
b. It’s necessary to remember the shocking threat that God brings against a suffering Israel by means of his prophet. Yahweh is not happy with Israel (confirming their suspicions) and calls them, as the commander and chief of the armies of Heaven, to surrender. What do you think he’s going to say next, if his first words come in the form of a subtle declaration of war? Can you imagine that Zechariah is expecting more bad news?
Darn right Skippy.
I’ll put up the next installment in a few days and let this simmer in the minds of my readers for a little.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “The Armchair Homiletician” Unger