God's Prophet of Restoration and Glory
4 Jul 2009, Dr Barry Wright
(Barry is Thornleigh's Church Pastor)
GOD'S PROPHET OF RESTORATION AND GLORY
The year is 539 BC and Cyrus the great of Persia had just conquered the mighty empire of the Babylonians. Following his normal policy of conciliation towards conquered nations he immediately set about to institute his respect for the Babylonian god called 'Marduk' or 'Merodach' (Jer 50: 2). This particular god was the god of war and patron deity of the city of Babylon (Lockyer, 1986: 432).
This conciliatory attitude towards the religious feelings of all of his conquered nations is further shown in a decree that now permits the exiled Jews who were living in Babylon to return home and rebuild their Temple in the holy city of Jerusalem (Nichol Vol 4, 1955: 1073).
Taking advantage of the Persian king's gracious gesture, a group of approximately 50,000 exiles made the decision to return home. Under the leadership of a man called Zerubbabel, who was recognised as a descendant of King David, they set about to lay the foundation of their Second Temple to the God of heaven.
This was to see the Jews, a once proud and powerful nation as God meant them to be, now become a pitiful and insignificant remnant, dwelling in their promised land only because of the good graces and courtesy of a foreign ruler (Mears, 1983: 322).
However, while receiving the permission to rebuild, the neighbouring enemies of the Jewish people set about to secure a reversing of this edict. The opposition against this decree was to continue all through the reign of Cyrus and of his successor Cambyses. While God interposed on behalf of His people and prevented this setback from happening, the people became so discouraged that the work that had begun so well, slowed down until it virtually ceased (Nichol Vol 4, 1955: 1073).
This continual opposition had come mainly from the Samaritans. This group were a mixed race of people that had sprung up through the intermarriage of heathen colonists from the provinces of Assyria with the remnants of the ten tribes that had been left behind in Samaria and Galilee. While they claimed to worship the true God, they were, in fact, idolaters in heart and practice (White, 1943: 567).
Originally, they had come to offer their help in the erection of the temple, but they were refused. It was recognised that if the Jewish leaders had accepted their offer of assistance, it would have opened the door to idolatry. It seems that the Jews were not slow in discerning the insincerity in this offer of help.
They were aware that the Lord had already declared through Moses in Deut 7: 2-4; 14: 2 that they were not to make a covenant with the surrounding peoples nor show mercy to them or marry them for He says '…they will turn thy son from following me, that they may serve other God's…'
As a result of the Jewish leader's refusal the Samaritan's became untiring in their opposition. Ezra 4: 4, 5 says that they '…weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building, and hired counsellors against them, to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius.'
However, it needs to be understood that God was still working with them and it was during this time that the people should have spared no effort in their building activities. Sadly, as a result of the strong, bold and determined opposition, the builders lost heart and began to question whether the time was right to continue. All of these issues plus the unsettled political situation in the Persian Empire led to great discouragement among the Jews. Consequently, instead of rebuilding the Temple, they began caring for their own material interests and as a result they lapsed into spiritual lethargy. Difficult times were bound to follow.
However, in all this dark hour of turmoil God does not forget His people.
To meet this crisis God now raises up a young man who had also returned with the exiles to Jerusalem. He was to become a contemporary of the prophet Haggai and along with the inspiring leadership of Joshua the high priest and Zerubbabel he was to see the completion of the temple in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius (Nichol, 1955: 1074).
The young man's name was Zechariah, the son of Berechia (Zech 1: 1)
Born a captive in Babylon he had returned to Jerusalem with the other exiles and in the year 520 BC was now being called by God to the prophetic ministry. He was now to be a prophet to this pitiful, insignificant remnant group of people.
His name, which meant 'God remembers', was to be a constant reminder to the people that God had not forgotten them. The messages of hope and encouragement he was to bring was to help the discouraged exiles to move forward with optimism for the future.
It is interesting to note that there are twenty-nine persons in the Bible who were to share the name of Zechariah. This name was to be a constant reminder to God's people in all ages and in their varying types of circumstances that the God of heaven was ever willing to dwell in their midst.
The prophet Haggai was an old man when Zechariah began his work and it was this timely support that proved to be a tremendous help to him.
It is believed that Zechariah also functioned as a priest because Zech 1: 1 and Neh 12: 1,4,16 tells us that he carried on the priestly line of his grandfather Iddo.
Zechariah, who was also a great poet, was to become known as the prophet of restoration and glory. He was to make clear to the people of his day that their present situation would not always be that way and that one day the Messiah would come and they would rise to power.
Zechariah in his book now provides more details about the Saviour more than any other prophet except Isaiah. He talks about the branch (3: 8), the servant (3: 8), Jesus entry into Jerusalem on a colt (9: 9), Jesus as the good shepherd (9: 16; 11: 11), the smitten shepherd (13: 7), being betrayed for 30 pieces of silver (11: 12-13), his hands being pierced (12: 10), being wounded in the house of His friends (13: 6), and His coming on the Mount of Olives (14: 3-8) (Mears, 1983: 323).
Zechariah's book was to be the largest among the Minor Prophets, containing fourteen chapters in all and was to have much in common with the books of Daniel and Revelation. As such, he was able to share with Daniel the honour of being the Old Testament equivalent of what Revelation is for the New Testament.
Zechariah was to prophecy for three years and his message was all about the glorious future rather than the sad circumstances of the present.
His keen enthusiasm for the rebuilding of the temple was to keep the people on task to finish the work. Serious crop failures and economic problems had so discouraged them that it was only the continual prompting, first of all of Haggai and then of Zechariah that kept them at the job at hand.
It is interesting to note that during this time Zechariah does not condemn the people but always presents a glowing picture of God's continual presence to strengthen and help. He especially encourages Zerubbabel, who as Governor of the people was conscious of his own weaknesses. Zechariah's words found in Zech 4: 6-10 are well known to most of us. Listen to what he says:
'Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit saith the LORD of hosts.'
He continues by promising that the mountains of difficulty would eventually be removed and we see how marvellously this truth is eventually fulfilled at Pentecost when God filled men with His power (Mears, 1983: 323).
However, it was during this period of great discouragement when the work of restoration was almost brought to a halt that Zechariah was to receive a series of night visions from God. All eight visions, which were given two months after the prophet Haggai's last recorded message, were designed to encourage and inspire the exiles to go forward in faith with their appointed task (Nichol, 1955: 1088).
While Zechariah was a realist in that he understood the problems of his people very well, he also recognised that the help they needed was to come from beyond themselves. It was to come from the Lord.
Zech 1: 18 tells us that Zechariah '…lifted up his eyes and saw…'
Rather than keeping his eyes on earthly things, he was living so near to the Lord that he was always ready to receive divine messages as they were given.
The psalmist confirms our need in this area when he says in Ps 121: 1, 2 (RSV) 'I lift up my eyes to the hills. From whence does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.'
John Bunyan also adds to this thought in his wonderful book 'The Pilgrim's Progress' where he describes the experience of a man holding a muckrake. This man was so busy with the rake in his hand removing the dirt around him that he never stopped to look up and see. What he missed was an angel above who was holding in his hand a crown of gold. The angel was patiently waiting to give the crown to the man, but he was never ready to receive it. Why? Because he was so preoccupied with what he was doing that he never turned or lifted his eyes to look (Van Dolson, 1989: 8).
Dear friends, we need to be like Zechariah who remembered that God was there and as he turned and lifted his eyes again and again he was to see a vision of the Lord. This is a reminder that we all need to keep attuned to the voice of the Spirit and respond just like the prophets of old.
What did Zechariah see? Let's read the introduction to his first vision in Zech 1: 8, 9.
'During the night I had a vision and there before me was a man riding a red horse! He was standing among the myrtle trees in a ravine. Behind him were red, brown and white horses. I asked, 'What are these my Lord?' The angel who was talking with me answered, 'I will show you what they are.'
In this first vision Zechariah sees four horsemen patrolling the world on God's behalf just like the mounted patrols, which 'policed' the Persian Empire at the time of King Darius. It should be noted that the roads during that period had been so transformed that the King's envoys could now do a week's journey that once took ninety days (Alexander, 1999: 507).
The significance of the colours of the horses in the vision are not known, but just as the horsemen in ancient Persia would ride out and bring back reports to their king so those riders in the vision, who have completed their mission, report their findings to the Ruler of the universe (Nichol 1955: 1089).
The Report describes the affairs of the earth particularly in reference to Israel. It shows God's chosen people suffering captivity and oppression at the hands of the heathen nations around them. This vision shows God's plan at a standstill, but He now makes clear in Zech 1: 17 that the 'Lord shall yet comfort Zion and shall yet choose Jerusalem'.
Zechariah is given a second vision where he sees 'four horns' and 'four craftsmen'. After inquiring as to what they are, he is told by the angel that the 'horns' symbolise the hostile heathen powers that had destroyed Israel as a nation while the 'craftsmen' or 'blacksmiths' show God's intention to repair the damage.
The third night vision of a man with a measuring line in his hand ready to measure up the walls for the rebuilding of Jerusalem was to assure the people of God's divine presence and blessing in their work. God would be a protecting 'wall of fire' around Jerusalem and a glorious presence within it (Zech 2: 1-5).
After a final call to those Jews who still remained in Babylon to come home Zechariah now receives his fourth vision.
In chapter 3 he is shown Joshua, the high priest, standing before God representing the people while Satan levels his charges or accusations against them. Joshua's clothing is filthy and stained with sin, but God issues new clothing with the purpose of restoring and renewing His people.
This vision shows that man, in his own strength cannot meet the charges of the enemy. In our sin stained clothes we stand before God while the angel, who represents Jesus, pleads our cause and through the mighty arguments of Calvary overcomes the enemy (White, 1943: 586).
In Zechariah 3: 2, 4 we see the Lord rebuking Satan and telling him that 'These are the purchase of My blood, brands plucked from the burning.' And to those who rely on Him through faith, He gives the assurance, 'Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with a change of raiment.' None of these who claim His protection will Christ permit to pass under the enemy's power (Ibid: 587).
This vision applies with particular force to the experience of God's people in the closing scenes of earth's history. While at times it may seem the Lord has overlooked the perils of the church, He has not forgotten. Nothing in this world is so precious to the heart of God as His church (Ibid: 590).
Zechariah now has his attention drawn to a new symbolic representation. Let's read Zech 4: 1-3
'Then the angel who talked with me returned and wakened me, as a man is wakened from his sleep. He asked me, 'What do you see?'
I answered, 'I see a solid gold lamp-stand with a bowl at the top and seven lights on it, with seven channels to the lights. Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.'
In this fifth vision the two olive trees that stand before God are seen to empty golden oil from themselves through golden tubes into the bowl of the candlestick. From this vessel the lamps of the sanctuary are fed in order to give a bright, continuous light (Ibid: 594).
From the anointed ones, the fullness of divine light and power is imparted to His people so they may impart it to others. The faithful worshippers were to be like a city set on a hill shining out for God. A light that 'cannot be hid'.
The oil from the olive trees typified the Holy Spirit showing that it was to be only by divine grace that obstacles confronting the builders would be overcome. While Zerubbabel and his companions were depressed by their feeble abilities and resources to carry on the work against tremendous opposition, the vision was to show that God's purposes would be attained differently.
Zech 4: 6 makes it clear that God's purposes for Israel would be attained 'Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord Almighty.'
As Zechariah looks again he sees a giant flying scroll thirty-four feet long and seventeen feet wide that comes from God and represents a curse on all those who refuse to forsake their sins. This judgement was believed to fall on all those who refused the 'change of raiment' and are seen in this vision to be condemned by the law of God
In order to accomplish God's purposes it was necessary that the restored Israel be pure. There would be no escape for the sinner. The curse of the sixth vision would enter the house of the thief and the perjurer and remain until it had accomplished its purpose. Evil had to be dealt with even if it meant the destruction of their homes and its occupants (Nichol, 1955: 1096).
Lifting up his eyes again Zechariah in Zech 5: 5-11 sees a measuring basket used for grain into which wickedness is thrown. Along with the woman found inside the basket, who represented the iniquity of backslidden Israel, it was returned to Babylon where iniquity was seen to originally dwell (Ibid: 1097).
In his final vision Zechariah in Zech 6: 1-8 is shown four horse-drawn chariots that are sent out to compass the 'four corners' of the earth. The various colours of the horses which parallel those of John's vision in the New Testament, distinguish the chariots that are dispatched in different directions. The impatience and eagerness of the horses may have represented the speed at which heaven was prepared to dispel the prevailing uncertainty and anxiety of the Jewish nation in relation to its powerful neighbours at that time (Ibid: 1099). Now it seems that God's spirit is at rest with the securing of a decree favourable to the exiled inhabitants of Israel.
The eight visions given to Zechariah in which he was just an observer, now climax in Zech 6: 9-15 with the work of restoration continuing until the coming of the Messiah and the establishment of His eternal kingdom (Ibid: 1099). The final chapters are now full of promise of the coming Messiah where He is not only seen to be building the kingdom of God through His presence and power, but also perfectly combines the two offices of priest and king in the divine plan to reconcile and restore humanity to Himself.
However, Zech 6: 15 makes it clear that the prophecies that were given were conditional on the obedience of Israel. The first advent of Jesus was to provide a partial fulfilment and while His heavenly ministry was to further fulfil prophecy, the final fulfilment would take place at the Second Advent.
The Jews might have formed the nucleus of God's spiritual house, but with the complete failure of literal Israel, God's purposes would move steadily forward and would be accomplished through those from every nation who were to make up the Christian Church (Ibid: 1099, 1100).
The book of Zechariah is one of the most difficult books in the Bible to interpret and therefore demands our most earnest study and reflection. However, in spite of some of the difficulties it presents, it is a precious treasure chest of God's truth. Through its intermingled maze of history and doctrinal belief, the face of Jesus shines through every page showing how He is endeavouring to save and restore His people.
Zechariah, the prophet of restoration and glory, in chapter 14 describes God's final act of restoration as He brings the great controversy between good and evil to an end. He describes these events in terms of how the Second Coming would have come about had the Israelites, who returned from captivity, had fulfilled their destiny. Because of their ultimate rejection of the Messiah, God turned from them and is now accomplishing his purposes through the Christian church
As we continue to study some of the events leading to the great day of the Lord we need to carefully examine our relationship and experience with Him. Is Jesus our daily strength? Are we allowing Him to refine us to become more like Him? Are we preparing to be citizens of the New Jerusalem, whose builder and maker is God?
In His love and mercy God has revealed through His prophets what we need to know so that we can be among those who eventually enter the Holy City.
It is my prayer this morning that we all listen to his invitation and heed his entreaties allowing Him to purify us for the kingdom.
Lockyer, Sr. H. (ed) (1986) Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas nelson Publishers.
Mears, H. C. (1983) What the Bible is all About. Ventura, California, USA: Regal Books
Nichol, F. D. (ed) (1955) Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary Vol 4. Washington DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association
White, E. G. (1943) Prophets and Kings. Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association
Van Dolson, L. R. (1989) Visions of Victory. Warburton, Victoria: Signs Publishing Association.
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