Some thoughts from the book of Zechariah as I keep and mind and pray for America and all my friends in America this week.
“Return to me and I will return to you”. (Zechariah 1:3)
This word of hope covers the book of Zechariah as it speaks of a day and a time when what is wrong will be made right. When a people in self perpetuated, self induced exile will brought together and made whole in a city described as being without walls and gates and surrounded by the “fire” of the Lord.
This grand imagery sets the stage for the great drama of Israel’s history which has now come a point of return following many years in exile. In a climatic moment, Zechariah imagines a coming king simply named “The Branch” who will bring about their necessary salvation, liberating the people from oppression, bringing them back into the land, and restoring their purpose.
One thread that runs through the prophecies or “oracles” found in this book is the unique progression of this promised return and restoration:
1. It begins with the fruit of their forefather’s “repentance” being made known in the present generation. Thus the decisions we make today make a better world for those who will inhabit tomorrow. Here we get a people who have looked upon their past and repented, which gives way to the proclomation of the continued faithfulness of God as He is said to dwell in their midst. Repentance is an active word that literally renders “to turn and look in a different direction”, and here it is away from exile and the model of empire that surrounds them and towards a new Kingdom, a better Kingdom symbolized in the rebuilding of the temple.
2. Secondly, a “flying scroll” identified as “the curse” goes into all the earth collecting the “iniquities” (the present state of things, the mess of things) and places it far away from the people so that the land can be restored.
3. Third, the people in the restored land are then be tasked to go into all the earth tasked with a new and better way as a witness to the continued restoration of all and the good of all.
This is what leads to the future restored land/city overflowing with new life. And what lies at the center of this picture is a man named Joshua, a high priest who stands as an image of the coming “Branch”, a name later writers will apply directly to Jesus. This future King will bring together the office of both King and Priest as a “counsel of peace”, freeing the oppressed, unifying the people, and restoring the earth.
As I was reading, two key moments in the book stood out for me in terms of how this promise will come about.
The first comes from a conversation between God and Zechariah. Looking towards a people who are stuck in the mess that they have made for themselves, God calls Zechariah in the beginning of Chapter 11 to “become a shepherd of the flock doomed to slaughter” using two staffs named “favor” and “union”. But Zechariah became impatient with them, saying that the people detested him. “What is to die, let die” he says.
This is contrasted with Chapters 12-14 which then repeats the pattern of salvation as it looks forward to the day when the temple will be rebuilt, the land restored and the people saved for the sake of the world. This image of hope revolves around the one “who they have pierced”, “the Branch” who will come to make God known once again in their midst. And instead of shepherding with a “what is to die, let die” attitude, this future King promises to come near and to be present, to restore, to rid the iniquities of the world. This echos the early sentiment where God declares the suffering people and nation to be “the apple of (His) eye.” (2:8)
We then get a repeated picture of the iniquities being removed, freedom from oppression, followed by the call to bear the fruit of this salvation through their care and concern for all the world. This is the purpose of the temple they are rebuilding. It looks nothing like the old one, but through it comes something even greater, the one who will be a true council of peace. This is the exact same image we get in Chapter 3. Chapter 3 opens with a dramatic scene featuring Joshua (high priest), an angel of the Lord, the Lord and Satan, who currently stands as Joshua’s judge. Satan is rebuked, and Joshua, currently clothed in filthy garments, is told to remove them. They represent his “iniquities”, and thus in being reclothed in “pure vessels” he is said to be judged differently, judged according to God’s view of him not Satan’s.
And yet here is the important thing. This comes with a charge- be faithful and you will be my representative. The task to bear witness to a new way of being, a new way of living, a new way of seeing world, the way of this council of peace, is one that doesn’t simply demand repetance, but participation. This is where the real Kingdom work begins.
And what is this better way? To what end are we called to work? We get this in chapter 7 where the people returning from the exile ask about what they need to do to gain the Lord’s favor. Here the Lord reminds them, is it not me who has been with you the whole time? They have nothing to earn. They are already loved, cherished, welcomed, longed after. So what should they do? “Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against one another in your heart.” (7:9).
This is the way of the Branch. This is the way of the council of peace. This is the way to a people renewed, a land overflowing with goodness and grace, mercy and love. May we all bear witness to this end.