Thursday, November 3, 2005

Zechariah 1.7-17: God is aware and cares!

In the year 519 B.C., the prophet/priest Zechariah ("Yahweh remembers") delivers a series of visions and oracles given to him by God sometime in the past (Zech 1.7 – 6.15). His goal is on one plane, like his contemporary Haggai, to encourage the temple rebuilding; but it is also to point the people toward the need for personal and community renewal in order to embrace the totality of God's redemptive work among his people.

In the first night vision (1.7-17) delivered on February 15, 519, Zechariah is shown a shadowy, nighttime military reconnaissance mission in which several (likely manned) horses who have returned from patrolling the earth. There is a man, probably the same as the angel of the LORD in v. 11, seated upon a red horse among myrtle trees, an ancient symbol of both Israel's promised restoration as well as the nation of Israel itself. We hear that these horses have been sent from God to patrol the earth. Even though they meet in the shadows of a myrtle grove in a ravine—a place of secrecy—they know the plight of God's people and the relative peace of Babylon and/or Persia (depending on when Zechariah received the vision). This lets us know two amazing things: (1) Even when God seems hopelessly absent, the reality is that he is fully omniscient and aware of what has been happening in the world. The reconnaissance work of God may seem hidden to the world's eyes, but it is most certainly happening. (2) God's presence is still with Israel, who appears to the world and even to herself to be forsaken. Yet the angel of the LORD, a manifestation of the preincarnate second Person of the Godhead, is standing atop his horse in the middle of his people and draws attention to his power put into effect for their restoration.

In verses 12-17 we see the heart of God and the promised future for his people in Jerusalem. In v. 12 we see the angel of the LORD cry out to God, "O LORD of hosts, how long will You have no compassion for Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, with which You have been indignant these seventy years?" (The 70 years refer to the exile in Babylon/Persia, but more generally refer to a person's lifespan, i.e., the time required to purge Judah of the idolaters and wicked majority whose lives brought the exile upon them.) I love this verse for several reasons: (1) It implies that world history and the fate of God's people are in God's hands and control; (2) Just as Christ now lives to intercede for us (Rom 8.34; Heb 7.25; 1 Jn 2.1), we also see his intercession for the saints even centuries before his coming to the earth; (3) it sanctions and even encourages us to lament and express our woes, pains, and unfulfilled longings to God.

The question is answered: Is God gone? Does he care anymore? Was it really true when the psalmist wrote "precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His godly ones" (Ps 116.5)? Why is everyone else at peace while our lives are in turmoil? God answers the second angel, who is speaking with Zechariah, with "gracious words, comforting words" that are heard in vv. 14-17, but they are developed and laid out in picture and promise in the ensuing visions.

God did, in fact, purpose to bring a painful lesson to Judah and Israel in order to refine them and turn them back to himself (see 1.1-6). However, the nations went too far and sought to bring down the Jews entirely (v. 15), for which they will soon incur his fury (vv. 18-21; 2.6-9; 5.1 – 6.8). God reveals here that he is "exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and Zion." He desires that people turn to him and find healing, restoration, and fulfillment in covenant relationship with him. Thus his chastisement is always for the sake of returning his people to relationship with himself, not cart-blanche destruction. We must know this when painful lessons arise in our lives.

Then God promises to return to Jerusalem with compassion and rebuild his temple and the city. The return of his presence (in the OT "choosing" of Jerusalem is always linked with God's dwelling there) will usher in an era of prosperity and peace, of personal and communal wholeness and health in relationship with their God and with one another.

As I write this, I'm listening to one of my favorite CD's, Everyone's Beautiful by Waterdeep. Every song points to the sad, fragmented lives we live--but even more to the love of a caring Savior who will not break a bruised reed or snuff a smoldering wick. I see in this a need to seek and find comfort in the community of God. God is "the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort" (2 Cor 1.3, NIV), and here he links his comfort with his presence centered in his temple. We can know and trust that God is ready with open arms to hear our cries of pain and unfulfilled longings, and he promises to comfort us and daily bear our burdens (Ps 68.19; Isa 46.3-4). Jeremiah, plagued by his foes, lamented, "O my Comforter in sorrow, my heart is faint within me" (Jer 8.18, NIV). And we can take comfort in knowing that he is aware of our circumstances and is fully able to change them, as we see in vv. 9-11, although sometimes there may be a seemingly interminable delay. God readily and truly ministers his comforting and strengthening presence to us in personal prayer and reading of the Scriptures, but his Spirit indwells his new temple, the body of Christ, the church. As God's people in community, we ought to be a source of comfort to one another, and we ought to be able to find comfort and help in bearing our sorrows in the listening ears, words, hugs, and helping hands of our brothers and sisters in the Lord. And I don't even know where to begin.

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