This next vision, number 5 is so strange... but thankfully the angel tells Zechariah and us what it means. The 4th vision was related to Joshua, and his leadership role as priest. This one relates to Zerubbabel and his leadership role as governer in Jerusalem and the one who is overseeing the rebuilding of the temple.
And the word of the Lord to Zechariah is that Zerubbabel had begun the work, laying its foundation, and that he he will see it through to completion. And the Lord is affirming Zerubbabel, but simultaneously making it clear that it is "not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit," says the Lord.
It's the Spirit of God in a man that energizes and strengthens him for Kingdom work. We saw this last week, that God's empowering of us does not relieve of us of responsibility or effort, but rather it motivates us to take responsbility and give every effort. The Spirit creates urgeny and intensity about what really matters so that we give our earthly efforts to eternal or ultimate ends... the flesh can tolerate moderate Christianity... the Spirit generates radical and real Christianity. The flesh can be productive and successful on the surface... the Spirit is fruitful in visible ways that flow from motivational restructuring... his primary work is beneath the surface. The flesh is mindful of self... my accomplishments, my efforts, others perception of me, the credit I get, or the reward I earn. The Spirit makes us aware of God's work in us and for us... what he's accomplishing, what he's generating, his glory becoming visible, the praise he receives, and the reward which we don't deserve but which he gives freely in himself and his blessings.
The Lord's work in the Lord's way is accomplished only by the Spirit, but it is advanced through us and our Spirit-empowered efforts. Let's keep renouncing self and returning again and again to the Lord, so that we might bear the fruit of the Spirit.
I'm not going to lie... the two visions in chapter 5 are bizarre. I always appreciate it when Scripture explicitly explains images like these, but we get no such help here. Here's how I understand them...
The 6th vision is of a flying scroll making it's way around Jerusalem, judging and punishing thieves and liars specifically. It seems to be pointing toward a future day, in the new Jerusalem perhaps, where the Word of God purifies his people, clarifying sin, convicting the guilty, and condemning the unrepentant. Zechariah is getting a glimpse, and giving us a glimpse, of a future reality when the truth and authority of God's word actually gives shape to the world and re-orders things according to God's design, where evil is punished and eradicated and where his people are conformed to His righteousness and holiness.
The 7th vision is super weird too. There's a basket whose cover is removed and a woman pops out, and the angel tells Zechariah the woman is "wickedness." So, she personifies evil and rebellion. Two other women with wings come along and pick up the basket and fly away and restrict wickedness to Shinar, a city in Babylon. The idea seems to be that God's reinforcement that though he is keeping covenant with Israel, he will not overlook persistent evil. Their exile in Babylon was the result of God's judgement for centuries of wickedness and if they revert back to such rebellion than God will send them away again.
My take away from this chapter and these two visions is that God's rescue of Israel is not just from oppressors, but it's a rescue to obedience. God is serious about his covenant, but he's serious about his commands. He isn't watering down what he requires of them so they can actually succeed this time... God is reinforcing the standard he has always set, and he's calling them to submit.
IN the same way, for us, our redemption on through Jesus' finished work is not a rescue from the oppression of sin only, it is a rescue to obedience and surrender to Jesus as our King. God has saved us to purify for himself a people, and to conform us more fully to the image and likeness of Christ. He continues to lead us by His word into lives that are worthy of the calling we have received. God is no less interested in or serious about our obedience today than he was Israel's obedience in the 6th century B.C.
But he doesn't leave us to obey as a way of earning our salvation. He saves us and secures our eternity and then leads us to obey, not for His blessing but because of His blessing. And our obedience is no more possible today than theirs was in that day, left to ourselves. Like the angel said of Zerubbabel, our obedience will not be might or power but by the Spirit. God has sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in us as an agent for our obedience. We give every effort to obedience, but it's the Spirit's work in us to remind us, motivate us, and empower us to actually adopt the life and character which God calls us to, not perfectly but visibly.
The atoning work of Christ is not God winking at sin or enabling our sin. It's the measure of how serious God is about sin. He has rid us of our record of sin and he is in the process of ridding us of the rule of sin in our present lives, by the Word of God and the Spirit of God. We live and grow by these means or we we're missing out on personal reality with God. We need a daily, conscious pursuit of God's Word, and a moment by moment, opened awareness and surrenderedness to the Holy Spirit to experience personal reality with God.
The 8th and final vision for Zechariah calls the first to mind. We saw then the four horses who had been patrolling the earth, representing God's watchful governing over the events unfolding in history. The first vision was those horses returning from their patrol and reporting peace, which anticipated Persia coming in and defeating Babylon which marked the end of Israel's exile.
This last vision is of four chariots led by horses patrolling the earth again. When the angel says "I have set my Spirit at rest in the north country," it seems to re-affirm the earlier prophecy of peace coming to Israel, though the specific timing of that is still not given. The point is that God is still governing over his people and guiding the events in real time, space, and history toward their resolution, and he will keep his promises and his word to his people despite how things may sometimes appear.
Zechariah then transitions out of these series of images and visions, to a more direct verbal form of prophecy. He is instructed by the Lord to make a crown and go to place it on the high priets, Joshua, who is to be the one to overses building temple. God says he will gather the people to come and do the work but it will be a priest on the throne to reestablish Israel, if Joshua will indeed obey the Lord.
While this was to happen in real time, it is pointing beyond itself to the future God has for his people when Jesus comes, both as High Priest and King of Kings, to re-establish God's Kingom and gather God's people to himself to do God's work in God's way that God might be rightly worshipped and honored as God.
Zechariah is pointing, 500-plus years before Christ, to Christ, that he might recognized as the ultimate Priest who brings his people into the presence of God, and the true King who leads his people into the purposes of God. And as Israel was invited into then, we are invited now to enter into that ultimate reality by placing our faith in Christ and giving every effort following Christ wherever he will take us.
As Zechariah's series of visions closes here, time is marked in chapter 7... it's been two years since the word of the Lord first came to Zechariah in chapter 1. So after two years, some prophetic words and 8 prophetic visions, all seeming to anticipate the renewal of God's favor and the return of Israel to their former glory and prosperity, people are excited and energized, but also apprehensive.
A generation of people have lived in exile, grieving the desolation of Jerusalem and some of them have fasted and prayed toward their return and the renewal of Israel... they come to Zechariah asking, essentially, "are you saying the time is up, or should we keep our rhythms of fasting and praying going?"
They are wondering if God's Kingdom is on the horizon, and if His promises are coming to fulfillment. And God, through Zechariah, rather than answering their question directly, sort of proposes his own question. He reminds them of what God required of the previous generations, whose failures brought about the exile in the first place. God re-iterates his commands to them of living justly and uprightly with one another, caring for the vulnerable, and walking in covenant faithfulness with Him. God reminds the current generation that the previous generations hardened their hearts, revolted against God's commands, nurtured in justice and greed and corruption and idolatry, and that the exile of Israel and the desolation of Jerusalem was His answer to their rebellion.
The implication here, is that God's character and standards have not changed at all. They're asking if his kingdom is finally coming in their generation, and He turns it on them and essentially confronts them with the question of whether they are the generation that will finally be ready to enter into the life of God's coming kingdom. Will they submit to him, and honor him and worship him, and fear him? Will they wak with integrity and renounce corruption? Will they use power to defend the vulnerable rather than to oppress the vulnerable? Will they they treat one another with radical dignity and humaneness, according to God's law?
There is no answer or response from the people... the call of God is simply reiterated to his people for their consideration. It's posed to us too, for our consideration. In our own generation, which clearly has impact on the coming generations, will we be a people who are submitted to God's word, faithful to God's commands, and whose hearts are receptive to God's love toward us and authority over us. Or will we take his blessing for granted while we pursue our own agendas and rule our own lives, and determine our own morality, and build our own lives?
God's word to Israel here is one of hope and restoration and a bright future. Where there has been fasting, God is leading them to feasting. Where there has been desolation and desperation, God will give them cause for celebration. He is reversing their fortunes and will pour out his favor and blessing upon them as a people, making them the envy of nations rather than the scorn of nations. He is hitting the reset button for Israel. These are incredible life-giving words for those who have endured such loss and misery.
This was going to be Israel's opportunity to steward God's blessing differently than previous generations. God would bless them in the coming days. But as with every previous generations, they would squander and abuse and misuse His blessing. They would ignore his commands. They would repeat the patterns of their fathers. And God's wrath to former generations would come to a future generation (or in the next 100 years). God would go quiet. He would silence his voice and distnace himself for a time (400 years), while Salvation got it's boots on. Jesus would come fulfill in himself as faithful Israel, what unfaithful Israel never could. And he would gather a people from all nations to himself, united to him by faith, to be clothed in his righteousness and to share in the reward of his perfections.
Ultimately, God's promise to Israel here in Zechariah is fulfilled in the future of all those who are joined to Christ by grace and through faith... He is the one through whom God's ultimate blessing would come and through whom we can enter into life with God now and forever.
So this is not empty sentimientalism, or what could have been only... this is the reality and eternity for all who belong to Christ. This is personal. This is for you and me if we're identified with Christ.
We can enter into the joy and celebration and feasting of this now. But only to the degree that we follow the word of the Lord to Zechariah, "therefore love truth and peace."
To love what is real and solid and firm and reliable. Specifically, we are to love the truth of God's character and kindness to us and the safety and security of living in his presence and under his protection and with his provision. We are to love what is true in him and of him and because of him, and not embrace alternative narratives of which the world wants to persuade us.
The peace Zechariah speaks of here is the word Shalom. It's the totality of a person being at peace and in good health... it's wholeness and flourishing at every level. So, we are to love the truth of God revealed fully in Jesus and his gospel, and we are to love the felt reality and lived-in experience of that truth which remakes us and everyone at every level of their person if it's the defining truth of our lives. Shalom is about the sustained encounter with the reality of God's love and grace and favor and presence and blessing, which settles our hearts and minds and breathes life into every dimension of life.
Loving truth and peace is about living in the personal reality of Christ's finished work, the presence of the Holy Spirit, the love of the Father and bringing other people into that reality by how we live and relate to them. And that's possible, not by might, nor by power but by the Spirit.
We We can experience a substantial