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IS THERE SOMETHING IN THE BIBLE THAT PUZZLES YOU?

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IS THERE SOMETHING IN THE BIBLE THAT PUZZLES YOU?

If so please EMail us with your question and we will do our best to give you a satisfactory answer.EMailus. (But preferably not from aol.com, for some reason they do not deliver our messages).

FREE Scholarly verse by verse commentaries on the Bible.

THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- THE BOOK OF RUTH --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- EZRA---NEHEMIAH--- ESTHER--- PSALMS 1-58--- PROVERBS---ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- LAMENTATIONS --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL --- --- HOSEA --- --- JOEL ------ AMOS --- --- OBADIAH --- --- JONAH --- --- MICAH --- --- NAHUM --- --- HABAKKUK--- --- ZEPHANIAH --- --- HAGGAI --- ZECHARIAH --- --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS --- 2 CORINTHIANS ---GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS--- PHILIPPIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- PHILEMON --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS

Commentary on Zechariah (3).

Further Prophecies of Zechariah (Zechariah 7.1-8.23)

These prophecies occur approximately two years after the previous ones demonstrating that Zechariah’s ministry continued. It would appear that the Temple is at least partly built and functioning.

ANALYSIS OF THE SECOND SECTION.

This second section (7.1-8.23) divides up as follows:

  • Introduction (7.1-3).
  • ‘Then came the word of the LORD of Hosts to me saying ---’ (7.4).
  • ‘And the word of the LORD came to Zechariah saying ---’ (7.8).
  • ‘And the word of the LORD of Hosts came saying ---’ (8.1).
  • ‘And the word of the LORD of Hosts came to me saying --’ (8.18).

IN DEPTH ANALYSIS OF ZECHARIAH 7-8.

  • a Introduction - the arrival of enquirers about the fasts which were in remembrance of the circumstances connected with the fall of Jerusalem (7.1-3).
  • a YHWH dismisses their fasts as hypocritical and calls on them to hear the words of the prophets (7.4-7).
  • b YHWH calls on them rather to live truly with a genuine concern for people’s needs, and not to overlook the fact that it was because their fathers failed to hear the prophets and do this that the land had become desolate (7.8-14).
  • b YHWH declares His deep concern for Jerusalem. He will return and live in Jerusalem, and Jerusalem will be called the city of truth and its mountain the Holy Mountain (compare Isaiah 2.1-4). It will be filled with people dwelling securely and He will bring back the exiles. And because His Temple has been rebuilt they will live in peace and prosper for He now purposes to do good for Jerusalem as long as they live truly with a genuine concern for people’s needs and are open and honest with each other (8.1-17).
  • a YHWH declares that the fasts of the past will become feasts of joy, and the nations will flock to Jerusalem to entreat God’s favour because they know that He is with His people (8.18-23).

Note how in ‘a’ questions are raised about the fasts and God condemns their keeping of them as hypocritical, and in the parallel the fasts will become feasts and will result in blessing for the nations. In ‘b’ the call is to live truly with a genuine concern for people’s need, reminding them that the failure to do this had brought desolation, and in the parallel the call is to live truly with a genuine concern for people’s needs, and then everything will be restored.

Questions About Fasting (7.1-6).

There may be a contrast intended here between those who had come from Babylon seeking news about the Branch, bringing gold and silver for his crown, who had had the joy of participating in a prophetic acting out of His crowning, and these people who had come from Bethel (or Babylon) simply concerned as to whether they needed to keep on fasting now that the Temple was nearly built.

The first revealed hearts of faith and hope, the second were self-seeking aggrandisement and self-saisfaction. However, in both cases the promise is given that a new Temple will be built (6.12; 8.3, 9), both are called on to hear the voice of God and obey it (6.15; 7.8-14; 8.16), both have in mind the the return of exiles and the nations coming to Zion to participate in the blessings of the new age (6.13, 15; 8.3-8; 20-23). God does not limit His blessing to the wholly worthy.

7.1 ‘And it happened in the fourth year of King Darius that the word of YHWH came to Zechariah on the fourth day of the ninth month, even in Chislev.’

The timing of this incident is precisely dated in order to stress the historicity of the event. Chislev is the Babylonian name for the ninth month. King Darius was the king of Persia.

7.2-3a ‘Now Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regemmelech and their men to entreat the favour of YHWH, and to speak to the priests of the house of YHWH of Hosts and to the prophets --.’

Here the emphasis appears to be on the fact that the query has come from Bethel, which had been where one of the two Northern altars had been built. There may be an intended play on the fact that Bethel means ‘house of God’. Those of ‘the house of God’ came to the house of YHWH to entreat favour from YHWH and to seek guidance from the priests and prophets, thus exalting the house of YHWH. For now the altar at Bethel was no more. It would seem from their purpose in coming that religious questions were being tightly controlled.

Note the mention of ‘priests -- and prophets.’ These were clearly connected to the house of YHWH in order to give guidance to the people. The fact that Zechariah replies might suggest that he was at this stage an official prophet (compare 11.12).

Alternately we may translate ‘they had sent Bethel-Sharezer and Regem-Melech ---’. The idea might then be that they had come from those in exile to enquire at the house of YHWH. The names are suggestive of Babylonian names and it would explain why the question comes four months after the feast, the time taken to travel to Jerusalem. However the reply ‘to all the people of the land’ (verse 4) would tie in with the question having come from Bethel.

7.3b ‘Saying, “Should I weep in the fifth month, separating myself as I have done these so many years?”

Their question was as to whether it was still necessary to weep on the fifth month for the destruction of the Temple in view of the fact that the Temple was being rebuilt, for this particular fast commemorated the burning of the Temple (2 Kings 25.8 on; Jeremiah 52.12 on). So their concern is lest this fast be no longer necessary in view of the work on the rebuilding of the Temple. But the reply given suggests that they see in this weeping something that is of particular merit to themselves as it stresses how faithful they have been through so many years. Instead of being sorrowful for sin while they are fasting they are rather proud of their punctilious observance of the fast and of the grief that they express.

YHWH Charges Them With False Motives In Their Fasting (7.4-7).

7.4-6 ‘Then came the word of YHWH of Hosts to me saying, “Speak to all the people of the land and the priests saying, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and in the seventh month, even these seventy years, did you at all fast to me, even to me? And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves?’ ” ’

God’s reply through Zechariah is not just to the questioners. It is to all the people of the land and to the priests. It is uncompromising. During the whole seventy years they have abounded in fasts, and in feasts as well, but the truth is that their hearts were not directed rightly. Their fasting was all religious ritual and show. They expressed sorrow for what they had lost by the catastrophe, and they expressed grief over their present physical state, but what they mourned was their own loss, not the sins which had brought it about. Their fasts rather gave them great self-satisfaction and were for personal aggrandisement.

‘All the people of the land.’ Here this probably indicates all Jews in and around Jerusalem probably reaching at least as far as Bethel. It may indicate those who had initially returned and had helped to build the Temple, who now felt a little chagrined about the arrival of newcomers. In some cases the phrase can indicate a certain free property owning class with some say in affairs, but not here.

The fast on the seventh month may have been connected with the Day of Atonement. Alternately it may have been connected with the assassination of Gedaliah, the governor after the fall of Jerusalem (2 Kings 25.19).

We can compare with this attitude Jesus’ charge against the Pharisees (Matthew 6.16-18), that when they indulged in fasting, it did not result in them in turning to God in such a way as to become more responsive to His laws and more obedient to His moral requirements. They were rather taken up with themselves and their own religiosity and not with God (compare Luke 18.10-14). We can compare especially the words of Isaiah 1.10-20, which perfectly express what he is saying.

And the same applied at their celebrations of their feasts. They ate and drank, but it was not in true gratitude and response to God, but purely in self-indulgence and in self-commendation.

In other words it is not enough for us to have a vague sense of unworthiness. What God requires from us is a full awareness of our specific sins so that we face up to them and turn from them. Then we will recognise that we are rebels against God.

7.7 “Should you not hear the words which YHWH has cried by the former prophets when Jerusalem was inhabited and in prosperity, and her cities round about her, and the South and the lowland were inhabited?”

This verse both looks back to what he has just said, and looks ahead to the following verses. He now stresses that the people have not yet awakened to their own real need to listen to what the former prophets had said. Those prophets had prophesied when all was well, when Jerusalem and the cities round about her were prosperous and well populated, and the South and the lowland were also well populated. But the people then had not listened to the prophets. They had not repented of their sins. They had not striven to obey their God. They had not ceased to do evil and learned to do well. They had not been concerned for the poor and needy. Rather their ways had been sinful, and they had not listened to the voice of God (see especially Isaiah 1.17).

So God’s stress is that instead of being concerned with questions of fasting the people now needed to consider their ways. Let them do what their fathers had failed to do, listen to the former prophets, repent of their sins and selfishness, admit their failure in their attitude towards God and sin, and respond to Him with a full heart, putting right what was wrong in their midst.

We are reminded by this that there is always a danger of our attitude to God becoming too superficial. We can be so caught up in religious activity that we neglect true goodness and compassion where it is most needed. And it is the latter that God requires. The Gospel is not a social Gospel, but it makes great social demands and should have great social effects.

God Calls The People To Righteous Living Rather Than Religious Zeal and Warns of the Consequences of Refusal (7.8-14).

What Zechariah is saying is now expressed in more depth.

7.8-10 ‘And the word of YHWH came to Zechariah saying, “Thus has YHWH of Hosts spoken, saying ‘Give true justice, and show mercy and compassion every man to his brother. And do not oppress the widow, nor the fatherless, nor the stranger, nor the poor. And let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart.” ’

‘Thus has YHWH of Hosts spoken.’ He had spoken through the former prophets as now He speaks through Zechariah. Thus the words of Zechariah carry all the weight of those of the former prophets.

Here the importance of true justice is brought out. We are reminded how earlier ‘swearing falsely’ had specifically been picked out as a failure of the times (5.4). If society is to prosper, fair and honest dealing in the means of obtaining justice must be an essential.

The attitude of men and women towards each other is then emphasised. They should demonstrate concern and love towards each other, and a willingness to understand and to forgive. They should be considerate and thoughtful towards one another. It should not be every man for himself, but every man for his brother.

The needs of the vulnerable are also stressed. The society may be struggling but it must not lose sight of its weaker members. Those who have no one to protect or care for them should be given full consideration and not be taken advantage of; the widows, left alone to fend for themselves; the fatherless, who have no father figure to protect and care for them; the stranger with no wider family to look to; the poor, who can wield no influence and struggle to survive. These should be treasured as giving an opportunity for showing love to God.

And finally warning is given of the danger of nursing grievances, of fostering envy, and of imagining evil in the heart. How often distress and disharmony are the result of hidden thoughts of the heart of which no one is aware, and how easily these grow until they take possession of a man’s ways and actions, often without a genuine cause.

7.11-12 ‘But they refused to listen and pulled away the shoulder and stopped their ears, that they should not hear. Yes, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the Law and the words which YHWH of Hosts had sent by his Spirit by the hands of the former prophets, therefore came there great wrath from Yahweh of Hosts.’

But the people had refused to listen to the former prophets. They had ‘pulled away the shoulder.’ They had ceased to be willing to put in any effort. The picture may be of the oxen who refuses the yoke. Alternately it may be translated, ‘turned the shoulder’ i.e. behaved stubbornly.

They ‘stopped their ears.’ They were not even willing to give the message of the former prophets consideration. They did not want to hear. They ‘made their hearts as an adamant stone.’ They hardened their own hearts, always a sign of men going beyond the line past which repentance becomes very difficult. An adamant stone is a stone of especial hardness.

‘Lest they should hear the Law -- and the words of the former prophets.’ Already we are getting that distinction which would later become firm, ‘the Law and the prophets’, the word of God. But we must remember that the Law (or ‘Instruction’) is comprised of God’s own personal demands on His people to Whom He has shown His favour, not just a set of regulations set up as a standard to live by.

‘The words which YHWH of Hosts had sent by His Spirit --’. The Spirit of YHWH had spoken directly to and through the former prophets, and refusal to hear their words was therefore a direct refutation of the Spirit of YHWH.

‘Therefore there came great wrath from YHWH of Hosts.’ This was why the people had suffered so greatly, because their offence had been so great. They had been given every chance, and had not only refused it but had deliberately set their hearts against it. There can be no doubt that Zechariah is here saying to his hearers and readers that this is a lesson and a warning to which they must pay great heed, for, if they take the same attitude as their predecessors did, worse could happen to them. The wrath of God is still revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth (Romans 1.18).

7.13 ‘And it happened that as he cried and they would not hear, “so shall they cry and I will not hear,” said YHWH of Hosts.’

Note the change of person indicating personal conversation in the last part of the sentence.

‘In the same way as He cried and they would not hear.’ It was they who had started the process of not hearing. Up to that time God had been only too willing to hear. But they had closed their ears and refused to listen to Him.

“So shall they cry and I will not hear.” In the end God’s response is also to turn a deaf ear. They prayed, they fasted in the fifth month, but their prayer and fasting was superficial and not real. Had they become real at any time God would have heard. But real prayer results from repentance and a change of heart, from a true returning to Him. And this they would not, and in the end could not, do. It is one of the presumptions of man that God is always there whenever he deigns to call on Him. But here God Himself tells us that is not true. If we keep on dilly dallying when God is speaking to us there comes a time when He stops hearing us, and we stop being able to make a true response to Him. ‘How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?’ (Hebrews 2.3).

7.14 “But I will scatter them with a whirlwind among all the nations whom they have not known.” Thus the land was desolate after them with the result that no man passed through or returned, for they laid desolate the pleasant land (the land of desire).’

The result of God ceasing to hear was devastating. The rebellious and disobedient people were scattered among the nations. Among ‘all the nations whom they have not known.’ Peoples afar off and not close neighbours. They were transported, never themselves to return, and the land became desolate to such an extent that no one wanted to return and no one even wanted to pass through it. This is a slight exaggeration, but it establishes the point. So complete was the working of God’s wrath that it had rendered the land undesirable. Yet as we have seen earlier it was limited indignation. There was still a future for their descendants because the God of the covenant had not forgotten His promises.

God Declares His Purposes For His People With Promises of Great Blessing (8.1-8).

God now makes a number of declarations through Zechariah in respect of His people.

  • Firstly, ‘I am jealous for Zion with great jealousy.’ In this the longing in His heart that His people should become what they should be is clearly expreseed. And so is His determination to save them.
  • Secondly, “I am returned to Zion and I will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem shall called ‘the city of truth’ and the mountain of YHWH of Hosts ‘the holy mountain’.” His jealousy over them (His determination not to let them go) has brought about His intervention, and so although He had previously abandoned them, now He has returned to them
  • Thirdly, “Old men and old women will yet dwell in the streets of Jerusalem, every man with his staff in his hand for very age, and the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.” The result will be an abundance of people living in total security.
  • Fourthly, “If it be marvellous in the eyes of the remnant of this people in those days, should it also be marvellous in my eyes.” Although it may seem impossible the fact is that there is no limit to what He can do.

The section then closes with the promise of hope for the future.

8.1-2 ‘And the word of YHWH of Hosts came to me, saying, “Thus says YHWH of Hosts, I am jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I am jealous for her with great fury.” ’

God had not forgotten His people. His love and concern for them and His jealousy over the fact that they were His own people still causes Him to desire to act. He could not forget what He had promised them and that He had once made them His own. Note the strength of the feeling. ‘Jealous over you with a great jealousy’. He had a great concern for His people and wanted the best for them and from them. Compare the similar words in 1.14.

‘With great fury.’ This fury was directed at the nations who had taken advantage of His wanting to chasten His people and had grievously afflicted them (1.15)

8.3 ‘Thus says YHWH, “I am returned to Zion and I will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem shall be called ‘the city of truth’ and the mountain of YHWH of Hosts ‘the holy mountain’.” ’

The fact is that God is ready to act, as long as they are willing to respond and obey. Indeed He can say that He has now ‘returned to Zion’. ‘Zion’ refers to the people of God wherever they are (2.7). They are His people and He has come to them.

‘And I will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem.’ Ezekiel in vision had seen the departure of YHWH from Jerusalem to dwell with those in captivity (chapter 10-11 with chapter 1). Now He is ready to dwell again in Jerusalem. This is His purpose. He wants Zion to return to Jerusalem. And His further purpose behind this is that they might from there convey truth to the nations. He wants Jerusalem to so reveal the truth to the nations that it is called ‘the city of truth’ (compare Isaiah 2.3). And because of the reverence the nations will hold for it they will see the mountain on which it is built as a ‘holy’ mountain, a mountain especially set part for the manifestation of God.

For the giving of a new name to Jerusalem compare Isaiah 62.2-4. The idea is that it has become responsive to Him and will enjoy a renewed relationship with Him.

But in one sense God’s ‘purpose’ failed because the people were found wanting. Nevertheless it was from that city that God’s truth would finally be revealed to the nations, in Him Who was the Truth, and it would indeed be a holy mountain because on that mountain God’s own Son would crucified. (See on chapter 12). And because Zion had failed to return to Jerusalem in full and continual obedience He would use them in the places to which they had gone as the foundation of His future people (the synagogues were the first recipients and preaching opportunities of the Gospel).

Even today we can look at Jerusalem in its present spiritual darkness and declare, ‘that is the place from which truth came out’. For He Who was Himself the Truth (John 14.6) once walked there. But because it rejected its Messiah, it too was finally rejected to be replaced by ‘the Jerusalem which is above’ (Galatians 4.26; Hebrews 12.22).

8.4-5 ‘Thus says YHWH of Hosts, “Old men and old women will yet dwell in the streets of Jerusalem, every man with his staff in his hand for very age, and the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.” ’

In the time of Zechariah it was mainly only the strong and hardy, who had been able to return, who lived there, although there would of course be some older people and some children. And as they looked round at the hardy conditions under which they had to live they must have wondered, ‘will it ever thrive again?’ But YHWH’s promise was that Jerusalem will soon return to being a normal city, so that large numbers of people grow to great old age there and children are born in profusion to play in the streets. This is both a promise of future prosperity and of peace.

Some of these promises were fulfilled literally in future days in the intertestamental period, others awaited the coming of the Branch of David and would be fulfilled in a way far beyond what was expected. But we must remember that to them that day did not seem so far away, (in the same way as to the early church the second coming of Christ did not seem that far away).

8.6 ‘Thus says YHWH of Hosts, “If it be marvellous in the eyes of the remnant of this people in those days, should it also be marvellous in my eyes, says YHWH of Hosts?” ’

This could be saying that when all this is accomplished it will seem to the people as a marvel, as something that could not be expected. They will wonder at it in amazement. or it could mean that to Zechariah’s listeners it seemed too good to be true. But God assures His people now that it is no marvellous thing in His eyes. For He is fully competent to bring it about. To Him it is but as a commonplace.

8.7-8 ‘Therefore thus says YHWH of Hosts, “I will save my people from the East country, and from the West country, and I will bring them and they will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem, and they will be my people, and I will be their God in truth and righteousness.’

The mention of East and West is an extension to previous promises where North (Babylon) and South (Egypt) were in mind. The promise is that He will gather His people from wherever they may be.

And as the centuries passed many of the people did gather in the land in preparation for the coming of Christ, but as always only the remnant, resulting in the early church, responded when God called. Today again we have seen the gathering in of the Jews from places worldwide, and it may be that we will yet see a work of God among them by His Spirit as a result of which many of them come to Him and recognise Him as their God in truth and righteousness before the final coming of Christ. Outside of Him the Jews have no future. But in the end such promises finally look beyond this to the new Heaven and the new Earth and to the new Jerusalem which will be composed of His people.

The Restoration of God’s People Is At Hand (8.9-17).

God describes what the land had been like as a result of His forsaking it, but He wants them to know that He is now giving them another chance. The foundations of His house have been laid, and the Temple will now be rebuilt.

8.9-11 ‘Thus says YHWH of Hosts, “Let your hands be strong, you who hear in these days from the mouth of the prophets, which were in the day when the foundation of the house of YHWH of Hosts was laid, even the Temple that it might be built. For before these days there was no hire for man nor any hire for beast, neither was there any peace to him that went out or came in because of the adversary, for I set all men every one against his neighbour, but now I will not be to the remnant of this people as in the former days, says YHWH of Hosts.” ’

God encourages those who have listened to the preaching of Haggai and Zechariah, who lived around this time of the commencement of the building of the Temple. Things might be tough, but let their hand be strong for God will now act with them.

There was a time when He would not allow anything to go forward. There was no work on offer for men then, there was nothing for the beast of burden to do. Jerusalem was a dead place. Those who lived there knew no peace or security. As they went in and out they moved in fear of their lives, for there was constant enmity and hatred. Such was the situation of the few who lived among the ruins of the desolated city, and such was the case with the first returning exiles as they struggled to survive against want and hostility (Ezra 4.1, 5). They were dedicated people but probably not entrepreneurs. Now, however, God Himself will resolve these problems on behalf of ‘the remnant’ who have returned. Work will be available, security will be established. For this will be the result of their hearing the word of YHWH and responding to it.

8.12-13 “For there will be the seed of peace, the vine will give her fruit, and the ground will give her increase, and the heavens will give their dew, and I will cause the remnant of this people to inherit all these things. And it will be that, as you were a curse among the nations, Oh house of Judah and house of Israel, so will I save you and you will be a blessing.”

‘The seed of peace.’ There is to be a seed of peace, the beginnings of peace and prosperity. The future is full of hope. Once peace is planted and established and life is organised by obedience to God’s instruction given in ‘the Law’, and by response to the words of the prophets, then that will produce its fruit, and the land will begin to prosper as the vines flourish and the fields produce their harvest, and the dew from heaven fails not. The whole land will once again become prosperous and people will dwell in safety and security. And all this would come about in the future commencing with that small band of exiles in that day of small things.

That this happened is undoubted. The Jews did establish a prosperous land, and Palestine did again flourish. And even more they would become a blessing. For from their number would come the first preaching of the Gospel and through them the nations of the world would be blessed (Genesis 12.3). But the fulfilment of this awaited the coming of the Branch, the coming king.

‘There will be the seed of peace.’ This may have in mind that, as they find peace with God and with each other, their seed will be productive and produce good harvest, or it may mean the beginnings of peace are present which will grow and flourish as the people prosper.

‘And I will cause the remnant of this people to inherit all these things.’ The idea of the remnant appears continually in the Old Testament. Ideally it is all those who remain alive of Israel and Judah. But practically and in fulfilment it is that part of those people who will respond to God’s call. There is a remnant within those who are left. It is they who will inherit the promises. Not all Israel are Israel (Romans 9.6).

‘So I will save you and you will be a blessing.’ In the future things will be turned round. At present Israel and Judah are looked on by the nations as cursed. Outwardly it appears that their God has failed to help them and their future is bleak. The nations could never understand that this was because of the failure of the people to be obedient to Him. They did not see God in that way. To them gods could be manipulated and bribed.

But the day would come when God’s people would be delivered and then they would become a blessing. This was a taking up of the promise to Abraham, ‘by you shall all the families of the earth be blessed’ (Genesis 12.3). And become a blessing they did. Firstly through their propagation of the moral law among the peoples through their synagogues, and secondly through the coming of Christ and the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ by the Apostles (all Jews). But in the end the final and greatest blessing will be in the everlasting Kingdom when the Branch of David will be with His people in the eternal Jerusalem above (Revelation 21-22).

The language of blessing and cursing links up closely with the giving of the Law in Deuteronomy (see 27.15-26; 28.2-10; 28. 15 ff).

8.13c-15 “Do not be afraid, but let your hands be strong. For thus says YHWH of Hosts, “As I thought to do evil to you when your fathers provoked me to wrath,” says YHWH of Hosts, “and I did not change my mind, so again have I thought in these days to do good to Jerusalem and the house of Judah. Do not be afraid.” ’

God confirms that He has now purposed to do good to the people of Judah. They need not be afraid. They can go forward confidently. He was truly angry at the sins of their fathers, and that is why judgment had come on them. Their sins had been such that they had gone beyond the point of repentance and so God had had to be firm in His acts of judgment. But now a new generation has arisen and God’s purpose towards them is good. But this as ever is dependent on their response.

8.16-17 “These are the things that you shall do. Let every man speak truth with his neighbour. Judge truth and the judgment of peace in your gates. And let none of you think evil in your hearts against his neighbour. And love no false oath. For all these things I hate, says YHWH.”

For God is ready to act, but only if His people are responsive, and He outlines His requirements. And the first is that men will be open and honest with each other. This is a distinctively Jewish/Christian virtue. Elsewhere dishonesty is honed to a fine art but in Jewish/Christian teaching honesty is a prime demand.

The second requirement is the exercise of true justice. ‘Judge truth.’ That is, ensure that your judgments arrive at the truth. So-called justice has always been perverted and twisted by the influence of powerful men, by group pressure, by prejudice. But it is not to be so among the people of God. They are to be concerned with the genuine truth.

‘And the judgment of peace.’ The aim of justice should always be to aim for peace and reconciliation, but it must be a peace that is consonant with truth. Blessed indeed are the peacemakers, but not peace at any price. Truth and reconciliation must both be kept in mind.

‘In your gates.’ The gate of the city was where justice was carried out, bringing out that official justice is in mind here.

The third requirement is not to think evil in one’s heart against one’s neighbour. If we have cause to feel our neighbour is at fault we should go and seek to deal with the matter in truth and peace, giving full consideration to all the facts, and not allow evil thoughts and ideas to take hold of our minds and fester in them. Continued evil thoughts reveal an evil heart.

‘And love no false oath.’ The fourth requirement is that men will be honest when giving testimony, and when making promises. Psalm 15.4 especially commends the man who ‘swears to his own hurt and does not change’.

‘For all these things I hate.’ God hates deceit in any form, for He knows its consequences as resulting in a perverted society. God’s hatred and God’s wrath are both anthropomorphisms. He does not feel hatred in His heart, nor does He become uncontrollably angry. It is rather that He has an antipathy to sin. So in Him both are a measured response to a situation. He hates what is bad precisely because it is bad, and badness spoils the world. He is against it because of its consequences. And this causes within Him an attitude that must act against sin and evil to remove it and remedy it, and that is His wrath.

The Future is Bright for God’s People (8.18-23).

8.18-19 ‘And the word of YHWH of Hosts came to me, saying, “Thus says YHWH of Hosts. The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh and the fast of the tenth shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness and cheerful feasts. Therefore love truth and peace.” ’

Many sad incidents of the past were remembered in periods of fasting as men mourned what they had lost, but as we have learned earlier, this was not a genuine mourning over sin but a mourning because of loss. They hoped to move God by their tears, but the problem was that their own hearts were not truly moved towards Him (see on 7.5-6).

Here we learn of four periods of fasting which had been established and observed. But there is always the danger with such activity that it becomes a means in itself. Men begin to think that God should work because of what they do. They lose the heart of the matter which is the transformation of their own hearts, and thus they do not receive the blessing.

However, God in His grace has heard their cry. Now this fasting can be put to one side. These periods will now become periods of joy and gladness. Their fasts will become cheerful feasts. This is because God is again at work among them. But note the final warning. This will only be maintained if they love truth and peace. Honesty and harmony, truth and reconciliation, are at the heart of what God would achieve. Without this His work will come to a halt.

8.20-23 ‘Thus says YHWH of Hosts. “It will yet be that there will come peoples and the inhabitants of many cities, and the inhabitants of one will go to another saying, “Let us go quickly to entreat YHWH’s favour and to seek YHWH of Hosts. I will go also.” Yes many peoples and strong nations will come to seek YHWH of Hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat YHWH’s favour. Thus says YHWH of Hosts, “In those days it will be that ten men will take hold, out of all the languages of the nations, will even take hold of the skirt of him who is a Jewish man, saying, “We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.” ’

This picture presents what was God’s final purpose for His people, that they should be a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19.6), bringing men to God; that they should be His witnesses so that the nations respond to Him and seek His face. And He promises that one day such they will be. And the words are intended to be an encouragement to the returned exiles in their parlous situation. They may at present seem few and obscure, but through their efforts and the efforts of those who would follow God’s vision for the world would finally come to fruition.

And the future would see its fulfilment. First in the many God fearers who would gather to Jerusalem because of their reverence for His Law, including men like the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8.27), and then those who would come to the leaders of the Christian church centred in Jerusalem, that they may learn certainly of the truth of the things they had heard, and finally in those who would flock to the preaching of the Gospel as the men who were the true fulfilment of the Jewish hope went out from Jerusalem among them preaching Christ.

‘Ten men.’ ‘Ten’ signifies ‘many’ (compare how Jacob said ‘you have changed my wages ten times’ - Genesis 31.7). It is also stressed that they will be of many languages. The response will be widespread.

‘Take hold of the skirt.’ Probably signifying the response of discipleship. We must never forget that it was among Jews that the Gospel was first proclaimed and those who first went out with the Gospel to the world were Jews such as the twelve apostles and Paul.

‘God is with you.’ See Isaiah 7.14; 45.14. As men saw what had happened they would know that it was only because God was in it that it had happened.

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