google-site-verification: google3e8cc4742c5fd8a2.html Thursday with Tabitha - Zechariah

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Zechariah

This week we’ve reached the book of Zechariah. After spending a couple of weeks in the very short books of Obadiah and Haggai, I found Zechariah to be quite a contrast. It’s a much longer book with 14 chapters, and the style of prophetic writing is quite different too. There is so much that we could choose to look at in this complex, beautiful book, but it would be beyond the scope of this podcast to look in detail at all the prophesies that Zechariah received. Instead I’ll start with a brief historical background and an overview of some of the main themes of the book, and then I’ll focus on some of the prophecies that were fulfilled most clearly in the life of Jesus. We’ll end with some thoughts to take away for our own lives.

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Zechariah came from a priestly family. We are given the names of his father and grandfather, Berechiah and Iddo. His grandfather’s name appears in Nehemiah 12:4 where he is listed as one of the Levites who returned to Jerusalem with Zerubbabel in about 538 BC, according to the edict of King Cyrus of Persia.

Zechariah’s prophecy starts 2 months after Haggai’s. The book is made up of a collection of nine visions followed by other prophetic oracles. These take the form of individual units, which don’t follow a clear narrative pattern. The style of the prophecy is futuristic, and sometimes quite obscure to the modern reader. Many of the prophecies bear similarities to those found in the book of Revelation, at the end of the New Testament, and they need to be approached in a similar way, with careful appreciation of the symbolism involved.

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As we learned last week, some of the exiled people of Judah had returned to Jerusalem after King Cyrus permitted them to do so. They had started to rebuild the temple and the walls but they had become discouraged by opposition. They were also facing difficulties in their everyday lives, including high taxes under the Persian rule. Worship of God and obedience to his law were quite low down on their list of priorities.

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The book of Zechariah opens with a call from God to the people to repent and return to him:

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Therefore say to them, Thus declares the LORD of hosts: Return to me, says the LORD of hosts, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. (Zechariah 1:3)

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The people do repent and turn back to God, so God keeps his promise. There then follows a series of visions that Zechariah receives during the night. The visions contain God’s promises of restoration for his people, forgiveness, removal of sin and idolatry from the land, and the blessing and expansion of Jerusalem. 

God calls his people back to sincere and genuine faith. He wants them to be just, merciful, mindful of the vulnerable and honest in their dealings with each other (Zech 7:8-10).

The book of Zechariah does contain some messages of judgement for the enemies of God’s people, and for those who do not respond to God’s call to return to him, but the majority of the book is made up of promises of hope and restoration. God promises to turn the former times of fasting into times of feasting for his people (Zech 7:18-19).

In the second half of the book, we find prophecy relating to the coming King of Zion. He is portrayed as a divine warrior (Zech 9:1-8) and also called The Branch. In chapter 11, God promises to replace the evil shepherds of his people, the corrupt leaders, with a good shepherd. These are all prophecies about the coming Messiah.  

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There are up to 54 passages in Zechariah that are alluded to in 67 places in the New Testament, mostly in the book of Revelation. In addition, there are a few specific prophecies in Zechariah, which find their fulfilment very clearly in the life of Jesus. The gospel writers quote these verses from Zechariah in their accounts. We’ll look at these verses now.

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Firstly, Zechariah 9:9: Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9)

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Matthew and John both refer to this verse in their gospel accounts of Jesus entering Jerusalem riding on a donkey (Matt 21:5, John 12:15). They understood that Jesus was deliberately fulfilling prophecy, making a clear statement about his identity as the promised Messiah.

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In Zechariah 11:13 we read a slightly odd statement about the good shepherd being valued at 30 pieces of silver, and these pieces subsequently being thrown back into the house of the Lord, to the potter. In Matthew 27:9 we see that Matthew draws on the words of Zechariah and Jeremiah and applies these to the actions and fate of Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. When Judas saw what was going to happen to Jesus, he tried to give the blood money back to the priests, who refused to take it back. Overcome with remorse and guilt, he threw the 30 pieces of silver back into the temple and went and hanged himself. The priests and elders bought a field known as the Potters Field with the money and it was used as a burial place for foreigners.

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In Zechariah 12:10 we read: “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. (Zechariah 12:10)

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John takes this verse and applies it to Jesus’ crucifixion. In John 19:31-37 we read about the soldier who pierced Jesus’ side to verify that he was dead after his crucifixion. John then quotes Zechariah, “they will look on him whom they have pierced” and sees the action of the solider as a fulfilment of this prophecy. There are other Old Testament passages which speak prophetically about the manner of the Messiah’s death, notably sections in Isaiah 53 and in Psalm 22. The details are quite striking, particularly bearing in mind that crucifixion did not come into use as a means of execution until several hundred years after Psalm 22 was written.

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Finally we see Zechariah 13:7 quoted by Matthew (26:31) and Mark (14:27) in their descriptions of Jesus’s disciples deserting him and fleeing from the garden of Gethsemane.

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“Strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered”. (Zechariah 13:7)

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The verse in Zechariah is describing the good shepherd and how he will be struck down. Matthew and Mark both see the scattering of the disciples in the scattering of the sheep.

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The book of Zechariah ends on a note of victory and triumph with God reigning over the whole earth and Jerusalem finally dwelling in peace.

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There are two short verses from the early parts of the book that I want to consider. The first is Zechariah 4:10. In this section, God is encouraging Zechariah that he will empower Zerubbabel and his fellow workers to complete the rebuilding of the temple. God says: For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. (Zechariah 4:10a ESV)

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Sometimes it can feel as if we live in a day of small things. The ordinary routines and rhythms of our everyday lives can seem quite insignificant. There is a temptation to always be looking ahead to what the next big thing will be or feeling despondent about an apparent lack of excitement or significance in what we do. Sometimes we have our mountain top experiences and spiritual highs in special events or significant achievements, but the reality is that life is lived in the in-between times. In the days of small things.

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God knows all the days of our lives and each day and moment can be used for his glory. But not if we’re despising the time. Our awesome Creator and Sustainer is the source of our every breath and his gift of life to us is not to be taken lightly. In the times that are difficult, painful or seemingly futile, we can cling on to Jesus’ promise to us that our Father God cares about us more than we can imagine. He even knows the number of hairs on our heads (Matt 10:30).

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The second verse is Zechariah 3:6. God gives Zechariah a message to encourage Zerubbabel. He wants him to know that the rebuilding of the temple will be accomplished and he says: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” (Zech 3:6)

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There are times when we will face seemingly insurmountable obstacles or daunting mountains of opposition. The Holy Spirit can empower us in ways we could not imagine and those mountains can become plains in front of us. We need to be prepared for God to work in ways we do not expect but if we have faith in his promises to us, the unlimited power of the Holy Spirit is available to help us and that is far better than any human power or might.

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I’ll close with Paul’s words to the Ephesians: Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

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