I don't know how much you are into poetry? A favourite poem of mine is Robert Southey's "The cataract of Lodor" – his powerful word picture of a waterfall falling 90 feet down a hill side in the Lake District. The words describe what can be seen. The words portray the fast moving water.
"... and darting and parting, and threading and spreading, and whizzing and hissing, and dripping and skipping, and hitting and splitting ..."
We also have much poetry in the Bible. It is there for us to discover and to reflect upon and to brood upon and to feast upon. We are all familiar with the Psalms as they move us and speak to us and give us the words to pray. And in the Bible we find the wisdom tradition expressed in books like Psalms and Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Job. And the wisdom of the wise is found elsewhere in the words of the prophets. There is not a rigid distinction between prophet and sage. Sometimes they overlap and give us a fresh insight into the divine revelation. We may find it easier to access, say, the gospels or the letters of Paul - what do we make of the divine poetry in scripture? It's not so easy to grasp and to get a handle on; sometimes like sand falling through our fingers, or bubbles bursting before the outstretched hand of a child. But yet here in this divine poetry is the voice of the living God revealing himself. Making himself known. Nudging us to respond to him. Awakening us to the unexpected. Pointing us to the coming of the Saviour.
That's what we find in Zechariah. In the first part of the book the prophet shares with us his visions, now he unburdens himself and speaks to us in poetry. Yes, we find here the divine anger and judgment but also there is joy and laughter (v.7). Yes, the Christian faith is serious but we must never ever forget that it is also full of joy and praise as we delight in the living God. After all, the message of the gospel is good news, not bad news. Joyful news, not gloomy news. Something to feast upon and to enjoy. As the Westminster Catechism tells us, "Man's chief end is to glory God and to enjoy him forever." And glory and joy are fundamental to the faith we profess and in our response to the generous grace and mercy and love of our God shown to us in Jesus.
This is the third summer in which we've had a series on Zechariah and you can access the earlier sermons on Clayton TV. Already we have looked at chapters 1-9, and now over the next few weeks we are looking at chapters 10-14.
1. Painting the Big Picture
We need to be reminded of where we are in scripture. The Old Testament has two great themes - the Exodus and the Exile. These were pivotal events for God's people in creating their national identity and distinctiveness. The Exodus marked deliverance from Egyptian slavery and, after forty years in the desert, settlement in the Promised Land. In about 900 BC the nation was divided into Judah (in the south) and Israel (in the north). Then, for just over 300 years, the lives of the kings and the preaching of the prophets were recorded. Samaria fell to Babylon in 722 BC and then Jerusalem in 586 BC. This was then followed by the cataclysmic event of the Exile until a remnant returned to the Promised Land. In time (in this land), was born the longed for and promised Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. Remember, that the prophets (including Zechariah) pointed to his coming and their words found their fulfilment in him.
So in looking at Zechariah we are speaking of the period immediately after the return from the Exile in Babylon. Just imagine what it must have been like for those who returned. Life was hard. Security was minimal. Daily existence a struggle. Faith in the living God had to be rekindled in the Temple and its worship. Two of the retuning exiles were Zechariah and Haggai. They were both active in the year 520 (Ezra 5.1; 6.14). One commentator says that their task was "to stir up wills which had been weakened by failure and to open eyes which had been dulled by resignation" (Jones, Zechariah, p.27). Their preaching was specific and focussed, after all that is what true preaching is all about!
The situation was far from easy. The population was small – something like 20-50,000 people living in and around Jerusalem. To these must be added the returning exiles. And there were understandable tensions between those who had stayed and those who had returned. Most had been in Babylon and some in Egypt, and so many would return that the neighbouring countries had to absorb them too. Of course v.10 was an overstatement. But pointed to the time when the peoples of all nations would come to worship the one born in Bethlehem and who died and rose again in Jerusalem.
The situation was far from easy. The city of Jerusalem was mostly in ruins. The houses had fallen into disrepair. The Temple had been ransacked. The royal line extinguished. The priesthood disbanded. Traditionally Jerusalem was where the living God could be encountered. Where heaven and earth were united. But now this fellowship was disconnected. Away as exiles the people wept as they remembered Zion. They asked – "How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?" (NIV, Psalm 137.4). And now, having returned, they still wept tears of guilt and shame for what had happened. But yet back in Jerusalem, there was the promise of what God could do. They had been discouraged but now there was hope.
I don't know where you are at the present time. Near to God or seeming to be far from him? Engulfed by sin and guilt and shame? Feeling distant and backslidden from the Lord? I'm currently reading the life and letters of Joseph Philpot. In the mid-1830s he left the Church of England ministry and became a Particular Baptist pastor. What I find most interesting is that he was uncomfortably honest in expressing his own spiritual state. His own failings and sinfulness; his criticism of nominal religion over and against the faith of the heart and the warm embrace of the Saviour's love. Philpot had a profound grasp of the grace of God and the love of God and the mercy of God. He said, forget your self-centredness and sinfulness and cast yourself afresh upon the merciful, gracious loving God. Perhaps that is something that you need to do today? To cast yourself upon the Lord?
I don't know where you are at the present time. Perhaps in something of a spiritual wilderness. Your first love has grown cold. To be honest your Christian faith has lost its joy. Church-going has become a matter of dull routine. Not something to enjoy but to endure. If that is you, then come again to the warm embrace of the Lord so that your first love might be restored.
I don't know where you are at the present time. Are you like those who went into Exile and were asking "Where is God in my particular situation and circumstance?" For you - in a relationship or out of a relationship. Coming to terms with failure and disappointment; of unemployment or retirement. Never facing up to issues from your past. Perhaps for you joining Celebrate Recovery might help you? Clearly some of the exiles could see the hand of God and were open to what he might do for them and for their fellow believers. Pray that that might be true for you as well.
So whoever you are and wherever you are in terms of your relationship to the Lord, listen to the words of Zechariah, read between the lines and be prepared to hear the still small voice of the Lord.
2. Painting by numbers
By that I mean filling in the detail. We've looked at the wider context of Zechariah 10 – of the returned and returning exiles, of a people coming to terms with a new situation, and of looking afresh to the Lord in the light of their experience – and now let's look in more detail at the text. The visions in chapters 1-8 have given way to the 'oracles' in chapters 9-14. Oracles were burdens, special messages from the Lord. Words to hear. Words to ponder. Words to obey. Words to challenge. Words to encourage. And if you think about it that is not so very different for us. We need to hear the Word of God and respond as the Holy Spirit prompts us.
Verses 10-11 pick up the pivotal themes of the Old Testament: the Exodus and the Exile. Following the Exodus from slavery in Egypt, the people had passed through the sea on dry land. They were to look forward and not backward. And thereafter Egypt became a symbol of sinfulness and godlessness, a place to escape from rather than to settle in. And given this some of the Jews had deliberately chosen to go to Egypt rather than to Babylon. And in doing this they were being disobedient to the Lord (Jeremiah 43.4-7).
We need to understand that it was the Lord who had scattered his people into Exile (v.9) and then he also gathered them from Exile (v.8). But why the exile of the people? It was because of their sinfulness and the corruption of their national leaders. Of the failure of kings and priests to be faithful shepherds. But they had been false shepherds who had led the people astray. And humanly speaking it was only once this lesson had been learnt that they were permitted to return. Now a new Exodus was required. A fresh start in the Promised Land. And once scattered and now gathered they and their families would survive and would return (v.9). This godly remnant would increase in number and re-populate the land (v.8). This was the symbol of God's blessing. I wonder how is God blessing you at present? I'm not thinking materially but spiritually. How is the Lord blessing your walk with him today?
And did you notice in Zechariah 10 that the Lord is infinitely compassionate? Verse 6 says: "I will bring them back because I have compassion on them. They will be as though I had not rejected them, for I am the Lord their God." Yes, as a nation and as individuals they had sinned. They had strayed. But the Lord still loved them and graciously restored them to the Promised Land. No longer distant from Jerusalem they could now worship him in the restored temple. Perhaps you may be someone who needs to be restored into fellowship with the Lord, or with a fellow member of the congregation?
And the Lord who had sent them into Exile, restored them and redeemed them (v.8). The price of their sinfulness had been paid during the exile. Now they were the redeemed people whom the Lord had restored to himself. Obviously all of this should resonate with our indebtedness to the person and work of Christ who redeems and restores those who have sinned. Sinners like you and me. How does this speak to you today? Are you someone who needs to respond to the One who redeems and restores? Perhaps for the first time in coming to Christ? Or perhaps to renew your relationship to him?
And what more can we learn from Zechariah 10? Here is the creator God who provides and cares for his people. The parched ground was revived. The rain to grow the crops and the land to sustain them (v.1). The returning exiles would be blessed and be a blessing to others. Zechariah had said as much in 8.20-23. And as well as the returned and returning exiles, others would come and seek the Lord and his blessing, and in that love imagery of 8.23, many would come and grasp the robe of a Jew: "Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you." I wonder do we so radiate the presence of Christ that other people are drawn to him through our lives and our witness, and say in effect, "Let us come with you, for we have seen and heard that God is with you"? As believers we are to radiate the love and the compassion of Jesus to all men and women.
The people of God who had once been scattered survived the experience and returned to the Promised Land. They were surrounded by godless neighbours. Such people were false guides who led people astray by superstition and the occult (v.2). Yet the people of God remained distinctive. Faithful to the one true God. Seeking to love him and to honour his name. And what of us and of our surroundings and of our response to the godless culture in which we live? Are we clear about how we should witness in an unbelieving world? Remember that our Frontline is where we are. On our Frontline we are the ambassadors of the King of Kings.
Zechariah 10 presents us with a number of situations and challenges. The divine poetry invites us to hear and to respond to what the Lord is saying to us. To examine ourselves and to face up to issues concerning our faith in God, and our trust in Christ and of how we should live our lives.