Saturday, June 29, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (24)

How many ethnic Jews are there in the world today?

The Brave AI tool I just asked that question warns that counting Jews is not an exact science. (Some people incorrectly refer to Gentile proselytes of Judaism as “Jews”. Real Jews do not, and the Bible definitely does not.) Anyway, AI estimates the low number of actual Jews at 15.7 million and the high at 25.5 million, around 0.2-0.3% of the world’s population. The lower number is probably closer to reality.

Now, that number is strictly related to Judah and the tribes associated with it, and does not take into account the ten tribes of Israel, mostly scattered abroad since 722 BC. There is no easy way to calculate their number (hint: it is probably equal to or higher than the number of Jews). The vast majority of Ephraim will not come home to Israel until Christ sets up his kingdom.

Whatever those numbers may be, they will definitely factor into our discussion of today’s reading in Zechariah.

III. Two Oracles (continued)

2/ Concerning Israel (continued)

Zechariah 13:2-6 — The End of the False Prophets and Idols

“ ‘And on that day, declares the Lord of hosts, I will cut off the names of the idols from the land, so that they shall be remembered no more. And also I will remove from the land the prophets and the spirit of uncleanness. And if anyone again prophesies, his father and mother who bore him will say to him, “You shall not live, for you speak lies in the name of the Lord.” And his father and mother who bore him shall pierce him through when he prophesies.

‘On that day every prophet will be ashamed of his vision when he prophesies. He will not put on a hairy cloak in order to deceive, but he will say, “I am no prophet, I am a worker of the soil, for a man sold me in my youth.” And if one asks him, “What are these wounds on your back?” he will say, “The wounds I received in the house of my friends.” ’ ”

Overt, literal idol worship is not a major problem in Israel today, though greed and other forms of non-literal idolatry are always with us. However, idolatry will make a major return to Israel during the great tribulation, as the beast will require all nations to worship his image on pain of death. That will not exclude Jews, many of whom are unbelieving. I suspect the vast majority of Israelites in the last days will worship the beast, and many will probably receive him as their false Messiah. Daniel wrote that the prince who is to come will make a strong covenant “with many”, which he will later break. Those Jews who covenant with this deceiver will surely be lost, as we know that the true remnant of Israel will make no deals with the devil. In the process of purifying Israel, the Lord of hosts will put an end to idolatry among his people forever.

False Prophets and Unclean Spirits

In our summary of chapters 12-14 a few weeks ago, I mentioned that the end times will also see a huge rise in false prophets. This has historical precedent in that during the darker days of Israel’s history, false prophets outnumbered those speaking for God (Micaiah, Elijah) by as many as 450:1. The numbers may be even higher in the latter days.

Zechariah links this coming glut of false prophecy in Israel to “the spirit of uncleanness”. It’s interesting that in the Septuagint of Zechariah, this phrase is the same one used 48 times in the New Testament and translated “unclean spirit” or spirits. These unclean spirits controlled the minds and bodies of men and women, sometimes leading them to prophesy. Those they possessed had no ability to resist them. In Revelation 16, unclean spirits from the mouths of Satan, the beast and the false prophet will deceive the nations and gather them to Israel to assemble them for battle. The text of Zechariah strongly suggests many of these same unclean spirits will be at work in the heads and hearts of the false prophets of Israel.

Ashamed of His Vision

If a true prophetic gift was not entirely under the control of an Old Testament prophet, and he often spoke words he did not understand, how much more might a false prophet fall under the control of unclean spirits who whisper in his ear? This explains how in that coming day, “every prophet will be ashamed of his vision when he prophesies”. Why wouldn’t they just stop prophesying voluntarily? They may not be able to after so many months or years in bondage to external, demonic forces. They may not even know the difference between real and unreal at that point. At the beginning of the millennial reign, Satan will be bound and thrown into the abyss, and surely his minions will be imprisoned as well. Still, it is unlikely that men habituated to hearing voices and receiving visions from unclean spirits will give up their delusions easily, and so the Lord of hosts will forbid prophecy entirely.

In such a climate, the false prophet who continues to speak will have to run for his life. Even his parents will attack him as a liar who does not deserve to live. Thus, the former false prophets will disclaim the prophetic office and the public attention they once coveted in order to save their own lives. If the wounds inflicted by their parents are noticed, they will even lie about their origin. “Oh, you know how it is, boys will be boys.”

Zechariah 13:7-9 — The Stricken Shepherd

“ ‘Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who stands next to me,’ declares the Lord of hosts.

Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered; I will turn my hand against the little ones. In the whole land, declares the Lord, two thirds shall be cut off and perish, and one third shall be left alive. And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, “They are my people”; and they will say, “The Lord is my God.” ’ ”

The Man Who Stands Next to Me

The phrase “man who stands next to me” is a repetitive Hebrew device that amplifies and describes “my shepherd”. If we were in any doubt who the Lord means, we know from the New Testament that “my shepherd” refers to Christ. The phrase translates only two Hebrew words: geḇer and ʿāmîṯ.

The first is a loan word or transliteration from ancient Akkadian. The Hebrew language already has several of its own words for “man” (as in “mankind”) and for “male”, of course. This word refers specifically to maleness, but it also connotes a man in his status as provider, warrior or chief. It is man in his role as leader and defender of his kind.

The second word may be rendered “associate”, “companion” or “neighbor”, so perhaps the best translation of the entire phrase in this context might be “the warrior who is my peer”. I don’t think it’s too much to say that the Lord Jesus is truly man, but he is working harmoniously alongside God to accomplish his purposes with respect to Israel, and he is doing so not just as a servant but as an equal. As part of their plan, and as a result of his association with Israel, this shepherd, warrior and peer will allow himself to be attacked.

The “sword” will be against him. It will certainly not take him by surprise.

Shepherd and Sheep

The sad, familiar story of Peter’s denial of Christ begins with the Lord quoting verse 8. In response to hearing it, Peter insists, “I will never fall away.” Of course, he did just as Zechariah prophesied, and in doing so fulfilled the scriptures, along with the other fleeing disciples. But surely nobody who heard Zechariah prophesy that Messiah would be attacked made the connection to the Gospels that we make today, and it’s not because they were ignorant. We might well ask if there is a sense in which this prophecy also applies to the coming day of the Lord. I believe there must be, because the Lord goes on from this verse to describe the people of Judah fleeing from the invading armies of the nations in the final attack on Jerusalem, as the Lord Jesus is returning in glory to the Mount of Olives. The Israel of the end times are the “scattered sheep” of whom Zechariah spoke, not just the disciples 500 years later. All the consequences unleashed when the leaders of Israel poured out their envy and hatred on Messiah during his first advent will be visited on their unbelieving descendants at the time of the end.

There is another way we can look at this statement. Micah also writes about what happens when the nations attack the people of God. He says, “Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops; siege is laid against us; with a rod they strike the judge of Israel on the cheek.” He’s using the same Hebrew word for “strike” as Zechariah. The original siege of which he is speaking is probably that of Jerusalem by the Assyrians in the days of Hezekiah, but the point he is making is this: an attack on the people of God is an attack on God himself. The writer of Chronicles says the same thing when Sennacherib’s envoy taunted the Judeans under siege: “They spoke of the God of Jerusalem as they spoke of the gods of the peoples of the earth.” It was blasphemy, and a personal insult to the God of Jerusalem, and a personal insult to his Christ. The Lord Jesus also says something similar in a parable, indicating that what you do, either good or bad, to “one of these my brothers”, you do to the Lord Jesus, and judgment or reward follow accordingly. This remains true even when God has gathered the enemy nations against Israel to refine, discipline and judge them for their sins.

This is something we ought not to forget in the political chaos of the present day. Behind the hatred of Israel lies the hatred of Israel’s Messiah. Even though, speaking nationally rather than individually, they do not identify with him currently, the Lord has not forgotten them. An attack on Israel — even unrepentant, sinful Israel — is an attack on him. That is not likely to end well.

Two Thirds Cut Off

The lead-up to Armageddon will be a terrible time for Israel. In the process of purifying a remnant of Israel for himself, the nations will kill unbelieving Jews in large numbers within the borders of Israel. Only one third of the nation will be left alive.

Currently, a mere 7.5 million Jews reside in Israel (still an increase of over a million since I last did this calculation for the blog a few years ago). Another 7.5 million reside in the US, 1.4 million remain in Europe and the rest, however many they may be, are scattered throughout the world. Of these, Jeremiah prophesies a time when “many hunters and fishers” will drive dispersed Jews back to Israel in spite of themselves. I believe that is already underway. Even if we conservatively assume the population of Jews in Israel will double prior to Armageddon due to worldwide persecution (again, already happening), that’s over ten million dead in the necessary process of bringing Israel to call on the name of Jesus Christ. It’s a sobering thought. Then again, the number of Israel’s enemies to die in the final conflict will be beyond reckoning.

At this time, the Lord will once again acknowledge Israel as his people, and the repentant nation will acknowledge him as their God, Lord and king.

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