Showing posts with label Zechariah. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Zechariah. Show all posts

Saturday, July 13, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (26)

We are coming down the home stretch in Zechariah, moving topic by topic, though not necessarily in the order these future events will take place. Today’s four verses are set in millennial Israel, describing the geographic upheaval that will take place at the second coming of the Lord Jesus and continue into the millennium, as well as a couple of statements concerning the rule of Christ during this period.

That rule is a well-established Old Testament fact. Zechariah can sum it up in two sentences.

Saturday, July 06, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (25)

Martin Luther said of Zechariah 14, “Here, in this chapter, I give up. For I am not sure what the prophet is talking about.” Apparently he wrote two commentaries on Zechariah, both of which ended abruptly with chapter 13. John Calvin likewise demurred to offer an interpretation, for which many of us are eternally grateful.

There is no problem interpreting Zechariah 14 if you take it literally, believe God is God and that he keeps his covenants with no cute allegorical cheats. None. So I am definitely not boldly going where no man has gone before. Lots of men have gone there. They just didn’t spiritualize everything they ever encountered in the Old Testament and apply it to the Church. Steer clear of that interpretational dead-end, and you’ll be fine. So let’s have at it!

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.

Saturday, June 22, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (23)

In April of this year, the US House of Representatives passed a bill called The Antisemitism Awareness Act. If signed into law, the act would make it illegal to say the Jews killed Christ, as the Bible plainly and repeatedly states. The bill gives examples of online statements that would now be classified as hate speech and violations of the law, including “using the symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism (e.g. claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis”.

If it’s anti-Semitic to say the Jews killed Christ, then the apostle Peter, a Jew himself, was a flaming anti-Semite.

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (22)

Four times in the book of Revelation the Lord Jesus or God identifies himself as “the Alpha and the Omega”: the beginning and the end or the first and the last, depending on your translation. This is not a title men have given him but a name by which he chooses to make himself known. It’s a reminder of the truth boldly stated numerous times throughout the New Testament (and probably not well understood prior to that time) that the Word was in the beginning with God and nothing at all was made without his participation.

The Son was personally active in the beginning, and he will be personally active again in the end. The title means more, of course, but that is certainly one implication.

Saturday, June 08, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (21)

You will not find the expression “day of the Lord” in the Old Testament prior to the books of the prophets. Joel turns the phrase more frequently than anyone else, but Isaiah also uses it, as do Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Obadiah, Zephaniah, Malachi and, of course, the prophet we are currently studying, where it appears exactly once, introducing the final chapter.

Naturally, that’s not all the Bible has to say about the day of the Lord. Not by a long shot.

Saturday, June 01, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (20)

In chapter 11, Zechariah is either living out an object lesson in real time or else telling a parable in which he is a character. By no means is his illustration a simple, obvious analogy, and commentators are all over the place in trying to parse out its intended meaning. The parable concerns two shepherds and a flock doomed to slaughter, and it’s chock full of symbols, familiar and unfamiliar. If we can’t unpack it to everyone’s satisfaction, at least we can make a few sensible suggestions consistent with other prophetic scriptures, and eliminate the more absurd possibilities sometimes offered.

The parable spans Israel’s history, starting in the distant past and ending in the future.

Saturday, May 25, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (19)

Israel has a problem today, and it’s not a new one. It’s a leadership problem.

I’m not talking about Mr. Netanyahu specifically, though there are many who object to his policies and those of all his predecessors going back to David Ben-Gurion in 1949, when Israel became a nation again for the first time in 1900 years. All politicians take a certain amount of flak from the critics. That’s normal. Some are objectively better than others, but all have their limitations.

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (18)

Earlier this week, I quoted from Israel’s rather bloodthirsty-sounding Finance Minister, who gave a much-panned speech calling for the total annihilation of the Palestinian cities of the Gaza Strip, in which he also referred to aspiring to destroy Hezbollah “with God’s help” and send a message to the enemies of Israel.

Those of us who have read the prophetic scriptures know Israel cannot count on God’s help apart from first coming to genuine national repentance for their rejection of Messiah, so Mr. Smotrich may be presuming just a little. Terrible things must happen both in Israel and to Israel to bring them to the point of desperation and cause them to cry out to the Messiah they crucified.

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Of Foals and Fools

As I noted in yesterday’s Mining the Minors instalment, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John each penned an account of the triumphal entry. As usual with gospel accounts of the same events, these are complementary, not contradictory, much as any honest eyewitness accounts invariably reflect the personality, preoccupations, purposes and intended audience of the storyteller.

Bart Ehrman, Bible scholar and self-acknowledged unbeliever, would desperately like the accounts to contradict even if they don’t.

Saturday, May 11, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (17)

Sometimes, apart from supernatural intervention, prophetic fulfillment is inexplicable; things happen that couldn’t possibly have happened without the hand of God. Other prophecies attain fulfillment by simple acts of human will.

Take, for example, a virgin conceiving and bearing a son. The Holy Spirit came upon Mary and the power of the Most High overshadowed her. God did what was otherwise impossible. That was a supernatural fulfillment of Isaiah.

Saturday, May 04, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (16)

Zechariah begins with eight visions, continues with four messages, and finishes with two oracles, literally “burdens”, a word often used to refer to prophetic revelations of the future. Each oracle spans three chapters, the first beginning in chapter 9 and the second commencing with the first verse of chapter 12. I have called the first oracle “against the nations” because it commences with words of coming judgment concerning the nations immediately west and north of Israel, later going on to mention Greece, Egypt, Assyria and other ethnic groups further afield.

There’s plenty about Israel in the first oracle as well, but it’s definitely more general than the second oracle, which is specifically “concerning Israel”, Judah included.

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (15)

Zechariah’s final message of four is full of hope. Responding to a question from the men of Bethel about when Judah’s seventy years of judgment would finally come to an end, the prophet first paints a picture of a future Zion in which the Lord sweeps up their exiled brothers and sisters all over the world and restores them to their national home, coming to dwell in their midst. As with many prophecies, this one would not come to pass for thousands of years, but its fulfillment is as certain as the character of God himself.

Now, in view of God’s future mercies to Israel, Zechariah gives seven instructions for the men and women of Judah living in the early sixth century BC about how they ought to conduct themselves as a people for whom God intends and desires nothing but good.

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (14)

Get ready, we’re going to do a little time traveling for the next week or two.

Zechariah’s fourth message from God is his longest, even if you break it into two parts as many commentators do (using the words “And the word of the Lord of hosts came” as the starting point of each revelation). I prefer to keep the two revelations together, since both speak of the future restoration of Zion, and both use similar language to distinguish past from present and future. When we break them up, we lose what I feel are intentional associations.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (13)

Sin has consequences. The vast majority of these are no fun. The usual result of experiencing the consequences of sin is sorrow, and sorrow is an emotional mechanism designed by God to produce better things in the long run. Sadly, some people never get beyond their sin-induced misery to the state of mind God intended it to bring about, like prodigals in the pigsty to whom it never occurs to return to the father’s house.

Biblical repentance is not merely feeling bad about the consequences of your sin, but recognizing its offensiveness to God and doing something about it. That’s what this second message in Zechariah 7 is all about.

Saturday, April 06, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (12)

A couple of my Christian friends gave up certain food groups for Lent this year, provoking the occasional thought about the purpose of biblical fasting, though not necessarily inspiring me to join them. I’m on an eighteen-hour-a-day intermittent fasting program already, which is more than enough for me. Adding forty days of any kind of deprivation to that? Don’t think so.

Fasting has a long history as a perceived act of religious devotion, including among practitioners of Judaism, for whom the Law of Moses actually commanded it. Christians have no specific apostolic instructions to observe it, but some have always done so, citing the words of the Lord Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount concerning fasting, despite the fact that his own disciples did not make a habit of it.

Of course, the Lord’s instructions about fasting were directed to Jews, but that often goes unremarked.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (11)

Prior to the destruction of Solomon’s temple by the Chaldeans, back when there was an Ark of the Covenant in which holy things could be stored, God occasionally ordered the preservation of certain items: the tablets of the covenant, Aaron’s rod that budded, a jar of manna. Somewhere along the line, two of these went missing, but in their time, they served as reminders to Israel of God’s law, sovereignty and provision.

His eight visions finally completed, Zechariah now receives an object lesson from the Lord, a Messianic illustration to act out in front of witnesses, to be commemorated with the only God-given physical reminder of the Second Temple era.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (10)

Sometimes the study of Bible prophecy presents no easy answers. The pieces just do not seem to fit. Efforts to make a particular vision or oracle map onto what we know of the past creates conflict with the established historical record. Efforts to make it map onto the future creates conflicts with scripture. Or maybe both.

What can I tell you? Despite best efforts, this is one of those days.

Saturday, March 16, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (9)

There’s no getting around the fact that the Bible’s pictures of wickedness are frequently female. We’re going to study one today.

Commentators occasionally feel the need to apologize for this, as if maybe the Holy Spirit might be a tad misogynistic, or perhaps the prophets of God went off the reservation and used imagery consistent with their patriarchal biases that he might not have personally approved.

Hey, we all know the Lord Jesus loved women …

Saturday, March 09, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (8)

In interpreting Zechariah, a great deal depends on the systematic theology of the reader. When you start with an ironclad overview of the prophetic scriptures in mind, it’s next to impossible to interpret individual passages without inflicting your prejudices on them. I’ll try to keep that in mind as I go along.

The next two visions are considerably more difficult. They must be, as scholarly opinions about their meanings are all over the map. I’ll give a quick summary of the major viewpoints and then, in most cases, tell you where and why I disagree with them, and what I’d suggest as alternatives.

Saturday, March 02, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (7)

Wikipedia says, “A perpetual motion machine is a hypothetical machine that can do work infinitely without an external energy source. This kind of machine is impossible, since its existence would violate either the first or second law of thermodynamics, or both.”

In the real world, systemic failure is inevitable. The most sophisticated humanly devised machinery eventually breaks down and grinds to a halt.

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (6)

Zechariah is the penultimate Minor Prophet and the penultimate book of the Old Testament in the order we have it in English, as well as historically. He is also the penultimate prophet in the Hebrew Old Testament, though not the next-to-last book, which is Chronicles.

Given his proximity to the New Testament, we should not be surprised to find Christ so prominent in Zechariah, as we have mentioned. Zechariah’s vision in chapter 3 portrays Messiah in at least four different aspects: (1) as priest, (2) as the angel of the Lord, (3) as the Branch, and (4) as the stone with seven eyes.

Let’s dive in.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (5)

Several years back, my cantankerous next-door neighbor had her front walk redone with great, imposing slate pavers. I’m not sure they harmonized with the look of her property quite as well as the railroad ties she had in prior years, and I bet they cost a bundle, not least for the prodigious amount of labor involved in what initially looked like a fairly small project. It took three men several days to tear up what was there and replace it.

There was only one problem.

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (4)

The prophet Zedekiah once forged a pair of animal horns out of iron as an object lesson for the kings of Israel and Judah, who were contemplating going up to Ramoth-gilead to fight the king of Syria. It must have been quite a dramatic moment when he trotted out his artistic creation in front of the two Hebrew kings on their thrones before a gathering of 400 prophets, crying out, “With these you shall push the Syrians until they are destroyed.” Too bad Zedekiah was actually a false prophet regurgitating what he thought King Ahab wanted to hear.

All the same, his literal “forgery” gives us a little bit of insight into the meaning of the imagery in Zechariah’s second vision.

Saturday, February 03, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (3)

The phrase “the angel of the Lord” occurs 58 times in 19 Old Testament passages. Three of these passages are in Zechariah. The name appears to designate a unique being distinct from and possessing greater authority than other angels, one who identifies himself with deity and acts as if he were God.

We know the Lord Jesus was active on God’s behalf during the OT period. When we add to that John’s claim that no one has ever seen God, and that God has been (and continues to be) made known only through his Son, the Word, the logical conclusion is that the angel of the Lord was a visual manifestation of the preincarnate Christ.

More on that shortly.

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (2)

Two months before Zechariah began to receive messages from the Lord for the people of Judah, the prophet Haggai received his first recorded revelation, a message to the two men who represented civic and religious authority among the returned exiles, the governor Zerubbabel and the high priest Joshua. The Lord instructed these two to lead the people in rebuilding the temple, a project they had abandoned almost two decades prior.

Twenty-four days later, work began at the new temple site. Slightly less than a month after that, the Lord sent a word of encouragement to them through Haggai. Ten days later, Zechariah received his first message.

The people of Judah had shown their willingness to obey God when they realized obedience was the only alternative to unrelenting economic misery and personal frustration, but their hearts still needed serious spiritual work.

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (1)

Zechariah is the second of three post-exilic Minor Prophets and the eleventh of the Twelve. Like Haggai, he had a tendency to date at least some of his prophecies, which enables us to map them against events described in Ezra and Nehemiah. It also means we can date the beginning of his recorded ministry to a mere two months after Haggai began his, in the second year of the reign of Darius the Great in 520 BC, just after the people of Judah began a serious second effort at rebuilding the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Day of Big Things

A handful of times throughout our earth’s history God has made major public statements. Big things.

The Bible records a number of these great and unambiguous events: the Flood; the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; and Israel’s delivery from Egypt, passage through the Red Sea and miraculous conquest of Canaan. Even when Israel and Judah went into their various captivities, God still made appearances to miraculously shut the mouths of lions, walk around in fiery furnaces and write on the walls of pagan kings.

Then came the first century miracles of Jesus, and later his apostles. Big things.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

On the Mount (7)

While the prophet Daniel revealed the coming of a “kingdom that shall never be destroyed” that was to be “given to the people of the saints of the Most High”, John the Baptist got the job of formally announcing the arrival of the King to his nation.

If all we had to go on was the book of Daniel, we might associate heaven’s kingdom with the power, glory and dominance of the earthly empires that preceded it, and which it would forever eclipse and obliterate: Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome.

That idea would not be wrong so much as it would be incomplete.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Cage Match: Zechariah 14 vs Matthew Henry

Matthew Henry’s commentary on the Bible has gained a reputation as the “best and most widely used work of its kind”. I have its three bulky volumes on my own bookshelf and have found it surprisingly useful at times given its age and the limited number of translations and study tools available when it was written in the early decades of the 18th century. Philip Doddridge said, “Henry is, perhaps, the only commentator … that deserves to be entirely and attentively read through”. Evangelist George Whitfield is said to have read Henry’s commentary daily with his devotions.

So this is not me having another “Rachel Held Evans” moment. Critiquing the opinions of a social justice wannabe looking to amp up pageviews, book sales and personal appearance invitations is not in the same league as tackling a respected and serious writer whose work has been influential for almost three centuries.

That said, there here is no better way to highlight the absurdities inherent in some methods of interpretation — even well accepted and venerable methods — than to simply lay a commentary side-by-side with the word of God.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

An Object Lesson Rejected: The Feast of Tabernacles

Illustration from Bible Pictures and
What They Teach Us
, Charles Foster, 1897
The Jewish historian Josephus referred to Tabernacles, or Sukkot, as “[a] feast very much observed among us”. From the time it was first instituted at Mount Sinai, this feast has held a unique place among the festivals of Israel. The details of its observance were given by God, its future significance was expounded by the prophets, and its spiritual substance was exemplified by Jesus during his brief life on earth.

Let’s consider the origins of the Feast of Tabernacles, its role in prophecy and finally its use by Christ as an object lesson to reveal to a darkened and spiritually thirsty nation the truth about himself.

Origins of the Feast

The Feast of Tabernacles was instituted by divine command, one of three major feasts in Israel’s annual cycle which required that every male in the nation appear before the Lord in Jerusalem. The last feast in the yearly series, it was held for seven days in the seventh month, from Tishri 15 to 21. This placed Sukkot in the pleasant weather of early autumn, after the completion of the harvest. Beginning with a day of rest, it was concluded by an eighth day, also a day of rest, featuring a closing assembly accompanied by the relevant sacrifices.