ZECHARIAH

Second and Third Visions
Zech. 1:18-2:13

. INTRODUCTION

Before we start this section, we need to focus on 2 issues which are emerging from the study of Zechariah.


Are the Jews Still God's Chosen People?

First, although Zechariah and the rest of the OT claim that the Jews are God's chosen people, are they still TODAY God's chosen people? To some, this would seem a strange question to ask. "Of course they are!" many would say; however, the truth is that the vast majority of Christians do NOT believe the Jews are God's chosen people. Their line of reasoning is based on the fact that the Jews rejected Christ 2,000 years ago. In fact during Jesus' trial when Pilate points Jesus out to the Jews as their king, they reply: "We have NO king but Caesar!" Moreover, the NT speaks of Christians now as being the people of God. In fact in many places in the NT, the terms and images which the OT uses to describe the Jews as God's chosen people are now applied to Christians and to the church.

All the above is true, and I could accept the claim that the Jews today are NOT God's chosen people, except for two verses which state otherwise. According to Paul the OT Jews are the trunk of God's olive tree. Because the Jews rejected Jesus, their branches were cut off God's olive tree, while Gentile Christians were grafted onto this tree. But then Paul says this: that whereas God right now is focusing on the Gentiles, after the time of the Gentiles God will focus once more on the Jews. In fact Paul goes on to say: "And all Israel shall be saved." (See Romans 11:25-29)

But how can that be when the Jews rejected Jesus? Well, first of all, Paul is not saying that the Jew who rejects Jesus is going to heaven. Salvation is only in Christ. What he is saying is that before the end of human history God is going to work once more upon the Jewish people in a dramatic fashion. Many will be saved at that time. Second, the reason that God continues to favor the Jew is that He still honors His promises to Abraham. Paul writes: "From the standpoint of the gospel, the Jews are enemies for your sake. But from the standpoint of God's choice, they are beloved FOR THE SAKE OF THE FATHERS, for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable" (11:28-29). God honors us Gentile Christians because we are spiritual descendants of Abraham, God's friend (Isaiah 41:8); however, He continues to honor the Jew because he is Abraham's physical descendant. A side issue here is whether or not the modern-day nation of Israel figures into God's scheme of things. There as so many promises to the Jew in Zechariah which have not been fulfilled. Because of God's commitment to Abraham and his physical descendants, the Jews, these promises are most likely waiting a future fulfilment and may just apply to modern-day Israel. We shall see how later.


The Role of the Gentiles

There is a shift in tone from visions 1-2 to vision 3 in regards to their attitudes towards Gentiles. Visions 1-2 are very negative towards the Gentiles. In these 2 visions God is bringing great wrath upon the Gentiles, especially those who have persecuted His people. In the third vision though, the attitude changes. Instead of being hostile towards the Gentiles, God actually prophesies that the Gentile will attach themselves to the Jewish people and enjoy the same blessings which the Jews themselves are going to enjoy during this golden age. This passage and other similar OT passages are going to influence Paul dramatically in Ephesians and Romans. How we shall see later.


SECOND VISION: The Fate of the Four Horns (1:17-21)

The second vision focuses on 4 horns and the craftsmen who destroy the 4 horns. First, what are these horns, and second, why are there 4 of them? Third, who do the craftsmen represent?

The horn was used in the OT to symbolize the strength or fighting weapon of a person. Just like the ox or bull would use its horns to fight off potential threats, so people use their "horn" to fight. The horns represent nations which have ravaged the Jewish people. The number 4 indicates that Zechariah is referring to the 4 nations which ravaged the Jewish people, most likely, Babylon (Nebuchadnezzar), Persia, Greece (Alexander the Great and Antiochus IV Epiphanes), and Rome (especially Pompey and later Titus). The craftsmen who devastate the 4 horns then are God's divine instruments to crush these 4 ravaging powers.

Each of these kingdoms and their notorious rulers met untimely ends. Nebuchadnezzar disintegrated for 7 years into a beast, while his son Belshazzar was overthrown by the Persians. The Persians were toppled by the Greeks. Alexander died an early death at the age of 33, while his distant successor Antiochus IV Epiphanes was overthrown in the Jewish rebellion. Pompey who conquered Jerusalem for Rome was eventually stabbed to death and beheaded in Egypt after being defeated by Julius Caesar. Zechariah is simply asserting that these empires and their leaders met untimely deaths because of the way they mistreated the Jewish people. It is unwise to mistreat the Jewish people. Why? We shall see later in the next vision.


THIRD VISION (2:1-13)

Three parts make up Zechariah's third vision. In the first part Zechariah prophesies about the prosperity which is about to fall upon Jerusalem and the Jewish people. In the second part Zechariah explains that although this prophesy is from God, it will not be fulfilled automatically. Instead the people are going to be responsible to make this prophesy a reality. Third, Zechariah lists the incredible results which will flow from this prophecy being fulfilled.


Prophecy of Israel's Future--One of Blessing (2:1-5)

In the first part of this prophecy Zechariah sees a man racing towards Jerusalem with a measuring line in his hand. He is going to Jerusalem in order to measure the outer dimensions of the city, especially the city wall. By measuring the city's perimeters, the young man is indicating how large the city is going to be. Although the young man may be showing us by his measurements that Jerusalem is going to be large, by measuring the city he has also shown us that the city is going to have its limitations. It will grow no larger than the limits imposed by the walls.

An angel though instructs the angel speaking to Zechariah to race down the man and tell him to stop. God does not want the city to be measured. Why?

  1. Because God does not want to city to have walls, that is, anything limiting the size of the city. Jerusalem is going to grow and grow because of God's blessing upon her.
  2. Because God doesn't want Jerusalem to have walls around her for protection. To be sure ancient cities used walls for protection against invading armies but the last 400 years since the time of Solomon have shown that if God wants to punish Jerusalem, no walls can prevent that punishment. On the other hand, if God wants to defend Jerusalem, God doesn't need any walls to help Him protect His people. God wants His people to depend upon Him and not upon some physical walls for their security.
I want to elaborate on this second point. Too often whenever we are attacked, we go on the defensive and start counter-attacking those who initially attacked us. We need to stop doing that. If we are innocent, then God is going to defend us. In fact, He is responsible to defend us in the right way and at the right time.

One of the best examples of this is Watchman Nee, famous Christian Chinese pastor of the 20's, 30's, and 40's. He wanted to marry a young Chinese woman whose aunt was vehemently opposed to the relationship. When Nee and his future bride refused to dissolve the relationship, the aunt plastered on billboards throughout Shanghai the slander that Nee was a homosexual. If you think that charge hurts a minister today, then you can imagine what kind of damage that would do to a minister in the 1920's. Instead of defending himself though, Watchman Nee turned it over to the Lord. He and the young lady eventually married, and he went on to become one of the most influential Christians in China's history. Even today his books are so famous among conservative Christians. And by the way, nobody remembers the aunt's name.

Not only will God defend Jerusalem by being a wall of fire around her (just like He was a wall of fire between the Israelites and the Egyptians at the Red Sea), God will also glorify Jerusalem. Jerusalem will once more sparkle.

If ever you have a chance to go to Jerusalem, take it. Because of all the white limestone rock in the region, the city walls and city buildings are made of the white limestone. When the morning sun strikes the white limestone, it can almost blind your eyes. At dusk as the sunset casts its golden hew over the city, it really looks like a city of gold. At night when all the lights are on, the city looks like a fairy kingdom. Only the new Jerusalem which will come down from heaven will surpass her in glory.

The glory will be more than physical though. It will be glorious because God Himself will be in her midst. Instead of sin and violence, righteousness and peace will flood the city. Instead of sorrow, joy will gush like a fountain through her streets. All this will happen because of what God wants to do in her midst.


The Jews Need to Fulfill That Prophecy (2:6-9)

Yet the prophecy is NOT guaranteed of being fulfilled. In this particular instance the Jews are going to have to return to Jerusalem from Babylon in order for this prophecy to be fulfilled. Well, why would that be a problem? Wouldn't the Jews want to return to Jerusalem? Not necessarily. In fact many will NOT want to return. Why won't they return?

  1. Because they were living comfortably in Babylon. In fact it is in Babylon in which the Jews change from being agriculturalists and shepherds to businessmen. Many were doing quite nicely in Babylon financially. So why leave?
  2. Because they were tired of all the political turmoil which had plagued Jerusalem for the past 400 years. The Egyptians had sacked the city around 900 B.C. The Assyrians had laid seige to the city around 721 B.C.; thousands almost starved to death during that seige. Finally, Babylon had totally devastated the city in 586 B.C. They had had enough. They had a good thing going and were not anxious to disrupt it.
Zechariah understands that using the carrot approach is not going to be sufficient to get the Jews to return to Jerusalem from Babylon; so here he has to use the stick as well. He informs them that great calamity is about to befall Babylon. Although on paper it looked like going to Jerusalem was risky business, the truth is that staying in Babylon was what was risky. Although nothing at the time indicated it, the truth was that Babylon was teetering on the brink of disaster, while Jerusalem was about to enter into years of glory. In fact today no one lives in Babylon, while Jerusalem is still a thriving center. When God says something is going to succeed, then it is going to succeed, no matter what.

I learned this from personal experience. My dad was Vice President of Safeway during its glory years. At that time it was the largest food retail company in the world, having stores not only in the U.S., but also in Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and West Germany. I was working at a local store earning top dollar while I was finishing my Ph.D. studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The church I was worshipping at was going through some really tough times. Some very faithful families were leaving the church because of all the troubles the youth ministry had undergone throughout the years. They had had enough. I knew that the pastor was going to come ask me to take over the youth ministry as its youth minister. I felt this was of the Lord and promised Him I would accept if they asked. It put me though in a crisis. I was leaving one of the best secure jobs for a church that was about to go under. Yet I believed this was of the Lord. The wild thing was that within 3 years Safeway had gone under in most of the U.S., including north Texas, while the church was undergoing good times. Never judge a situation based on appearances. Always judge it on the basis of what Jesus is communicating to you.


Results of the Prophecy Being Fulfilled (2:10-12)

If the Jewish people respond positively to Zechariah's call to return to Jerusalem, 4 things will result:

  1. Zion (Jerusalem) will sing for joy.
  2. The Gentiles will attach themselves to Jerusalem.
  3. God will dwell in their midst
  4. The land becomes God's special inheritance in the holy land.
Because of space I want to focus on the first result of the Jews returning to Jerusalem. God promises joy! When we think about heaven, it is hard to wrap our minds around streets of gold, huge gates made out of a single pearl, etc.; however, we can understand when God promises us that heaven will be one of joy. When the faithful servants render to their Master the fruits of their labors, the Master (Jesus) says: "Enter into the joy of your master!" (Matt. 25:21, 23). The joys of this present time are simply a taste of the ultimate joy we are going to experience in the future.

This past week I got to experience one of the most intense and purest tastes of joy I've ever experienced. My sister sent me a link from Britain's Got Talent and urged me to watch it. I was not prepared for what I was about to experience. It showed frumpy, middle-aged Susan Boyle singing for Simon Cowell along his cynical judges and disapproving audience who became even more cynical and disapproving when they first saw Susan. Their smirks though were transformed into a standing ovation and tears of joy when they heard her belt out her rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Miserables. I've viewed this youtube link several times in the past week. I either tear up or weep for pure joy because of the good thing that happened to her. Like the female judge said: "This was the biggest wake-up call ever." That joy I experienced gave me real taste of the joy we are about to experience on an unprecedented scale upon the return of Christ.

In case you have not seen the youtube clip of this amazing event, click onto Susan Boyle

Two things very briefly. First, the promise that the Gentiles would attach themselves to Jerusalem in the last days was one of Paul's major motivations in reaching the Gentiles in his ministry. Most Jews never really understood that it was always God's intention all along for them to be a magnet for God to the Gentiles. For this reason God chose to save people on the basis of faith instead of the Law because whereas all people don't have access to they Law, they can all exercise faith.

Second, at the beginning of this study we wanted to know the basis for the claim that the Jews were still God's chosen people. When God calls them "the apple of His eye," (the pupil), the most sensitive part of the invaluable eye, then they are special to God indeed. This does NOT mean that the Jews or the nation of Israel are always right. However, they ARE God's chosen people and need to be valued as such.


CONCLUSION

The sad thing is that in spite of all these wonderful promises, they ultimately were not fulfilled among the Jewish people during or after the days of Zechariah. They simply refused to respond positively to God's call. In fact the OT is a study of the failure of the Jewish people. It was going to take nothing less than a direct intervention of God for things to change. We will see more of this starting in chapter 9.