Zechariah, a contemporary of Haggai (the prophet of last week’s study), joined him in urging the rebuilding of the temple. Zechariah has a more far-reaching vision, however, than Haggai. He saw not just the temple completed, but a time when God’s kingdom would be restored.
We will see in this book a call for God’s people to serve the Lord, but also how they were to do it. The central theme of his message is to have hope. Something we can never have enough of in our incredibly complex and problem-filled world today.
Zechariah, a name that means “Jehovah remembers”, has so much to say to us that we will take two weeks for its study. It’s the longest book of the minor prophets.
Memory Text: “‘In that day each of you will invite his neighbor to sit under his vine and fig tree,’ declares the Lord Almighty.” Zechariah 3:10 NIV
The memory text I would have chosen was different. In my Bible I have underlined Zechariah 4:6, which says, “…Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord.” I checked and there was another verse chosen for next week’s lesson. So, I guess there are several good texts in this book of Zechariah. Let’s see what they all have to tell us.
Sunday: Comforting Words of Life (chapter 1)
God’s chosen people had returned to Judah and Jerusalem, but God wants them to return to Him. These were the first words spoken by the Lord to Zechariah. Zechariah 1:3 says, “Therefore tell the people: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Return to me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty.” NIV
Before we throw up our arms and say that God’s love sounds conditional here or even like bribery (you love me, and I’ll love you), let’s remember that God’s love isn’t in question (He loves sinners enough to die for them). It’s about His ability to be near them and bless them. If we don’t turn to God for help, sustenance, blessings, and even life itself; if we aren’t drawing close to Him in all the ways He’s instructed us to, He can’t always be close enough to bless and take care of our needs. Satan also has a stronghold on this planet for awhile yet.
Chapter 1 of Zechariah continues with a vision about a horseman among some myrtle trees. The interpreting angel standing by Zechariah anticipates his first question of how long will Jerusalem and Judah continue being punished. Many other prophets had the same question. David, Isaiah, and Daniel, at other times of suffering, expressed similar desires to know just how long their conditions would last.
And when you think about it, when we have personal trials, we tend to ask God how long will I have to go through this ordeal. It’s a legitimate question and God does answer it when He can. If nothing else He gives words of comfort and hope through the Scriptures till our ordeal is over.
And that’s just what He does for Zechariah in the words of kindness He gives in His reply to the angel. God reiterates His anger to the nations for what they have done to His people, expressing His feelings of jealousy, which are actually just expressions of His love for them. The words in Isaiah 40:1, “Comfort ye, my people.”, also from Handel’s famous “Messiah”, are filled with God’s love and apply here as well.
Personal thought question: What words of comfort do I find in the Bible? And how can I prepare my heart so God can speak to me through them when they are really needed?
Monday: The Lord Is Coming (chapter 2)
Try to picture your home church with a congregation so overflowing that additional seating has to be arranged. People of all ethnic origins are among those worshiping, with some standing in line waiting and longing to attend your services. Doesn’t this image bring you chill bumps of joy, just thinking about it? Naturally, we want all our churches filled this way.
In prophetic vision, Zechariah is shown Jerusalem with someone going around the circumference of Jerusalem with a measuring instrument. The city of God is bursting at the seams with peoples of all nations. God is once again personally dwelling in the Holy City. The idea of so many included, who were obviously not of Jewish heritage, should not have surprised Zechariah’s readers. Way back in Genesis 12:1-3 God told Abraham that through him “all families of the earth [would] be blessed.”
But they were losing sight of the magnitude of their assignment–that of reaching the world with the gospel message. Jesus made it very clear in His parting words to His disciples: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations…” Matthew 28:19 KJV And when this assignment has been completed, when all the world has heard the message, then Jesus will come (Matthew 24:14). For that, we should be rejoicing. Jesus will return to this earth for His loved ones. His presence in Zion is what the joy is all about.
I like verse 8 which calls the family of God “the apple of his eye”. Other versions of the Bible reveal that it was talking about the pupil of His eye, but somehow we have thought so much of this verse that the English language has retained the expression “the apple of his eye” as a term of endearment. And you have to admit it sounds more poetic than “the pupil of his eye.” I assume the pupil is pretty important to our eyesight though. Perhaps it also means that “he only has eyes for us”, another expression we associate with lovers. In any event, we know that “God has His eye on us” and we are loved by Him.
Thought Question: Are we focused on reaching all the world…or even all of the communities in which we live? Or are we sometimes more focused on how to serve our own congregation adequately, having lost our zeal for reaching out to our neighbors? How do you balance these two mission objectives?
Tuesday: God’s Readiness to Forgive (chapter 3)
Isaiah 53 is a familiar chapter in the Old Testament that talks about the Lamb of God, and that only through His suffering and sacrifice can we be saved. He bore our iniquities, and it is only by having faith in Him that He can intercede for us before the Father. It is said that Zechariah 3 also reveals this wonderful truth of salvation by faith. These two chapters definitely stand out in the Old Testament for upholding this foundational doctrine, found repeatedly in the New Testament.
Zechariah 3 consists of another vision, this time including Joshua, the high priest at the time who has been helping rebuild the temple. Zechariah sees him standing on trial for sins that apply to the whole nation he represents. While he is interceding before God for the nation, Satan brings accusations against them for their sinfulness.
The Lord mercifully rejects those accusations and commands that Joshua have his clothes removed (representing their sins), a cleansing take place, and a new festive garment (representing salvation and righteousness) be put on him. The verse in Isaiah 64:6 makes this interpretation pretty clear. It says, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags;..” KJV
An important verse in this chapter in Zechariah is verse 2. The Lord’s reply to Satan includes this powerful image: “…is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?” KJV The prophet Amos recorded a similar statement from God in Amos 4:11, which says:
“I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord.” KJV
A brand or firebrand is defined in Strong’s Concordance as a torch. God plucks us out of the fires of everlasting destruction, but hopefully we won’t remain a burned-up piece of wood. A torch usually has a light on the end of it, and we are told to let our light shine. Christ, the Light of the world (John 1:9), dresses up our charred and deformed frames and allows us to be a useful instrument for leading others out of the flames. In Isaiah, the Israelites were told to be a “light to the Gentiles”. And Jesus Himself instructed His followers to “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” KJV
Personal Thought Question: Am I giving Jesus all the credit for my good works? Is He being glorified, or am I? Help me, Lord, to remember that I’m just a charred, old piece of wood. Any good result that comes from my actions belongs to you. You are the source and provider of all that is good. Clothe me with your righteousness, not my own.
Wednesday: Not by Human Power (chapter 4)
The next vision is of a golden lampstand (or candlestick). Mysteriously, it is fed by two olive trees, and the seven lamps on the stand are arranged around a large bowl at the top of the stand, serving as a reservoir of oil, for lighting the lamps. Of course, all kinds of symbols come to mind with this scene, reminiscent of the lampstand in the Holy Place of the wilderness sanctuary. The Holy Spirit has been likened to oil in other Bible passages, and we’ve already seen that light is a symbol of Jesus. Many Bible commentators agree that the two olive trees represent Joshua and Zerubbabel, the religious and the civil leaders presently working on the temple project.
In the middle of the chapter we come to the verse, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.” And this gives us the main message we are to glean from this vision. From a human standpoint, all their efforts are inadequate for getting the job done. But God promises that with the Spirit leading the way, the work can be accomplished and God will be glorified.
Thursday: Beyond Fasting (chapter 7)
The temple work is now coming along nicely. It is year three of Zechariah’s ministry, and since the rebuilding only took five years after they took up the work again, it must be nearing completion and things are looking hopeful again. A delegation from Bethel came to Jerusalem to ask the religious leaders there if it was still necessary to fast, especially those fasts that were added that mourned the destruction of Jerusalem.
God’s answer through His prophet Zechariah was in two parts. First, it was essential that they remember the past so it doesn’t get repeated. Fasts can be an aid in their remembrance of an event. And secondly, He reminded them what a real fast consists of. God doesn’t take delight in their hunger. It is the repentance and humility that accompany a fast that God is looking for.
True fasting should result in the kind of death to self that allows us to reach out and minister to others’ needs. He points this out in verses 9 and 10:
“Thus speaketh the Lord hosts, saying, Execute true judgment, and show mercy and compassions every man to his brother: And oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart.” KJV
Thought Question: Are we oppressing those less fortunate when we don’t show them mercy and compassion?
Conclusion: Don’t forget chapter 3 and it’s powerful message of righteousness by faith. We are indeed “brands plucked out of the fire” and God is willing and able to remove ALL our filthy garments and cover us with His righteousness. Next week we conclude our study of this wonderful message in the book of Zechariah.