Zechariah builds the House Meditations: 1. Context & Call
Zech 1:1 In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo:
Why this series? A little while ago I found myself drawn to the early chapters of this book. I’ve read it many times before but somehow the Lord seemed to be speaking about the present time through it. At this time of writing (mid 2020) we are experiencing the strange world of Pandemic. Zechariah is a prophet and he prophesies alongside Haggai (Ezra 5:1). His grandfather Iddo was a priest who returned from the Exile (Neh 12:1,4). He thus comes from a priestly family and is therefore both a priest and a prophet.
Their Timing & Purpose: Both he and Haggai prophesied in the second year of King Darius (Hag 1:1, Zech 1:1) Haggai prophesied on the 1st day of the 6th month, the 21st of 7th, and 24th of 9th while Zechariah prophesied in the first six chapters in the 8th month and on the 24th day of 11th month. A lot of prophecies in that one year identified as “the second year of Darius”, probably about 520BC. From chapter 7 he prophesied in the 4th year. Haggai’s came as specific words and were intended to re-motivate the returned exiles to carry on rebuilding the temple that had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. Zechariah’s words, we will see came more as visions and the import of the words were conveyed within the visions and, again I hope we will see, came to bring a wider dimension to the rebuilding project. Having said that his opening message comes as a “word of the Lord” (1:1) with a basic warning.
The Call to Return: Verses 2 to 6 are essentially a warning not to now do as they forefathers had done. It opens with first of all a statement of fact: “The Lord was very angry with your ancestors.” (1:2) Read through the history of Israel in the historical books of the Old Testament and we see their sin and the Lord’s dealings with them again and again. From the point the Lord delivered them from Egypt, they grumbled and He tolerated their grumbles. At Mount Sinai, shortly after amazing revelations, Aaron succumbed to the pressure of the grumbling people and made a golden calf which they then worshiped and for which the worshipers died. Subsequently between Sinai and the Promised Land they continued to grumble and were now disciplined. At the border of the Land they refused to enter and suffered the judgment of wandering in the wilderness for forty years. It was this folly that the writer to the Hebrews picks up (Heb 2:1-3, 3:7-19). In meaning it was very similar to what we find here. (There were many other failures throughout their history right up to and causing the Exile).
This statement of their path is followed by the call to come back: “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.” (1:3) It is a call to all people in this Fallen World to come back to God, but it is also a call to God’s people when they have drifted away from their relationship with Him. That call is reinforced by a reminder of the past when their ancestors had failed to heed the call of the past prophets: “Do not be like your ancestors, to whom the earlier prophets proclaimed: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Turn from your evil ways and your evil practices.’ But they would not listen or pay attention to me, declares the Lord.” (1:4) That, ultimately, is what brought about the Exile.
It is a lesson to be remembered! “Where are your ancestors now? And the prophets, do they live forever? But did not my words and my decrees, which I commanded my servants the prophets, overtake your ancestors?” (1:5,6a) Ok, He says, that is past history and they are gone in disgrace having suffered the judgment that was warned about again and again (through Ezekiel and Jeremiah). Finally, the truth acknowledged: in the Exile the people had finally faced up to their folly and acknowledged their wrong ways: “Then they repented and said, ‘The Lord Almighty has done to us what our ways and practices deserve, just as he determined to do.’” (1:6b) It had taken the purging of the experience of being carried into Babylon where they lived for decades, to bring them to their senses. When they came back, Joshua and Zerubbabel established right worship (Ezra 3:1-6). It was a sign of purified hearts; God’s work had achieved its purpose. Now He wants them to remember that and realize what was at the heart of a relationship with Him.
Principles & Application: There are spiritual principles to be observed and understood in all these verses, that should impact our lives today. In this first ‘word’ in these first six verses that came to Zechariah, we must remember the context. The people in Jerusalem are those who have returned from exile with the express task of rebuilding the Temple in order that the central focus of God in their midst be re-established. The building of the walls and establishing the community of Jerusalem will follow later. First Guiding Principle: Establishing the house of the Lord in the midst, refocusing the nation on God and keeping them refocused on Him, was the primary task of these prophets. First Application: Church is not about establishing a people of good works (that comes later), but establishing a people relating to and responding to God.
Concern: Gavin & Anne Calver, leaders of the UK Spring Harvest Bible Weeks, in their book ‘Unleashed’, written as the foundation material for this year’s Bible Weeks, cited R.T.Kendal’s conviction that the church in the UK is asleep (others may say similar things about the US church but being a Brit that is not for me to say). RT says, “The greatest evidence that we are asleep is our lack of outrage over what is tolerated in the church and what is going on in the world,” and goes on to back up that opinion, with which I would have to agree.
A while back, in another context, I sought to express the sort of church that I believe the New Testament indicates is on the heart of God. Here it is:
“a church that is alive with the presence and power and revelation and activity of God by His Spirit, where God is truly honored, where life and vitality, where fellowship and friendship, where power and authority, pour through the congregation, through this potentially wonderful ‘body of Christ’, bringing constant life transformations, with conversions, deliverances and healings being a regular feature of their life, and the surrounding world is impacted and changed”
If your church or churches that you know, fall short of that description, then I believe Zechariah’s word needs to ring true to us today. I believe as we go through these chapters we will see this more and more. Pray that the Lord will open our hearts to be honest about where we are and what He wants to say to us. It starts with this call: come back to me.