Recently I’ve been dipping into the earlier chapters of Zechariah’s prophecy. Zechariah is one of the ‘minor prophets,’ i.e. those writers of the shorter OT prophecies [many years ago, while preaching from one of the minor prophets, a little girl in the congregation sized up my shorter stature and whispered to her mother, ‘Mom, uncle Erroll must be a minor prophet’]. Zechariah prophesied on Judah’s return to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon, c. 530 BC. He urges the faithful to restore God’s temple in their midst with an eye to the present and the future (of which Zechariah probably understood precious little), no matter the frightening threats of the pagan nations surrounding God’s city.
Now if his contemporary Haggai was the ‘builder’ responsible for re-building the temple, Zechariah was the ‘artist,’ ‘adding colourful windows with their symbolism, gaiety and light’ (Joyce G. Baldwin). He is given the help of an angel as a guide to some of these ‘windows.’ These windows shed light on the nation’s immediate context, as well as God’s greater purpose for his people way beyond it.
Zechariah also speaks to the nation’s identity as the descendants of Abraham, Moses and David. The nations had treated God’s chosen with contempt and wreaked destruction on them, but God’s long-term purpose for his people remained, viz. to display his glory to Israel as well as the unbelieving nations. God’s people had a history of turning away from him and his law – Zechariah calls them to repent and fulfill their destiny as a nation (cf. 1 Pet. 2:4-12 for our collective identity and calling).
We know of course from the OT, especially Isaiah, that God had previously and repeatedly called his people to be ‘a light to the nations.’ From the NT we know that God, in view of Israel’s spectacular failure, chose to send ‘a new Israel,’ viz. Jesus and his Church (Gal. 3:29, 6:16; Rom. 9:6; Phil. 3:3), to fulfill his saving purposes in the earth – this is where you and I come in.
Which brings me to Zechariah’s third ‘window’ in chap. 2, reflecting ‘a man with a tape measure in his hand’ on his way to survey Jerusalem (v. 2). Just then the angel on his way out meets another angel coming in who says (v. 4, MSG), “‘Run! Tell the surveyor, ‘Jerusalem will burst its walls – bursting with people, bursting with animals. And I will be right there with her’ – GOD’S Decree – ‘a wall of fire around unwalled Jerusalem and a radiant presence within.'” A little later the LORD says to the prophet and his people (v. 10-11), “Shout and celebrate, Daughter of Zion! I’m on my way. I’m moving into your neighbourhood! GOD’S decree… Many godless nations will be linked up with GOD at that time” (“They will become my family! I’ll live in their homes!”). And then a contrasting, final word (v.12), “Quiet, everyone! Shh! Silence before GOD. Something’s afoot in his holy house. He’s on the move!”
Eugene Peterson reminds us that Zechariah’s enigmatic visions, working at multiple levels, and his poetically charged messages are at work still (my italics), like time capsules in the lives of God’s people, continuing to release insight and hope and clarity for the people whom God is using to work out his purposes in a world that has no language for God and the purposes of God.
For me there is a great revelation here: God has always wanted to build A CITY WITHOUT WALLS! British scholar J.B. Taylor has pointed out that the period of Ezra-Nehemiah c. 444 BC moulded Judaism into a religion of exclusiveness from which it has never been released – he adds a warning that ‘walls can imprison those within, as well as keep others out.’ He challenges us: are we in danger of building walls around God?
Whereas mankind has always been in the business of building walls, the living God of the Bible is in the business of breaking down walls. Is that not precisely why God came in Christ? (read Eph. 2:11-22 for a picture of God’s ‘holy temple in the Lord’). Is that not precisely why he has called you and me to himself?
Sadly the Church of Jesus Christ, more often than not, has been in the wall-construction business rather than the wall-demolition business. From this we must repent. Fortunately many are beginning to do just that in these frightening but exciting days – ‘Shh!… Something’s afoot in his holy house. He’s on the move!’ A while ago, while visiting someone in hospital, I saw a young woman wearing a t-shirt bearing the logo, ‘The Church Has Left the Building!’ I almost ran up and kissed her.
That might keep your attention until our next blog, which further explores A CITY WITHOUT WALLS…