Through the Old Testament in a Year

Today's Reading – Zechariah 1 – Return to the Lord

The Book of Zechariah contains some odd imagery, some of which is echoed in the Book of Revelation in the New Testament. Don’t let this put you off reading this fascinating book.

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This morning we begin our readings from Zechariah, the prophet who, along with Haggai, encouraged the Jews in Jerusalem to get on with the work of rebuilding the temple and to see it through to completion. The imagery found in the Book of Zechariah can appear rather odd to us and, at first glance, difficult to understand. But careful and prayerful reading sheds light on God's message to the returning exiles and on his message for us. With such books it is important to remember that they were part of the Bible that Jesus read and treasured and that, along with the better-known books, these also are "God-breathed and … useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." So we pray that the Lord would do us good through this ancient book of prophecy.

The chapter we read today falls into three sections. Verses 1-6 are a call for the returning exiles to return also to God and to worship him alone. The people are reminded that the exile was caused by their faithlessness and by their refusal to listen to the warnings of the prophets. If they repeat their faithlessness, they will again invite God's judgment. They need to learn from their history – and so also do we.

In verses 7-17, Zechariah describes a vision given him of a man on a red horse among myrtle trees, with further red, brown and white horses standing behind him – presumably also mounted with riders. The man on the red horse is also referred to as "the angel of the Lord" and is evidently the leader of this posse. The angel explains that these are riders whom the Lord has sent throughout the earth and who have discovered that the nations that conquered God's people are living at peace. But now the time has come for the Lord to take pity on his people after their 70 year exile. The Lord then delivers the following message to Zechariah through the angel:

Proclaim this word: this is what the Lord Almighty says: “I am very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion, and I am very angry with the nations that feel secure… Therefore this is what the Lord says: “I will return to Jerusalem with mercy, and there my house will be rebuilt… Proclaim further: this is what the Lord Almighty says: “My towns will again overflow with prosperity, and the Lord will again comfort Zion and choose Jerusalem.”’ (vv. 14-17)

Just as we read in Isaiah 40, the Lord declares that he will comfort and bless his people.

Verses 18-21 describe four horns and four craftsmen. The four horns describe the nations that have attacked and scattered God's people and destroyed Jerusalem. The picture of a horn is a picture of destructive power and aggression. These powers are now to be overthrown by four craftsmen. The picture here is one of weakness rather than aggression, but it also symbolises the power to build or rebuild rather than to destroy. God is pleased to work through weakness to establish his kingdom and bring the powers of this world to nothing.

We see this supremely in the Lord Jesus. Our salvation was not accomplished by brute power rivalling and defeating that of the Roman Empire. Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth, was crucified in weakness. But he was raised by the power of God to the highest place in all the universe to reign as King of kings and Lord of lords; "the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength" (1 Corinthians 1:25).

Father God, we thank you that our Lord Jesus, the Lamb who was slain, is also the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Help us to learn from this Book of Zechariah, as well as from the life of our Lord Jesus that your kingdom is built "Not by might nor by power, but by [your] Spirit." Teach us what this means for us in our lives of daily discipleship as we pray and labour that your kingdom may come and your will be done on earth as in heaven.

Peter Misselbrook