Friday, March 19, 2010

Eleven of the Twelve - Zechariah and the attitude of a shepherd.

Since the beginning of this series on the minor prophets, I wanted to explain the main theme of each book and point out where the prophecies look forward to Jesus. In Zechariah, the two goals seem to become one. The book opens with an exhortation. "The Lord was extremely angry with your ancestors. Therefore, tell them that the Lord of Hosts says this: '"Return to me," says the Lord of Hosts, "and I will return to you," says the Lord of Hosts. "Don't be like your ancestors. The earlier prophets proclaimed to them, 'The Lord of Hosts says to turn back now from your evil ways and deeds'; but they didn't listen or pay attention to me," says the Lord.

Zechariah, like Haggai, prophesied to God's people after their return from exile. They are the kinder of the minor prophets. Where the others proclaimed God's coming wrath for sin, Zechariah and Haggai offer a different tone. God's justice is perfect, but He is also deeply in love with those He chose as His own. Zechariah sees a picture of men riding over the whole world to report on its affairs to God. When the men report the world as "quiet and at peace", the angel speaking with Zechariah prays, "Lord of Hosts, how long will you keep withholding mercy from Jerusalem and the cities of Judah? You've been angry with them for the past seventy years!" God replies, "I am extremely jealous on behalf of Jerusalem and Zion; and to the same degree I am extremely angry with the nations that are so self-satisfied; because I was only a little angry at Jerusalem and Zion, but they made the suffering worse." God goes on to promise the restoration of the Temple and all of Jerusalem.

See, God sounded pissed during all those years at the time of the earlier prophets, but it was more like "Dad Voice". He expected the other nations to continue in wickedness like one might expect the trouble-making neighbor kids to egg your house. But if any of you parents were to learn that your kids were involved in the vandalism, you might have an idea of what God felt.

It's true that Zechariah speaks to the inhabitants of Jerusalem regarding immediate issues, but I might sound redundant if I focused on that part of his message. Where Haggai spoke of an attitude of poverty, Zechariah seems to address the spirit of poverty in the heart. For example, in chapter 8, God promises a beautiful restoration of Jerusalem. There's peace there, families, and joy. In verse 6, God dismisses the circumstances. "This may seem amazing to the survivors in those days, but must it also seem amazing to me?"

More than anything, though, I see Zechariah talking about the coming Messiah. Here we read the prophecies foretelling Jesus' entry into Jerusalem on a donkey (9:9), Judas' price in betraying Jesus and what he did with the money (11:12-13), His being a firstborn son killed in public (12:10), His followers abandoning Him at His arrest (13:7), and His triumphal return when one day He comes again to rule (14:4-9). Jesus seems to be everywhere I look in this book. If not in outright prophecy, Zechariah at least describes the attitude of Jesus.

In my first few times through the book, I stumbled over Zechariah's use of the word "shepherd". I knew that they symbolized the leaders of Judah, but there seemed to be two different kinds of shepherds. At times, God is pissed at the shepherds and wants to punish them. Other passages talk of a good shepherd. In 10:3, God says, "'My anger burns against the shepherds, and I will vent it on the leaders of the flock.' For The Lord of Hosts will care for His flock, the people of Judah; He will make them like His royal war-horse." But a subtle change takes place in this verse. The leaders of Israel often had a reputation for ignoring God's law, the message of the prophets, and the suffering of the people. Nehemiah had to correct the nobles of oppressive usury in Nehemiah 5. The second half of Zechariah 10:3 takes the responsibility of Judah's care off of its leaders and onto God Himself.

The prophet further explains this change of responsibility in chapter 11. God tells of ridding Judah from three shepherds in a single month. I can't say for sure, but it sounds to me like a reference to Josiah's three sons, the last three kings of Judah. Here, the flock is "handed over to the power of a neighbor and to the power of his king." At the end of chapter 11, God promises to raise up one more cruel and careless shepherd before punishing him as well.

Chapter 12 tells of God rescuing Jerusalem from calamity. An interesting change in attitude happens here. God says in 12:6, "When that day comes, I will make the leaders of Judah like a blazing fire pan in a pile of wood, like a fiery torch among sheaves of grain; they will devour all the surrounding peoples, on the right and on the left. Jerusalem will be inhabited in her own place, Jerusalem." Here, finally, the leaders would find themselves in their proper place. They would operate in God's power and follow His direction.

In the gospels, Jesus referred to Himself as the Good Shepherd. This claim makes sense of Zechariah 13:7. "Awake, sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me." This is the one time that God claims a shepherd as His own. He had already pledged to take responsibility for the flock. His shepherd is Jesus, who became a man, and stayed close to the God the Father. He now acts as king, now in the church and in the future over everything. He is our high priest, praying for us and offering us salvation through his death and resurrection.

Good leadership, those who shepherd the flock under Him, must follow His lead. Jesus said in John 5:19, "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner." Like Jesus, the Good Shepherd, we can know what God wants through scripture and the revelation of the Holy Spirit. For any of us who lead to any degree, whether in a political office, church responsibility, or as the head of a household, we must have this attitude. Instead of the worthless shepherds condemned in Zechariah, who sought personal gain and prominence, we need to humbly submit ourselves to God and seek His direction.

This sounds like a simple ending, but it comes with a challenge. When making a decision (and I don't mean something like "do I take another sip of coffee or not?"), stop to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to give you guidance. If the Bible instructs something contrary to the way you have always done things, decide if you are going to pattern your life after scripture. In our own power, apart from God's wisdom and direction, we are doomed. Without Him, we can make no good decision.

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