In December 518 representatives from Bethel came to Judah and asked the leaders whether they should continue their lament fasts over the fall of Jerusalem (Zechariah 7:1-3). Zechariah responded with four distinct oracles (identified by the phrase the “word of the Lord came to me/Zechariah” in7:4, 8; 8:1, 18).
He first questioned their motives for fasting (7:4-7) and then reminded them why Jerusalem had fallen in the first place with an implicit rebuke that they were not much different (7:8-14). They continue to practice injustice just as their fathers. Nevertheless, the word of the Lord comes to Zechariah again (8:1). Though questioning their present motives and interests, Yahweh assures Judah that God loves them and will return to Zion.
This section of Zechariah is structured as a series of five brief oracles and two longer (practically sermonic) ones. The author structures the message with seven uses of an introductory formula: “this is what Yahweh says.”
• “I am jealous for Zion” (8:2)
• “I will return to Zion” and dwell in Jerusalem (8:3)
• Jerusalem will experience peace and rest again (8:4-5)
• Nothing is too difficult to God though it may seem impossible to others (8:6)
• They will be the people of God and God their God (8:7)
• Judah and Israel will be a “blessing” among the nations (8:9-13)
• God will “do good again to Jerusalem” (8:14-17).
The movement in this series is from
• God’s jealous love
• to God’s intent to dwell in Jerusalem
• to God’s intent to renew rest in Jerusalem
• to God’s ability to accomplish his intent
• to God’s renewal of relationship
• to the renewal of God’s mission for Judah and Israel among the nations
• to God’s determination to “do good” to Jerusalem.
The prophet’s message is a reassuring one. God is still passionate about Zion (temple), Jerusalem, Judah and even Israel. God has not forsaken his first love—his firstborn among the nations. God will return to Zion and “dwell in Jerusalem.” Zion will again become a “holy mountain.” The result is that the elderly will rest and watch the children play in the streets of the city. And while this remnant thinks this incredible, it is not beyond God’s power and love.
Yahweh is jealous for Jerusalem, so Yahweh will act and save his people from the nations by returning them to Jerusalem. In this God renews covenant with Israel—again they will be his people and he will be their God. This is the promise God made to their fathers (Exodus 6:7), he accomplished through the tabernacle (Leviticus 26:11-12), and now God will renew that promise for the returning exiles.
This answers the fundamental question of the postexilic community—does God still love us? Will God return to dwell among us? Does God still have a purpose for us? Do the promises of Abraham still apply to us? And the answer is yes, yes, yes and yes!
This renewed covenant entails that God still intents to fulfill the promise to Abraham through Judah and Israel. The land inheritance remains intact (8:12) and the divine intent to bless all nations through Abraham also remains intact (8:13). Though they have been an “object of cursing” among the nations, they will yet—through the salvation of God—become a blessing. This is the language of Genesis 12:2.
Yahweh is not finished with Judah and Israel; the divine promise is not yet fully realized. Israel will yet become a blessing to all the nations that had cursed it. God will reverse the fortunes of Abraham’s descendents. They will inherit the land and become a blessing. God is faithful to his promises.
Though in the recent past God brought disaster and showed no pity on those who acted unjustly and showed no mercy to their neighbors, now God has “determined to do good” to Jerusalem. “Doing good” is a metaphor for benevolent acts of mercy and blessing. It is also language that echoes the promise to the Patriarchs (cf. Genesis 32:9, 12; Deuteronomy 30:5). God will faithfully accomplish his purpose for Israel in the world; God will keep his promise to Abraham.
Embedded within this reassuring message, however, are several key imperatives or homiletical exhortations. Jerusalem and Judah are called to respond to the message and act upon it.
1. “let your hand be strong so that the temple may be built” (8:9, 13)
2. “Do not be afraid” (8:13, 15)
3. “Speak truth to each other” (8:16)
4. “Render true and sound judgment in your courts” (8:16)
5. “Do not plot evil against your neighbor” (8:17)
6. “Do not love to swear falsely” (8:17).
Essentially, Zechariah says: (1) don’t be afraid—rebuild the temple because God loves you and will return to dwell among you, and (2) don’t be afraid—live before God the way your fathers failed to do.
The ethical imperatives relate to social and economic injustices. The courts were the place where the rich and powerful would steal land and livelihood from the poor. They would swear false oaths and implement their plots to take what was not theirs. The remnant is called to live as their fathers failed to live (Zechariah 7:9-10).
But it is important to notice where the imperatives fall. The indicatives—the declaration of God’s love for Jerusalem and God’s determination to dwell among the remnant—precede the imperatives. Israel does not evoke God’s love by their good works, fasting and mourning. Rather, God elects Israel. God determines to redeem Israel and Israel called to respond in gratitude with a life that mirrors God’s own compassion, mercy and faithfulness.
Ethical imperatives are grounded in divine indicatives. We love because God first loved us. Our hope, faith and love are rooted in God’s acts which empower our ability to hope, trust and love.
Believers—even in Scripture (Psalms 44, 77, 89, for example, as well as Malachi 1:1-4)—sometimes doubt the love of God due to their circumstances. God’s electing, redeeming love assures us that we are not forgotten and that God is faithful to covenanted promises. God’s indicative acts of mercy, love and compassion—the declaration of God’s love in the cross of Jesus is the climatic act—ground our confidence and hope. In response we offer our lives in grateful obedience and seek to mirror God’s life in our own lives.
Thanks be to God!