Zechariah 8:18-23 – Rejoice, O Israel, God is with You!

For the fourth time the “word of the Lord” comes to Zechariah in response to the question asked by the representatives of Bethel (Zechariah 7:1-3). They had asked whether they should continue their lament fasts. Finally, Zechariah answers their question.

Zechariah, however, did not give them a quick answer. Rather, he took them through their history. The ancestors had acted unjustly and without compassion toward their neighbors—they failed to love their neighbors (7:8-10). As a result their ancestors suffered God’s displeasure as he scattered them among the nations (7:14) where they became objects of cursing (8:13). Nevertheless God loves Zion and will return to the holy mountain (8:2-3). God will renew covenant with Israel (8:8) and they will yet become a blessing to the nations (8:13). The remnant, therefore, is called to act justly and love mercy in response to Yahweh’s great compassion (8:16-17).

Now—in the fourth message—Zechariah answers the original question. He does this with three oracles identified by the phrase “this is what the Lord Almighty says.”

• God has turned their lament fasts into joyful feasts (8:18-19)
• The nations will seek Yahweh and come to Jerusalem (8:20-22)
• Diverse ethnicities will seek Jews to usher them into God’s presence (8:23)

The first oracle answers the original question. Fasting is now over; the fasts which remembered the year of horror–which included the siege of Jerusalem to the breaching of the walls to the destruction of the temple to the assassination of Gedaliah–are complete. God has turned their fasting into feasting; their mourning into dancing. The word Zechariah uses for festival is the same as Leviticus 23 which describes the great feast days of Israel. Such feasting had ceased with the destruction of the Jerusalem (Lamentations 1:4) but has now returned with the rebuilding of the temple. God’s temple presence calls for rejoicing rather than lamentation. Israel now feasts and no longer fasts.

This move from lament fasts to joyous festivals, however, entails covenant responsibility. Israel is called to “love truth and peace.” This is probably a succinct way of restating the previous imperatives of Zechariah 8:16-17 as well as Zechariah 7:9-10. Truth and peace, in this context, primarily refer to social justice.

The second oracle enlarges the earlier word of the Lord in Zechariah 2:10-11. As there, so here, the joy of Jerusalem is not restricted to Israel alone. This rejoicing will envelop the nations as well. Peoples, cities and powerful nations will seek the Lord in Jerusalem. Israel, as a blessing to all the nations, will receive the nations; many peoples (ethnicities) will seek the Lord. This vision is not only rooted in the Abrahamic promise but is also present in earlier prophets such as Isaiah (2:2-4; 49:22-23), Micah (4:1-5) and Jeremiah (4:1-2).

The third oracle is climatic–it is the pinnacle of Zechariah 7-8 and perhaps for the whole first half of the book. “Ten men from all languages and nations,” the Lord declares, “will take firm hold of one Jew.” The number ten probably represents completeness, that is, every nation and language from all over the earth will seek the Lord. We might hear in this a reversal of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11) or even anticipation of Pentecost (Acts 2), but even more the eschatological hope of peoples and nations from every language gathered around the throne of God in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 7, 21-22).

Nations will attach themselves to Israel, or as Paul puts it, nations will be grafted into Israel (Romans 11). They will seek this attachment because they recognize and confess that “God is with you.” This is theologically pregnant language.

God is with you” is the language of the Patriarchical narratives as God was with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph (Genesis 21:22; 25:28; 30:27).

God is with you” is the language of God’s dwelling with Israel in the wilderness tabernacle and then in the Jerusalem temple.

God is with you” is the language of the incarnation as Immanuel (Matthew 1:23) comes to dwell in the flesh.

God is with you” is the language of divine presence in the body of Christ, the church as the Holy Spirit dwells within the temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16,17).

God is with you” is eschatological language—it is the language that “Now, the dwelling of God is with humanity” (Revelation 20:3) in the New Jerusalem upon the New Earth.

This is the hope of humanity; it is the blessing of Israel among the nations. The nations will share the inheritance of Israel as God dwells among all nations and peoples. Through Israel, all the nations of the earth will be blessed with God’s presence.

Indeed, God is with us. Praise to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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