Not By Might – Zechariah 4

So he answered me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by strength or by might, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of Hosts.  Zechariah 4:6 (HCSB)

The angel who roused Zechariah from sleep for a series of visions in the night was giving the prophet another important message about the coming of God’s kingdom.  Unlike the great human empires before it, this one would come from small beginnings, starting with the rebuilding of a modest temple in Jerusalem after Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of Solomon’s Temple and the seventy-year exile in Babylon.   

Zechariah continues describing his conversation with the visiting angel.

He asked me, “What do you see?”

I replied, “I see a solid gold lampstand there with a bowl on its top. It has seven lamps on it and seven channels for each of the lamps on its top. There are also two olive trees beside it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.”  Zechariah 4:2-3 (HCSB) 

The seven-branched lampstand was identical to the one the Lord instructed Moses to make for God’s tabernacle and subsequent temples.  It burned a fuel of olive oil, representing the Holy Spirit, and its light the Presence of the Lord.  The lamp itself pointed to His called-out people, Israel, whose mission was to shine God’s light into all the world to draw new believers unto Him.

The prophet Haggai had already delivered God’s message to the returned exiles to resume their work on the temple under the leadership of their Governor, Zerubbabel, and their high priest Joshua (or Jeshua).  Problems had arisen after they laid the temple foundation, and work on the project was stopped for many years while their own homes were completed.  God spoke through Haggai to address their priorities and tied their work stoppage and lack of faith with an observed reduction in the quantity and quality of the recent blessings they had been receiving.

Zechariah continues:

Then the word of the Lord came to me: “Zerubbabel’s hands have laid the foundation of this house, and his hands will complete it. Then you will know that the Lord of Hosts has sent me to you. 10 For who scorns the day of small things? These seven eyes of the Lord, which scan throughout the whole earth, will rejoice when they see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.”  Zechariah 4:8-10 (HCSB)

The rebuilt temple would be modest in comparison with the one Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed.  But it was a new beginning.  It would point to God initiating His new kingdom under the leadership of the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ, and point to a day when God would not reside in a building, but in the hearts of believers worldwide through the Holy Spirit.

The number seven is often associated with the Lord, being the number of completeness.  Seven eyes, seven spirits, and seven qualities of the Spirit all point to the perfection and purity of God.  Sabbath rest on the seventh day or seventh year of a field’s harvest is a direct acknowledgement of His blessing and our total reliance upon Him.

Zechariah asked the angel about a detail in this vision.

11 I asked him, “What are the two olive trees on the right and left of the lampstand?” 12 And I questioned him further, “What are the two olive branches beside the two gold conduits, from which golden oil pours out?”

13 Then he inquired of me, “Don’t you know what these are?”

“No, my lord,” I replied.

14 “These are the two anointed ones,” he said, “who stand by the Lord of the whole earth.”  Zechariah 4:11-14 (HCSB)

The olive oil from the two trees and two branches represents a continual feeding of the lamps just as the Holy Spirit continually builds God’s church, one person at a time.  New believers are drawn to the Light of the World, Jesus Christ, through God’s generous prevenient grace.  Though human world governments have been continually evolving towards their final form since the fall of the Roman Empire, the eternal church of Christ has also been quietly growing throughout this time.  Not by might nor by power, but by God’s Spirit witnessing through His word into the hearts of women and men all over the globe.

There is a parallel passage in the book of Revelation about two anointed witnesses who will appear in the last days to make one final appeal to the world on behalf of Christ.  They will be almost universally opposed and killed, only to rise from the dead themselves three and a half days later.

I will empower my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, dressed in sackcloth.”  4 These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.  Revelation 11:3-4 (HCSB)

God’s great and final empire will not initiate with a massive invading army like those of Alexander the Great or Nebuchadnezzar.  It will grow slowly in the hearts of people.  When Christ finally does return in glory with the New Jerusalem, He will put down all who actively oppose Him and His people.  His throne will be located on the foundations of the work begun by Zerubbabel, humble servant of the Lord and a member of the genealogy of the coming King, Jesus Christ.

12 Then after the exile to Babylon
Jechoniah fathered Shealtiel,
Shealtiel fathered Zerubbabel,
13 Zerubbabel fathered Abiud,
Abiud fathered Eliakim,
Eliakim fathered Azor,
14 Azor fathered Zadok,
Zadok fathered Achim,
Achim fathered Eliud,
15 Eliud fathered Eleazar,
Eleazar fathered Matthan,
Matthan fathered Jacob,
16 and Jacob fathered Joseph the husband of Mary,
who gave birth to Jesus who is called the Messiah.  Matthew 1:12-16 (HCSB)

Reflection

What great blessings in your life did the Lord initiate with small beginnings?  What “small things” might He be working on around you now?

Many of us who came to faith in Christ did so in small increments, while others did so with a sudden revelation.  As infinite as God is, there are an unlimited number of ways for people to be drawn to Him by His love and grace.  May He continue to do so in our lives and in the lives of those we love, live near, or work with.

Precious Lord, thank You for being constantly at work in our lives.  Continue to bless us, protect us, and use us to advance Your kingdom.  May we reflect Your Light to others as anointed vessels, purified by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and continuously filled with the “oil” of Your Holy Spirit.  We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 Branch and Stone – Zechariah 3

The prophet Zechariah’s vision of Judah’s high priest Joshua in the court of the Lord continues:

Then the Angel of the Lord charged Joshua: “This is what the Lord of Hosts says: If you walk in My ways and keep My instructions, you will both rule My house and take care of My courts; I will also grant you access among these who are standing here.

“Listen, Joshua the high priest, you and your colleagues sitting before you; indeed, these men are a sign that I am about to bring My servant, the Branch. Notice the stone I have set before Joshua; on that one stone are seven eyes. I will engrave an inscription on it”—this is the declaration of the Lord of Hosts—“and I will take away the guilt of this land in a single day.  Zechariah 3:6-9 (HCSB)

Plucked as a brand from the fire, the Lord’s people and their representative high priest Joshua were saved after seventy years of destruction and exile imposed by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.  With renewed and faithful hearts, they were restored to a position of honor before the Lord.  After rebuilding His temple, they would be responsible for His courts, and be the center of God-worship for the entire world.

More than that, they would be a sign that the Lord was planning to do a much bigger and better thing – He would install the Branch, the Messiah of the Lord.  There had been several mentions of the Branch in previous prophecies, including from the prophet Isaiah.  This branch, or Messiah, would come in the line of Jesse, King David’s father, even after the line of kings in David’s line had been cut down to a stump by their unfaithfulness and subsequent defeat by Babylon.

1 Then a shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him—
a Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
a Spirit of counsel and strength,
a Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.  Isaiah 11:1-2 (HCSB)

The Branch is a direct reference to Jesus Christ, who would be born of the Holy Spirit to a virgin, Mary, in the line of David.  The seven eyes on the stone set before the high priest Joshua may refer to the “seven spirits” of God which will imbue the Messiah: the Spirit of the Lord, with His wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, and fear, or reverent obedience to His Father.

Notice the stone I have set before Joshua; on that one stone are seven eyes. I will engrave an inscription on it”—this is the declaration of the Lord of Hosts—“and I will take away the guilt of this land in a single day.  Zechariah 3:9 (HCSB)

Six centuries after Zechariah, Jesus would take away the guilt of the land on the day of His crucifixion.  Though Jesus came to fulfill the role of Messiah to the Jewish people, His pure life, selfless sacrifice, and victorious resurrection from the dead paves the way to eternal life for all believers worldwide, no matter our heritage.  He will return one day to reign as King over the fifth and final world empire, the kingdom of Heaven.

God gives us great responsibility not because we are so good, but because He is.  His mercy and grace are without limit, and He often gives us the most when we deserve it the least.  As imperfect humans, it is sometimes difficult to understand the amazing nature of the Lord – He just seems too good to be true.  And thankfully for us human beings that He loves so much, He is.

Reflection

Have you yet experienced the grace and mercy of a loving and forgiving God?  He is ready even now to settle all accounts and bless you beyond imagination.  His goodness far exceeds all of our faults and failures.

Lord, thank You for being so good to us!  We praise You and thank You for loving us enough to die on a cross to redeem us from the punishment that we deserve for our sin.  May we rise as You did from the dead to spend eternity in Your presence in God’s kingdom.  Bless and protect us and our loved ones in the here and now and guide us to be of loving service to You and to others.  We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Accusation and Redemption – Zechariah 3

In Zechariah’s next vision in the night, he was shown Joshua, the high priest of Judah, standing in a heavenly court with the accuser, Satan, and Joshua’s defender, the Lord. 

Joshua’s appearance represented the spiritual condition of the people of Israel.  Coming at the end of their seventy-year exile in Babylon which had been imposed on them to root out extreme idolatry and unfaithfulness, there was much for Satan to point to when accusing them before the Lord.  But Joshua and his people were the apple of God’s eye, and the Lord was simply not going to allow Satan’s accusations to prevail against them.

Zechariah describes his vision:

1 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the Lord, with Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The Lord said to Satan: “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! May the Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Isn’t this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?”

Now Joshua was dressed with filthy clothes as he stood before the Angel. So the Angel of the Lord spoke to those standing before Him, “Take off his filthy clothes!” Then He said to him, “See, I have removed your guilt from you, and I will clothe you with splendid robes.” Zechariah 3:1-3 (HCSB)

Before we criticize Joshua, let us remember that this is actually what we look like when we initially approach the Lord.  Many believe that when we encounter God, He will look admirably upon our good deeds, and at some point, He will.  But first, He must remove the filthy garments of sin that cover each one of us.  He is able to do this for believers because Jesus Christ bore all of the selfishness, hurtfulness, and filthiness we committed in our life when He voluntarily hung on a cross to pay our penalty.  We deserve to suffer the death that Christ suffered for us.  Jesus, the precious and pure Lamb of God, surrendered Himself to be an all-encompassing sacrifice.  God’s grace and mercy is offered today to all who would partake of it by humbly reaching out in faith to Christ.

As the apostle Paul wrote in the New Testament book of Romans:

1 Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus, because the Spirit’s law of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. What the law could not do since it was limited by the flesh, God did. He condemned sin in the flesh by sending His own Son in flesh like ours under sin’s domain, and as a sin offering, in order that the law’s requirement would be accomplished in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.  Romans 8:1-4 (HCSB)

Just as we have a Savior in the Lord Jesus Christ, scripture tells us that we also have an accuser who is trying to work against us to trip us up.  This is also seen in the book of Job, where Satan accused one of God’s favorite followers of being faithful only because he was so blessed and favored. (In what follows, the word “fear” means faithful respect and obedience).

Adonai said to the satan, “Did you notice my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth—a blameless and upright man, who fears God and spurns evil.”

Then the satan responded to Adonai, saying, “Does Job fear God for nothing? 10 Have you not made a hedge around him, his household, and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But now, stretch out Your hand and strike everything he has, and he will certainly curse You to Your face!”  Job 1:8-11 (TLV)

With God’s permission, Job ended up going through some incredibly difficult testing and trial at the hand of Satan, yet the Lord would later heal him and restore him.

10 So Adonai restored what Job had lost, after he prayed for his friends and Adonai doubled everything that Job had before. 11 Then all his brothers, all his sisters and everyone who had known him before, came to him and ate bread with him in his house. They consoled him and comforted him for all the calamity that Adonai had brought upon him. Each of them gave him a piece of money and a gold ring.

12 So Adonai blessed Job’s latter days more than at his beginning. He had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 yoke of oxen and 1,000 female donkeys. 13 He also had seven sons and three daughters.  Job 42:10-12 (TLV)

We all face times of accusation and suffering.  Some bad times may come at the hand of dark beings from Satan’s realm, more we likely bring on ourselves due to our own sin and shortcomings, but probably the majority of the bad things which happen in our lives occur just because we live in a fallen world. It is God’s plan to bring us into His future kingdom without any more accusers, tears, sickness, or death.  Because of Jesus Christ, we believers will indeed stand in that world one day.  As a former jail chaplain used to tell his inmate church goers, “Be there!”

Reflection

Lord, thank You that we do not face accusation from You, rather, redemption through the loving sacrifice of Jesus Christ at Calvary.  We acknowledge our sins and shortcomings to You and live in eternal gratitude that You took the punishment for all of them in our place.  Your goodness and love are without limit.  Please place a hedge of protection around us and our loved ones and bless the work of our hands for You, blessing us to be a blessing for others.  We ask this with thanksgiving, praying in Jesus’ name, Amen.

The Measuring Line – Zechariah 2

The prophet Zechariah’s series of visions in the night continued, coming to him near the end of the seventy-year exile in Babylon:

I lifted up my eyes—and behold, I saw a man with a measuring line in his hand.  I asked, ‘Where are you going?’

He answered me, ‘To measure Jerusalem to see how wide and how long it is.’

Then behold, the angel speaking with me left and another angel went out to meet him, saying to him, ‘Run, speak to this young man saying: “Jerusalem will be inhabited as a village without walls because of the great number of men and livestock in it. For I”—it is a declaration of Adonai—“will be a wall of fire around it and I will be the glory inside it.  Zechariah 2:5-7 (TLV)

At the time of this vision, Jerusalem and Judah had been lying as a complete wreck for the entire exile period. God disclosed His plans to not only rebuild, establish, and protect Jerusalem, but He has promised to reside there bringing His glory to it.  Although Jesus would first present Himself there as King during His triumphal entry the Sunday before His crucifixion and resurrection, this prophecy will be completely fulfilled at the time of Jesus’ second coming.

Adonai-Tzva’ot, the Lord of Hosts, promises to treat those who punish Jerusalem the same way He treated Pharaoh and the Egyptians after they had enslaved and abused the Israelites.  He freed them after the ten plagues, and with the Israelites taking plunder with them as restitution. Furthermore, God promises Zechariah that when He returns to the land, He will draw people to Himself from all over the globe.

12 “For thus says Adonai-Tzva’ot, He has sent me after glory to the nations that plundered you—because whoever touches you touches the apple of His eye— 13 ‘For behold, I will shake My hand against them and they will be plunder to their servants.’ Then you will know that Adonai-Tzva’ot has sent me.

14 “‘Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion! For behold, I am coming and I will live among you’—it is a declaration of Adonai15 ‘In that day many nations will join themselves to Adonai and they will be My people and I will dwell among you.’ Then you will know that Adonai-Tzva’ot has sent me to you. 16 Adonai will inherit Judah as His portion in the holy land and will once again choose Jerusalem. 17 Be silent before Adonai, all flesh, for He has aroused Himself from His holy dwelling.” Zechariah 2:12-17 (TLV)

God made His choice for a nation called out through Abraham to be holy and held close as the apple of His eye.  But His mission through them was to be a blessing to the entire world.  He loves each and every one of us whatever our heritage, and longs for each of us to turn our hearts towards Him.

Jerusalem holds divine importance to God through history and will into eternity.  He refers to Judah here as “the holy land”, perhaps the only place in the Old Testament that expression is used.  The angelic measuring line is the first step in God’s plan to rebuild the chosen spot for His throne and heavenly footstool on the earth.  It is where He had instructed Abraham to bring His precious son Isaac in Genesis 22, and where His own precious Son Jesus would be crucified as a sacrifice for our sins and resurrected on the third day.

Six centuries after Zechariah’s record, the apostle John would share His own divine vision of Jesus’ return to the holy city in the book of Revelation.

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

I also saw the holy city—the New Jerusalem—coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  I also heard a loud voice from the throne, saying,

“Behold, the dwelling of God is among men,
    and He shall tabernacle among them.
They shall be His people,
    and God Himself shall be among them
    and be their God.
He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes,
    and death shall be no more.
Nor shall there be mourning or crying or pain any longer,
    for the former things have passed away.”

And the One seated upon the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new!” Then He said, “Write, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Then He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will freely give from the spring of the water of life. Revelation 21:1-6 (TLV)

The promises of God are too amazing for us to even visualize with our limited human capacity.  But they are also too wonderful to just walk away from and ignore.  God is so good and full of so many blessings for us to experience and share with others.  May His name be praised in heaven and on earth and may all open their hearts even just a crack with an ounce of willingness to consider Him and His wonderful love for us.  May we all thirst for a spiritual drink from the spring of living water.

Reflection

God loves to share the end from the beginning all throughout His word.  Many prophecies point to the coming of Christ, first as a divine sacrifice to purify and make us holy, then coming again as our loving King and Shepherd.  May He guide us through eternity into the magnificence of His presence.  May we all seek His grace and mercy to be there with Him!

Lord, bring us into eternity with You through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and His resurrection from the dead.  May all of His believers rise from the dead with Him, covered and redeemed by His blood and bathed in His pure holiness and light.  Thank You for all the goodness and blessing You have showered us with.  We thank You and praise You, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

4 Horns and Craftsmen – Zechariah 2

Zechariah’s next vision contains a familiar reference to the four great human empires from the times of the prophets until today.  Just as in Daniel’s earlier prophecies, four horns will represent the four great leaders of the world empires of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Ancient Greece, and Rome.  At least portions of these empires would oppress and scatter Jerusalem in their time.

1 Then I lifted up my eyes and behold, I saw four horns! I said to the angel speaking with me, ‘What are these?’

He said to me, ‘These are the horns that have scattered Judah, Israel and Jerusalem.’

Then Adonai showed me four craftsmen. I asked, ‘What are these coming to do?’

He answered, ‘These are the horns that scattered Judah, so that no one could raise his head, but the craftsmen have come to frighten them, to cast down the horns of the nations that have lifted up their horn against the land of Judah to scatter it.’  Zechariah 2:1-4 (TLV)

The first three empires, Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece were defeated and incorporated into the empire that followed it.  These were three of the four victorious “craftsmen” sent by the Lord to punish the previous empire because of what they had done to God’s people. 

In the case of the fourth empire, Rome, it was never conquered by an outsider, but fell apart from within.  Its remnants survive today in the form of its descendant countries and their former colonies.  Scripture tells us that there will be another attempt to reunify that nation of iron in the end times, ten nations led by the Antichrist, corresponding to the ten iron and clay toes in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2.  But this final world government will be defeated by the fourth craftsman, the Lord Jesus Christ, as He brings in the kingdom of Heaven to reign over the earth forever.

As God had told Abram (later renamed Abraham) at the beginning, when he was first called out to initiate a chosen people:

My heart’s desire is to make you into a great nation, to bless you,

to make your name great so that you may be a blessing.

My desire is to bless those who bless you,

but whoever curses you I will curse,

and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.  Genesis 12:2-3 (TLV)

This promised blessing to all families on earth would come through their Messiah, Jesus Christ.  By His sacrifice on the cross and resurrection from the dead, all believers around the globe now have direct access to the throne of God, and by the blood of Christ have been purified and cleansed and are able to live in God’s holy presence forever.

The promised curses against those who curse and attack God’s people, even when the Lord permits it as a chastisement, are just as certain to come about in the Lord’s timing.  That is not a side of history one wishes to be on.

Reflection

Israel is and has been the apple of God’s eye even when going through times of punishment.  Today, God is calling out to all humankind through the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  We, too, may be walking far from the path of God when His call to us comes, but His call is irrevocable.

25 For I do not want you, brothers and sisters, to be ignorant of this mystery—lest you be wise in your own eyes—that a partial hardening has come upon Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; 26 and in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

“The Deliverer shall come out of Zion.
    He shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.
27 And this is My covenant with them,
    when I take away their sins.”

28 Concerning the Good News, they are hostile for your sake; but concerning chosenness, they are loved on account of the fathers— 29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 For just as you once were disobedient to God but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, 31 in like manner these also have now been disobedient with the result that, because of the mercy shown to you, they also may receive mercy.  Romans 11:25-31 (TLV)

Lord, show us Your mercy for all the times we have been disobedient to You.  Draw us close to You so that we may abide under the shadow of Your wing and enjoy Your great blessings and protection.  Thank you! We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Among the Myrtle Trees – Zechariah 1

Zechariah, God’s prophet to the former exiles returned from Babylon, was given a series of visions in the night which laid out God’s plans for the eternal future of Judah and Jerusalem in His coming kingdom of Heaven.

Zechariah’s first vision was of a man riding a red horse, followed by other horses.  The vision is a bit mysterious and the interpretations of it vary, but it seems to be a status report given by reconnaissance angels to God the Father (Adonai) regarding the status of the earth at the end of the seventy-year exile period.

“In the night I saw, and behold, a man riding upon a red horse was standing among the myrtle trees that were in the ravine. Behind him were red, sorrel and white horses.

Then I asked, ‘What are these, my lord?’

Now the angel speaking with me said to me, ‘I will show you what these are.’

10 Then the man standing among the myrtle trees answered and said, ‘These are the ones Adonai has sent to walk back and forth throughout the earth.’

11 They answered the angel of Adonai who stood among the myrtle trees saying, ‘We have walked throughout the earth, and behold, all the earth sits quietly and is still.’  ” Zechariah 1:8-11 (TLV)

Typically, a red horse indicates war and a white horse peace and holiness.  The meaning of the sorrel horse and the significance of being in the shade of a group of myrtle trees is not entirely clear.  The myrtle tree may be a reference to Judah, which remained in a state of destruction seventy years after the invasion of Nebuchadnezzar.  The exiles had begun to return to the land, but any reconstruction beyond the foundation of the temple had not yet begun.

The term angel of the Lord is believed by some to be a reference to the pre-incarnate Christ, the future King of the fifth and final kingdom to come.  Just as Jesus does today on our behalf, He was interceding with the Father, the Lord of Hosts (Adonai-Tzva’ot), on behalf of ruined Judah.

12 Then the angel of Adonai answered and said, ‘Adonai-Tzva’ot, how long will You withhold compassion on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah with whom You have been angry for 70 years?’ 13 Adonai answered the angel who was speaking to me with pleasant, comforting words.

14 Then the angel speaking to me said, ‘Cry out saying, thus says Adonai-Tzva’ot, “I am exceedingly zealous for Jerusalem and for Zion 15 and I am infuriated with the haughty nations. I was a little angry with them, but they furthered their own calamity.” Zechariah 1:12-15 (TLV)

For a rare moment in human history, under the Medo-Persian empire, the angels reported that there was peace on the earth.  Yet in God’s eyes, the fact that Jerusalem, His chosen city, still lay in a state of destruction with the surrounding nations not offering help to rebuild it was not acceptable in His eyes.  God would deal with the great human empires of history through the lens of how they treated and respected His nation and His people, and through them, how they respected Him, the Creator of all things.  Countries were allowed to oppress them, but only in His time and for His chosen purposes, such as removing idolatry.  There was a clear limit to what God would allow.

The Lord would confirm that nothing had changed in the long term – He had established Jerusalem as His own home base on earth, and He would rebuild His temple and the city there. (Adonai-Tzva’ot means the Lord of Hosts.)

16 “Therefore,” thus says Adonai, “I will return to Jerusalem with compassion. My House will be built there,” declares Adonai-Tzva’ot “and a measuring line will be stretched out over Jerusalem.” 17 Again cry out, saying, thus says Adonai-Tzva’ot, “My cities will again overflow with prosperity and Adonai will again comfort Zion and will again choose Jerusalem.’” Zechariah 1:16 (TLV)

Despite the daily failings of people to live the way the Lord wishes us to, He still loves us.  He has made a way to atone for all our sins and shortcomings – the sacrificial death on the cross and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.  One day, He will return to earth to reign over the fifth and final kingdom – the eternal kingdom of God.

Reflection

No matter where we find ourselves, Christ is intervening on our behalf, calling us closer to Him for our own salvation, blessing, and healing.  Nothing can compare to the goodness of God!

Lord, we call upon You for mercy and grace.  Forgive us for all of our sins and shortcomings, and for the times we have turned our back on You to chase after worthless things.  Teach us to number our days to invest our precious time in things of eternal value.  In Jesus Name we pray, Amen.

Psalm 107

(Note: Adonai is a name for the Lord, Elyon means God Most High)

Praise Adonai, for He is good,
for His lovingkindness endures forever.
Let the redeemed of Adonai say so—
whom He redeemed from the hand of the foe,
whom He gathered out of the lands,
    from the east and from the west,
    from the north and from the sea.
Some wandered in a desert, a wasteland.
They found no way to an inhabited city.
Hungry and thirsty,
their souls ebbed away.
So they cried out to Adonai in their distress,
    and He delivered them out of their troubles.
Then He led them by a straight way
to go to a city where they could live.
Let them praise Adonai for His mercy
and His wonders for the children of men,
for He satisfies the thirsty soul
and fills the hungry soul with goodness.

10 Some sat in darkness and deep gloom,
prisoners in misery and iron chains,
11 for they had defied God’s words,
and spurned the counsel of Elyon.
12 So He humbled their heart with trouble.
They stumbled, and no one was helping.
13 So they cried out to Adonai in their distress,
    and He delivered them out of their troubles.
14 He brought them out of darkness
and deep gloom, breaking their chains.  Psalm 107:1-14 (TLV)

(Note: Adonai is a name for the Lord, Elyon means God Most High)

Return to Me – Zechariah 1

God’s tender call to return to Him is a common denominator in the lives of wayward believers.  Many young Christ followers, for whatever the reason, choose to leave the faith, or more commonly, to ignore it as they chase after the excitement and worldly opportunities of young adulthood.  I’m afraid I fell into that latter category myself at one time.  The lures of idolatry are not restricted to ancient Israel.

Many other believers stay true to the Lord for their entire faith journey, and that is a great credit to them.  But the good news is that God is faithful to us even when we have not been faithful to Him.  He is ALWAYS calling us back home, be we stumbling outside a bar or in a cold jail cell in the back of a prison.  He is very quick to forgive us and to take us back into His fold whenever we decide to go back to Him.  The sacrifice of Christ on the cross is sufficient to atone for even the most serious of sins, so there is no issue with Him covering all of our failures and shortcomings with His pure holiness and forgiveness, no matter how unholy we have been.

This same situation was true for the entire nation of Israel after the Babylonian exile.  Because of the great hardship the exile presented, they finally let go of their desire for the stubborn idolatry that had put them there.  At long last, the people “got it”.  And to help them return home, God called the prophet Zechariah for be His divine mouthpiece to them.  Zechariah writes:

So tell the people: This is what the Lord of Hosts says: Return to Me”—this is the declaration of the Lord of Hosts—“and I will return to you, says the Lord of Hosts.  Zechariah 1:3 (HCSB)

Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord.  He is saying the very same thing to many of us today.

Do not be like your ancestors; the earlier prophets proclaimed to them: This is what the Lord of Hosts says: Turn from your evil ways and your evil deeds. But they did not listen or pay attention to Me”—this is the Lord’s declaration. “Where are your ancestors now? And do the prophets live forever? But didn’t My words and My statutes that I commanded My servants the prophets overtake your ancestors? They repented and said: As the Lord of Hosts purposed to deal with us for our ways and deeds, so He has dealt with us.”  Zechariah 1:4-6 (HCSB)

The word of God will speak to us to open our eyes to the futility of walking wayward paths.  In my case, the lure of alcohol advanced to the point where I had to eventually make a choice – worship God or drink.  For much of my twenties and early 30’s, I made the foolish choice to pursue alcohol and pretty much turned my back on God.  Mercifully, the Lord was patient with me, and let the good and bad lessons of life make me ready to return to the draw of His grace.  I sought the Lord and returned to the cross of Christ.  He forgave me, taught me many new and encouraging things, and helped me to put down alcohol one day at a time ever since.

Five years after my return, God drew me into a study of the entire Bible.  I could see His hand wind all through scripture in a continuous thread.  That journey bolstered my faith, and the Lord’s continuing spiritual investment has led to this series of online meditations.  They are placed here to share with all who wish to search the divine “gold” of His word and experience the wonders of His presence.

God continues to use me whenever I will allow myself to partner with Him.  There is no greater satisfaction in life than the times I know I have been exactly where He wants me to be, doing the things He wants me to do.  This may be leading a Bible Study or a Sunday School class, volunteering in a prison, jail, hospital, or with a youth group, or stopping to help someone in need.  This is exactly what we have been designed for – to walk fruitful paths in the image of God.  It sure beats the old destructive paths that were so alluring to me at the time.

Reflection

How would you describe the spiritual path that you are walking on?  Do you believe this is where the Lord wants you? 

Discerning God’s will for us is sometimes hard to do.  We may know deep down in our heart that He wants us to stay with a difficult situation despite the temptation to leave it.  He usually makes our faithfulness pay off if we do.  After all, isn’t that what He did with so many of us?

Lord, thank You for being patient with us and helping us to turn our lives around.  Use us to bless others and to help those who have strayed turn to You for a life of joy, satisfaction, peace, and love.  We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Artaxerxes’ Decree – Nehemiah 2

In a special visitation during an impassioned prayer, the angel Gabriel brought the prophet Daniel God’s timetable for arrival of the coming Messiah.  Using the terminology of a week as a group of seven years, the message from God to Daniel stated:

25 So know and understand:

From the issuing of the decree to restore and to build Jerusalem until the time Mashiach, the Prince, there shall be seven weeks and 62 weeks.

It will be rebuilt, with plaza and moat, but it will be in times of distress.  Daniel 9:25 (TLV)

The decree in question would be given to a humble person named Nehemiah ninety-two years later.  Nehemiah was a cupbearer in service to King Artaxerxes of Medo-Persia, and the event occurred in 444 BC. 

Nehemiah records how this momentous milestone came about.

1 Then in the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was set before him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before. So the king said to me, “Why is your face so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.”

I was very frightened, but I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not be sad, when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins and its gates have been destroyed by fire?”

The king asked me, “What is your request?”

Then I prayed to the God of heaven, Nehemiah 2:1-4 (TLV)

Nehemiah’s big moment had arrived to present his case to the king.  Wisely, he said a silent prayer before speaking.

and I answered the king, “If it seems good to the king and if your servant has found favor in your sight, send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried that I may rebuild it.”

Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, “How long will your journey take, and when will you return?” Since it pleased the king to send me, I set a time for him.  Nehemiah 2:5-6 (TLV)

Artaxerxes gave a royal decree for Nehemiah to go to Jerusalem and provided all of the materials and authority he would need to oversee completion of the work.

I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, let him give me letters for the governors of Trans-Euphrates that will enable me to pass through until I arrive in Judah, as well as a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest so he will give me lumber to make beams for the gates of the fortress adjacent to the Temple, for the wall of the city and for the residence I will occupy.”

The king granted me the requests because the good hand of my God was upon me.  Nehemiah 2:7-8 (TLV)

Starting the prophetic clock from the moment of Artaxerxes’ decree and converting Gabriel’s 69 “sevens” of years from 360-day years to our current 365-day calendar years, we get a little over 476 years after this meeting until the appearance of Messiah as king in Judah.  This occurs in April 33 AD, the time when Jesus made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  This was Palm Sunday before Jesus’ Good Friday crucifixion.  He would be resurrected from the dead on Sunday morning, Easter Sunday. 

What lessons can we learn from Nehemiah?

First of all, to pray. God hears us. His answer may be yes, no, or not now, but He hears us.

Second, when we are in alignment with our best understanding of God’s will, His good hand will be upon us.  He will get us the provisions we need to walk in the light of Christ in service to Him.  If we need to adjust our direction or path, He will let us know. 

In the meantime, despite any hardship or opposition we may face, we are wise to continue along in the direction He has sent us, trusting in the One who shows us such good favor.

Reflection

What path are you on with God today?  Which ones has He redirected you from in the past? Which new ones did He replace them with?

Lord, show us the path that You want us to walk in holy service to You.  Help us to know where we need to make a change, and if it be Your will, help us to stay where we are despite any difficulties.  We trust You to get us safely through all of our trials and to put us specifically where You want us, with divine victory.  We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Nehemiah’s Prayer – Nehemiah 1

Ninety-three years after the angel Gabriel brought Daniel the vision of the seventy weeks and the coming Messiah, God set in motion the event that would begin the process – the decree of King Artaxerxes to complete the rebuild of the city of Jerusalem.

Artaxerxes was a king of the Medo-Persian empire, which under Cyrus the Great had defeated and replaced the declining remnant of what had been Nebuchadnezzar’s great Babylonian empire.  (Artaxerxes’s successors would face a similar fate for their own government.  They would take on Alexander the Great of Greece, and in fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy, would lose badly in the process).

King Artaxerxes would issue an important decree, one that would initiate a change in the governance of the universe.  He would start the clock for the prophecy on the timing of the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

In the twentieth year of Artaxerxes reign in 444 BC, he would perceive a sadness in the face of his wine cupbearer, and casually ask him what the problem was.  This would cause the spark to kick off the next phase of God’s eternal plan – the offer of salvation to all peoples of faith through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

But like many of His endeavors, God likes to partner with and share His work with humans to achieve His will.  In this case, God chose Nehemiah, the king’s cupbearer, as a ministry partner.  And as with any effective ministry, Nehemiah would begin his work with prayer.

After encountering some of his fellow Jews returning from Jerusalem, Nehemiah asked for news of how the reconstruction had been going there.

They said to me, “The remnant who have survived the captivity there in the province are in great distress and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates have been burned with fire.”

Upon hearing these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days. I prayed and fasted before the God of heaven.   Nehemiah 1:3-4 (TLV)

Upon hearing the discouraging report, Nehemiah responded to the bad news by immediately taking it to the Lord in prayer.  What a great example for us to follow today!  Nehemiah then shared the specifics of his prayer:

(Note: Mitzvot – means a commandment given by God to Moses to be obeyed, Bnei-Yisrael – means the children of Israel).   

Then I said:

Adonai, God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps the covenant and lovingkindness with those who love Him and keep His mitzvotplease let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer of Your servant that I am praying before You today both day and night on behalf of Your servants, the Bnei-Yisrael. I am confessing the sins of Bnei-Yisrael that we have sinned against You—yes, I and my ancestral house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against You. We have not kept the mitzvot, the statutes, nor the rulings that You commanded Your servant Moses.

“Please recall the word that You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you act unfaithfully, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to Me and obey My mitzvot, and do them, then even if your dispersed people are at the ends of the heavens, I will gather them from there, and bring them back to the place where I have chosen for My Name to dwell.’  Nehemiah 1:5-9 (TLV)

Similar to the prayer of Daniel, Nehemiah sought forgiveness for his own sins and for the sins of his people.  He acknowledged the reason for their exile to Babylon and pleaded with God to forgive them and to complete the reconstruction process that had come to a halt in Jerusalem.  God needed to step in because they were not getting it done in their own strength – a Power greater than themselves was required.

God would answer Nehemiah’s prayer by providing great favor when the matter came before King Artaxerxes.  God often uses favor with human authorities to advance His will and to bless the lives of believers.

Reflection

Where has God used favor with human authorities to provide a blessing for you?  I can think of several occasions in my own life, usually in the form of a positive response where I had expected something much worse.

This does not mean our road with authorities will always be smooth – quite the contrary, it is often rocky.  But when we turn to God in our most difficult times, He will make a way for us to pass through, just as His people crossed through the Red Sea when escaping the chariots of Pharaoh.  God loves us and will always be there to lean on for comfort in times of sorrow and rescue in times of trouble.

Lord, we thank You that You are always there to bless us, both in our joyous moments and in our times of great need.  Grant us comfort and favor when we need it and help us to share You and Your countless good blessings with others.  We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Seventy Weeks Prophecy – Daniel 9

The prophet Daniel learned from reading the words of the prophet Jeremiah that the exile of God’s people in Babylon would last for seventy years.  This time period was based upon 490 years of ignoring God’s sabbath land requirements, as required by the law of Moses given eight centuries before Daniel.  Every seventh year was supposed to be a sabbath year of rest for the land.

The main reason for the peoples’ exile was their stubborn worship of other gods and idols while totally forsaking the worship of the Lord.  But how long would the exile last?  Their covenant with God demanded that their farmlands lie fallow every seventh year.  This sabbath year was to be without planting or harvesting to honor and trust the Lord as the ultimate source of their bounty.  It also permitted the poor of the land to access whatever grew during the sabbath year to use for their own provision and sustenance.  As different fields around them enjoyed sabbath rests during different years, this was God’s way of providing a steady source of food for the poor and hungry to glean without having to travel too far. But for whatever reason, this agrarian nation chose to ignore the land sabbath requirement and to continue planting and harvesting their fields every year. 

As recorded in the book of 2 Chronicles about the invading king, Nebuchadnezzar:

20 He exiled to Babylon those who had escaped the sword and they became slaves to him and his sons until the reign of the kingdom of Persia— 21 in fulfillment of the word of Adonai by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had paid back her Shabbat rests—for as long as it lay desolate—the Shabbat rest was kept till 70 years were complete. 2 Chronicles 36:20-21 (TLV)

When Daniel realized from the word of God that the seventy-year period was nearing an end, he prayed earnestly for the Lord to forgive him and his people for rejecting Him, and to free them from Babylon to allow restoration of the temple and the city of Jerusalem.  While he was praying, the angel Gabriel appeared on the scene to assure Daniel that he was beloved by God, that his prayer had been heard, and that God was doing a new thing for His people – introducing One who will be king over a global and eternal divine kingdom. 

Just as 490 years held a significant meaning looking into the past, it also held a deep meaning for the peoples’ future.  “Seventy sevens” or “seventy weeks” of years would establish the date for the arrival of the coming Messiah, known as Mashiach the Prince. 

The “seventy sevens” prophecy given to Daniel documents the Messiah’s coming in two parts: first, sixty-nine weeks of years (listed as 7+62 weeks) will point to the timing of Jesus Christ presenting Himself as King in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  Second, after a lengthy time gap, the separate, 70th week points to the second coming of Christ near the end of the Times of the Gentiles.  This 70th week will come after God the Father deems the era of human government to be complete.  It will mark the beginning of the seven-year Great Tribulation period in the last days as prophesied in multiple places in the Bible, sometimes referred to as the Day of the Lord. 

After the seven years of the seventieth week is complete, the Father will send Jesus to earth to defeat the little horn, or Antichrist, who is tormenting the world.  Jesus will come in power and glory to defeat Antichrist and his armies, and assume all honor, and authority over this planet and the heavens.  He will reign forever as King over the eternal Kingdom of God.

Before Daniel had finished praying in repentance, the angel Gabriel arrived to present him with this prophesy.  Referring to the Lord, Gabriel stated:

22 “He instructed me and said to me: ‘Daniel, I have come now to give you insight and understanding. 23 At the beginning of your requests, a message went out, and I have come to declare it to you, for you are greatly esteemed. Therefore consider the message and understand the vision:

24 “Seventy weeks are decreed concerning your people and your holy city,
to put an end to transgression
to bring sin to an end,
to atone for iniquity,
to bring in everlasting righteousness,
to seal up vision and prophecy,
and to anoint the Holy of Holies.

25 So know and understand:

From the issuing of the decree to restore and to build Jerusalem until the time Mashiach, the Prince, there shall be seven weeks and 62 weeks.

It will be rebuilt, with plaza and moat, but it will be in times of distress.  Daniel 9:22-25 (TLV)

This remarkable prophecy predicts the Triumphal Entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem as occurring in April, 33 AD.  The decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem would be given to Nehemiah in the 20th year of King Artaxerxes of Persia, as recorded in Nehemiah 2.  Historically, this occurred in 444 BC.  Using a 360-day calendar from the Old Testament, the sixty-nine weeks of years points to the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, just exactly when He came.

Following this, the rest of this prophecy references the Messiah being “cut off” after the sixty-nine weeks. This refers to Jesus’ crucifixion, which will bring an end to sin and atone for iniquity, while His resurrection will bring in everlasting righteousness.

This is an amazing section of scripture that shows us that God has His loving hand on the past, present and future. Believers have a wonderful hope because of His grace, mercy, and generosity. It is offered to all who would choose Him and be covered by the sacrifice of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Reflection

Lord, thank You that of our times are in Your hands.  We trust You to bring us safely through our days on earth into Your eternal kingdom through the sanctifying and life-giving death of Jesus Christ on the cross and His triumphant resurrection from the dead.  Hold us close through our life and grant us and our loved ones Your rich blessing and protection through all of life’s challenges and tribulations. Help us to share Your goodness and love with others.  We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Reference:  Hoehner, Harold, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ, 1977 by The Zondervan Corporation