ZECHARIAH-SERIES NR 12
Theme: BLESSED TO BE A BLESSING
Chapter 8 is actually part of chapter 7, because it contains the last 2 of God’s 4-part answer to the delegation from Bethel (see the beginning o chapter 7). On behalf of those Jews – who’d returned from the Babilonian Exile – these people arrived in Jerusalem to consult with the prophets concerning the annual fasts that they were practicing year after year since the start of the exile. Since the temple was now almost restored, they questioned the need to continue with the fasts.
The Lord answers them through the mouth of Zechariah by giving an answer consisting of four parts. The first two answers are in chapter 7 and they are: 1 Their motives why they were fasting were wrong, and 2 repentance is needed. (Last weeks’ sermon).
The rest of the answer comes in chapter 8, namely :
Answer No 3 (verses 1-17) : God’s favour will return to His people.
Answer No 4 (verses 18-23) : Fasts will one day become happy festivals.
Let us now look at these two answers in more detail. Take note: It is the LORD ALMIGHTY who is speaking. It is His Word. Through the pen of Zechariah.
To start, perhaps just an important remark that will greatly influence our understanding of this chapter and much of the relation OT and NT as such:
The strong promises that the Lord is making in this chapter is directed at ISRAEL. That is the reason why many Christians think it will remain unfulfilled until immediately before Jesus’s second coming, when God will fulfil it in the Jewish nation. Other Christians again say that these promises are indeed addressed to Israel, but is already being fulfilled in the NT church (consisting of saved Jews and Non-Jews) because the church has taken the place of Israel.
Our insight into this makes a big difference in how we would understand the message of Zechariah 8, because in order to apply it to the Jews who will be living in the land Israel just before the second coming of Christ, would imply that the church of Christ cannot apply this to herself today.
I have become more and more convinced that the NT is clearly telling us that the NT church – the body of Christ that consists of all in-Christ-saved Jews and in-Christ-saved-Non-Jews (and their children) – is God’s new Israel. Concerning the Jews – those who have come to faith in Christ is part of the church – they and their children (Acts 2:39).
Look at passages like for example Hebrews 8 that deals with the New Covenant. Then you will see it clearly written in verse 8 that the New Covenant will be made with the HOUSE OF ISRAEL. That is a quote from Jeremiah 31. But the writer of Hebrews has no problem to apply the New Covenant to the NT church! His readers (which includes us) are now the “house of Israel”. No Christian will hesitate today to acknowledge that ALL Christian-believers are included in the New Covenant!
In Romans 9-11 the apostle Paul uses a mile-long argument to say only ONE thing: God has a set work method by which he is building the NT-Church until the second coming, and that is: He is gathering ALL the elect from the Jews and the Non-Jews to faith in Christ. A complete number.
Or look at a passage such as Acts 15 during the Synod in Jerusalem where James in verse 16 quotes from Amos 9 where God promised that He would rebuild and restore “David’s fallen tent”. But James applies that promise in Amos 9 to that which has started happening at Pentecost, namely that people from the NON-JEWS (gentiles) also come to faith in Christ and are included in His church. Because NON-JEWS receive the salvation in Christ, the fallen tent of DAVID (Jews) is being rebuilt.
In exactly the same way WE (who are not Jewish) can and must apply the promises of Zechariah 8 to ourselves.
And here it is now:
A VERSES 1-7 > GOD’S FAVOUR WILL RETURN TO HIS PEOPLE
After all the years of devastation that the Babylonian Exile had brought about, the Lord SHALL once more pour out His blessings over His people (verses 1-8) and this promise also applies to the remnant of His people who would restore the temple at the time of Zechariah (verses 9-17). In addition, the people who are blessed by the Lord, will become a blessing to all the nations, and their times of fasting will change to feasts as they experience the gracious blessing of the Lord’s salvation (verses 18-23).
And take careful note how these paragraphs are framed with the words: “This is what the Lord Almighty says”. In other words: It’s not NOT Zechariah’s dreams or thoughts. In other words: Should the people perhaps have doubts about the content of these glorious promises, they should bear in mind WHO it is that has spoken them. And it was necessary to know that, because the contrast between God’s promises and the dreadful conditions the people experienced was SO sharp, that they would easily be justified to say: “We experience NOTHING of this blessing that God is promising. Nothing. All we experience are problems“. That is why it is good to know WHO it is that is talking here. They are not promises that originated in Zechariah’s optimistic personality. They are the Words of the LORD. Eleven times in this chapter it says: “This is what the Lord Almighty says…” Again and again the Lord is saying: I SHALL, I WILL…
The Lord gives promises about the future to encourage His people to persevere in their present circumstances – despite the obstacles. To help them remain faithful in the trails of the present, the Lord is focusing their eyes on the future. There will come restoration. The people of God will be restored in God’s covenant-grace and blessing.
This restoration rests only upon the faithfulness and veracity of God Himself and not the least in the people. He is a redeeming, saving, forgiving God. He is perfectly able to restore His people in keeping with His own ordination and Divine Plan without anything to be found in THEM. God’s decision to save people for the sake of His own honour and glory – THAT is the basis of His future-promises.
And the outcome of these promises does not depend upon the people’s response. In Zechariah 8 He is not saying something like: ”I can look ahead into the future and see that Israel will turn to Me and I am so pleased about that because I want to bless them. Thankfully they will choose right in the end and then I will be able to bless them…”
No, Zechariah 8 is saying: ”I SHALL do this and that with them – by the power of My strength”. He says: ”I will save My people “ (8:7).
He is NOT saying: “I will do all that I can, but they are a rough lot, so I am not perfectly sure how they will react…”
NO, He is saying: ”I WILL bring them back. And they WILL be My people and I WILL be faithful and righteous as their God” (8:8). In verse 12 He says: “I will give all these things as an inheritance to the remnant of this people“. And “I will save you, and you will be a blessing among the nations” (verse 13). “I have determined to do good again to Jerusalem“ (verses 14-15). You see, God’s will and strength are behind the blessing that will come to his people.
All this is important also for those who are God’s people in 2020. Because it implies that your deliverance & eternal salvation hinge on God who has started a good work in you and will also bring it to completion (Phil 1:6). If you have come to faith-trust and repentance, you can rest in the assurance that faith did not originate in yourself. It is a free gift from God (Eph 2:8). Salvation comes from the Lord (Jonah 2:9).
But yet, in spite of the assurance of God’s promises, all of us experience times when it seems as if it is absolutely impossible that what God has promised can become reality.
That is exactly how the people of Zechariah 8 felt. They reacted with YES… BUT… The thought of a prosperous Israel seemed so impossible. Totally impossible that the Lord could be saying: ”In the future the streets of Jerusalem will once more be safe and filled with children” (8:4-5). That is why the Lord is saying in verse 6: ”It may seem marvellous and impossible to you, but will it seem marvellous to ME?”
The people measured God’s ability to their own ability. But the Lord does not save by many or by few (1 Sam 14:6). He does not save according to the measure with which WE measure! Praise God for that!
In addition, the Lord always works through a remnant (8:6, 11, 12). A remnant. Not multitudes. Also not everyone. Most of the time a minority, but chosen by grace. That is why the devoted believer sometimes feels as if he/she is in the losing team. Like Elijah, who thought that he was the only one left to serve the Lord (1 Kings 19:10). That is how Christians sometimes feel. Discouraged.
Elijah though, was not the only one who remained. God preserved a remnant. 7000 others who have not bowed down to Baal (1 Kings 19:18). Gideon and his 30000 men were hopelessly too many. The Lord required a good number less. Therefore the Lord reduced Gideon’s army to 300 (Judges 7). Paul is sitting in prison at Rome and writes to Timothy: ”Only Luke is with me” (2 Tim 4:11).
From this remnant with whom the Lord is working here in Zech 8, He expects a response. Look at verses 9-17. What will His promise of blessing accomplish in their lives? How will they react to it?
Well, they must stop being fearful and continue to restore the temple. They must start working. Whoever truly believes God’s promise of blessing, SHALL stop being fearful and start working. The remnant who is protected, SHALL react that way. They will start building and restoring. In our language today: Not the restoration of a physical building but building the church of Christ – that – the same as at that time – is a very frustrating and discouraging task. No wonder that the Lord first heaps up promises of blessing!
And they will also start living holy lives in obedience to God concerning their practical walk of life (verses 16-17). They begin to hate the things that God hates. Things like injustice, lies, falsehood and wickedness. One cannot rely on God’s promise of blessing and at the same time find enjoyment in things that grieve the Spirit of God. Rather pray and cry out: “Lord, make me grieve about the things that grieve You. And awaken in me a love for Your Truth and peace (verse 19c), let THAT rule my life.
Here are the clear truths from this paragraph: Number 1: The Lord preserves for Himself a remnant. Number 2: The remnant discovers and trusts the promises of blessing from God. Number 3: The trusting remnant valiantly starts to help build Christ’s church. Number 4: The trusting remnant who is building Christ’s church, starts to live a life set apart for the Lord, and their practical life starts to bear fruit that indicates that repentance has taken place. Number 5: The blessed remnant starts to be a blessing to others. THESE five things are the kind of fasting that pleases God, the TRUE fast – even if you are not fasting!! With reference to chapter 7.
The 5th point we see in verses 18-23… The blessed remnant starts to become a blessing to others.
B VERSES 18-23 > FASTS WILL BECOME FESTIVALS
The Lord blesses us so that we can and must be a blessing to others, verse 13 states it clearly. And verses 19-23 set it out in more detail. But carefully take note: It is because the blessed is a blessing to others that the times of fasts will become glad and joyful festivals (verse 19).
Keep in mind that this chapter is part of God’s 4-fold answer to the delegation from Bethel who approached the prophets in Jerusalem with the question WHETHER the Jews should continue with their annual fasts now that the temple is almost completed. Those fasts were however so formalistic and dead – the people actually only kept it because of self-pity. Totally unacceptable in the eyes of God.
Now the Lord is saying in His answer to them: There will come a time when fasts will become joyful and glad festivals – when the Lord will pour out His blessing over a chosen remnant and they will bring forth the practical fruit of repentance and become a blessing to others.
It is THIS promise that is fulfilled in the NT-church (that started at Pentecost with the outpouring of the Spirit, and that will continue until the second coming) being an evangelising body of Christ.
If we look at verses 20-23 we clearly see IN WHAT WAY the blessed will be a blessing to others. It is when other NATIONS will come to the people of the Lord in order to learn how they could get to know the Lord. Many peoples! Nations (verse 22). They come to Jerusalem – meaning to the NT church of Christ all over the world – to seek the will of God. And the one encourages the next. And there is a willingness and a thirst. So pressing is this that from all the nations 10 people will take firm hold of 1 Jew – meaning NT-believer – by the hem of his robe, and say: ”Listen, let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you. It is being with YOU where we will learn to know Him. Can we join you, please.”
You see what we meant earlier by pointing out how the OT promises regarding Israel’s future in the end will find fulfilment in the NT church!
The true church of Christ is the remnant upon whom the Lord pours out blessings and that bears fruit of repentance and that is a blessing to others. And the primary WAY of being a blessing to others is to tell and teach them about the way to salvation. Therefore tireless evangelising is THE attribute of the true church and individual Christian.
Should we carefully look at the text we will see something significant: It is as if the people from the outside are drawn to the believers. They COME and seek and ask and take counsel. That does not of course mean that there is no outreach to them, but it points towards the divine power that is working and how the Lord himself is responsible that people are added to the church. It is a work from Above that people truly listen to the Gospel and are desirous to be saved. Our task is to sow the seeds. The Lord gives the fruit when He wills and where He wills and how He wills.
In the desert there is ONE crime that is worse than murder. And that is to know where the water is and not tell other people where it is.
It is a crime to be blessed by the Lord with salvation, and then to remain quiet about it and not passionately share it with other people.
Translated by Marthie Wilson