The Priestly Theocracy #8
The Prophet Zechariah played a major supportive role in the restoration of the Ezra-Nehemiah Priestly Theocracy. Zechariah also was a priest and a contemporary of Zerubbabel and Haggai, whom he endorsed. It was very encouraging to have a second prophet to represent God in the venture. Zechariah, himself, felt that the undertaking was a return to God:
In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius (2), the word of the LORD came to Zechariah the son of Berechiah, son of Iddo, the prophet saying, “The LORD was very angry with your fathers. Therefore say to them, Thus says the LORD of hosts: Return to me, says the LORD of hosts, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. Be not like your fathers, to whom the former prophets cried out, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, Return from your evil ways and from your evil deeds.’ But they did not hear or heed me, says the LORD. Your fathers, where are they? And the prophets, do they live for ever? But my words and my statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not overtake your fathers? So they repented and said, As the LORD of hosts purposed to deal with us for our ways and deeds, so has he dealt with us” (Zechariah 1:1-6).
Zechariah was one of the prophets who used “Apocalyptic” terms and visions to hide the identity of the leaders that were being threatened; particularly, two figure whom he considered being Messianic, “The Two Olive Trees.” Jesus used this method by calling Himself, “the Son of man” to accomplish His Mission. To call oneself “The Son of God,” called for instant death by stoning or by crucifixion (John 19:7). The message to the Apocalyptic is hidden to most men and women. Yet, the Apocalyptic message is opened to those who are specially chosen. Again, Jesus made this very clear in His use of parables and in His riddles to his disciples:
And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables; so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand; lest they should turn again, and be forgiven” (Mark 4:11-12).
Zechariah’s vision of a rider on a red horse, hidden among the myrtle trees, marked the end of the hostility against the Jews. A “Messianic Age” had arrived for Israel! Israel was to rise again and restore her fallen fortunes. Hereinafter, Israel was to be greater than she was before. The captivity had ended, Israel had been punished, the world was resting in peace — and God was no longer angry with his people. The Lord God had used the Persians to return Judah to her greatness (Zechariah 1:7-11). We quote:
Then the angel of the Lord said, “Oh LORD of hosts, how long wilt thou have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which thou hast had indignation these seventy years? And the LORD answered gracious and comforting words to the angel who talked with me. So the angel who talked with me said to me, “Cry out, Thus says the LORD of hosts: I am exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion. And I am very angry with the nations that are at ease; for while I was angry but a little they furthered the disaster. Therefore, thus says the LORD, I have returned to Jerusalem with compassion; my house shall be built in it, says the LORD of hosts, and the measuring line shall be stretched out over Jerusalem. Cry again, Thus says the LORD of hosts: My cities shall again overflow with prosperity, and the LORD will again comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem (Zechariah 1:12-17).
The next vision of the four horns, Judah’s enemies that stood in the way of restoring Jerusalem, were crashed by four craftsmen. The Babylonians were the horns and the Persians were the craftsmen. The Persian kings urged the Jews to go back home. Men like Mordecai and Esther had instilled enough fear of their allegiance with this mysteriously powerful God, who protected the Jews. The Persian’s attitude pleased the leaders of the returning Jewish exiles. The returning Jewish exiles took for granted that they were doing the will of their God. God’s message to Zechariah was not a walled-in city, isolating and separating God from the nations, but an open Jerusalem — for all mankind — without walls. In Zechariah’s vision, the man with the measuring line was marking the new blueprints of the city without limiting borders. God wanted to protect his people without artificial walls. God was to be available to all the nations of the world. Through Israel, God did display His glory and His Presence to the world. God gave the order to stop rebuilding the wall! But, Nehemiah and his followers had no ear for God’s instructions. Unfortunately, in retrospect, only posterity did see what God had in mind. God had a “Messianic Purpose” for all the nations — not just for Israel. Israel’s reason for her existence was to be a missionary for the God to all of mankind:
And I lifted up my eyes and saw, and behold, a man with a measuring line in his hand! Then I said, “Where are you going?” And he said to me, “To measure Jerusalem, to see what is its breath and what is its length.” And behold the angel who talked with me came forward, and another came forward to to meet him, and said to him, “Run, say to that young man, ‘Jerusalem shall be inhabited as villages without walls, because of the multitude of men and cattle in it. For I will be to her a wall of fire round about, says the LORD, and I will be the glory within her.’”
Ho! ho! Flee from the land of the north, says the LORD; for I have spread you abroad as the four winds of the heavens, says the LORD. Ho! Escape to Zion, you who dwell with the daughter of Babylon. For thus said the LORD of hosts, after his glory sent me to the nations who plundered you, for he who touches you touches the apple of his eye. “Behold, I will shake my hand over them, and they shall become plunder for those who served them. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me. Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion; for lo, I come and I will dwell in the midst of you, says the LORD. And many nations shall join themselves to the LORD in that day, and shall be my people; and I will dwell in the the midst of you, and you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. And the LORD will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land, and will again chose Jerusalem.”
Be silent, all flesh, before the LORD; for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling (Zechariah 2:1-13).
This same angel had a message and a purpose for the high priest, as well as for the other priests. Unfortunately, Satan made certain that Zechariah did not divert the priests from creating an “exclusionist society.” God’s priests were to serve all men and not just the Jews. The priests were to create the environment in which the Branch and the Messiah King (Zerubbabel) would reign. That was simply not acceptable to the priests and to the leaders of the returning exiles:
Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, O Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken you iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with rich apparel.” And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments; and the angel of the LORD was standing by.
And the angel of the LORD enjoined Joshua, “Thus says the LORD of hosts: If you will walk in my ways and keep my charge, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here. Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men of good omen: behold I will bring my servant the Branch. For behold, upon the stone which I have set before Joshua, upon a single stone with seven facets, I will engrave its inscription, says the LORD of hosts, and I will remove the guilt of this land in a single day. In that day, says the LORD of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbor under his vine and under his fig tree” (Zechariah 3:1-10).
To see the next vision, Zechariah had to be awakened, and he had to have a change of heart. God was telling Zechariah that the returning exiles were not to be exclusionists, but that they were to be friendly to their neighbors. And that they had to invite their neighbors to come sit under their vine and under their fig trees. There was to be no tension between the high priest Joshua and Zerubbabel the governor and with the neighboring peoples. The high priest and the governor were God’s olive trees, through whom God reached out, in peace, to their neighbors. God was the golden lampstand without walls, visible to the world with olive branches in the hands of his chosen leaders, Zerubbabel and Joshua. God’s eyes were scanning the world for a people who wanted to be healed by the oil, which the priests were to share with their neighbors. The Lord assigned the building of the temple to Zerubbabel. The use and service of the temple were assigned to Joshua. The temple was to be accessible to all mankind. The high priest, and not the governor, had the highest authority; yet, both were the olive trees producing the same fruit of “peace.” Both were anointed and both were essential as leaders; therefore, they were to be accountable to God and to man. There was to be no separation between the temple and the state. The state was subject to the higher Law of God, which was instituted by Moses. This is a lesson for all people who think that they can leave God at home when they go to work:
And the angel who talked with me came again, and waked me, like a man that is wakened out of his sleep. And he said to me, “What do you see?” I said, “I see, and behold, a lampstand all of gold, with a bowl on top of it, and seven lamps on it, with seven lips on each of the lamps which are on the top of it. And there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.” And I said to the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?” Then the angel who talked with me answered me, “Do you not know what these are?” I said, “No, my lord.” Then he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts. What are you O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain; and he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’” Moreover the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel.
“These seven are the eyes of the LORD, which range through the whole earth.” Then I said to him, “What are these two olive trees on the right and the left of the lampstand?” And a second time I said to him, “What are these two branches of the olive trees, which are beside the two golden pipes from which the oil is poured out?” He said to me, “Do you not know what these are?” I said, “No, my lord.” then he said, “These are the two anointed who stand by the LORD of the whole earth” (Zechariah 4:1-14).
God’s warning was to those who were rebuilding Jerusalem for the purpose to segregate themselves from the world, and isolate God from being accessible to the very people Ezra and Nehemiah had excluded. The leaders and their followers were breaking the Greatest Commandment, equal to the first, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God and the neighbor as thyself.” The vision of the “flying scroll” was aimed at the Law breakers, and “the woman in the basket” was the “new isolated community,” which would be carried off to Babylon or to Rome, from where there would be no return:
And I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, a flying scroll! And he said to me, “What do you see?” I answered, “I see a flying scroll; its length is twenty cubits, and its breadth ten cubits.” Then he said to me, “This is the curse that goes out over the face of the whole land; for every one who steals shall be cut off henceforth according to it, and every one who swears falsely shall be cut off henceforth according to it. I will send it forth, says the LORD of hosts, and it shall enter the house of the thief, and the house of him who swears falsely by my name; and it shall abide in his house and consume it, both timber and stones.”
Then the angel who talked with me came forward and said to me, “Lift your eyes, and see what this is that goes forth.” And I said, “What is it?” He said, “This is the ephah (basket) that goes forth.” And he said, “This is the iniquity in all the land.” And behold, the leaden cover was lifted, and there was a woman sitting in the ephah! And he said, “This is Wickedness.” And he thrust her back into the ephah, and thrust down the leaden weight upon its mouth. Then I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, two women coming forward! The wind was in their wings; they had wings like the wings of a stork, and they lifted up the ephah between earth and heaven. Then I said to the angel who talked with me, “Where are they taking the ephah?” He said to me, “To the land of Shinar (Babylon or Rome), to build a house for it; and when this is prepared, they will set the ephah down there on its base” (Zechariah 5:1-11).
Zechariah’s last vision was a glimpse of what did happen to this “Priestly Theocracy” being re-established by Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah. This “Priestly Theocracy,” too, had deviated from “God’s Laws and from God’s Purpose.” Therefore, this “Priestly Theocracy,” too, was not be allowed to exist. The chariots and the horses where the means by which the nations rose and the nations fell. The riders on the white horses built the new nations. The riders on the red horses brought the conflicts and the wars. The riders on the black horses caused the famine and the pestilence. And the riders on the pale horses brought death (Revelation 6:2-8). Zechariah’s four horses were identified with the four spirits of heaven; and the four nations, that did determine the destiny of Judah. History has verified who these horses became. The red horse did plague Judah with war. The black horse ended the Persian empire to the north. The white horse was Macedonia or Greece and Rome. The mountain, which broke up into four parts, was Alexander’s kingdom. And what remained of Israel-Judah was left to Rome. The pale horses were Egypt and Syria, Judah’s worst enemies:
And again I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, four chariots came out from between two mountains; and the mountains were mountains of bronze. The first chariot had red set my Spirit at rest in the north country” (Zechariah 6:1-8).
Zechariah and his contemporaries treated the warnings in the visions as being against their enemies, and not as being against themselves. Zechariah, himself, was convinced that God was ordering him to make a crown and to install Joshua, the high priest, as king. Zechariah wanted to lead God’s people into a greater glory than the glory of David. All the Jews, did not necessarily live in Judea, but they all were to be drawn to the celebrations and to the feasts ordained to be held in Jerusalem:
And the word of the Lord came to me: “Take from the exiles Heldai, Tobijah, and Jedaiah, who have arrived from Babylon; and go the same day to the house of Josiah, the son of Zephaniah. Take from them silver and gold, and make a crown, and set it upon the head of Joshua, the son of Jehozadak, the high priest; and say to him, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: for he shall grow up in his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD. It is he who shall build the temple of the LORD, and shall bear royal honor, and shall sit and rule upon his throne. And there shall be a priest by his throne, and peaceful understanding shall be between them both.”’ And the crown shall be in the temple of the LORD as a reminder to Heldai, Tobijah, Jedaiah, and Josiah the son of Zephaniah.
“And those who are far off shall come and help to build the temple of the LORD; and you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. And this shall come to pass, if you will diligently obey the voice of the LORD your God” (Zechariah 6:9-15).
The priests quickly capitalized on the promise, but the priests seemed to have overlooked what was attached to that promise, “And this shall come to pass, if you will diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God.” So, when they asked Zechariah to inquire of the Lord, whether they could reinstitute fasting and mourning on the fifth and on the seventh month for the seventy years, their request was denied. The Lord asked them whether their fasting and their mourning was for the Lord or for themselves? To their dismay, they had become more concerned with their rituals than with the rendering of justice, where it was needed:
And the Lord came to Zechariah, saying, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy each to his his brother, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor; and let no one of you devise evil against his brother in your heart.” But if they refuse to hearken, and turned a stubborn shoulder, and stopped their ears that they might not hear. They made their hearts like adamant lest they should hear the law and the words which the LORD of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great wrath came from the LORD of hosts. “As I called, and they would not hear so they called, and would not hear,” says the LORD of hosts, “and I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations which they had not known. Thus the land they left was desolate, so that no one went to and fro, and the pleasant land was made desolate” (Zechariah 7:8-14).
The question is answered! History did answer! And the answer rested on the shoulders of the returning Jewish exiles. The Jewish exiles were the remnant chosen to be the instrument of God’s redemptive plan for man. The remnant were not to establish another Judea or another Israel. Zechariah, more than any prophet, received glimpses of what God had in mind. Yet, Zechariah, like his predecessors, attributed it all to an earthly establishment. In a way, it was true — God needed an earthly environment into which He could send the Messiah. That message from heaven must have been confusing because that message pointed to a king, other than Joshua, the priestly king. Hence, this is not the end of Zechariah’s mission. His mission was only the beginning of something, that simply did not fit into Zechariah’s concept of a future Israel — a concept — that has plagued the Jews throughout their history. Zachariah’s attempt to turn his time into the “Messianic Age” and his “Levitical System” into God’s answer for man just became another attempt, which so many have tried and which continues to fail. Every generation has had the feeling that it could be the last in the disintegration of the world. In a way, we all travel the road of Noah and Lot. And we all live in faith that we shall not be disappointed when we face the Son of Man:
As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be in the days of the Son of man. They ate, they drank, they married, they were given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise as it was in the days of Lot—they ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom fire and brimstone rained from heaven and destroyed them all—so will it be on the day when the Son of man is revealed. On that day, let him who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let him who is in the field not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it. I tell you, in that night there will be two men in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding together; one will be taken and the other left.” And they said to him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together” (Luke 17:26-37).
But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Watch therefore—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Watch (Mark 13:32-37).