Zechariah was the Lord’s prophet, who, along with Haggai, was ministering to the people in Jerusalem who had returned from exile in Babylon. And chapters 1 to 6 of Zechariah contained the eight night visions which Zechariah received from the Lord to encourage God’s despondent people at that time. Though they were back in Jerusalem, they were not yet free, because Darius, the king of the Medes and Persians, still ruled over them. And though they had begun to rebuild the temple and city, they had not yet finished and the work was hard and they were often discouraged.
And so, the Lord sent Zechariah to encourage them with visions of how the temple would be completed; and how Jerusalem would become an ever-expanding city; and foreign nations would come to worship the Lord; and the Lord would dwell in their midst again. And the visions were not only for God’s people at that time, but they are for God’s people in every generation, because while God’s promises were fulfilled in part with the reconstruction of the temple and the city, they will be fulfilled in all their fullness when Christ comes again and all of his people will live with him in the new Jerusalem to come, which is the church in glory, made up of men and women and boys and girls from every nation. And God will dwell with his people for ever.
And do you remember the word of the Lord last week? The Lord promised that his servant, the Branch, who would one day come. And this Branch would be both a priest and a king. And by this prophecy, the Lord was announcing the coming of Christ, who, as our Great High Priest, offered himself as the perfect sacrifice for sins; and who, as our Great King, calls us into his kingdom of grace. And Christ our Priest–King gives peace to his people, because he pardons our sins; and promises to work all things together for our good; and he promises us perfect peace and rest in the new and better world to come.
Today we come to chapters 7 and 8 which belong together. In fact, some of the Bible scholars have noticed that these two chapters match one another, but in reverse order. And so, in verses 1 to 3 of chapter 7 we read about people who came to the Lord in Jerusalem. And that matches verses 20 to 23 of chapter 8 where we read about people who come to the Lord in Jerusalem. Verses 4 to 7 of chapter 7 are about fasting. And that matches verses 18 and 19 of chapter 8 which are also about fasting. Verses 8 to 10 of chapter 7 reveal the will of the Lord for his people and what he wants them to do. And that matches verses 16 and 17 of chapter 8 which also reveal his will for his people and what he wants them to do. Verses 11 to 14 of chapter 7 are about the sins of their ancestors. And that matches verses 14 and 15 of chapter 8 which are also about their sins. And verses 1 to 13 of chapter 8 form the centre-piece of these two chapters and they tell us about the future salvation which God has planned for his people when young and old will live in peace in Jerusalem and God will dwell in their midst.
And so, these two chapters belong together. The focus of chapter 7 is on the past; and the focus of chapter 8 is on the future. In the past, the Lord punished his people for their sin and rebellion, but in the future, he will bless them. And once again, while this is the word of the Lord to God’s people in those days, it’s also the word of the Lord to his people in our day. It’s the word of the Lord to you, because God is speaking to you today about his great plan for the church of Jesus Christ, which often seems small and insignificant, but which will one day be glorious. And so, let’s turn to these two chapters to learn what God is saying to us today.
In the first three verses of chapter 7 we read about these people who came to the Lord in Jerusalem. It’s now the fourth year of King Darius and it’s the fourth day of the month of Kislev. This is a reminder that the people of Jerusalem were still not free, because they were still living under a foreign king and Kislev was the Babylonian name for the month. So, though they had returned from exile, they were still not free.
It’s also two years since Zechariah received the night visions. Do you remember? The people had returned from exile. They began to rebuild the temple. But their enemies opposed them and the work on the temple stopped for around 16 years. Then, in the second year of Darius, the Lord sent Haggai and Zechariah to stir the people to action with their preaching. And they began to rebuild the temple once again. And now it’s two years later.
And on that day, a delegation came to Jerusalem from Bethel. These men had been sent to seek from the Lord an answer to their question. They wanted the priests and prophets to ask the Lord whether they should continue to mourn and fast in the fifth month as they had been doing for many years. If you glance down to verse 5, you’ll see that the Lord, in his answer to them, refers not only to the fifth month, but also to the seventh month. And the Lord also refers to seventy years. That was roughly the length of time they were in exile. So, while they were in exile, the people used to mourn and fast in the fifth and seventh month. In fact, if you turn to verse 19 of chapter 8, you’ll see that not only did they mourn and fast in the fifth and seventh months, but they also mourned and fasted in the fourth and tenth months. So, for seventy years, on the fourth and fifth and seventh and tenth months, the people had mourned and fasted. We don’t know a great deal about these fasts, but we believe that the fast in the tenth month was to commemorate the day the Babylonians began to lay siege to Jerusalem; the fast in the fourth month was to commemorate the day when the Babylonians breached the wall of Jerusalem; the fast in the fifth month was to commemorate the destruction of the temple by Nebuchadnezzar; and the fast in the seventh month was to commemorate the death of Gedaliah, who had been appointed governor of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar, and which led to further desolation in Jerusalem. So, these days of mourning and fasting were days when the people wept and humbled themselves before the Lord and remembered how they had suffered because of their sin and rebellion.
However, now that they had returned to the land and had begun to rebuild the temple, could they give up their mourning and fasting? That’s their question.
And we have the beginning of the Lord’s answer in verses 4 to 7, but this is only the beginning. In fact, the Lord’s answer to them takes up the rest of chapter 7 and all of chapter 8. But in verses 4 to 7, the Lord responds to their question by asking three of his own. When you fasted and mourned, was it really for me? When you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourself? And are these not the words which the Lord proclaimed through the earlier prophets when Jerusalem was at rest?
It’s not clear what the Lord means by these questions, though most of the commentators take it that the Lord is suggesting that their mourning and fasting was hypocritical. That is, when they fasted, they weren’t really sorry for their sins, but they were only sorry about their suffering. And when they feasted, they weren’t really rejoicing in the Lord, but they were merely enjoying good food. And though the former prophets spoke to them about these things, they did not listen. That’s how the commentators interpret the questions, but it’s not entirely clear what the Lord means. But the rest of the Lord’s answer is clear. And so, that’s what we’ll focus on.
In verses 8 to 10, the Lord reveals to Zechariah his will for his people. This is what he wants us to do and this is how he wants us to live our lives. He wants his people in every generation to administer true justice and to show mercy and compassion to one another. When we hear the word ‘justice’ we think of the courts. And the Lord wants courts and judges to be just so that the guilty are punished and the innocent are acquitted. But administering true justice also means that in our day to day lives we should do what is right and not what is wrong. And therefore we should show mercy and compassion to one another, which means we should be ready to help one another and we should be kind to each other. And don’t oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. That is, don’t take advantage of the weak and defenceless. Instead of oppressing them, help them. And in your hearts do not think evil of each other. So, instead of devising evil plans in our hearts and planning how to hurt our neighbour, we should be thinking up ways to do them good. This, then, is God’s will for his people.
And the Lord mentions this here, because this is what his people did not do in the past. That comes out in verses 11 to 14. When he says that ‘they refused to pay attention’, he’s referring to his people before the exile. God had given them his laws and commandments to keep. He has sent them prophets to remind them of his laws. But they refused to pay attention. They stubbornly turned their backs and stopped up their ears. They made their hearts as hard as flint. And they would not listen to God’s law or to the words which the Lord sent them by his Spirit through his prophets. Though the Lord was like a loving father to them, providing them with all that they needed and more besides, they refused to listen to him. Though he warned them, they would not change their ways. Though he pleaded with them through his prophets, they only hardened their hearts and continued in their sin and rebellion, going further and further away from their loving heavenly Father. And he was very patient with them, wasn’t he? He gave them many opportunities to repent over the years. He gave them the chance to turn from their evil ways. But finally, because they kept refusing, and because they continued to disobey him, he became very angry with them. And so, when the Babylons invaded the land and lay siege to Jerusalem, and they cried out to him for help, he refused to listen to them, because he had made up his mind to punish them. And he scattered them among the nations. The land — that Eden-like land, flowing with milk and honey — became desolate because of their sin and rebellion.
The men from Bethel wanted to know whether they should continue with their mourning and fasting. And in his reply to them, the Lord reminded them of what their ancestors had done and why they were now mourning and fasting. It’s as if he’s saying to them: Have you forgotten why you began to mourn and fast? Have you forgotten what your ancestors did and how they turned away from me and how they refused to return to me when I called? Have you forgotten why this Eden-like land was left desolate and why it was turned into a wasteland? All of these things happened because your ancestors turned away from me. And so, it’s entirely right that you should mourn and fast in sorrow and repentance, because of what has happened.
If the Lord’s reply to the men from Bethel ended like that, then it would be a very depressing message, wouldn’t it? They would have returned to Bethel and told the rest of the people to keep mourning and fasting. And it would seem to them that their mourning and fasting would never end. But the Lord’s reply to them did not end like that, because the Lord continued to say to them the words of chapter 8, which contains ten separate messages, each one introduced with the words, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says….’ And so, what did the Lord Almighty say?
Firstly, he is very jealous for Zion. In fact, he is burning with jealousy for her. We usually think of jealousy as something bad. A person who is jealous of another person is envious and resentful. I’m jealous of you if you have something I want. However, in this case, it’s a good thing, because it refers to God’s zeal for his people and his concern for them. Though they rightfully belonged to God, who is their true king, Darius had taken them away from him. But not, because of his burning jealousy, he will take them back.
Secondly, in verse 3 the Lord promised to return to Mount Zion and to dwell in Jerusalem once again. Because of their sin and rebellion, he had gone away from Jerusalem. But now he was prepared to come back to them and to live among them again. And since he is the true God and since he is holy, then the city where he dwells will be known as the City of Truth and the mountain on which it sits will be known as the Holy Mountain.
Thirdly, in verses 4 and 5 the Lord promised that men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with a cane in their hand because of their age. They will reach old age, because there are no wars or diseases to kill them. And the city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there. They’re able to play outside like that, because there’s no-one there to harm them. The word translated ‘streets’ should perhaps be ‘squares’ or ‘plazas’. So, we’re to imagine the city is filled with open spaces where old men and women sit peacefully in the sunshine and boys and girls are able to laugh and giggle and play in safety and without fear. So, it’s an idyllic scene, because this is a city of peace and safety where there is nothing to harm the residents and they’re enjoying perfect peace and rest.
Fourthly, in verse 6 the Lord knows that what he has planned for the future will seem marvellous to his people. They will wonder at it. They will marvel at it. Can you believe it? Can it possibly be true? Can it be real? But, on the other hand, will it seem marvellous to the Lord? No, because nothing is too hard for him and he’s able to do far, far more than we can even imagine. What is unimaginable to us is simple for him.
Fifthly, in verses 7 and 8 the Lord promises to bring his people back from the countries where they have been scattered. He will bring them back to Jerusalem to live with him there. They will be my people, he says. This recalls God’s covenant promises to his people in the past, when he promised to take them as his people and when he promised to be their God and to look after them. In the past, they broke the covenant; and, therefore, for a while, he sent them away. But now he was prepared to receive them back as his people. They were like an unfaithful wife to him; and they had gone off after other gods. But though they despised him, he continued to love them and he was waiting for the day when they would live together again. Though they were often unfaithful, he remained faithful. Though they often did what was wrong, he always did what was right. And he would continue to be faithful and do what is right for them in the future.
Sixthly, in verses 9 to 13 he recalls the day when they laid the foundation of the temple in Jerusalem. He’s referring to what happened two years before when they began to rebuild the temple again. Before that day, there were no wages for man or beast. That recalls what we read in the book of Haggai about how there was no seed left in the barn and their vines and trees had no borne fruit. They were having to scrimp and to save, because the Lord’s curses were upon them. Life was a struggle. As he says here in verse 10, they couldn’t go about their business because of their enemies. And the reason they had enemies was because the Lord had turned every man against his neighbour. So, the Lord was against them in those days. But now things will be different. He will remove his curses from them and he will bless them. The seed will grow well. The vine will yield its fruit. The ground will produce its crops. The heavens will drop their dew. The land which had become desolate because of their sin and rebellion will once again be restored and become a land of milk and honey and abundance. Once they had been an object of cursing among the nations, but he will save them. And not only will he bless his people again, but he will make them a blessing to others so that good things will come to other nations because of them. So, don’t be afraid, but be strong. The Lord is encouraging his despondent people and he’s encouraging them to persevere with the work before them and to continue to rebuild the temple. It’s been hard up to now, but he intends to let them enjoy better days to come.
Seventhly, in verses 14 to 18 the Lord speaks of his determination. In the past, he was determined to bring disaster on them because of their sin and rebellion. But now he is determined to do them good. And since he is determined to do them good, they should be careful to do what is good and right and pleasing in the sight of the Lord. So, speak the truth to one another. Render true and sound judgments in your courts. Don’t plot evil against your neighbour. Do not swear falsely. He hates these things and therefore his people should hate these things too. The Lord was making clear that he wants his holy people to live holy lives, to shun evil and to do good. They were not to return to their wicked ways, but they were to walk in the ways of the Lord.
Eighthly, in verses 18 and 19 the Lord returns to their original question about mourning and fasting. And look what he says: the fasts of the fourth and fifth and seventh and tenth months will become joyful and glad occasions and happy festivals. In other words, the day is coming when the time for mourning and fasting will be over; and instead they will rejoice before the Lord. They were wondering whether it was time to end their mourning and fasting. They weren’t sure, because the lives were still miserable. They were still ruled over by a foreign king. The temple was still only half-built. The city was still in ruins. Life was still hard and difficult. But here’s the Lord promising them that one day it will be clear that the time for mourning and fasting will be over and instead they will rejoice. And they will rejoice because of all the marvellous things the Lord has done for them when Jerusalem is transformed and becomes this place of perfect peace and rest.
Ninthly, in verses 20 to 22 the Lord anticipates the time when many peoples and inhabitants of many cities will come. Where will come to? They will come to Jerusalem to entreat the Lord and to seek him. They will say: ‘I myself am going. Let’s all go.’ And many peoples and powerful nations will come to seek the Lord and his favour. They’re coming because they want to experience for themselves the Lord’s salvation.
And finally, in verse 23, the Lord reveals that in those days ten men from the nations will take hold of one Jew and they will go with him to Jerusalem because they have heard that God is there. For every one Jew, there will be ten Gentiles who want to worship the Lord. And so, the nations will stream to Jerusalem to be with the Lord.
That was the word of the Lord through Zechariah to his people in those days. And what the Lord said was fulfilled in part in those days, because within two years the work to rebuild the temple was complete. Soon after, Nehemiah would lead them in the work to rebuild the city walls. The exiles would continue to return and fill the city so that families lived there. And when we read the book of Acts, we read of crowds of people from far off lands who had come to Jerusalem to worship the Lord on the Day of Pentecost. And so, some of what the Lord promised through Zechariah to his people was fulfilled in those days when the city was rebuilt and repopulated and foreigners went there to worship God.
However, God’s word to his people will only be fulfilled in all its fullness in the new heavens and earth and in the new Jerusalem to come, which is the church in glory. In the final chapters of the book of Revelation, we read of the nations coming into the new Jerusalem to worship the Lord there. And so the church in glory will comprise a multitude from from every nation and tribe and people and language. It tells us that there will be nothing there to harm us, because the wicked will be excluded and sorrow and sadness and disease and death will pass away and be no more. And so, we can imagine old men and women and little children and people of every age, sitting in the streets of the city and playing along the bank of the river of the water of life and under the leaves of the Tree of Life and they’ll be laughing and giggling and enjoying perfect peace and rest. And God will be there, and his Son, the Lamb of God, who loved us and gave up his life for us. And their presence will fill the city. And we will not hunger or thirst, because we’ll drink from the river of the water of life and live for ever and we’ll be invited to eat the Wedding Supper of the Lamb. There will be no more sorrow or sadness, and the days of mourning and fasting will be over for ever and we will rejoice in the presence of God and we’ll enjoy that fullness of joy and those pleasures forevermore which he has prepared for his people.
And so what God promised his people through Zechariah will be fulfilled in all its fullness in the new heavens and earth. But what God has promised for the future has already begun, because whereas God once dwelt among his people in the temple in Jerusalem, he now dwells among his people in the church by his Spirit. And in the church, old men and women and boys and girls and people of all ages join together to worship the Lord. And the church is made up of people from many nations, all united together under Christ. And though we must still mourn and fast, because we’re still sinners, we may also rejoice, because we’ve been pardoned for the sake of Christ who died for us. And so, already in this life we anticipate what God has prepared for his people; and already he has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus.
We’ve often seen how one of the big themes in the Bible is God’s people enjoying the presence of God in the place God has prepared for them. That’s how the Bible began, because Adam and Eve were God’s people and they enjoyed the presence of God in the Garden of Eden. But then they disobeyed God and they were sent out of his presence.
Then, at the beginning of the book of Exodus, God’s people were in the wrong place. And so, God led through through the wilderness to the Promised Land, so that God’s people could enjoy the presence of God in the place he had prepared for them. But then they sinned against the Lord and they were sent out of his presence and into exile.
But then the Lord had mercy on them and he bought them back from the exile to the Promised Land in the days of Zechariah to rebuild the temple and to rebuild the city. But it soon became clear that those who returned were still sinners, because although the Lord revealed his will to them and how he wanted them to live, they were not able to do his will and they sinned against him just as their ancestors did.
And so, the Lord announced through his prophet Zechariah better days to come, when all of God’s people will enjoy the presence of God in the place prepared for them. And this time, he would not rely on them to bring it about, but he would rely on his Son. And so, when the time was right, he sent his Son into the world as one of us to give up his life on the cross in order to bring us to God. By ourselves, we deserve to be sent out of God’s presence; but, through faith in Christ, we are pardoned and promised everlasting life. And so, we can look forward to the day when all of God’s people will enjoy the presence of God in the place he has prepared for us, which is the new Jerusalem to come in the new heavens and earth. And since this is God’s plan for us, and since no one can thwart God’s plan, then we can be hopeful about the future of the church, because we know that everything God has promised will happen. And one day men and women of ripe old age will sit the open spaces of the new Jerusalem; and the city will be filled with boys and girls playing there. And in that perfect place God will dwell with his people for ever. And while we wait for that day, we must stand firm in the faith and remain faithful, trusting that our God will do all that he has promised.