June 29, 2011

Thursday after the First Sunday after Trinity


Morning - Ps. 37:26, Num. 23:13-26, Lk. 4:1-13
Evening - Ps. 39, Zech. 7:8, Acts 10:1-23


Yesterday's reading in Ezra told us of the completion of the work of rebuilding the Temple. Tonight's reading in Zechariah takes us back to the days before the Temple was built, and a time when the construction had ceased due to military threats by the Persian government. Zechariah and Haggai began their ministries in Jerusalem in the year 520 B.C. Their prophetic message was comprised of two primary points. First, rebuild the Temple. This point came with many encouragements and promises of God, some of which we have looked at in recent commentaries. Second, be the People of God. Return to the Covenant He made with your ancestors. Return to Him. Love and honour Him as you are called to do. This point also came with promises and encouragements. We have looked at some of them already, and will do so again soon. Tonight's reading is about the second point of Zechariah's message; being the people of God. It is about returning to the Covenant relationship with God. It is about being His people and loving Him above all else. God's major concern was not for the Temple. The Temple was not for Him, it was for the Jews. It was a symbol of God's presence and providence with them. It was a symbol of the forgiveness of their sins and their acceptance by God through His grace. It was the place where they worshiped God, and where they met God in worship. In short, the Temple was the symbol of the Covenant in action. The Law specified their Covenant obligations; the Temple was a central part of how they fulfilled those obligations in everyday life.

The Law was a primary aspect of the Covenant. There were three parts of the Law; moral law, civil law, and ceremonial law. The Jews had a tendency to focus on the ceremonial law because it was the easiest to keep. The moral law, summarised in the Ten Commandments, was the hardest to keep. It still is. It is because of our failure to keep the moral law that we need the sacrifice of the Lamb of God to cover our sins and make us acceptable to God. The civil law, because it was simply the moral law codified and applied to everyday life, was also very difficult to keep. It, too, still is. Man's natural inclination toward evil causes us to tend to pervert the civil law and government for selfish gain. If a party can gain control of the government and courts, its members can do what they want without fear of human retribution. It did not take some of the Jews long to devise ways to control the government and courts, and to use them to their own advantage. David's false dealing with Uzziah over Bathsheba, and Ahab and Jezebel's dealings with Naboth (1 Kings 21:1-16) show some of this abuse, but it was not contained to the palace. The writings of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel frequently mention the abuse of power to make the rich richer at the expense of the poor. Crooked scales, moving property boundaries, and false accusations were well honed and heavily used tools in Judah before the Captivity. But God called the Jews to live in fellowship and respect, even to love one another. He did not create a well fare state; He did create a system of laws, which promoted freedom, justice, and well-being among His people.

Zechariah reminds the people of Jerusalem that their ancestors' abuse of the civil law was a major reason why God allowed the Babylonians to conquer and brutalise them. They were warned by the former prophets (9-10), but they did not listen. "Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law" (7:11). Because they refused to hear God's call to them through the prophets, God did not listen to their call to Him through prayer when the conquering armies came (7:12). He allowed them to be conquered in a brutal war that left vast numbers of their people dead and vast parts of their land ravaged, including Jerusalem and the Temple. Survivors of the war were forced to live in captivity in foreign lands (7:13-14).

We could draw many lessons from this short passage. Law based on the moral law of God provides a sure foundation for liberty and justice, and the nation that has and follows such laws will live in peace and freedom. The natural sin-inclinations of the human heart are one of the main reasons why we need government. It exists to protect the God-given rights and freedoms of the people. Even good government can be perverted and used for evil if people are allowed to control and distort it for personal gain and power. God desires peace and liberty for all people. Failure to live in true liberty and peace is great sin, and God is angry at such people. God is angry at those who pervert justice and use government power for their own gain and goals. On a higher lever, it is God's plan that His Covenant People live in mutual respect and love according to His moral law. There is to be a fellowship and unity among us based upon our love for God and one another. We cannot expect the world and its kingdoms to live up to this standard very well. But the Church must.