November 29, 2015

Scripture and Comments, November 29-December 5

November 29

Is. 12, Acts 10:1-34
Is. 13, Heb 5

Isaiah 12

This chapter continues the message of the Branch begun in chapter 11.  It is a hymn of praise and faith sung in the Day of the Branch by those who have been saved and brought into the Kingdom of God.  The wells of salvation symbolise all of God’s wondrous acts in the ministry of Redemption.  Here they refer to God bringing the Jews back to Jerusalem and bestowing His mercies upon them again.  But, in their broadest, and most complete form they are the ministry and Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the completion of Redemption when He returns to restore the earth and creation to its original perfection, with His people dwelling in it with Him.

Isaiah 13

The 13th chapter of Isaiah foretells the destruction of Babylon by devastating military conquest.  Even her women and children will be mercilessly murdered by the cruel sword of the conquering army.  Babylon was famous for its wealth.  The Tigris and Euphrates rivers provided abundant water, and that meant an abundance of food, waterways for shipping and trade, and the accumulation of wealth.  That wealth enabled Babylon to became a mighty empire, ruling most of the Middle East, including Israel and Judea, both of which fell to her advancing armies.  The Old Testament makes it very clear that God raised up the Babylonians and allowed them to conquer the Jews as punishment for sins.  But He would not let the Babylonians go unpunished.  Their conquest and oppression of others was still wrong, and they would suffer for it terribly.

November 30, Feast of St. Andrew

Acts 10:35-48
Heb. 6

Andrew, with his brother, Peter, left a prosperous fishing business to follow Christ.  Both died by crucifixion in the service of Christ.  It is commonly believed Andrew went into Asia, and ministered around the area now known as Istanbul, Turkey.  There he  was  executed on an X shaped cross, which has become known as the St. Andrew’s cross.

Andrew is not one of the more noted Apostles.  He did not write a Gospel or epistles, and we have no  written accounts of his ministry.  Many today remember him for bringing his brother, Peter to Christ (Jn. 1:41) and many sermons and tracts about “witnessing” cite him as an example of someone who may not be able to do great things for Christ, but whose witness may bring someone into the fold who will do great things.  But Andrew did far more than just bring  Peter to Christ.  His responsibilities as an Apostle required him to help establish the New Testament Church, deal with controversies, and ensure that bishops, pastors, and congregations preached and followed the pure Gospel, which was entrusted to the Apostles by Christ.  He, along with John and Paul, established a strong Christian influence in Asia Minor, from whence missionaries went west into Europe, further east into Asia, and north into Russia.  Andrew, then, was an effective missionary himself, and a great influence on other missionaries.

Collect for St. Andrew’s Day

Almighty God, who didst give such grace unto thy holy Apostle St. Andrew, that he readily obeyed the calling of thy Son Jesus Christ, and followed him without delay; Grant unto us all, that we, being called by thy holy Word, may forthwith give up ourselves obediently to fulfill thy holy commandments; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

December 1

Is. 14. Acts 11:1-18
Is. 15, Heb. 7


Isaiah 14

Jacob (1) refers to Israel, the northern kingdom, which has seceded from the rest of the Hebrew people, and even joined with Gentile invaders in war against Judah and Jerusalem.  She will soon be overcome by Assyria, and many of her people will be taken as captives and slaves into other countries.  But God will not forget her.  One day He will return a remnant of her people to Israel, and the conquerors will become their servants (2).

Verses 3-23 look beyond Assyria to the Babylonians, who will defeat Assyria in battle and take her empire from her.  But, Babylon, too, will fall, and her fall will be due to the direct intervention of God, who works all things according to the counsel of His own will.  Lucifer (11,12) refers first to the king of Babylon. Like pharaohs and other ancient kings, the Babylonian kings considered themselves gods.  Thus, the Babylonians, conquering Israel and Judah assume that they have also conquered the God of Israel and Judah, as though they personally ascended into Heaven, deposed God, and exalted their own thrones above His (13, 14).  They certainly believe destroying God’s Temple on the mount of the congregation, or Zion, in Jerusalem is tantamount to dethroning God and taking His place as gods of Israel and Judah. Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar will soon learn differently, but they are two hundred years in the future from the time Isaiah writes these words.  Just as the Branch is ultimately fulfilled in Christ, The ultimate Lucifer is Satan, the real power behind all enemies of God.

Verses 24-28 return to the doom of Assyria, and all nations that array themselves against Israel (26). Palestina (29-32) is Philistia, or the land of the Philistines, who have been enemies of Israel from ancient times.  Their doom is foretold in these verses.

Isaiah 15

The Lord now turns to other nations around Judah and Israel.  Moab is on the east shore of the Dead Sea.  It is noted for not allowing Israel to pass through its territory on her journey to Canaan.  Ar is its capital, Kir is its strongest fortress.  Other Moabite cities are named as places to be destroyed by the invading Assyrians.

December 2

Is. 16, Acts 11:19-30
Is. 17, Heb. 8


Isaiah 16

Chapter 16 continues the “burden of Moab.”  It begins with an invitation to join with the Jews against the invaders, promising God’s mercy and protection if the people accept the invitation (3-5).  But Moab will not join.  “Therefore shall Moab howl” as in inconsolable misery and sorrow because of her conquest.  When Moab sees her people falling and her cities destroyed, she will pray to her idols in their altars (high places). But idols made of wood and stone have no power to deliver from the invaders (12).  Moab will fall in three years from the time Isaiah speaks this word.

Isaiah 17

Damascus, capital of Syria, is north east of the Sea of Galilee, directly in the path of the Assyrian army’s invasion of the eastern bank of the Jordan.  It was allied with Israel against Jerusalem when Isaiah first began to preach.  God’s word to it: it shall be a ruinous heap.  Ephraim refers to the northern kingdom of Israel (3).  Also addressed as Jacob and the children of Israel, its destruction is foretold, “Because thou hast forgotten the God of thy salvation, and hast not been mindful of the rock of thy salvation (10).  Yet, God will not forget mercy.  He will leave a remnant of Israel, like the few grapes left in a vineyard after the harvest (6).  And there will come a day when Israel’s people will return to God (7). 

December 3

Is. 18, Acts 12
Is. 19, Heb. 9


Isaiah 18

The location of the Ethiopia in this chapter is unknown, for Ethiopians occupied parts of Mesopotamia, Arabia, and Africa.  The bulrushes of verse 2 lead some to think it is Egypt, while the rivers of Ethiopia  and the land whose rivers have spoiled lead others to believe it is north or east of upper Mesopotamia.  Its king, seeing the rising power of Assyria, sends messengers to his own cities, and to neighbouring kings, to form an alliance of armies capable of destroying Assyria. Verses 3-7 cause some to believe Ethiopia is Persia, the ancient land of the Medes.  If this is so, the present brought to the Lord in verse 7 is the release of the Jews from captivity in 536 B.C., and the gifts from Cyrus of Persia for rebuilding the Temple and city of Jerusalem.

Isaiah 19

Egypt will also fall to foreign invaders. Often choosing sides on the basis of self-interest instead of principle, Egypt formed, and broke  several alliances with Judah and Israel.  In fairness, it must be added that Judah and Israel did the same to Egypt.  Assyria took Egypt in 671 B.C.  Babylon conquered it soon after taking Jerusalem.

As in other nations, the idols, people claiming to communicate with the dead (familiar spirits), and practitioners of magic and occultism, which are the foundations of Egyptian religion, will be unable to deliver Egypt from the wrath of God.

December 4

Is. 20, 21, Acts 13:1-13
Is. 22, Heb. 10


Isaiah 20

This short chapter of 6 verses is another prophecy against Egypt and Ethiopia.  Tartan is an Assyrian general who leads an army into Philistine territory, and takes Ashdod, one of the Philistines greatest cities. In those days, captives were stripped of all clothing and possessions before either being slaughtered or enslaved, thus, Isaiah’s actions are symbolic of Egypt and Ethiopia’s captivity.  Isaiah probably went to Egypt for this, where slaves were seldom given clothing.

Isaiah 21

The desert of the sea (1) probably refers to Media and Persia, also known as Elam (2).  The desert of the sea, then, refers to their lands, on the shores of the Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea.  The chariots (7-9) are empires rising and fighting, ending with the news, “Babylon is fallen” (9).  That terrible enemy of the people of God, which caused so much sorrow to so many nations, will not stand forever.  God will destroy it as it has destroyed others.  Dumah (11-12) is Edom.  Arabia (13-15) is the area east of Edom. 

Isaiah 22

The valley of vision (1-14) is the area around Jerusalem, which is surrounded by hills.  It will be filled with the chariots of the Babylonian army. The people of Jerusalem will gather on housetops to watch the siege of their city in horror (1).  Though Jewish soldiers have not fallen in battle, they, like the rulers and people, are unable to escape.  Being bound by the archers (3), pictures the Babylonian archers as ropes that tie the Jews to Jerusalem.  They will shoot down anyone who tries to escape.  Elam and Kir (6) are conquered territories, who now supply armies to fight for the Babylonians.  Jerusalem will tear down houses to use the material to strengthen the city wall (10), and will make a moat around the city for added protection (11), but they will not stop the invaders.

God calls the people to repent with weeping and sackcloth (12), which would include fasting and prayer.  Instead the people have a siege party.  Their motto becomes, “let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die” (13).  God assures them them that they will surely die (14).

Shebna is the king’s treasurer.  He does not seem to believe Jerusalem will fall.  Probably counting on Egypt to defeat all of Jerusalem’s enemies, he believes he will live to a ripe old age, and has even purchased a tomb (16).  God tells him he will be taken to Babylon in captivity (17- 19).

Eliakim is called a nail on which a bag or an object hangs.  In this case, he supports the king.  But he will be cut of, and the king will collapse (21-25).  The collapse of the king symbolises the collapse of the kingdom.

December 5

Is. 23, Acts 13:14-52
Is. 24, Heb. 11

Isaiah 23

“Howl” (1) means uncontrollable sobbing.  Tyre and Zidon (Sidon in the New Testament) are Phoenician cities on the Mediterranean coast.  Tarshish, best known as the home town of the Apostle Paul, is on the southern coast of what will become Asia Minor. Why should they howl? Because God has purposed their destruction (23).  This is the theme of chapter 23.

Isaiah 24

Isaiah 24 contains the dual themes of wrath and mercy.  The first 15 verses are about God's wrath on the Jews, from which we can easily draw parallels about all humanity.  Truly all have sinned and are by nature children of wrath as much as the Jews of Isaiah's time.  And while God is just if He makes the earth desolate and its people to live in sorrow, yet He delights to have mercy and to give His grace and peace to those who seek Him.  And even in the midst of the fires, that is, the wars and pestilence and destruction that comes upon the earth, there are people who still seek and glorify God (24:15).  Verses 16 and following continue to tell of the sorrows of the ungodly.

November 21, 2015

Scripture and Comments, November 22-28

November 22

Mal. 3, Acts 6
Mal. 4, 2 Titus 1


Malachi 3

The Jews long to see the Day of the Lord.  They believe it will be a day of devastation and destruction of the Gentiles.  But Malachi says the Day of the Lord begins with judgement on the house of Judah.  God will be a refiner’s fire to His own people (2-5),  He will burn away their impurities the way a super-heated furnace burns the impurities out of gold and silver.

The casual attitude of the people is well expressed in verses 6-9, which tell us many have stopped offering the sacrifices and tithes called for in the Law.  They keep God’s portion for themselves, to increase their own wealth while the house of God is empty.  This probably means they have also stopped attending the Temple and synagogue, preferring to spend their time, as well as their money, on their own pursuits rather than God’s.  God calls this robbing Him.

Why have the people stopped attending the Temple and synagogue?  Why have they stopped worshiping God with the tithe?  Why have they fallen back into the very sins that caused God to turn them over to the Babylonians?  Because they say, “It is vain to serve God.”  It does them no good they say.  There is no profit in it for them.  Remember that, in their own minds, they are righteous.  They believe they have done everything the Covenant requires, but God has not.  They have been entirely faithful to the Covenant, but God has broken it on every count by not giving them the wealth and peace He promised and they deserve.  They have fallen back into the idea that God is only concerned about “religious” things.  He only cares about the outward forms of sacrificing animals and saying liturgies.  He does not care about personal morality, and He does not care about loving Him with all our hearts, souls, and minds.  So they went through the motions of worship without engaging their hearts.  When God did not bless that, they stopped going through the motions, and accused God of breaking His promises to them.

In reality, it is they who have broken the Covenant and turned away from God.  Their worship is empty and revolting to God.  They do not care about God, but expect God to care about them.  They call the proud (those who despise God) happy.  They say those who tempt God, by open sin and blasphemy, are the ones who are delivered from the problems of life.  It does often appear that the wicked prosper at the expense of the righteous.  Thus, it is natural to conclude it is better to be wicked than righteous.  But God promises that the wicked will be punished, while those who turn to Him in faith will be saved from the wrath to come.  Otherwise, there is no hope.

Malachi 4

The wicked are compared to stems of wheat that are left after the grain is harvested.   Such stubble is dry and easily burned.  It can also be gathered into bundles and burned for heat.  It is as fuel for the furnace that the wicked are referred to here.  God is the furnace.  He will gather them and consume them in the unquenchable fire of His wrath.  The wicked are not getting away with their oppression and immorality.  God sees, and God will consume them.

The Sun of Righteousness is God (2).  His Righteousness will rise on the faithful like the sun on a new day.  He will accomplish all that He has promised them.  Ultimately, He is Christ, who is risen from the grave with healing for our souls in His wings.  In His death, our sins are crucified.  In His resurrection, our souls are healed.  In His return, His righteousness will rise like the sun, and cover the whole creation.  All evil will be punished, and His people will inherit the earth.  We will go forth as calves from the stall, joyful and happy to be free.

As they return to God, the Jews are reminded to keep the law of Moses (4).  They have fallen into sin again, so God calls them to keep the law.  This is a call to be the Covenant people again.

Elijah (5) will be known as John the Baptist.  He will be the forerunner of the Messiah.  Through his preaching, many will be turned to God again, and many will embrace the Messiah in faith.

November 23

Isaiah 1, Acts 7:1-30
Isaiah 2, Titus 2, 3


Isaiah 1

Isaiah is a wealthy priest who began his ministry in the year King Uzziah died, about 742 B.C. He is the king's pastor, and is possibly a member of the royal family.  Well educated and a faithful minister of God, his book is a warning to people who have turned away from God. The heart of the chapter is expressed in the words of God, "I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me" (2).  This verse sets the tone for the entire book of Isaiah.  Everything after this verse is either a plea from God to repent and be blessed, or a revelation of the terrible price to be paid for sin. 

The Jews find these words offensive.  They are the chosen people, and they are outwardly very religious.  They are very conscientious about observing the ceremonial regulations of feasts and fasts and animal sacrifices.  But their hearts are far from God.  Thus, God is “full” of their burnt offerings and has no delight in the blood of bulls and goats (11).  When God says He is “full," He does not mean He is satisfied as a person would be after a good meal.  He means He is overfull.  He is like a person who has eaten far too much, and is violently sick because of it.  He is so sick of their insincere worship that the very thought of it makes Him nauseous.  

God will not endure this forever.  If the people repent He will feed them with the good of the land, but if they refuse they will be devoured with the sword (19-20).

The chapter is summarised well in two phrases.  The first is found in verse 24.  The "adversaries" and "enemies" of God are outwardly religious people who do all the religious things specified by the Old Testament ceremonial law.  But, somehow they have separated faith from life.  They keep the Sabbath with meticulous detail, but oppress and mistreat their brethren throughout the rest of the week.  The concept of Godliness in every aspect of life, from work to recreation to home and church is foreign to them.  But God demands Godliness in all things.  He demands to be Lord of your home as much as of your church, and Lord of your morals as much as of your worship.  The plan of God for Israel was for them to love God, to worship Him in Biblical worship and faith, and put that faith into practice in every aspect of life.  So there is no part of life that is separate from "religion."  God is Lord of all of life.  The same is true for the New Testament Israel, the Church of Jesus Christ.

The second phrase that summarises this passage is in verse 25.  The image of this verse is the refining furnace, which burns away impurities from precious metals.  God is telling the people of Judea He is going to put them through the refining fire. He is going to burn away their dross in the fire of His wrath.  He is going to purify them through suffering, much of which will come through brutal military conquest of their land.

Isaiah 2

Isaiah 2 looks beyond the refining fire of the Babylonian conquest and the trials of this life to a day when God Himself has healed His people and brought peace to them forever.  In that Day all nations will walk in His ways and there will be no more war.  This is the time of the Prince of Peace, our Lord Jesus Christ.  That Day is not here in its full sense, but it is here in part in the Church.  It would be good to think about how the Church fulfills this passage (or falls short of it) as we read this passage.

The people in Isaiah 2 have a problem.  It is not a problem of poverty or hunger, for there is no end of their treasures (7).  Their problem is that they have forsaken the greatest treasure of all, God.  Forsaking God, they have turned to false gods.  Why would they turn to idols?  Because it is easier to fall for a lie than to stand for the truth.  To put it another way; idols are easier to serve than God.  We can create an idol to be anything we want.  We can dictate to it what kind of god it will be and what we will give to it.  But God refuses to be dictated to.  God always demands that we change to conform to Him.  He never changes to conform to us.  Do people today try to change God to make it easier to serve Him?  On what do you base your answer?

November 24

Is. 3, Acts 7:31-60
Is. 4, Philemon


Isaiah 3

Isaiah 3 is another sermon and warning about the judgement of Judah.  Always deeply aware of the sins of the Gentiles, the Jews are happily unaware of their own.  Always looking for God to punish the Gentiles, they never seem to think God’s wrath will burn against them, also.  But chapter 3 details many of the ways God will punish the Jews.  Of particular notice is the unlearned and foolish who become leaders and major influences of thought and culture.  Verse 4 describes them as children and babes.  Manasseh became king at the age of 12.  His incompetence and wickedness did immeasurable harm to the Jewish people, and was a major cause of their moral religious collapse.  But people of mature years can be like children in their understanding and selfishness.  Incompetent people are often elevated to positions of great power, where their childish understanding and behaviour cause disaster for many others.  Because of their sin, the destruction of Jerusalem is stated as though it is an accomplished act (8).  “Jerusalem is ruined and Judah is fallen” is an accurate statement of the theme of this chapter. 

Isaiah 4

Isaiah 4 looks past judgment to the redemption and restoration of Judea.  The reforms under King Hezekiah and the restoration of the Jews after the Babylonian Captivity are the first applications of this passage.  But it looks beyond these things to an event that is immeasurably greater than both of them, and of which they are symbols and representations.  That event is the advent of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  Christ is the Branch of the Lord, beautiful and glorious.  The salvation of souls and the Kingdom of Christ is the fruit He brings forth by His suffering and resurrection. In Him, Jerusalem (the Church) is holy.  In Him the filth (sin) of the daughters of Jerusalem (people who receive Him as Lord and Saviour) is washed away.  Through Him the cloud of smoke and fire (the presence of God in Christ and the Holy Spirit) descend to Mt. Zion (the Church) and her assemblies (meetings for worship).  He is the Tabernacle, the shelter from the heat, storm, and rain (the results of our sins).  Note that a shelter protects us by bearing the storm for us.

November 25

Is. 5, Acts 8:1-25
Is. 6, Hebrews 1

Isaiah 5

Isaiah returns to the theme of judgment.  The vineyard is Judah.  Called and blessed by God, she has refused to bear the fruit of righteousness.  Thus, she is left to be overgrown by thorns and weeds, which are sins and worldly cares that choke the word of God out of the vineyard.  In another sense, the thorns and weeds are the enemies who will conquer and rule the Jewish people.  The enemies will flourish and choke out the vines.

Future generations will see the Messiah, the true vine, but most will reject Him.  They, too , will be overrun with weeds of unbelief, and turned over to the weeds and thorns. The same can happen to professing Christians, churches, and denominations.  Neglect of the word and house of God allows the weeds and thorns to grow and flourish in us.  If not uprooted, they can take over, and choke the faith out of us. 

Isaiah 6

The Word of the Lord in Isaiah 6 is a terror to the prophet.  He was commissioned to proclaim the Word to Judea, but he is told that the people will not understand or receive it.  Instead, his preaching will make their hearts fat, their ears heavy, and their eyes shut, that they may not hear and convert and be healed.  The prophet probably remembers the warnings of God's anger, which he has already been preaching to the people.  Those warnings were coupled with a promise of forgiveness to those who repent.  But now Isaiah is told by God that the majority of people will not repent.  Most will not even understand or receive his message. Instead of hearing it with faith and repentance, their ears and hearts will become calloused to it.  It will fade into the background noise, like music in a mall.

Perhaps a similar thing has happened to people today.  The Bible is the ideological foundation of Western civilisation and culture.  It formed our ideals and our world, and gave us our values of justice and freedom.  We have rarely come close to actually living up to its teachings, but it has always been a force to reckoned with, even when we have strayed from it.  Today, after 2,000 years, people are no longer listening to it.  It is there.  Even the most secularised people listen to Christmas carols, and most people have at least some knowledge of the Bible’s message.  But they are not paying attention.  It has become background noise to them.  It puts them to sleep, even those who believe it is true.  God help us to hear it.  

November 26

Is. 7, Acts 8:26-40
Is. 8. Hebrews 2

Isaiah 7

Ahaz is Uzziah's grandson.  He is a comparatively good king who actually attempts to accomplish some reforms in Judah.  In chapter 7 Israel, which separated from Judah and formed its own country after the death of Solomon, has joined forces with Syria to fight against him.    How tragic that part of God’s people have joined unbelievers to fight against another part of God’s people.  God’s message to Ahaz is that He will not allow them to defeat him.  He offers to give a sign, which Ahaz refuses.  So God gives the sign, but not just for Ahaz; for all people.  A virgin shall be with Child (14).

Doubtless, this verse has a direct application to Isaiah and Ahaz.  But its actual fulfillment comes in the Virgin Birth of Christ.  It looks forward to an event more than seven hundred years in the future, when the virgin Mary will conceive the Messiah, Immanuel.  Christ literally and actually fulfills the words of this prophecy.

 Isaiah 8

Chapter 8 speaks Immanuel’s name in great sadness.  The sadness comes because the land of Judah, Immanuel's Land, will be occupied and conquered by an army so vast and powerful its lines will "fill the breadth of thy land, O Immanuel."  Chapter 8 is given first as a promise of security to Ahaz and the people of Judea.  It is the good news of the fall of their enemies.  Rather than conquering Judea, they will be conquered by Assyria (7).  This will be a temporary deliverance for Judea, and during this time they will have a time of partial reformation and faith as Hezekiah attempts to move the people back towards God.  But, the reforms will be incomplete, and many of the people will resist them.  Therefore, even Judah will be troubled by the Assyrians, and, eventually fall to the empire that conquers Assyria, Babylon.

November 27

Is. 9, Acts 9:1-23
Is. 10:1-18, Heb. 3

Isaiah 9

The coming Messiah is promised clearly in verses 1-7.  The constant sin and punishment of the Jews points to the need of a Deliverer who is able to do far more than protect the Jews from Gentile invaders.  The Jews, and Gentiles, need a Deliverer who is able to save them from their sinful patterns, and to accomplish their eternal forgiveness and reconciliation to God.  They walk in the darkness of sin, and they need to see the great Light of God.  Fortunately, that is just what God intends to do (2).  Since this Deliverer must do what no man can do, He must be far more than a man.  He must be, and is, Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, and the Prince of Peace (6).  We know Him as Jesus Christ, conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, dead and buried, descended into hell, rose from the dead, ascended into Heaven, and coming again to judge the quick and the dead.

In verse 8, the Northern kingdom of Israel is boasting that it will rebuild.  Chapter 8 warned that Israel would be defeated by Assyria.  In chapter 9 this has already happened, yet the people will not turn from their sins to God (9:13).  They boast that if they don't have bricks they will build with stones.  If good, sycamore wood is unavailable they will build with cedar.  Their attitude is very much like that expressed in the poem, "Invictus."  Because of this, the wrath of God will be as darkness upon the land, and the people will be as fuel for the fire (19).

The Lord continues to warn Judea of His approaching wrath. Notice the disintegration of Jewish society which causes God's anger to burn against them.  Israel was called to be one people.  They were to be like a good family, walking together in love to God and love to one another.  Instead of love they have given hate. They have trampled the rights of the poor. They buy and sell "justice" with bribes and threats.  They prey on widows and rob orphans.  Thus, they will become prisoners and casualties.  God has set them aside to become fuel for the fire.  If He punished Samaria, capital of the Northern tribes of Israel, shall He not also punish Jerusalem, capital of the Southern tribe of Judah?

Isaiah 10:1-18

God pronounces woe on the swindlers and deceivers in Judah and Jerusalem (1-4).  Of all people, they will suffer most in the coming invasion (4).  Truly, God requires justice and truth among His own people.

Verse 5  turns to the Assyrian conquerors.  True, God will allow them to destroy Israel and  trouble Judah, but their deeds are still evil.  They are being used by God to chastise His people, but they are still wicked people, and God will not let them go unpunished.  He will bring judgment and wrath upon them as surely as He has done upon His own chosen people. "Shall the ax boast itself against him that heweth therewith?"  Who is the ax and who heweth therewith?  Assyria is the ax, but it is God who heweth.

November 28

Is. 10:19-34, Acts 9:24
Is. 11, Heb. 4


Isaiah 10:19-34

Here we read of God’s inexhaustible grace.  Though His own people habitually despise Him and prostitute themselves to gods that are not even real gods, He will not utterly destroy them.  A remnant will be saved to carry on the mission for which Israel was called.  God cannot fail.  His purpose for Israel will not be stopped by worldly enemies, or even by sin in His own people.  His  work of Redemption, by which He brings His own to Himself in everlasting peace, and by which He restores His creation to its original glory will be unfailingly accomplished.  He will continue His work through Israel.  He will bring the Saviour into the world through her.  Through Him, He will complete the great work of Redemption, until all enemies are put under His feet, and all of His people, whether Jews or Gentiles, are safely gathered into His eternal peace.

Isaiah 11

Judah is cut down.  Once a great tree, luxuriant and well watered, it is shown here as a dying stump.  Years of war have leveled it.  Future conquests, coupled with internal decay, will wear even the stump away.  But a Branch will grow out of its roots.  Seemingly tender and weak, it will grow to be mighty and great.  In it all the promises of the chapter come to pass.

In one sense, the chapter refers to the Jews after the Babylonian conquest.  The tree represents Judah and Jerusalem, cut and worn away to nothing but roots.  But a branch, representing the Jews returning from Babylon after being released by Cyrus the Great of Persia, sprouts from the roots.  The post captivity Jews are few and weak.  They are surrounded by enemies, and their survival looks doubtful.  But they will survive, because God is their protector, and He will ensure their continuation.

In an even greater sense, the Branch is the Kingdom of God.  Often battered by the world, and decayed by heresy and sin, its survival looks doubtful, and many have confidently predicted its death.  Yet it survives.  Why?  Because Almighty God wills it.  It is God’s Church, God’s people, God’s Kingdom, and He will protect and ensure its continuance.  No matter how weak it looks, or even if it appears to be completely gone, God will always have His faithful remnant.  One day  He will cause this branch to inherit the earth, and its enemies will pass away.

In a still greater sense, the Branch is Christ Himself.  He comes to earth through the root of Judah, being born of the Jewish people in the town of Bethlehem.  An insignificant infant in an insignificant family, in an insignificant town looks small and weak to us. Can He continue the work of the Kingdom?  Can He be the personification of it.  Can He be its Lord and God?  Can He complete the great plan of Redemption, which God formulated before He laid the foundations of the earth?  He can, because He is God with us.  He is Immanuel.  The world, and the Kingdom were created by Him and for Him, and He is far stronger than all His enemies.  He is able and He is willing to accomplish all that He has promised, and threatened, in the Bible.

November 18, 2015

Scripture and Comments, November 15-21

November 15

Zech. 3, Acts 1
Zech. 4 1 Tim. 4


Zechariah 3

God is restoring the Levitical priesthood to Jerusalem.  He has already restored the city, the people, and the Temple.  Now He is officially consecrating and commissioning the priests who minister in the Temple.  This is done for all the priests, using Joshua, the High Priest, as the figurehead and representative of all (8). Taking away his filthy garments symbolises taking away his sin; dressing him in clean, new garments represents God counting Him as righteous (4).  This is followed by an exhortation to walk in the ways of God (7) which is a contrast to the ways of the former priests, who walked in the ways of idolatry and sin.  The priests are being charged to judge and keep the Lord’s house (7).  This, of course, refers to the Temple, where they will officiate in the sacrifices and will instruct the people in the knowledge and keeping of the Scriptures.  In another sense, all of Israel is the house and courts of God, and God is charging the priests with the spiritual care of His people. Their job is to ensure that God’s laws and ordinances are followed, and no new practices or strange fires are admitted into God’s worship (Lev. 10:1).

These men are to be wondered at (8) because they foreshadow the Righteous Branch God will bring forth out of Israel.  The Righteous Branch is Jesus Christ, who ministers in the true Temple and offers the one sacrifice that can take away sin (Jn. 1:29, Heb. 9:24-28).

The stone (9) is an issue of much discussion.  Some, like  the Rev’d.Matthew Henry say it is the Messiah, others say it cannot be the Messiah because the context seems to give Joshua authority over it, and no man has authority over Christ.  It appears to refer to the Temple, for God is charging him with the regulation of His house and the keeping of His courts.

It may include both meanings.  It may represent the Temple, given into the care of the priesthood until the Righteous Branch and Great High Priest arrives.  It may also represent the Messiah, the foundation and cornerstone of the true Temple, who will come forth out of Israel and bring the Kingdom to full maturity in His ministry and Church.

Zechariah 4

The candlestick is a seven-headed, menorah-like lamp that burns olive oil, with an unending flow of oil supplied by two olive trees.  The vision is the word of God to Zerubabel (6).  Its message is that the task of completing the Temple and leading the Jews to abide in the Covenant of God will be accomplished by God’s Spirit, not Zerubabel’s wisdom or abilities.

Zerubabel is of the direct line of David. He led the first group of Jews back to Jerusalem at the end of the Babylonian Captivity.  He was their king as they struggled to rebuild their city and the Temple.  Progress was very slow, and numerous problems and enemies obstructed the work.  By Zephaniah’s time, it seems to Zerubabel, and all of the people, that the task is impossible.  They have, essentially abandoned it and turned their energies to simply trying to survive. The vision assures Zerubabel that God is with him, and the restoration and preservation of Israel depends on God, not Zerubabel.  “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts” (6).  By God’s power, mountains (obstacles) will be leveled (overcome).  The day of small things refers to the smallness and weakness of Jerusalem, the incomplete Temple, and Zerubabel.  None of them seem to have the power or wisdom to accomplish the task God has set before them.  That is exactly the point.  They don’t.  But God does, and, if Zerubabel obeys and trusts God, and leads the people to do the same, the great things God has promised will be accomplished.  

The lamp signifies the Temple, which Zerubabel is struggling to complete. In the broader sense, it refers to the entire work of God in Redeeming His people and establishing His Kingdom. The oil is the power of God given to the Kingdom in unending supply by which the work of the Kingdom is accomplished. The olive trees represent God sending His grace and power into His people and Kingdom.  They probably are the Son and the Spirit of God, standing before the Father.  The vision reinforces the word of God in verse 6, that the Temple, and the Kingdom,  are built by the power of God, which flows in unending supply to His people. 

November 16

Zech. 5, Acts 2
Zech. 6, 1 Tim. 5


Zechariah 5

The scroll is identified in verse 3 as the curse that covers humanity.  It is the curse that applies to all who break the law of God.  In this case, it is especially applied to Israel for her sin and departure from the Covenant relationship with God (Dt. 28:15-68).  The curse consumes the guilty, and Israel is guilty.  Her only hope is for God to somehow remove her guilt.  The woman in the ephah basket (5-11) is a vision of God removing Israel’s guilt.  Guilt is symbolised as a woman, very likely a prostitute, who is placed in a basket.  Two other women (angels) carry the woman in the basket to Shinar, where the tower of Babel was built.  Shinar signifies a place of spiritual darkness and rebellion against God.  The woman in the basket (Israel’s sin) belongs there, not in Jerusalem.

Zechariah 6

Verses 1-8 record the vision of the four chariots.  They represent four spirits of God who cover the earth. These spirits probably refer to angels, rather than the Holy Spirit.  The first two are sent into the north country (6). The third goes into the south.  Since the Mediterranean is on the west side of Israel, and the Arabian desert is on the east side, most of the foreign invaders came into Israel from the north.  Assyrian and Babylon both attacked from the north.  Egypt, a constant threat to Israel, lay to the south.  The chariots sent in these directions, keep the enemies at bay.  Therefore God’s Spirit is at rest, symbolising a time of relative rest for Jerusalem.

The word of the Lord turns to Joshua in verses 9-15.  Heldai, Tobijah, and Jedaiah, are Jews who have recently come to Jerusalem from Babylon with gifts of gold and silver from other Jews who choose to remain in Babylon rather than face the hardships and dangers of Jerusalem.  God tells Zechariah to use the gold and silver to make a crown for Joshua, the High Priest.  He will build the Temple (12), meaning he will have oversight of the worship and sacrifices to God offered in the Temple, and the spiritual care of the people of God (see Zech. 3:7).  Verse 15 promises that more Jews will return to Jerusalem to help with the Temple.

Joshua is a symbol of the Righteous Branch, who builds the spiritual Temple, of which the physical Temple is also a symbol.  The Branch is the Messiah and the Temple is His Church, in which all the promises to humanity through Israel are fulfilled.

November 17

Zech. 7, Acts 3
Zech. 8, 1 Tim 6

Zechariah 7

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. His prophetic message comprises two primary points.  First, rebuild the Temple.  This point comes with many encouragements and promises of God, some of which we have looked at in recent comments.  Second, be the People of God.  Return to the Covenant God made with your ancestors.  Return to Him.  Love and honour Him as you are called to do.  This point also comes with promises and encouragements.  We have looked at some of them already, and will do so again soon.  Chapter 7 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 is not for the Temple.  The Temple is not for Him, it is for the Jews.  It is a symbol of God's presence and providence with them.  It is a symbol of the forgiveness of their sins and their acceptance by God through His grace.  It is the place where they worship God, and where they meet God in worship.  In short, the Temple is the symbol of the Covenant in action.  The Law specifies their Covenant obligations; the Temple is a central part of how they fulfill those obligations in everyday life.

The Law is a primary aspect of the Covenant.  There are three parts of the Law; moral law, civil law, and ceremonial law.  The Jews have a tendency to focus on the ceremonial law because it is the easiest to keep.  The moral law, summarised in the Ten Commandments, is 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 is simply the moral law codified and applied to everyday life, is also very difficult to keep. It, too, still is. Man's natural inclination toward evil causes us to tend to pervert 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 does not take the Jews long to figure this out.  David's false dealing with Uzziah over Bathsheba, and Ahab’s and Jezebel's dealings with Naboth (1 Kings 21:1-16) show some of this abuse, but it is not limited to the palace.  The writings of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel frequently mention the abuse of power to gain wealth.  Crooked scales, moving property boundaries, and false accusations are 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 wellfare 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 is 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" (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 (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 (13-14).

We may 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.  But 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.

Zechariah 8

God is returned unto Zion (3).  This refers not to His actual presence, for God is present in all places and in all times.  It refers to His presence in grace.  It is His presence in the way we mean when we say, "God be with you, and with thy spirit."  He is present to defend, to lead, to bless, and dwell in peace with His people.  The time of His wrath has ended.  The conquest, the captivity, the scattering of the people of Jerusalem into the surrounding nations is over.  God allowed that to happen because of sin in his people.  The holy city of Jerusalem, and even the Temple itself, had become unbearable in God's eyes because of the sin of the people.  The Temple had been filled with idols.  The worship offered in it was vain and insincere.  The morality of the people was as that of Gentiles who did not know God.  All of this is recorded in the Bible from Genesis to the prophets. So God allowed His people to reap what they had sown and receive what they had sought.  They wanted to be as the Gentiles, so God gave them over to the Gentiles, to be conquered and murdered and dominated by them.  But all of that is over.  God has brought them back to Jerusalem.  God has called them to return to the Covenant, to being the people chosen by God, to being His unique people among all others.  God has returned to them in grace, and calls them to return to Him in faith.

The chapter foretells the glory of Jerusalem filled with such people.  They will not be killed by invaders.  They will live to ripe old age, and the streets will be filled with children.  Thus, the Jews are to "Let your hands be strong" (9), for the work of rebuilding the Temple and the city, but most of all, for rebuilding their faith.

This passage has obvious application to the New Testament Church.  God will bring His people into it from many nations and countries.  It will be a City of Peace, for the peace that passes all understanding, which is not as the world giveth but as Christ only can give, will dwell in it.  God Himself will dwell in this New Zion, and it will be blessed and a blessing.  Therefore, we who dwell in this City of God must let our hands be strong for the work of the Kingdom.  Let them be strong in faith.  Let them build spiritual things now and for generations yet to come.  For we will possess all things.

Zechariah 8:14-23 continues the wondrously good news that God has returned to Zion.  Because the Jewish people had forsaken Him, He withdrew His grace and protection from them, and allowed them to be devoured by their enemies.  But now He has returned in grace to accomplish His purpose for His people.  As He did not turn back from His wrath, He also will not turn back from His mercy (14-15).  As surely as His words of wrath were fulfilled, His words of mercy will also be fulfilled.  He will do good things for Jerusalem and Judah, thus, they can have confidence in Him.  They may draw near to Him in faith, rather than run from Him in fear.

He calls the Jews to return to Him as He has returned to them.  The call is not simply to rebuild a landmark and re-institute religious activity.  The call is to turn their hearts to God as He has turned His to them.  The call is to live in fellowship and peace with one another and with God.  It is a call to come to God with sincerity and truth in worship.  God does not tell them to dispense with liturgy in order to worship Him with their heart.  He tells them to put their heart into the liturgy.  The Temple worship is formal, but it is not dead formalism, and it means nothing if the heart of the people is not in it.  Let the service of God in worship and in everyday life be joy to the house of Judah (8:19).  When the heart is in it, it will be joy to worship God.

This will cause many to want to return to Jerusalem and to the Covenant (20-21).  Many Jews did not return to Jerusalem at the end of the Captivity.  Many found new lives in the lands where they had once been prisoners.  They did not want to return to Jerusalem, a land of poverty, hardship, and danger.  They enjoyed the looser approach to the faith allowed in the Gentile lands.  In short, they had no intention of returning to Jerusalem or making the sacrifices required to become the people of the Covenant again.  The joy of the people in Jerusalem will be an invitation to them to return to God.

It will also induce Gentiles to seek the God of Israel.  "Many people, and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord" (22).  This will be fulfilled in greater glory in the New Jerusalem.  Christ's Church will gather many people and strong nations into it in a way the old Jerusalem could never do.  Verse 23 is also a picture of the day of Christ and the era of fulfillment in which we live.  The first Christians were Jews and through the grace of God working in them, Gentiles have come to their God.  May they also come to us, the spiritual children of Abraham, because they have heard that God is with us.

November 18

Zech. 9, Acts 4:1-22
Zech. 10, 2 Tim. 1


Zechariah 9

Verses 1-8 prophecy judgement on enemies of Jerusalem.  Some are descendants of the ancient Canaanites and Philistines, who have resisted the efforts to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple.  The Grecians (13) may refer to the future Greek empire forged by Alexander, which will conquer and oppress Judah for many generations.  Verses 9-17 picture God, the true King of Israel entering Jerusalem.  He once came to the city in wrath through the Babylonians.  Here, He comes in peace; not in a chariot leading a conquering army, but on an ass, the symbol of peace and good will.  The time of His wrath against Jerusalem is over.  He is giving her a chance to return to Him and His Covenant, and to reap all the blessings He has promised.  This vision is literally fulfilled in the Triumphal Entry of Christ.  He is God entering Jerusalem with peace and grace for His people.  

Zechariah 10

God reminds the people that the false prophets and idols, to which they turned before the conquest, fed them vanity and lies.  For leading the people into idolatry, the Lord punished the shepherds (religious and civil leaders) of the Jews.  Thus, this passage is a warning to the High Priest and the king, to seek the Lord.  Ask of Him the rains and the blessings.  Rain equals grass  and crops in the fields, which feed the flocks and the people.  The basic necessities of life come from God alone, not wood and stone statues.  The goats (3) are the people who followed the evil shepherds into idolatry and wickedness.  They, too were punished for their sin.

But God is now visiting Judah, in mercy (3, 4) and makes them as a goodly horse in the battle.  A soldier in battle needs to be able to concentrate on the enemy.  A horse that does not obey the commands, requires the chariot driver to divert his attention from the enemy to the horse, making him more vulnerable to the enemy.  Judah is become like a goodly horse that can be counted on to obey and conquer in the day of battle.  Out of Judah came forth the “corner” or cornerstone that is the foundation of a building.  The “nail” may refer to the pole that supports a tent. The “bow” is the most advanced weapon of the era.  Archers in chariots could circle ranks of infantry and fire volley after volley of arrows into them.  Often, the mere appearance of chariots was enough to rout an army of footmen.  “Every oppressor”  refers to the enemies being driven out of the land.  Ultimately, these words are fulfilled by Christ, the Cornerstone of the true Temple, the central pole that supports that Tabernacle, and the Deliverer who drives away the enemies of His Kingdom.  He is the Bow of God who subdues all opposition.

The Jews will be like mighty warriors.  God will give them victory so that even the enemy’s cavalry and chariots will not be able to stand against them.  The rest of the chapter describes the glorious victories of the city of God, first in Jerusalem, then as the Church of the Messiah, and finally in Christ’s full and open reign when He returns and all enemies are put under His feet, and His Church reigns with Him forever.

November 19

Zech. 11, Acts 4:23-37
Zech. 12, 2 Tim. 2


Zechariah 11

The chapter records a vision that looks back to the recent conquest by the Babylonians.  The doors of Lebanon are the mountain passes and roads used by the invaders to move into Judah and Jerusalem.  The possessors who slay the flock (4) are the shepherds of Israel, the prophets, priests, and kings, who neither fed the flock with the word of God, nor defended it from spiritual or human predators.  The shepherds even become predators, buying and selling the flock for personal gain, then thanking God for their prosperity (4).   God says He will feed the flock with slaughter (7) and the shepherds will be cut off  (8) by the conquering Babylonians. But some of the people wait on the Lord in faith (11) and recognise the word of the Lord in His true prophets. Breaking the staffs (10, 14) removes the beauty, or glory of the Lord from Jerusalem, and dissolves the Covenant relationship with Israel and Judah.  All of this was accomplished in the Babylonian conquest, which this vision recalls. 

The vision also looks forward to future failures of Israel.  The Jews will not persevere in the faith, which is being revived in the people of Zechariah’s time.  Even in those days the revival encompassed a minority of the people, leaving the majority in hypocrisy or open unbelief.  Future generations will fall deeper into sin, and will be judged accordingly.  Jerusalem will fall under the dominion of Greece and Rome. By the time of Christ, most of Israel will be unable to recognise the One who is the Saviour of Israel and the Desire of Nations.  Chapter 11 foretells their return to sin, and the fearful consequences which result from it.  Their shepherds will lead the way into this sin.  As Rev. Henry wrote, the foolish shepherds, “instead of preventing, shall complete the ruin [of Israel], and the blind leaders and their blind followers shall fall together into the ditch.”  Most readers will recognise the thirty pieces of silver, and other words and phrases in the chapter, together with their application to our Lord Jesus Christ. (Mt. 27:, 10, Acts 1:18, 19).

Zechariah 12

Chapter 11 recalls the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians, but chapter 12 is about the return from Babylon, the reconstruction of the Temple, the Levitical Priesthood, and the Davidic kingship.  Most of all, it is about the return to the Covenant and the renewal of the intention to be God’s Covenant people.  Like Galatians 4, which distinguishes between the physical Jerusalem and the spiritual one, chapters 11 and 12 foreshadow the fall of the physical Jerusalem and the blessing of the spiritual Jerusalem of Christ.  The spiritual Jerusalem has always been, and always will be, a remnant of true believers rather than the physical descendants of Abraham.  The physical Jerusalem will pass away, but the spiritual Jerusalem, consisting of the true believers of both the Old and New Testament eras, will endure forever by God’s grace and power.  This message is constantly repeated throughout the Bible.  As chapter 11 regards the fall of the physical Jerusalem, chapter 12 regards the rise of the spiritual, New Jerusalem of Christ.

God promises to keep the spiritual Jerusalem safe, through all the trials and troubles of earth, and bring her to His eternal glory at last.  God warns that He will punish those who attempt to harm her.  The world is always laying siege to the spiritual Jerusalem (2), and the armies of the world are always aimed at her.  Yet God promises her that tribulations will not destroy her.  Instead, He will destroy all nations that come against her (9).

Verses 7-14, while promising God’s grace to Zerubabel, also look ahead to the Christ and His crucifixion.  Through Him God ultimately pours grace on the house of David.  He is the One the others pierce (Jn. 19:34) and look upon, and because of this, will mourn under the weight of their sin (Rev. 1:7). 

November 20

Zech. 13, Acts 5:1-16
Zech. 14, 2 Tim. 3


Zechariah 13

This chapter tells of the current and future blessings of Jerusalem.  The fountain (1) flows with grace and forgiveness like Christ Himself.  The Jews have sinned, but God has forgiven them and returned them to the Promised Land.  They now have an opportunity to return to God and His Covenant.  In a purified Jerusalem, idolatry will be put out of the land and remembered no more.  False prophets will not live.  Those who have come out of the sins of idolatry and false prophecy will repent (4) and admit that they are herdsmen and workers rather than prophets.  The wounds (6) are probably the scars of sin, but may also be self-inflicted wounds that were part of pagan worship.  The house of friends is the pagan places of worship and the sins, which promised life and happiness, but delivered only sorrow and death.  When they bowed to the idols, the people thought they were honouring gods who were their friends, but all they got from the idols is wounds, both physical and spiritual.  Verses 7- 9 tell of the Lord’s judgement on those who desert the faith, and of His mercy on the third part, which He will keep for Himself.  They are the spiritual Israel.  Those who are outwardly Jews, but do not keep the faith are not the true Israel, and will not dwell in this purified, spiritual Jerusalem.

Zechariah 14

Zechariah closes his book with an apocalyptic vision of the future glory of Jerusalem.  The symbols and their meanings are not easily understood, but  we can see the vision begins with Jerusalem under attack by the Gentiles (2).  This time the attack is not caused by God’s anger and punishment for sin.  It is the result of evil intent and hatred toward Jerusalem by idolatrous and wicked  people.  Thus, the Lord goes forth to fight against the nations (3).  He stands on the Mount of Olives, which exists in the time of Zechariah, more than 500 years before Christ, and still existed in our Lord’s time.  God’s feet crush the mount and form a great valley (4).  The moving earth causes Jerusalem’s enemies to flee, leaving the land for the Jews.  The normal times of day and night are ended, and the city enjoys light, even during the hours once given to darkness.

Verse 10 describes the boundaries of Judah, which are similar to those during David’s reign.  The southern boundary is near Beersheba, the northern boundary is about ten miles north of Jerusalem.  It is a place of safety, never to see utter destruction again.  Former enemies will come to worship God in the city (16-18). Plagues and droughts will punish those who refuse to worship Him.

In battle, horses wore bells to add sound to their actions.  Thousands of archer armed chariots, accompanied by the sound of horses’ feet and the din of their bells  must have terrified infantry soldiers.  But in Jerusalem, the bells will have “Holiness unto the Lord” inscribed on them, and will not be used in battle again (20).  The pots are those used to boil the meat of the sacrifices.  Not all Old Testament sacrifices were completely burned on the altar.  Parts of some were boiled and given to the priests, and some were returned to the people who offered the sacrifice.  But here (21) the sacrifice appears to be offered by the Lord, and given to the people.  Canaanites often sold animals to the Jews for sacrifices.  Since God is the one offering the sacrifice, the Canaanites and their beasts are no longer needed.

Thus, Zechariah ends with Jerusalem in peace, and the Jews living in holiness unto the Lord.  It is not hard to see that the Jerusalem of this chapter is the spiritual Jerusalem as it will exist in the New Testament, and in the time of the fullness of the Day of the Lord, when all things are gathered into Christ.  The language is prosaic rather than literal, since we don’t literally expect to see Christ return as a giant whose foot flattens the Mount of Olives and the surrounding area.  But the image of Christ ruling the earth and bringing the nations into His Kingdom is absolutely consistent with the New Testament image of the Church, in which the distinctions between Jew and Gentile are passed away, and both are one in Christ.  The image of God making the sacrifice calls to mind the sacrificial death of Christ.  God feeding His people with the sacrifice reminds us that we feed on the spiritual food of Christ.  These images, combined with others in the book, many of which were quoted by our Lord Himself, make Zachariah one of the clearest presentations of Christ in the Old Testament.

November 21

Malachi 1, Acts 5:17
Mal. 2, 2 Tim 4


Malachi 1

It has been about a hundred years since the Temple was rebuilt and Zechariah wrote and preached about the glorification of Jerusalem and the destruction of her enemies.  Yet, Jerusalem is weak, impoverished, and ruled by the Persian Empire.  Where is the time of glory promised by Zechariah and the other prophets?  Why isn’t Jerusalem the capital of a world-wide empire, dwelling in wealth and peace?  And where is the era of righteousness?  It seems the Jews have fallen back into their old patterns of sin and unbelief.  They are discouraged, and resentful toward God, if they even believe in Him at all.  When God says, “I have loved you,” the Jews say, “wherein hast thou loved us?”  Where is Your love?  What good have you done for us?  Why are we still in poverty and danger, and why are we still under foreign rule?  They are saying two things here.  First, obviously God does not love them, because He has not given them wealth and security.  Second, if He does love them, His love is worthless, therefore they are justified in  having a casual attitude toward Him, and in looking to other gods for what He does not provide.   Clearly seen in their attitude is a spiritual arrogance that assumes they are entitled to God’s best because they worship Him and keep the ceremonial laws, at least, mostly.

God answers by first showing that He is sovereign in love.  He chooses whom He will love.  Thus, He loved Jacob and not Esau.  Second, the Jews are not worthy of His love, and any good they receive from Him is due to His grace, not their righteousness.  The priests do not honour God (6).  The offerings are polluted (7) because the worship is insincere (8).  Therefore, God is given the rejects and culls of their flocks, rather than the best.  It is possible that, when good animals are brought as sacrifices, the priests take them for themselves, and substitute blemished animals. Verse 10 seems to indicate that the peoples’ offerings and worship are merely attempts to manipulate Him.  They seem to believe their worship, obligates God to bless them with prosperity and preeminence over all other nations.  But God tells them the day is coming when the Gentiles they despise will offer incense and pure offerings that are far better than the Jews’ polluted offerings.  God is God.  He is the great King.  He is owed the very best of the best (14).  Why should He settle for leftovers and rejects?  This is what Israel has offered Him.  Thus, she is unworthy of His love.

Malachi 2

God warns the priests that polluted offerings are not accepted by Him.  Instead of earning His love, they earn His curse, as all sin does (2). He reminds them of His Covenant with Levi, in which they are pledged to serve God faithfully.  “But,” He says in verse 8, “ye are departed out of the way; ye have caused many to stumble at the law; ye have corrupted the covenant with Levi.”  These words remind us of God’s warnings to the shepherds of Israel through other prophets.  The shepherds misled the people, and God brought curses, rather than blessings on Israel.  God alone directs how He will be worshiped and served.  Men are to follow His directives, not make their own.  In a similar way, God gives His word to us,which we are to trust and obey.  We are not given authority to change it according to our whims and ideas of what God ought to say and do and require of us.

The treachery of the Jews is as active in their interpersonal relationships as in their relationship with God.  This is easily seen in the divorces among them.  Instead of marital fidelity unto death, people have become serial marriers, readily divorcing their wives (or husbands), and often marrying Gentile idolaters (13-16).

When they come to the Temple, and in their daily prayers, they recite the liturgies with precision, yet they neither understand nor care about the meaning of their words.  They say them, and return to their sins and bless evil and evil doers (17).  Since God has mercifully not struck them dead and cast them into hell, they think He does not see or care.  “Where is the God of judgement?” they say, meaning, He will not punish them if they do wicked and abusive things.   Therefore, their words weary the Lord.