Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thoughts on "assisted suicide"

The BBC News site has an open letter from one person in a wheelchair to another who is considering leaving life because it's not worth living. It's so saddening to think how we can make people feel so unwelcome that they'd rather die than hang around with our society.

From Resurrection to its Report

One big skeptical argument in recent decades that rejected the resurrection suggested that it was a myth that developed in the life of the community of those that followed Jesus after his death. However, Craig Blomberg summarises a recent article which sees both Evangelicals and Atheists arguing that convictions that Jesus had risen from the dead must originate within a year or two of his death. That doesn't leave enough time for a resurrection myth to develop. The Atheist argues it was a mass hallucination. The Evangelical argues it must have really happened.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Zechariah 14:12-21

One last aspect of Zechariah's hope has not been fulfilled—the willing submission of the nations to Yahweh's rule. Without this, these is no hope of permanent peace. And this is what the final passage brings. First, an apocalyptic battle is portrayed involving supernatural, flesh-rotting plague like something out of a horror Sci-Fi flick. This seems directed at the nations that immediately surround Jerusalem, removing them from the land and their attempts at acquiring what is devoted to God's people. Verses 13-14 draw attention to the collaboration of Jerusalem and Judah in contrast to the strife and turmoil within the camps of those nations. And all the other nations who joined in this apocalyptic battle will be subdued. They will pay homage in Jerusalem, owning the Feat of Booths as their own—expressing their allegiance and owning Israel's history. They stand under the covenant, it seems, for their disobedience receives the same withholding of rain that was incurred by the Israelites and that plagued the post-exilic community (cf Hagg 1:9-11). Even the land of Egypt that does not depend on rain will not be exempt, for they will be plagued if they rebel. And they will go to Jerusalem for it will finally be the city of priests. Unlike its sinful past so recurrent in Zechariah, it will be a city devoted to God such that even the most ordinary utensils will be suitable for temple sacrifices. Two final clauses are particularly poignant. That there will be no merchant means the rulers will finally care for the people, in contrast to the catastrophic mess of chapter 11. This is delightful hope. And yet... A pendent "On that day..." reminds the people that it remains, for now, only hope. They must await God's intervention, persuaded that the city of Jerusalem remains a valid locus of promise—the home of Yahweh, the covenant God.

We see a theology that will one day incorporate nations, though the role of the Jews will remain distinct. We see God reigning directly as King, though history testifies this did not extinguish hopes in a Messianic ruler. Rather, this section asserts the future lies wholly in the hands of God, and not in the political machinations of his people. "That day" remains Yahweh's day.

The great privilege of Gentiles like myself is to be incorporated into this eschatological reign—living with Christ as King and Lord, and saved from the horrifying judgment that is the fate of all who oppose God's possession of his creation. And to rejoice that God is purifying for himself a people who can dwell in his presence. But it is a day that I must wait for. Like Peter, I know that the day of judgment is coming and that any delay is only his patience (2 Pet 3). Like John, I take heart that every injustice will be righted on that day. But I remember that the only the Lamb is worthy to open the scroll by breaking the seals and unleashing eschatological judgment that will redeem his saints and bring his final justification (Revelation). Maranatha.

Zechariah 14:1-11

A strange salvation. For the beginning of the chapter has the people refuging in Jerusalem, but the city is taken and the the tragedy of exile relived. The key statement is the final clause of verse 2: the remnant will not leave the city. Rather, Yahweh will battle for them. For he will reconfigure the geography—splitting the Mount of Olives as the place of refuge and then departing his city to go with his people. Suddenly events are of the order of a new creation: there is no light from the heavenly beauties, only a permanent  light that recollects the first day of creation. And living waters flow from the city like an ANE mountain of the dwelling of God, bringing permanent life to the land. And Yahweh rules and he is king. He is known as the only God, in keeping with the Shema. And his city is raised up, subduing all the surrounding land so that his people can finally live in safety.

Here is the hope for the people. They must stick with Jerusalem. Despite the failure of the leadership. Despite their subjugation. God will save the remnant from Jerusalem. Unlike the message to Ezekiel, where the remnant in Jerusalem was lost, here God insists that in Jerusalem he will work salvation. And so the people are to remain devoted to it. (A sentiment known in the days of the Maccabees.)

And so the Son of God comes and heads determinedly to Jerusalem. The night before his triumph he goes to the Mount of Olives, present with his disciples. He has assured them that with faith as small as a mustard seed, God will provide the way of deliverance by casting the mountain even into the sea. And then he goes forth to battle, winning victory not by military might, but through an atoning sacrifice that defeats the powers of evil that ruled his people and prevented their faithfulness and his presence. And in Revelation the geographic recofiguration goes beyond merely raising and lowering mountains. A new Jerusalem descends from the heavens, from which flows a river of live that fills all the earth and nourishes abundant life. As the dwelling place of God with men, Jerusalem remains an important locus of hope. But when God comes incarnate, the geographic locale loses its importance.

Zechariah 13:2-9

Chapter 12 has brought hope and expectation, but it concluded with the repentance of the people for stabbing one closely identified with God. The nature of this problem is more fully revealed. It rests in false religion—idols and their associated prophets. These prophets have no place in God's eschatological kingdom. Their misleading work must end. We are reminded of the idols and false visions of 10:2. The interpretive dilemma is who the shepherd is that is struck. Most consider it the general leadership of Israel or specifically the worthless shepherd concluding chapter 11. I lean in this direction, particularly thinking of the problem of international control of Jerusalem. This false shepherd has been the source of idolatry—a government that fostered polytheism. Perhaps it was Zechariah's challenge to this authority that led to his assassination, particularly if he attempted reunification in chapter 11. And even once this bad leader is removed, the people must be refined and their idolatry removed. Some will be removed from the land entirely. Others will pass through fire that they may be pure. The picture is of severe cleansing. There is no easy participation in God's eschatological kingdom.

Before the people can be cleansed, their leadership must be reformed. And this will not be done merely by installing new leadership. The problem is more ingrained. A purifying of the scale of the exodus is required—God's judgment in its fullest severity.

And so in the New Testament Christ arrives as the promised King, but he cannot simply replace the existing leaders. The people's sin is too ingrained and the leadership is too entrenched. We have only one expectation. God must strike the shepherds and scatter the sheep of Israel. But at this very moment, expectation is inverted. For Jesus declares that he is the one to be struck and his people those who will be scattered. How can this be? It is because judgment is needed. Judgment of such severity that every sin must be removed. In light of Isaiah 53, it is necessary for the Servant to take the place of his people and so ensure their cleansing. Yet doom is also pronounced for Jerusalem's leaders, and their days are numbered. They are revealed as misleading the people, and they must be cast from the land for they share in the rebellion of their fathers (Matt 23). But even then, the refining process has only begun. Judgment has begun with the household of God, and his people live troubled lives in the furnace of refining. But God's intent is established and through the substitutionary work of Christ, the remnant's future is assured. One day we will call out "My God" and mean it with all our heart. For the Christian today, we remember that the fire of refining is for our benefit. God's desire for us is holiness (1 Thess 4).

UPDATE: I've been thinking. Zechariah might tell us more than I realise about why the king must die. Perhaps the shepherd must be struck because he stands in the way of God and his people. That seems the frustration of Zechariah 9-13. The great inversion in Jesus is that he is willing for this to happen! Jesus is the humble king of Zechariah 9. God will work salvation for him. And this is most evident in his submission to the point of death. The danger in taking this reading is treating it as THE interpretation of Christ's death, to the cost of its atoning work. This is the danger of pacifist readings of Christ's life like Yoder's. But his observations are still noteworthy. There is an entirely polity established in Christ that contridicts all our expectations.

Zechariah 12:1-13:1

A new oracle begins and portrays an eschatological intervention on behalf of Jerusalem and Judah. Yahweh is presented as the universal sovereign, forming earth and heaven and disposing the affairs of every human. As in chapter 9, there is the promise of Yahweh fighting on behalf of the people. Judah will be united with Jerusalem and will trust in it as a refuge, but in turn will be raised up to an equal position with its capital. But note the people are not merely humbled. They are clumsy. In fact, they are eventually portrayed as penitent. They have stabbed someone who may be identified with Yahweh himself. They have judged wrongly and only by Yahweh's intervention do they realise they were wrong. We think of Zechariah, who was rejected as their leader in chapter 11 and how again and again the fulfillment of his prophecy has been promised as the vindication of his message (2:8,11; 4:9; 6:15). How much more so given the conflict between experience and promise in this latter period of prophecy?

The passage is a clear declaration of God's faithfulness to his promises. Despite the message of the previous chapters, God's promises will be fulfilled. He will liberate his people from the nations which have lead them astray in unfaithfulness. He will bring them to repentance for rejecting his messenger. God will vindicate himself but also regain his people.

And so Christ comes as God's promised king yet is rejected by his own. But this doesn't thwart God's purposes but fulfill them. And on the day of Pentecost, the house of Israel, listening, hear Peter's accusation and mourn and seek salvation. And in so doing, God keep his promise to his people and saves a remnant as his very own. The people of Israel become the centre of the future kingdom of God. Remembering both their rejection and their repentance is important if we are to avoid anti-Semitic patterns in the history of the Church.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Zechariah 11

The previous chapters have been building to a climax. God is promising to remove external powers and to reunify Israel, even though this will take a divine intervention of the scale of the Exodus event.

And these expectations look like they will be fulfilled in the first 3 verses. The cedar evokes a majestic ruler—perhaps Babylon, though I'm more and more persuaded it may be Persia—and this means his subordinate rulers in Bashan and, more importantly, Jerusalem mourn their loss. While they are called shepherds, this strong association with a northern ruler supports the thought they are not faithful Israelite leaders. There's something wrong with them.

But where the whole game is revealed is in 11:4-11. Not only are the shepherds revealed to be self-interested and selfish just as in Ezekiel 34, but the people are described as 'sheep for slaughter'.With Ezekiel in mind they sound like victims . But turning to Jeremiah 12:3, the sheep of the slaughter are those marked for judgment because, in Jer 12:4, they defile the land. The problem introduced in the first half of Zechariah (Zech 6;8)! And in Zechariah the frustration with the shepherds quickly becomes frustration with the sheep. The people were supposed to be waiting for Yahweh's intervention, but neither they nor the people are at all willing to be led by the prophet Zechariah. And so, using imagery from Ezekiel 37, the hope of reunification is shattered. Yahweh was for the people. He was prepared to reunite them. But when the time came, they were unwilling despite his benevolent leadership and their leaders were rebellious, just like in the days of Jeremiah. In 11:12-16 we discover the contempt is even from the "buyers" (is this a shift in metaphor?) who pay a paltry amount for his shepherding—something Yahweh considers an assessment of his leadership. (Again, Jeremiah is evoked.) And so the people are abandoned. Worse, they are given poor leadership, manifest in a particular leader who is cursed even though he is God's chosen leader. The restoration promised in Ezekiel 36 HAS NOT COME. If it is to come, it is not through this political turmoil. Why? Because of the enduring rebellion of the people.

This message is not that surprising when we consider the wider message of Ezekiel, for there it was not just leadership that needed repairing, but the heart of the people. And Zechariah finds this problem is not resolved. Though the temple is built, though the people are returned to the land a remnant, the essential transformation to godliness has not yet happened. Contrary to many readings of these books, its concern is not merely re-establishing cultic activity but also the faithfulness to God that should accompany it.

New Testament implications generally are that the people of Christ's day are still expecting the exilic promises to be fulfilled. The return was not complete. Its fulfilment fell short (because of the people's sins). And so there is every context established for Jesus' coming. And yet, it is 30 pieces of silver that Jesus is sold for. Where the shepherd was paid in Zechariah, an ironic twist sees the shepherd sold 'like a sheep for slaughter.' Like Zechariah, the New Testament authors see a complex of expectations fulfilled as Christ is crucified. But important for our passage, their fulfilment witnesses to the rejection of God's chosen leader by the people and their leaders. Whatever solution Zechariah has in store must deal with an entrenched problem. For now, we are warned of the danger of rejecting God's shepherd. We also may exclude ourselves from receiving his promises.

Zechariah 10

Following on from the previous chapter, Yahweh calls on the people to ask for rain. But his intervention can only happen if the people stop following idols and divinations. And this can only happen with a change of leadership. I wonder, in the context of 9:1-8, whether we should be viewing this leadership as foreign—as the nations ruling Jerusalem. There's nothing here that suggests to me a priestly or Davidic shepherd, apart from the fact they are called shepherds. (That's a big exception, though.) Either way, the need is for Yahweh to intervene. And in so doing, he will restore the nation not merely by re-establishing his rule but by regathering the lost northern tribe. This intervention is of the scale of the Exodus—unsurprising given how the people have been scattered among the nations.

The big theological development is the magnitude of God's intervention to save his people. But that intervention strengthens the people—from among them comes his ruler. They are his agent of victory.

And that is what Christ is. Because in the gospels even the disciples prove unable to follow God until the end, only Christ can be God's agent of victory. But, through him, God gathers not only the lost people of Israel but even those who were not Israel—the Israel of faith. Through the preaching of the gospel, people are drawn into his kingdom. The condemnation of false leaders establishes a space between earthly rulers and the Christian community. Only Christ will rule as God intends. Any earthly rule must only be figurative and incomplete.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Zechariah 9

Entering this section raises the whole question of how the two halves of the book fit together. On this issue, I am reading the book as presented. There are enough linguistic connections and thematic connections between the two books, and specifically chapters 8 and 9, to justify reading them together. However I'm not going as far as seeing the concluding chapters as the answer to the delegation from Bethel. The event may set up a context, but the chapters establish quite a different trajectory in the end. The connection is ultimately by way of contrast.

Turning to this chapter, the first 8 verses have a particular rhetorical effect. The word against the northern cities and nations emphasises God's sovereign hand against them. I have to confess that the events of Alexander's conquest strongly reflect the picture of these verses, particularly with the emphasis on Tyre's fall and on Gaza's stubbornness. This puts the final part of verse 8 in strong contrast: Yahweh is for Jerusalem (and note the inclusio created by "eyes" in 1 and 8). In the following verses from this picture of Yahweh's sovereign care of Jerusalem develops a portrait of the people he cares for. First, an allusion to Zephaniah 3:14 introduces a humbled king. Are we to think of the long absent Zerubbabel now chastened and returning?? It evokes a picture where the king reigns in peace, but the peace is achieved by Yahweh's hand. (Note the passive in many places, which in context of Zephaniah implies Yahweh's hand.) 14-15a is central to the passage insists that Yahweh comes as the divine warrior to deliver his people—he will act to save. And the implication is that the saved people, like their king, will be humbled. For while victorious, it is a victory won to the honour of Yahweh. His saved people are for his glory, like  jewels of a crown. Their health shows his abundant provision of food and drink.

Theologically, this passage asserts Yahweh's sovereign action for his people, but also the humility that must result. The passage may have been written in the times of threat from the north during Nehemiah's days, or during the times of Alexander (or more likely, composited from prophecies during several periods). But without an explicit historical context, the passage portrays God's salvation and the humility that must necessarily result.

And so, not only does Jesus' entry as the humble king on the donkey befit the portrait of a king saved by the hand of Yahweh—one who submits to God even to death, knowing that his Father has the power to raise him even from the grave. But it also must characterise his people. Those who wait, not seeking their own justice but knowing their victory has been worked and will be effected by the hand of God. Thus our lives are to be to God's glory in this humility.

Zechariah 7-8

Well, if you though I had some strange ideas, here's where I go out on a limb. I reckon chapters 7-8 completes a chiastic structure, picking up the theme of repentance from 1:1-6. Within these chapters, I think Zechariah responds to a delegation from Bethel (7:1-3) by first questioning his contemporaries' motives for fasting (7:5-6), then recalling the prophecy Zechariah received in 1:1-6 (7:7-8a) which itself recollected the words of the former prophets (7:8b-10). But then Zechariah reminds them that their fathers did not obey and so were sent into exile (7:11-14). However, gracious words also came from Yahweh promising of a return and restoration (8:1-8 with allusions to Nah 1 and elsewhere). And so finally Yahweh applies those past promises to Zechariah's present audience—those who heard the words of the former prophets on the day the foundation of the temple was laid. They potentially stand in the era of God's presence—there is hope of prosperity and an end to the curse on the land if evil is removed and the temple completed (8:9-17, cf chapter 5). Thus, to directly answer their question, their feasts can recognise an end to exile, but they need to reflect on the truth and peace that Yahweh's presence should bring (8:18-19). This leads to two additional promises (which might be independent, but clearly seem implied to the editor by what has gone before) of all the peoples coming to Jerusalem (8:20-23).

The big picture? First, we see that the very jealousy that caused judgment in 1:1-6 is also the source of promise in 8:1-6. God seeks faithfulness because he is faithful. So opportunity is here. The curses can come to an end. If the people will heed Yahweh's words—particularly through the prophets—then the promised peace awaits. For those living in the territory of Judea (ie. Yehud, though the question originating from Bethel suggests even Samaria is being invited to submit to rule from the temple of Yahweh) they need to pursue righteousness and sincerely submit to God as he is taught from the temple, for that is what all nations will ultimately do.

The big theme in this chapter is the correlation between God's character, his saving activity and the character of those who are saved. There's no surprise that God's grace teaches us to say 'no' to ungodliness (Titus 2) because God's great kindness is expressed in holiness. God generously acts to save so that we will be his. The big NT debates about the meaning of πιστις (faith/faithfulness) in studies of books like Romans reflect a genuine interplay between the faithfulness God shows and the faithfulness he demands. That's how Hebrews 12 climaxes. And Hebrews 12 resolves the dilemma because it is the one who goes ahead of us in faithfulness and struggles with sin and sinners to the point of bloodshed who in turn enables us in our struggles with sin and sinners (cf Heb 2:18). If we claim to be saved by God, we expect a life that expresses that holiness. Only by the promise of the new covenant where God writes the law on our heart (cf Heb 8) by his Spirit can we live up to this high calling.

The other point of note if my reading is right is that once again the doctrine of Scripture's ongoing speech is important. And compared to Zechariah 1, it is the promise which continues to speak, not just the warning.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Thinking human rights

(Apology in advance. I'm still a bit fuzzy on this one.)

I've been toying with the thought of whether we should re-work the "human rights" discussion into a inter-relational, rather than individualist, framework. (Assuming Christians would argue the foundational component of society is relationship, not the individual nor the society as a whole.) So Christians would defend proselytisation as freedom to pursue agreement together and the freedom to differ.

The problem is, of course, that this inter-relational approach best fits a Christian viewpoint. We can advocate "freedom in relating to God" in place of "freedom of religion", but that's not what a Buddhist is even pursuing. It's not about relationship with God.

The value of the approach is that "rights" do immediately dictate the actions of the individual. They require certain manners of relating from a society, rather than insisting that particular individuals are always free to behave in a particular way without a view to the effect of their actions on others.

Probably lawyers will tell me it's unenforcable. And of course, any collection of rights will ultimately enter conflict. Whether it's worded as the "right to liberty" versus the "right to equality before the law" or the "right to relate" versus the "right to equality in relationship with officers and agents of the law".

Appalling sermon!!!

On Youtube, George Athas has posted an absolutely appalling sermon which will make the skin crawl of anyone with even a smattering of Hebrew. It hurts so much!!! Surely this guy can't be serious. Surely he's deliberately misleading people. Or is he simply that ignorant of Hebrew grammar?

Monday, November 10, 2008

A review of Con's latest aspect book

As I do last minute preparations for my New Testament 4 exam, it's a little scary but also encouraging to see a review of the approach to greek verbs we've been learning at college on someone else's blog. Scary, because it's the way I've been taught to think. Encouraging because his cricisms aren't too sever, and he's otherwise very encouraging. Mike's a great contributor on b-greek, which I follow. It's just good to see a careful critique of where things are at so that those of us learning his approach, especially regarding the perfect, are aware of reservations.

There's also a second part to the review, as well as the promise of a blog by Con on his book.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Zechariah, Micah and Zephaniah

Having worked through Zechariah recently, I've been struck by the allusions particularly to Micah. (Mind you, the prophet was very conscious of his predecessors and is a strong demonstration of the relevance of God's Word across generations.)

The allusions to Micah are striking within the book of the 12 because Micah is the final prophet to the united kingdom. Thus when his themes are appropriated in Zechariah 9–14 it is no small assertion and the hearer must ask how the hopes and expectations of Micah are to be appropriated in Zechariah's generation.

Here's the allusions that have struck me. I haven't found anyone else list them together and I wanted to see whether they have weight together.

AllusionMicahZechariah
The problem of false prophets and the people's faithfulness2:1113:2—6
Gathering of the scattered flock of Israel2:1210:6–12
Peoples streaming to Zion4:1–26:15; 8:20–23
Zion as the source of law4:27:2–8:19
Peace among the nations from the Davidide4:3–49:10
Sitting beneath a vine4:43:10
Nations that rejoice over fall of Israel4:10–132:1?
Reign to the ends of the earth5:49:10
Shepherd of the flock5:4–69:16; 10:2–3; 11:3–17
Israel scattered among the nations and brought out in judgement5:6–810:8–11

And since I came across them, some interesting words shared between Zephaniah and Zechariah.

Word or phraseZephaniahZechariah
Canaanites/traders1:11; 2:514:12
"Congealed" men1:1214:6
Fortress1:169:12 (not exactly same root)
The remnant's hand will not sink3:16(I forget what I was thinking)

I'm sure there's more, and I'm still forming my thoughts about the significance. And yes, some of the connections are more tenuous than others. I've been generous until I work out what I'm thinking.

Zechariah 6:9-15

The visions are ended. Here Zechariah is given explicit instructions about crowning Joshua the high priest in the presence of others. It's possible they're supporters of a Davidic rulership—perhaps the party that instigated rebellion under Zerubbabel though remember we're conjecturing. Multiple crowns are made, but only Joshua is crowned and one crown (or it might be two depending on whether you follow the noun or the verb) is placed in the temple as a reminder. But of what? Well, if the high priest is crowned 'a Branch' (note, not the branch) then the crown in the temple might be a reminder of his authority to those awaiting a Davidic ruler, and a reminder to the priests that their authority is temporary, just as they were told in chapter 3 when Joshua and his companions were symbolic men. Joshua will continue to build the temple, awaiting the return of Zerubbabel promised in chapter 4. Together they will complete the temple, but in the meantime the people are not to throw off Persian rule but accept it. The distant ones—the Persians—will help the building for now.

As we have begun to notice, there are major changes for the Judeans in the way they view their rulership. It is possible to build a house for God without the promised son of David! But he will be a priest-king. Yet all this is temporary. It awaits something more. Though the circumstances are strange, they are God's doing.

From these circumstances opens the possibility of a king and priest (also prefigured in Melchizedek—Psalm 110). Initially the two parties that opposed and supported Persian rule are to have counsel together, but ultimately their peace must come in one man who realises God's rule according to the Davidic line.

Zechariah 6:1-8

OK, I'm highly influenced by my lecturer on this one. First, we follow the Hebrew original in seeing the white horses following the black ones to the north. Second, we notice the connection with chapter 1. The horses represent God's powers at work through the world. And here, rest comes from the Northern land. Because in chapter 4 God's Spirit is at work through Zerubbabel and Joshua, we must ask whether here it acts independent of human agency. Or, does God's Spirit at rest in the north suggest that Yahweh is at work even through the powers of Persia as they go out, first to quell rebellion in the Babylon and Assyria (who would normally attack from the north) and then in Egypt. It would fit with the general picture that claims God has brought peace in a historical context where the Persians are still ruling (better than ever, in fact). If so, this passage sanctions the Persian rule, even as the heart of the vision insists that Joshua and Zerubbabel will complete the work.

The Yehudites are being told that God is at work through the power of a foreign force. This is revolutionary. No longer are they to strive for independence as part of the realisation of the temple. This may only be a temporary measure—Zerubbabel still lurks in the background—but it is still astounding.

And in the New Testament, God can be at work even in human authorities, so that Timothy is to pray for them (1 Tim 2). Realising the Kingdom of God is not the defeat of human powers when Christ comes, but nor is it denying the reign of his chosen king. Rather, we wait in hope knowing that all things work to our good (Rom 8).

Zechariah 5:5-11

Continuing the picture of 1-4, wickedness is now removed from the land. Thus where the first promised the destruction of individuals who did evil, now the picture is of a more general cleansing of the land. Of course, this introduces ambiguity. Are the people involved? But I don't think that's the emphasis, particularly because wickedness is given a "resting place" (often used for the temple) in the vicinity of Babylon. It seems that evil is given a new home. Given God's attitude to evil, this also guarantees his opposition to Babylon, as was already expressed in the 2nd and 3rd events in the vision. Evil is powerful—it needs to be restrained. But the angel of Yahweh is able to do it.

Where the previous picture was of God's standards imposed on the land, here is assurance that God will act to ensure the cleansing. The land will not be left polluted so God will live among his people and will make it happen.

Where we observed the need for holiness, now we observe God's ability to guarantee it. He demonstrated his ability in judgment through the exile to these people. Will he demonstrate it in some other way now? The details are not spelt out. But it sets up not only a realm of his holiness, but a conflict with another realm where evil dwells. Similarly, Paul speaks of being delivered from the dominion of Satan and delivered into the kingdom of the Son whom God loves (Col 1:13-14). Here is the Bible's form of duality. Satan is under God's control and his defeat is certain. With Christ's coming, the divide between the world that opposes Christ and Christ who is the holy one of God becomes stark. And it is only in his mercy that some are delivered from judgment to be counted holy in Christ and are ensured of being conformed to his image.

Zechariah 5:1-4

In this vision, a scroll goes out carrying a curse on those that swear by Yahweh's holy name falsely and those that steal. These are problems back in Hosea 4, so if we're thinking of Zechariah within the book of the 12 minor prophets, these are the problems that first brough his condemnation. Thus we might see them as summarising the prophetic warnings, even if they also evoke the requirements of the Decalogue. (Though we need to work out if the scroll is double sided.) Historically, there's also evidence that Darius encouraged local provinces to codify their laws as early as 519BC. This would fit our time period fairly well, though I think it's more relevant in chapter 7. Here, the clear message is that with God's presence in the land, evil must go. Reference to the "curse" does evoke Isaiah 24:6 and Jeremiah 23:10 and thereby Isaiah 24:6.

God's presence in the land requires holiness. As in the days of the exile, so now.

Thus holiness characterises God's people for, without it no one will see God (Hebrews 12). That's why God disciplines us. And we must be warned that on the day of Christ's return, every evil doer will be cast into hell (Rev 20). But that isn't to say that we can be holy enough on our own. We long for one who can make us holy by his death for us.

Zechariah 4

Many commentators point out that 6b-10c feel like an editorial insertion. The whole thing would read smoother without them. And I think they're right. But what I disagree with is what they then do—remove it. There is a basic skepticism toward the editor in Biblical studies. But why? How can people get away with such wholesale editing—especially such blatantly obvious editing—unless everyone considered it complemented, and perhaps expanded, what was already said by the text.

So, how do I understand this chapter? Let's start without our contentious insertion. The picture is of a lampstand that is fed by two trees. We are explicitly told that the two trees are the anointed ones standing before the Lord of the earth. In the Jewish thought world of the time, the two anointed ones can only be the king and the priest. And they have been present ever since Haggai. Of the options for the meaning of the lamp, the most natural would be to see it as representing the temple. It's almost a conglomeration of temple implements stacked one on another. Thus Zerubbabel and Joshua will enable the temple because they stand before God himself. In a very subtle way this passage insists that they will build the temple.

Insert 6b-10c and this only becomes more explicit. The message is directed to Zerubbabel. Why? Because he's notably absent up until this point. But perhaps at a later time Zerubbabel returned from a temporary exile (as part of Darius' clean up of the area) and this prophecy insisted he would rebuild the temple. But it says more. It says this is possible only because he is God's agent. Not by political strength except as the agent of God's Spirit. Within this series of visions, this is a natural fit. God superintended all that happened to Israel at the hand of the Persians in order that his temple be built. And God has done it by the hands of Joshua and Zerubbabel. But no one dare mention Zerubbabel while he's in the lockup in case they also are accused of insurrection.

The original passage emphasises God's intention to build his temple, and to do it by the hand of his servants Zerubbabel and Joshua. If the people want God's presence, it is realised through these two roles. This is a development compared to 2 Samuel 7 where the emphasis is clearly on the King. But in Zechariah's day, the priest is brought into greater prominence as an entirely appropriate person to direct the building of God's temple. This doesn't conflict with Israel's past for it was Moses, the prophet, who was God's agent for constructing the tabernacle. And the priests are prominent in Josiah's day in enabling the rebuilding, though Josiah is primary. But in Zechariah's circumstances, the priest must step forward without reducing the emphasis on the king's importance. And so the insertion reinforces that it will be the king, but by God's Spirit. This is why the king is so important to rebuilding.

And so in the New Testament, we find the priest-king who possesses God's Spirit in accordance with Isaiah (cf Matt 12). He is the agent of God's presence in a way unimaginable in the days of Zechariah.

Zechariah 3:1-10

Against a lot of commentators that see this as an affirmation of Joshua's intercessory role as high priest, having been cleansed from sin, I wonder if this isn't an affirmation of his role as king within the community at that time. The "Satan" may be a party of accusers sent from Persia because Zeruabbabel has overstepped his authority and Persia has intervened. But Joshua is assured that if he is in any way implicated in Zerubbabel's guilt, the accusations will not stick. I think this particularly makes sense of Joshua's turban (which many commentators seem to think is a royal turban) and his "men of signs" (v.8) who point to the promised Davidic king—the Branch. I take the stone to be full of eyes and to compare with the "eyes" sent from Persia to watch Jerusalem. But Yahweh has his own "eyes" keeping watch and that ensures that he will ultimately remove their guilt.

(I should clarify. I'm open to the thought that the passage leans heavily on Joshua's role as intercessor and couches a lot in terms of his priestly role. But several times the imagery seems "bent" toward a kingly claim—and the sudden mention of the Branch means some commentators try to move it to the next chapter. Rather, this is carefully presented imagery to affirm Joshua's ability to rule while Zerubbabel is apparently absent, while not suggesting he replaces the promised Davidic king.

Obviously, the presence of a "priest-king" would point us toward Jesus. He is ultimately the promised Branch. But also, the imagery of the accuser is taken further in the NT to assure us that no one can bring an accusation against God's chosen people (Rom 8).

Zechariah 2:1-12 [2:5-17 Heb]

Jerusalem doesn't need a wall. Their security lies in God's presence, for he will be a wall of fire around them. Implication: don't build a wall and repel Persia, build a temple and allow the sovereign God to protect you. This is good news for the surrounding country (the open lands referred to in v.8) as well. v.10-17 seems to be a separate song and I think 14-17 leans heavily on Zephaniah 3 (especially 8-9, 14-15). This reaffirms what the prophets promised before exile, provided the people look to Yahweh and align with him (ie. they build the temple so his presence is manifest in their midst).

Again, the nations are in view, but here it emphasises their being gathered to Jerusalem. Despite its insignificance, and worse its apparent weakness before Persia, their God—Yahweh—is asserted as sovereign of all the earth. Even in their weak and hidden state, God is in control.

The hiddenness of God's sovereignty is seen clearly in Jesus' death (the disciples' prayer in Acts 4) and teaches us to turn to Christ despite his being humiliating in the world's eyes (1 Cor 1).

Zechariah 1:18-21 [2:1-4 Heb]

This brief part of the vision seems to declare God's judgment on those that scattered Israel—implicitly Babylon and Assyria. I think the best reading is to see this as asserting God's sovereignty over the action of Darius in quelling rebellion. If the Persians were Babylon's punishment, Zechariah insists they will not escape but God has sent his workers to bring an end to their rebellion.

Thus Darius is an agent of God's vengeance, immediately reminding me of the role of all government as the agent of God's justice (in a limited sense) at present (Rom 13).

Zechariah 1:7-17

The first section of Zechariah's overnight vision, we first note this vision still has the authority of God's word. The means of God's self-revelation does not dilute its authority. Rather, the presence of mediators seems to impress upon the people their distance from God. And yet God remains sovereign. The horses seem related to the troops of Persia—the present rulers—which have brought peace after the succession of Darius and his efforts at quelling uprisings.

The effect of this passage is to affirm that Jerusalem is still the centre of God's interests, but that he is working out his purposes through the powers of Persia. Yet there is still a longing for Jerusalem's restoration. This is assured by Yahweh's love for them, not the evident power of Yehud (the territory around Jerusalem at that time). There is also the possibility that Zerubbabel has tried to exert political power or claim too much for his rule, and so Darius has intervened. In that case, the expression of God's compassion and consoling is because he still loves Jerusalem, despite their present circumstances.

Moving into the New Testament, we discover God's self-revelation not in a final and authoritative prophetic voice alone, but in something more substantial. The mediator who is his Son, and who, by knowing him, we know the Father. Thus Christian Scripture accomodates far more than just the prophetic word (cf Islam). The rebuke of Zerubbabel if he ran ahead of his humble circumstances could speak to Christians who wish to act like they rule with Christ now, not appreciating the humbled reign of Christ while he was here on earth and his humility in heaven now. Finally, note how being at the centre of God's purposes is predicated on his love, and not our efforts.

Thoughts on Zechariah 1:1-6

OK, you're now the victims of my study. I need to work through Zechariah and provide a theological and pastoral reflection for each. This is going to be pretty rough, but I figure it's a good way to "get things on paper".

So, Zechariah 1:1-6. I reckon this is a call for Zechariah's generation to remember the reality of the exile and realise they must repent. In his context, that means building the temple. (Haggai sits right before this chapter.) Within his rhetoric, he sees the vindication of the former prophets in that what they said came to pass, and so their ethical code belongs to today. And most central to that code is faithfulness to Yahweh.

There's some great reflection here about the ongoing voice of God's word (just like in Deuteronomy 5 where the commandments spoken at Sinai are seen as spoken to their children). But there is also the warning of not repenting—the warnings of God have an expiry date. His patience extends only so long.

In the new testament, we find all Scripture useful for rebuke and correction (2 Tim 3:16), including messages to the people of Israel long ago. And we are warned that God is patient, but his patience has a limit. God is longsuffering because he wants us to repent (2 Peter) but there is a day of reckoning (2 Peter 3).

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Studies in Pooh

Ok, so I'm a geek. But I found this treatment of Pooh Bear in the tradition of Driver, Sanders, von Rad and other OT big-wigs entertaining. And yes, I should be studying but I promise I didn't go searching for it.