Saturday, November 15, 2008

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.

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