Thursday, November 13, 2008

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.

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