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.

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