November 28, 2006

Zechariah 8

NOTE: So, I've been taking some courses through the local Mennonite conference. I really dig it. For my current Hermeneutics course, I had to write what is below. I think I'm going to start posting my stuff for the classes I'm taking. I didn't really spend much time in college (didn't even finish undergrad stuff) This is all kind of new to me and I need to get more feedback on how to improve in writing, thinking, etc. if I'm going to take school seriously in the near future. Brooke and I are talking more and more seriously about figuring out a way to make school happen for me-as in going to a theological institution to pursue a degree. We have put seriously talking about it on the shelf since we lost Zion. We're ready for however it might change our lives now. Anyways, your input is appreciated:


Analysis

The eighth chapter of Zechariah is a Scripture passage of hope. The format is a retelling of a prophetic message received by the author and retold to an audience. The author is repetitious of the fact that this is a message from ???the Lord Almighty,??? God-of-all-things. In this message, God reflects on the past and shares the future of his people.


The first concept within this passage that I struggled with is offered in verse 2: ???I am very jealous for Zion; I am burning with jealousy for her.??? Why does God need to be jealous? It is a term that has always struck me as a sign of immaturity. Additionally, a common conception is that God???s jealousy commonly results in violence. But looking at multiple passages using this phrase revealed a correlating element of God???s character that I was surprised by. In the majority of Old Testament passages where God refers to himself, or is referred to, as jealous the result of said jealousy is not violence but compassion and mercy.1 Overwhelmingly, the content surrounding this term conveys God???s jealousy not as that of an enraged lover but that of a Father that is incredibly passionate of protecting of his children.


This one verse makes evident the common boundaries that stand between the reader within the 21st century and the ancient texts of Scripture. Our cultural context can often skew the intent of the text. And this wasn???t the only instance within this particular reading. In verse 6 God says this, ???It may seem marvelous to the remnant of this people at that time, but will it seem marvelous to me???? Is God bragging? Is he boasting? Why would the Creator of the universe need to brag as a middle-age man boasting of his glory years as a high school quarterback? ???You think that was an impossible touch-down?! Hah!,??? as his beer gut shakes, ???Maybe for you??? but for me?!???


Once again, a careful reading of other passages where God is posing a seemingly boastful, rhetorical question reveals something different.2 The earlier readers, or more likely listeners, may have heard a different tone. It is possible that these recipients may have heard a confident, yes, but comforting tone in this question. ???I know this seems impossible. But it???s me, Dad. Trust me. I???ll carry you through this. Don???t you think I can take care of you????


Not much further into this chapter I found another term, which I struggled with. But this time it was not the differing frameworks of cultural and relational norms but that of contemporary religiosity. Verse 10 says, ???Before that time there were no wages for man or beast.??? There is another passage in Scripture that I instantly recalled after reading this: ???For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.???3 From a routine hearing of the term wages in a religious context as equal to sin and eternal damnation I assumed that this verse dealt directly with punishment. ???Why did the people of God not experience judgment of any kind? Is the writer referring to a time before the fall as told in the book of Genesis???? Unfortunately, the over-zealousness of my Sunday school teachers clouded my understanding of this word in its context. This time, I looked the word up in a dictionary and concordance. In this context the word wages was clearly being used to imply a lack of available work and, due to this, the lack of income.4


After coming to a better understanding of the use of these words I wanted to look at the text surrounding the word wages in particular:

???This is what the Lord Almighty says: ???You who now hear these words spoken by the prophets who were there when the foundation was laid for the house of the Lord Almighty, let you hands be strong so that the temple may be built. Before that time there were no wages for man or beast. No one could go about his business safely because of his enemy, for I had turned every man against his neighbor. But now I will not deal with the remnant of this people as I did in the past,??? declares the Lord Almighty.???5


After gathering some understanding of what God???s tone might have been, as I stated above, I re-read this passage and found myself asking a different set of questions. ??????You who now hear these words spoken by the prophets who were there when the foundation was laid?????? If this is now, how long ago was then? Initially, I assumed that the foundation to the temple must have been laid several decades before. How else could one explain for the fact that there were clearly some, if not many, who were not present during the foundation work? After reading several study tools I discovered that the writing of this passage and the laying of the foundation could have been less than a decade a part from each other to almost 50 years in difference.6 Ten years and fifty years is a large disparity and could account for several different sociological realities. Overall, the text to this point in my reading had conveyed a God stirring hope into his people. It didn???t seem to make sense that he would now drudge up painful memories of the past.


While the term ???the Lord Almighty??? riddles the whole chapter, another commonly used term is remnant. The term implies small, meager numbers making up the current representation of the people of God. But depending on the time elapsed between the laying of the temple foundation and this prophetic message the difference between who had experienced the foundation laying ceremonies and who hadn???t could mean a two different realities.


Let???s say that the foundation was laid and this prophecy was delivered 50 years later. Those that could recall the time would have aged considerably. Most would have lost spouses, family members and friends. Zechariah???s message could be perceived such as th
is, ???Remember how bad it was before you laid the temple foundation? And now fifty years has gone by since you heard from me. Yes, the temple foundation was laid, but not much more has been done. And there aren???t even that many of you left, are there???? But if the prophecy was delivered within ten years of the foundation being laid, it could be received much differently, ???Remember how bad it was before you laid the temple foundation? And now ten years has gone by and so many exiles have returned, the community has grown so much that few of you were even here when that happened! The foundation is laid, people are getting jobs, and crime is down??? We???re building steam, people! Don???t give up now. Things are looking up!???


I don???t want to imply that this was some kind of heavenly pep talk. This it was not. But my pre-conceived notions of judgment and vindictiveness in the nature of the Old Testament God were washed away through comparison of the chosen text to other similar texts as well as placing the text within its historical context and becoming aware of by own assumptions that resulted from my context. The theme of chapter eight changes considerably. The theme as I said initially is one of hope. God conveys to his people that he is coming back to Zion, Jerusalem, to rule and reign amidst his people once more. God???s presence will bring prosperity and provision back to his people, to the point that other nations will become desirous of participating in God???s kingdom, which is governed by an ethic of truth and balance for all participants.


Interpretation

The God-who rules and reigns over all things-has once again given me a message for everyone. This is what he told me:


???I am consumed with your best interest, Zion. I desire nothing but to take care of you the way that I know only I can. I???m coming home to Zion, so I can be with you, right there in Jerusalem. And when I get there, I have a plan: this place will be known as a City of Truth and our landmark mountain will be set apart from all other mountain tops as sacred, respected by everyone.


Listen to this; once again the old folks will be able to sit in the city park with their canes in hand, healthy and safe. And they???ll sit back and watch the children laughing and playing??? this will be a good city to raise a family in.


Listen, I know it seems crazy. I know you look around and say, ???This city!???? But do you think this is too much for me to accomplish?


Do I have your attention? You don???t want to miss this??? I???m bringing back the exiles from all over. I???m bringing them home to you right here in Jerusalem. We will be a family again. You will be my children and I will be your Father. I don???t break my word. If I???m telling you this, I mean it.


Pay attention here; those of you that were here when the foundation was laid for the Temple, do you remember how bad it was before then? No one could find work? Crime was everywhere! You would think I turned each of you on each other it was so bad! But get your chin up! Look how many exiles have already returned. People are getting jobs. Crime is down. Things are getting better already. Forget about yesterday??? this is now! Are you hearing what I???m saying!?


And that???s not it! The soil's ready, your seeds are going to take root this year, your plants will bear good crops and you will have a great harvest. What I mean is, we???re getting a good rainy season this year! I???m giving all this to you, my children.


You???ve been cussed at and slandered by everyone around you, Judah and Israel??? but not anymore. With the blessing I am giving you, you will now be a blessing to all those that cursed you. Be strong. I know you???ve been bullied far too long. Don???t be afraid. I???ll be right here next to you.


Listen to this; it was hard for me to have sympathy with the way your parents ran this city. They got what they had coming. But Jerusalem, Judah, don???t be scared. You are still my children and I will do good by you. But you need to speak truthfully with each other and in the courts. No more of the insidious behavior of the past. I hate that stuff!


But keep paying attention here, the fasting years, those years of mourning are going to turn into years of festivals and parties all year long. Times to celebrate truth and peace.


Listen to me, people will come from other cities to find out what you and I have done to this city. Even leaders from powerful nations will come to see what I have done here.


I want you to hear me when I say this; The day is coming when ten men from all over the world will grab the sleeve of any citizen of this city and say, ???Can we move into your town? Because we know that God must be with you.??? That???s how good it???s going to get.



1 Joel 2.18; Zechariah 1.14; Isaiah 26.11; Exodus 20.5; etc.

2 Jeremiah 32.17, 27; Genesis 18.14

3 Romans 6.23

4 Strong???s Concordance of the Bible, Nelson Publishing 1985

5 Zechariah 8.9-11

6 Unger, Merrill Unger???s Bible Handbook, Moody Press 1992 and The New International Study Bible, Zondervan Publishing House 1985

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