The book of Zechariah is often neglected by Christians because of its complicated yet amazing visions that are found in it. The book immediately dives into eight consecutive visions and concludes with complicated visual prophecies. The problem is further exacerbated by the fact that we can struggle with seeing any relevance or practical application to our lives in the 21st century. So we need to get a handle on this book so that we can appreciate its messages and see its timeliness for us today.
The background and context of Zechariah is important for us to understand. Recently we looked at the book of Ezra and saw in the first four chapters of Ezra that the people stopped working on the temple because of government resistance. They spent their time working on their own homes rather than working on the Lord’s house. Ezra 5 records two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, being sent by God to stir the people up to do God’s work. We recently looked at the prophecy of Haggai where Haggai told the people that God was holding back his blessings on them because they were not putting God and his work first. Haggai told the people not to be discouraged by the work on this present temple because the future glory would be greater than that of the past. Zechariah begins his prophecies two months after Haggai started his prophecies. His role in these visions is not to confuse or terrify the people. We should not come to this book fearful of what we will read nor afraid from what we did read. This book is a message of hope. This book gives pictures of God’s work for his people. The imagery is given to encourage the people to return to him and do the work God has placed in their hands.
This is why this book is so relevant for us today. All of us need messages of hope, encouraging us to draw near to God and press on with him even in our hardships. The book gives pictures of what God is doing for his people when we return to him and lift up our hands to the spiritual work before us. But not only this, most of the pictures that are given did not find their immediate fulfillment with the people who heard Zechariah’s words. Rather, Zechariah was giving pictures of what God would do in the future when the Christ came. Zechariah was showing what God’s people would experience when Christ comes in his kingdom. This means that these pictures are describing what God is doing for us today since Christ has come and belong to his kingdom now. So with these things in mind let us approach the first chapter of Zechariah and consider how God was encouraging his people to return to him and do the work.
Learn From The Past (1:1-6)
The prophecy begins with Zechariah calling for the people to learn from the past. Zechariah reminds the people in verse 2 that the Lord was angry with their parents and God sent prophets calling for the people to return to the Lord. If the people would return to the Lord, then the Lord would return to them, caring for them and blessing them. However, verse 4 reveals that though the prophets called for the people to return to the Lord, the people did not listen. So what happened? Their ancestors perished and God’s word proved to be true (1:5-6). We cannot outrun God’s judgments. God’s word always comes true. Eventually, God’s word overtakes us and we will receive exactly as God promised. In verse 6 we see that the people listened, unlike their ancestors, and they repented.
So the first message is very simple. Learn from the past. Learn from what your parents did and how God kept his word just as he said. God said there would be judgment for not return to him and seeking him. That word proved true. We have so many accounts of God pronouncing judgment and seeing God’s word come true. From Noah’s flood, to Sodom and Gomorrah, to Israel, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome and many others. We know God’s word is true. But here is what I love. This is not the end of the prophecy. God’s message is not that he judges so you better to return to him while you can. I think there have been far too many messages in the history of the church that have simply boiled down to judgment is coming so you better return to the Lord before it is too late. This is not all that God has to say. Rather, God is now going to spend the rest of this book, 14 chapters by our counting today, giving the reasons why you would want to return to him. This whole book is God’s invitation to come back to him and do the work that has been given to you to do. This whole book is an encouragement to you to want to come back to him. This is our study lens for this book. So let us look at the first two visions found in chapter 1 which tell us why we should want to return to the Lord and return to the work.
God Has Not Forgotten You (1:7-21)
In the first vision Zechariah sees a man riding on a red horse standing among myrtle trees. He also sees red, brown, and white horses behind him. Zechariah wants to know what these things mean and the angel says that he will show it to him (1:9). These are the ones the Lord has sent to patrol the earth. They have patrolled the earth and all is still and quiet (1:10-11). Now you would think that the report of peace would be a good thing. However, this message compels the angel to cry out to the Lord, “How long will have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which you have been angry these seventy years?” To Israel, this is not a good answer. How long until God will do something? How long until he will restore his people and restore his nation? Why isn’t God doing something? A nation that is under attack or under subjugation does not see the nations of the world being at rest as a good thing. The nation wants action. Someone do something. This is what the angel is doing, pleading on Israel’s behalf. Lord, you need to do something. Has God forgotten his people after all of this time? We can feel the same way as we look around the world and see all the wickedness, yet nothing seems to happen. The nations are quiet and still and there appears to be nothing happening against the wicked.
But the Lord responds with gracious and comforting words (1:13). God is extremely jealous for his people and is angry with the nations. The nations went too far in their destruction of Jerusalem and the people. What a thought that we must consider with our Lord. He is extremely jealous for his people. He has a burning passion for his people. Think about how we are jealous for our family and it invokes a response within us to see them harm, mistreated, or injured. This is what God is saying about us, his people. He is extremely jealous for his people and he is going to act. Verse 16 tells us what God is going to do. God will return to Jerusalem with mercy and his temple will be rebuilt. Further, God’s cities will overflow with prosperity and God will comfort and choose his people. Even after all of this time going by, God did not forget his people or his promises. God was not blind to his people’s hardships. He cared about what was happening to his people and he was going to do something about it, on his own timeline and schedule.
We can struggle in our lives with this picture. We can be like the angel and wonder when God is going to show mercy toward his people. Has God forgotten us when we are in suffering and pain? The answer is no. God has not forgotten. God is jealous for you. God is speaking comforting and gracious words to you. At the right time God will bring mercy to his people, given them comfort and showing that he has chosen them. It is a wonderful picture that we can forget as we wait for God to judge the wicked and vindicate those who trust in him.
The second vision found in verses 18-21 furthers the image. The horns that have scattered God’s people are going to be terrified and cast down by the Lord. God sees our enemies. God sees our obstacles. God sees our hardships. God will act for his people. God will scatter your enemies. God is always telling us that vengeance belongs to him and he will repay (Romans 12:19). God has not forgotten you. He will deal with your enemies.
Return To the Lord
So let us consider some of the reasons God gives for why we should desire to return to him. First, it is not too late to return to the Lord. The Lord was angry with his people for 70 years. Yet even still, the people were called to return him. It was not too late to return to him. It did not matter that their actions were deserving of God’s wrath, the people could still return to the Lord and the Lord would return to them. You can mess up your whole life and God will still receive you when you come to him. You can have full restoration. God will return to you.
Second, return because God is extremely jealous for you. God wants you back. No matter what has happened, what you have experienced, or what you have done, God wants you back. Yet again the scriptures repeatedly give this picture. Perhaps one of our favorite pictures is in Luke 15 with the parable of lost things. The woman tears up the house looking for the lost coin. The shepherd leaves the 99 sheep to search for one lost sheep. The father of the house is watching for his lost son to return to his house. The reason is that God is jealous for his people. He desperately wants you to be with him. He wants your salvation.
Third, return to the Lord because he will bring comfort, healing, and mercy on his timeline. This is the call of faith to trust that God will help us and give us the mercy we need at just the right time. As we consider the book of Job and all that he went through, God’s mercy and comfort did not come until much later. We would want his mercy to come at chapter 3 or chapter 9 or chapter 22. But it does not come until chapter 42. So as all that time goes by we can feel like God has forgotten us. We can think that he does not see our condition and has forgotten that we need his help. But the comfort and healing we need is not when we think it is best but when God thinks it is best. As God is accomplishing has purposes through people and nations we have faith that God will intervene at just the right time for his people.
Please think about this picture in Zechariah 1. The horses are sent out to patrol the earth and report what is going on in the world. All appears to be at peace which means that God does not seem to be doing anything. But God knew all that was happening on the earth. The angel seems to challenge the Lord. When are you going to comfort your people? When are you going to show mercy? God answers with comforting words. God is going to act. Just wait for it. I cannot tell you how often in my life and in the lives of others I have seen this truth. We can feel so forgotten by God. But we just need to wait on the Lord in faith, looking for his comfort and mercy at the time we need it most. God has not forgotten his people. God has not forgotten you.