Summary: God is a sovereign God whose plans are trustworthy
This sermon is by David Bassett rather than Chris Appleby
Today we begin a new series of sermons looking at the book of Zechariah.
My aim today is to give an overview of the setting of the book and some of the major themes. Then to look at the introduction in chapter 1.
To start, we need a quick thumb nail sketch of some of the history of Israel and in particular the Southern kingdom of Judah.
The prophet Jeremiah, after prophesying the destruction of Judah by the Babylonians, sits and laments what has befallen the pride of Israel, the city of Jerusalem. Listen to the start of his lament: -
1 How lonely sits the city
that once was full of people!
How like a widow she has become,
she that was great among the nations!
She that was a princess among the provinces
has become a vassal.
2 She weeps bitterly in the night,
with tears on her cheeks;
among all her lovers
she has no one to comfort her;
all her friends have dealt treacherously with her,
they have become her enemies.
3 Judah has gone into exile with suffering
and hard servitude;
she lives now among the nations,
and finds no resting place;
her pursuers have all overtaken her
in the midst of her distress.
4 The roads to Zion mourn,
for no one comes to the festivals;
all her gates are desolate,
her priests groan;
her young girls grieve,
and her lot is bitter.
5 Her foes have become the masters,
her enemies prosper,
because the LORD has made her suffer
for the multitude of her transgressions;
her children have gone away,
captives before the foe.
The rebellion and ignoring of God and his prophets had resulted in Judah being punished by the hand of Babylon. This exile was to last 70 years.
And God begins to fulfil his promise of restoring Israel not in Israel itself, but by another nation altogether. It is through Cyrus the Medes. Cyrus captured Babylon in 539 BC and founded the Persian Empire.
The Bible records this victory as divinely determined by God with the purpose of effecting the return of the Jews from captivity. A sovereign God who rules over all! Cyrus allowed religious freedom within his empire and in 538 BC decreed the return of the Jews to Judah.
In 537 BC the first group of Jews returned to Jerusalem and the following year they began work on the temple.
However, just when things seem to be going well, infighting, arguments with the Samaritans and others caused the work on the temple to stop.
In this setting, the returned exiles lost their vision and their spiritual purpose. Instead they concentrated on their own comfort, their own homes.
16 years later, 2 prophets begin to speak to this people.
The prophet Haggai with a call for the people to get their priorities right and rebuild God’s temple.
The prophet Zechariah who calls the people to sincere repentance and gives them a message of hope.
In 515 BC the temple was completed.
At the time of Zechariah beginning to write, on the world scene, Darius is the Persian ruler with a firm control over the empire that included Persia, Mesopotamia, Palestine, Egypt and Asia Minor. Zechariah describes this as "All the earth is peaceful and quiet." (1:11)
However, in Judah the conditions are disheartening: -
The temple unbuilt
The city walls in ruins
and adversity from attaching tribes
no sign of God’s blessing.
It is to such a despairing people that Zechariah offered a message of messianic hope and promise.
There is a two fold purpose of Zechariah’s message
First – to encourage the exiles to repent and return to God
Second – to comfort and encourage the exiles.
There is a new beginning.
The exiles have returned.
Yet, there is a history.
There is a reason why there was an exile.
And there is God speaking his words through his prophet Zechariah.
Chapter 1 v 2: The Lord was very angry with your ancestors. Therefore say to them, Thus says the LORD of hosts: Return to me, says the LORD of hosts, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. Do not be like your ancestors, to whom the former prophets proclaimed, "Thus says the LORD of hosts, Return from your evil ways and from your evil deeds." But they did not hear or heed me, says the LORD. (1:2-4)
There is a warning to the returned exiles not to fall into the trap of their ancestors. A warning not to ignore God and his laws, a warning not to be cold of heart.
This first oracle of God in Zechariah, a prophet who brings encouragement and hope, this first utterance from God begins with a stern warning. A reminder of the anger of God. No mincing of words. No niceties, but a clear picture of this sovereign God who is restoring his people.