Saturday, 19 January 2019

Zechariah 11:1-5 - Shepherds

 This passage is quite difficult to interpret. It can be seen as a taunting of the nations, or it can be seen as a literal destruction of the Syro-Palestinian land, and this seems to be the favoured interpretation. The whole message of the chapters around this is that the leaders (the shepherds) of Israel have failed her, but that the Lord Himself would become her shepherd and then salvation would come. The supreme failure of Israel’s leaders was their rejection of the Messiah when He came. Soon after that Rome destroyed Jerusalem and the temple in AD70.

 We get a terrible picture here of the way that the shepherds had led Israel. They were supposed to lead the people in the ways of the Lord, but all they did was look after themselves, and seek their own well being. So the flock is marked for slaughter, and slaughter did indeed come. We should note that there is a twofold judgement here. The leaders are the primary guilty ones, but the people themselves will suffer as well. We all have responsibility. Many church leaders today should pay heed to these verses. We are there to lead the people in the way of the Lord, not in the way of the world.  

Galatians 4:3,4 - Enslaved to elementary principles

“elemental spiritual forces”. This phrase is problematic. It can be interpreted, as in the main text of many translations, as “elemental spiritual forces” (or something similar), or it can be interpreted, as in the margin of most translations, as “basic principles of the world”. Within the immediate context there are many ways in which “basic principles” makes more sense. The Judaisers were living as the world lives. Not in the sense of sinning away, but in the sense of how we deal with our sinfulness. The world’s way is to make rules and seek to live by them. From the world’s perspective this is sensible enough, and has some restraining value, but never deals with the core problem (our hearts). If we take the “elemental spiritual forces” line then it is saying that we were subject to spiritual forces, in slavery to sin.


The basic error of the Jews, and what was influencing the Judaisers, was to think that the Law was it. Now the Law was far from irrelevant, and is far from irrelevant. At the set time God sent His Son. Jesus coming was no minor event, the Son of God was here! Remember that the Jews considered it blasphemous for Jesus to claim to be the Son of God. They appreciated the enormity of His claim. God was acting decisively in Christ. Then we get two fundamental facts about Christ. One, He was born of a woman. He was fully human. Then He was born under the Law.

Friday, 18 January 2019

Zechariah 10:9-12 - I will bring them home

There is no easy plan of salvation. They would be scattered to many lands, and note that it is the Lord who scatters them. Other nations would be the instruments, but it would be the Lord’s doing. This happened, the Jews were scattered in many lands at the time of the early church, and continued to be scattered throughout the world until today. But in these distant lands they would remember the Lord and be saved. No matter how lost we are, if we remember the Lord, if we repent and believe, we will be saved.

The Lord would gather them from Egypt and Assyria. Just as it was the Lord who scattered them, so it would be the Lord who brought them back. And He would bring them back in large numbers.
They would pass through the surging sea. God may bring us through times of trouble, but He does so to bring us to a place of salvation. The seas would be subdued by the Lord. Passing through the Nile could be an allusion to passing through the Red Sea. The strength and power of the nations that oppressed them would be taken away.
So her enemies would be weakened, but Israel herself would be strengthened. They would be strong in the Lord, and “in His Name” they would live securely. We find security only in the Lord.

Galatians 4:1,2 - Under guardians

Paul wants the Galatians to understand the situation. The Judaisers were interpreting the gospel in the light of the old ways, of their way of attaining righteousness via the Law. Jesus spoke about the folly of trying to put new wine into old wineskins (Mark 2:22). We too can try and squeeze the gospel into our old lifestyle. The gospel demands a whole new way of thinking and living. Now this does not mean the Old Testament is now defunct or was a mistake, rather it needs to be seen from God’s perspective. It sets out many things that are right and wrong, and it pointed towards and prepared the way for Christ. Now before Christ came the Israelites did indeed have an inheritance, but they were like an heir who is under age. Such an heir is the legal owner of the estate, but while they are still a child they are subject to rules and guardians, and others make most of the decisions for them. So it was with the Jews.


This situation continues until such time as the will says they attain full control of the estate. So it is with God’s plan. The coming of Christ, His death and resurrection, mark that change. Just as it would be foolish for the now come of age heir to continue to live as if he had no authority over things, so it is foolish for us to live as if we are slaves to the Law.

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Zechariah 10:7,8 - I will whistle for them

Ignoring the main point for a moment, this verse does make the arguments of some odd folk that the wine in the Bible is non-alcoholic rather vacuous. It does also show that arguments for absolutely no alcohol are rather unbiblical. Getting drunk is absolutely wrong, and there is nothing wrong at all with abstaining from alcohol, and can indeed be a very sensible course of action in some circumstances, but we do need to realise that it is not an absolute. And making absolutes out of non-absolutes is a dangerous road to go down, leading to all the problems associated with legalism. However, back to what the passage is actually on about, which is that joy shall be restored to Ephraim. It is worth remembering that Ephraim were the real bad boys.

“I shall whistle for them ..” This does invoke images of shepherds with sheepdogs. The point is that God will call and they will respond. Jesus said the sheep would recognise His voice and respond to it (John 10:4,5). God will call us in because He has redeemed us. The calling in of the sheep only really happened after the cross, ie after our redemption. And Israel would be numerous. While the Bible often speaks of remnants, we also need to remember that it often speaks of massive numbers. Not all will be saved, but many, many will be.

Galatians 3:28,29 - Neither Jew nor Greek

There is a similar verse in Col 3:11, though with some differences. First of all let’s look at what Paul is not saying. He is not saying there are no differences between Jews and Greeks, slaves and free, men and women. What he is saying is that in Christ we are all one. Our cultural, social and ethnic background matters and has had in effect on our lives, some good, some bad, some neither good not bad. But our identity, worth and value is found purely in Christ. Being a Jew did not make you any more in the kingdom of God than a Gentile, it did not make you any more righteous. In this list of three comparisons here we should note that the Jew of the day considered it to be far better to be a Jew than a Gentiles, far better to be free than a slave, and far better to be a man than a woman! Paul is saying that in Christ these distinctions no longer matter. In Christ men and women are equal, Jews and Greeks are equal, slaves and free are equal. This is also why the earlier dispute with Peter over eating together was so important.

And if we are Christ’s then we are Abraham’s seed. We belong to Christ. It is not just a matter of our choosing one belief system over another, we actually belong to Christ, we are His. Earlier Paul referred to Abraham’s seed, using a very Jewish argument in putting emphasis on it saying seed rather than seeds. Paul now rounds this argument off by referring to us as Abraham’s seed, so seed here is being used in both the singular and the plural sense. It is singular in that everything come through Christ, and it is plural in that it applies to all who believe in Christ. If we believe in Christ then we are full members of the family!

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Zechariah 10:5,6 - They shall be like mighty men

Instead of being a downtrodden people, the nation would become a nation of warriors, mighty men in battle. They would fight because the Lord was with them. Our well being and effectiveness is dependent upon the Lord being with us, we need to know His presence. The use of cavalry in war was an innovation of the Persian armies.

The Lord would strengthen Israel. God strengthens the weak. “I will bring them back”. At this time some had returned from Babylon, but many still remained there. So there could be a fulfilment in those terms, but a greater fulfilment is still to come, one where the hearts of the Israelites come back to God. And it is God who will do this, and He will do it because He has compassion upon them. And it would be a complete restoration, it would be as if He had never rejected them. We should note that God had rejected them, just as we were under judgement. The Bible speaks of judgement and restoration, we like to speak only of restoration, but in doing so miss out on the whole truth. A feature of their being back with the Lord was that they would ask and He would answer them. Note that when Jesus was on earth a feature of His life was answered prayer.