When we ended last week we we were looking at verses 4 and 5 of Chapter 10. Verse 4 told us about Christ, and verse 5 told us about the church. Verses 6 and 7 will continue to describe the church.
6 And I will strengthen the house of Judah, and I will save the house of Joseph, and I will bring them again to place them; for I have mercy upon them: and they shall be as though I had not cast them off: for I am the LORD their God, and will hear them. 7 And they of Ephraim shall be like a mighty man, and their heart shall rejoice as through wine: yea, their children shall see it, and be glad; their heart shall rejoice in the LORD.
Verses 6 and 7 are telling us something about the church that we have already seen several times in this book - the coming eternal kingdom of Christ would be a unified kingdom and a peaceful kingdom. God would gather all of his people into that kingdom, and there would be no walls or partitions within that kingdom. God would reconcile and unify his people in the church.
Verses 6 and 7 use a figure that we have seen before: the Gentiles are depicted by terms that were once applied to the old northern kingdom - those terms are "the house of Joseph" and "they of Ephraim."
The northern tribes had been scattered by the Assyrians 200 years earlier. Hosea had told them that they would then become like Gentiles to God, and that is what had happened. But Hosea also told them that one day they would once again be God's people, and that happened in the church. That is exactly what Paul says in Romans 9:24-26, where Paul quotes the prophet Hosea. And that is what verses 6 and 7 are saying here in Chapter 10. "They shall be as though I had not cast them off." Paul tells us in Romans 9 that that promise was fulfilled in the church, and so we have further confirmation that what we are seeing here in Zechariah is the church.
And all of the blessings in the church will be shared alike by Jew and Gentile. These two verses mention seven blessings that they both would enjoy (and that we do enjoy) in the church. They will be strengthened, they will be saved, they will receive mercy, they will be gathered together, they will be heard by God, they will be like mighty men, and they will rejoice.
Ephesians 1:3-4 - Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.
We in the church have all spiritual blessings, and that is the prophetic message of verses 6-7.
8 I will hiss for them, and gather them; for I have redeemed them: and they shall increase as they have increased.
Verse 8 is yet another beautiful description of the church. The word translated "hiss" in verse 8 means "whistle," so verse 8 pictures God whistling for his people like a shepherd would whistle to attract his sheep. God is gathering all of his sheep together in the church. Why? Verse 8 answers that question. It is because he has redeemed them.
Acts 2:47 - And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.
Colossians 1:13-14 - Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins.
Verse 8 says that "they shall increase as they have increased." The first "they" refers to the church (the future people of God), while the second "they" refers to Judah (the former and at that time present people of God). Just as ancient Israel had increased as God had promised Abraham in Genesis 22:17, so would the New Testament Israel increase through the preaching of the gospel.
1 Corinthians 3:7 - So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.
The remaining verses in Chapter 10 describe in more detail this gathering by God of the redeemed into the church.
9 And I will sow them among the people: and they shall remember me in far countries; and they shall live with their children, and turn again.
Verse 9 describes the evangelistic efforts that must happen before there can be an increase. "I will sow them among the people." That is not a sowing to scatter, but rather a sowing of seed for increase. When did this happen? When did God sow his faithful people among the people of the world?
Matthew 28:19-20 - Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.
Verse 9 is pointing to the great commission. What happens next? Three things: "they shall remember me in far countries; and they shall live with their children, and turn again."
First, those in distant lands where God has been long forgotten will remember God. The proclamation of the gospel will cause them to know God and to know what God demands of them.
Second, "they shall live with their children." First, "they shall live." Through their obedience to the gospel, they would live. They would have everlasting life. But second, "they shall live with their children." Where else have we seen that promise applied to the church?
Acts 2:38-39 - Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.
Notice that both of the groups mentioned in Acts 2:39 (your children and those that are afar off) are mentioned here in Zechariah 10:9. There can be no doubt that we are reading here about the church. When the people turned to God, not only would they live, but their children would live as well if they also obeyed the gospel. The promise was to them and to their children.
And there is no greater legacy that faithful parents can pass on to their children that that. Luke 12:48 tells us that "for unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required." There is no one on this earth for whom that verse is more applicable than someone who was raised by faithful parents in the Lord's church! As for myself, I can say that there are millions of lost people in the world who would today be saved had they been raised and taught by my parents, and I suspect many of you can say the same thing. It is a great blessing, but with great blessings come great responsibilities.
The third thing we see in verse 9 is that they will "turn again." They will no longer live in the kingdom of darkness. They will no longer wander in the wilderness of sin, idolatry, and spiritual bondage.
After the gospel has been proclaimed, and after some have heard and obeyed the gospel, what happens next? What happens next is that God brings his people out of the bondage of sin and death and brings them into the kingdom of his dear son - and that is what verse 10 shows us.
10 I will bring them again also out of the land of Egypt, and gather them out of Assyria; and I will bring them into the land of Gilead and Lebanon; and place shall not be found for them.
Egypt and Assyria were great historical lands of captivity. To any Jew, Egypt and Assyria meant bondage and oppression. They are used here as a figure for the bondage of sin and death.
What about Gilead and Lebanon? What do they represent? They were the areas east and west of the Jordan that had been depopulated when the northern kingdom was carried away by the Assyrians. Once again, we see the beautiful figure of a people who were not God's people once again being declared God's people. This is the work of reconciliation. When did that happen?
2 Corinthians 5:18-19 - And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.
Ephesians 1:9-10 - Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ.
How many would be reconciled? The end of verse 10 says that there will be so many that there will not be enough room for them all. But I thought that only few would find the way that leadeth unto life (Matthew 7:14). How can there be a large number of the saved? Two answers.
First, the intent here is less on the headcount and more on the lack of any geographical constraints. Unlike the old Jerusalem, the new Jerusalem is universal and open to all who will obey the gospel. The old promised land will not be big enough to contain all of God's people in the coming kingdom. There will no longer be any geographic constraints on the city of God.
Second, the same number can be small when viewed in light of the world's population and large when viewed in light of the population of the people of God at the time of Zechariah, which was quite small. Compared with the small group of exiles gathered around Zechariah, the number of people in the church, past and present, is a huge number.
11 And he shall pass through the sea with affliction, and shall smite the waves in the sea, and all the deeps of the river shall dry up: and the pride of Assyria shall be brought down, and the sceptre of Egypt shall depart away.
Verse 11 is a beautiful description of the work of Christ for the people of God. Just as God led ancient Israel through the Red Sea to escape the bondage of Egypt, so Jesus would lead his people through the sea to give them a way of escape from the bondage of sin.
But notice the description here of that way of escape - it is through the sea with affliction. It is through suffering that the Messiah would make a path to freedom for those held captive by sin. That suffering is both the suffering of the cross and the suffering of his own temptations.
Hebrews 2:17-18 - Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.
1 Peter 3:18 - For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit.
The rivers would be dried up, which means that the people would be given a way of escape. They would still need to walk over the dry land, but that way was now available to them.
The power of Egypt and Assyria would be broken. What that means is that the power of sin and death to enslave people would be broken.
Hebrews 2:14-15 - Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
If someone chose to remain in bondage, that would be their choice - but the rivers were now dry; the way was now clear; Jesus had provided a way of escape to those who would choose to take it.
Why remain in Egypt and Assyria when Jesus has created a dry river bed over which you can easily escape? That same question can be asked today. Many hear the gospel week in and week out, and yet they choose to remain in Egypt and Assyria, the wilderness of bondage, sin, and death. Why?
12 And I will strengthen them in the LORD; and they shall walk up and down in his name, saith the LORD.
Those rescued from bondage would be strengthened by God, and they would walk in his name. We in the church are strengthened by Christ, and we do all things in the name of Christ.
Philippians 4:13 - I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.
Colossians 3:17 - And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.
What have we seen in Chapter 10? First, God said that he would remove the old leaders. But, second, God said that he would raise up a new leader, the Messiah. Chapter 10 describes the Messiah and the kingdom of the Messiah, and those descriptions perfectly match the descriptions of Christ and the church of Christ that we read in the New Testament.
Zechariah 11 is one of the most fascinating chapters in the Bible. If you love history, then you will particularly enjoy this chapter because we will need to pause several times to review the historical context of these wonderful prophecies - some of which predate their fulfillment by nearly six hundred years!
1 Open thy doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour thy cedars. 2 Howl, fir tree; for the cedar is fallen; because the mighty are spoiled: howl, O ye oaks of Bashan; for the forest of the vintage is come down. 3 There is a voice of the howling of the shepherds; for their glory is spoiled: a voice of the roaring of young lions; for the pride of Jordan is spoiled.
"Open thy doors, O Lebanon!" Lebanon is about as far north of Jerusalem as Austin is from Houston. These "doors" are the passes around Lebanon that provided access to Palestine from the north. Something is coming from the north, and to anyone living in Jerusalem that was always a very ominous message. And that which is coming is coming so "that the fire may devour thy cedars." Lebanon was known for its cedar trees.
Psalm 29:5 - The voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars; yea, the Lord breaketh the cedars of Lebanon.
Whatever is coming is very powerful and is full of fire and fury. And it will come sweeping in from the north.
The cedar trees in Lebanon and northern Palestine would be the first to go, but the fir trees in southern Palestine would also be affected. Those southern fir trees are told to howl for two reasons. First, they would soon suffer the same fate as the northern cedars. And, second, "because the mighty are spoiled." If they thought their mighty leaders would be able to save them, they would be sadly disappointed.
The "oaks of Bashan" were east of the Jordan River, and they would also be affected by what was coming. They are told to "howl" because their protecting forest has been destroyed. If the forest of Lebanon has been brought down, then the open country of Bashan cannot possibly escape.
The trees are not the only thing howling. In verse 3, there is also the howling of the shepherds. Why? Because their glory has been spoiled. The land has been ravaged, and there is no place of protection for them or for their sheep. And there is "a voice of the roaring of young lions." Why? Because "the pride of Jordan is spoiled." Again, the land has been devastated, and the lions' usual habitat no longer offers any protection.
What we are seeing here is figurative language describing an unstoppable and ferocious invasion of Palestine from the north. We should not be surprised to see such an invasion. Except for Egyptian invasions, invasions of Palestine almost always came from the north. And if we started listing such invasions throughout history, we would have a very long list. We saw one earlier in this very book with a prophecy about Alexander the Great. So the real question is to figure out which invasion from the north is being described here.
Let's turn that question around. What invasion from the north would we expect to see at this point in the text? (This question is much easier for us to answer than for the initial readers of Zechariah to answer because their future is our history. Remember that the prophecies in these chapters were written centuries prior to their fulfillment.) What have we see so far in Chapters 9-11? The two major historical events we have seen are the invasion of Palestine by Alexander the Great and the Maccabean Revolt by the Jews against one of the Greek kingdoms that followed after the death of Alexander. What would we expect to see next?
The answer is that we would expect to see the conquest of Palestine by the next great power in the vision of Daniel 2 - the Romans. And that is what we see here in the opening verses of Zechariah 11 - four hundred years before it occurred! We will find further confirmation that the Romans are in view here as we proceed through the chapter.
But we were just seeing a description of the church. Do you mean to say we have suddenly jumped back in time nearly a century from the establishment of the church? Yes. And we have seen such jumps before in this book. One reason that these final chapters of Zechariah are so challenging is that the focus keeps shifting. Chapters 9-11 are describing what will happen to the Jewish people, but God has frequently paused to jump forward in time to describe the coming Messiah and his kingdom. The reason for those jumps is clear - they explain why the other prophecies are so important. They explain why Alexander the Great was important. They explain why the Maccabean Revolt was so important, and in this chapter they will explain why the Romans were so important.
Chapter 11 begins by describing a great invasion from the north by a power that is destructive and unstoppable. Nothing is spared by this invader; it conquers everything from the north to the south. Let's pause for a brief historical review.
The ruling dynasty of Judea between the testaments was known as the Hasmonean dynasty. The name "Hasmonean" comes from the great-grandfather of Mattathias, the priest and father of the Maccabean brothers we talked about in an earlier lesson. The Hasmonean dynasty had been established under the leadership of Simon Maccabaeus, twenty years after his brother Judah Maccabee defeated the Seleucid army during the Maccabean Revolt. From 140 to 116 BC, the Hasmonean dynasty ruled almost autonomously from the Seleucids, but from 110 BC, with the Seleucid empire disintegrating, the Hasmonean dynasty became fully independent.
Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II were great-grandsons of Simon Maccabaeus. They became pawns in a conflict between Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great. In 64 BC, Pompey added Syria and Lebanon to the Roman Empire. After Lebanon, where did he go? History tells us, and the opening verses of Zechariah 11 also tell us - Pompey went to Palestine. This is the great invasion from the north that is described in those opening verses.
In 63 BC, Jerusalem was besieged and conquered by Pompey. Pompey himself entered the Holy of Holies, but he did not remove anything. The next day he ordered the temple cleansed and its rituals resumed. Pompey then headed back to Rome. Judea remained autonomous but was required to pay tribute.
The death of Pompey in 48 BC, the death of Caesar in 44 BC, and the Roman civil wars that followed temporarily relaxed Rome's grip on the Hasmonean kingdom, but that did not last very long. The Hasmoneans were soon crushed by the Romans under Mark Antony and Octavian. (Octavian would become Augustus, the first emperor of Rome.) The installation of Herod the Great as king in 37 BC made Israel a Roman client state, and that installation officially marked the end of the Hasmonean dynasty.
The origin of the Hasmonean dynasty is recorded in the apocryphal books of First and Second Maccabees. The other primary source for the Hasmonean dynasty is the first book of The Wars of the Jews by Josephus.
What we see in these opening verses of Chapter 11 is a figurative description of the Roman conquest of Palestine. We will see similar symbols (burning trees and lions) in the book of Revelation - although there they will be used to describe Rome's payback rather than Rome's conquests!
No one should be surprised about what we see here. We have been waiting for the arrival of the Romans ever since Daniel 2, and what we see here in Chapter 11 is yet another prophecy that Rome would be next in line after the Greeks. (Keep in mind that when this prophecy was written, the Greeks had not yet taken over. These prophecies about Rome are looking forward beyond Persia by two entire kingdoms - Greece and Rome!)
And this invasion certainly looks like bad news, but is it really? Remember Daniel 2:44 - "And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed." Absent Rome, we would never have had the church! Yes, some bad things were going to happen when Rome showed up, but Rome was part of God's plan to bless the entire world through Christ! And Rome also played an important role in Jerusalem's future, as Daniel told us, as Jesus told us in Matthew 24, and as this chapter will also tell us.
Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, Darius, Alexander, Pompey, the first century Roman emperors from Augustus to Domitian - they all have something in common. They thought they were in charge, but they were badly mistaken. They were simply playing a role that God had laid out for them centuries before they were born! Most of them lived and died without ever knowing that, but Nebuchadnezzar knew it - at least he did after he was sent out into the field to live like an ox for a few years!
Daniel 4:33-35 - The same hour was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar: and he was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagles' feathers, and his nails like birds' claws. And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation: And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?
And Cyrus? If he had looked at a scroll of Isaiah, he would have found his own name in there, written long before he was born! And Alexander? According to Josephus, he was shown the verses in Daniel that described his conquest.
One of the most wonderful pieces of evidence for God outside the Bible is the secular history of the world between the testaments. To all but the most blind that history clearly shows God moving all of the pieces into place. And how else can we describe the rise of Alexander or the rise of Rome? History can't answer those questions, but the Bible does. They rose from obscurity to conquer the world because it was God's will that they do so. Why? So that God could fulfill his promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 - a promise that was made two thousand years before the events in this chapter!
4 Thus saith the LORD my God; Feed the flock of the slaughter; 5 Whose possessors slay them, and hold themselves not guilty: and they that sell them say, Blessed be the LORD; for I am rich: and their own shepherds pity them not.
Verse 4 introduces the primary theme of Chapter 11 - who will lead the people? Who will be their shepherd? In a sense, that is the primary theme of the entire Bible! In whom will man trust? Whom will man follow?
Zechariah is about to perform some actions in this chapter that are intended to teach the people an important lesson about their leaders, just as Zechariah was earlier asked in Chapter 6 to perform an action by placing crowns on the head of the high priest to teach the people something about their promised Messiah.
Zechariah is addressed in verse 4, and he is told to "feed the flock of the slaughter." What does that mean? It means two things. First, it means that the people's leaders weren't doing their job. Otherwise why would Zechariah be asked to do their job? But notice that this verse is not directed at the leaders of Zechariah's day but rather at the leaders at the time of the Roman conquest. It is a prophecy and a warning of what was to come.
Second, verse 4 also tells us that the flock was headed to slaughter. They were destined for destruction at the hands of those leaders.
Verse 5 tells us four things the leaders of the people did to the people - they possessed them, they killed them, they sold them, and they had no pity on them. The leaders thought they owned the people. They thought the people were theirs to do with as they pleased. The leaders made decisions that enriched themselves but that led to the death of those they were leading. They were so brazen that, far from feeling guilty, they thanked God for the money that they made by selling out the people under their care! And they had no compassion on those who were suffering under their leadership.
It would be hard to imagine worse leaders than that! But are such leaders really all that unusual? Haven't we seen such leaders all throughout history? Don't we see such leaders today? The problem with earthly leaders is that they are earthly leaders! Earthly leaders are tempted toward pride and greed, and many fall into those traps. Is that a problem even for earthly leaders in the church?
1 Timothy 3:2-6 - A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.
No earthly leader is immune to the dangers of greed and pride, not even elders. I thank God everyday for the elders we have in this congregation. We are very blessed to have such men as our leaders. But not every congregation is so blessed!
So if no earthly leader is immune to these temptations, and if many earthly leaders yield to those temptations, then what is the answer? Stay tuned! Chapter 11 will provide a solution to that problem! But first the sad description of the people continues in verse 6.
You Must Hear the Gospel
You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17)
You Must Believe
You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)
You Must Repent
You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)
You Must Confess
You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)
You Must Be Baptized
Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!
You Must Be Faithful Unto Death
Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)