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Today’s Reading

Devotional: Zechariah 7

The last two chapters of the first part of Zechariah are triggered by a question. The question is posed by a delegation from the exiles about liturgical observance. The Jews in Babylon wanted to remain in liturgical sync with the Jerusalemites. Their delegation is pretty early in the life of the returned community—late 518 B.C., just over twenty years since the initial restoration and only a year since the commitment to rebuild the temple, under the preaching of Haggai, had taken hold. The formal answer to their question is not given until 8:18–19. Yet the focus on fasting as a ritual to be observed calls forth sermonic material and various oracular sayings from the Lord that press beyond merely formal observance and call the people, yet again, to fundamental issues. Zechariah 7 is the first of these two chapters, and verses 5–14 provide the first barrage of the prophetic response. We may usefully organize this material by asking three questions:

(1) Is our religion for us or for God? The prophet Zechariah faithfully conveys God’s question to the delegates of the exiles: when across seventy years (i.e., from 587) they faithfully fasted on certain days, thinking those were the “proper” days, did they do so primarily as an act of devotion to God, or out of some self-centered motivation of wanting to feel good about themselves (Zech. 7:5–7)? Fasting may be no more than self-pity, or faithfulness to a cultural mandate, or passive acceptance of tradition. How much of the religious practice was offered to God?

(2) Does our religion elevate ritual above morality? That is the burden of Zechariah’s stinging review of earlier Jewish history (Zech. 7:8–12). Implicitly, Zechariah is asking if their concern for liturgical uniformity is matched by a passionate commitment to “show mercy and compassion to one another,” and to abominate the oppression of the weak and helpless in society (Zech. 7:9–10). Indeed, a genuinely moral mind extends to inner reflection: “In your hearts do not think evil of each other” (Zech. 7:10). Implicitly, Zechariah asks us precisely the same questions.

(3) Does our religion prompt us passionately to follow God’s words, or to pursue our own religious agendas? “When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen” (Zech. 7:13), the Lord Almighty announces. Passionate intensity about the details of religion, including liturgical reformation, is worse than useless if it is not accompanied by a holy life. In true religion, nothing, nothing at all, is more important than whole-hearted and unqualified obedience to the words of God.

Devotional: Revelation 11

Throughout the book of Revelation there are occasional visions of the end or of the throne room of God that anticipate the last two chapters. In other words, the line of development in Revelation is not always linear. The anticipation of victory, glory, and the perspective of the Almighty are sometimes placed in the context of the darkest scenes of judgment: e.g., Revelation 14:1–5, in the context of chapters 12–14.

When the seventh trumpet sounds (Rev. 11:15–19), the veil is rolled back a little to permit a glimpse of just such a scene—not in this case of the new heaven and the new earth, but of the reign of God over these scenes of terrible judgment. I may draw attention to two elements.

First, the notion of the kingdom of God is a dynamic one and changes its precise significance in various contexts. Here loud voices in heaven proclaim: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 11:15). This suggests that there was a time before which this divine “kingdom” over this lost world had not begun. So what is in view is certainly not the universal kingdom of God’s providential rule. Nor is this the onset of Jesus’ reign, as inaugurated by his resurrection and exaltation. True, at that point all authority became his in heaven and earth (Matt. 28:18). Nevertheless, that reign is so exercised that it is still contested. What the following verses suggest is that God now so takes his great power as to destroy those who have destroyed his people. “The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name, both small and great—and for destroying those who destroy the earth” (Rev. 11:18). What this announces is the imminence of the final exercise of authority that shatters all residual opposition and judges all with perfect justice.

Second, we have already seen that mixed metaphors are characteristic of apocalyptic literature. Here in 11:19, God’s temple in heaven is opened, and within the temple the ark of the covenant is seen, accompanied by an awesome storm. Terrible storms accompanying God’s great acts of self-disclosure spring from what took place at Sinai; something similar is found in the vision of 4:5. The point of temple, ark, and storm in this verse is that God himself is present and reigning. By contrast, in the vision of chapters 21–22, there is no need for a temple in heaven, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple (Rev. 21:22). Only pedants will perceive a contradiction.

2 Chronicles 24

Joash Repairs the Temple

24:1 Joash1 was seven years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Zibiah of Beersheba. And Joash did what was right in the eyes of the LORD all the days of Jehoiada the priest. Jehoiada got for him two wives, and he had sons and daughters.

After this Joash decided to restore the house of the LORD. And he gathered the priests and the Levites and said to them, “Go out to the cities of Judah and gather from all Israel money to repair the house of your God from year to year, and see that you act quickly.” But the Levites did not act quickly. So the king summoned Jehoiada the chief and said to him, “Why have you not required the Levites to bring in from Judah and Jerusalem the tax levied by Moses, the servant of the LORD, and the congregation of Israel for the tent of testimony?” For the sons of Athaliah, that wicked woman, had broken into the house of God, and had also used all the dedicated things of the house of the LORD for the Baals.

So the king commanded, and they made a chest and set it outside the gate of the house of the LORD. And proclamation was made throughout Judah and Jerusalem to bring in for the LORD the tax that Moses the servant of God laid on Israel in the wilderness. 10 And all the princes and all the people rejoiced and brought their tax and dropped it into the chest until they had finished.2 11 And whenever the chest was brought to the king's officers by the Levites, when they saw that there was much money in it, the king's secretary and the officer of the chief priest would come and empty the chest and take it and return it to its place. Thus they did day after day, and collected money in abundance. 12 And the king and Jehoiada gave it to those who had charge of the work of the house of the LORD, and they hired masons and carpenters to restore the house of the LORD, and also workers in iron and bronze to repair the house of the LORD. 13 So those who were engaged in the work labored, and the repairing went forward in their hands, and they restored the house of God to its proper condition and strengthened it. 14 And when they had finished, they brought the rest of the money before the king and Jehoiada, and with it were made utensils for the house of the LORD, both for the service and for the burnt offerings, and dishes for incense and vessels of gold and silver. And they offered burnt offerings in the house of the LORD regularly all the days of Jehoiada.

15 But Jehoiada grew old and full of days, and died. He was 130 years old at his death. 16 And they buried him in the city of David among the kings, because he had done good in Israel, and toward God and his house.

17 Now after the death of Jehoiada the princes of Judah came and paid homage to the king. Then the king listened to them. 18 And they abandoned the house of the LORD, the God of their fathers, and served the Asherim and the idols. And wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem for this guilt of theirs. 19 Yet he sent prophets among them to bring them back to the LORD. These testified against them, but they would not pay attention.

Joash's Treachery

20 Then the Spirit of God clothed Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest, and he stood above the people, and said to them, “Thus says God, ‘Why do you break the commandments of the LORD, so that you cannot prosper? Because you have forsaken the LORD, he has forsaken you.’” 21 But they conspired against him, and by command of the king they stoned him with stones in the court of the house of the LORD. 22 Thus Joash the king did not remember the kindness that Jehoiada, Zechariah's father, had shown him, but killed his son. And when he was dying, he said, “May the LORD see and avenge!”3

Joash Assassinated

23 At the end of the year the army of the Syrians came up against Joash. They came to Judah and Jerusalem and destroyed all the princes of the people from among the people and sent all their spoil to the king of Damascus. 24 Though the army of the Syrians had come with few men, the LORD delivered into their hand a very great army, because Judah4 had forsaken the LORD, the God of their fathers. Thus they executed judgment on Joash.

25 When they had departed from him, leaving him severely wounded, his servants conspired against him because of the blood of the son5 of Jehoiada the priest, and killed him on his bed. So he died, and they buried him in the city of David, but they did not bury him in the tombs of the kings. 26 Those who conspired against him were Zabad the son of Shimeath the Ammonite, and Jehozabad the son of Shimrith the Moabite. 27 Accounts of his sons and of the many oracles against him and of the rebuilding6 of the house of God are written in the Story7 of the Book of the Kings. And Amaziah his son reigned in his place.

Footnotes

[1] 24:1 Spelled Jehoash in 2 Kings 12:1
[2] 24:10 Or until it was full
[3] 24:22 Or and require it
[4] 24:24 Hebrew they
[5] 24:25 Septuagint, Vulgate; Hebrew sons
[6] 24:27 Hebrew founding
[7] 24:27 Or Exposition

(ESV)

Revelation 11

The Two Witnesses

11:1 Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, “Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months. And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.”

These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. And if anyone would harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes. If anyone would harm them, this is how he is doomed to be killed. They have the power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire. And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the bottomless pit1 will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that symbolically2 is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified. For three and a half days some from the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb, 10 and those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to those who dwell on the earth. 11 But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them. 12 Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here!” And they went up to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies watched them. 13 And at that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.

14 The second woe has passed; behold, the third woe is soon to come.

The Seventh Trumpet

15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” 16 And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying,

  “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty,
    who is and who was,
  for you have taken your great power
    and begun to reign.
18   The nations raged,
    but your wrath came,
    and the time for the dead to be judged,
  and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints,
    and those who fear your name,
    both small and great,
  and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.”

19 Then God's temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings,3 peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.

Footnotes

[1] 11:7 Or the abyss
[2] 11:8 Greek spiritually
[3] 11:19 Or voices, or sounds

(ESV)

Zechariah 7

A Call for Justice and Mercy

7:1 In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the LORD came to Zechariah on the fourth day of the ninth month, which is Chislev. Now the people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-melech and their men to entreat the favor of the LORD, saying to the priests of the house of the LORD of hosts and the prophets, “Should I weep and abstain in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?”

Then the word of the LORD of hosts came to me: “Say to all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted? And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves? Were not these the words that the LORD proclaimed by the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and prosperous, with her cities around her, and the South and the lowland were inhabited?’”

And the word of the LORD came to Zechariah, saying, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, 10 do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.” 11 But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear.1 12 They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the LORD of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great anger came from the LORD of hosts. 13 “As I2 called, and they would not hear, so they called, and I would not hear,” says the LORD of hosts, 14 “and I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations that they had not known. Thus the land they left was desolate, so that no one went to and fro, and the pleasant land was made desolate.”

Footnotes

[1] 7:11 Hebrew and made their ears too heavy to hear
[2] 7:13 Hebrew he

(ESV)

John 10

I Am the Good Shepherd

10:1 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

19 There was again a division among the Jews because of these words. 20 Many of them said, “He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?” 21 Others said, “These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”

I and the Father Are One

22 At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me,1 is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” 33 The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” 34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken—36 do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? 37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” 39 Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands.

40 He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there he remained. 41 And many came to him. And they said, “John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” 42 And many believed in him there.

Footnotes

[1] 10:29 Some manuscripts What my Father has given to me

(ESV)