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Monday, May 8, 2017

Are we living in an insecure, unfaithful, dangerous world?

Our study group follows the school year, so we're stopping soon for summer. Which is kind of weird. We started the previous year with Samuel, hoping to finish all the prophets in a year. Then we broke for summer, starting this year with Daniel and hoping to get back to Daniel's visions of the future by the end of the year. Now we're in sight of the finish line but we know we're not going to reach it. Maybe next week we'll look at Daniel in the light of the "future" from there to John the Baptist (our intended finish-line), and look at the end of the world after summer.

But first we'll take some end-of-the-word, and some end-of-tradition glimpses out of Zechariah, following on from the end of Isaiah.

(49) Zechariah and the Promise of Salvation

An angel interprets each vision in the first half of Zechariah, but the second half is more obscure. The chapters are believed to have been written (or at least edited) at the time when Jerusalem was being rebuilt (as a city with walls), the Temple was functional but far from perfect, and the political situation was scary as the Greeks (Zechariah 9:13) increased in power.

In what sense is our world similar—
1.       Do we worry about the security of our cities? Do we take steps to make them safe?

2.       Is the faith in our country frequently corrupted?

3.       Is the world a dangerous place?

Geographical background: Damascus was to the North of Judea. Tyre and Sidon were to the west, on the coast. The Philistines (also on the coast) had been squashed between Assyria and Egypt, fought over, conquered, freed, and finally taken over by Persia. By 331BC they will have pretty well disappeared completely as a culture. Meanwhile little Judea sits in the middle, important because of the trade routes that go through it, marched through by armies heading North, South and West, a buffer zone against Greek invasion…

1.       Read Zechariah 9:1-2,6,8. What image do you get of society, politics, the movement of armies etc?

a.       Has the world changed much?

2.       Read Zechariah 9:9-10 Are you surprised to find this verse in this context?

a.       In a world of war, how often do we remind ourselves of the conquering king on a donkey?

b.      What would change if we kept this more in mind?

3.       Read Zechariah 9:16-17 What image does this give of God’s victory?

a.       (And why are the women drinking wine?)

4.       Read Zechariah 10:2-5 Who are the false shepherds?

a.      Who are the false shepherds today?

b.      Who is the cornerstone?

c.       Read Zechariah 11:1-3 What happens to false shepherds and the land they fail to protect?

5.       Read Zechariah 11:7-12 Are you surprised finding this prophecy here?

a.        Read Exodus 21:28-32 Zechariah is seeing visions. How might this be interpreted as a vision?

b.      The dismissed shepherds (verse 8) might well be governors appointed by Persia. What position do governors hold in God’s eyes?

6.       Read Zechariah 11:13-17 What defines a bad ruler/shepherd?

a.       Can you think what might be the significance of the potter? Read Isaiah 64:8

7.       Read Zechariah 12:2,7 Why shouldn’t the honor of the house of David be greater than that of Judah?

a.       What might this mean today?

8.       Read Zechariah 12:10 Does the prophecy surprise you? (The Jewish translation is slightly different—They shall lament over those who have been slain...)

a.       Why might we find this prophecy (and others about Jesus) here?

9.       Read Zechariah 12:11, 2 Kings 23:29-30, Revelation 16:14-16 Another surprise?

a.       Do you think God delights in our surprise?

b.      Do you think God delights in history? The city Megiddo controlled trade and war routes and was the site of many important battles. Manasseh failed to conquer it in the initial invasion of Canaan (Joshua 17:11, Judges 1:27); David conquered Megiddo and Solomon fortified it (1 Kings 9:15). Then Pharaoh Shishak destroyed it. Why do you think the name remains so important in apocalyptic literature?

10.   Read Zechariah 13:1,14:8-9, Jeremiah 17:13, John 4:13-14,7:38, Revelation 21:6 Who is the living water?

11.   Then, coming back down to earth, Read Zechariah 13:2-6. Prophets of foreign gods often injured themselves. Does this passage mean that all prophecy will cease?

12.   Read Zechariah 13:7, Matthew 26:31 Okay, we’re probably expecting surprises now.

a.       How was this borne out when Peter and John were imprisoned in Jerusalem? (Acts 4)

b.       When Steven was stoned? (Acts 7)

c.       Is scattering the sheep necessarily a bad thing? Does God bring good out of apparent evil?

13.   Read Zechariah 13:8-9, Revelation 8:7-12

a.       What might be the significance of a third?

b.      Of refining by fire? (Malachi 3:2-3, 1 Corinthians 3:11-15)

14.   Read Zechariah 14:1-2 Do you think this is a literal gathering of nations? At Jerusalem?

15.   Read Zechariah 14:3-5 Who stood on the Mount of Olives in the New Testament? When? (Debris from ancient landslides shows the western slope of the mountain has split and slid into the valley to Azar in the past. Some translations of verse 5 say the “valley of the mountain shall be blocked,” rather than you shall flee through it.)

16.   Read Zechariah 14:6-9 Where have we read recently about an end to day and night, living water …?

17.   Zechariah has just proclaimed God as king over all the earth, not just the Jews. Now he goes on to describe the destruction of those who don’t accept God’s rule. Read Zechariah 14:12,15. Does this remind you of Revelation? Of Exodus? Why does God allow plagues?

18.   Read Zechariah 14:16,20-21, Revelation 21:22. Who is invited into this future? And where does the Temple fit in? (Where would you usually find pots inscribed to God’s service?)

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