The Children of Israel Return From Babylon
Zechariah 5:1-4 (The LORD speaking in verse 4)
1Then I turned, and lifted up mine eyes, and looked, and behold a flying roll. 2And he said unto me, What seest thou? And I answered, I see a flying roll; the length thereof is twenty cubits, and the breadth thereof ten cubits. 3Then said he unto me, This is the curse that goeth forth over the face of the whole earth: for every one that stealeth shall be cut off as on this side according to it; and every one that sweareth shall be cut off as on that side according to it. 4I will bring it forth, saith the LORD of hosts, and it shall enter into the house of the thief, and into the house of him that sweareth falsely by My name: and it shall remain in the midst of his house, and shall consume it with the timber thereof and the stones thereof.
This week’s lesson shows us how the Jews returned from Babylon to reestablish the pure worship of God in Jerusalem and how that worship brought joy and rejoicing.
God was responsible for the return of the Jews from Babylon. Consider how unlikely it was for the Jews to return. Never in all their history did an Assyrian or Babylonian willingly permit captives to return. That Cyrus would give the Jewish captives an opportunity to return was against every precedent, but God is God who stands behind His Word. He stirred up the spirit of Cyrus and brought about the fulfillment of prophecy.
The Jews had been forced into captivity, but the return was to be purely voluntary. This meant that those who really wanted to go back and rebuild the Temple would go. It was an opportunity to rebuild a life under God based on the teachings of God’s Word.
For any such spiritual restoration only volunteers are acceptable. Only volunteers have the dedication, the consecration, the zeal and the spiritual vigor to do the job. God still needs volunteers.
Isaiah 44:28 indicates that Cyrus would act the part of a shepherd to meet their needs and shepherd them home. He did so in a generous way as he not only gave the permission to return, but also made provision for gifts and freewill offerings from their heathen neighbors.
The prophet Haggai (last Sunday’s lesson) and the prophet Zechariah, today’s lesson, lived and ministered about the same time. Both were interested in getting the Jews to rebuild the Temple in Chapter 5. Chapters 7 and 8 were spoken several years later and these were moral instruction for the way God wanted the returned Jews to live in their native land.
It seems that Zechariah was a much younger man than Haggai because, one reason, Zechariah’s book is much longer than Haggai’s. Zechariah reproved the Jews for their disobedience to God, but declared they were still His people and His purpose was to bless them.
In a vision, a Divine revelation, Zechariah saw a large scroll flying through the air (a scroll in the Bible: a sheet of paper or animal skin with writing on it). The rolled up scroll in Zechariah’s vision was completely unrolled, had writing on both sides and was about 30 x 15 feet wide.
The angel asked Zechariah, “What do you see?” Zechariah replied, “A flying scroll.” Immediately he thought of the word of God going forth, a word of judgment to the sinner. The Scroll was unrolled so that the writing on both sides could be read. The message was thus intended to be seen and understood by everyone.
The size of the Scroll is the same as the porch Solomon built before the entrance of the Temple and the size of the Holy Place or first section of the tabernacle built by Moses. The definite size of the scroll as stated by the prophet must have some positive significance, but what it is we are not told.
The two sins identified in the vision are stealing and lying. There were not the only sins the people were comitting but they were prominent and widespread. They characterized the nation’s general moral degeneracy. Sin blinds people to the consequences of their actions. They imagine that because God has not punished them yet, they may continue to engage in their lawlessness without fear.
It is tragic that people so often mistake God’s mercy and long-suffering for indifference. Nothing could be farther from the truth. God does not enjoy punishing people, but He has established spiritual laws by which He governs the world and no one can break them with impunity.
When judgment comes it is often swift and overwhelming. This is the direction in which the world is headed today. Sinners are flouting God’s laws with increasing arrogance.
The angel’s interpretation of the scroll was that thieves and liars would soon be banished, cleansed away so as to be removed from corrupting the society of the Jews.
The message of Zechariah’s vision was clear to anyone who would heed it. Those who would not submit to obeying the law of God would be destroyed by the judgment of God.
Zechariah had a heavy burden for the spiritual renewal of the people. He knew the past sins that had led to their punishment through the Babylonian captivity. He was aware of the ministry of prophets who warned the Jews what was coming if they did not turn back to God.
Those warnings were ignored, of course, and the Jews were taken captive to Babylon. Zechariah realized that if the Jews returning to the Holy Land repeated the sins of their ancestors, more trouble lay ahead.
Zechariah 7:7-14 (The LORD OF HOSTS speaking)
7Should ye not hear the words which the LORD hath cried by the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and in prosperity, and the cities thereof round about her, when men inhabited the south and the plain? 8And the word of the LORD came unto Zechariah saying, 9Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts saying, Execute true judgment, and show mercy and compassions every man to his brother: 10And oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart. 11But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear. 12Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, less they should hear the law, and the words which the LORD of hosts hath sent in His Spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the LORD of hosts. 13Therefore it is come to pass, that as He cried, and they would not hear; so they cried, and I would not hear, saith the LORD of hosts: 14But I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations whom they knew not. Thus the land was desolate after them, that no man passed through nor returned: for they laid the pleasant land desolate.
One of the main problems among the Israelites was their mistreatment of one another, as is true in any society. There were the rich and the poor, the powerful and the weak. Those who had the means to advance their own interests at the expense of others often did so. This had brought God’s judgment in the past and would do so in the future if unchecked.
In the people’s daily dealings with one another, mercy and compassion were to be the rule, not the exception. No one was to take advantage of another’s misfortunes. The people were to treat others as they wanted to be treated themselves. The Hebrew word translated “oppress” is one God uses frequently in His dealings with Israel. It meant the trampling and crushing of those who were lower in station. Oppression was most likely to victimize those least able to resist it.
In verse 10 the LORD mentioned four classes who were vulnerable: widows, orphans, strangers (non-Israelite residents) and the poor. Those widows and orphans who had no other family members to defend their rights were at the mercy of those willing to exploit their situation.
Strangers living among the people were easy targets for greedy, cruel individuals who were ready to take advantage of them. The same was true of those who were poor and had to depend on others for their daily sustenance.
It seems unthinkable that God would have to give commandments like this to His own people. It sounds more like what He would say to unbelievers yet the words are addressed to His covenant nation, Israel.
God is not only concerned about relations among nations. He gives constant attention to individual relationships. He is displeased when the defenseless and disadvantage are ignored and mistreated. It is His will that those who are strong should support the weak.
Chapter 8 marks a turning point in God’s message in which He declared His purpose to restore His people and bring them back to the place of blessing.
Zechariah 8:11-17 (The LORD of hosts/GOD speaking)
11But now I will not be unto the residue of this people as in the former days, saith the LORD of hosts. 12For the seed shall be prosperous; the vine shall give her fruit, and the ground shall give her increase, and the heavens shall give their dew; and I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things. 13And it shall come to pass, that as ye were a curse among the heathen, O house of Judah, and house of Israel; so will I save you, and ye shall be a blessing: fear not, but let your hands be strong. 14For thus saith the LORD of hosts; As I thought to punish you, when your fathers provoked Me to wrath, saith the LORD of hosts, and I repented not: 15So again have I thought in these days to do well unto Jerusalem and to the house of Judah: fear ye not. 16These are the things that ye shall do; Speak ye every man the truth to his neighbor; execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates: 17And let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbor; and love no false oath: for all these are things that I hate, saith the LORD.
God now promised blessings like those the nation enjoyed when they were obedient to Him. He said the seed they planted would grow and yield bountiful harvest. Their vineyards would be full of grapes. The rains and dews would return to end the drought.
God would also change the attitude of other nations toward the Jews. Instead of considering them a curse they would appreciate their presence among them, counting the Israelites as a source of blessing.
At the present our world is still against the Jews. This will not disappear until Christ returns and places His chosen people in authority. Regardless of the time frame in which God’s promises were to be fulfilled, however, this expression of His Divine love toward the Jews was offered to give the remnant courage and strength.
Verses 14 and 15 announce that it was God’s purpose to punish the nation in the past. It was now His purpose to bless them. God longs to bless, not to punish, but His response to man depends on man’s obedience.
If we want to enjoy God’s fellowship, we must be careful to obey His Word. A right relationship with God and right relationship with other people are closely related. Sometimes Christians find their fellowship with God hindered because they have not treated another person fairly. Finding the sense of God’s presence again will depend on making things right with the individual who has been wronged.
God is deeply concerned with our attitude and actions toward others. We cannot be right with Him, when we are not right with others.
The world today has lost sight of man’s accountability to God and the results are seen everywhere. If an individual feels no responsibility to God, he easily loses his concern for his fellowman.
Lacking a spiritual perspective, he may see other people as objects to be exploited and manipulated. We see shocking evidence today that this attitude has taken over much of our society.
The problem is spiritual and can be dealt with only by people returning to God.