25 Things Police Officer Darren Wilson could have said instead of “Get the f__ck on the sidewalk.”

By Renée Zitzloff and co. (including some of the children of Ephesus school)

On the day of his death unarmed tax payer Michael Brown and friend Dorian Johnson were walking in the street heading home. Suddenly their employee police officer Darren Wilson pulled up in his car accosting them with these words, “Get the f__k on the sidewalk!” Moments later Michael Brown’s death ensued when Wilson shot him at least six times, including two times in the head and at least once in the back. Dorian Johnson was witness to it all.

Could Wilson have greeted the young men that day with different words? Yes. Could he have used words that were more courteous and less provocative? Yes. Had he ever learned or was he trained to understand that words can be just as important or sometimes more important then actions? Did he know that words can create death?

In service to the men and women police officers we’ve hired to protect and serve us and our children, I’ve polled a number of people to come up with a list of at least 25 things a police officer can say to one of his or her employers instead of “Get the f___k on the sidewalk!” Some of my favorites are the ones children came up with, see if you can spot them. And hey, this list is not exhaustive, so feel free to come up with your own greetings as long as they are courteous and respectful. Be sure to print this and take it to your local police station or offer it to each and every police officer you meet in the spirit of serving their (possible) needs.

1. Beautiful day, gentlemen please look out not to be the in the way of traffic.
2. Hi guys, how are you?
3. It’s a parade!
4. Hi guys, I’d like to drive on the sidewalk but I can’t quite fit.
5. Excuse me, police have just been called to the area. Have you seen or heard anything unusual today?”
6. Can I help you sir?
7. My name is Officer Darren Wilson. My job is to help ensure the peace and security of this area – all the people who live here. Do you young men live in this area? I figure that by giving you my name and by your knowing me, I can better do my job.
8. Hi Mike, how are you?
9. Gentleman, would you pick a lane? How about the sidewalk?
10. Gentleman it’s a pleasure to serve you. How can I be of assistance today?
11. Hi guys, my favorite flower is the tempestuous rose. What’s yours?
12. Hi guys, I’m working on my racist attitude and beliefs. I’d like to understand more about what its like to be black in this country.
13. Would you please get out of the street because its dangerous?
14. Would you mind walking on the sidewalk today?
15. Kids shouldn’t walk on the street, its dangerous.
16. Wanna be my friend?
17. D.W. “Knock knock.” Michael “Who’s there?” D.W. “Cow.” Michael “Cow who?” D. W. “Cows don’t say who, they say moo!”
18.Whats up?
19. ‘Sup bro?
20. Hi guys when would you be able to come to dinner at my house?
21. I’ve come that you might have life and have it more abundantly.
22. Peace.
23. Peace.
24. Peace.
25. I’d like police officers to speak to me the way they might speak to their mother or father, sister or brother. I’d like them to be respectful.

26.

* * *

The Day of Killing

By Renée Zitzloff

When I was preparing the lesson on Ezekiel 32 I noticed again (I’m great with the obvious) the seeming redundancy of this ancient book. But reading the chapter anew, expecting to yawn profusely, I suddenly was jolted by the graphic nature of the violence being described. I was to study this with young children?

In class I had one of the girls read the first 10 verses, and then I asked the children to repeat just one thing she had read. No one could repeat one word. So much for listening. So I read aloud s l o w l y and with emphasis God’s message through Ezekiel to Pharaoh, tasking the children with repeating their “favorite” verse when I was done:

“You are like a lion among the nations; you are like a monster in the seas…I will cast my net over you…I will hurl you on the open field…and all the animals of the wild will gorge themselves on you…I will drench the land with your flowing blood…I will snuff you out….I will bring darkness over you…”

This time they each remembered a “favorite” verse. To reinforce the unpalatability of the passage I asked them to imagine how wild animals eat. Do they sit down politely at a table using silverware, sipping tea and wearing a pretty bonnet? No, they all agreed giggling at the image. So again, I emphasized graphically how wild animals rip muscles apart with their jagged teeth, how bones are cracked and gobbles, how blood smears over everything and how bad it all would smell to the human nose. I asked the children if their parents allow them to watch violent or graphic television or movies and most remembered something violent they’d seen on a screen. I asked them why such violence is depicted in the Bible, and why their parents would allow them to read such a thing. No one had an answer, so I suggested they ask their parents this question (I love fomenting rebellion).

In emphasizing what is written in the text (not by me!) I wanted to help them pay attention to what they may think is boring and useless (me?). So as we continued I told them I’d help paint a picture of Ezekial and the Pharaoh whom they’ve never met and whom supposedly lived so long ago. I asked them if they knew the names of any rap artists. There was discussion and we settled on Eminem. Then I asked them to picture President Obama speaking happily at a press conference and suddenly Eminem interrupting him with the words of Ezekial: “You are like a lion among the nations; you are like a monster in the seas…I will cast my net over you…I will hurl you on the open field…and all the animals of the wild will gorge themselves on you…I will drench the land with your flowing blood…I will snuff you out….I will bring darkness over you…declares the Sovereign Lord.” Hmm, I asked, would President Obama be pleased to hear these words? Would he be happy and invite Eminem to join him for cocktails in the Rose Garden? Or would he insist Eminem be hauled away by secret service personnel and perhaps be thrown in jail or even be put to death? (It’s never fun to be a prophet, I reminded them, because they all get killed for speaking truth).

At this point I could have guided the class in several directions (or gone home). And though it may be tangential to the chapter I decided to discuss how the world uses killing and death to destroy its enemies. I suggested that the job of the Christian is not to kill but to prepare ourselves to die for the truth. I alerted them that the rest of their lives people would try to involve them in killing as a solution. We talked about the military recruiters who will be present in their high schools (and possibly middle schools) encouraging them to join the army, navy, marines etc. “You can join the military if you choose, I said, but you are not allowed to kill.” I asked them if they knew of any record in the Bible (or outside) of Jesus killing or wounding anyone, or of Jesus advocating war or killing as a solution. Nothing came to mind. We spoke of how Christ could have called an army of men (or women or angels) to annihilate his enemies as he torturously limped towards the cross. Why do we use killing and war as a solution if Jesus didn’t?

As we talked about killing, one boy affirmed that the United States didn’t go to war often. Sad to relieve him of this notion, I cited the fact that in the last two hundred years the United States has been involved in over 150 wars, including the genocides of Native Americans and black slaves. He then proposed that the U.S. only goes to war when someone “picks on us because we are powerful and they are weak.” I invited him to rethink this idea by picturing himself choosing the biggest kid at school and taunting him into a fight. He wisely agreed that he wasn’t likely to do this, although one of the (little?) girls suggested using less of a full frontal confrontation and more of a guerrilla warfare (my phrase) strategy against bigger enemies. She had some good points.

This pretty much wrapped up our lesson for the day. I generally conclude by reminding the children to talk to their parents about what we discuss. I hope they do.

* * *

How to know if you are wealthy

Today, after listening to the podcast, “Are You Rich,” I came up with the following ways to know if you are wealthy. You don’t have to have them all, just one or two. Here they are in no particular order:
1. You’re in a club.
2. You have food.
3. You have shelter.
4. You have possession(s).
5. You believe you have rights.
6. You believe you have entitlements.
7. You know you’re going to heaven (another club).
8. Someone loves you.
9. God loves you.
10. You express yourself in clothes and/or accessories.
11. You have access to this list on the internet.
It can go on and on……………….

When You Find the Teaching

I met the man when he asked me for a drink of water after I had just slurped down the last of my bottled water.

“I’m sorry, I don’t have any water left,” I said

”That’s ok.  How are you today?  What are you up to?” he asked.

“I’m fine thanks. I’m waiting for my mother to get here on the bus from St. Cloud.” I stepped closer to the man and bent down reaching out my hand.  “My name’s Renée.  What’s yours?”

“Moses.” *

“I’m glad to meet you, Moses.”  As our hands met, he looked skeptical for a second, then asked,

“Are you really?”

“Yes, I am.  What are you doing?”

“I’m waiting to catch a bus to Chicago.”

“Do you live there?”

“No I’m going to see my boys. Where do you live?”

“In Minnetonka. How many children do you have?”  His face lit up like a Christmas candle and he grinned, “Three, but two of them live in Chicago and I can’t wait to see them.”

“How old are they?” I asked sitting down on the sidewalk next to him.

“Eight and eleven.” He smiled again with the obvious joy of a father.

“How often do you get to see them?”

“Not very often.”

When I had first parked my car on the street a few feet from where Moses was perched on the sidewalk and walked the block to the Minneapolis bus terminal I had noticed a tall policeman with broad shoulders parked on a bicycle about 90 feet from Moses.  He seemed to be keeping an eye on the mostly black people milling around the area. None of them seemed intimidating to me or bent on causing harm, but as I passed the police officer and said, “Good morning, how are you?” he didn’t look at me but answered tersely, “Fine mam.”  He seemed to be on alert and wary. When I arrived at the bus station and found that my mother’s bus was going to be a half an hour late I had returned to my car to clink a couple more quarters into the meter. That’s when Moses had asked me for a drink of water.

As Moses and I visited, our conversation moved quickly from the superficial to the profound.  At one point Moses gestured to the area around us and said, “We could make a documentary about the things that happen here.  Things that people seem not to know about.”

“What do you mean?  Can you give me an example?”

“See that policeman over there ? What do you think he’s here for?”

“To enforce laws, I guess.”

“He is hired to enforce laws on people like me with black skin,” Moses said and he stretched out his hand towards me. “Now, I understand that people are killing each other, and we need the police to mediate the madness.  But when you give someone a badge and they believe they are the authority they are likely to abuse that authority.”

“I hear what you are saying, Moses, and I admit that I can’t even imagine what it is like to be black, what it is like to be you.”

“The abuse and killing has to end,” Moses said forcefully.  “We have to stop now.”

“I couldn’t agree more.” I said.  What do you think about the killing in war?”

“The United States has got to bag it up!  We had no business being in Iraq and we have no business going around the world using our military might for our own greed.  We’ve got enough problems here at home.”  He paused for a moment in deep thought.  Then he learned forward closer, looking me straight in the eye. “There is a right way to treat people, and a wrong way to treat people. Which way are you going to treat people?”

“I’m going to try…”—he cut me off abruptly and said uncompromisingly, Which way are you going to treat people?”

“The right way.” He nodded.

“Much of the problems in the world are about people wanting more than their neighbor,” he continued.“It’s greed, you see, because I don’t have your blue car.  Because I don’t live in Minnetonka.  It’s greed all of it, and everyone is sick with it no matter rich or poor or what the skin color.  The madness is about greed.”

“I think you’re right,” I said.

As our conversation paused, I took in the goodness of the moment.  After several days of rain and grey woolen skies, the morning was silky with light and a soft breeze caressed our skin and like a child’s chuckle seemed to float wherever it wanted. I didn’t think of it then, but in retrospect I see now what a cheap answer I gave to Moses’s question about the purpose of the police officer.  Technically I had answered correctly; “to enforce laws” would have passed as an answer on any standardized test.  But thinking about it now, another answer comes to me. We hire the police to enforce fear. Anyone may feel fear when the police are around, or pull in behind our car on the highway. “What am I doing wrong?” we may wonder. So what must it be like for those whose skin color is not the same as the majority of the police and the politicians, for those who are stereotyped as takers, as lazy, as unambitious, as thugs, drug dealers and criminals? We may like to think that we are so-called “color-blind” in this country, but there is no such thing. When Moses stretched out his hand to me, without being him, I already knew that he is seen as more likely to break the law than me. However, when I had reached out my hand to him when we first met, it wasn’t because I was there to help him. I was extending my hand as a beggar, because I know that I’m the one that needs help.  I’m the one who in spite of having all I need one hundred times over still takes more. I’m the one that lives away from the materially poor in a mainly white suburb where if many of us saw one or two black people dawdling on the corner we would call the police—to enforce our fear. I may not live in a visibly gated community, but the gates in our minds are locked, surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by vicious dogs of fear. We don’t need God to protect us because we trust in violence. We  buy guns and make laws to jail the poor while we are in fact the criminals whose greed and self-preservation has no boundaries. We are poverty stricken and ill from persecuting God in our neighbor if he tries to take such piddly objects as cell phones, entertainment systems or cosmetic jewelry.

“Moses, I’ve got to get my mom in a minute, but I want to know if you’ll come to my church and speak sometime?  We need to hear from you.” Moses looked taken aback.  But before he could speak, suddenly, abruptly the police officer skidded up on his bicycle and dismounted.

“Alright sir,” he said to Moses.  I’ve been watching you. We need to talk.”

“I haven’t done anything sir, I’m just sitting here with my friend.”

“I need to see your i.d.” the policeman said sternly.  “Give me your i.d.”

“But what have I done?  We’re just having a conversation.”

“I see that, but you have an open beer next to you. It’s illegal to have open alcoholic beverages on the street, and I think you know that. Give me your i.d.”  Moses pulled out his wallet, took out his i.d. and handed it to the officer who then spoke to me,“Are you with a church or anything?” he asked.

“I’m waiting for my mother to arrive on the bus from St Cloud and we started visiting,” I said motioning to Moses.

“So you’re not here to solve any problems?” The question confused me and I was wondering if he would ask for my i.d.  After all, Moses and I were in the neighborhood for the same reason, the bus terminal. But before I had a chance to answer he turned to Moses again.

“Moses, instead of taking you to jail, I’m going to give you a judicial,” he said while writing on a form.

“Excuse me, officer, could you please explain to me what a ‘judicial’ is?”  I asked.  “I’m not familiar with that term.”

“I’ve given him a date in two weeks to show up at city hall. At this hearing they will see if he needs help getting off alcohol or any other addictions.”

“Could I attend?”  He shrugged, “If you want to.”  He handed the form to Moses and told him to sign it, and Moses complied. Then the officer gave him a copy of the form, picked up the beer and walked away with it, returning seconds later to clean his hands with an antibacterial wipe. I turned to Moses.  “Moses, what if I came to the judicial and we talked about you speaking at my church? I really want you to come.  Maybe my pastor will attend the hearing too.”

“I don’t need to go to a judicial,” he said angrily.

“Think about it Moses, just think about it. I promise I’ll be there.”

I didn’t tell him then, but I am not going to the judicial for him, but for me.  When you find the teaching, follow it.

* * *

*Not his given name.

Inescapable light of Torah: Malachi 3-4

We have come to the final word of the Book of the XII, and the end of the Old Testament for Christians, where the Lord delivered his last plea to his people for them to remain loyal to him and follow Torah. He did not plea on his own behalf, but on behalf of the people, as only those who follow the Torah would survive his approaching dominion.  While the people continued to ask their ignorant questions, the Lord tried to teach them for the last time.  Destruction or life would not come as punishment or reward to individuals, but as two natural outcomes that followed divine wisdom, Torah.  Torah was light–but light as understood in the ancient world. In those days, light came as fire, or lightning, or sunshine. They all gave light, but they burned. It was never entirely beneficent. The instruction lay before the people, but the same light of judgment would destroy the rebellious and disloyal and would heal and give life to those who feared the Lord.

Purification and instruction: Turn back and be generous

After the Lord sent an angel messenger to the people, he himself would come to purify them (3:1-5).  The messenger of the Lord can only bring one message, the Torah or instruction, because that teaching embodies the Lord and his ethic.  The Lord never functioned separately from his word.  The Lord, when he would come, judged.  Hence the word came, and then the consequences of following or disobeying it followed.  As a silversmith eliminates all impurity from the precious metal, as a fuller scrubs out and removes every stain, so the Lord would scrub the people of every action that was not of Torah.  The Lord enumerated sins that revealed lack of trust: sorcery imposes one’s will on the world; adultery expresses dissatisfaction; false testimony serves the self; cheating and oppressing hold back good things for oneself.  Demanding one’s own will, unsatisfied with one’s wife, serving the self, and miserly behavior all betray lack of fear and respect of the Lord as the one who provides all good things in their time.  Torah is incompatible with any such actions.

Though the people fret that the Lord turned away from them, he responded to their obstinate ignorance by reiterating that he consistently loved the people and that the people fickly turned away from him (3:6-12).  The only consistent behavior was the people’s turning away from the Lord by rejecting his statutes.  In a typical fashion, they wondered how to turn back–since they probably never realized that they had turned away.  The Lord replied that they had defrauded him, but that didn’t help them understand any more.  Every time they did not tithe a full amount, they defrauded the Lord and effectively turned away from him.  If they only put him “to the test,” they would realize that gambling on success from the Lord would pay off big.  But the people thought they were playing safe by relying only on themselves and hoarding their produce–never realizing that the bounty they were holding back came from the Lord before they had placed their bets.  The Lord had already showed them grace.

The people also felt that the Lord did not act justly, but they didn’t know that they were rebelling against him by speaking so disloyally (3:13-18).  When they saw those who propspered yet did not follow the Lord, they inferred that the Lord was impotent–so following him was useless.  At the same time, some remained loyal.  On the last day, the Lord would treat everyone appropriately.  Only the loyal would remain, whom he would treat as his sons.  

The appearance of the awesome light of judgment

On that day, the Lord would come as a burning light (3:19-21 [4:1-3]).  He would burn away the disloyal at the same time as he would come to heal those who fear him.  The fearers would trample the wicked, because the latter would already have been reduced to dust under the feet of the righteous.  In this way, Malachi echoed the ideal, eschatological city depicted in Zechariah, which would be filled exclusively with doers of Torah.

We now reach the end of the Book of the XII, and the end of the Christian Old Testament, and we read that the Torah of Moses would save whoever desired loyalty to the Lord (3:22-24 [4:4-6]).  Throughout the Book of the XII, rebelling from the Lord was manifested in turning away from the Lord’s instruction.  Earlier, in “historical time” the Lord attempted to teach the people Torah through their calamities.  Later on, in “eschatologiccal time,” humans would live entirely according to Torah, and no one would survive destruction without it.  As the Prophet Elijah preceded the Lord’s judgment, he would make a last call for families to be reconciled–according to Torah.  As just a few would follow Torah, they would guarantee that not all human beings would perish in this fiery end.

The final appeal

The Torah came from Moses, and further explanation of Torah came from the prophets, depicted here by Elijah.  The people of this chapter–as well as the other ignoramuses of this book–asked ridiculous, self-righteous questions about their behavior.  The burning, purifying heat of the Lord would either sear such erroneous teaching from them, or destroy them completely.  Under the Lord, not only would the rebellious not survive, but they could not survive.  Rejecting the Torah is rejecting the Lord, and vice-versa.  When the Lord would come to rule over the entire world, no folllower of another law could live.

The people fail when the priests do not teach: Malachi 2

After the general rebuke over cultic matters in the last chapter (Malachi 1), the Lord aimed the present chapter at the priests.  The priests did not teach Torah.  The people rejected each other, and the priests abandoned their wives.  They broke brotherhood and marriage through faithlessness.  As they rejected each other as creations of the one god, they rejected the Lord.  In the end, they showed that they were guilty of what they accused their god of: they didn’t know good from evil, justice from injustice.

The priests reject the Lord when they do not teach

The Lord described in ch. 1 that the people desecrated their sacrifices, while here he told the priests that he would desecrate the sacrifices if the priests did not pay close attention to what he was teaching them (2:1-3).  Since the heart in the language of the ancient world was the center of intellect–not emotion–“lay to heart” meant “keep in mind” or “pay attention.”  They didn’t keep in mind that the blessings came from the Lord, and so showed disrespect to him.  When they would not give glory to the Lord as they were expected to do, he would end the blessings he had granted them.  The love that he showed at the beginning off ch. 1–that the people didn’t notice–would end.  Moreover, the sacrifices would be the source of the curse, represented by the dung of the festal sacrifices (hag) that he would rub in their faces.

The longevity of the covenant between the Lord and Levi–the father of the priests–depended on how the priests taught (2:4-9).  Since a covenant requires adherance from both sides, the Lord was helping them keep their side of the bargain.  The Lord sent the commandment about honoring him so that the priests of Malachi’s present would allow the covenant to continue.  Levi was a model of behavior because he taught the word of the Lord, the Torah, with faithfulness as a true messenger (“malach”–like the name of the book, “Malachi” my messenger).  As he served the Lord through teaching, he kept others from stumbling.  He fulfilled the true function of the priest: teaching so the people would not apostasize.  (Note that Levi was called before the Egyptian captivity, even though the cult was established at Sinai, after the Exodus.)

In contrast, the present priests no longer taught Torah, and so jeopardized the people’s covenant with the Lord.  If these priests failed to teach Torah, they put the people at risk.  The low estimation of the people in the eyes of the nations came because the people did not follow Torah.  (This state contrasts with the high estimation the Torah-following people enjoy in Zecharaiah 8:20-23.)

Divorce: The final sign of disloyalty

The prophet employed the oft-used image of family and marriage to depict the people’s faithlessness (2:10-12).  They did not treat each other as brothers, children of one god, and so betrayed the covenant of their common ancestors.  They were hedging their bets again, profaning what is holy and marrying (literally, “becoming the master/Baal of”) the daughter of a foreign god.  They showed themselves to resemble the unfaithful whores of Hosea 1-2, whom the Lord would be just in leaving.

So the priests wept over the altar because the Lord rejected them–but they couldn’t conceive that it was because of their own actions (2:13-16).  They broke faith with their wives.  This passage imagines the priests married to literal wives and a metaphorical spouse, the Lord.  Though the marital roles between priest and the Lord appear reversed, the expectations for faithfulness remain the same.  Moreover, since the priests were all men, the image of the priest as husband simultaneously condemned the priests’ conduct towards their literal spouses and towards their god.

Divorce was a horrible offense.  Literal divorce for a powerful man was easy for him but left his wife in a precarious position.   Living as a divorcee meant depending on one’s father for a livelihood with potentially harsh economic consequences if the father was not in a good position to take care of another child.  Remarriage was not common in the acient world, so divorcees could not count on this option.  Thus divorcing one’s wife exposed her to difficulties as opposed to staying married and taking care of her.

In a metaphorical sense, the wife of their youth was the Lord.  Divorcing this spouse meant breaking the covenant, a vow made between the people and the Lord.  Leaving the Lord displayed the most flagrant lack of gratitude towards their god.  

Their weeping exposed their ignorant self-righteousness; they couldn’t imagine what they might have done wrong (2:17).  They asked how they “wearied” the Lord.  They implied that they were more just than the Lord when they claimed that he preferred those who do evil, and that the world as they saw it was unjust because no just god could allow such things to happen: “Where is the god of justice?”  Rather than observe the depths of their betrayal of justice, Torah, and the Lord, they blamed the Lord for their hardships.

The future depends on the priests

This chapter lacked any reference to sacrifice, but laid teaching out as the primary–perhaps sole–function of the priest.  As Torah disappeared from the mouths of the priests, the covenant was in jeopardy–but not from the Lord’s side.  The people became antagonistic with each other as the priests no longer taught them the correct way to live, and the priests themselves treated their wives poorly and abandoned the Lord.  In the meantime, the people became even more self-righteous, assuming that the Lord had abandoned them.  The only hope the people had for survival and for prestige in the eyes of the nations was for the priests to rededicate themselves to teach Torah.

In Zecharaiah much of the discussion around the eschaton revolved around the leadership.  Malachi places the priests clearly at the center of leadership.  In order for the people to look like the eschatological ideal, the priests would have to take the central position not in any cultic or judicial sense, but as teachers of Torah.

The Lord desires honor, not fear: Malachi 1

Zechariah described what would change about human institutions in the eschaton.  All government and rule would be based on Torah.  Individual human behavior would have to change, too.  This is the topic of Malachi.  The people’s incorrect and non-chalant attitude towards service of the Lord would need to look much different if they were going to follow Torah in all their deeds.

Most importantly, they would need to stop hedging their bets.  In Hosea, at the opposite end of the Book of the XII, hedging looked like following an additional deity, just in case one didn’t pull through at a crucial time.  In Malachi, the people hedge their bets by sacrificing the least valuable items.  These actions betray distrust in the Lord, that they have to preserve their own wealth.  Trying to preserve wealth means clinging to human power–which leads back to the previous state of affairs of cyclical destruction.

The people’s self-righteousness blinds them to their show of disrespect to the Lord.  This chapter includes dialogue where a “chorus” asks how they’re committing the sin the Lord identifies.  The prophet uses this technique to uncover the people’s willful ignorance.

Does the Lord love us?

The people don’t understand how the Lord has loved them (1:1-5).  Lost inside their own minds, they didn’t see what real rejection looks like–Esau (also called Edom).  The Lord rejected any kind of civilization Edom tried to build, and when they tried to rebuild.  The people of Israel could look from its seat of power and see that Edom could never establish itself.  That the people could ask this question from a position of comfort proves how much the Lord loved them.  That they didn’t know the answer demonstrates that they had disassociated the reason for their success and wealth from the Lord.

Did we disrespect the Lord?

Even though the Lord was worthy of the greatest glory of the people, they disrespected him through their thoughtlessness (1:6-9).  When the Lord declared that he is due the highest honor, the people didn’t realize that they had scorned the Lord at all.  Their ignorance continued as the priests didn’t understand how they defiiled the altar.  

The priests and the people wanted to hedge their bets by offering their worst animals for sacrifice.  Flocks lived out in the wilderness, vulnerable to predators, who would pick out the weakest for their prey.  The people preemptively offered these blind and lame animals for sacrifice; why not, since they were going to die anyway?  This was a better idea–in the eyes of the corrupt people–than offering strong, healthy animals that would help the rest of the flock.  The Lord shamed them by pointing out that they would never offer such a lousy offering to a governor, so why offer it to the Lord, worthy of even more honor?  The people could only hope for the Lord’s mercy after such an affront.

They forgot that the Lord provided the good and the bad; all belonged to him and was a gift.  By offering the least and the worst, they were saving the best, just in case they would be in need later.  Their lack of faith in the Lord’s provision displayed their underlying apostasy, in spite of their pious actions of offering sacrifice.

As a result, the Lord was ready to close up the temple–he didn’t need the piety of the people (1:10-14).  The Lord didn’t want perfunctory sacrifice; he didn’t need sacrifice at all.  Moreover, nations from the far reaches of the world actually honored the Lord, unlike the people.  The people treated the table (ie, the altar) with no respect; even though they vowed to offer a strong animal, they still offered a weak animal.

Fear and no gratitude are the problem

The people interacted with the Lord out of fear of want, not out of gratitude for what they had.  In their minds they separated the Lord from their wealth; he only wanted something from them, which they begrudgingly provided.  They felt entitled to what they had, even keeping it when it was promised to the Lord.  Their entitlement and fear underminded their cultic practice, and the Lord was willing to end the cultic sacrifice altogether when he saw the lack of correct attitude.  Because the people did not link the Lord with their bounty and existence, they could no longer perceive his love for them.  The Lord exorted them to turn to him with the correct attitude of respect, or he could turn to any one of a number of nations who would do so.

One people and one will manifested in Torah: The eschaton in Zechariah 13-14

The actions of Torah as the only word: Zechariah 13

The actions of Israel will declare the Lord’s teaching, the Torah, in the eschaton.  First, though, he has to cut away humanity’s worst elements, and then he must purify what remains.  When the Lord overturns every aspect of society, only then will people be willing to forsake their own ego to manifest Torah in all things.  Reconstructing humanity, though, will require destruction and suffering–but the result will be worth it.  Torah will become so obvious in the people’s merciful actions towards one another that no one will even need to prophesy; one would assume that a prophet in those times could only be teaching something other than–and so contrary to–Torah.  Once the Lord brings humanity to its knees and Torah permeates everyone’s actions, the Lord will once again declare the people to be his own.

Following on the previous chapter, this section begins with cleansing (13:1).  After the people changed their ways and wept for their enemies, the Lord allowed their sin and uncleanness to be cleansed with living water.  The pure water confirmed the new state of their heart.

As the water purified the people, the Lord also removed the idols and prophets from the people (13:2-6).  The objects of removal, prophecy and idolatry, make an unlikely pair, as prophecy sounds ok, while idolatry and an unclean spirit are clearly not ok.  What do they share that both need to be removed?  The passage goes on to display the seriousness of removing prophecy, as the parents are willing to remove it, even at the expense of dispatching their own child (13:3).  Moreover, no prophet would claim to be a prophet, and would even deny it if others would ask (13:4-6).

No prophet is needed in this eschatological period because the Torah dominates all the people’s actions.  The people would treat each other according to Torah, so much so that the nations would become jealous and want to move to Jerusalem (Zechariah 8:20-23).  The people would manifest the Torah, and their actions would declare the Lord’s instruction.  As a result, no prophesy declaring the word of the Lord, is necessary.  Any word that coincided with the people’s actions would be redundant, and any word that did not coincide would be a lie for the speaker’s gain.  In either case, the prophet constructs this word that is not Torah.  Such a construction is the work of one’s hands, a word that does not save; in other words, it’s an idol.

In the end, the Lord would preserve his people from destruction, only to allow it to undergo testing and purification (13:7-9).  The Lord would strike down the shepherd of the people to allow the flock to be vulnerable (13:7), and then he would kill off two-thirds of them (13:8).  He put the remaining third in the fire, to be purified like gold (13:9).  This test, like the water in Jerusalem, would also purify the people.  They would show their pure loyalty to the Lord because they would ultimately turn to the Lord as their god, and he would respond as to his people.  One hears the echo of Hosea 1 in the cry of the Lord to the people.  Now that he made them vulnerable, subjected them to difficult purification, he declared them to be his people.  Suffering has made the eschatological people the most reverent and loyal ever, further exhibiting their purity to a level never seen before.

All the people’s suffering has enactment of Torah as its goal.  This process is painful: it requires the total destruction of every manifestation of the human ego.  Torah would permeate the society through enactment by every individual as every individual looked out for the other rather than himself or herself.  Speaking Torah aloud would become redundant.  In the present of Zechariah, prophets are required to continue to teach Torah so that the people will gradually internalize this teaching.  In the eschaton, the people would be clean.  Their sin and uncleanness come from doing their own will, constructing their own idols, following their own teaching.  Once they turned to mourn their enemies (Zechariah 12), they would have manifested purity through perfect manifestation of Torah.

Only one people, one will remains: Zechariah 14

Only one people would exist in the eschaton: the Lord’s.  No longer would the people do their own will in contradiction to the Lord’s; those people would disappear.  Every person would recognize that their origin came from the Lord as a symbolic Exodus.  The Torah would permeate the city to such an extent that the people would live in a perpetual state of holiness.  The cycle of violence and human suffering would end because every opponent of the Lord would melt away while the Lord’s people would thrive.

The scenario of Zechariah 13:7-9 played out again in 14:1-3, as a siege against Jerusalem.  The Lord would rouse the nations against the city, leaving some Jerusalemite survivors, but then turn back to fight against the nations.  This is the typical cycle we’ve seen all throughout the Book of the XII, although here in the abbreviated space of three verses.

Another epiphany descends on Jersualem in 14:4-9.  The Lord’s appearance caused the mountains around Jerusalem to split and the valleys to fill in.  This reminds the reader of the other epiphanies in the Book of the XII, especially Micah 1:2-4, characterized by nature melting before the Lord.  In addition to crushing the mountains, the Lord would come with light, overshadowing the light of the sun and moon.  Again, this reminds the reader of the first day of creation (Genesis 1:3-5), where there was light but no sun or moon.  Jersusalem would also become a source of water, as rivers would flow in either direction from the city.  The Lord would stand over all the earth as the only king and only deity.  The eschaton would resemble the beginning of creation: water running through the land, no mountains, valleys, sun, or moon, but only the Lord.

The Lord promised to establish Jerusalem above the rest of the world as his city (14:10-11).  The Lord flattened the entire world so that no place would stand above another–except his own city, where he would preside by means of his Torah among his people.  The city would remain inhabited forever, never again to be destroyed.  An eternal Jerusalem would be the capitol of the eschatological land.

Those who would stand against the capitol would melt away (14:12-15).  The Hebrew word “rot,” as we see in the JPS and RSV translations, implies a plague.  The word also means “melt.”  The image of the nations in the plain melting away evokes a reversal of the image of the Valley of the Dry Bones (Ezekiel 37:1-14).  Rather than muscle and flesh joining onto bone, the flesh of the enemies of the Lord would melt away before the Lord.  Jerusalem and Judah would despoil their enemies in a final battle.  Moreover, not only would the nations melt but even their animals and livestock.

All the nations would prove their loyalty to the Lord annually, on the festival of Sukkot (the Hebrew word for “booths”) (14:16-19).  Sukkot commemorates the Exodus from Egypt, as the people would remember their transitory state by living in temporary structures.  In this way, Sukkot reflects similar ideas as the feast of Passover; as the food of Passover evokes the Exodus, so does the dwelling of Sukkot.  In the eschaton, all the nations would act like Israel, as the recipients of the blessing of Exodus, and commemorate this feast as they bowed down to the Lord.  Recognizing the temporary dwelling of the people in front of the only eternal city, Jerusalem, manifested the nations’ obediance to the only Lord.

Because the Lord’s presence would be manifest through the people’s actions of Torah, holiness would permeate Jerusalem in the eschaton (14:20-21).  The everyday pots would reach the same level of holiness as the pots used in the temple to hold the sacrifices.  All of the people would be holy enough to bring forth their offerings.

The final sentence offers a puzzle in Hebrew, because it could mean that there will no longer be a “trader” or a “Canaanite.”  If the former is correct, it would emphasize that the people no longer have need of trade because now everyone is taking care of each other, and no one has any want.  If the latter is correct, it would emphasize that everyone in the city is now Israelite.  In Zecharaiah 9:5-7 the Lord declares that the Philistines would be “like a clan in Judah.”  Perhaps in the present context, the Lord declared that anyone offering sacrifice to and obeying the Lord is an Israelite.  In either case, though, Torah would underlie all activity in Jerusalem and be the source of their purity.

The eschatological people would belong entirely and exclusively to the Lord.  They would obey him/Torah, and would be superlatively pure.  The Lord would eliminate any individual or people who did not bow down to him.  They would melt away into nothing.  The ideal for the people is to serve one another so that no one would be in want, and no divide would exist any more among people.  Other nations would be eliminated or assimilated, while Israel would be purified.  The eschatological people would dedicate themselves completely to Torah, and dedication to Torah would define the eschatological people.

Mercy frees the people from judgment: Zechariah 11-12

Zechariah 11 begins with unusual pessimism.  In the eschaton, everything is supposed to change, but in this chapter, the Lord immediately related how he would destroy everything: the tall, proud trees and the verdant pastures (11:1-3).  The powerful and prosperous would suffer.

This opening sounds like a return to the harsh language of Micah 1:2-4, where the Lord melted the mountains, or Nahum 1:4, where he dried up the waters and destroyed the forests.  Zechariah doesn’t sound like anything changed, even though up to this point the prophet was speaking about the bright future of the eschaton.  The people’s actions in response to victory after the siege of Jerusalem, however, showed how everything has changed in the most important way: in the heart of the people.

The sheep owners reject the good shepherd: Zechariah 11

Terrible shepherds took over the flock (11:4-6).  The owners speculated and enriched themselves by buying and selling the sheep entrusted to them by the Lord.  The buyers ate them; the sellers thanked the Lord for the “blessing” of making money off of the sheep.  The Lord decided to turn away, to punish them by letting them deal with each other.

The prophet began to shepherd the sheep destined to be eaten (11:7).  Zechariah tried to tend the sheep with his staffs, “beauty” and “unity.”  These names represent the means by which the Lord had tried to take care of the people.  He offered a covenant to the people, which gave them the beauty of the Torah and unity with each other.  These would guide them and keep them safe.

But the shepherds left (11:8).  Zechariah left the sheep to themselves, and they devoured one another (11:9).

The prophet destroyed his staff, “Beauty,” and so annulled the covenant.  The beauty of the Torah in their midst was gone (11:10).  At that point the owners saw the end of the covenant, symbolically acted out by the prophet.  As the shepherd, he was owed wages, so they paid him 30 shekels of silver (11:11-12).   He took the payment and put it in the temple.  Then he destroyed the other part of the covenant that guided and safeguarded the people: he broke the staff of “Unity” between Judah and Israel (11:13-14).

The Lord doomed the flock to a lousy shepherd who wouldn’t take care of the sheep.  Once the flock was lost and devoured, the shepherd would himself be judged.  The leaders and people would all end, decimated and scattered (11:15-17).

The flock lacked a shepherd.  The Lord tried the covenant to guide them, but they had no interest.  Rather than take care of the poor and enjoy the results, the rulers got ahead any way they good and buttressed it against any outside attack.  When the prophet tried to guide them through the word of the Torah, they bought him off, and the prophet rejected any profit he may have gained.  Unfortunately, the people were in the same position they always found themselves in.  How is this any different?  What evidence is there of the eschaton?

Side note: The payment to Zechariah is drawn upon in Mathew 26:15, when the chief priests offer this price if Judas brings Jesus to them.  The analogy establishes the chief priests in Matthew as the owners of the sheep in Zechariah, and the price to get the shepherd they don’t like, Jesus, out of the way.  The covenant of beauty and unity between Judah and Israel is ended, so Judas (=Judah), perished at his own hand.

Unexpected reaction: Zechariah 12

An attack on Jerusalem was coming (12:2). This is surprising, since it looked like this would no longer happen.  Previously, it looked like the appeal of a city following Torah would prevent any attack (a Torah-based insurance policy).  Perhaps by means of this unanticipated siege the city would receive its due for rejecting Torah and not taking care of the weak.

The attack came, but Jerusalem unexpectedly defeated all her enemies unequivocally.  The Lord described Jerusalem as a rock that everyone hurts themselves on when they try to move it (12:3), and as a brazier of fire or a torch among dry vegetation (12:6).  Even the weak in Jerusalem would be like David’s house, and David’s house like gods (12:8).

Already we see a new order.  The people were wicked as before, but instead of bringing in the Gentiles to teach the people a lesson, the Lord grants them glorious, undeserved defeat.

The inhabitants of Jerusalem responded in a new way: they lamented their enemies’ death.  The Lord was the actor: he poured out a spirit of pity and compassion on every Jerusalemite, so that they mourned their enemies’ deaths like the loss of their own son (12:10).  Every individual, every family, every social class would weep alone (12:12-14).  Ironically, a new unity formed; after unity broke with the covenant, lamentation reunited them.

The Lord allows a new way

The shepherds of Jerusalem acted evilly, though they should have changed their ways.  The Lord brought a besieging army, but granted Jerusalem decisive victory.  In victory the people did not become self-righteous because the Lord granted them defeat.  They lamented and mourned for the death of their enemies.  They displayed the practice of the Torah in their city, as they viewed the unity of all humanity under the Lord and the value of every life to the Lord.  More important than military victory, the Lord granted victory over the human desire to glory in supremacy.  He gave them a broken heart so they could continue to follow the Torah.

The eschaton now looks like it would not be free of war or of pain.  Thanks to Torah, it could be free of callousness towards the weak or of indifference towards foreigners–even hostile ones.

No more power to oppress: Zecharaiah 10

The eschaton will end people’s suffering as it alters the constant cycle the people find themselves in.  Their suffering always came from a systematic process: 1) the people would disobey the Torah and cease to take care of one another and 2) the Lord would use the greed of another nation to oppress them.  3) When the people learned their lesson, they would return–until 4) they disobeyed again.  For the new state of affairs in the eschaton, the people would permanently remember the Torah (1) and the Lord would end the power of the nations to oppress (2).  In Zecharaiah 10 the Lord dismantled human power and ended his curse in order to populate the land with obedient former exiles.

Power reimagined

The eschaton required that human power end its reign.  Human kings follow human reason, which requires that once they gain power, they must continue to accumulate power, through bigger, stronger dwellings and military forces.  At some point, the most powerful stands below none but the Lord, who marshals the might of nature to deflate the puffed up.  Kings will then try to predict the ways of the Lord/natural phenomena so they can protect themselves.

The Lord would build the eschaton by raising up the weak to rule.  They have nothing to lose, nothing to protect.  They count on the Lord for his bounty, rather than worry about losing to him; they have nothing to lose.  They hope in the Lord rather than fear what he will take from them.  Their hope would be the source of their strength and rule.

When the people tried to understand the Lord, they over-complicated his will for them; he only desired that they follow his Torah.  The Lord was the master of both the powerful storm and the benign rain, the bringer of destruction and prosperity (10:1).  Knowing that the Lord can bring destruction sufficed to worry the people.  To hedge their bets, however, they needed to know what was coming.  As a result, the powerful attempted to use other means of divination from rolling dice (teraphim) to reporting dreams (10:2).  This mentality skewed their priorities and led them to fortify their cities, build up wealth, and strengthen their army–all means to secure their prosperity.  The Lord explained that spending on alms according to his Torah rather than fortifications would have secured them.

The Lord visited the people multiple times to re-iterate his Torah and the problem with the people’s mentality by negating their attempts at self-protection.  A “visit” from the Lord could be positive or negative, depending on the people’s obedience to Torah.  He would “visit” the shepherds and he-goats (the leaders and strong among the people)–bad news–and would “visit” the flock–good news (10:3).  The weaker members of the flock would form the foundation of this eschatological kingdom: the “cornerstone” of the city and the “stake” at the base of the tent, and “bow” for military victory (10:4).  In spite of perceived weakness, they would prevail in any fight because the Lord was with them as their hope was with him (10:5).

The powerful would lose power, and even the means to continue to accumulate power.  The weak would form the basis of the new society.  The society would not become any weaker, however; the Lord would be with them as they dealt with their enemies.

The cursed children restored

If we read the Book of the XII as a whole, the restoration of the people in Zechariah 10 responds to the curse and restoration described in Hosea 1.  The people, whose rejection of the Lord landed them in exile, would return to the land thanks to the Lord’s compassion.

After the end of the curse, the Lord related to his people in a new way, characterized by mercy and attentiveness.  In Hosea 1, the Lord said,

And she conceived again, and bore a daughter. And He said unto him: ‘Call her name Lo-ruhamah [“Not mercied”]; for I will no more have mercy upon the house of Israel, that I should in any wise pardon them. But I will have mercy upon the house of Judah, and will save them by the LORD their God, and will not save them by bow, nor by sword, nor by battle, nor by horses, nor by horsemen’ (Hosea 1:6-7).

After the people’s actions in Hosea demonstrated their disjunction from the Lord, he rejected them.  He promised he would restore them later, and in Hosea 1:12 the Lord re-formed the people and called them “Ruhamah,” meaning “Mercied; receiver of mercy.”  Zecharaiah 10:6-7 used the same word, where the Lord had mercy (rahamti) on them.  In addition, the Lord would pay attention to the people again, reversing the state of affairs in Zechariah 7:13.

The people would also return in overwhelming numbers from every land of captivity.  Hosea 1:10 promised that the people would “be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered,” and in Zecharaiah 10:10, “[Enough land] will not be found for them” on their return.  The returnees would come from Egypt, the land of the original slavery, and Assyria, the land of the first exile.  All the power of those nations would end, continuing the idea of the end of human strength.  Then the people would be in the land and would “walk” in the name of the Lord.  Some commentators have translated this last phrase as “walking around,” but “walk” here connotes obedience.  The power of the nations would end, and the former captives would live obediently in the land attended to by the Lord.

Mercy and attention would transform the nature of the Lord’s people.  They were accursed, living among the nations without the Lord to help them.  As those nations continued to build up their power, Israel were beaten down even more.  Once the Lord had compassion on the people, the power of the nations ended and the people came to prosper in the land as they obeyed him.

Mercy and obedience

The Lord ended human power and inaugurated his reign.  The weak would rule, not the strong.  The weak would come from the exile to live and prosper in the land.  The eschaton would oppose the current state of affairs where strong humans oppressed the weak, and this oppression came from lack of mercy from the Lord.

This word of hope to Israel came with a condition, that they continually walk in the Lord’s ways.  Disobedience required re-education, and re-education necessitated further oppression at the Lord’s hand.  The evil of the exile could produce good, as long as the people learned their lesson.  The eschaton would assure the continuous obedience of the people coupled with the Lord’s compassion.  Both reflect the new reality, where humans no longer build up power at one another’s expense, but protect themselves by caring for one other.