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.

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