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.

Overthrowing human power, the Lord’s power remained: Zechariah 9

Humanity is its own worst enemy.  The separations among nations and their need to establish themselves over one another in attempts to rule the land, cause misery.  If humanity would ever prosper, human power and division would have to be eliminated.  The Lord planned to initiate just such a state of affairs in the eschaton.  He would overturn the powerful, assimilate the nations, and establish a king and army who reflected weakness, not strength, so that the Lord would remain as the only power in all the land.

Don’t just beat ’em: Join ’em

In the eschaton, the Lord would demonstrate his might.  He would dwell not just in the land, but also outside it.  He would bring down the mighty Gentiles, and bring them into Israel.  The Lord would prove he does not identify exclusively with the land or people of Israel, for the earth and humanity belong to him, not vice-versa.

The Lord’s rule expanded to the land of the Gentiles and through every part of humanity.  Hadrach and Damascus (9:1) are in Syria, just outside of the land, and the Lord’s dwelling was there–outside the land.  Not only the land, but all of humanity belong to him, as we read in the next line.  It is translated in various ways, such as “All men’s eyes will turn to the Lord–like all the tribes of Israel” (JPS) or, with very slight emendation, “To the LORD belong the cities of Aram, even as all the tribes of Israel” (RSV).  I translate more literally: “To the Lord belong the eye of man and all the tribes of Israel.”  From the smallest center of the human being to the totality of the Lord’s people, every level, every unit, lay under the Lord’s authority.  As the Lord dwelt anywhere as his sovereign right over all the earth, so all of humanity belonged to him.

The Lord showed his might by defeating the supposed might of Tyre and Sidon in 9:2-4.  The ancient world knew of the impenetrability and wealth of Tyre, an island fortress and trade gateway off the coast of modern-day southern Lebanon.  While they gathered unimaginable wealth, they could not withstand the force of the Lord manifested in the primal elements of fire and water.

The traditional enemies of Israel, the Philistines, would even come under the Lord’s aegis in 9:5-8.  The Philistines had been at war with the Israelites from the time of the Judges, and archaeologists believe that the Philistines came to this area around 1000 BCE.  They brought with them unclean practices, characterized in this section by consuming blood and the meat of unclean animals.  Once the Lord would defeat them city by city and replace their dignity with a “bastard” (mamzer) king, he would cleanse them by ending their ritually impure dietary practices and join them to his people.  As he cleansed Joshua the High Priest, so He would cleanse their impurity.  Ultimately, the Philistines would become the “remnant”–a term up to now used to speak only of those from Israel.  Moreover, the Lord would protect the Philistines.  The traditional enemies of the Israelites would implausibly join the Israelites.

The Lord showed his expansive rule.  He dwelt outside the land, in Syria, yet all of humanity belonged to him.  The most powerful, independent cities of the time could not withstand him.  He overturned the long-time enemies of the Israelites and even brought them into the fold of Israel.  All lands and people would come together under the Lord.  This critiques any who might think that the land or people of Israel stood above any other, for from the viewpoint of the Lord, they all lay equally beneath him.

Unlikely might

Any one nation’s struggle for power never lasted for long, and it always produced suffering.  The Lord needed to overturn the human desire to rule by force.  He would institute an un-king who would parade into the city on an un-steed, and who would lead an un-army.  The Lord alone would stand at the front of the “army” and would fight by himself, undermining any humans’ attempts at power.

The Lord would establish human rule, but in a way that overturned all that the world knew to that point.  First, he would establish the king, the Branch (9:9-10).  Instead of coming into the city in triumph on a war horse or in a chariot, as was customary for a conquering king, he would come on a humble donkey.  Yet he would abolish war and he would rule the world.  He would rule without strength.

After establishing a “king,” the Lord would establish an “army” second (9:11-13).  He would release the prisoners from the dry wells and send them back to the land.  (Note that Ephraim is addressed here as a woman, establishing the metaphor of deity-husband protecting his people-wife.)  These are the “sons of Zion” that the Lord would deploy against his enemies, the sons of Javan (“Greece,” according to some translators).

With such a counter-intuitive “military” force, the Lord made himself indispensable by standing in front of the army (9:14-17).  As the whirlwind, the Lord would defeat the enemies of his people.  At the same time, he would save the people on that day.  He would prosper the people as a good shepherd gives good pasture to his sheep.  He was the storm who defeated enemies and the shelter from the storm who protected friends.

Once he set up a humble king and freed prisoners as an army, the Lord made himself the only viable protection for the people.  Whereas in earlier books in the XII, the Lord requested and demanded that the people choose him.  In the eschaton, the Lord remained the only option.  No human attempts at power would corrupt this period of history as they had during every other period.

No more choice

To inaugurate the eschaton, the Lord had to remove the most problematic of human institutions: human rule.  First, he had to remove the cities in power, and remove himself from the center of power.  Then, he rubbed out the line that defined Israel over their enemies, the Philistines.  He next substituted the king and an army with the weak, lining himself up as the only power.  The Lord was the storm and the shelter from the storm.  The people would only take care of each other and prosper under the Lord’s protection.  Hitherto, strength, kings, army, and war caused human suffering; the Lord replaced all of them.

Focus on Torah, not on the temple: Zechariah 7-8

As the temple was being rebuilt, the people forgot what was most important: living according to Torah.  They thought the work was done when the temple was complete.  The Lord, therefore, needed to remind them that the destruction and rebuilding of the temple were distractions; the Torah is the correct frame of reference.  The temple was destroyed because of ignoring Torah, and adherence to Torah lay at the foundation of the eschatological city.

The temple destroyed, not rebuilt, is primary: Zechariah 7

Some individuals approached the Lord, misunderstanding the meaning of the temple.  They were wrongly wondering about the meaning of the rebuilding of the temple, not the meaning of its destruction.  Now that a new temple was rebuilt, a question arose: did the people still need to lament the destruction of the first temple (7:1-3)?  This took place in year 4, month 9, day four, of King Darius, about two years since the last date given (Zecharaiah 1:7), so the temple was probably well under way or finished being built.  (It took seven years to build the first temple; see 1 Kings 6:38.)  Messengers, or maybe dignitaries, come to ask the priests in Jerusalem.

The Lord reminded the people that he is not affected by fasting and that the people’s fasting is for the sake of the people (7:4-14).  The people fasted for 70 years, since the first temple was destroyed.  The intake of food did not benefit the Lord; its goal could only be to affect the people.  The people, however, did not understand how it should have affected them.

The Lord taught them consistently since before the first temple, and the people chose not to follow the teaching.  While the Lord wanted them to show justice to one another and compassion on the weak, they wilfully ignored him.  As a result of their turning a deaf ear to him, the Lord chose to turn a deaf ear to them, and so sent them into exile.  The land was destroyed.

The Lord changed the question of whether to fast, and brought into focus the reasons for the exile.  The people misplaced their focus.  Rather than think about the temple per se, the people needed to remember why the temple needed to be rebuilt.  As they wanted to refocus on a rebuilt temple, they needed to remember the destroyed temple.

Torah, not temple, is primary: Zechariah 8

The Lord would not deviate from his plan.  While his former plans taught the people harshly, his present plans would allow them to live peacefully.  The people would not live in ease, though, but would have a continuous duty to perform: carrying out the Torah.  The work of rebuilding the temple did not mean all the work was done; their obedience to Torah was the important action.  The safety and joy of Jerusalem because of the people living according to the Torah would attract the nations as was previously prophesied.

The Lord, in his desire to love Jerusalem, re-established her as a joyful, safe place (8:1-8).  The Lord was fiercely loyal to Jerusalem, like a husband to his wife.  Often, the relationship between deity and people is referred to metaphorically as a marriage.  A people who worships other gods resembles a wife who goes after other men.  In the present case, the Lord will live with his wife, and she will be faithful.  He will secure her and keep her safe.  The appearance of the very young show that their is abundance and safety in the city.  The old people display lack of war; people are reaching old age.  For those returning from exile, the Lord promises a city of ultimate safety.

The people have a responsibility, though, to follow the Torah (8:9-13).  The ones asking about the fast were curious about the deed of the temple that had been completed; the Lord needs to emphasize that the deed of the Torah was ongoing, that there was still work to do: “Let your hands be strong, you who hear in these days these words from the mouths of the prophets” (8:9).  The Lord will make this city prosper, as long as the people follow the Torah, the Lord’s teaching (8:10-13).  He made the people suffer as they treated each other unjustly, but the city will become a place where they are safe with one another as they follow the Torah and so flourish.

The Lord showed he is trustworthy in punishing the people, so he would be trustworthy in working for their good (8:14-17).  As he turned a deaf ear to their cries because of his decision to do evil to them, he would just as stubbornly carry out his plans to do good.  He only expects that the people will treat each other justly and with integrity.  As we have seen to this point, the people would be made up of those who want to follow the Lord’s will humbly.  The nature of the people, therefore, would keep them on track for this expectation.

As long as the people love honesty and integrity (also can be translated “peace”). the fasts will become feasts, because the reason for insecurity would be gone (8:18-19).  The emissaries wondered if the fasts could end because the temple was restored.  The Lord, though, retold why the temple was destroyed.  The people should not have been fasting because of the destruction of the temple, but because their forefathers’ insistence on ignoring the Torah caused its destruction.  While the temple was clearly restored, the reestablishment of the Torah was an open question.  They would have to make it so by acting justly to one another and taking care of the weak.  If they did so, the reason for fasting would be gone and feasting could resume–but because of Torah, not the temple.

The nations would envy the safe, just city of Jerusalem (8:20-23).  The nations would all want to come to the Lord, begging that the Jews take them along. (The term “Jew” is not common in the Old Testament.  It is used in early literature for “residents of Judah; Judahites” and in later literature as “Jew,” which would have previously been “Israelite.”  During the Persian period, the residents of Judah were beginning to be identified with Israelites.)  They would have heard that God is with the Jews, which would be apparent because the Torah would be the rule of the community who takes care of each other.

These words of the nations fulfil the promise made in Isaiah 7:11, about the son being born “Immanuel,” “God is with us.”  Moreover, it reverses the curse of Isaiah 4:1, where the destitute women grabbed hold of a single man for the sake of his name and to take away their reproach on the day that the Branch would rule a Jerusalem where all the city was holy.  The nations, therefore, would reveal the fulfilment of this promise.

The Lord would fiercely persevere with his plan to inaugurate a peaceful, joyous Jerusalem, but expected the people to follow Torah above all.  More concretely, the citizens would live in a new way compared to their forefathers, working hard to support each other and the weak in the city.  By fulfilling the Torah, the promise from Isaiah would be fulfilled as the nations desired to follow Israel to the city.

All hinges on following Torah

The people’s vision had to be refocused.  They asked about fasting with reference to the destruction of the temple, when they should have been asking with respect to the sins of their fathers.  The Lord had a plan for the eschatological city that he would follow no matter what.  All those who followed the Torah would live in the city.  Nations would hear about the peace and prosperity of the city of Torah, and those of the nations who wanted to follow this law would come to.

The hard work would continue.  The eschaton did not indicate the end of toil.  It pointed to an era where all work would strive towards harmony with one’s neighbor and care for the needy.

Faithfulness requires the evils of captivity: Zechariah 5-6

These chapters established the moral character of the eschatological land.  In ch. 5, the Lord judged every nook and cranny of the land and then removed the unfaithfulness of the people from the land to Shinar, Babylon.  In ch. 6, the Lord commanded his spirit to rest in Babylon.  His spirit animated the un-people of Israel so that they could come forth.  The treasure they brought out of exile became the symbols of rule in the land afterwards.  As faithfulness was removed from the land, the humility gained from captivity pervaded the land.

Apocalyptic literature often employs bizarre images to make its point.  Such images stick in one’s mind and force one to grapple with what those images represent; the text can draw one’s attention to the principle concept of the author.  Thus a flying scroll can represent judgment, and a woman in an ephah basket can represent unfaithfulness.

The scroll that judges and the removal of unfaithfulness: Zechariah 5

A flying scroll of curses that can enter into people’s houses, appeared in a vision in 5:1-4.  While the created order changed systematically throughout the past several chapters and books of the XII, the Torah is one thing that stayed the same.  The curse that went out to everyone judged according to the original 10 Commandments, represented here by the sins of stealing and false oaths.  This scroll, unlike those known until then, could move on its own.  (Perhaps this scroll’s mobility drew from the image of the Lord’s mobile chariot in Ezekiel 1-3.)  It could move with such power as to enter into someone’s house to destroy it.

The next image, of a woman in a basket born by women with stork wings, represented the unfaithfulness of the land (5:5-11).  Generally, the Lord is personified in the Bible as a man and the people as a woman.  Significantly for the present context, the first chapter of the Book of the XII, Hosea 1, depicts the relationship thus.  While it is not PC in our society to do so, the assumption was that the husband protects and provides for the wife, and the correct wife serves the husband faithfully.  The woman who does not return gratitude and faithfulness for the provision she receives, is considered unfaithful.  Thus Israel, the Lord’s people, is often depicted as a woman.  The flying women seal off the wickedness and remove it from the land.  In this eschatological reality, wickedness will be sent far away–to Shinar, in Babylon, where it will form the basis of an idolatrous shrine.

Once judgment according to the Torah penetrates every corner of the land, the Lord’s servants will remove unfaithfulness.  A new purity will pervade his eschatological land, and the wickedness will be removed to Babylon.  A sharp divide emerged: wickedness would remain exclusively in Babylon, and faithfulness exclusively in the land.

The Lord’s glory coming out of Babylon: Zechariah 6

This chapter traced the voyage of the people, from Babylon to the land.  We read about the Lord’s glory, namely, his ability to create something out of nothing.  In this case, he created a people out of an enslaved and wicked non-people by his spirit.  The people, therefore, had nothing to boast about, as their existence depended completely on the Lord.  By reminding them of their humble origin, he could found the eschaton on the humility of the people.

Reminiscent of Zecharaiah 1:8-12, the Lord sent out chariots with horses throughout the land in 6:1-8.  In the earlier scene, the angel was upset when the horsemen came back from their reconnaissance to report peace throughout the land.  The Lord promised to overturn the powers around, so this promise was not coming to pass.  In this instance, the charioteers were commanded to walk all around the world.

Those going to the North (referring to Babylon, who always came in and out of Israel through the North) received a special command: to see the ultimate results of the Babylonian captivity.  Because of their suffering, and because of the Lord’s mighty act at liberating them from Babylon, the remnant that emerged from captivity displayed the Lord’s glory.  The Lord’s spirit animated them, made them a people and brought them to life (cf. the spirit animating the dead bones in Ezekiel 37).  By coming out of Babylon, they show the Lord’s glory by living by his spirit.

In the next section, the glory of captivity metaphorically crowns the eschatological rulers with the literal gold brought from Babylon (6:9-15).  The prophet took the gold and silver from those who came out of captivity to create two crowns, one for Joshua, the High Priest, and one most likely for the Branch, Zerubbabel.  This scene recalls the captives from Egypt during the Exodus who “borrowed” the gold and silver of the Egyptians, effectively plundering them without a fight.  Those riches, however, created the golden calf, an idol and mockery of the Lord.  In the eschaton, the gold and silver will crown the new rule of humility to the Lord’s Torah.

As the captives departed from Babylon, they left the spirit of the Lord in their trail.  Their walk of liberation was animated by the spirit.  When they came to the land, their bounty from Babylon formed the symbols of power for the new rulers.  Both their departure from Babylon and arrival to the land originate in the humbling, dehumanizing captivity, and this humility formed the basis of the eschaton.

Good is faithfulness

The wickedness, represented by a woman, was related to the good, which was always rooted in the captivity.  By grace the Lord led the people from captivity, like in Exodus, establishing them as a people.  When the people understood deeply their personal and corporate existence as completely dependent on the Lord, they would be motivated to remain faithful to him.  A return to the belief that they were masters of their own destiny, a destiny in which the Lord played only a small part, would form the kernel of wicked unfaithfulness.  Goodness in the eschaton would always have to keep one foot in the captivity as the motivation for faithfulness.

The new leadership for the eschaton: Zechariah 3-4

A new style of rule will dominate the new eschaton.  The eschaton showed the priest, in his separation from the temple, to be unclean and the king to be impotent.  Essentially, they cannot function.  At the same time, the exile offered a unique teaching of humility towards the Lord, qualifying them for rule.  The Lord by fiat made Joshua capable of serving as High Priest and Zerubbabel of ruling as king.

Establishing the High Priest and the Branch: Zechariah 3

In chapter 3 of Zecharaiah, the Lord made a High Priest out of an ineligible candidate, and split the power of the new land in two.  As the Lord prepared Zerubbabel as his signet at the very end of Haggai, the Lord prepared his High Priest, Joshua, in the present chapter.  In the first scene, the accusing angel, the Satan, indicts Joshua (3:1-6).  We learn that Joshua is unclean, which likely resulted from being born away from the land and temple, in Babylon.  The angel of the Lord argued on Joshua’s behalf, that he is a “brand plucked from the fire,” which referred to captivity in Babylon.  More specifically, Joshua was likely born in Babylon, Joshua’s father, Jehozadak, was exiled by the Babylonian ruler, Nebuchadnezzar (1 Chron 5:40-41), and Joshua’s grandfather was executed when the Babylonians took over the temple (2 Kings 25:19-21).  Joshua’s ties to Babylon render him unclean, but are also justification for cleansing him.

The angel of the Lord spoke against the obvious.  Effectively, Joshua was an unclean outsider, unable to function as a high priest.  Nevertheless, the fact that he was brought out of Babylon was used in his favor.  Joshua personally followed the path of Exodus.  By grace, the angels removed the iniquity from Joshua by removing the filthy garment.  By grace, they prepared him to be the High Priest, even though he could have remained ineligible.

The Lord explained the sharing of power in the eschatological kingdom, for Joshua would rule alongside Zerubbabel (3:7-10).  The Lord began with a typical injunction, that Joshua must follow the Lord’s commands if he wants to rule (v. 7).  The word here for “rule” is not from the more typical root, מלך mlk, meaning “to own” or “be in charge,” but from דין dyn, meaning “to judge” or “to create judgments.”  At first it seems odd that Joshua would rule, not Zerubbabel.  As a result, this role for the High Priest, to make judgments, showed that rule would be split, and that obedience to the commandments empowers Joshua to judge.

Rule over the land proceeds from the Lord.  The Lord elaborated on the next ruler of the land, the “Branch.”  He is the shoot coming out of Jesse from Jeremiah 23 and Isaiah 11.  First, the Lord will establish the Branch to rule; second, he will hand the seven-faceted carved stone to Joshua.  Significantly, the symbol of Joshua’s power is prepared by the Lord himself.  Once he raises the Branch and hands Joshua the symbol of power, the Lord will remove the land’s guilt immediately, just as he removed Joshua’s guilt.  Hospitality throughout the land will display this new era of rule.

The judgment about Joshua came down to whether he is capable of serving as High Priest because of his exile.  This judgment applies additionally to the whole people.  Babylon corrupted Joshua and the people because it was a land of idolatry that did not follow the Lord’s teaching.  As the Lord told the people early on not to mingle with the Canaanites, lest they follow the Canaanites’ ways, the exile in Babylon could be read in the same light.  This was the case for Joshua, hence his dirty clothing.  At the same time, suffering in exile purified Joshua, based on the ruling by the angel who ordered Joshua’s filthy clothing to be removed.  Thus exile was the source of impurity, but ultimately also of cleansing for Joshua and the people.

The new style of rule: Zechariah 4

This chapter describes how the Lord will use the new secular and religious rulers to perpetuate his law. The Lord’s strength, not humans’, will characterize this new era of history.

The text uses a common apocalyptic technique of heavenly dialogue wherein the visionary/prophet ask each other questions and describe the scene.  The characters effectively narrate the story, placing the reader in the role of observer of heavenly things.

The first part of the chapter, 4:1-7, establish the content of the vision.  Two olive trees produce oil, which flow into a bowl, then flowing into a lampstand with seven lamps, and each lamp has seven pipes, which are probably wicks for light.  Zechariah asks about the meaning of this vision–after a bit of absurd back-and-forth in 4:4-5–and the angel answers cryptically.

The ruler, Zerubbabel, will rule not by strength but by the spirit of the Lord and completely redefine what power is.  Each scene we’ve seen in the latter part of the Book of the XII displays a new natural order that defines the eschatological era.  Nature itself, represented by the mountain, will bow down before him.  The power that the world knew to this point will be turned upside-down.  The symbol of this power is the seven-faceted stone, carved by the Lord, mentioned above in 3:9-10, that is presented to Joshua.  The new natural order will produce the symbol of power for the new age.

Zerubbabel’s power comes from the Spirit of the Lord, but that spirit is manifested concretely in his willingness to complete constructing the temple (4:8-10).  This temple obviously won’t live up to the stature of the First Temple of Solomon.  (It took Solomon 7 years to build that temple [1 Kings 6:38].)  Zerubbabel, though, will get it done, and with his hands.  We should remember that the original temple was completed thanks to tens of thousands of men conscripted to work (1 Kings 5:27-30).  The new temple did not know such forceful power.  Zerubbabel will hold the special diadem–which represents the eye of the Lord’s judgment in the whole world–in his hand as the symbol of power.

At the end of the chapter, 4:11-14, Zerubbabel returned to the dialogue at the beginning of the chapter, and the angel explained how the leaders will be the means for spreading the Lord’s teaching.  Oil is the basic means for providing light in darkness in the ancient Near East, and light is equated with knowledge.  The trees producing the oil are the “sons of oil” (literally in Hebrew), that is, Zerubbabel and Joshua.  Their new style of leadership in the paradigm of the eschatological era will “enlighten” or teach all the corners of the world.

The new rulers function as means for the Lord to perpetuate his glory, namely, that he can create an entire era out of nothing.  No one needs to do anything.  The greatness of human or natural strength are meaningless.  Rulers in this era will teach that the Lord’s will and Torah (teaching) are all that matter.

An uncreated city for all nations: Zechariah 2

As human beings attempt to achieve, they build up themselves at the expense of others.  They build cities full of corruption to protect themselves by their own power.  They take land from others, imagining it to be their own.  They strike at their enemies to establish their glory.

The Lord can only end this cycle if he establishes his own people in his own city in his own land.  Thus he called the final remnant of the people – Israelite and non- – to come back to the land. If someone tried to prevent them, then they would pay the consequences.  The Lord called his new people into his new city — and neither people nor city would be limited by human institutions.

Jerusalem not constructed by humans

The newest “version” of Jerusalem cannot be constructed by humans–only by the Lord (vv. 1-5 [5-9]; the verse numbers in brackets refer to the reference in the Jewish Bible).  In another vision, Zechariah saw a mason, ready to measure and rebuild Jerusalem.  One angel raced to the one speaking to Zechariah imploring, “Go and tell that man!”  The mason did not understand the plan.

The city would not be built.  The city would remain as the pasture land with no limit.  It would teem with life such that no walls could contain it.  As for protection, the Lord himself would protect the city as a wall of fire.  Recalling the unconsumed burning bush of Moses, and the flame of fire that led the people through the wilderness by night, and the purifying flame of the blacksmith, the Lord manifested his protection through flame.  Nothing could limit the prosperity of this city, and no enemy could take away from it.  Significantly, no human–only the Lord–could build such a city.

All nations should come to the Lord’s city

The Lord implored all to come to dwell in his city. Even though the Lord sent Zion into Babylon, he invited them back to the land (vv. 6-9 [10-13]). The Lord would protect them along the way.  He would reverse the previous order, and anyone who would profit from Zion’s weakness would only hurt themselves (literally, their own “eye”).  The previous cycle of defeat and captivity would end.

Not only did the Lord invite Zion, but also the nations, to the city (vv. 10-13 [14-17]).  In the previous passage, Zion was lifted up again, at the expense of the nations.  At first, we might see a continuation of the teeter-totter of being lifted up and brought back that the Lord has affected throughout the Book of the XII.  Immediately, though, the Lord invited the nations to come and be lifted up.  The Lord would come to dwell in the midst of the city, but he would be bringing the nations who were “bound” to the Lord.  Significantly, they would not come as second-class citizens but as the Lord’s people.  As the Lord promised way back in the beginning of the Book of the XII (Hosea 1), the Lord would make his people out of those who are not his people.  Once this occurred, he chose Judah as his land again (v. 16 [12]). This creation of a people out of no people silenced all flesh and demonstrated the Lord’s glory: the ability to make something out of nothing.

The Lord without limits

Only the Lord can construct the heavenly, eternal, eschatological dwelling.  The Lord invited his people out of exile.  As the nations attached themselves to him, they would come to dwell in the city as he came to dwell there.  He would live in a city that only he could build, with a people that only he could create or conceive.  As we saw in Zephaniah the humble of all nations would become the people of the Lord; in Haggai that the temple could only be built by the Lord’s prompting.  Here the city of the Lord could only be built by the Lord.  The people of the Lord would come from all nations with no other affiliation besides him.  This new phase of history and creation silenced all flesh.

The Lord’s plan for the nations: Zecharaiah 1

Everything is tranquil in Zechariah 1, the calm before the storm. The people knew that the Lord would overthrow the nations, but were disappointed in a lack of action.  Zechariah received visions, explained to him by a heavenly being, that illuminated him with the overarching scheme of history.  In this chapter, the prophet learned that the Lord will soon engage the final act: the ultimate defeat of the nations and gathering of his people.

Apocalyptic literature

The first 5 1/2 chapters of Zechariah (1:1-6:8) are written in a genre called “apocalyptic literature,” which posits that history is a series of eras that follow a scheme known only in the heavens.  The Book of the Revelation of John in the New Testament is a well-known example of this genre, but the ancient world produced hundreds of such works, and many survived as “pseudepigrapha,” or works purported to be written by another author (eg, Apocalypse of Abraham, Apocalypse of Adam, Apocalypse of Moses).

In the first half of Zechariah, the apocalyptic genre reinforces that this last section of the Book of the XII describes the eschaton or last days.  In Zephaniah, the eschatological people were called to gather; in Haggai, the eschatological temple was commanded to be built.  In Zechariah, the angel interpreter (common in this genre) reveals to the prophet (and us, the readers, as “flies on the wall” of the heavenly discourse) the nature of history and the times he’s living in.  Time and history have a clear structure, and Zechariah finds himself in the end of an era.

The Lord’s word is eternal

In spite of the people’s actions, the Lord proved that his word extends beyond them (vv. 1-6).  This prophecy took place in year 2, month 8, which is the same time as the prophecies in Haggai 2, so during the building of the temple.

The Lord was angry with their fathers, but now the people had an opportunity to repent.  In Hebrew “repent” comes from the root שוב shuv, which literally means “turn.”  The Lord recommended that the people turn from how they had been doing things, and the Lord, for his part, would turn from how he has been doing things. When he was angry with and warned the fathers, the fathers did not change their ways.  The consequences of conquest by countless enemies were well known to Zechariah’s contemporary audience.  The fathers died, the prophets died, but the word of warning and of consequences remained.  Those who knew about the events had to admit that the word came to pass, and the recipients and messengers of the word passed away.  No one could deny that the Lord’s word determined their destiny.

The Lord comes with thunder — but it’s still quiet

The Lord promised to overturn the nations in the last day, so that the humble will come to the Lord–but the land is at peace (vv. 7-12).  This prophecy took place in year 2, month 11, day 24, that is two months after Haggai’s last prophecies.  Building the temple has been underway, but nothing has changed.

Zechariah engaged again with an angel to ask about a vision of horses sent by the Lord to roam the earth (vv. 8-12).  The riders came to roam the earth, to walk throughout the earth.  They reported that all the earth was tranquil, that there was no sign that the latest kingdom (Persian) was being overthrown.

With peace throughout the world, why did the angel cry for the Lord to show mercy to Jerusalem and Judah?  It was too quiet!  The Lord promised to show mercy by overturning the nations, yet they saw no sign of overturn.

In the next section (vv. 13-17) the angel explained that the Lord was still planning. The Lord loved Jerusalem and Zion, and was upset with the nations who added to the evil the Lord had planned.  He was not yet ready to act, however.  The Lord promised that the nations deserved punishment; while the Lord planned on punishing his people by means of the nations, the nations had taken it too far.  The Lord then changed the subject from the nations to state that the temple will be rebuilt, his presence would be in it, and the land will abound (v. 16; see Haggai). The Lord would be favorable again towards them (v. 17).  Even though the riders did not see any “action” in the arrival of the eschaton, the Lord affirmed that his plans were coming to fruition.

The next image illustrated the Lord’s intentions (vv. 18-21 [2:1-4 in the Hebrew Bible]).  Often apocalyptic literature depicts future actions through animal metaphors.  The Lord sent smiths to hew off the horns of the Gentile enemies.  He planed to render them impotent for their violence towards Judah.

Last chance

The last days were upon Israel.  Their fathers did not take their opportunity when the prophets offered it to them.  Zechariah’s audience knew the consequences.  The Lord assured them that even thought they saw no evidence that the world order was changing, he had a plan: a temple with his presence and recompense on the nations.  The people saw the final, apocalyptic storm coming–would they choose to brave the coming storm or seek shelter in the Lord?

The Lord intervenes to sanctify his people: Haggai 1-2

In the eschaton, or, the last times, the Lord will gather his people, as we read in Zephaniah, and he will rebuild his temple, as we read in Haggai.  Even though the humble gathered as a people, they could not make themselves holy.  The Lord instituted the temple as the means for the people’s sanctification.  Yet he had to ensure that the people did not become puffed up and ruined as they had done with the previous temple (see Jeremiah 7).  The Lord played an active part in this phase of history as he directed the rebuilding and decoration of the temple and the sanctification of his people.

Haggai hangs events on specific dates, unique to what we have seen so far in the XII.  While previous books, such as Habakkuk, make specific dating difficult, the author of this book explicitly ground its story in external events.  The events Haggai discusses take place over about four months (beginning of month 6 till the end of month 9), during the second year of King Darius of the Persian Empire.  Thus all dates in this book refer to a time in the reign of King Darius.  The dates will link Haggai’s prophesies with Zechariah’s apocalyptic visions in the next book, as well as with the reign of the Persian emperors.

Lack of prosperity came from prioritizing the houses of the leaders

In year 2, month 6, day 1, Haggai spoke to Zerubbabel, the governor, and Joshua, the high priest, to emphasize to them the link between the people’s lack of prosperity and the ruin of the temple. In 1:2-6 the individuals holding power were not interested in rebuilding the temple, but the Lord explained that their problems are the result of their desire for a life of comfort and neglect of the Lord’s house, and that theses problems will continue if the neglect continues.  (Ezra 4 says that construction was stopped because people of the land conspired with Persian authorities to stop the construction.)

In contrast to the ruins the temple found itself in, 1:7-11 depicted the beauty of the houses of the rulers.  The Lord shamed the rulers into focusing on rebuilding his house by contrasting the beauty of their houses and the ruin of his house.  The leaders should focus on building the temple–“the house”–rather than hide in their own houses.  Their incorrect priorities resulted in the the Lord withholding rain and prosperity.

The rulers re-prioritize

The leaders and people jumped quickly to working on the temple–an unusual response (1:12-13). After reading many chapters of obstinate disobedience from the people over the past many chapters, this quick, obedient response comes as a surprise.  (This is one reason I believe that the Book of the XII should be read as a single scroll.  In the context of the other books in the XII, the only other time we saw such obedience was among the Ninevites responding to Jonah.)  The Lord declared that he is with them–another rare response.

Even though the rulers began building the temple, the Lord was the ultimate source for building (1:14-15). About one month after the last word of the Lord from Haggai, in year 2, month 6, day 24, the Lord “roused the spirit” of Zerubbabel and Joshua and the people to work on the temple.  The reader of Haggai knows, therefore, that the Lord initiated building his temple at the hands of Israel at that time.  The Lord played a part in this surprisingly different reaction by the people,   The people did not change; the Lord changed.  He was ushering in the eschaton through the people.

The Lord’s presence is impressive enough

A month after the last word from Haggai, in year 2, month 7, day 21, the Lord declared that his presence in the temple would be its most impressive and important feature (2:1-5).  Since Darius came to power about 65 years after the destruction of the first temple by the Babylonians, someone around 70-80 years old at this time would have remembered the splendor of the first temple.  The new temple evidently did not impress them.  In spite of appearances, the new temple would be more impressive because the Lord’s presence rested in it.  In Ezekiel 11, the Lord removed his presence from the city; in Haggai he reestablished his presence.

Moreover, the Lord recreated the splendor of his house his own way (2:6-9).  In Exodus, the Lord’s people managed to loot the Egyptians and carry away their booty without wielding a single weapon, and in this way he showed his greatness.  In Haggai, he would have the nations return the riches to the temple.  Ezra 6:5 stated that Cyrus declared that the temple gold and silver be returned from Babylon.  Thus the Lord filled the temple with his splendor and continued as the source of the action.  As he motivated Israel to rebuild, he motivated the nations to supply the riches.

Only the Lord can purify

Two months later, on year 2, month 9, day 24, the Lord proved through the notion of purity that he must be the source of change in the people.  The situation described in 2:11-13 demonstrated that holiness cannot spread, but uncleanness can.  A spiral towards more and more uncleanness resulted, displayed by the people’s lack of prosperity.  Practically this meant that without a system for bringing holiness to the people, the offerings they offered were unclean, and the people remained in their unclean state.  Because they were unclean, they did not prosper (2:14).

Up to this point, the Lord cursed what the people did, but now he decided to bless it (2:15-19).  As the people laid the foundation of the temple, blessings would come to the people because the Lord changed his approach to intervene directly.  Why the Lord changed his approach–Haggai did not explain.  The necessary source of holiness, the temple, was established, ending the continuous spiral of uncleanness and poverty.

Later that same day, the Lord further spoke through Haggai to declare that he will defeat all the nations (2:20-23).  The Lord will overturn all the nations with their armies and they will destroy each other.  In addition, he established Zerubbabel as his “signet,” his image and seal.  In the ancient world, the signet ring was used to sign documents and seal goods.  To bear someone’s seal was the ancient equivalent to the modern power of attorney; you could function as someone else legally.  So as Zerubbabel worked in the world, so the Lord did, as well.  Since Zerubbabel was the one who submitted and built the temple according to the Lord’s will, the reflection of the Lord’s came through the humble submission of will.  (Perhaps it is significant that Zerubbabel is not a king–only a governor.)

Submitting to the Lord’s will

The people suffered because they could not make themselves holy.  They did not have enough, and poverty was increasing its hold on them.  Rather than shore up what they had in their panelled houses, they were commanded to rebuild the Lord’s house.  This time, though, the Lord changed his approach, intervening directly and ushering in the eschaton.  Since the Lord would be there, the temple would be a source of holiness for them.

The Lord initiated this new phase of history.  He influenced the rulers to begin building. He would instill it with his presence.  He would decorate it with the nations’ riches.  He would bless the people and sanctify them.  This temple would not arise from humans’ hands except for the Lord’s influence and power.  The governor, Zerubbabel, would be the image of the Lord in the land, as he was the one who submitted to following the Lord’s will to rebuild.  As the humble would constitute the Lord’s people in Zephaniah, so humility would inhabit the temple in the Lord’s presence.