Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem, and the battle-bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.
I hope that the introduction to this sermon is not going to be too much of a lecture. I kindly ask you, Romans, friends, countrymen, lend me your ears. As you look at your Bibles what is the obvious thing that jumps off the page about this chapter and the next chapter that is different from all the preceding chapters? Before you read a word there is something different before your eyes. Not the words themselves but how they are set out – how are they different? Until now there has been a margin on both sides of each column because all the previous chapters are regular prose. Then you come to our text in chapter 9 and it is different (as is chapter 10). The margin is just on the left side. The reason is that these two chapters are written in Hebrew poetry. They are set out like the psalms are set out in Scripture in a poetic genre. In our modern translations the poetic structure is faithfully copied. So the very appearance of these chapters in your Bibles is different.
I don’t suppose that some of you expected prophecy to be like that. Peter tells us, holy men of old spoke as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. You were expecting ecstasy but what you are getting is carefully thought out and crafted poetry. There is, in fact, a movement in redemptive history of the Old Testament from temporary ecstatic prophets to writing prophets, like there is a movement in the New Testament from temporary apostles and prophets to preachers, elders and deacons.
You certainly had ecstatic prophets at the time of Samuel and King Saul didn’t you? There is a classic example of this in 1 Samuel 19 verses 20 through 24; when Saul’s soldiers “saw a group of prophets prophesying, with Samuel standing there as their leader, the Spirit of God came upon Saul’s men and they also prophesied. Saul was told about it, and he sent more men, and they prophesied too. Saul sent men a third time, and they also prophesied. Finally, he himself left for Ramah and went to the great cistern at Secu. And he asked, ‘Where are Samuel and David?’ ‘Over in Naioth at Ramah,’ they said. So Saul went to Naioth at Ramah. But the Spirit of God came even upon him, and he walked along prophesying until he came to Naioth. He stripped off his robes and also prophesied in Samuel’s presence. He lay that way all that day and night. This is why people say, ‘Is Saul also among the prophets?’”
The Spirit unwontedly came upon these men, and then I suppose they would give brief words that were revelations from God. We have little information as to their content; the words of the prophecies were not as significant as the actual powerful, convicting event itself. Then as the years went by God raised up men who had the gift of writing enscripturated prophecy, which was far more important as enduring. Men like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel and these authors of the smaller books like Zechariah’s prophecy were the great writing prophets. They carefully composed, often in poetry, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, their prophecies. You see the same pattern in the New Testament, first there was Agabus with a single sentence prophecy from heaven about a famine or concerning Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem, but then later on the mature apostles, Matthew, Mark. Luke, John, Peter, Paul, John, James, Jude under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, inquired, did research, used sources, answered questions that churches had raised, dealt with pastoral problems and finally gave us the New Testament as we have it today.
So Zechariah will do the same; he’s not ecstatic, is he? He is, of course, a man of deep feelings but he is also rational; he will answer questions; he will address and counsel certain individuals, the governor or the high priest, and he will preach. He will also see visions and interpret them. Then from the chapter before us you see that he did what almost all the prophets did. He wrote in poetry. His audience was used to poetry. If they memorised the Scriptures, the Psalms and the writings of Isaiah, then they memorised poetry. It had hooks that stuck in their memories, and they could retain it much better than remembering prose – like we remember the words of hymns better than the words of the Bible. We often quote hymns in our praying and I do in my preaching. This poetry of chapter 9 is typical of what has been called “poetic prose,” a special, formal style employing the characteristics of poetry, though less consistently. This oracle of Zechariah’s was regular and stylised and thus better remembered.
As a matter of fact, poetry is the second most common literary feature of the Scriptures; it comprises almost one-third of the Bible. The language of poetry is vivid imagery. See verse 3; Zechariah doesn’t write “Tyre was powerful and wealthy.” He wrote, “Tyre has built herself a stronghold; she has heaped up silver like dust and gold like the dirt of the streets.” You see how Zechariah uses two similes – “silver like dust and gold like the dirt of the streets.” It is designed to stir our imagination and affections. It creates mental pictures. The prophet-poets use such literary devices as metaphors and personification, and hyperboles. “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way,” Isaiah’s poetry. It was all done to create images that appeal to our senses and memories. When people say to us in tones of horror, “Do you believe the Bible literally?” then we want to tell them that we believe that it is the inspired and infallible Word of God and that we believe it all. We are unashamed of that, but then we are a little reluctant to tell them that we do identify and interpret some scriptures as written in poetic language. It has its own rules of interpretation. It is not a science text book. But when we say that to them then we feel they are not understanding us and they are thinking that we want to keep our cake and yet to eat our cake too. What we are trying to say is that we don’t interpret the metaphors and similes that we come across in the poetic section as scientific statements. All the trees of the field did not clap their hands literally, and the mountains did not literally leap for joy. Poetry must be read, understood, and interpreted as poetry that is true.
One more little word about the poetic style of the prophets and so the next two chapters; you will find in biblical poetry what we call parallelism. Parallelism is the literary genre in which virtually all biblical poetry is written. Look at an example of it in chapter ten and verse 2; “The idols speak deceit/ diviners see visions that lie; they tell dreams that are false/ they give comfort in vain. Therefore the people wander like sheep/ oppressed for lack of a shepherd.” Zechariah presents a thought and he uses parallel literary statements. The two or more successive poetic lines strengthen, and reinforce, and develop the thought of the previous statement. These two chapters are full of poetic parallelism. That is my introduction over and my little explanation about the style of frequency of Old Testament poetry. Its application to me is to try to be vivid and lucid, and interesting in my presentation. To Christian publishers its message is to be attractive in your presentation of the Christian message.
- GOD IS GOING TO JUDGE THE UNBELIEVING WORLD.
That is the principal theme of the first eight verses. You can see that Chapter 9 is named as an ‘oracle’, in other words, a revelation from God, but one which can weigh heavily upon the people to whom it’s directed. It’s a burden to them, and in this case especially to those nations that up until now have been at rest, contented to live without Jehovah. They say to one another about us disciples, “What poor suckers! They have to hear and do the will of Jehovah each day.” The nations think that they’ve been delivered from that. They think they are at rest without God. They don’t bother about him and he doesn’t bother about them! Well, says Zechariah, “the word of the Lord is going to rest on Damascus and the rest of you.” Not on every person without exception because there are those believers in every nation surrounding Jerusalem whose eyes are on the Lord (v.1). They find their local temples and idols abhorrent. It is to the Lord they’re looking for help, but beware O land of Syria and the cities of Hardrach and Damascus, and down the coast at Hamath and further down to the ports of Tyre and Sidon for the word of the Lord is against them all. They were the wealthiest places in the world. International trade has prospered them greatly, and they seemed to be mighty strongholds. They have tons of silver – silver is like the piles of dust that you find in other places, and gold is so common to them it is like the dirt in the streets (v.3). Men and women today look at TV with the pictures of homes and fashion and cars and exotic holiday spots and 5 star hotels, and they can grow green with envy at what they see. “That’s the life for me!” people say, especially young people who think that money can buy them heart peace and contentment and everything that is thrilling.
Then God speaks (v.4); he will take away everything from these nations who have been contented without God. What they have will be consumed. The great Mediterranean seaside ports, Ashkelon, Gaza, Ekron, Ashdod, the Philistine strongholds and the envy of many in landlocked struggling Jerusalem – let those cities know this, that the Lord will take away their possessions and destroy their sea power. The city they love will experience the Great Fire of Tyre (v.4). Those seaports will be conquered and occupied by foreigners. Their monarchy will end, and then the remnant that survives will become open to hear the very same message that God’s people in Jerusalem love to receive. They too will receive it, and these Gentile nations will become actual leaders of the converts to Jehovahism. Ekron will become like a suburb of Jerusalem – the Jebusites (v.7). The Philistines will become a ruin, but the people of God in the house of God will always be defended. While they love and serve the Lord then never again will they experience an oppressor like Nebuchadnezzar or Belshazzar overrunning them. No such oppressors shall take them into exile – while they trust and obey. “Now I am keeping watch” (v.8), says the Lord, and with that affirmation the section ends. God will judge the nation at ease.
Don’t take refuge in your possessions, or find security in your money. You remember the theme of the Lord Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, how he warns the people whose confidence is in silver and in gold. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:19-21). We’re living in the midst of a covetous generation. All the people around us long for stuff that more money could buy. But we are made by God in God’s world and called to live for the glory of God, and in such blessed lives fulfilment and joy and peace is to be found, and only there. God will watch over us: “I will defend my house against marauding forces. Never again will an oppressor overrun my people” (v.8). So, first of all. God will judge the unbelieving, resting world and protect his people.
- GOD THE SON IS GOING TO COME TO SAVE HIS PEOPLE.
Here are the most well-known words of Zechariah in verse 9; “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Zechariah is prophesying – in poetry – the triumphant entry of the Messiah into their city of Jerusalem. They were discouraged after ten years home from Babylon. The destroyed city had been greatly improved from the demolished uninhabited ruin it had been when they arrived from the glories of Babylon, but it wasn’t much of a place. No tourists came to see it; certainly no kings, not even ambassadors. But what do we hear now? Our righteous king, great David’s greater Son, son of Mary, the Messiah, he is coming there, to their streets! This is why they must stay and why they must welcome every Jew returning from Babylon who left the land of captivity, especially those men who had done well and had got land and men working for them in their businesses, but had given it all up to return to this dusty building site and poor little Temple. Stay here now! Don’t walk back to Persia to die there one day. Walk these streets and work here. Plan for your future here! Your King is coming here.
All the four gospels mention what many think of as the event of Palm Sunday, the beginning of Easter week, when Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem to a tumultuous welcome. The people threw palm branches to the ground and took their cloaks off and laid them out as a ‘red carpet’ for Jesus to ride across into the city. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all refer to this event and these words of Zechariah are quoted. God put himself on line. He said publicly that this would happen. He promised this, and it was fulfilled. Jesus entering the city is the stuff of prophecy. What do we say about it?
i] These words were addressed to the Lord Jesus himself. In other words Jesus believed them. As a boy he grew in wisdom through learning the Scriptures. He increasingly understood who he was from fellowship with his Father in the secret place but in reading the Bible and the descriptions it gives of the person and work of the Messiah. One day almost 2,000 years ago the boy, Jesus of Nazareth, read these words for the first time, and thought about them. “One day I am to go to Jerusalem riding on a donkey, and there will be shouts and great rejoicing. I don’t know yet when that will be, but it will come about. My Father has said that it will happen and I wait on him for the time.” So first they were addressed to Jesus of Nazareth.
ii] These words were addressed to the congregation who listened each day to the preaching of Zechariah. It would have been preached to them not in order that they might think that during their lifetime this would certainly occur and their eyes would see the coming of the King, but that this was going to occur here to their descendants in the streets of this ruined city that they were rebuilding. It was urging them to be steadfast and unmovable and abounding in the work of the Lord, for their labour in the Lord were not in vain. They were to look forward in hope. They were laying a foundation for the future coming of the King. It was essential in the plan of God for Jerusalem to be rebuilt. And they were to see that a future of war-mongering and military power was not God’s plan for them. No! Jehovah says, “I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war horses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken” (v.10). The weapons of our warfare are spiritual and mighty to overthrow strongholds. We have nothing but contempt for suicide bombers.
iii] These words were addressed to us, and to all the people of God in the next two and a half millennia. God is a God of history. What he has said in his word will certainly come to pass. God told us how we might identify the true Messiah when he appeared. The nineteenth-century Oxford scholar Henry Liddon traced no fewer than 332 Old Testament prophecies fulfilled by Jesus. These covered his family’s social status, his life-style, his general demeanour, his teaching and his extraordinary powers. They included many minute details of the events that took place during the last week of his life, his death and resurrection. You know that a third of the gospels concentrate on that most important of weeks in the whole of human history. That week dawned with Jesus’ entry into city of Jerusalem on the back of a donkey.
iv] These words were written for his enemies’ discomfort. All these prophecies, so amazing in their accuracy, are a testimony to each person, whether he is a Christian or not, concerning the authenticity and divinity of the Bible. Jesus told the devil again and again, “It is written . . .” So do we. Jesus told his enemies, “You make mistakes because you do not know the Scriptures,” and so do we. We present to them the uninventable and infallible Jesus who tells us what we are to think about the Bible, and who fulfilled all the prophecies about himself in the Word of God. They may not be converted by this testimony, but we ensure they will not be at rest without Jesus Christ when we tell them, “Know this, that the Bible is true!”
So let me tell you about my Saviour. This is what Zechariah tells us about him. He is not like other leaders. He is righteous and gentle. He does not ride into a city on a great warhorse, or driven in on a golden chariot, but on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey (v.9). We have seen the overthrow of President Victor Yanukovych of the Ukraine in the past week and the crowds have entered the luxury mansion on his 340 acre estate where he once lived. They have gawped at his pet ostriches, the Spanish galleon restaurant on his little lake, his own golf course with gold-plated golf clubs, sauna and massage parlour, a swimming pool, and a private zoo. All the excess of tyrants world-wide, African, Chinese, Arab, South American. Jesus’ mode of transport was that of the common people. You don’t need to fear him. He hasn’t come to make you fall to the ground before him in abject obeisance. He rides a little donkey, clip clop clip clopping into town.
His message is peace; “He will proclaim peace to the nations” (v.10). Therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God through him. His name shall be called the Prince of Peace, for he has turned away God’s anger; on the cross he has propitiated it completely. His people can run into the presence of God through him and cry to the Creator of the cosmos, the one living and true God, “Abba! Father!” The wrath of a sin-hating God with them can have nothing to do. Christ has purchased full redemption; because of the blood of the covenant with them (v.11) he has redeemed them and finished that work. He calls his people to be good soldiers of the Messiah Jesus. Christians are arrows in the bow of grace and overcome the prince of darkness to the ends of the world (v.13).
His reign is effective. It does not come to an end like President Victor Yanukovych’s reign ended. It is not restricted to some little kingdom like Luxemburg. “His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River [Euphrates] to the ends of the earth” (v.10). And what does he do with his power? He frees his prisoners from the waterless pit (v. 11). From sinking sands he lifted me! From shades of night to plains of light he lifted us! From the dungeon of captivity, fast bound in sin and nature’s night, he delivered us! “Return to your fortress, O prisoner of hope, even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you” (v.12). That is what our righteous humble king does with his power.
- GOD IS GOING TO COME AGAIN AND DESTOY FULLY THE WORKS OF THE DEVIL.
So the chapter ends with a scene of vindication, of Jehovah appearing, no longer in humility to seek and save his people, giving his life a ransom for many. He will be coming again to manifest his dominion over the world (v.14). He will come to destroy the devil and his works. There will be the final conflict and the great separation.
Let’s look at THIS EVENT first of all in the non-poetic language of the New Testament as it describes what Zechariah tells us poetically in the last four verses of this chapter. I am thinking of the second letter to the Thessalonians and chapter 2 and the description of events that immediately occur at the end times. First we are told that someone called “the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped” (vv.3&4). In other words, before the end of the world there will be an international apostasy, a virtual war against everything that is God’s, and the leader of that apostasy is a figure called the ‘lawless one.’ He is not a fallen angel, not a spirit, he is a man, and he is AN ambitious and very energetic leader of the anti-Christ movement. He is active and aggressive in defying the commands of God. The apostle John calls him the anti-Christ, the man who is the great opponent and rival to Jesus Christ, arrogating to himself the honour and glory that is Christ’s alone. He will seek to dethrone the Lord and enthrone himself. In reckless audacity and ferocious insolence he leads fallen mankind’s enmity against God. He will gather many to follow him because Satan works with him and he displays “all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing” (vv.10). This is what Zechariah is describing here, the last and most ferocious of all the wars against the saints. But we are told this of him, “whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendour of his coming.” Deliverance comes for us in this time of great tribulation by the splendour of the coming of Christ who will destroy Satan and the man of sin.
Now here in Zechariah in the last four verses of this chapter that scene is described in wonderful poetic language. The warrior from heaven is presented to us in awesome and intimidating words, his arrows flashing like lightning (v.14), the bugle sounds the advance (v.14), he comes riding upon the winds of heaven (v.14), he is protecting his people, and they fight against the man of sin with arrows and sling-stones and shields – just like the weapons of the fiercest warriors at the time of Zechariah. It is, I say, poetic language. We fight today against every kind of Anti-Christ – and there are many, the false prophet, the beast, principalities, powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world. We grow weary and thirsty in the conflict and we slake our thirst with refreshment, with bowls of wine (v.15). The Lord himself is fighting on our side and he delivers us (v.16), and so in the last day all of Christ’s people will stand attractive and beautiful in Christ and like him (v.17). He cries to his father, “Here am I and the soldiers you gave me. How brave and valiant they are,” and they will cast their crowns before him.
Now this is how we are to see these last verses in Zechariah 9, “Then the LORD will appear over them; his arrow will flash like lightning. The Sovereign LORD will sound the trumpet; he will march in the storms of the south, and the LORD Almighty will shield them . . . The LORD their God will save them on that day as the flock of his people. They will sparkle in his land like jewels in a crown. How attractive and beautiful they will be! Grain will make the young men thrive, and new wine the young women” (vv.14&15, 16&17). We shall be more than conquerors through his love. We shall stand in that evil day, and having done all we shall stand in the strength of Christ.
How do we respond to this?
i] To invite all of you to enlist in this great conflict. That is what it means to become Christians. It means to become good soldiers of Jesus Christ and to fight the good fight in the whole armour of God. It means that the invitation to become disciples means that you are going to meet much resistance to your beliefs and your lifestyle. Men will despise you and say all manner of evil against you for the sake of Christ. But you come with us. You leave the cause you have been serving and join the cause of Christ and his truth. That is the gospel invitation.
ii] Are you Christians ready for the conflict, such a conflict as these dimensions, to meet much opposition, much greater than what you have met so far in this life, much, much more. Will you stand? Will you be brave? God has not given us a spirit of cowardice, but courage and a sound mind. Will you stand up for Jesus, you soldiers of the Christ. If you are failing in your skirmishes with foot soldiers then what is it going to be like when you meet the cavalry of the Anti Christ? Prepare yourself now. Grow in competence and power in waging a holy way now. Exercise yourself to be strong in the grace of Jesus Christ. Never be ashamed of the gospel, and battle against all its enemies wherever you meet them, in the office, in the staff-room, with your friends, with your opponents. In the mornings and in the nights keep your colours flying. Then to all of your Zechariah brings these promises; “The Sovereign LORD will sound the trumpet; he will march in the storms of the south, and the LORD Almighty will shield them . . . The LORD their God will save them on that day as the flock of his people” (vv. 14, 16&17).
2nd March 2014 GEOFF THOMAS