A picture of salvation

Zechariah’s eight night visions gave him an intense insight into what lay ahead for God’s people. His first three visions focused on God’s relationship with the remnant of Jews that had returned to the Promised Land. Zechariah’s next four visions focused on God’s relationship with the rest of the world. In particularly, Zechariah was given access to God’s heavenly throne room, in order to show him how the intercessory process of salvation worked. It says in Zechariah 3:1-2:

And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him. And the LORD said unto Satan, the LORD rebuke thee, O Satan; even the LORD that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: Is not this a brand pluckt out of the fire?

The Hebrew term translated resist in Zechariah 3:1 is satan (saw – tan´). Satan means to attack and figuratively refers to an accusation (7853). One of the ways the word satan is translated is adversary and the person Satan is sometimes referred to as our adversary, also known as the devil. The interesting thing about God’s response is that he merely states, “the LORD rebuke thee” (Zechariah 3:2) and that’s the end of Satan’s argument. To rebuke someone means that you chide or scold him. Basically, what the LORD did was tell Satan to shut up.

The picture of a brand being pluckt out of the fire indicated that Joshua was not selected randomly, but was intentionally chosen as an instrument of God. Joshua’s selection by God meant that Satan no longer had any power over him, he couldn’t damage his reputation or say anything bad about him in the presence of the LORD. It says in Zechariah 3:3-4, “Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before the angel. And he answered and spake unto those that stood before him, saying, Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him he said, behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will cloth thee with change of raiment.” The association of sin with dirty clothes makes is seem as though the damage done by sin is only superficial, but in reality, Joshua’s garments were ruined, they had become rags that were useless to him. The change of raiment that Jesus gave him was in essence, the shirt off his own back. Joshua was temporarily covered with the LORD’s righteousness because Jesus had not yet died on the cross.

The LORD referred to Joshua as a “stone that I have laid” (Zechariah 3:9), one that he would use to engrave or open up a pathway to salvation for everyone. One way to look at what happened to Joshua was the initial establishment of Jesus’ ministry to save the world. The remnant of Jews that returned to the Promised Land were like seeds that were planted, and expected to take root, and eventually when the Messiah was born, they would bear fruit and be the first to become disciples of Jesus Christ.

Zechariah’s fifth vision contained a personal message for Zerubbabel, the grandson of King Jehoiachin who was taken into captivity in Babylon. Zechariah said, “This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). Essentially, what he was being told was that God’s people would not succeed without spiritual assistance from God. Zerubbabel was asked, “For who hath despised the day of small things?” (Zechariah 4:10). This question referred back to the rebuilding of God’s temple. “Some thought the work on the temple was insignificant (Ezra 3:12; Hag 2:3), but God was in the rebuilding program and, by His Spirit (v.6), would enable Zerubbabel to finish it” (note on Zechariah 4:10).

Zechariah’s sixth and seventh vision began to tie in the larger objective within God’s plan of salvation to the rebuilding of the temple. At the end of Jesus’ parable of the husbandmen (Matthew 21:33-40), he said to the religious leaders that were listening, “Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes? Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder” (Matthew 21:42-44). Jesus’ comment was most likely a reference to his ability to take away Joshua’s sin(Zechariah 3:9) and yet his gift of salvation, full pardon, was being rejected by the men that had benefitted from the rebuilding of God’s temple. The Jews thought they were the only ones God intended to save, but Zechariah’s visions made it clear that God was concerned with the salvation of the entire world.

Zechariah was told concerning a flying roll or giant banner that stretched across the sky, “This is the curse that goeth forth over the face of the whole earth” (Zechariah 5:3). Although God’s commandments were given to the Israelites, there was no exclusion of the rest of the world with respect to their validity or enforcement. By making the Jews aware of the laws that governed his universe, God was allowing his people to avoid punishment by obeying them, rather than violating his commandments through ignorance. According to Zechariah’s vision, “every one that stealeth shall be cut off as on this side according to it; and every one that sweareth shall be cut off as on that side according to it” (Zechariah 5:3).

Zechariah’s seventh vision showed that not only must flagrant, persistent sinners be removed from the land, but the whole sinful system must be removed and would be centralized or contained temporarily within the boundaries of a place known as Babylonia, a land of idolatry (note on Zechariah 5:5-11). Revelation 17-18 depicts the final judgment of Babylonia or Babylon. It says in Revelation 18:2-3,21:

Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird. For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies…Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more.

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Too late

On August 14, 591 B.C., “certain of the elders of Israel came to inquire of the LORD” (Ezekiel 20:1). At that time, the fall of Jerusalem was inevitable and king Zedekiah’s plan to escape into the desert was most likely already in place. The elders of Israel may have been hoping that Ezekiel would give them an alternative to what they had already heard from the prophet Jeremiah. The fact that they went to see Ezekiel while he was being held captive in Babylon suggests that the elders of Israel were expecting Ezekiel to be aware of the current situation in Jerusalem and was able to tell them what to do even though he had been in captivity for more that seven years. Otherwise, there would have been no point for the elders to travel such a long distance to get his advice.

Unfortunately, the elders of Israel were disappointed when they arrived. Instead of receiving the latest news from God’s appointed messenger, the elders of Israel were told it was too late for them to seek God’s counsel, their judgment was already sealed and God would not reconsider his sentence against them (Ezekiel 20:31). Ezekiel was instructed to pronounce sentence against them and was told exactly what to say so that the elders of Israel would realize time had run out and Jerusalem would soon be destroyed.

The seriousness of Israel’s wrongdoing was such that God had Ezekiel recite the history of their idolatry from its beginning in the desert outside of Egypt before the people ever entered the Promised Land. Several times, God wanted to pour out his fury, but spared the people for his own name’s sake. Eventually, God gave up on his effort to change the Israelites’ behavior and let them have their own way. He explained to Ezekiel, “Because they had not executed my judgments, but had despised my statutes, and had polluted my sabbaths, and their eyes were after their fathers’ idols. Wherefore, I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live; and I polluted them in their own gifts, in that they caused to pass through the fire all that openeth the womb, that I might make them desolate, to the end that they might know that I am the LORD” (Ezekiel 20:24-26). In other words, God let them do what they wanted to so that they would become aware of their own sinful way of life.

Second chances

God’s system of justice is based on his willingness to give second chances. Although God judges us and punishes us when we do something wrong, he does not expect perfection or condemn us because we can’t stop doing what is wrong. Even when we intentionally break God’s commandments, all we have to do is repent and God will give us a second chance to do things right.

God’s exception to his rule of judgment was explained to Ezekiel this way. He said, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him. But if the wicked will turn from his sin that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die” (Ezekiel 18:20-21).

The Hebrew word translated turn in Ezekiel 18:20 is shuwb (shoob). Typically, shuwb is used to describe a situation in which one must go back to a previous location. “The basic meaning of the verb is movement back to a point of departure,” (7725) but it does not necessarily mean that you have to return to the starting point. In the context of a journey, shuwb means that you go back to the point where you got off track or departed from the prescribed pathway you were supposed to follow.

Although some people may think God wants to punish us and is glad when we get into trouble, God’s intention in establishing the Mosaic Law was to prevent his people from doing things that offended him. God asked Ezekiel two rhetorical questions to point out the absurdity of believing God wanted to destroy his people. He said, “Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?

In an attempt to set the record straight once and for all, God said plainly, “I will judge you,” but added that it would be on an individual basis that he would make his call. He said, “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord GOD. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin” (Ezekiel 18:30).

In his plea for repentance, God explained that it was necessary for a change to take place that involved the inner being of man. As if it were possible to become an entirely different person, God said that heart and spirit must be transformed in order to truly have a second chance at life. He said to his people, “Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed:  and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel? for I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord GOD: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye” (Ezekiel 18:31-32).

The mark

In his divine judgment of the city of Jerusalem, God demonstrated his ability to exercise self-control, in spite of fierce emotions that caused him to destroy everything, including his holy temple. Before he undertook the action to kill everyone within the city walls, God ordered a mark to be placed on the forehead of every person who shared his disgust with the situation. Calling forth the seven guardian angels that protected his people, God gave instructions to set apart those who were faithful to him. It says in Ezekiel 9:4, “And the LORD said unto him, Go through the midst of the city through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof.”

The seventh angel, who was clothed in linen, carried a writer’s inkhorn with which he was to place the mark (Ezekiel 9:2). Although it is not specified exactly what type of mark was made, the Hebrew word translated mark in Ezekiel 9:4, tav or taw, the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, specifies a signature. The signature may have only been represented by an X, but the implication was that the mark was a sign of ownership that was imprinted on the forehead. A similar marking is found in the book of Revelation where it says of the Antichrist, “And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive the mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: and that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name” (Revelation 13:16-17).

God’s judgment of Jerusalem was in many ways the foreshadowing of God’s final judgment of everyone on earth. It says in Revelation 3:12, “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.” It is possible that the mark placed on the foreheads of those in Jerusalem at the time of the city’s destruction was linked to Christ and was the equivalent of receiving salvation. The remarkable thing about receiving the mark was the only  requirement was to sign or groan, as if in despair (Ezekiel 9:4).

Ezekiel’s visions of God allowed him to see beforehand the outcome of God’s judgment of Jerusalem. In spite of his lenient excusal of anyone that cried out in despair, it appeared that none would survive. After the order was given to slay everyone that did not have the mark, Ezekiel exclaimed, “And it came to pass, while they were slaying them, and I was left, that I fell upon my face, and cried, and said, Ah Lord GOD, wilt thou destroy all the residue of Israel in thy pouring out of thy fury upon Jerusalem?” (Ezekiel 9:8). God’s reply to Ezekiel’s question suggested there were none who believed and were willing to cry out to him for help. “Then he said unto me, The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is exceeding great, and the land is full of blood, and the city full of perverseness: for they say, The LORD hath forsaken the earth, and the LORD seeth not” (Ezekiel 9:9).

Repentance (Step 2)

Godly sorrow, the first step in the process of repentance, is marked by an attitude of humility that recognizes the damage that one’s sin has caused. A description of godly sorrow can be found in Lamentations 2:10. It says, “The elders of the daughter of Zion sit upon the ground, and keep silence: they have cast up dust upon their heads:  they have girded themselves with sackcloth: the virgins of Jerusalem hang down their heads to the ground.”

Perhaps, the most obvious sign that a person has repented of his sins is the absence of pride. Typically, guilt subsides when true repentance begins to take place. A lack of guilt enables the sinner to see that what has happened is a matter of cause and effect. God is not responsible for our bad fortune, he is the one that tries to prevent us from doing harm. Lamentations 2:17 declares, “The LORD hath done that which he had devised; he hath fulfilled his word that he had commanded in days of old.”

If God were not in control, there would be no reason to obey him. The fact that he does what he says he’s going to, proves to us that God is able to make things happen according to his plan and purpose for our lives. When we sin, we are trying to control or alter our own destiny. When we realize that we cannot alter the course of our lives in a positive way, we see that it is foolish to ignore God’s warnings and try to succeed without his help.

We reach the second step of repentance when we are willing to talk to God about what has gone wrong in our lives. We are instructed in Lamentations 2:19 to, “Arise, cry out in the night: in the beginning of the watches, pour out thine heart like water before the face of the LORD: lift up thy hands toward him for the life of the young children, that faint for hunger in the top of every street.” The Hebrew word translated arise, quwm (koom) is sometimes used to signify empowering or strengthening (6965). In this instance, it is most likely suggesting a restoration of relationship and communication.

It is clear from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that the desired outcome of repentance is a restored relationship with God and our fellow man (2 Corinthians 7:8-10). The key to a right relationship with God is an understanding that his commandments are not optional. It is easy to believe that we are free to choose whether or not we want to live according to God’s word, but the fact of the matter is that there will always be negative consequences if we choose to disobey him.

Having a relationship with God is a prerequisite for forgiveness. God does not forgive strangers. The type of relationship that is necessary is not only personal, but also intimate. The phrase in Lamentations 2:19, “pour out thine heart like water before the LORD” is similar to a phrase used by king David in Psalm 62. David said, “Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him” (Psalm 62:8). The idea being we are to express sincere and intense conviction when we communicate with God.

Disobedience

The disobedience of God’s people involved more than just breaking his commandments. At the heart of the Mosaic Law was an intent to establish a relationship between God and his people that involved ongoing communication. Many times, God’s people were encouraged to listen to the voice of the LORD and to pay attention to his instructions, but the people chose to ignore the God that had delivered them from bondage.

The final act of disobedience by the remnant of people left in Judah was leaving the Promised Land to live in Egypt, the place that they had been delivered from. It says in Jeremiah 43:7, “So they came into the land of Egypt: for they obeyed not the voice of the LORD: thus came they even to Tahpanhes.” The residence of Pharaoh was in Tahpanhes, so most likely this was a city that catered to his needs, a place where jobs as household servants were abundant.

After the last remnant of people left Jerusalem, Jeremiah received a message from the LORD. He said, “Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Ye have seen all the evil that I have brought upon Jerusalem, and upon all the cities of Judah; and behold, this day they are a desolation, and no man dwelleth therein” (Jeremiah 44:2). The lack of life in Jerusalem was a testament to the complete desolation that God had brought on his people. No one remained because there were none that had been faithful to his commandments.

In a final act of retaliation, God swore to destroy the remnant that had departed to Egypt (Jeremiah 44:14). If this weren’t bad enough, God’s people made it clear that their relationship with the LORD was over. They would worship the queen of heaven, Ishtar, instead. They said to Jeremiah, “As for the word that thou hast spoken unto us in the name of the LORD, we will not hearken unto thee. But we will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth forth out of our own mouth, to burn incense unto the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, as we have done, we, and our fathers, our kings, and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem: for then had we plenty of victuals, and were well, and saw no evil” (Jeremiah 44:16-17).

No remedy

After king Solomon dedicated the temple he built, God appeared to him in a night vision and said, “If my people, which are called by my name shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). God’s promise to Solomon was a conditional covenant that ensured the well-being of God’s people based on two criterion: 1) they had to humble themselves and pray with a sincere desire to do God’s will, and 2) they had to stop doing things that they knew violated God’s commandments.

Throughout the history of the nations of Israel and Judah, the hearts of God’s people became more and more hardened toward him, until finally, it says in 2 Chronicles 36:16, “they mocked the messengers of God and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against his people, till there was no remedy.” The Hebrew term translated remedy, marpê’ (mar – pay) is properly translated as curative. It refers literally to a medicine or a cure (4832). Marpe is derived from the Hebrew word raphah which means “to heal, a restoring to normal, an act which God typically performs” (7495).

One of Jesus’ main activities while he was living on earth was healing the sick. On more than one occasion, Jesus linked sickness with sin. In Matthew 9:2-5, it says:

And behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee. And behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth. And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts? For whether is easier to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk?

Jesus explained to the people around him that as the Messiah, he had the ability to forgive sins, and therefore, the means for healing the sick. Essentially, what Jesus said was, the medicine the sick man needed was forgiveness of his sins.

At the time of their exile, the wrath of the LORD arose against his people because they were no longer confessing their sins and receiving his forgiveness. God’s promise to Solomon (2 Chronicles 7:14) revealed the real problem or sickness that needed a remedy, wickedness. Wickedness is a mode of life or lifestyle that is harmful to others (7451). Another way of thinking of wickedness is selfishness. Someone who is wicked only thinks of himself. God’s commandments were meant to be a guide for living in peace, a way of getting along with others. Speaking to Jesus, a certain lawyer summarized God’s commandments with the statement: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself” (Luke 10:27).

God waited to send his people into exile until it was evident that their hearts were hardened to the point they were incapable of loving him. In order to cure them of their sin, God first had to deal with their hard-heartedness. He did that by breaking their hearts and allowing them to see what life was like without him. It says in 2 Chronicles 36:17, “Therefore he brought upon them the king of the Chaldees, who slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion upon young man or maiden, old man or him that stooped for age: he gave them all into his hand.”