The history of the Biblical nation of Israel is one of this realisation. From Sarai’s rejection of the promise of God “I’m too old…” through the golden calf at Sinai, through the wandering in the desert. The period of the Judges is explained perfectly through the scripture “Everyone did what was right in their own eyes”, even David, the man “…after God’s own heart…” had his mistake with Bathsheeba. Rehoboam, David’s Grandson’s predilection for listening to bad advice divided God’s people into the Northern Kingdom (often called Israel, or the House of Joseph in some versions), and the southern, or Judah. There followed a period of kings and leaders of both kingdoms who constantly and consistently fell short of God’s plan and purpose for them, until the northern kingdom was swept up, conquered by the Assyrians, and dispersed, then later the southern kingdom was invaded, conquered, invaded again and carried off to Babylon. The history of the people of God in the old Testament is one of “They’re bad at this…they screwed up.”
Go read Zechariah chapter 10. Read it? Good now go read it again, when you’ve done that come back!
One of the reasons we see the mistakes of the people of God in the Old Testament so clearly is that they mirror our own lives. We know the feeling of wanting to live God’s way, but falling short. Often not due to wilful disobedience, but the fact that we are human…we are bad at this…we screw up. Even that great apostle Paul writes in Romans 7 “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead I do what I hate.” The people of Israel have the small excuse that often it was their leaders that led them in bad paths, Zechariah declaring in verse 3 that God’s anger “…burns against your shepherds…I will punish the leaders…” We often don’t have that excuse, our leaders, while not perfect, often encourage us in right ways, in good paths, well lit by the light, yet still we have a fascination with the dark, a fascination with treading off the good paths, into the tall grass of temptation, disbelief, sin, and despair.
“So my people are wandering like lost sheep…” far from the path the people of God wandered. The northern kingdom conquered, divided, dispersed amongst the nations far and wide, a picture of those that do not know Christ today, or that have rejected his message of salvation. The southern kingdom recently had returned from exile in Babylon, struggling to recapture it’s identity and faith against a backdrop of increasingly corrupt and harsh governors, an image of our lives as Christians, we want to do what is right…yet the world seduces us to do what we hate.
Reading scripture, I always tend to look for contrasts, the “but now…”’s as I tend to call them, and these are especially prevalent in prophetic literature. Here in Zechariah, in verse 2 and 3, while it doesn’t explicitly use the phrase “but now,” we have this contrast between the now, and the not yet, the situation they were in, and what was promised to come. Our lives without knowledge of the Light, and our lives with Christ. “So my people are wandering like lost sheep; they are attacked because they have no shepherd. ‘My anger burns against your shepherds, and I will punish these leaders.” They were bad at this, they had screwed up.
However, “For the Lord of Heaven’s armies has arrived to look after Judah his flock. He will make them strong and glorious like a proud warhorse in battle.” The New Living Translation uses “Lord of Heaven’s Armies” instead of the more traditional rendering of “Lord of Hosts”, which is helpful in this circumstance as we see that the Commander of the armies of Heaven declares that not only will he look after the flock of Judah, but he will transform them from mere sheep into something “…strong and glorious…a proud warhorse…” The people of the southern kingdom lifted up, under the care once again of their loving father, with the promise of the “Cornerstone” to come from them, the promise of Messiah, Christ the Lord. The promise is given to us that by the grace of this Messiah, this Christ, if we believe in Him, and strive to follow his ways, he has promised that he will reconcile us to the father, that despite the fact that we’re bad at this, despite the fact that we screw up, we are forever his and that we will become “Courageous and vigorous because God is with [us], undeterred by the world’s thugs.” (Message version).
Judah had a number of good kings, and leaders interspersed amongst the bad, before they were conquered. Israel, the northern kingdom did not, and their punishment for their sin and rejection was not just exile, but dispersal, seperated utterly from the land, and even from families and compatriots. Yet Zechariah has a message for them too, in verse 6 God, through His prophet declares “I will strengthen Judah, and save Israel…” God says that he will “…restore them because of my compassion, and it will be as though I never rejected them.” There are parallels here to the story in the New Testament of the Prodigal Son, in Luke 15. When his father welcomes back the son at the end of the story, he’s treated as if he’s never left. Not only is his sin, and his rebellion forgiven, it’s as if it’s never happened. However rebellious, however antagonistic towards our faith our families and friends are, the promise of God is that if only they will turn to him, he will not just forgive, but that that slate will be wiped clean, “…their hearts will rejoice in the Lord. When I whistle to them, they will come running.” says the Lord for, “…I am the Lord who hears their cries…I have redeemed them.”
God promises us many things in Scripture, but the overarching promise, the one that makes all the rest possible, is that he promises that he will restore us. Zechariah’s very name means “Yahweh Remembers” Yahweh, the holy name of God, the I AM of the burning bush will remember, and with that remembrance comes restoration. The people of Israel, both northern and southern kingdoms were pretty bad at living as God’s people, they screwed up constantly, their history is a history of the failure of man. But that’s almost a good thing, because our history is also a history of failure, a history that is all too human, we are told “To err is human…” I’m bad at this…I screw up, yet God’s promise to me is that he will remember me, through the saving work of his Son Jesus Christ, that he will restore me to his love. Every. Single. Time.
Zechariah ends this chapter with God’s promise, “By my power, I will make my people strong, and by my authority they will go wherever they wish.” Once we are remembered, we are restored, once we are restored we are strengthened. Will we mess up again…if the history of Israel, and even our own history tells us anything…of course we will, we’re human, we’re bad at this…we screw up. But with God’s restoration, strengthening power, each and every day we should seek to become more like him, minimize the screw ups, using them to show others, those far from him, that God remembers, and loves even them, no matter how bad, how rebellious, how messed up, God remembers, and he will restore.