Jerusalem gets a good spiritual washing
Spring cleaning in Jerusalem1There’s coming a day when a spring will burst open in Jerusalem. It’s pure, living water that washes away the sins of David’s dynasty and of the people in the city.
Deporting idols2When that day comes, the idols will go. They’ll all leave this country for good. They’ll take with them evil people. Prophets go, too. 3And if some folks dare to speak for me as prophets, their parents should tell them, “You’ve used the name of the LORD to spread your lies. That’s a capital offense and we have to execute you for it.” Then the parents who gave those people life have to take those lives with swords.
4Prophets will become ashamed of their visions and the messages they say they receive. They’ll stop advertising themselves by the way they dress. They won’t wear the traditional camelhair cloak of a prophet, so they can lie about their visions. 5Instead, they’ll say, “I’m no prophet. I’m a farmer. This land has been my home all my life.”
6If people ask them about the wounds on their bodies, they’ll say, “Oh, yeah, my friends did that to me.”
Time to kill the shepherd7The LORD of everyone says:
Wake up, sword.
You’ve got business with a shepherd.
He’s a man I call my friend.
Kill the shepherd,
But let the sheep run away and scatter.
I will kill the sheep myself.
8Two thirds of the flock will die.
One third will survive.
9But I’ll put the survivors to the test,
In fire hot enough to refine silver
And to test the quality of gold.
When they call my name
I’ll say, “You are my people.”
And they’ll say, “You’re the LORD our God.”
This is end-time talk, which scholars call eschatological. The first clue: Bible writers talk about a “day of the LORD” or “on that day” or “day of visitation” or “there’s a time coming.” It’s a day that can go in one of two directions. It can be a good day—a day God comes to save his people. It’s something to look forward to. Some scholars trace the idea back to what happened when God came to Egypt and with 10 plagues, he freed the Israelites. But it can also be a fearful day to people at odds with God. To them, it is Judgment Day. But to people on good terms with God, his arrival for Judgment Day or any other reason is welcome. The prophet Joel describes it in graphic terms as a terrible day when invaders destroy sinful Jerusalem (Joel 1:15; 2:11). Obadiah uses the phrase that way as well. But to God’s people, the “day” is the day of salvation (Joel 2:32).
Spring water is what Jews in Bible times called “living water.” They usually meant the kind of water required for ritual washings and baths, which cleanse spiritual impurities. Living water was water from a flowing source, such as a stream or a well, which tapped into underground rivers and lakes. A pond wouldn’t work because the water sat still. Women bathed in living water after menstruation, before they could come into contact with others or worship at the Temple.
More literally, the term is “unclean spirit.” It’s hard to know what Zechariah meant by that. Guesses: demonic spirits, a general spirit among the people that leans toward evil, people with corrupting influences, and who are driven by a spirit that loves to be bad.
Zechariah doesn’t qualify this as “false prophets.” It’s “prophets,” period. Apparently, prophets had started to develop a bad reputation in general, perhaps as frauds or because of their associations with idolatry and with prophets of other gods. What Zechariah says sounds like the end of the era of prophets. That is what happened. Zechariah and other prophets showed up to encourage Jews returning from exile in the 500s BC, and to urge them to rebuild the Temple and Jerusalem. But after that, there was a long stretch in Israel when prophets were mostly a matter of ancient history. That’s what made John the Baptist unique. When he comes along in about AD 30, dressed like an old-fashioned prophet and talking like one while eating locusts, people figured something big was about to happen.
Literally a “hairy mantle,” the fashion sense of Elijah (2 Kings 1:8).
With friends like that, a farmer needs to find a pitchfork and a mean mule. We have to guess what caused the wounds. One guess is that this prophet got caught up in the practices or at least the techniques of idol prophets who cut their bodies as a way of pleading with their god.
The shepherd represents a king or a ruler in many symbolic stories and teachings throughout the Bible. It’s impossible, it seems, to identify who this shepherd might be or when he lived (or will live). Zechariah wrote during a time when Persia ruled the traditional Jewish homeland. They assigned governors to lead the Jewish people. Sometimes the high priest was the one who reported to the Persian king in what is now Iran. The prophecy says the king will die and two-thirds of the nation will die as well. One third will survive and live on, refined and revived as the devoted people of God. It sounds a bit like the story of the Exile in 586 BC, when Babylonian invaders killed the king, destroyed Jerusalem and other cities, and deported survivors to what is now Iraq. They stayed there for 50 years, until Persia defeated Babylon and freed the political prisoners, including the Jews. Yet there’s a sense of “future” in this prophecy. Perhaps there’s no reason it couldn’t be both.
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