God’s firewall – Saturday, 25th Week in ordinary time – Zechariah 2:5-9, 14-15A
Zechariah and Haggai were contemporaries in Jerusalem and both were concerned with the rebuilding of the ruined temple. Yet, judging by the books named after them, they were very different types of men.
The book of Zechariah is set in the period after the return of the exiles from Babylon to Jerusalem. In Ezra 5: 1-2, Zechariah and Haggai together motivated the people to look for the fulfillment of God’s promises. Long ago, Jeremiah said that Israel’s exile would last for seventy years after which God would restore his presence to a new temple and bring His kingdom and the rule of the Messiah over all nations. The dates at the beginning of this book tell us that those seventy years were almost up.
Back then, life in the land was hard and nothing seemed like these promises were going to come true. The book of Zechariah offers an explanation to this situation through a large collection of Zechariah’s visions.
‘Zechariah’s visions’ are a collection of eight nighttime visions that he experienced. These visions are bizarre with strange images. The idea that people got communicated through and people communicated to other people, through symbolic dreams, seems very old fashioned. But such visions go back to the book of Genesis (Jacob in Genesis 28, Joseph dream and in chapter 37, Pharaoh’s vision in chapter 41). These gave meaning to current events at the time but they also gave a window into the future.
The vision taken from today’s reading is the third vision of the ‘surveyor’. This, along with the sixth vision of the ‘flying scroll’, focuses on Jerusalem. Jerusalem is being rebuilt in the third dream. A man with a plumb line is measuring the city. This is an image of God’s promise that Jerusalem will be rebuilt and become a beacon to the nations who will join God’s people in worship.
The foreign power inhibiting the recovery of Judah and Jerusalem has been removed and now the first stage of the actual recovery of the city begins. The vision shows a false start. A human surveyor is ready to start measuring the city’s ground. The initiative behind the project is therefore not God’s.
The vision probably relates to an attempt by Zerub’babel, the governor, to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem as a defense against unfriendly neighbours, more especially perhaps the Samaritans. (Cf. Ezra 4:4-5.) Zechariah the prophet opposed any such attempts for two reasons. It would have given the Samaritans grounds for accusing the Jews of disloyalty to the Persian authorities as the Jews were still subject to the Persians and such walls would be seen as a challenge to Persian authority. But the second reason was more important; that the people should put their trust, not in walls but in Yahweh himself. Therefore the New Jerusalem does not need walls. God’s presence in the city is enough.
The visions in this book are written in the style of apocalyptic literature, like the book of Revelation. The object of such literate is not to terrify us like many would like us to believe but as a source of encouragement. When apocalyptic literature such as this are read along with salvation oracles (deliverance messages) such as those found in Chapters 9-14, it becomes obvious that the dominant emphasis of the book is encouragement; to complete the rebuilding of the Temple. This was the goal of Zechariah.
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