The word of the Lord of hosts came to me, saying: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I am jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I am jealous for her with great wrath. Thus says the Lord: I will return to Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem; Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city, and the mountain of the Lord of hosts shall be called the holy mountain. Thus says the Lord of hosts: Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of their great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets. Thus says the Lord of hosts: Even though it seems impossible to the remnant of this people in these days, should it also seem impossible to me, says the Lord of hosts? Thus says the Lord of hosts: I will save my people from the east country and from the west country; and I will bring them to live in Jerusalem. They shall be my people and I will be their God, in faithfulness and in righteousness.
These five short oracles all offer hope. Here ‘wrath’ isn’t an expression of God’s anger but of God’s passionate commitment towards Zion. Verse 3 links together Zion, Jerusalem and the mountain of the Lord. God’s return to dwell in the midst of the restored community will transform the rebuilt temple into the eternal Zion, make the city faithful and the mountain on which they stand holy. Zechariah is pointing beyond the immediate time and physical context, to envisage the coming of God’s kingdom.
This is picked up in the third oracle, in which the whole community lives joyfully and securely. Long life signifies God’s blessing and children can play, with no conflict between the generations. This may seem like a pipe dream to Zechariah’s fragile audience; but he declares that nothing is impossible for God. In the final oracle he proclaims that God’s work of salvation will continue, drawing people from across the world into this new community where God and people live in mutual covenant love.
It’s an attempt to depict what we might call the life of heaven. I wonder how you imagine eternal life? Do you visualise a particular place, or people with whom you will share it? Or perhaps more abstract ideas of a spiritualised relationship with God, in Christ, are more in line with your thinking. Words are inadequate to express life with God.
None of us knows what God’s kingdom will be like, nor when it will come; but we all need to hang on to oracles of hope such as these proclaimed by Zechariah. They offer us the assurance that God will draw all things together, as promised since the dawn of time; that divine love will triumph over earthly chaos and human brokenness; and that eternal joy can be ours through faith.
Faithful God, fill us with hope.
Lift us up from the mundane things of life to glimpse the glory of life in all its fulness in your eternal kingdom.
May such a vision bring us the joy of knowing that you invite us into the company of all your much loved people. May it inspire us to new endeavours in the service of Christ as we face whatever today brings. Amen
The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister and member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge