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Hope for a new day (June 22, 2014)

Scripture Passage and Lesson Focus: Haggai 2:23; Zechariah 4:1-3, 6-14 

Communities that have been devastated by natural disasters such as tornadoes, hurricanes, or earthquakes experience how difficult it is to rebuild and restore “normalcy.” Such communities languish and perish unless community leaders revive hope for the future. That was the task confronting Zerubbabel, the descendent of David appointed by the ruling Persians to administer the affairs of Judah. Rebuilding the temple and restoring the worship of Jahweh was the key to reviving the hopes of Judah.

Haggai 2:23 — God chooses Zerubbabel as the agent of renewal. 

The final verse of Haggai’s prophecy begins with a vague future reference. “On that day,” some future time when God intends to overthrow the nations and fully restore Judah, God will identify Zerubbabel as the one chosen to be God’s servant. Echoing the prophetic words of Isaiah 13:19 and Jeremiah 51:20-21, and speaking directly to Zerubbabel, Haggai foresees the downfall of foreign powers that oppress Judah. He calls Zerubbabel “God’s servant,” a royal title of David (2 Samuel 7:5; Isaiah 37:5).

Haggai uses a particularly telling simile when he describes Zerubbabel as one whose relationship to God is “like a signet ring.” The one who possesses a signet ring has the authority of the ruler whose ring it is. The last person described in Scripture as God’s signet ring was Jehoiachin, the last king of Judah, who reigned for only three months. And Jeremiah 22:24 says metaphorically that God took that signet ring off his finger and allowed the rejected Jehoiachin to be taken into exile by the Babylonians. In our text, Haggai designates Zerubbabel as God’s signet ring, God’s chosen servant. Haggai is emphasizing the continuity between earlier Davidic monarchs of Judah and the post-exilic leadership exercised by Zerubbabel.

Zechariah 4:1-6a and 10b-14 — Zechariah’s vision of a lamp and two olive trees confirms Zerubbabel’s role in a restored Judah. 

Zechariah, a contemporary of Haggai, added his prophetic voice to reinforce the hope for Judah’s renewal. Unfortunately, the Hebrew text of Zechariah 4 presents very difficult problems that interpreters have not been able to resolve. Many scholars believe that this difficult passage is best approached as two or three distinct oracles attributed to Zechariah. The first prophetic statement is found in verses 1-6a and 10b-14. Together these verses describe Zechariah’s vision and its meaning for Judah.

Zechariah describes his vision of a lamp on a stand that holds up a bowl-shaped reservoir for olive oil with seven spout-like creases on which wicks would rest. It was either made completely of gold or covered completely with gold. Similarly shaped lamps made of clay have been found by archaeologists at the sites of ancient Dothan and Dan in Israel. Two olive trees flank the lamp on the left and the right and streams of olive oil connect the palm trees to the golden lamp (4:12).

Zechariah needs the assistance of an angelic interpreter to explain the meaning of his vision. The interpreter tells Zechariah that the seven-spouted lamp represents the all-seeing eyes of God. “These seven” in 4:10b refers to the seven spouts for wicks in 4:2b. The two olive trees represent the two individuals anointed to serve God in verse 14. The wider context indicates that these two individuals should probably be understood as the governor Zerubbabel and the high priest Joshua. Restored Judah, a dependent entity within the Persian Empire, will be led by a high priest and a governor.

Zechariah 4:6b-10a — God’s spirit enables Zerubbabel to rebuild the temple and restore Judah. 

Two short oracles, (verses 6b-7 and 8-10a) have been inserted into Zechariah’s vision report. In the first one, Zechariah declares by God’s spirit and not by any human power Zerubbabel would level the huge pile of debris (“the great mountain”) left by the destroyed temple. Amid shouts of grace (thanks?), a stone from the former temple would be included in the foundation of the rebuilt temple. In the second oracle, Zechariah prophecies that Zerubbabel will complete the rebuilding of the temple and the people will rejoice when he places a dedicatory plaque (“plummet”) in the renewed temple.

For discussion 

  • Do you believe God speaks through visions or dreams like the one Zechariah experienced?
  • Have you ever had a vision?
  • How should dreams be interpreted?
  • Have you ever experienced a devastating loss? How was your hope restored?
  • What is the relationship between your faith and your hope?