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Lesson 10: Blessed to Bless (Zechariah 8:1-23)

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Second Kings 7 tells a fascinating story of four lepers who sat at the gate of Samaria at a time when the city was under siege. Things had gotten so bad inside the city that women were eating their own children to survive. But Elisha the prophet had predicted something that seemed utterly impossible, that the next day food would be plentiful and affordable in Samaria.

Meanwhile, the four lepers evaluated their dismal situation. If they stayed at the gate of Samaria, they would starve. If they went over to the enemy camp, they may be killed, which would be no worse than starving. But there was the outside chance that the enemy would take pity on them and give them some scraps of food. So they took their chances and went over to the enemy camp.

When they got there, they were shocked to find the camp deserted. The Lord had caused the enemy to hear the sound of a great army of chariots and horses so that they fled in a panic, leaving all of their supplies behind. The four beggars ate all that they could eat. They hauled away and hid several loads of silver and gold and clothes.

But then their consciences began to gnaw at them. They said, “We’re not doing right. This is a day of good news, but we are keeping silent” (2 Kings 7:9). So they went and told the starving city where they could find abundant supplies to satisfy their needs.

That story illustrates the main message of Zechariah 8, summed up by the Lord’s words in verse 13: “I will save you that you may become a blessing.” God’s people are blessed to bless others. God pours out His grace on us so that we will slop it over on others who are starving and dying without hope.

Because God has promised to bless us abundantly, we should be a blessing to others.

The text falls into two parts, both prefaced with the phrase, “Then the word of the Lord of hosts came saying” (8:1, 18). The first word of the Lord to Zechariah (8:1-17) breaks into two parts. Verses 1-8 present God’s promise to restore His blessing on the nation after the years of captivity. Verses 9-17 apply this promise to the remnant of Zechariah’s day that was rebuilding the temple. The second word of the Lord (8:18-23) shows that God’s blessed people are to become a blessing to all nations. Verse 19 answers the question raised by the delegation from Bethel (7:2-3) by showing that their fasts would be turned to feasts as the people experienced God’s gracious blessings of salvation.

I will be applying this chapter to us as the church, but we need to keep in mind that the chapter applies literally to the nation Israel. Many commentators apply the text spiritually to the church as if that is the final fulfillment of these promises. But Paul shows in Romans 11:17-32 that while God has partially hardened Israel in judgment until the fullness of the Gentiles is complete, after that, all Israel will be saved. There is yet a glorious future for Israel, when God will pour out on the house of David “the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on [Him] whom they pierced; and they will mourn …” (Zech. 12:10).

I appreciate the faith of men like Charles Simeon (who died in 1836) and Charles Spurgeon (preaching in 1863), who both argued that the Jews had to be restored to the land so that God’s promises in this chapter would be literally fulfilled. (See Charles Simeon, Expository Outlines of the Whole Bible [Zondervan], 10:481-484, 488-495; and Charles Spurgeon, “Once a Curse but Now a Blessing” [Ages Software, sermon # 543.) They preached that view a century before Israel became a nation, believing that God’s promises would come true. Both men urged their congregations to evangelize the Jews as a practical application of this text. After lamenting the horrible treatment that professing Christians had shown to the Jews over the centuries, Spurgeon said (ibid.),

May the Lord in his infinite mercy first put it into his people’s hearts to pray for Israel, and then to work in love, and labor in faith: may he hasten in his own time the fulfillment of his promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and then shall the whole earth be covered with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. We may work and we may toil, but till Israel be gathered God’s glory cannot be universal, nor even widely spread.

So the primary interpretation of this chapter relates to the nation Israel. But there are many applications for us as the church.

1. God has promised to bless His people abundantly.

Perhaps when you hear those words, you think, “Maybe God has promised blessings, but I’m not experiencing them. Instead of promises, all I seem to have is problems!” You feel like the discouraged man who said, “What I need are a few blessings that aren’t in disguise.”

The people to whom Zechariah prophesied probably felt like that. They were a weak remnant of 50,000 people who had returned to a devastated land. Powerful enemies surrounded them. They were under Persian rule. While they saw glimmers of hope, these promises of God seemed a million miles away.

But God gave Zechariah these words of promise about the future to encourage His people to persevere in the present. Even though we presently experience only a foretaste of God’s promises for the future, the certainty of His sure word can encourage us to be faithful in the trials of the present time. Two truths shine through concerning God’s promised blessings:

A. God’s promised blessings depend on Him, not on us.

These promises do not stem from Zechariah’s optimistic personality. The text repeatedly emphasizes that this is the sure word of Almighty God. Eleven times in this chapter we read, “Thus says the Lord of hosts,” or some similar phrase. The name “Lord,” (Yahweh, the name of the covenant-keeping God) occurs 22 times. Over and over God declares, “I will,” or “I am” to declare His sure purpose (8:2, 3, 7, 8, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15).

Commenting on verse 8, Kenneth Barker says, “Israel’s predicted complete restoration to covenant favor and blessing rests on nothing less than the faithfulness, veracity, and righteousness of God…. The theological principle involved is that God is a saving, forgiving, delivering, restoring God—one who delights to take ‘Not My People’ and make them ‘My People’” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary [Zondervan], 7:651).

As you may be aware, the doctrine of God’s ability to save His people according to His purpose and choice, apart from anything in them, is under attack. Two recent books, Chosen But Free [Bethany House, second ed., 2001], by Norman Geisler, and What Love is This? [Loyal Publishing, 2002], by Dave Hunt, both attack the doctrine of God’s sovereign choice to save a people for His glory. Both books assert that God desires to save everyone, but the outcome of who gets saved depends on the response of each person. In other words, God has given up His ability to save anyone, unless that person decides to respond! Thus both authors would have to explain God’s assertions in Zechariah 8 as being based on His foreknowledge of what Israel will one day do by their own free will, not as God’s declaration of what He will do by His mighty power.

But the text does not say, “I can foresee that someday Israel will turn to Me, and I’m sure glad, because I really wanted to save them. But the final result is up to their free will. What a relief that finally they will get it right and choose Me!”

What does the text say? “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Behold, I am going to save My people” (8:7). That seems fairly clear, doesn’t it? God does not say, “I’m going to do all that I can to try to save them, but they’re a tough bunch, so I’m not sure they will respond.” If we didn’t get the first declaration, there are more: “I will bring them back … and they shall be My people and I will be their God in truth and righteousness” (8:8). “I will cause the remnant of this people to inherit all these things” (8:12). “I will save you that you may become a blessing” (8:13). “Just as I purposed to do harm to you when your fathers provoked Me to wrath, … so I have again purposed in these days to do good to Jerusalem” (8:14, 15). Israel’s salvation depends on God’s purpose and might, not on Israel’s so-called free will!

God’s promised blessings of salvation do not depend on the impotent fallen will of man, but on the sure purpose and power of the Lord of hosts! “God’s purpose according to His choice [will] stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls” (Rom. 9:11). “It does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy” (Rom. 9:16).

This is not just a theological debate that has no practical value. Your assurance of salvation hinges on it! As Paul put it, if God began a good work in you, you can be confident that He “will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). If you have repented of your sins and trusted in Christ alone for salvation, that repentance and faith did not originate in you. It came from God as His free gift, apart from anything that He foresaw in you. If it depends on anything in you, it is not based on grace, but on merit. That makes salvation depend, in part, on man. But Scripture is clear that salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9). “He will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Thus if you believe in Christ, you can have assurance and hope, because your salvation came totally from God, not from anything in you.

But in spite of the assurance of God’s promised blessings, we all have times when it seems impossible that what God has promised will actually happen. Two things in these verses encourage us with the fact that God will do what He promises:

(1) God’s promises may seem impossible to us, but they are not too difficult for Him (8:6).

The Lord anticipates the response of these despondent people, “Yes, but …!” The population had been wiped out by the Babylonian invasion and captivity. The land was devastated and desolate (7:14). The thought of a prosperous Israel seemed impossible to them. But God promises that in the future, Jerusalem will be filled with the elderly and with children, living securely (8:4, 5).

Then He anticipates their faithless response. He repeats twice the assertion that this is the word of the Lord of hosts to emphasize its certainty: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘If it is too difficult in the sight of the remnant of this people in those days, will it also be too difficult in My sight?’ declares the Lord of hosts” (8:6).

“Yes, but …!” You’ve responded that way to God’s promises, haven’t you? I have! How often we make the mistake of judging God’s ability by our ability! Like David, we foolishly number our troops, thinking that our power is proportional to how many warriors we can muster for the battle. But the Lord does not save by many or by few (1 Sam. 14:6)! Like the disciples, we count up our meager five loaves and two fish, or we calculate the amount (which we don’t have anyway) that it would take to feed the vast multitude. But the Lord does not meet the need according to what we have or what we wish we had, but according to His purpose and His power.

(2) God’s promises always work through a remnant (8:6, 11, 12).

Sometimes as a believer, you feel as if you’re on the losing team. Like Elijah, you think that you’re the only one left, and they’re seeking your life (1 Kings 19:10). Or perhaps you despair that you will ever overcome some besetting sin that keeps tripping you up. Or you get discouraged in the Lord’s work. You feel like you’re on Charlie Brown’s baseball team, where only five show up for the game and one of those is Lucy! You feel like giving up.

But remember, God always works through a remnant. Elijah wasn’t the only one; there were 7,000 others in Israel who had not bowed their knee to Baal (1 Kings 19:18). Joshua and Caleb were a minority, but they believed God’s promise and led the people into the Promised Land. Gideon and his 32,000 men were too many, but Gideon and his 300 men were enough with the Lord to conquer the vast Midianite horde (Judges 7). Picture Paul, shivering in his prison cell, asking Timothy to pick up his coat before he comes, and adding, “Only Luke is with me…. At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me” (2 Tim. 4:11, 16). Yet God used that man of faith like He has used few others!

You may think, “I’m the only believer at work or in my class at school.” God works through a faithful remnant. Believe His promises and trust His mighty power to save! His promised blessings depend on Him, not on us. But there is a second truth in our text concerning God’s promised blessings:

B. God’s promised blessings require a response of holy activity for the Lord.

Divine sovereignty is always coupled with human responsibility. Just because God has promised to bless us does not mean that we can kick back and wait for the blessings to flow. His promised blessings require a response. In 8:9-17, Zechariah shows the remnant how the Lord expected them to respond to the promise of His blessing. His words apply to us as well.

(1) Be strong in building the Lord’s house.

Twice the Lord tells the people, “Let your hands be strong” (8:9, 13). Twice He tells them, “Do not fear” (8:13, 15). God doesn’t waste words. If He tells people twice to let their hands be strong, we can assume that they were tending to be weak. If He tells them twice not to fear, they were afraid. They were trying to rebuild the temple in the face of fierce opposition. Jerusalem was still littered with rubble. There was no wall to protect the city. The people had no army to defend themselves. So they were prone to be afraid and to give up the work of rebuilding the temple. But God says, “Be strong! Do not fear!”

Sometimes it seems like working to build Christ’s church is not worth the effort. I read recently that 1,500 pastors leave the ministry every month, many because of frustration and discouragement. You try to advance the cause of Christ, but you get attacked by fellow Christians. People you thought you could count on leave the church without even talking to you to try to work through their problems. Others fall into sin and go back into the world. Frankly, it’s easy to think, “What’s the use? I’ll go find another line of work where I don’t have these hassles!”

But the Lord says to us all, “Be strong! Don’t fear! I will build My church and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matt. 16:18). That sure promise requires that we who know the Lord respond by committing ourselves to build His house.

(2) Be holy in all our conduct.

Without holiness, anything that we do for the Lord will utterly fail. To call ourselves Christians and then to live like the world is to mock God before the world. The fact that the Lord dwells among us (8:3) demands that we be known as people of truth and holiness (see 8:3, 8, 16, 17, 19; note the repeated emphasis on truth).

As 8:16-17 make clear (see 7:9-10), holiness is a practical sort of thing. It demands that we speak truth to one another, that we judge with truth, that we not devise evil in our hearts against one another, and that we do not love perjury. God says that He hates these things. As His people, we must not only love what God loves; we also need to hate what He hates. Since He is the God of truth, we need to hate false doctrine, deception, lies, hypocrisy, and vague moral standards that drift with our godless culture.

The enemy paints a negative picture of holiness. We conjure up a bunch of Puritans in starched shirts, scowling at anyone who’s having fun. We fall for the lie that we will miss out on good times if we follow the Lord. But our chapter is clear that sin leads to great misery and curse (8:10, 13). Holiness and obedience to God are the way of great joy and gladness (8:19). God’s promised abundant blessings should motivate us to “deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:12).

But God does not promise to bless us so that we can sit around feeling blessed. Our text is clear that …

2. God’s blessed people should be a blessing to others.

“I will save you that you may become a blessing” (8:13). I want to answer two questions: How do we become a blessing? Whom are we to bless? First, How do we become a blessing?

A. We bless others by showing them how to find God.

I think that 8:20-23 refers primarily to the Jews in the millennium. God will use them as a light to the nations, to point them to the Lord Jesus Christ. But these verses also apply to us now. In the context, verses 20-23 on being a witness flow out of verses 9-19 on holiness and joy. When people observe our lives, as godly people of truth, love, and joy, they will want what we’ve got, so that they grab us and say, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you” (8:23).

Beauty has an attractive power. Why do millions of people flock to Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon every year? They are attracted by the awesome beauty of these places. When our lives reflect the beauty of God’s holiness and joy, people will say, “I want what you’ve got!” Every Christian should be able not just to bring people to church, but also to explain the gospel clearly so that those who do not know God can come to know Him through Jesus Christ. Living a beautiful (= holy) life is the foundation, but you should also be able to give a defense for the hope that is within you (1 Pet. 3:15). If you are not able to do that, I urge you to get some training in evangelism.

B. Whom do we bless? We bless others both near and far.

Both neighbors and distant nations are included in 8:20-23. We are to be witnesses for the Lord, beginning at our Jerusalem, but extending to the remotest part of the earth (Acts 1:8). We should pray for our neighbors and our contacts here in Flagstaff, that God would open the door to tell them about Christ. But we should not rest until every people group around the globe has had the opportunity to hear the good news. I commend to you Operation World, by Patrick Johnstone, and the monthly Global Prayer Digest (U.S. Center for World Mission), both of which will help you be informed, pray, and labor for the great cause of world missions.

Conclusion

An African proverb states, “There is only one crime worse than murder on the desert, and that is to know where the water is and not tell.” God has led us to Christ, the living water. He has blessed us with His salvation and He promises to bless us even more abundantly in the future. But He didn’t save us so that we can sit in the lifeboat feeling warm and cozy, oblivious to the lost of the world. He saved us so that we may become a blessing to others. If you’re saved, but you don’t have your focus on blessing others, you’ve only got half the picture. He blessed you so that you may become a blessing.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it important to affirm that salvation comes totally from God, as opposed to it being a “joint venture”?
  2. If we lack faith in God’s promises, how can we get the faith we need?
  3. Describe a “holy” person. How can we be holy and yet relate well to a sinful world?
  4. To what extent does a believer have to “have it together” in order to be involved in ministry to others?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2003, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Assurance, Dispensational / Covenantal Theology, Eschatology (Things to Come), Evangelism, Missions, Prophecy/Revelation, Soteriology (Salvation), Spiritual Life