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Lesson 13: Praying in the Promises (Zechariah 10:1-12)

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At the historic battle of Waterloo, the Duke of Wellington led the British forces against the mighty Napoleon. News of the battle’s outcome traveled by sailing vessel to the south coast of England and was signaled by semaphore overland to London.

On top of Winchester Cathedral, the signalman began to spell out the eagerly awaited message. The words came across, “Wellington defeated ….” At this point a thick fog settled in. The semaphore could no longer be seen, and the discouraging news of Wellington’s defeat spread through London.

But later the fog lifted and again the signaling semaphore atop the cathedral became visible. This time it spelled out the complete message: “Wellington defeated the enemy!”

If you have known the Lord for any time at all, then you have experienced something like that in your praying. You have prayed earnestly for something important. But it seemed as if God was not answering, or even worse, that His answer spelled defeat. Perhaps you are still in the fog and don’t understand why God seemed to do the opposite of what you prayed. I feel that way about several of my long-term prayer requests. At times you may wonder if God’s promises are really true.

But the Bible is clear that someday the fog will lift and we will see that all of God’s promises are yes in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20). From our limited vantage point, it may not seem so. But seen from the perspective of God’s prophetic plan for history, we can see that God always fulfills His promises for His people. It may not be in our time or in our way. But God always keeps His promises. This should encourage us to pray.

As we saw in our overview of Zechariah 9, the prophet encouraged the weak and fearful remnant with the truth that God helps those who are helpless who trust in Him. In chapter 10, he continues this theme by reminding the people of God’s promised blessings for Israel. The words, “I will,” or “they will” are repeated throughout the chapter to give assurance that God is not iffy about His plans for His people.

The only command in the chapter is in verse 1: “Ask rain from the Lord at the time of the spring rain.” God meant for this command to be taken both literally and spiritually. They were to ask God for the spring rains for their crops; but also, they were to ask God to pour out His spiritual rain on His parched people. God promises to bring His scattered people back to the land and to strengthen them to walk in His name. So Zechariah exhorts them to ask God to send His spring rains to fulfill these promises.

God’s abundant promises for His people should motivate us to pray for their fulfillment.

Even though God has promised to complete the work that He has begun in us (Phil. 1:6), He doesn’t do it automatically, apart from our active participation in the process. Prayer is God’s appointed means of bringing down His showers of blessing. So we need to pray God’s promises into reality. The major part of our chapter shows that …

1. God has promised abundant blessings for His people (10:2-12).

For Zechariah’s audience, these promises seemed so far removed from their immediate situation as to sound like fairy tales. Most of the Jews were still scattered across the Persian empire. The weak remnant that had returned was threatened by hostile neighbors. The land was still devastated from the Babylonian conquest. But here Zechariah predicts that Israel will someday trample her enemies and be regathered in the land to the extent that no more room could be found (10:10). The Jews must have thought, “This prophet has his head in the clouds!”

Perhaps some of you feel that way. When you hear of God’s abundant promises, you think, “No way!” The reality gap between where you are living and what God has promised is so great that you have trouble believing that it ever could happen. If you can identify with that, then our text is for you!

It falls into two sections: verses 1-5 outline God’s promised deliverance from enemies; verses 6-12 describe God’s promises of restoration and strength for His people, whom He will regather into their homeland. While these verses apply spiritually to the church, I agree with Charles Simeon (Expository Outlines on the Whole Bible [Zondervan], X:508), who wrote over 100 years before Israel became a nation. He asked, if the Jews’ regathering to the land is figurative, how could God say anything literal in plainer language than He uses here? At the present time, only part of this prophecy has been fulfilled. The Jews are returning to the land from all over the world, but they have not yet returned to the Lord. To that end, we should pray for the conversion of the Jews.

A. God promises to deliver His people from their enemies (10:2-5).

(1) The enemies (10:2-3a).

Two enemies are mentioned here: the false gods in which the people had trusted through false prophets; and, the corrupt leaders that had dominated the nation for their own gain.

(a) False gods and false prophets are perpetual enemies of God’s people (10:2).

For the most part, Israel did not fall into idolatry after the Babylonian exile, but that sin had been a major cause of the exile. So Zechariah warns against it here. When the Lord did not seem to answer their prayers for rain, the Jews easily could fall prey to false prophets who promised rain through idols, divination, or false dreams. Idolatry involves a reversal of our proper position before God, where instead of submitting to Him, we try to manipulate Him (or other spiritual powers) to get what we want. It often is a subtle shift, where we take control and God becomes our servant, to carry out our will. If the living and true God won’t cooperate, we use other spiritual means to get what we want.

Israel often did this with teraphim, which were household gods. Although obviously pagan, we find them repeatedly in Israel’s history (Gen. 31:19, 34; 1 Sam. 19:13; 2 Kings 23:24). They were used to try to determine God’s will through magical or occult means (divination). Zechariah says that even though people may gain temporary comfort through such methods, it is false and empty comfort, because it does not rely on the living God.

The warning is this: Whenever God puts you on hold, you are susceptible to turning to false gods or false teachers for help. I’ve heard of Christians turning to astrology or fortune telling for guidance. A woman in my church in California was in chronic pain. She started going to a Science of Mind healer. When I pointed out to her husband that this is a dangerous false cult, he curtly replied, “My wife is in pain. This relieves her pain.” They dropped out of the church.

Many false teachers prey upon God’s people who are suffering. They teach that it is God’s will to heal everyone or to make us wealthy. Desperate people flock to these godless men, only to be disappointed because “they comfort in vain.”

(b) Selfish, domineering leaders are perpetual enemies of God’s people (10:3a).

Scholars differ over whether the shepherds and “male goats” of 10:3 refer to Israel’s leaders or to the foreign leaders who dominated Israel. Certainly, Israel had suffered from both! “Male goats” refers to leaders who selfishly dominated others by force, much as goats try to butt their way into dominance over the flock. Israel suffered from false shepherds, who took advantage of the flock for their own gain (Ezekiel 34). Because of the flesh, leaders must always be on guard against lording it over the flock and using people for selfish purposes (1 Pet. 5:2-3).

(2) The promised deliverance (10:3b-5).

God promises to visit His flock and to make them like His majestic horse in battle (3b). The pronoun “them” (10:4) is literally “him,” referring to Judah. From Judah will come the cornerstone, the tent peg, the bow of battle, and every ruler. God’s people will then “be as mighty men, treading down the enemy” in battle, “for the Lord will be with them.”

Some commentators interpret the terms in 10:4 as referring to God’s raising up strong leaders from Judah, in contrast to the corrupt leaders of 10:3, but they do not see a messianic reference here. But since the ultimate leader over Israel will be Messiah, since some of these terms are used elsewhere for Messiah, and since the Jewish targum (an Aramaic paraphrase and commentary on the Scriptures) on this section refers it to Messiah, many see these terms as messianic. Taken this way, …

*Christ is the cornerstone of His people. The Old and New Testaments frequently use this designation for Christ (Isa. 28:16; Acts 4:11; Eph. 2:20; 1 Pet. 2:6). In Zechariah, it speaks of Christ as the leader upon whom the government rests and holds together. Christ is the cornerstone of His church.

*Christ is the tent peg of His people. This refers to the peg in an Oriental tent on which the residents hung many valuables (Isa. 22:23-24). It refers to Christ as the one on whom the glory of the Father dwells. Everything of value that we have is in Him.

*Christ is the bow of battle for His people. He is the coming conqueror, who will vanquish all of God’s enemies when He returns (Ps. 110:5-7; Rev. 19:11-16).

*Christ is the ultimate ruler of His people. Some commentators who take the first three terms as referring to Christ object to taking the fourth term in a similar manner, since the word usually refers to a tyrannical or oppressive ruler. They interpret it to mean that all oppressive leaders will depart from Judah when Messiah comes to reign. But the word can have the sense of a strong leader in a good sense (BDB Hebrew Lexicon takes it this way, p. 620). In light of verse 5, which pictures God’s people trampling their enemies, it makes sense to see them under the leadership of their supreme ruler, Jesus Christ.

We can apply these promises for deliverance in two ways:

  • All that we have in Christ and His promised presence with us is sufficient for victory over every foe.

Jesus Christ is our “all in all” (Col. 3:11). In Him “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” We have been rooted in Christ. We are to be built up in Christ. “In Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form and in Him you have been made complete.” God made us alive from the dead in Christ, through whose death we have forgiveness of all our sins. In Him we have victory over every spiritual foe (see Col. 2:3, 7, 9, 10, 13. 14, 15). If we are defeated by our sins or by some problem, it is because we have not learned to lay hold of the sufficiency of Jesus Christ.

This doctrine of Christ’s sufficiency is subtly under attack. John MacArthur perceptively deals with this in Our Sufficiency in Christ [Word, 1991]. He shows how humanistic psychology and pragmatism have invaded the church and replaced the need to rely totally on the riches that we have in Christ. He says (p. 31), “The clear message [of ‘Christian’ psychology] is that simply pointing Christians to their spiritual sufficiency in Christ is inane and maybe even dangerous. But on the contrary, it is inane and dangerous to believe that any problem is beyond the scope of Scripture or unmet by our spiritual riches in Christ.”

I would also commend the final chapter, “Christ is All,” in J. C. Ryle’s Holiness [James Clarke & Co.]. He writes (p. 317), “The true way to be strong is to realize our weakness and to feel that Christ must be all. The true way to grow in grace is to make use of Christ as a fountain for every minute’s necessities.”

  • Trusting in the sufficiency of Christ does not imply passivity on our part.

Note the balance (10:5), “And they will fight, for the Lord will be with them.” The Lord’s presence and strength do not imply that we sit back and do nothing. “Let go and let God” is not the total picture. MacArthur devotes Chapter 9, “A Balance of Faith and Effort,” to this topic, expounding on Philippians 2:12-13, which exhorts us to work out our own salvation because it is God who is at work in us. While Jesus Christ is our strength, we have to engage in the battle. Disciplining ourselves for godliness (1 Tim. 4:7) goes hand in hand with reliance on God’s Spirit (Gal. 5:16).

Thus the theme of verses 2-5 is that God promises deliverance from our enemies as we learn to do battle in Christ.

B. God promises to restore and strengthen His people (10:6-12).

The emphasis here is on the Lord as the One who will strengthen and deliver His people: “I will strengthen… I will save… I will bring them back…” (10:6). “I will bring them back… I will bring them into the land…” (10:10). “I will strengthen them in the Lord…” (10:12). God is very definite about what He will do! His plan does not depend on the so-called “free will” of people. It is not that God forces human will, but rather, after He converts us, by His grace He enables us freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good (see The Westminster Confession, IX:IV, and The Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689, 9:4).

So the balance of Scripture is, on the one hand, God sovereignly saves, strengthens, and sustains His people. On the other hand, we must actively rely on His strength and take action to walk in His name (10:12). We must return to the Lord, but we can only return to Him in the strength that He imparts.

Two practical observations:

*God sometimes scatters His people in weakness so that they will look to Him alone to save. Note verse 9: “When I scatter [lit., sow] them among the peoples, they will remember Me in far countries…” Egypt and Assyria (10:10) are representative of all of the places around the globe where God has dispersed His disobedient people. When God says that He will whistle to gather back to the land (10:8), it refers to a shepherd’s blowing a pipe-like whistle to call his flock back to the fold. Just prior to Messiah’s return, God will gather the Jews back to the land from around the globe.

God’s sowing His people among the nations pictures them as seed awaiting a harvest. F. B. Meyer (The Prophet of Hope [Christian Literature Crusade], pp. 102-113) has a helpful sermon, “God’s Sowing.” He shows that sowing implies death, darkness, and loneliness, as the seed is planted in the ground. But God does not forget the seed, any more than a farmer would forget the crop that he has planted. In due time, that seed that falls into the ground and dies will bear much fruit (John 12:24).

God often has to plant us in situations of overwhelming despair so that we look to Him alone. Paul was burdened excessively, beyond his strength, so that he despaired even of life, “in order,” he said, “that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead” (2 Cor. 1:8-9). Hudson Taylor said, “All God’s giants have been weak men who did great things for God because they reckoned on God being with them.” He also said that when God wanted to open inland China to the gospel, He had to look around for a man weak enough for the task.

*When weak people experience God’s strength, great joy results. Note verse 7: “And their heart will be glad as if from wine; indeed, their children will see it and be glad, their heart will rejoice in the Lord.” When God has brought us to the end of ourselves, where we are forced to rely on Him alone, not only do we experience great joy; our children also enter into our joy!

The way to bring great joy to your children is not to give them all the junk that the world says we need in order to be happy. Rather, by your example of faith and prayer, teach your kids the reality of our weakness, but of God’s strength and sufficiency. Read them stories of great men of faith like George Muller, Hudson Taylor, Adoniram Judson, and John Paton. As a family, present your needs to the Lord in prayer, and rejoice when He provides. That leads to the means that God has ordained for us to lay hold of His promises:

2. God’s promises should motivate us to pray for their fulfillment (10:1).

You may wonder, “Why pray if God has promised to do it? Won’t it happen anyway?” God’s purposes will happen, but if you don’t pray, you won’t be blessed. There are four good reasons to pray for the fulfillment of God’s promises:

A. We should pray for God’s promises because He commands us to pray.

God tells His people to ask Him for the spring rains (10:1). God has ordained for His eternal purpose to be fulfilled through the prayers of His people. That’s why the Lord taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). God’s kingdom will come. The question is, will you be a part of the process by praying for it to come?

B. We should pray for God’s promises to acknowledge our dependence on Him.

We don’t pray to inform God of things that He doesn’t know! Jesus explained, “Your Father knows what you need, before you ask Him” (Matt. 6:8), and then went on to tell us how to pray. In prayer, we confess our total dependence on God.

C. We should pray for God’s promises to remember the Lord alone as the source of all our blessings.

God commands them to ask Him for rain. Rain is a natural phenomenon. Scientists can explain the process without mentioning God. When they can’t figure it out, they attribute it to good old Mother Nature! But don’t let them fool you: It is God who sends rain! If the crops grow, it is because God makes them grow. If you sit down to a meal that you bought with money you earned, it is God who provided that meal, and you need to give thanks to Him.

D. We should pray for God’s promises to realize the fulfillment of His purposes.

When God tells His people to ask Him for the spring rains, they needed to pray literally for the spring rains. But, also, they needed to ask Him to fulfill the promises of this chapter, to save, restore, and strengthen His people for His glory. “Your kingdom come, Your will be done…” That will happen, but it will happen through God’s people asking Him to send His rain.

Did Zechariah’s audience realize the fulfillment of these messianic promises? No. Did their children? No. It has been 2,500 years and these things are still not fulfilled. The Jews are back in the land, but they are not walking with God. They have not yet looked on Him whom they pierced and mourned (Zech. 12:10). As God’s redeemed people, we should be praying for the conversion of the Jews and all of God’s elect from every nation.

Conclusion

John Piper has often pointed out that the church is engaged in spiritual warfare, but that most believers have a peacetime mentality. Having this mindset, we use prayer as a domestic intercom rather than as a wartime walkie-talkie. He pictures Jesus, the field commander, issuing each of His troops a walkie-talkie tuned to the general’s headquarters. If they have any need on the battlefront, they can call for help. Then he writes (http://www.desiringgod.org /library/topics/missions/prayer_work.html),

But what have millions of Christians done? They have stopped believing that we are in a war. No urgency, no watching, no vigilance, no strategic planning. Just easy peacetime and prosperity. And what did they do with the walkie-talkie? They tried to rig it up as an intercom in their cushy houses and cabins and boats and cars—not to call in fire power for conflict with a mortal enemy, but to ask the maid to bring another pillow to the den.

The Lord did instruct us to pray for our personal needs (our daily bread), but only after we pray for His name to be hallowed, His kingdom to come, and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. So we ought to pray for rain to end the drought in our part of the country. But first and foremost, we ought to be praying for God to send the rain of His Spirit to bring the nations into His kingdom. It will happen! But it will happen through God’s people asking Him to send His rain.

Discussion Questions

  1. How can we know whether a biblical promise applies to us or whether it only applied to those to whom it was written?
  2. How would you answer a person who insists that physical healing is always God’s will, based on such verses as Ps. 103:3?
  3. Since we must engage in spiritual action, how can we know whether we are acting in God’s strength or in our own strength?
  4. How long should we persist in prayer if God doesn’t seem to be answering?

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: Christology, Prayer, Prophecy/Revelation