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Zechariah 7 Commentary

We are about to enter what is called the four messages. These messages came in the fourth year of Darius. This means it is 2 years after Zechariah 1:1.

A lot of times when we read these books, we think that they were written all at once, or over a relatively short time span. But this book took years to write.

It is at this point that the temple is halfway complete. These are questions to God about fasting. Two of the messages are answered negatively and two are answered positively. But in reality, the message to the people is to live righteous lives.

The chapters, just like the rest of them, begin with a some history and end with a future-forward look at the second coming of Christ.

Zechariah 7:1 – In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah on the fourth day of the ninth month, which is Chislev.

This message comes two years after Zechariah 1:1 and two years before the completion of the temple. The month puts it in November or December.

Zechariah 7:2 – Now the people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-melech and their men to entreat the favor of the Lord,

Bethel was about 12 miles north of Jerusalem. According to Ezra 2:28 and Nehemiah 7:32, the town was repopulated after the return from exile.

The two names given, Sharezer and Regem-melech are Babylonian names. These are most likely men who are were born in captivity and returned to their homeland.

They were called to “entreat the favor of the Lord.” This means that they are to pray to God. The fact that Bethel had sent these men, that means that they saw Jerusalem as the spiritual center of the culture.

Zechariah 7:3 – saying to the priests of the house of the Lord of hosts and the prophets, “Should I weep and abstain in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?”

It seems that the fifth month was set aside for many year to weep, pray and fast. The reason for this question is to determine if they should continue the practice since they are no longer in captivity.

The fall of Jerusalem is remembered by four separate fasts. They are in the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth months. You find more on that in 2 Kings 25, Jeremiah 39, and Jeremiah 41.

The fast in the fifth month was the most important one because that was the month that the temple was burned.

They were questioning the continuation of this serious fast during a time of great joy and success.

Zechariah 7:4 – Then the word of the Lord of hosts came to me:

Basically, Zechariah is saying that God is answering through him.

Zechariah 7:5 – “Say to all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted?

We know the fast of the fifth month was for the burning of the temple. The fast in the seventh month was mourning the death of Gedaliah.

God is pretty straightforward here. The fasts that the Jews did were to mourn the burning of the temple and to honor one of their governors. These fasts were for them, not for God.

When they fasted and prayed, they sought God’s favor by asking Him to remove them from captivity. God, however, wanted them to repent during those fasts. But the Jews didn’t fast to repent, they fasted to get God’s power.

Zechariah 7:6 – And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves?

While in captivity, the Jews ate the foods that the Babylonians ate. They ate to be refreshed and to enjoy. They didn’t eat as unto the Lord.

In 1 Corinthians 10:31, Paul tells us that we should eat and drink to the glory of the Lord.

Zechariah 7:7 – Were not these the words that the Lord proclaimed by the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and prosperous, with her cities around her, and the South and the lowland were inhabited?’”

This is a beginning of the second message. This message is about obeying God’s Word. God is asking the Jews to look back and see what their fathers did and to not repeat those sins.

The areas that are being discussed here are basically the coastal areas of the Mediterranean and the areas around Beersheba. The words that Zechariah is talking about here are the words of the prophets. These are words of obedience, not ceremony. All throughout the history of God’s people God has asked for obedience, not ritual.

Zechariah 7:8 – And the word of the Lord came to Zechariah, saying,

And again, God is going to speak through Zechariah.

Zechariah 7:9 – “Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another,

God starts this off by telling us that it is important because God is saying it. God wants the judges to be truthful in their judgments and for the His people to love their neighbors. Jesus repeats this idea in Matthew 22:39.

Zechariah 7:10 – do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.”

God Law is true and just when followed with a pure heart. It separates the rest of the world from God’s people. Again, we are called to love our neighbors.

God wants His people to have His heart for people. This is the same message Jesus shared during his time of earth.

Zechariah 7:11 – But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear.

Before the exile, the Jews refused to follow God’s Law. They “turned a stubborn shoulder.” This means they were rebellious to God. The people of God kept getting in trouble because they kept ignoring God’s Law. They didn’t want to let God lead them.

Zechariah 7:12 – They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the Lord of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great anger came from the Lord of hosts.

God sent His Spirit through the prophets to share God’s desire and the Jews turned their shoulders and hardened their hearts.

If the Jews would have softened their hearts to the Lord they would have been saved. But they didn’t. They hardened their hearts. This made the Lord angry.

Zechariah 7:13 – “As I called, and they would not hear, so they called, and I would not hear,” says the Lord of hosts,

God chose to ignore His people since they chose to ignore Him. How often as parents have we chosen to ignore our children because they choose to ignore us? We need our kids to learn from their mistakes and sometimes this comes from our silence, not our attention.

Zechariah 7:14 – “and I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations that they had not known. Thus the land they left was desolate, so that no one went to and fro, and the pleasant land was made desolate.”

God sent them into exile. The land they left behind was destroyed. This was to teach them a lesson, that they needed God.

Jeremiah 9:16 – I will scatter them among the nations whom neither they nor their fathers have known, and I will send the sword after them, until I have consumed them.”

Zechariah 6 Commentary

Zechariah 6 starts with another vision. This is the eighth and final vision. This vision serves as a connector to the first. The horses that are in the first vision are shown in this vision. This vision shows us the quick judgment that comes upon Babylon.

Zechariah 6:1 – Again I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, four chariots came out from between two mountains. And the mountains were mountains of bronze.

Here comes the war. Chariots symbolize war. In the previous vision, the sins went out of Israel (physical and spiritual) and were taken to Babylon. Now that the sin is in the world, God is declaring war on the sin.

The mountains could have a dual meaning. It could be the physical placement of the mountains as many think they are Mount of Olives and Mount Zion. But the Lord calling these mountains of “bronze” or, in some translations, “brass,” means that they hold symbolic meaning as well. Typically we see the color bronze used with strength.

Putting the strength of the mountains together with the chariots and we see both strength and judgment.

The reasoning behind the physical mountains is because it is the actual Kidron Valley. That is the place that Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe will be the place of final judgment.

Zechariah 6:2 – The first chariot had red horses, the second black horses,

The horses, as we will see, match up to the horses seen in Zechariah 1 with one exception. There is the addition of a black horse.

In Zechariah 1 we see that the horses are on reconnaissance. In this, we see that the horses are hooked up to chariots. This means that we are seeing these horses coming in war, not reconnaissance.

These horses are pretty much the same as the horses as in the Revelation of Jesus Christ.

Revelation 6:4 – And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword.

Then again in Revelation 6:5 – When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand.

The black horse talks about troubled times and famine.

Zechariah 6:3 – the third white horses, and the fourth chariot dappled horses—all of them strong.

White horses are typically peaceful. The dappled horses are typically mixed times of peace and adversity.

At the end of the day, it is God whose plans are made a reality. Man can plan how this world will move forward, but God’s plan is true. It is timeless. And the strength of these horses show that man cannot have an impact on the mission of these horses.

Zechariah 6:4 – Then I answered and said to the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?”

Again, as we have seen throughout the book, Zechariah is confused and asking for wisdom. This is the wisdom that can only come from God alone.

Zechariah 6:5 – And the angel answered and said to me, “These are going out to the four winds of heaven, after presenting themselves before the Lord of all the earth.

The symbolism here is the four corners of the world. Similar to the four kingdoms in the book of Daniel, these horses go out to the entire world.

These angels are to present themselves before the “Lord of all the earth.” This is the millennial title of Christ.

Zechariah 6:6 – The chariot with the black horses goes toward the north country, the white ones go after them, and the dappled ones go toward the south country.”

Now this is going to get a little deep. If we look directly at the historical significance of these horses in the physical realm, we can match up the horses to different times in history. The red horse, which isn’t mentioned here, has already occurred. The red horse was the time of the Chaldeans. That empire was already gone, so there is no mention of that horse here.

The black horse was Cyrus. He destroyed the Chaldeans and his kingdom is called “the north” in much of Scripture.

The white horse comes after Cyrus, which is Alexander. He was a fairly peaceful ruler.  Which makes sense he would get the white horse.

The dappled horses could be the Egyptian rulers which were had some that were peaceful and others that were cruel.

Israel’s enemies came from the north and south. Babylon and Egypt. God is calling the judgment upon those areas.

Zechariah 6:7 – When the strong horses came out, they were impatient to go and patrol the earth. And he said, “Go, patrol the earth.” So they patrolled the earth.

Who are the strong horses? Rome? Could be. It could also be any of the other kingdoms that strived to go well beyond their boundaries such as the Huns or the Goths or the Vandals.

These horses are told to go an walk to and fro through the earth. This means they have subdued the earth so that they can comfortably go through the world.

Zechariah 6:8 – Then he cried to me, “Behold, those who go toward the north country have set my Spirit at rest in the north country.”

This is most likely a millennial statement. God’s spirit of wrath won’t rest until the Messiah is on the throne. This is looking forward to Revelation 17 – 20.

Zechariah 6:9 – And the word of the Lord came to me:

In Scripture, one of the ways that prophets typically close out their visions is by giving focus to God. Zechariah is no different. He said that the Word of the Lord came to him. This is the moment that the topic moves from the vision itself to the word that God is giving Zechariah about the visions.

Zechariah 6:10 – “Take from the exiles Heldai, Tobijah, and Jedaiah, who have arrived from Babylon, and go the same day to the house of Josiah, the son of Zephaniah.

There are a ton of names here. Each of those names have meanings, as did most names from that day. Heldai is one of the exiles who returned from captivity and his name is based off the word cheled which means worldliness. Tobijah is another man from exile and his name means God is my good. Jedaiah is another formerly exiled man and his name means God has known.

Those three former exiles are to go immediately to Josiah. We don’t really know who this person is other than it is at his house they are crowning Joshua.

An interesting thing is that the name Josiah means God saves. While I am not sure it really works like this, these people were exiled in Babylon, in the world (Heldai). But God’s goodness knows what the exiles needed (Tobijah and Jedaiah)….saving from God (Josiah).

Zechariah 6:11 – Take from them silver and gold, and make a crown, and set it on the head of Joshua, the son of Jehozadak, the high priest.

It is interesting to note here that when Cyrus conquered Babylon in 539 BC, he allowed the Jews to go back to their homeland. When they arrived, they had joint leadership under Zerubbabel and Joshua. Throughout the history of Israel, God has commanded that the civil and the ceremonial leadership should be separate. Zerubbabel maintained the civil law while Joshua maintained the ceremonial.

The question here is why would they be putting a crown on the head of the high priest? This is not a normal thing. The only time we saw the two offices intermingle was in 2 Chronicles with Uzziah and it brought his death to him.

An interesting note is that Joshua is basically the same name as Jesus. This is most definitely a call out to the Messiah Jesus Christ. When Christ comes He will rule completely. This is a foreshadowing of the one to come from the Davidic line, Jesus the Christ.

Zechariah 6:12 – And say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: for he shall branch out from his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord.

In the next 4 verses, we learn a lot about Jesus Christ. First, we learn the Jesus will come from Israel and that He will build a temple.

While the crown was placed on the head of Joshua, they are calling out the Branch (capitalized), meaning Jesus the Christ.

Mark 14:58 – “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’”

John 2:21 – But he was speaking about the temple of his body.

John 15:5 – I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

Zechariah 6:13 – It is he who shall build the temple of the Lord and shall bear royal honor, and shall sit and rule on his throne. And there shall be a priest on his throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.”’

I am very confused by the various translations of this verse and, although I do most of my work from the ESV, I am not impressed with the translation of this verse in the ESV. Many other versions have the following:

Even he shall build the temple of the LORD; and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne: and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.”

When you read other translations, it is very easily seen as a singular person who is taking the role of both ruler and priest. When you read the ESV, it seems as though there are two separate people in this role.

As I believe this is a millennial verse that would go along with the others, I have to believe that this, too, is a millennial verse. If it is, then we learn several things about Christ here. First, we see the Lord’s glory. Next we see that He will be both king and priest. And finally in this verse we see that there will be peace.

Zechariah 6:14 – And the crown shall be in the temple of the Lord as a reminder to Helem, Tobijah, Jedaiah, and Hen the son of Zephaniah.

This crown that was given to Joshua is meant to be kept in the temple as a memorial to those who returned from exile.

This is a verse to speak to the faithful in Christ receiving the crown of glory.

The name “Hen” means gracious and is evidently another name for Josiah, who is being gracious himself.

Zechariah 6:15 – “And those who are far off shall come and help to build the temple of the Lord. And you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. And this shall come to pass, if you will diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God.”

The next thing we learn about Christ is that God is opening His kingdom to the Gentiles, that we will know that this is from the Lord, and that it requires our obedience.

1 Peter 2:5 – you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 2:13-22 – But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Zechariah 5 Commentary

Zechariah 5 gives us two different visions. The first vision is about how volitional sin in our lives will not stop the work of God in this world. The next vision given is another one dealing with sin. The fact that sin is prevalent in the land should not prevent the work of rebuilding the temple.

In both visions, we see that removing the systemic sin from Israel is needed before the coming of the kingdom.

Zechariah 5:1 – Again I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, a flying scroll!

Almost immediately after seeing the vision of the lamp and the trees, Zechariah turns and immediately finds himself in another vision.

Zechariah 5:2 – And he said to me, “What do you see?” I answered, “I see a flying scroll. Its length is twenty cubits, and its width ten cubits.”

The scroll that he saw is fully opened so that he can measure the size. An interesting note is that the size of the scroll is exactly the same size as Solomon’s Porch of the original temple in 1 Kings 6:2-3. The original temple had two porches made by Solomon. The dimensions describe the size of the second porch.

Zechariah 5:3 – Then he said to me, “This is the curse that goes out over the face of the whole land. For everyone who steals shall be cleaned out according to what is on one side, and everyone who swears falsely shall be cleaned out according to what is on the other side.

So this scroll is the curse for anyone who steals or swears falsely. In Revelation 18:5 we see that her sins have reached heaven and God has remembered her sins. This scroll is symbolizing at least part of the Law.

James 2:10 says that whoever keeps the whole law but fails to keep one point of it has become guilty of the entire Law.

The fact that there are only two points of the Law specified (the third and the eighth), holds up what James says in that failing to keep one point will violate the entire Law.

This message is both immediate and future. The future message brings us to something Jesus said in Matthew 25:31-46.

It is interesting that these two Laws were chosen. The stealing violates your neighbor’s rights. Swearing a lie is like lying under oath in court. It violates God. The focus of the Law is to love God and love others. The two Laws chosen show that loving God and others is of prime importance.

It could also be that these two sins were the main sins that those returning from captivity were falling prey to.

Zechariah 5:4 – I will send it out, declares the Lord of hosts, and it shall enter the house of the thief, and the house of him who swears falsely by my name. And it shall remain in his house and consume it, both timber and stones.”

There is no hiding from the scroll. Isaiah 55:10-11 says that God’s Word will not return empty after it goes out from His mouth and that it will accomplish its purpose. The only way to remove the curse is to repent.

This is similar to Leviticus 14 and the house of leprosy. In Leviticus, leprosy symbolizes sin. In Leviticus there is an opportunity to repent of the sin.

Zechariah 5:5 – Then the angel who talked with me came forward and said to me, “Lift your eyes and see what this is that is going out.”

Basically this is the beginning of the next vision. It isn’t really clear where the angel is asking Zechariah to direct his eyes except to lift his eyes.

Zechariah 5:6 – And I said, “What is it?” He said, “This is the basket that is going out.” And he said, “This is their iniquity in all the land.”

Just like in previous visions, Zechariah is unsure of what he is seeing. Depending on the version you are reading, it is either a “basket” or an “ephah,” which is, in essence, a bushel. Inside this bushel is the sin of the people.

This is likened to Revelation 18:5 in which the sins of the people are heaped up high.

Again, depending on your interpretation, there is a little more depth to this verse. I don’t particularly like the ESV translation in that it simplifies it too much. In other versions, this is not just God saying that it is their sin. God is saying that this is the “resemblance” of their sin. This means it is what God sees.

God sees all their sin. He doesn’t approve, of course. He is seeing and observing it, preparing for vengeance.

Zechariah 5:7 – And behold, the leaden cover was lifted, and there was a woman sitting in the basket!

Inside this ephah is a woman. In the vision, the woman is Judea and they are being seen for their sins. The lead is the cover of sin for Judea.

This woman is a representation of the church in sin and a corrupt Judea. The woman in the basket could go on to mean that she is being carried away, perhaps forced to live elsewhere, such as in a diaspora.

The lead cover is heavy. And lead is poisonous. The sin that covers the woman is heavy and poisonous.

Zechariah 5:8 – And he said, “This is Wickedness.” And he thrust her back into the basket, and thrust down the leaden weight on its opening.

This woman is not a woman, but the personification of evil. Think of mystery Babylon in Revelation. It appears the woman tries to leave the ephah but is forced back down and the heavy lead cover is placed back over her.

Think of Genesis 29:2 where the great stone was on the mouth of the well so that there wouldn’t be access.

Zechariah 5:9 – Then I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, two women coming forward! The wind was in their wings. They had wings like the wings of a stork, and they lifted up the basket between earth and heaven.

Now we move from the single woman in the basket to two other women with wings of storks. In the book of Leviticus, storks are seen as unclean. This means that these women are the protectors of evil. They are the demonic forces that are setting up the system of evil. There are several ways we can look at these women. It could be Samaria and Jerusalem. Or it could be the apostate church and mystery Babylon.

God allows this so that it can be destroyed as seen in Revelation 19:11-16.

The wind beneath their wings and the wings like storks show unclean and powerful creatures.

Zechariah 5:10 – Then I said to the angel who talked with me, “Where are they taking the basket?”

Zechariah is wondering where the women are taking the basket.

Zechariah 5:11 – He said to me, “To the land of Shinar, to build a house for it. And when this is prepared, they will set the basket down there on its base.”

And the angel tells Zechariah to Shinar, which is an ancient term for Babylon (see Genesis 10:10). The fact that they will be setting this basket on a base means that this will become an idol most likely inside of a temple.

This is very easily a foreshadowing of the second coming of Christ. This is the final Babylon (Revelation 17-18) and the second coming of Christ in Malachi 4:1-3.

This could be the warning for God’s people to leave Babylon, whether the physical Babylon of their day or the spiritual Babylon of the millennial kingdom.

Zechariah 4 Commentary

Zechariah 4:1 – And the angel who talked with me came again and woke me, like a man who is awakened out of his sleep.

I can only imagine how shocking all these visions of the Lord are to a person. The impact on a person’s body must be intense. Just like Daniel in Daniel 10:9, he fell into a deep sleep with his face to the ground. This is the introduction to the fifth vision that Zechariah is about to have.

Zechariah 4:2 – And he said to me, “What do you see?” I said, “I see, and behold, a lampstand all of gold, with a bowl on the top of it, and seven lamps on it, with seven lips on each of the lamps that are on the top of it.

There is a lot of symbolism going on here. This is a pretty descriptive verse! This is a lampstand that would be used in tabernacle. The extra bowl on top of it is to add extra oil to the lamp. This is a very large lamp! The typical menorah has 7 lamps on it. The one in the vision has a lot built onto the traditional menorah. The seven lips on each of the lamps means that there are a total of 49 lips for this menorah. This shows the abundance of the oil supply to provide to the lamps.

The lampstand is all gold. The lampstand itself is the container for the light. The church of Jesus Christ shines the Light of the world, which is Jesus Christ.

Looking at a parallel verse in Revelation 1:20, we see that there are 7 golden lampstands, these are the lampstands in each of the churches listed in the Revelation of Jesus Christ.

The number 7 is the number of perfection. Not perfection that we think of, but more specifically it means “completion.”

As you can see from the verse, we are seeing in the vision everything about God in His church.

Zechariah 4:3 – And there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.”

The lampstands have olive trees flanking it. The oil that would be used in the lamp would be a pure olive oil. This makes me think of a limitless supply of oil that is only provided by God, without any affect of mankind.

The coolest thing about this is the impact of the two trees! One represents physical Israel and the other is the grafted branch, the church of Jesus Christ.

Romans 11:24 says “for if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.”

And this is also the same picture we see in the Revelation of Jesus Christ in verse 11:4 in that there are two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.

Zechariah 4:4 – And I said to the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?”

Zechariah asks a little bit of a surprising question here, as we will see in the next verse. Basically, he wants to know the meaning behind the two olive trees.

Zechariah 4:5 – Then the angel who talked with me answered and said to me, “Do you not know what these are?” I said, “No, my lord.”

Zechariah’s question surprises the angel. The angel reacts as if Zechariah should have known the significance of the olive trees.

Zechariah 4:6 – Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.

Zerubbabel was the one who led the first group of Jews home from Babylonian captivity. The preceding verses show that God will supply an endless amount of resources to Zerubbabel to rebuild the temple. This will be to bring glory to God alone.

God is showing that it isn’t by human might or ingenuity that this will happen. It will only happen by a moving of the Holy Spirit. Ezekiel 36:24 shows that God is the one who brings the Jews back into their own land.

Zerubbabel won’t be able to accomplish what his ordained task is through his own power. The angel is explaining this to Zechariah. Zerubbabel will have to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit alone to accomplish the task.

This is so much like ministry in the church. We can only put so much of our own power into it. We can only go so far on our own power in our ministries. But when we step outside of ourselves and allow the Spirit of the living God to take control of our actions and lives, we find that our ministries will show much fruit from it.

Zechariah 4:7 – Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain. And he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’”

The angel is showing that even a mountain of opposition will be leveled and become like a plain. Nothing will be able to stop the rebuilding of the temple. Think of Matthew 21:21 here! Jesus tells his disciples that if they have faith they can move mountains!

We learn that this will happen in Zerubbabel’s life because we see that the “top stone,” or headstone in other versions, will be put in place.

And all Israel will shout! Grace! Grace to it! Ezra 3:11-13 tells us that the people sang to one another giving thanks to the Lord and that they people shouted with a “great shout.” Could this be that shout? Could the shout they were proclaiming be the shout that God has shown them grace?

Imagine if we led our ministries in such a way! Instead of spending all our time over-spiritualizing everything and instead spent more time doing through faith rather than seeking faith, we would realize that our search for God’s power wasn’t what we needed because His power was always there. What our search was for was God’s grace!

We accomplish because of God’s power. We accomplish for God’s grace!

Zechariah 4:8 – Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying,

This is a simple break in the action. Maybe this vision was becoming too big for Zechariah. That is simply my own thoughts that I am adding here. But now we are about to move into the confirmation of the angel’s interpretation.

Zechariah 4:9 – “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you.

This angel is the Angel of the Lord. This temple was to be met with all kinds of opposition. And it would take a very long time to complete. But it would happen in the life of Zerubbabel.

Can you imagine how encouraging this is for Christians? And especially for those who lead for the cause of Christ? We know that God will show us through to see the completion of those things we start for Him.

The church we know today began with only Jesus and 12 disciples. Our talents and our gifts seem so small in the immensity of the task that God has given us. But God makes great things from small beginnings. From a baby in a manger to victory over sin and the grave!

Zechariah 4:10 – For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. “These seven are the eyes of the Lord, which range through the whole earth.”

The temple that was built was smaller than Solomon’s temple. Ezra 3:12 tells us that many who saw the first temple wept. In Haggai 2:3 the prophet says that those who saw the temple it its former glory are looking on it now as if it is nothing.

This is only a glimpse of what it will look like when the Messiah comes.

The returning remnant of Israel never believed they could finish the temple in their lifetime. And while they didn’t finish something that was as glorious as the former temple, it wasn’t the opulence that God was seeking from them. It was the faithfulness to build the temple in the first place. It was the drive to put God at the head of it and allow Him to lead them.

God turns our little efforts into a lot when we allow Him to lead the dance.

Zechariah 4:11 – Then I said to him, “What are these two olive trees on the right and the left of the lampstand?”

Again, Zechariah is asking about the olive trees.

Zechariah 4:12 – And a second time I answered and said to him, “What are these two branches of the olive trees, which are beside the two golden pipes from which the golden oil is poured out?”

At this point, Zechariah isn’t asking about the trees themselves, but two branches of the trees. During Zechariah’s day, the two anointed ones were Zerubbabel and Joshua. They could have been a branch on each tree or they could have both been branches on a single tree. It isn’t really known by how it is said.

But the trees themselves symbolize the kingly and priestly offices in Israel, whether physical or spiritual. There are many times in history that God anoints two people to work together for a purpose. Think of Moses and Aaron, Joshua and Caleb, Elijah and Elisha, Paul and Barnabas, Peter and John. Even in more modern times we see God anointing two in people such as Whitefield and Wesley or Graham and Barrows.

In the Revelation of Jesus Christ in chapter 11, we see that God is raising up 2 witnesses. This is very similar to what Zechariah is seeing here.

In Zechariah’s day, Joshua and Zerubbabel were the anointed. That literally translates to “sons of oil.” We can see that this oil is coming directly out of the trees.

When we lead in ministry, it is all about giving of ourselves. It doesn’t matter how much that we have to give, but how much of what we have that we give.

Zechariah 4:13 – He said to me, “Do you not know what these are?” I said, “No, my lord.”

The angel asks if Zechariah knows what is going on. With Zechariah’s answer, we can see that even a person like Zechariah cannot stand on his own wisdom. The wisdom needed to understand the mind of God comes from God.

Zechariah 4:14 – Then he said, “These are the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth.”

And this is the culmination of the vision. Again we see the two anointed ones, the sons of oil, Joshua and Zerubbabel. Joshua is the High Priest and a descendant of Eleazar while Zerubbabel is the leader and a descendant of David. These are the two that God will choose to manifest the light of the lampstands.

This is a foreshadowing of the Messiah. Both offices of High Priest and leader are combined in the Messiah. Psalm 110 gives us even more detail into that.

The Messiah is the source of blessing that makes Israel the light to the nations. Isaiah 60:1-3 explains that to us.

And seeing that the final statement in this chapter is that they have offices in the court of the Lord of the whole earth, we see that this is a millennial term that leads us to the final kingdom of Christ (Micah 5:4).

Depravity & Delight – A Study in Psalm 36

Did you ever do your morning devotions and wonder why you were crying?

That was me this morning. You see, each morning I take the dog for a walk around the neighborhood. We walk about 2 miles each morning. It is during that time that I try to do my morning devotions and prayer time. My devotion is simply a chapter of the Bible. Lately I have been working through the Psalms.

This morning was Psalm 36.

Have you ever known anyone who was genuinely delighting in God alone?

That is what Psalm 36 is about.

David talks about delighting in the Lord in other places. Psalm 37:4 says:

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of desires in my heart! Keeping the desires of my heart provided could be God’s full-time job!

But Psalm 36 was today’s devotion.

And David begins this chapter in a way that he doesn’t use too often. David identifies himself as “the servant of the Lord.”

Psalm 36 – For the director of music. Of David the servant of the Lord.

The only other time David uses this explanation is in Psalm 18.

Why did David use that explanation in only those two Psalms? I’m not sure. But delighting in the Lord goes along with being submissive to the Lord.

But this isn’t the only strange thing David does in this Psalm. He starts this chapter by giving an analysis of sin’s effect in our lives.

Psalm 36:1-4 – Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes. For he flatters himself in his own eyes that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated. The words of his mouth are trouble and deceit; he has ceased to act wisely and do good. He plots trouble while on his bed; he sets himself in a way that is not good; he does not reject evil.

I start to question what David really means here. Is David speaking about, as Calvin call them, the “abandoned despisers of God” or is it much more than that? I have a problem thinking that David is simply talking about a select group of people here. I think this is more a treatise on the condition of the human heart.

And this is where conviction came in this morning.

Have you ever had an argument with a friend or a loved one?

My wife and I had a pretty big argument the other night. When you think “big argument” your mind immediately goes to hard questions like addiction or worse.

But no.

We were arguing over something small and insignificant.

Yes, the argument was a little more than that, but at its core, we were arguing over something that means nothing in the grand eternity of life.

Now both of us have valid points in our arguments. And both of us have nothing but the good of the outcome in our minds.

But neither of us were unified with each other in the Spirit of God. We were both unifying around our own agendas and when we have divided passions we get a lot of spent energy rather than positive momentum.

But these four verses hit me hard. I had to text my wife from work this morning to own up to my shortcomings. I can’t speak for my wife, but my own transgression, whether that be pride or anger or even simply divided passion, spoke deep to my own heart as David says here. And, if you look at most Hebrew manuscripts, it actually says “Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in my heart.”

My transgression was speaking to me deep in my own wicked heart.

During this argument with my wife I was not fearing God. I had an agenda and I was, literally, hellbent on enforcing it. My own pride and the thoughts that I had was flattering in my own eyes. I was so blinded by pride and arrogance that I couldn’t see my own iniquity.

Because of that, my words to my wife were trouble and not wisdom.

Later that night, I laid in bed and my mind was racing. Satan had a secure grip on my mind by that time and, just as David says in verse 4, I laid in bed and trouble was plotted in my mind. By the end of the night, I fell asleep so angry and I didn’t even reject the evil that was in my mind.

Those first four verses show us what the human heart, divorced from God’s grace, becomes. It is an unfolding of sin. It starts in the heart and it then continues to go into our words and then into our actions.

While there are interpretive differences in some manuscripts, there are some amazingly profound insights into sin and how flattery works in our lives to lead us into sin. This flattery leads us to think that we are justified by God for all of our actions, even those He calls sin.

Man, sin sucks. It is painful to come face to face with our own sin. The Puritan Ralph Venning said, “Consider that no sin against a great God can be strictly a little sin.”

So, in verse 1 our sin deceives us so that we don’t even know we are in sin. By verse 3 we see that our wickedness and deceit is happening toward God and others. Then by the end of verse 3 we see the downward spiral that our sin has placed in us. We abandon the wisdom we once had and we think about the next sin rather than denouncing sin altogether.

This is where I was in my argument with my wife. I was in the depths of depravity in my own pride.

But then, without any transition, David jumps right into the delightfulness of God.

David takes us from depravity to blessings in verses 5 through 9.

Psalm 36:5-9 – Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; your judgments are like the great deep; man and beast you save, O Lord. How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.

The Hebrew word for “steadfast” is hesed. It is usually combined with the word for “faithfulness” to show a covenantal love. In the Septuagint, it is combined with “mercy.” The Hebrew work for “stork” comes from hesed as well because the Israelites noticed how tender and careful the stork was with her young. Combining this with Psalm 104:17, we see a better picture.

Psalm 104:17 – Where the birds build their nests, And the stork, whose home is the fir trees.

Baby birds are ugly. They spend all day crying for food and they aren’t able to support themselves. And yet, the stork shows this loyal love to her young. This is a picture of God’s loyal love to us.

How does David go from sheer depravity to overflowing joy?

Because he realizes that the permanence of the Lord is the beginning of delight.

We are permitted to take refuge in God’s house! How can you not be excited about that!

Not only are we given refuge but we are given our fill of meat and drink. In verse 8 David uses the word “abundance.” That is literally translated as “fatness.” This pictures the best meats that would have been offered to the temple for sacrifice. And then to drink from the river of God’s delights would literally mean to be drunk on God.

To truly appreciate the idea of the “river of your delights,” you need to look at who David is writing to. This is a desert people. A flowing river would mean life. It gives you something to bathe in or water your crops with. The word for “delight” is Eden, which could be a reference to the original Garden.

This is such a different view of the effects of sin before.

Is your concept of God this big? Do you see His faithfulness and love that large? Do you see his provision as abundant and delightful?

If you see God as this big then you can begin to move beyond the wickedness of sin and move into the life and light of Christ.

So David starts off by showing us how sin deceives the sinner by flattering him so that he plans and pursues it rather than hating it. Then David abruptly contrasts the immense delightfulness of God to make us want to seek Him as the source of every blessing.

Then, David ends his Psalm with verses 10-12.

Psalm 36:10-12 – Oh, continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your righteousness to the upright of heart! Let not the foot of arrogance come upon me, nor the hand of the wicked drive me away. There the evildoers lie fallen; they are thrust down, unable to rise.

This prayer is for those who know God. Even though we know God and we experience His love and grace and mercy and all the blessings that flow from Him, we need a continuing flow of it from His river of delights.

To go back to the argument with my wife, it is when I stop seeking God that I fall into wickedness. We will never be fully sanctified until we are with Jesus face to face. Until that point we need to constantly be seeking God’s righteousness. We don’t just want to see God for an outward behavior but for an inner heart change.

That is the struggle of the modern day Christian. We sin so we seek God’s righteousness. When we do well enough to act good enough we stop seeking God and therefore we fall back into sin as it flatters us again.

If we stay on that cycle, we find our lives, our relationships, and our thoughts become tainted by the world because we can rely on our own righteousness for only so long. We need to rely solely on Christ to change our hearts and minds.

When you find yourself struggling with something, look inwardly first to determine if you are stuck in sin before you allow sin to flatter you and deceive you.

Innocence and Theology

Mark 10:14 – But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.

The other day I was driving my daughter home from her work. She works for a local Christian camp. She was talking about how she was writing Bible studies for the half-day students because the current series was not directed toward the age group she was responsible for. She wanted to do an entire weeklong series on “Finding Jesus.” As she was explaining it to me, she was explaining the plot line of the Disney movie “Finding Dory.” It was pure innocence, using the story of a fish-finding story to explain how we come to know the risen Creator of the universe.

As she spoke to me I found all these ways to poke holes in her theology.

But I kept my mouth shut and listened.

She explained how easy it was to find Jesus. She pulled a few Bible verses here and there, used a lot of Disney references, and showed a lot of passion in her voice as she explained it to me.

If a seminary graduate who has studied hermeneutics, Greek and Hebrew would listen to her speak, he would stop her from teaching this to the younger minds than hers.

But I sat and thought about it for a minute.

First, I thought about what Jesus said about children.

Matthew 18:1-3 – At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Now, please understand me that Jesus is not talking about becoming like children in ways of wisdom, but in innocence.

As adults, we tend to overthink situations so much more than children. If a child is angry or happy or sad they show their emotion and then, unless there is a significant outside influence like abuse, divorce, and death, the child will remember the major points of why they feel the way they do, but the details will be foggy. According to one study, “early emotional experience literally become embedded in the architecture of their brains.” (“Children’s Emotional Development is Built into the Architecture of their Brains,” National Scientific Council on the Developing Child)

While children are imprinting their brains, they simply do not have enough history to distort their realities. Adults, on the other hand, color everything we experience with our past.

Colossians 2:8 – See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

I think of it this way, what is the main thing at church?

When we look at church today, we focus on a lot that is not Jesus.

We package it up as Jesus, but it isn’t Jesus.

Music is great, but music isn’t Jesus.

Small groups are awesome, but they aren’t Jesus.

Mission journeys are needed, but they aren’t Jesus.

But people tend to make them Jesus.

Just like holidays. I think of holidays that celebrate the military or freedom. During those days in church, when freedom or the flag or the military is announced, the applause gets louder, there is cheering, and the church gets a great feeling.

The amount of excitement around those topics outweigh the excitement for hearing about the Savior of mankind.

But let’s look at the Hebrew church for a moment.

By the time the book of Hebrews was written and delivered, there were up to 100,000 Christians inside of Jerusalem. The majority of those Christians were members of house churches, what we would consider either a small group or an underground church. Most of those house churches had approximately 20-30 adults at it. That means there would be about 4,000 churches in Jerusalem during the distribution of the book of Hebrews.

The book was written to Christians in Jerusalem.

Now, before this letter came to those churches, what did they use? They used other letters.

So when the messenger brought the Letter to the Hebrews to the first church in Jerusalem around 60 AD, there were still 3,999 other churches that had yet to hear this amazing book!

The churches would spend all night studying the Word. They would consume it!

Matthew 4:4 – But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

We don’t consume the Word.

We consume the music. We consume the fellowship. We consume the opportunity to serve those who don’t have as much first world stuff as we do.

But we don’t consume the Word.

The church in Jerusalem consumed the Word.

And they changed the world.

They were able to affect people across several generations.

And they were able to build a foundation for faith throughout further generations.

They consumed the Word with an innocence and excitement similar to how my daughter shared the Word as she understood it with those younger kids.

A Study in James 5

James 5:1-3 – Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days.

In this final study of the book of James, we find that he sticks true with the rest of his book. James speaks out against something, tells the blessings and curses that could follow, and then ends with a proclamation to faith in God.

In the Old Testament, the Jewish culture was meant to be one of holiness, not commerce. Looking at the Mosaic Law would seem to indicate this to be the case. Just look at the example in Leviticus against taking interest on loans. This would have precluded any and all commerce. It is very difficult to make money when you can’t earn interest.

The Jewish historian, Josephus, is quoted as saying, “As for ourselves, we neither inhabit a maritime country, nor do we delight in merchandise, nor in such a mixture with other men as arises from it; but the cities we dwell in are remote from the sea, and having a fruitful country for our habitation, we take pains in cultivating that only.

Eventually, as time went by, the Jews came to understand they needed commerce to survive and did so with only rabbinical oversight. Unfortunately, just like all other human beings, once money increases come in to play, then a system that separates the rich from the poor comes in and people begin to see a selfish and prideful mentality take hold.

As James was written to Jewish Christians, it may seem that the beginning of this chapter was written to rich Jewish Christians.

In verses 1-3, James serves a hearty rebuke against those who claim their independence from God through their wealth. James gets Old Testament prophetic when he talks about three different destructions of wealth: food spoiling, garments being moth-eaten, and gold corroding. Similar to Luke 18:22, James talks about the corruptible wealth bearing witness against them as they are storing up their treasures here on earth rather than in heaven.

James 5:4-6 – Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you.

As he moves into verses 4-6, he condemns the sins of the rich. First he speaks out against withholding the wages of the workers. How many governments have beaten down their people by overtaxing them? How many bosses have withheld wages because the business was in trouble? How many bonuses and pay raises have been withheld because of some inane reason?

While Jesus’ ministry was never hurting for money and he had a few well-known rich people following Him (Zacchaeus, Joseph of Arimithea, and Barnabas to name a few), it is also well known, as we learn in 1 Timothy that riches are the reason behind countless sins.

Now James speaks a phrase that gets translated in many different ways across various translations. James says that the cries have reached the “Lord of Sabboth.” This is not to be confused to with Lord of the Sabbath. The idea behind this is that it is the Lord of Hosts or more aptly, the “Lord of armies.” Here, we see a reference to God the warrior. Our commander-in-chief ready to mobilize his angelic armies against this sinful act.

In verse 6 James leads into his next topic. Unfortunately, in this world, the poor are often without a lot of power. But James tells them that their cries are heard by God. In His time, God will right every wrong against the poor and beaten down. He leads into patience.

James 5:7-8 – Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.

In verses 7-8 James likens the expectation of patience to farming. We are to wait until the Lord appears again. A farmer does not give up even when he doesn’t see immediate results. James talks about the early and latter rains. More aptly, these are the fall and spring rains. The fall rains soften the ground for the plows to go through and the spring rains were for bringing the crop to maturity.

This maturity shows in having an “established heart.” An established heart is rooted deep in the Word of God. James believed that God’s returning could happen at any time and fully prepared for it during his time. The only way to be prepared is to mature in the Spirit.

James 5:9 – Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!

Verse 9 talks to us about grumbling. When we have to be patient, sometimes that is very difficult. We end up complaining. A new bride waiting for her wedding day or a mother-to-be waiting for the birth of her child can take a toll on a person’s patience.

It is the same with waiting on the Lord. It is very easy for us to get angry or upset with one another, especially those whom we are supposed to love. Complaining, even during hardship, causes us to stand condemned. He points out that Jesus comes as the Judge. Not only the Judge of the world, but also to review the faithfulness of those who bear His namesake. We cannot allow out trials and hardships to reveal in us an unloving or uncaring spirit.

James 5:10-11 – My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord; that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.

Moving into verses 10-11 James explains that the Old Testament prophets were examples to use when looking at hardship. Jeremiah, for example, was put in stocks, thrown in prison, hidden away in the dungeon, and yet he patiently persisted in his ministry. James shares the example of Job. In this patience, God will show his compassion and mercy.

James 5:12 – But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your “Yes,” be “Yes,” and your “No,” “No,” lest you fall into judgment.

Verse 12 tells us to not take an oath. As a Christian our yes should simply be a yes. How often do we fail at that. That is, honestly, one of my biggest opportunities as a Christian. First century Jews often made a distinction against “binding” and “non-binding” oaths. Oaths that did not include the name of God were considered non-binding. Think of them as crossing your finger behind your back as you tell a fib.

He tells us to not swear any oaths. Making an oath, he feels, weakens the position of the person making the oath. It demonstrates that your character does not have enough weight to act as confirmation for your words. And if you lack this character trait, it will be shown at the judgment seat of Christ.

James 5:13-14 – Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.

Finishing up not only the chapter, but the book, James ends with how Christians should pray for each other. As an elder of a church with attendance of about 800 weekly, I spend much of my week either on the phone or in person with people who are in need. These could be physical needs such as rent payments or food, or they could be more spiritual such as sicknesses or some grievous sin such as an affair or abuse. Prayer is a major part of the Christian’s life.

When a Christian is suffering, they need to pray.

When a Christian is joyful, they should praise God through prayer and worship.

When a Christian is sick, the elders should be called and the person should be prayed over.

The important thing to see here is that the ownership for prayer is on the part of the person who is suffering, cheerful or sick. Many times people do not ask for prayer because of a multitude of reasons, but James is clear, we should be asking for prayer.

James does speak about the elders anointing the sick with oil. Many times, in the first century church, anointing with oil was seen as medicinal. Looking at today, the anointing with oil could mean that we seek the best medical attention there is out there. It could also be more spiritual in that we anoint the person in the power of the Holy Spirit.

James 5:15-16 – And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.

James speaks specifically of healing in verses 15 and 16. There has always been debate among Christian circles as to whether James is talking about a guaranteed physical healing when prayer is done. But taken in context, James is combining the healing with resurrection and forgiveness. To me, this sounds more of a spiritual healing than a physical one.

It is important to know that every prayer for healing is not answered how we would like. I believe James does make it clear by claiming that we need to pray in faith. Our focus should always be spiritual first, then physical. God healed the physical only after the spiritual faith was seen.

A lot of times Christians are scared to pray a prayer of faith because if a healing is not done then it would be as if God’s reputation would be tarnished. We need to remember that we serve a very big God. This same God is big enough to handle His own reputation. We simply need to follow His plan.

He speaks of confession. Confession is an important part of the Christian life as it unburdens us from the heavy weight of sin. When we look at healing, we need to be very cognizant of the fact that sickness, many times, is a direct result of sin that has not been dealt with. Paul speaks to this in 1 Corinthians 11:30.

The root form of the word “confess” means to “say the same thing.” So when we confess our sin, we are identifying it by its real name and admit that it is a sin. For the Christian who is listening to the confession, it is important to behave properly. We should immediately begin loving, intercessory prayer and not provide human “wisdom” or begin gossiping about it.

The praying should be done by someone who is “fervent” and “righteous.” James is clear that a person with those qualities will have effective prayer. If we go into our prayer with a lukewarm attitude and ask God to care for something that we, in essence, care little about, then our prayer will not be effective.

James 5:17-18 – Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.

James shares, in verses 17 and 18, an example of a fervent and righteous man praying in Elijah. Elijah was a man, like us, and he prayed earnestly. James uses him as an example so we know we can become prayer warriors like him.

James 5:19-20 – Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.

He ends the chapter, and the book, with the reason why he wrote the book in the first place, to bring back people who were wandering away from the truth. The word, “wander,” is a good one here. Most people do not intentionally walk away from that which they know is true. It happens over time and unintentionally.

James has a book that is filled with wisdom from God. His words are not only important for the first century Jewish Christians, but for those of us in the 21st century. I believe it important to go back and reread his words a couple of times a year because of the great information in them.

A Study in James 4

James 4:1-3 – Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.

This week is an interesting week. It is Thanksgiving here in the USA and, yet, we are a country divided. Thoughts of Ferguson and racial divide fill our homes as we sit to thank the Creator for our food and friends and families.

Even as we sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, there are many families who are divided as they sit down to dinner. I remember days when I used to sit down with my side of the family and my now ex-wife’s side of the family for Thanksgiving feast in the months prior to the divorce. It was going to happen. The date was set for me to move out, and yet, there was a tenuous peace; a peace similar to the many cease fires that Israel has had with any choice of Middle Eastern countries.

This week, James speaks to us about pride.

Like in previous chapters, James starts out by not pulling any punches. He asks us what causes the fights and arguments among us.

There are some key words we need to look at here in the original language. The Greek words for “fights and quarrels” are polemos and mache. Polemos is a war campaign. It can mean something ongoing. Mache is a word that means the individual conflicts in a war. When James speaks of “you” in this passage, he uses the word melos. Melos, easily translated means members. So what James is speaking about in this beginning passage is arguing among members of the Christian church.

Let’s go back to my Thanksgiving dinner. We were all members of a single family yet we could not get along. We all claimed Christ as our Savior yet the littlest disagreement would turn into a full blown war.

Unfortunately, the people who we are supposed to love the most are the ones we argue with the most. Psychologists and other people who are much smarter than me say it is because we are with them for longer periods of time and that they see us at our best and our worst and sometimes it is just too much to handle.

But I have a different answer.

Sin.

While we each sin, it is important for us to understand how to handle sin. There are people who say you need to immediately and severely confront them. There are those who say you need to confront but be loving. There are those who say you need to let them figure it out on their own. And many others.

Unfortunately, when two or more people get together and cannot agree on how to tackle the sin issue, a bigger sin rears its ugly head.

Pride.

Pride leads to murder and covetousness.

Ok, Fred, I am sure all of your former inlaws were not murdered by your hand, so what do you mean?

James is looking back at the Sermon on the Mount when he chooses his language. Murder is more than the actual killing. Now this may drive my lawyer friends a little crazy, but murder is a condition of the heart that shows itself outwardly through anger.

James goes on to say the reasons you still have these feelings is because of a couple of reasons. Either you are simply not asking God to take them away or you are asking with the wrong motives. God is a God of the heart. He looks to not just our actions, but our faith and our motives. That is why our works alone cannot save us.

We need to remember that the purpose of prayer is not to change God’s mind to equate with ours. He isn’t a genie in a bottle that we can control. The purpose of prayer is to calibrate ourselves with His will and ask Him to accomplish His will through us and our circumstances. See Matthew 6:10 if you have questions about that.

James 4:4-5 – Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?

Moving into verses 4 and 5, James speaks to us about something that really affects the church today. He speaks about the danger of being “friends with the world.” The verses call out both adulterers and adulteresses but in the original Greek, only adulteresses are called out. Many feel that this is a verse about literal sexual adultery, but using only the term adulteress, we need to look at it a different way. God is the “husband” and the church is the “bride.” How can the church have a relationship with the world and yet claim faithfulness to God.

There is a small issue that comes up here is that the Scripture that James shares cannot be found anywhere in the Old Testament. The two leading theories as to this are that either James is citing universal truths from the Old Testament or James 4:5 is two separate sentences and that the Scripture quoted refer to what he said in verse 4.

Regardless, the message to the church is that we need to be friends with God. Take a look around at the multiple denominations out there. It is easy to see which are focused on being a friend to the world and an enemy to God. They are the churches that make mature Christians wonder about them while the world praises them.

James 4:6-10 – But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.

Speaking of the world’s praise, as James moves into verses 6-10, we start to see him talking about humility. He tells us that God will give us the grace to be able to serve God as we should, but that only comes through serving humbly.

Grace and pride can be seen, somewhat, as opposites. Pride demands that God bless me based on my good works. But grace demands nothing. Grace is given only on the basis of who God is. And the humility we show is not a work to receive the grace. Humility simply puts us in the correct state to receive the grace he provides.

So to receive grace, we need to submit to God. In my young adult class a few weeks ago we discussed this exact same idea. We need to order ourselves under God. Basically we need to give up our kingdom to live in the kingdom of God.

When we begin to give up our kingdoms, Satan will come in, like he did with Christ, and offer us a greater kingdom. But we are called to resist the devil. And James tells us that if we resist the devil, we are promised that he will flee from us. This does not mean we need to exorcise Satan out of us. Keep in mind that light and dark cannot coexist in the same space. This means that Satan cannot possess a believer. We need to look on Satan as who he is, a conquered enemy.

James tells us to “resist” the devil. Resist is made up of two separate Greek words meaning stand and against. Therefore we must stand against the devil.

Next, James tells us to draw near to God and we have the promise that He will draw nearer to us. Know this, when we find ourselves away from God, it is not God that is doing the drifting. I have heard people say that the church is changing. That is the church. That is not God. God is immovable. So in order for us to get closer to God, we need to act, make the conscious decision that we want to get nearer to Him.

I like this story to illustrate it. An elderly couple is driving down the road and as they are talking, the wife, sitting in the passenger seat, notices as cars are coming toward them that there are other couples in those cars and in each car, the woman was sitting very close to the man. She looked at her husband and asked, “Why don’t we sit that close anymore?” The husband, the driver, answered, “It wasn’t me that moved.” If we are away from God, we need to realize that He has not moved. It is us, His bride, who has moved away.

James 4:11-12 – Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?

In verses 11-12, James speaks about hatred. This is hatred of our fellow brethren. James echoes John in 1 John 4:20 by basically saying that we cannot hate one another. This hatred is basically another form of pride. It is our arrogance. When we have the right humility before God, we cannot just judge a brother off the cuff.

James 4:13-16 – Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.

Looking at verse 13, James is telling us that it is prideful for us to make plans outside of the sovereignty of God.   We do not know what will happen tomorrow. Why make a plan for our worldly success when all we have is the assurance of today and the mission to preach the Gospel?

He asks us to look at the fragile state of our lives.

Please note, James is not telling us not to plan for anything. But we should make our plans based around the will and desire of God. If we make our plans, seek to build our kingdoms, and go after success without first seeking God in the equation, then we are boasting and prideful.

James 4:17 – Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.

Knowing that humility and submission to God is far easier to speak about than live, James makes it very clear on the mind of God: we are accountable for humility and dependence on God.

Next week I will end this series on the Book of James. James ends with a couple warnings and some applications for us to practice, a fitting way to end any discussion about godly living.

A Study in James 2

James 2:1 – My brothers, do not show favoritism as you hold on to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.

The book of James is SUCH a jam-packed book with nuggets of information that can be used and implemented in our lives that it would be terrible to just gloss over this book.

Last week we learned that James, in Chapter 1, spoke to Jewish Christians about both trials & temptation and hearing & doing.   In chapter 2, James speaks about the sin of favoritism and faith & works.

Immediately in this chapter, James starts with a story. He talks about a man who is rich and a man who is poor. Both of them walk into a synagogue. The fact that James uses the term “synagogue” means that he is speaking at a time before Gentiles were widely accepted into Christianity. But this isn’t as much a story about Jewish Christians as it is favoritism. James tells us that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ was not meant to be given with discrimination. It is meant for all.

The example James uses is that we will bend over backwards for the rich man while telling the poor man that he isn’t worth as much as the rich man.

James 2:3-4 – If you look with favor on the man wearing the fine clothes and say, “Sit here in a good place,” and yet you say to the poor man, “Stand over there,” or, “Sit here on the floor by my footstool,” haven’t you discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

How often do we see that in our own churches today?

Do we typically see the richer people sitting down front in view of the cameras? Watch any of the televangelists and tell me what you see in the front few rows. Could it be favoritism being shown to bolster the bank account?

Possibly.

And that is the danger. I was looking in my own church last Sunday and noticed both rich and poor, young and old, Christian and seeker alike sitting in the first few rows. It was amazing to see! There was no partiality.

But what happens when we show partiality? It brings to light something that was said in 1 Samuel 16:7, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks to the heart.” if we are called to be holy, we must be set apart from the world and transformed in our minds to look at others as Christ looked at everyone. We need to look to their hearts.

James goes on to explain that it is the rich who oppress. It is the rich who seek to drag people into court. It is the rich who speak against the name of Christ.

But God chose the poor to be filled with faith and become heirs to the kingdom.

James 2:5 –  Listen, my dear brothers: Didn’t God choose the poor in this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that He has promised to those who love Him?

If we are to truly live a Scriptural life, then we will love our neighbors as ourselves. James quotes Jesus from Matthew 22:36-40. And Jesus quoted Leviticus 19:18. This is a great example of the entire Bible being utilized to show us a timeless truth. The truth of loving our neighbor. And James is very clear, everyone is our neighbor, regardless of status, upbringing, religion, sexual preference, or anything else that seems to divide us these days.

Ending this section of the chapter, James explains that one sin keeps us away, meaning that are you able to show favoritism to anyone when you sin just as everyone else? No. And favoritism is a sin. He says one thing here that I absolutely love, “mercy triumphs over judgment.” James is calling the reader back to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount when Jesus said, “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” (Matthew 7:2)

I will, by no means, tell people we are not to rebuke or judge. The Bible is clear, we are to test the spirits and make sure they are from God. But we have got to be very careful that we do not judge someone based on personal preference. We must use our wisdom to bring a Biblical standard to them. And even when we do that, we need to remember that it is not against flesh and blood that we war but the powers and authorities of this dark world. Going in to a confrontation with someone without praying about it first or taking it to God will get you nothing but an argument. We should constantly be asking God if He desires us to speak to the offending person and for Him to soften the heart of them.

James closes out his chapter with a discussion on faith and works. Many Christians get confused on the place of faith and works in Christianity. Without works, our faith is dead. Without faith, we are dead.

James 2:14 – What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faith save him?

Let me make this clear. Works do NOT save us. Only faith in Christ can do that. But once we show that faith in Christ, He prepares us for works that will show people the faith that we have. If we do not have works, then we won’t be showing fruit.

James seems to believe that if you say you have faith but don’t have works, then you don’t truly have a saving faith. Keep in mind James’ audience. He is speaking to Jewish Christians. These Christians came from a background of strict adherence to laws each and every day. When they learned about salvation through faith alone, they took it to the opposite extreme of not living out their faith. They simply claimed faith, but did nothing to grow in it.

There is a saying that has made its way around Christianity for a while, “faith alone saves, but that faith that saves is not alone.”

James then goes on to explain what dead faith looks like. It looks like the homeless person on the street that we walk by and say, “let me pray for you.” It looks like the elderly person who lost their spouse and lives alone and no one from the church (and I am not talking the paid professionals of the church, I am talking about those who sit in the pews) goes to visit them. It looks like the parishioner who sees their pastor going through a tough time and doing nothing to assist.

Faith alone saves us, but it must be a living faith. We can tell if faith is living or dead as to whether it has works or not associated with it. A living faith is real. It is a faith in which people will look at us and see Jesus. It is a faith that will take care of those who need it.

James 2:18 – But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.”[e] Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith from my works.

James says there are people who will try to say they have the “gift” of works or “gift” of faith. But faith and works are not gifts, they are products of a Christian life. If we have faith, we must have works accompany it.

He gives an example of living faith in Abraham. Abraham listened to God and was made righteous because of it. Faith and works cooperated in Abraham. If he didn’t have a living faith in God, he never could have been obedient to follow Him.

James then explains Rahab, the prostitute, had a living faith. Rahab was a Gentile woman. So here, James is laying the groundwork for the Jewish Christians to accept the Gentile Christians in the future. Her faith was shown as living because it was a faith of action.

Abraham and Rahab are used and both have very different purposes for showing a living faith. As for Abraham, if we have faith in God, we will do what He tells us. For Rahab, if we have faith in God, we will help His people.

At the end of the chapter, James it is important to realize that faith that is dead is still faith, just not a faith that is living, nor does it have the ability to save.

James 2:26 – For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

Next week we will dig into James 3, where we are told we need to control our tongue.

Study of James 1

Last week we learned that the book of James was written by James. There is the announcement of the century. But beyond that, it was written by James the Just, the half-brother of Jesus. It was written to Jewish Christians before the Judaistic Controversy around 45 AD, which makes this most likely the earliest written book of the New Testament.

James 1:1 – James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings.

We can get an idea of who this was written to simply by the first verse, this is written to the twelve tribes that were scattered out of Jerusalem soon after the martyring of Stephen.

The first chapter of this book is broken into 3 sections: the greeting (in v. 1), trials & temptations (vv. 2-18), and listening & doing (vv. 19-27).

After the greeting to the twelve tribes, James starts in discussing trials. Right out of the gate, James makes it very clear, we WILL have trials. There is no “if” in there. The verse says:

James 1:2 – Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds

Also evident in v. 2, James calls for us to count our trials as joy.

Let me ask you a question. When was the last time you thanked God for the tough times you have been going through? It isn’t easy to do so, is it?

I’ll admit, when life is throwing everything at me, my first inclination is not to say, “Thanks God, I really appreciate this opportunity to grow.”

No way. I’d rather complain to my girlfriend, scream at the stupid drivers on the road, or rant on Facebook. It is so much easier to vent our frustrations (usually loudly) than direct them to God and thank Him for causing us to grow.

But James tells us to consider it joy. Why? Because as we go through trials, it tests our faith and brings perseverance.   Perseverance brings maturity. Some key things to consider here is that trials do NOT CREATE faith….trials TEST faith. So what causes faith? Read Romans 10:17. Faith comes by hearing the Word of God.

While trials do not create faith, when we meet the trial with faith, patience is created. Patience can only come through passing the tests of faith. If we take trial with disbelief or an argumentative heart, then we could find ourselves in bitterness or discouragement.

James 1:5 – If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

James then goes on to tell us in vv. 5-8 that we need wisdom as we go through our trials. Please know this, WISDOM and KNOWLEDGE are two different things. Knowledge is the raw data. It is the book smarts. Knowing that we need to love someone because the Bible tells us to, for example. But wisdom is how to use the raw data. So if the raw data of the Bible tells us that we should love, wisdom, which comes from the Holy Spirit, explains to us how we should love.

Something cool about this wisdom is that God gives it liberally and without being angry about it. How often has someone asked us how to do something and we exhale loudly, giving them that feeling that we are put out by them. As a parent, I have found myself doing that with my kids from time to time.

But God doesn’t do that.

He gives freely. Happily. Liberally.

James 1:9-11 – Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits.

The interesting thing here is the beginning of v. 9. It speaks of the “lowly brother” and the “rich.” The lowly brother glories in being lifted up by God. It is so much easier for the impoverished to see God’s hand as they come through a trial while the rich find it much more difficult as they lose in their humiliation. This humiliation comes as the rich realize that this life, and all their riches, is only for this life. They cannot take any of their riches into eternity. To that end, the rich also fade, just as the flowers and beauty of the fields fade.

It is at this point that James changes direction a little. Up until this point, James talks about perseverance and patience and joy during trials. But now he is going to change it to speak strictly to temptation. He begins by sharing the blessing that those who endure temptation, and love Him, will be given the crown of life.

James 1:13-16 – Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.

How many times have we said to ourselves or someone else, “This must be God testing you.” Don’t get me wrong, there will be tests of faith. But God will not tempt us. Guys, for example, God is not going to give you the desire for that beautiful, half-dressed woman walking down the street just so He can see you fall. He is not intentionally giving you the temptation of sex. He will give you a way THROUGH the temptation. Not the temptation itself.

James goes on to explain that we are tempted when we give into our own desires. We are drawn away from God when we give into the evil beauty that Satan and the world has put in our path. And while Satan tempts us, it is our own fallen nature that destroys our true desire to please God.

When our desires of the flesh are realized, then that gives birth to sin. Coming from the corrupted desire of sin is death. Satan will always try to hide that progression from us, but if we stay in the light of Christ, then we will be able to have the wisdom to see the corruption before it begins.

James 1:17-18 – Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.

It is now in vv. 17-18 that James compares the sinful corruption to the “good and perfect gifts” that come from God. When James explained the Father in v. 17, he describes Him as the “Father of the lights.” It is these celestial bodies that are example to us as eternal lights as they never go out. God never changes. James explains that because God never changes, it begins with their generation. They are the “firstfruits” of the redemption.

James 1:19-20 – My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

James begins talking about listening and doing in the final section of James 1. Have you ever been angry? In your anger, have you simply lashed out and said the first thing that popped into your head? Of course, we all have. But James tells us that anger and our wrath does not come from God. When we lash out in anger, we are attacking the other person based on our own desires, and, as discussed above, that does not come from God, but our own selfish, corrupt desire.

By the time James gets to v. 21, he tells us to accept with meekness the “implanted Word of God.” By accepting in meekness, we accept it with a teachable heart. His Word, then implanted into our hearts, will maintain our purity in an age that is filled with impurity.

James 1:22-24 – But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.

Does this sound like the church today? Most people go to church, sit in the pews, and listen to a message by the pastor. After church, they take the notes from the service and place it in their Bible, never to be seen from again. They don’t apply what they had just learned in church. James tells us that this is like a man who sees his face in the mirror but forgets what he looks like once he walks away from the mirror. This kind of Christian is one who is easily swayed by the winds and waves of every new doctrine to come down the pike.

Let me ask you a question.

Do you believe that the majority of the televangelists are acceptable for a Christian to cite as an authority?

Let’s look at an example. Joel Osteen. This is the televangelist that everyone loves to attack and many people feel pity for him, deservingly so. We should pity him. But we shouldn’t pity him for the rebukes he is facing, but for being completely and utterly deceived by the spirit of greed and evil that Satan gives.

His own wife proclaimed in both the pulpit and on his TV show that “when we obey God, we are not doing it for God…we are doing it for ourselves.” Matthew 5:16 refutes what she said very clearly: “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Looking at Joel himself, he wrote in one of his books that the Israelites “lack of faith and their lack of self-esteem robbed them of the fruitful future God had in store for them.” Unfortunately, Osteen added words to the actual Bible verse. Both Hebrews 4:2 and 11:6 speak only to the Israelites’ lack of faith, not their self-esteem.

But if we are simply going to church to hear the Word and change our lives to live the Word, then we will find that any teaching, including that of Osteen, as long as it has a Christian title to it, is acceptable when it most certainly is not. The Bible tells us that there are plenty of people out there that will distort the Word for their own, and for evil’s, purposes.

James 1:26 – If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless.

In the final two verses of James 1, we are told that if we do not hold our tongue then our religion is useless. In Greek, the word for “religion” is never used in a good context in the bible. James uses the idea here for someone who has religion but does not have a right relationship with God. He tells us that we can spot that pretty easily by a person who claims religion but does not hold their tongue.

James concludes by showing that our faith is truly simple. We should love on orphans and widows and to keep our faith undefiled. Too much of today’s religion is defiled by greed, ego, desires of the flesh and so on. If we simply love on those who the world deems unlovable and keep our eyes affixed on Christ above, then we will be able to keep our religion as undefiled.

James 1 sets the stage for the rest of the book. While in chapter 1 we learn about “hear and do,” in chapter 2 we will learn about “faith and deeds.” Each of these are stepping stones into a deeper faith and a practical way to live out our faith.

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