A matter of perspective

Zechariah 8 is the next stop in my word study of joy. Here, it occurs in verse 19, when the prophet declares, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘The fast of the fourth, the fast of the fifth, the fast of the seventh and the fast of the tenth months will become joy, gladness, and cheerful feasts for the house of Judah; so love truth and peace.'” It is a curious statement which made little sense until I realized what was going on with the three fasts mentioned. But I’ll get to that in a moment. Because, to be honest, verse 19 is just the tip of the iceberg in a chapter which talks about a complete reversal of perspective and status for the people of Israel, decimated and scattered and exiled as they were.

You see, the transition starts all the way back in verse 2, when God announced that He had seen His people endure enough and had become “exceedingly jealous for Zion” and would thus, in vs 3, “return to Zion and dwell in the midst of Jerusalem,” which would be henceforth called “the City of Truth.” This, in stark contrast to the indictments which God had previously leveled against Jerusalem through the prophets, that it was filled with liars, cheaters, thieves, murderers, and more. And He was no longer welcome there. But God wasn’t done with the contrast just yet. In vss 4-5, He adds that the elderly will sit, and small children would once again play in the streets, a dramatic departure from a city in which no one had the luxury of growing old, let alone the security to sit in the street.

God then says, rhetorically, in vs 6 to those who thought such things an impossibility, “If it is too difficult in the sight of the remnant of this people in those days, will it also be too difficult in My sight?” The obvious answer was, “Of course not.” Such things may have been impossible for the people of Israel, such as they were, but God’s point was that He could do anything – anything – for this remnant.

And then, to explain how this could be, God adds that, as far as He was concerned, when this astounding restoration came, they would no longer be a remnant at all.

Catch what happens in verse 7: “Behold, I am going to save My people from the land of the east and from the land of the west.” In verse 8, He talks about restoring them to Jerusalem and declares, “they shall be My people, and I will be their God in truth and righteousness.” Talk about a change! But He wasn’t done yet!

In vss 11-12, God makes this powerful proclamation: “But now I will not treat the remnant of this people as in the former days. For there will be peace for the seed: the vine will yield its fruit, the land will yield its produce and the heavens will give their dew; and I will cause the remnant of this people to inherit all these things.”

Did you see that? Well, to be fair, maybe not. Especially if you’re not using the NASB. But notice what happened at the start of vs 12: “For there will be peace for the seed.” For some reason, when I read this for the first time the other day, that single phrase jumped out at me. It seemed to be establishing an incredible contrast between what the Israelites were – a remnant – and what they would be – the seed. And so I started doing research to see if anyone else had thought the same thing. Sadly, I discovered that no version that I have except the NASB rendered the verse this way. Just about every other translation talks about how the seeds the Israelites plant will be productive. But then I came across this from Barnes’ Notes on the Bible referring to this very phrase:

The unusual construction is perhaps adopted, in order to suggest a further meaning. It is a reversal of the condition, just spoken of, when there was “no peace to him that went, or to him that returned.”

Did you see that? Barnes thought the phrase was significant as well! And he suggests also that “seed” is to be a contrast to “remnant”!

I’m not crazy!

Who knew, right?

But that’s exactly what’s happening here in Zechariah 8: a dramatic change from the broken, defeated remnant to the whole, hopeful seed!

Indeed, coming back to the word “joy,” found in verse 19, we discover that this joy will emerge from a series of three fasts held, respectively, in the fifth, seventh, and tenth months of the Jewish calendar. Now, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that fasts generally don’t happen in times of joy and success, but the significance of this revelation is profound because, according to commentator Charles Ryrie, the fast of the fifth month “commemorated the burning of the Temple and other buildings in 586.” Similarly, the fast of the seventh month “remembered Gedaliah’s assassination.” And the fast of the tenth month “recalled the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem in 588.”

In short, every one of these fasts symbolized, for the Jews, instances of cataclysmic defeat and reminded them that they were, in fact, the broken, defeated, remnant: all that remained of a people on the brink of oblivion.

But these fasts are to be turned to joy!

Why?

Because far from being the end of a people, God was about to re-establish them as the beginning of His people!

How?

Well, isn’t that the thing with God? He has this uncanny – supernatural, even – ability to transform moments of horrific grief and tragedy and loss into instants of extraordinary hope and potential!

So no matter how far gone things may seem right now, if I will choose to return to the Lord in faith and righteousness, He can change my remnant into His seed. He can do it for a nation. He can do it for a community. He can do it for a church. He can do it for me.

And that, in and of itself, is reason for me to have joy, gladness, and cheerful feasts!

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