If you’ve wondered about the lack of Word of Life Bible study posts lately, that’s because we haven’t met for several weeks. Today, for instance, half of the group is out of town and the other half unavoidably detained. So while I suppose I could have gotten out the book and talked to myself about it for two hours, that seemed a little silly. (“Gee, Amanda, that’s such great insight!” “Why thank you, Amanda. It was actually something you just said that made me think about it…”)
Um. So. Anyway.
Instead, I wanted to leave a quick thought I’ve been chewing on while studying Zechariah. It’s from 13:7-8, “‘Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, against the Man who is My Companion,’ says the LORD of hosts. ‘Strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered…'”
One of the continual temptations we face when studying or hearing about the judgments of God is the tendency to become offended by the severity of it. Athiestic authors have taken great delight in accusing God of being genocidal, vindictive, and sadistic. Even we who love Him, when we read about divine judgments falling on individuals, and especially on people groups or nations, our hearts recoil a little bit. Sure, those people were bad…ish… but certainly it was’t that horrendous, was it? Perhaps God lost patience a bit too soon. How could He unleash that much human suffering?
Zechariah’s prophecy is here foretelling the second most severe blow that Israel would ever receive (the 70 A.D. destruction of the temple), which overlaps and points to his following prophecy concerning their most severe time of tribulation (persecution under the Antichrist’s regime). Especially if you were a Jewish person living in Zechariah’s time, this prophecy would give you plenty of opportunity to become offended at God’s ways. That’s why these verses, highlighted above, are so crucial to understanding the heart of the Lord.
How does God begin? He doesn’t smugly say, “It’s about time those sinners got what’s coming to them.” He doesn’t bang the gavel and order the judgment in an unemotional decree. He doesn’t throw a temper tantrum and yell, “Off with their heads!!”
But what does He say? “Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, the Man who is My Companion.”
Wait. What? His Shepherd? His Companion? With nearly all of the nation of Israel carelessly turning their backs on Him, it is not against them He calls His sword. He calls for His retribution to first come upon His Shepherd. This is the One He has appointed to care for His little ones. This is the One who has been faithfully serving and submitting to Him. And this is not just any Shepherd, but this is the Man who is His Companion.
Ouch. I mean, really — ouch.
This was extremely costly to the Godhead. The flock were the ones who were scorning His love. The flock were the ones who were obstinately kicking against His leadership. The flock were the ones who would one day cry, “We have no king but Caesar!” Yet the Man that God ordered the sword to fall upon was the one Person in all the earth who loved Him purely and perfectly. It was the Companion who had been with Him from the beginning. It was the One with whom He had enjoyed unbroken fellowship since before the world began. When God’s people were insisting on making themselves His enemies, He chose to call the sword against His Friend.
The judgments of God must be seen in context to the Cross. At the end of the day, nobody will be able to point their finger at God and say, “You have no idea what I went through!” He might very well reply, “But I do. It is you who have no idea what I went through.” When He had to turn His hand against His “little ones” (which, by the way, is a term of endearment), He felt it first, and He felt it more personally than anyone else ever could. The Father in heaven could say, similarly, but more truly than any other parent who is forced to discipline their child, “Now, this is going to hurt Me more than it hurts you.”
God is not hasty when He calls for judgment. Neither is He detached. He takes the brunt of it first, and hardest. He volunteered to bruise (literally, to crush – Isa 53:10) His very own Son for the sake of billions of people who only deserved eternal fire. In the Cross, He has bowed infinitely low to show us that He truly does love. He truly feels the depth of the impact of suffering on our souls. He has gone to the depths to prove that He is merciful and gracious. Before He scattered His flock, He struck His Shepherd, His Companion, His nearest Friend.
Judgment must always and only be seen through the Cross.