God’s People Cleansed

Open Your Bible

Zechariah 13:1-9, Matthew 26:26-35, 1 John 2:1-2

As you read this chapter, do you notice a radical shift part way through? First, the esteemed person of the prophet comes under fire. Then the focus swivels back to the enigmatic figure of the shepherd. Zechariah pronounced judgment on the prophets with just about the same contemptuous tone as he treated idols. Why take prophets to task in the first place? These, after all, were the men and women who were called to preach God’s revealed Word to the people, both to warn and to encourage them. It seems, however, something had gone awry.

To help us process this, we can easily look to our own contemporary churches. No, it’s not my intention to pummel the church with criticism. Instead, I’m just curious to discover good aspects of ministry that can go off track for one reason or another. Taking a closer look might just help us to be on guard in our home churches.

Two things come to mind. First, is music ministry, which has a long tradition of well-trained practitioners that can be traced back all the way to the excellent preparation of the Levites in ministry (1 Chronicles 25:1–7). The second is preaching, which carries on the same prophetic tradition mentioned above.

Sadly, lots of “stuff” often gets in the way of accomplishing good and noble goals—stuff that tends to revolve around egos and crowd-pleasing. Of course, we all suffer from these same kinds of human pitfalls in one way or another, so please know that I’m not trying to hunt down specks in the eyes of sisters and brothers in ministry while remaining blind to my own sin.

But back to the point: Do you see the connection, how these same nagging traits contributed to the rejection of the prophetic ministry we encounter in Zechariah? The prophets’ bad reputation was a carry-over from the steady stream of deceit uttered by false prophets in Jeremiah’s day, lulling the people to sleep instead of issuing wake-up calls. These false prophets told the people what they wanted to hear, which undermined Jeremiah’s warnings and pleas for repentance. At this point, you could say that parts of Jeremiah 23 sound a lot like Zechariah. Seventy years later, following a brutal exile, God’s people were still trying to put their lives back together. (May God spare us all from the sober consequences of crowd-pleasing preaching!)

With the dismissal of the prophets, the shepherd surfaces again. No longer called “worthless,” he is now close to the Lord Almighty. The next words from the Lord are the command to strike the shepherd, followed by the observation that the sheep would scatter, and the warning that God’s hand would be turned against those little ones (see Matthew 26:31).

This is difficult to read. Nevertheless, two allusions restore our hope. First, from our New Testament perspective, we know that the Good Shepherd promised to lay down His life for His sheep (John 10:11–18); Jesus said it four times. Second, even though the final image of the refining fire is terrifying, the end products are purified silver and gold. And through it all, we are God’s people, and He is our God (Zechariah 13:9).

Elaine A. Phillips received a BA in social psychology from Cornell University, an MDiv from Biblical Theological Seminary, and an MA in Hebrew from the Institute of Holy Land Studies in Jerusalem, where she and her husband, Perry, studied and taught from 1976–79. She holds a PhD in rabbinic literature, and teaches Biblical Studies at Gordon College. She also serves as a historical geography field instructor for Jerusalem University College. She has published a commentary on Esther in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary; a devotional book, With God, Nothing Is Impossible; and, most recently, An Introduction to Reading Biblical Wisdom Texts.

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17 thoughts on "God’s People Cleansed"

  1. Rachel Kelley says:

    I found the verses about the prophets reminding me that we can often assign incorrect meanings to words we hear/read. At the time, the messiah was expected to be a warrior who would defeat the Romans. Jesus was not what they expected…the didn’t understand the prophecy correctly. May God give me ears to truly hear and a mind that correctly understands his Word so I don’t lead myself down a rabbit hole that becomes a stumbling block for myself (or others).

  2. Ashley Thomas says:

    I felt the “refined by fire” part of the scripture meant trials and tribulations- all the suffering we go through that draws us closer to God. Are we not more refined in our faith after suffering?

  3. Bree Beal says:

    I love the church. It’s my spiritual home and I love the people in it. But the church is far from perfect. The church is filled with broken and shattered people, and I’m one of them. Our spiritual home has a responsibility to preach a pure untainted gospel and when we get that wrong, the results are devastating to the whole body of Christ and the world we live in. Our words matter. Whether they be positive or negative and as a Christian, I must speak the true gospel and not a false one. When I focus on Jesus and all that He is and all that He does, my heart and my mouth are super naturally changed and as I live and walk in the gospel’s truth, the Holy Spirit through me impacts the world around me and the gospel changes and saves lives. To God be the Glory! 

    Father God, Your son Jesus is the Good News. Help me to always speak the true gospel. It’s only by the power of the Holy Spirit that I walk in grace. In Jesus Name! Amen.

  4. Stephanie C says:

    April D – “That Sounds Fun” with Annie F. Downs, is a great one. She has the ladies from She Reads Truth on a lot, along with other people of faith and I find myself nodding and saying “wow! Preach!” out loud in my car a lot while I’m listening!!

  5. Alexis says:

    April D- I listen to the Happy Hour, with Jamie Ivey. It comes on every Wednesday and she has various speakers who talk about just anything regarding their faith. I love it.

    I also listen to, She podcast with Jamie Lee Dooley. Also an excellent podcast.

  6. April D says:

    I was wondering if anyone had any Christian podcasts they enjoy listening to and learning from. I have enjoyed parts of “The Place

    1. Pam Karlberg says:

      Hi April; I enjoy podcasts that have a strong bible teaching, like She Reads Truth. I would recommend “Knowing Faith”, with Jen Wilkin, or “”Telling the Truth “ with Jill and Stuart Briscoe along with their son Pete. These both challenge me with deep teaching.

    2. Mackenzie Riley says:

      If you have kids, Risen Motherhood is fantastic!!!

    3. Kristi L says:

      April, I really like the Revive Our Hearts podcast, Good Enough podcast (one of the cohosts is a she reads truth writer!), and the Daily Grace podcast.

    4. Courtney Sargent says:

      That Sounds Fun with Annie F Downs is fantastic! She has a different guest on each episode and every one is so good and challenging. I learn a lot from her!

  7. Churchmouse says:

    “On that day” there will be judgment. As in the time of Zechariah, judgment is coming. A refining will take place. But because Jesus has risen, hope lives on. We have an advocate with the Father. Jesus. Praise God for His mercy! None of us are worthy. Jesus did it all. Let us lean into Him. Let us heed His every word. Let us be critical only of ourselves. Let us set our own house in order. That is more than enough to deal with.

    1. Summer Parker says:


    2. Melissa Graves says:

      Yes, to all of that, Churchmouse! “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know He holds the future, and life is worth the living just because HE LIVES”!

    3. Angela Rohr says:


  8. Shawn Parks says:

    Lord, I don’t want to be one that scatters! Strengthen me in faith and convict my heart when I put on Esau’s hairy cloak and deceive myself that I am doing Your will. Let me draw ever closer to You knowing You will draw closer to me just as You promised.

    1. Kate Wells says:

      Good word!