The Lord Restores His People
Open Your Bible
Zechariah 10:1-12, Isaiah 14:1, John 6:22-35
BY Guest Writer
Reading well is all about understanding contexts. That’s what I tell my students. Otherwise, how are we to unpack images asking for spring rain, when we really think April showers have been a little too abundant this year? Why be concerned about not having a shepherd? You could just hire one from the local Christmas pageant. Even more puzzling: How do we muster up the imagination to envision a docile, aimless little flock of sheep turning into a mighty steed? And what about cornerstones and tent pegs? Needless to say, these aren’t typical, daily ponderings for most of us.
But before we get sidetracked by these images themselves, let’s remind ourselves of the main message behind them: No matter what, God’s people are to trust Him—specifically, to trust that He will bring us home. And that is what we’re longing for: home. We’re longing for stability—maybe that’s what the cornerstones and tent pegs are all about. We’re longing for families reconciled. (Did you notice the “houses” of Judah and Joseph coming together after long centuries of hostility?) We’re longing to be brought safely through troubled waters to arrive at home.
The first image drawn directly from Zechariah’s geographical context is embedded in numerous prophetic messages. In a part of the world where it generally rains only between October and March, those extra showers in April were (and are) a gift. In response to Israel’s obedience, God promised rain in its season, even mentioning the autumn and spring rains (Deuteronomy 11:13–15). Drought and famine, however, were always lurking around the seasonal corner if God’s people were disobedient (vv.16–17).
The invitation to ask God for the blessing of rain is followed by warnings against sliding into the deceitful orbit of household gods (teraphim) and diviners. We should not be tempted into thinking this warning was just for Israel—that is was their problem and not ours today. But not so fast. Sure, teraphim and diviners don’t show up much in our social media feeds these days, but the misplaced hope the people wholeheartedly placed in those practices is a little too familiar.
Divination had everything to do with determining if the gods were going to show favor to them. Magic meant manipulating those presumed deities to get them to be favorable, to meet the people’s desires. The household gods were part of this network, too. Zechariah called them out on their behavior, telling them their self-serving “trust” lay in the wrong places.
Then and now, it is God who gives blessing and assurance, with the ultimate purpose that we be a blessing to others. Diviners, whether ancient or modern-day, produce only emptiness and deceit. How about us? Where do we focus our attention as we seek a good and secure life? What are our cornerstones and tent pegs as we try to hold our fragile life structures together? Can we truly say that God indeed is our Cornerstone? That is essential to coming home and walking securely in the name of the Lord (Zechariah 10:12).
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.