Zechariah begins to see things. First, four horns, which an angel tells him were the instruments that scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem. Then, four craftsmen, meant to cast away the horns of other nations. Then another man, with some kind of measuring tape in his hand, there to measure Jerusalem. And then, angels appear. “Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for, behold! I will come and dwell in your midst, says the Lord (Zechariah 2:14).”
These lyrical prophets do not embrace the use of segues or transition statements, so some of these chapters can be confusing as they combine so many elements and dialogues between the prophet, people, and God. But I like the sentiment of rejoicing, of God coming and staying with the people in Jerusalem. His presence isn’t fleeting, with Him running from place to place and not maintaining a base. Rather, to dwell in my mind is at least a semi-permanent state, showing us that God will stay with the people, with Jerusalem, regardless of what else is happening in the world.
“In the eighth month in the second year of Darius, the word of the lord came to Zechariah son of Berechiah, son of Iddo the prophet (Zechariah 1:1).” With this brief introduction, we enter into the book of Zechariah, the second to last prophet. God tells him to tell the people to return to God so that He will return to them – basically to be the partner in the relationship who makes the first moves towards reconciliation.
A few months later, Zechariah receives another prophecy. That the times are noted is interesting in and of itself. I kind of had the image of prophets being in constant communication with God, rather than receiving sporadic heavenly calls. I’m kind of wondering what they did in between messages then – what does a prophet do in his off-time?
Regardless, the second prophecy is weird. “I saw tonight, and behold! A man was riding on a red horse, and he was standing among the myrtles that were in the pool, and after him were red, black, and white horses (Zechariah 1:8).” The angel of God tells Zechariah that these are the ‘ones’ that God has sent to walk around the earth. Are these horses messengers of God on earth? Could there be animals or other creatures who are here with a godly purpose that we don’t even realize? It’s apparently because of these horses that the world is able to be at rest. It definitely hits home that everything has a purpose, even if we can’t personally see it.
Haggai receives a second prophecy. He has to talk to Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah, and to Joshua the high priest. “Who among you is left, who saw this house in its former glory? And as you see it now, is it not as nothing in your eyes (Haggai 2:3)?” What interests me in this verse is how much I disagree with it. I spend a lot of time thinking about previous generations, history, and the burdens, both positive and negative, that each of us carry from them. We inherit stories as well as possessions, legacies that keep us connected through collective, rather than individual memories. I’m thinking about when I was in Poland, walking through former shtetls and Jewish quarters that are only shadows of their former selves. But does that mean, since I don’t remember the golden age of European Jewry, that they’re nothing to me? No. I am able to see the ghosts in the voids. When something becomes part of our story, it becomes part of us, and can’t be taken away simply by deteriorating.
With this, Haggai ends. On Monday I’ll start the second to last prophet. Time is flying!
We know the timing of Haggai’s first prophecy down to the day. “In the second year of King Darius, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came to Haggai, the prophet to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak the High Priest, saying (Haggai 1:1).” It’s interesting to note that this seems to be a joint prophecy, yet the book is named after Haggai, and not this new character named Joshua. Will we hear more about him, or is he lost to history? Regardless, God tells these two men that it is not the opportune time for the Temple to be built. It’s the fault of the people, who care more about their own houses than about being worthy of building one for God.
“You have sown much and you bring in little. You eat without being satiated. You drink without getting your fill. You dress, and it has no warmth. And he who profits, profits into a bundle with holes (Haggai 1:6).” This verse seems to be speaking to a cycle of perpetual dissatisfaction. It reflects a common theme of desperately trying to satiate our material needs, but never being able to do so for two reasons: one, because we always want more. And two, because while they are important, without the achievement of our core desired feelings that they often mask, they’re empty and hollow. Food, for example, is necessary for life, but overeating often covers up the quest for satisfaction and contentment. We need to find ways beyond the usual vices of meeting those needs.
Just like that, we’re up to the final chapter of the book of Zephaniah. It opens with warnings to those who have disobeyed God, and the punishments that Jerusalem and the Jewish people will suffer as a result. But there is hope, because eventually, the people will be redeemed and the remnants of Israel blessed by God. “The remnant of Israel shall neither commit injustice nor speak lies; neither shall deceitful speech be found in their mouth, for they shall graze and lie down, with no one to cause them to shudder (Zephaniah 3:13).”
I chose this verse to highlight because I see it as a guidepost for the kind of person that I want to be, and I hope that everyone is striving towards becoming in their own ways. It’s so easy to lie rather than grapple with the complexities of the truth and its subsequent consequences. Likewise, it’s simpler to turn a blind eye to the injustices of the world, and especially to be in denial about those that we ourselves commit. But I personally want to go beyond that, and to be a better person. It’s something I need to meaningfully engage with every day, and to be mindful of, so it doesn’t fall to the wayside.
With that, another book down! Tomorrow starts Chaggai, so see you then!
This chapter begins with a call to action. “Gather yourselves together! Yea, gather together, O nation that has no desire (Zephaniah 2:1).” As news continues to come out about the events of this weekend, particularly about the Women’s March all of the world, individuals are seeing the power of gathering together as a nation, and as a movement. Many of us recognize that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, so when people gather together, there is more than just strength in numbers. When individuals bond together, they have the ability to form movements, and it’s movements that create real and lasting changes. What are the issues that we want to change this coming year?
Our introduction to Zephaniah is that he’s the son of Cushi, several generations removed within the direct line of Hezekiah.
“That day is a day of wrath; a day of trouble and distress; a day of ruin and desolation; a day of darkness and gloom; a day of clouds and thick darkness (Zephaniah 1:15).” I’m writing this on Sunday, January 22. It’s two days after the inauguration of President Donald Trump, and one day after the Women’s March on Washington DC, and around the world. As someone who lives in Washington, it’s not a stretch for me to say that pretty much everyone in my immediate vicinity has seen at least one of these two days as one of darkness in some way. Of course, not everyone’s darkness is the same, and some might see light amongst the shadows that others focus on. It’s hard to feel enmeshed in darkness. It often leads to feeling lost, helpless, isolated. We need to find those pockets of light and work to grow them, however we’re feeling about the world today.
The final chapter of Habakkuk (how did that happen already?!) describes God as harsh, angry, and wrathful, while at the same time being glorious, strong, and ultimately powerful. “Yet, I will rejoice in the Lord; I will jubilate in the God of my salvation (Habakkuk 3:18).” Ultimately, the message being conveyed is that God’s awesome might can take many forms, both good and bad as we perceive them, but the bottom line is that He in His ultimate power is a good thing, something to rejoice in. This deceptively simple summary speaks to me because it relates to a lot of my feelings about God. Whether or not we understand His actions, or agree with them, or feel their impact directly, all of us have the capacity to feel and appreciate His presence, and should be happy about that.
With that, this brief book ends. On Sunday I’ll start Zephaniah, and after that, there is less than a month left in Neviim before this project moves onto the third component of Tanakh. I’m nervous about what’s to come, so I’m definitely going to make sure that I enjoy this month and the routine I’ve gotten into for all they’re worth!
This chapter contains a verse that I recognized. “For there shall be another vision for the appointed time; and He shall speak of the end, and it shall not fail; though it tarry, wait for it, for it shall surely come; it shall not delay (Habakkuk 2:3).” The sentiments and words in this verse have been taken and utilized in the song Ani Maamin, which is based on the Rambam’s 13 principles of faith. This is a song that has become known for being connected to the Holocaust, which victims sang while on their way to their deaths in the concentration camps and gas chambers. It’s a haunting song and visual, and one of the key concepts within it is the idea that the messiah will one day come, no matter how long it takes. For me, that faith means believing that whenever that day comes, it will be the right time, and until that time, we need to believe in that eventuality. But for those victims, it never came, which remains a blight on human history.
The book of Habakkuk opens with the prophet crying out to God. “O Lord! How long will I cry and You will not hear! I cry out to You of violence, and You will not save (Habakkuk 1:2)!” It takes a close relationship with God to be able to call Him out, to rail against Him for disappointing us or not fulfilling our perceived bargains with him. It’s easier to leave God out of the equation and ignore His presence, or absence, rather than to acknowledge it. If we recognize the loss that we’re feeling, it gives Him power, and makes us feel like we’re not enough by ourselves. Whether or not we are is another question, but it’s scary to feel at odds with God and the universe itself.