Formations 07.04.2021: Peace?

Faravahar symbol on Fire Temple, Yazd, Iran, Bernard Gagnon, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Zechariah 1:7-17

Zechariah sees a vision of four riders. Unlike Revelation’s “four horsemen of the apocalypse,” these riders work on God’s behalf, riding to and fro to patrol the face of the earth. And unlike the riders in Revelation, who spread every manner of pestilence and suffering, these riders announce, “We have patrolled the earth, and lo, the whole earth remains at peace” (v. 11).

Surprisingly, the angel who speaks with Zechariah responds to this declaration with words of lament: “O LORD of hosts, how long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem…?” (v. 12).

We can’t help but wonder, why is peace bad news? The key is in the date. Zechariah explains in verse 7 that this vision takes place on the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month of the second year of the Persian emperor Darius I. This works out to some time in March, 520 BC.

Darius came to power in a time of civil war. A pretender known as either Bardiya or Gaumata sought to seize power after the death of Darius’s predecessor, Cambyses II. Even after Bardiya was eliminated, others continued to cause trouble for the empire. The last resistance wasn’t squelched until late December, 521.

Political turmoil was bad news for the empire. For far-flung provinces like Judah, however, it might well have meant a window of opportunity to rise up themselves to throw off Persian rule.

But alas, there is peace. The empire has a new ruler securely on the throne. Judah’s hopes for independence will have to be deferred…again.

Isn’t it interesting that current events look different depending on where we find ourselves in the power equation? What sounds like good news for some may sound like a disaster for others. That’s why it’s instructive to always pay attention to who celebrates important turns of events and who laments them.

In the second year of Darius, the members of the Persian court can finally exhale, confident that their places of privilege are once again secure. Meanwhile, the people of Judah can only hang their heads and ask God, “How long?”

God replies with comforting words. Despite appearances, God is jealous for Jerusalem and angry with the nations that are at ease.

Therefore, God has returned to Jerusalem with compassion. A day is coming when God’s people will once again be prosperous.

Discussion

• When have you found yourself grieving while others celebrated? When have you found yourself celebrating things that others mourned?
• How does power, who has it and who doesn’t, shape our perception of world events?
• What does it mean that God is “jealous” for Jerusalem (v. 14)?
• How can we hear Zechariah’s message of comfort today, even in times when it may not be entirely obvious that God is “jealous” for us?
• How can I find assurance that God is with me?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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