When God's People Share in God's Victory
Passage: Zechariah 9:12–9:17
Sermon from Zechariah 9:12-17 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Series: Zechariah: Return & Restoration (Part 14)
Delivered on December 27, 2015
One of the things I love about the Bible is that it meets us where we are in our sin and in our suffering, and then gives us hope in God. I trust this passage will do the same for us today. We’ve observed that Israel, to some extent, remains scattered among the nations (2:6-7; 8:7). They are surrounded by enemy oppressors still lingering after the exile (9:1-8). And all of this is ultimately due to sin.
But here God promises a new day of restoration. And already chapter 9 has shown us a few glimpses of what this new day entails. God will come and defeat his enemies (9:1-7). Others he will save and gather into his presence (9:8). He will even give them a new King who is righteous, one who would fulfill the covenant that they so often broke (9:9). And because of his obedience, God would then be pleased to bring peace to the nations and cover the earth with his rule (9:10).
Verses 12-17 take God’s work to save his people a step further, this time by showing us several things his people will share in when he brings the final day of victory. Let’s read of these things beginning in verse 12…
12Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double. 13For I have bent Judah as my bow; I have made Ephraim its arrow. I will stir up your sons, O Zion, against your sons, O Greece, and wield you like a warrior’s sword. 14Then the LORD will appear over them, and his arrow will go forth like lightning; the Lord GOD will sound the trumpet and will march forth in the whirlwinds of the south. 15The LORD of hosts will protect them, and they shall devour, and tread down the sling stones, and they shall drink and roar as if drunk with wine, and be full like a bowl, drenched like the corners of the altar. 16On that day the LORD their God will save them, as the flock of his people; for like the jewels of a crown they shall shine on his land. 17For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty! Grain shall make the young men flourish, and new wine the young women.
When God’s People Share in God’s Victory…
What does it look like when God’s people share in God’s victory? That’s the main question I want to answer this morning from our passage. And I see at least four answers to that question.
They experience God’s protection
First of all, when God’s people share in God’s victory, they experience his protection. We see this initially at the beginning of verse 12 when it says, “Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope.” Isn’t it great that he doesn’t just call them “prisoners,” but “prisoners of hope”? It’s a title full of promise: their chains won’t bind them forever. God will snap them, and when he does, they’ll have freedom to return to their stronghold.
This stronghold could be the new, restored Jerusalem or Zion that God was building—we got a lot of that in 2:4-5 and 8:1-8. Also in 2:7, a call goes out for the people to escape to Zion. But the stronghold could also refer to the Lord himself. In this case, I don’t think we have to choose between one and the other, because the new Zion is the Lord’s dwelling (1:16-17). To return to Zion is to return the Lord.
The Lord in Zion is their stronghold. We get the same connection earlier in Israel’s history with King David. In 2 Samuel 5:7-17 David takes the “stronghold of Zion,” but over time, it was the Lord of hosts who became for David his stronghold (e.g., 2 Sam 22:3; Ps 9:9; 18:2; 94:22). So that’s one way we see that God’s people experience his protection. God is their stronghold, he is their place of security.
We also see that his people experience his protection in battle. I’ll come back to verse 13 in a moment. But for now I want you to look ahead to the depiction of God as a victorious warrior in verse 14, and then see what that means for his people at the beginning of verse 15. It says, “The Lord will appear over them, and his arrow will go forth like lightning; the Lord God will sound the trumpet and will march forth in the whirlwinds of the south. The Lord of hosts will protect them.”
This is a description of God as a warrior. God himself is invisible, but at certain points he chose to pull back the veil and make his glory visible in human categories. One of the ways he does this is by revealing himself as an unstoppable and fierce Warrior against his enemies; and each of these images are building on those occasions of prior revelation of God as Warrior.
The arrow like lightning, for example, is taken from places like 2 Samuel 22:8-15. When God shows up, the heavens tremble and quake at his anger. Smoke goes up from his nostrils and devouring fire from his mouth. Thick darkness is under his feet, as he rides on a cherub. It says that he thunders from heaven and sends out arrows and scattered them; lightning, and routed them” (cf. Exod 19:16-20; Deut 32:23, 41-43; Ps 144:6).
Marching in the whirlwind—that’s not far from the visions of Isaiah and Ezekiel, who were just a few decades before Zechariah. Isaiah 66:15-16 say, “For behold, the LORD will come in fire, and his chariots like the whirlwind, to render his anger in fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire will the LORD enter into judgment, and by his sword, with all flesh; and those slain by the LORD shall be many.” That also lines up with the vision Ezekiel gets—in Ezekiel 1:4—of the Lord mounted on his throne chariot coming with a whirlwind, with a great cloud and brightness all around.
And then there’s also the trumpet sounding, which we shouldn’t reduce to just any old trumpet sound. This isn’t Keith gently leading us on a Sunday morning. There is dread associated with this trumpet blast. At Mount Sinai, the sound of the Lord’s trumpet and the sight of his presence made the people tremble in fear and beg not to go near (Exod 19:16, 19; 20:18; Heb 12:19). Moreover, this trumpet is usually associated with the coming of the Lord in judgment, such as in Joel 2:1 and Zephaniah 1:16 (cf. Matt 24:31).
So these images come together to depict God coming as a Warrior. He’s mounted on a chariot that kicks up a mighty whirlwind with a trumpet announcing his arrival. This is an unsettling depiction of God; and it flies in the face of a lot of popular teachings that want God to be more palatable to our liking. But our understanding of God can’t be determined by what we, or the culture around us, says is acceptable or not. Our understanding of God must come from his revelation in Scripture.
And if God is such a Warrior, then this is terrible news for God’s enemies. You cannot stand in his way. God is a fierce Warrior against those who hate him. But this is good news if you belong to God’s people, because all of God’s might works to protect you. That’s what verse 15 says that he will do for his people: “The Lord of hosts will protect them.” Do you belong to God’s people?
Are you certain that you belong to God’s people? You’re not born into his family automatically; we’re all born guilty and as enemies. Here’s a test to see if you are: do you trust in Jesus Christ as your only hope of salvation? Do you understand that you are a sinner in need of God’s grace? Have you taken Jesus at his word, that he alone is Lord? And has his lordship changed you? If not, then you’re still God’s enemy, and you will eventually meet this Warrior’s wrath. I don’t warn you as someone who has it all together. I only warn you as someone who used to be God’s enemy too; and I want you to experience the same protection I have found in Jesus Christ. The Bible says that while we were still enemies, God reconciled us to himself through the death of his Son (Rom 5:12). Trust in him, and God the Warrior will use his might to protect you too.
They experience God’s success in battle
Second, when God’s people share in God’s victory, they experience his success in battle. Let’s go back now to verse 13. It says, “For I have bent Judah as my bow; I have made Ephraim its arrow. I will stir up your sons, O Zion, against your sons, O Greece, and wield you like a warrior’s sword.”
We observed this back in verse 10, but notice once again that Judah and Ephraim are now in the hand of this Warrior like a bow and arrow. That means God’s people will be a united people once again. At one time they were divided into northern and southern kingdoms, but now they would serve a complementary role in the establishment of God’s kingdom. Where there is disunity among the people, there can be no real success in battle. But here unity would strengthen them to be used by God in battle. In fact, such unity would characterize all the sons of Zion, so that the Lord could then wield them like a warrior’s sword.
We should also remember that verse 10 stated that the Lord would cut off the chariot from Ephraim and cut off the war horse from Jerusalem. But now it seems like their being used anyway for battle. How does that work itself out? How do you go to battle without your chariot or your war horse? The point is that God will create a people who no longer depend on their own strength for battle, but on the Lord’s strength for battle. God’s people are effective in battle only when God is their trust and not man. So, God strengthens them for battle with trust in his power and with unity between them; and when this happens, they succeed in defeating their enemies.
The enemy mentioned here is Greece. But how should we think about the mention of Greece, because Greece isn’t even a major player yet among the other powerful nations? This is an example, I think, of the prophet speaking of the future in categories most familiar to his listeners.
Back in Ezekiel 27:13, we learn that Javan—which is the same Hebrew word behind “Greece” here—Javan traded with the city of Tyre. And it says specifically that they exchanged human beings for their merchandise. Tyre was selling Israelites into slavery in Greece for merchandise. We get the same thing in Joel 3:6, “You have sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks [or the Javanites] in order to remove them far from their own border.”
So, Israel is experiencing some level of oppression from Greece, even if Greece isn’t all that powerful just yet. But this prophecy seems to be saying that Greece will be quite powerful in a future day, and even then, they still won’t be able to withstand God’s people. This is exactly what Daniel 8 and 11 expected to happen. The kingdom of Greece would in fact rise one day. They would stomp out the Persians. And eventually this would lead to Alexander the Great and his successors dominating Israel till about 165 BC with the Maccabean revolt.
But even then, the way Daniel 8 and 11 handle Greece is by making Greece to be just one nation in a long, successive pattern of nations who oppose God and oppress God’s people. And this pattern of rebellious and oppressive nations ultimately anticipates a culmination of evil in the last days, just before the Messiah establishes his reign on the earth. This helps us understand Zechariah’s prophecy about Greece. Greece is an oppressor of God’s people in Zechariah’s day; but Greece also stands as a type. That means Greece foreshadows a final conflict, when God’s enemies will gather against his people on the last day, and God will finally defeat them.
God will go forth as their Warrior to give his people success in battle. That’s why they’re promised a great victory in verse 15. You get this picture of them eating and drinking in celebration over their enemies. It says, “They shall eat [“devour” in ESV], and tread down the sling stones.” The sling stones represent the enemies slinging the stones at them. God’s people will walk all over them, so to speak, and then eat in celebration.
It also says that “they shall drink and roar [or “make noise”] as if drunk with wine.” That’s not to promote drunkenness. It’s simply a poetic way of saying that a party will be happening in light of God’s victory. On a number of occasions in Scripture, God’s victory over his enemies is described in terms of sacrifice (e.g., Isa 34:6; Jer 46:10; Zeph 1:7). God’s enemies fall like animals in a day of sacrifice. So, for Zion to be “full like a bowl, like the corners of the altar,” means that God has so defeated their enemies that their bowls and their altar flow over with enemy blood. It’s a poetic way of saying that God will slaughter their enemies before them. He will give them his success in battle.
They experience God’s shepherdly care
Third, when God’s people share in God’s victory, they will experience his shepherdly care. Verse 16 says, “On that day the Lord their God will save them, as the flock of his people.” This brings the picture of Israel’s desperate condition full circle. At one time they were like defenseless sheep. Every nation devoured them. But now God was standing over them as their shepherd. As Psalm 23 would put it, he was making them to lie down in green pastures, he was leading them beside still waters, and he was restoring their souls till their cup of blessing ran over.
For us city folks, God’s shepherdly care may not impress us all that much. But from the Bible’s outlook on the world, God’s shepherdly care is tremendous, and something we all desperately need. Sheep are so dumb and need guidance, just like we do. Rachel’s dad will tell me stories of the sheep in Africa—they’ll get out on the road, and it doesn’t matter how long you lay on the horn, they won’t move. He says that sometimes you have to just hit them with your bumper to get them out of the way.
Isaiah compares human beings to dumb sheep when he says that “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way” (Isa 53:6; cf. Ps 119:176). We do what we want, in other words, instead of following the Lord’s word. And more than that, sheep are vulnerable. They’re vulnerable to being led astray by false shepherds, people who take advantage of you (Jer 23:2; Ezek 34:3). They’re vulnerable to attacks from predators (Matt 10:16; John 10:10). So whether it’s because of our own rebellion, or because of other people’s rebellion—we’re desperate for a shepherd to save us. God’s people get perfect shepherdly care when they share in his victory. More coming on that …
They experience God’s abundant blessings
But for now, let’s look at the fourth answer to our question: when God’s people share in God’s victory, they experience his abundant blessings. One way that we see this is in the way that God’s people will shine in his kingdom. Verse 16 compares them to “jewels of a crown” that “shall shine on his land.”
It’s quite common for the Bible to associate precious stones with the beauty of God’s presence—we see precious stones in the Garden of Eden (Gen 2:12; Ezek 28:13, 14); we see them on the priests breastplate when they enter the Holy Place (Exod 28:17-20); and we even see them associated with God’s temple several places (1 Kgs 5:17; Isa 54:11-12; Rev 4:3; 21:19-20). These precious stones appear on a crown, which is also an image that Isaiah uses to describe God’s people in God’s presence. He says in Isaiah 62:3 that Zion would be a “crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.” Hold that thought…
The “land” here appears to be the same “land” described back in 2:12. This is the land of the future, restored Zion, where the Lord’s presence so transforms his new city that everything becomes holy (cf. 14:20-21). Everything reflects the glory of God brightly and fully. The glory of God is when God’s intrinsic worth goes public. When the final kingdom comes, everything will reflect God’s worth.
Well, these images of precious stones and the future land are coming together to say that in the final kingdom, God’s people will shine with the beauty of God’s presence. He will be the true King, but the glory of his royalty will also shine from his people. Notice the connection—they will shine, not because they have any intrinsic worth that makes them beautiful. No, what does it say? “For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty!” They will shine like royals jewels, because God’s goodness and God’s beauty radiates from them. They will no longer carry the shamefulness of their sins. All their shame will be replaced with his beauty.
That’s one abundant blessing. Here’s another. The end of verse 17 says that “Grain shall make the young men flourish, and new wine the young women.” That might not thrill you all that much, but we have to understand the language of the Bible. Zechariah is using the categories of the old covenant to speak of the future abundance of God’s kingdom. If Israel didn’t have grain and wine under the old covenant, that meant that they were under God’s curse for disobeying him (Lev 26:20; Deut 28:15-19).
But when God’s people share in his victory, one of the things that they will experience is a reversal of that curse. To possess the final kingdom would be to possess, not a cursed land but a blessed land. Joel 2:24 says that “the threshing floors shall be full of grain; the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.” For the grain to prosper the young men, and for the new wine to prosper the young women, was for the prophet to be saying that the people’s curse would finally be over. The curse that the Law held over them would finally be gone, and God would delight in blessing them abundantly.
Sharing in God’s Victory from Day to Day
So there are the four answers to our question. Our initial question was, what does it look like when God’s people share in God’s victory? And we’ve seen that when God’s people share in God’s victory, they experience his protection, his success in battle, his shepherdly care, and his abundant blessings.
But how might these things come to us? And what could these future hopes for Israel possibly mean for my Christian life from day to day? Well, to answer the first question, we must recognize that God didn’t promise these things to Israel in general. He promised these things to the faithful remnant in Israel and ultimately to Jesus Christ, who is the singular, true seed of Abraham.
And if you belong to Jesus Christ by faith, then you’re part of God’s people too. Galatians 4 calls us the Jerusalem from above that’s free; and Hebrews 12 calls us the heavenly Zion. The only Israel that will share in God’s victory is the true Israel united to Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. If you believe in Jesus, these promises are your own.
There is always hope in Christ
But what then do these future hopes mean for my Christian life? I’ll give you at least four. First of all, remember that in Christ Jesus, there is always hope. The holidays are a time of joy for some. But the holidays are also a real time of struggle for others to hold fast to hope. Memories of loved ones who’ve passed away, an illness that makes it hard to celebrate, your family is financially strapped, maybe your family members hate each other—any one of these things can rob us of hope.
But thankfully, we are no longer prisoners to our grief, or prisoners to our hurt, or prisoners to our illness, or prisoners to our poverty, or—worst of all—prisoners to our sin, because Christ has freed us. Hope has truly come in Jesus Christ. And just like Zechariah’s listeners looked forward with hope, we too can look forward with hope until Christ returns again to bring his final kingdom. He is our hope.
That’s true even in our fight against sin. The fight against sin can grow exhausting at times, can’t it? It’s like what part of John Newton’s hymn says…
I hoped that in some favored hour
At once he’d answer my request
And by his love’s constraining power
Subdue my sins and give me rest
Instead of this he made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart
And let the angry powers of hell
Assault my soul in every part
Yea more, with his own hand he seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed
Blasted my gourds and laid me low
We feel what he’s talking about. But our passage reassures us that there’s always hope in Christ. We’re no longer prisoners to our sin, because of Christ’s cross. And more than that, I want each of you to look at your picture in the final Kingdom. Go ahead, look again at verse 16—“like jewels of a crown they will shine over his land.” God describes you here, and he doesn’t mention your filth or your shame any more. He describes your beauty. This is your hope.
Return to Christ as your only hope for true protection
So, in light of that hope, and in light of the call to return in verse 12, let me also say, return to Christ as your only hope of true protection. Jesus died on the cross to forgive your sins and to satisfy God’s wrath. Then he rose from the dead on the third day to conquer the grave.
When you believe in Jesus, God protects you from his wrath by giving Jesus in your place (Rom 3:25); he protects you from the fear of death by making Jesus victorious over the grave (Heb 2:14); he even protects you from Satan by dismantling Satan’s two favorite weapons, guilt and fear (Col 2:13-15; Heb 2:14; 1 John 5:19). And when it’s all said and done, Revelation 19 says that Jesus will strike down the enemy nations before us at the final battle. So whether in this age or the next, Jesus stands as our protector.
That means we must return to Jesus for protection. Return from what though? Well, we must return from all our false hopes for protection in this world. We must return from trying to protect ourselves from God’s wrath through our good works, and instead trust in Jesus’ sacrifice as sufficient to protect us from the wrath to come (1 Thess 1:10).
We must also return from seeking protection in what this world can buy us or what our hands can do for us. And I know that I’m saying this to a congregation who locks their doors, who have home security systems, and where it seems like a third of you have a concealed handgun license. I’m not making an argument against any of those things. But I am saying that in a culture that puts a whole lot of emphasis on personal security that money can buy, we need to check to see if our refuge is truly in the Lord and not in our alarms or our pockets.
We can also return from trying to protect our self-image in front of others out of fear of what they may think of us. Jesus protects us by giving us a right standing with God already; and if God is pleased with us in Christ, then we don’t need other people’s approval or praise.
We can also return from placing too much confidence in our nation or our politics. Only Jesus can provide true protection from our enemies. Even when facing an enemy like ISIS, our wise security measures can’t be our hope. We must return to Jesus alone. He will protect our soul from hell even if they kill our bodies.
We can return from all kinds of false hopes for protection—money, power, manipulation, healthcare, education—but we must also return to Jesus. What sets Christians apart from the world is not that we don’t experience fear, or worry, or weakness, but that Christ is our protection in the midst of all these things.
Return to Christ as your only hope for success in battle
Something else: return to Christ as your only hope for success in battle. We looked at how God will give his people success in a final battle against our oppressors. The New Testament teaches the same thing in relation to Jesus’ return. Revelation 2:26-27 promise that Jesus will give us success in the final battle over our enemies. He says, “the one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces…”
We will not lose. Justice will be done. And our oppressors will be destroyed. But that day of violence against our oppressors belongs in God’s hands. He alone has the rights to initiate that great day of wrath. And he alone will transform his people to handle such a day rightly. Until then, we can’t do it.
Therefore our present battle isn’t against flesh and blood, “but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12). Before Christ will battle our enemies in the temporal realm, he battled our greatest enemies in the heavenly realm. When Jesus went to the cross, he took on the world, the flesh, and the devil (John 12:31; Gal 5:24). And he won!
We enter this battle too when we become a Christian, but we fight from a place of success. Our own success in the present battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil grows out of Jesus’ success. Already he gives us unity through the blood of his cross. That’s a win! It’s important to the success in Zechariah 9:13. And Jesus’ cross doesn’t just unite Jews into one kingdom, it has the power to unite Jews and Gentiles in one kingdom (Eph 2:11-21).
Jesus also fits us with the right armor, too. We put on the armor of Christ, Ephesians 6 tells us—things like salvation and righteousness and truth and peace. We don’t wield the sword of man to break down enemy ranks; we wield the sword of the Spirit to convert enemy ranks. It’s the gospel of peace that pierces the darkness (cf. 2 Cor 10:3-5). Even martyrdom isn’t a loss but a gain—Revelation 12:11 says, the church conquered the enemy “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.”
So whether it’s a battle against the world’s temptations; whether it’s a battle against our own sinful inclinations; whether it’s a battle against the devil’s people—we trust that Jesus’ weapons are more successful than our own. Jesus’ way to fight in this age through personal holiness and gospel preaching and sacrificial love is better than physical violence and financial power and clever politics.
Not all of us, but some of us get stuck in sin and are subdued by the world, because we’re fighting with weapons of our own making—we fight our depression with food instead of faith; we fight our marriage problems with more hours at the office instead of more reconciliation; we fight our misgivings with avoidance instead of confession; we fight our hurts with fake smiles instead of transparency; we fight our spiritual fatigue with Netflix instead of prayer.
We will not succeed in the battle if we fight without Christ. We must return from our self-made weapons and return to the one who gives us success in battle. Already he leads us with the cross and resurrection. And he will finish the battle on the last day.
Return to Jesus as your shepherd
Or, how does the promise of God’s shepherdly care settle on you today? Are you a lost sheep? Have you lost your way? Has your sin led you off the right path toward life? Are you confused about where to turn next? God the shepherd sees you, and he knows what’s best for you. Listen to his word. Return to him and find guidance away from sin’s harm. Come to him and find one who died to bring you back to God. John 10 tells us that Jesus is the good shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep.
Are you weary from enemy attacks? Have people taken advantage of you, physically, sexually, emotionally? Do not despair. Jesus is a good shepherd. Return to him and find safety from your enemies. Return to him and find true care for your soul. Return and find one who can take away all your shame and make you shine like jewels in a crown in the kingdom of God.
GAnd even if this world kills you, Revelation 7:16-17 leaves us with this hope: “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Return to Jesus as your shepherd.