The fall holy days are yearly reminders that this world isn’t permanent. Yom Teruah (Feast of Trumpets) pictures Jesus Christ’s return and signals preparation for His arrival. Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) reminds us of the price paid to redeem us and points to a day in the future where Satan is finally locked away. Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) looks forward to the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth.
Peter talks about this day of the Lord’s return in his second epistle, and asks a very important question.
Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? (2 Pet. 3:11)
We know what’s coming, at least in part. We don’t know when, but we know the world isn’t sticking around. We also know that God expects certain things from His people if they want to receive a reward of righteousness in the final judgement.
Return To God
In traditional Jewish teachings, this Sabbath between Yom Teruah and Yom Kippur is known as Shabbat Shuvah — the Sabbath of Return. It also plays on the word “teshuva,” meaning repentance, since that’s a central theme of these days. This is a topic dear to Zechariah, who comes next in my study of the minor prophets.
Like Haggai, where we spent so much time a few weeks ago, Zechariah wrote his book of prophecy during Zerubbabel’s temple rebuilding. More than Haggai, he also writes about future events pictured by these holy days. Even with a focus on the future, though, the first thing recorded in this book is a plea for immediate action.
In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo the prophet, saying, “The Lord has been very angry with your fathers. Therefore say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Return to Me,” says the Lord of hosts, “and I will return to you,” says the Lord of hosts. “Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets preached, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Turn now from your evil ways and your evil deeds.”’ But they did not hear nor heed Me,” says the Lord. (Zech. 1:1-4)
God is telling these people, and us along with them, that it’s not too late to learn from past mistakes. They can still wake up and turn their lives around by returning to God. They don’t have to repeat the mistakes of past generations who ignored God’s warnings, and neither do we.
How to Change
Peter answers his question about what type of person we ought to be in the verses following what we already quoted in the introduction.
Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless (2 Pet. 3:13-14)
This is a description of who we can become in Christ — a goal to strive for. If we go back to Zechariah now, we find some specific instructions for how to become holy, blameless and at peace.
In Zechariah chapter 7, the Lord reproves Israel for a number of sins. They did everything for themselves rather than to exalt the Lord (Zech 7:5-7). They ignored God’s simple commands and outright rejected His law (Zech. 7:9-12). This rebellion resulted in punishment, but God planned to turn it around to blessing when Israel returned to following Him.
“For thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Just as I determined to punish you when your fathers provoked Me to wrath,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘And I would not relent, so again in these days I am determined to do good to Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. Do not fear. These are the things you shall do: speak each man the truth to his neighbor; give judgment in your gates for truth, justice, and peace; let none of you think evil in your heart against your neighbor; and do not love a false oath. For all these are things that I hate,’ says the Lord.” (Zech. 8:14-17)
If we want to get right with God, we can’t keep doing things He hates. We have to turn our lives around and get rid of deception, squabbling, unrighteousness, vengeance and all forms of evil. These are simple commandments, but truly keeping them can seem like a tall order. Thankfully, we don’t have to do this alone.
By God’s Spirit
Like ancient Israel, we’ve spent far too much time looking to something other than God for answers. We try to fix ourselves with self-help books, center ourselves with meditation, protect ourselves with prepping, and listen to talks about all we can accomplish on our own. None of things I used as examples are inherently wrong, but they always have to come after our relationship with God. If we try to use them as a stand-in for things only God can supply or look to them first when we need help, they become idols.
Ask the Lord for rain in the time of the latter rain. The Lord will make flashing clouds; He will give them showers of rain, grass in the field for everyone. For the idols speak delusion; the diviners envision lies, and tell false dreams; they comfort in vain. Therefore the people wend their way like sheep; they are in trouble because there is no shepherd. (Zech. 10:1-2)
All we have to do to start seeing results is return to God. He’s eager to give us good things if we’ll only ask Him. This doesn’t mean everything will start going right and trials will disappear immediately, but God does promise to work good in your life if you’re walking with Him. A relationship with God always yields better long-term fruits than seeking answers elsewhere.
A couple weeks ago, we talked about obstacles we face today when trying to build up God’s temple — both the church as a whole and ourselves as individuals. Like Haggai, Zechariah delivers a message from God of encouragement to Zerubbabal to persevere in building the temple. It’s a famous verse, and applies just as much today as it did back then.
So he answered and said to me: “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain! And he shall bring forth the capstone with shouts of “Grace, grace to it!”’” (Zech. 4:6-7)
If we, too, are walking in the spirit of the Lord and following His will, we can fill in our names here. Jesus told us faith can move mountains, and I don’t think He was joking. Whatever your “mountain” is, stop trying to shove against it by your own might and power. Turn back to the Lord, and He’ll turn that thing into a plain — even ground so you can move forward to keep building and singing His praises.
- “Psalm 137” by Raffaele Esposito, CC BY via Flickr
- “Año Nuevo Judío Rosh Hashaná 5776” by ANSES, CC BY-SA via Flickr