In 1985, Julie Gold, an aspiring American songwriter, was working as a secretary for HBO while writing songs in her spare time. A friend introduced one of her songs to Nanci Griffith, who recorded it for her 1987 album, Lone Star State of Mind. Three years later, Bette Midler covered the song, which promoted it to a major hit. The song in question was “From a Distance.”
While Gold stated in an interview that she believes in a immanent God (i.e. a God who is intimately involved in her creation), the song became something of an anthem for those who believe that God has no close involvement in his world. At one point, the song reads,
God is watching us, God is watching us,
God is watching us, from a distance.
The opening chapters of Zechariah encourage us that God watches his people, not from a distance, but close up. He does not watch them dispassionately, hoping that they will figure things out themselves, but actively involves himself in their lives. This is the encouragement we see in the opening three visions.
We saw yesterday that God’s call to his people was to return to him. He encouraged them that, as they returned to him, he would return to them (1:1–6). He then gave Zechariah three visions to show what he would do for his people as they returned to him.
First, in the vision of the horsemen (1:7–17), Yahweh promised that, if his people would return to him, he would comfort them. As Zechariah watched a horseman patrolling the earth, he heard an angel asking, “O LORD of hosts, how long will you have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which you have been angry these seventy years?” (1:12). Despite God’s promise that he would show favour to his people after seventy years (Jeremiah 25:8–14; 29:10–11), it seemed as if he was still angry with them.
As the angel asked the question, “the LORD answered gracious and comforting words to the angel” (1:13). He affirmed that he was angry at the Gentile nations that had overextended their hand in punishing his people but then promised that he would ensure that his temple would be rebuilt and worship reimplemented.
Second, in the vision of the horns and the craftsmen (1:18–21), Yahweh promised that, if his people would return to him, he would vindicate them. Zechariah saw four horns, representing those who had scattered God’s people, but also four craftsmen, who were appointed to “cast down the horns of the nations who lifted their horns against the land of Judah to scatter it.” The nations that had terrified Judah would be thrown down by God’s judgement. As he had long ago promised, he would bless those who blessed his people and curse those who cursed them. He would vindicate Judah as his own covenant people.
Third, in the vision of the man with the measuring line (2:1–13), Yahweh promised that, if his people would return to him, he would restore them. Again promising that he would judge the nations that had overextended their hand, he continued, “The LORD will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land, and will again choose Jerusalem.” Though only a small remnant had returned to Jerusalem from exile, God would one day restore the city to a place greatly honoured and blessed.
We could spend a lot of time pulling apart these visions and explaining each one’s context and fulfilment. Instead, I want us to consider the overriding promise that God is not uninvolved with his people. He is intimately concerned with the welfare of his people and is always willing to show favour to those who return to him. His people are the apple of his eye (2:8). He loves them. He cares for them. He is intimately involved in their lives.
As you meditate on these chapters this morning, thank God that he is not an uninvolved God who watches his people from a distance but that, in his kindness (and primarily in Christ) he steps into his people’s lives to comfort, vindicate, and restore them as they return to him.