Monday, December 18, 2006

Fearless service II

When we left him at the end of an earlier post, Zechariah's months of divinely-imposed silence were finally broken and he bursts into thanksgiving. For what does he give thanks?

For the salvation of Israel that has come from the hand of her god Yahweh. This salvation has an impressive pedigree. It is in line with the royal promises to David, and ultimately goes back to the binding promises God made to Abraham. Just as the prophets of old kept this promise alive to each generation, so Zechariah's son, born in his old age, will also 'be called a prophet of the Most High' and will 'give knowledge of salvation to his people'.

But what is this salvation from? Most directly, 'from our enemies' or 'from the hands of our enemies'. This is a regular theme in the books of Judges and Samuel: God appoints a warrior to lead Israel in battle against her oppressor. To Israel under the sandal of Rome, such stories expressed yearnings at once tantalising and dangerous. Until the pagan empire of Caesar gave way to God's rule expressed through a commissioned Israelite, Israel knew she continued to suffer for the sins that had led to her sorry condition in the first place. Thus, salvation from being ruled by enemies would be the concrete sign that her sins were now forgiven.

But Zechariah sees a deeper reality. There are enemies worse than Romans. Israel is not just occupied by a foreign superpower, but is sitting in the darkness of the shadow cast by the real enemy: death. Zechariah's son will proclaim his prophetic announcement not simply to a nation in search of political autonomy, but to an audience enslaved by fear of death. This fear is what gives every tyrant or Caesar his power. It makes uncertain every plan, ends every dream, silences every voice.

This is where we all sit.
Series: I; II; III.