Cut and Run from False Prophets

Scripture Focus: Zechariah 13.3
3 And if anyone still prophesies, their father and mother, to whom they were born, will say to them, “You must die, because you have told lies in the Lord’s name…”

Jeremiah 6.13-14
13 “From the least to the greatest, 
all are greedy for gain; 
prophets and priests alike, 
all practice deceit. 
14 They dress the wound of my people 
as though it were not serious. 
‘Peace, peace,’ they say, 
when there is no peace.

Reflection: Cut and Run from False Prophets
By John Tillman

This tiny chapter of Zechariah contains a difficult to read, strange vision of the death of “prophets” who tell lies in the name of the Lord.

Stabbing false prophets to death is out of the question today. Even in Zechariah’s day this was a vision and probably not intended for literal interpretation. However, Zechariah’s audience knew that lying prophets were deadly. Their lies killed.

The previous generation of prophets enriched themselves through politically popular messages. Jeremiah called them “greedy for gain” and repeated this description of them twice:  “They say, ‘Peace, peace” when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6.13-14; 8.11) These prophets had the ears of the kings and most of the people. “We are God’s special nation,” they said. “God loves us too much to allow us to suffer,” they said. These lies led people to their deaths. 

It may be hard for us to understand how prevalent these false prophets were because the Bible contains the writings of the good prophets. However, we need to remember that the voices we hear from scripture are the voices of the remnant—the faithful minority. The voices of the majority looked at sin and corruption in Judah or Israel and said, “Nothing to see here. Cost of doing business.”

The exile and suffering Israel and Judah endured is due to their choice to believe and trust in false prophets. The faithful suffered along with the guilty, however, God used this suffering to refine his faithful ones. Zechariah speaks of the remnant as being purified like fine metals.

There are few who dare to call themselves “prophets” today but there are many making false promises or claims in the name of God. Part of the crisis of abuse within the church is that powerful leaders, in God’s name, shamed their victims into silence. Part of the idolization of politics in the church involves leaders, in God’s name, demanding followers vote for a particular party or person. By this, they make God a liar.

Rather than stabbing false prophets (which is out of the question and antithetical to everything Jesus taught), it would be wise for us to cut their influence out of our lives.

Listen carefully to “prophets” in your life. When leaders say something that makes God a liar, it is a red flag. When they consistently do so, cut and run. Shake the dust from your feet and leave them to God’s wrath.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us saying: “Beware of false prophets who come to you disguised as sheep but underneath are ravenous wolves. You will be able to tell them by their fruits. Can people pick grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, a sound tree produces good fruit but a rotten tree bad fruit. A sound tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor a rotten tree bear good fruit. Any tree that does not produce good fruit is cut down and thrown on the fire. I repeat, you will be able to tell them by their fruits.” — Matthew 7.15-20

Today’s Readings
Zechariah 13:2-9 (Listen – 1:40)
Matthew 10 (Listen – 5:07)

Read more about The Losers Who Write History
Not one of those glowingly positive, king-praising prophets’ writings are in our Bible. Instead we have the writings of the losers. The cries of the oppressed.

Read more about Balaams and Balaks
These modern Balaams do their best to put words in God’s mouth that are pleasing to the powerful.

The King We Want

Scripture Focus: Zechariah 9.9-10
9 Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! 
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! 
See, your king comes to you, 
righteous and victorious, 
lowly and riding on a donkey, 
on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 
10 I will take away the chariots from Ephraim 
and the warhorses from Jerusalem, 
and the battle bow will be broken. 
He will proclaim peace to the nations. 
His rule will extend from sea to sea 
and from the River to the ends of the earth. 

1 Samuel 8.6-7
6 But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. 7 And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.

John 19.15
15 But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.

From John: This post and poem were written several days before the shootings at Robb Elementary in Uvalde. We mourn and cry in anger and grief this week. We long ever and ever more for Jesus, the breaker of battle bows, to come. May our bows be broken and our stiff necks be bent. May our hearts of destruction become hearts of cultivation, our swords be melted to plowshares. May his peace come soon. Even now, Lord Jesus. Even now.

Reflection: The King We Want
By John Tillman

Zechariah’s vision of a coming king riding on a donkey is very familiar to New Testament readers. All the gospel writers include this detail. John and Matthew specifically quote Zechariah 9.9 and point out that Jesus fulfills this prophecy. However, this humble king wasn’t what many wanted. Many rejected Jesus then. And many still reject him now.

The King We Want
We want a king, we say
A king like other nations
With Solomon’s glitz and glamor
With Goliath’s sword and armor

I’ve sent a king, God says
Unlike any you’ve seen
Son of the Giant Killer
Yet rejected as your ruler

We want a king, we say
Exalted and victorious
We’ll hear his saber rattle
We’ll follow him to battle

I’ve sent a king, God says
A king not of this realm
Your lust for worldly power
Shows you mistake the hour

We want a king, we say
To make our city great
To make for ourselves a name
To not be scattered from this plain

I’ve sent a king, God says
You had no eyes to see him
He wept over your city
That the outcasts gained no pity

We want a king, we say
We’ll even take a bad one
Let him speak like a serpent coiled
Long as we can share the spoils

I’ve sent a king, God says
You had no ears to hear him
Of sin’s sting you must repent
Then my King will crush the serpent

We want a king, we say
A conqueror, triumphant
Crush our enemies who slight us
Crush the governments above us

I’ve sent a king, God says
He rode in on a donkey
My servants prophesied him
You rebels crucified him

We want a king, we say
To cast out the unworthy
Keep away those we despise and fear
Isolate us with those we hold dear

I’ve sent a king, God says.
Accepting any and all subjects
No repentant sinner he’ll exclude
And that, my child, includes you

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
You are the Lord, most high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods. — Psalm 64.9

Today’s Readings
Zechariah 9 (Listen – 3:01)
Matthew 6 (Listen – 4:35)

This Weekend’s Readings
Zechariah 10 (Listen – 2:11Matthew 7 (Listen – 3:31)
Zechariah 11 (Listen – 2:40Matthew 8 (Listen – 4:09)

Read more about The Ram and the Cornerstone
Jesus entered Jerusalem like Isaac’s ram on the mountain top. He rammed his head into the thorns…Jesus knew he would be rejected. His final actions ensured it.

Read more about Truth Unwanted
Jesus, you are the king, the gift, and the truth that the world does not want.

From a Curse to a Blessing

Scripture Focus: Zechariah 8.12-13
12 “The seed will grow well, the vine will yield its fruit, the ground will produce its crops, and the heavens will drop their dew. I will give all these things as an inheritance to the remnant of this people. 13 Just as you, Judah and Israel, have been a curse among the nations, so I will save you, and you will be a blessing. Do not be afraid, but let your hands be strong.” 

Reflection: From a Curse to a Blessing

By John Tillman

God promised to bless the nations through Abraham. (Genesis 12.1-3; 22.17-18) The purpose of Israel and Judah was to be a blessing to the whole world. But they became a curse. God said to Adam and Eve in the garden, “Cursed is the ground because of you.” (Genesis 3.17) His words to Israel and Judah as they went into exile in Assyria and Babylon were similar. 

Their sin cursed the ground. Their selfishness, greed, and idolatry poisoned the land. The blood of the poor ran in the streets because of greed. Orphans and widows found no justice or help. Governments sought alliances and greater worldly power rather than seeking the Lord. (Jeremiah 2.34, 2 Kings 21.16, Ezekiel 9.8-10; Hosea 6.8-9)

The practices of human empires overwhelmed leaders’ character and they led the people to death and destruction. The mildew of the world grew on the vines and the whole field had to be burned to prevent its spread.

God’s nature as a cultivator, a gardener, is seen in this passage. He has cleansed the ground and given it rest from the abuses of the previous generation. Prior generations looked at a gold-covered Temple and presumed God’s presence would never allow them to be harmed. This generation was attuned to God’s returning presence and prioritized the building of a Temple. The complacency of the past has been replaced with thrilling anticipation and appreciation for God’s presence.

This people’s faith is a seed ready to be planted. God promises that a healthy vine will grow, and fruit will swell the branches. The blessings of this produce will be shared not only with God’s people but with all the nations.

Zechariah challenged the people to prioritize the Temple, to speak the truth to each other, and to ensure justice for the oppressed in their courts. They are warned against planning evil against one another and against swearing falsely.

These are not just principles for rebuilding ancient Jerusalem. They are for us. Here in our cities and countries, we must prioritize Jesus, who is our Temple, our access to God. We must be people devoted to truth and upholders of justice. In all we do, we must work good in the world for others and speak truthfully not just about the gospel but about everything else.

These principles will serve us well as we build little outposts (or branches) of the Kingdom of God right where we live and work.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Sing to the Lord and bless his Name; proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations and his wonders among all peoples.
For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; he is more to be feared than all gods. — Psalm 96.2-4

Today’s Readings

Zechariah 8 (Listen – 3:33)
Matthew 5 (Listen – 6:03)

Read more about Defilement, Deconstruction, and Reconstruction
If the mold spread, the first step was to remove only the affected stones. But if the mold returned, the entire house had to be deconstructed

Read more about The Branch and the Branches
Christ’s righteousness flows into us and we are able to create holy space, shade under the limbs of God’s tree.

Religious Motivation

Scripture Focus: Zechariah 7.8-10
8 And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: 9 “This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. 10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’

Reflection: Religious Motivation
By Erin Newton

When I was younger, I would often volunteer at church in areas where I knew I would be seen. The cliché in my mind would repeat: Better a low motive than no motive. It was meant to compliment someone for doing a good thing even if their motive was tainted.

Honestly, that’s not really a good compliment. Maybe it would be better to say, “Better no motive than a false motive,” when it comes to the spiritual disciplines and religious acts we perform in the name of Jesus.

After the series of night visions, the book of Zechariah pivots as the word of the Lord comes to answer a question posed to the priests. For 70 years, the people had fasted and mourned in remembrance of the fifth month when Jerusalem was burned and the seventh month when Gedaliah was assassinated. Should they keep up that practice?

The reply was like a double-edged sword that cut to the core of their motives. “…was it really for me that you fasted?” They had been performing with a low motive all along.

God’s people are always at risk of turning their worship or ministry into religious tokens and mere lip service. On paper, everything looks right. We pray. We read our Bibles. We attend church once a week. We tithe exactly 10.00%. We avoid stealing, adultery, or murder (you know, the “big” ones). If we tested our Christianity with a grading rubric, we might arrogantly check all the boxes and mark ourselves, “Passed.”

In Zechariah, God redirects their hearts. As C. Hassell Bullock said, “Rather than well-ordered ritual, he urges the practice of justice and compassion and the care of the widow, orphan, and alien.”

Everything seems to abide by a rule book. We have laws that govern our cities. Application processes for jobs or classes. Even tax forms have some instructions to help us. We want our Christian lives to be equally regulated.

It is no easy task to live the Christian life properly. Upholding justice while granting compassion can be difficult. We are supposed to liberate widows and orphans, not oppress them. We are called to bring advantage and favor to the poor and the foreigner, not ensure their separation from us.
There are general ways to ensure we fulfill some of this call. But the heart must lead the way. What motives lead your heart? Are they of God?

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Gracious and upright is the Lord; therefore he teaches sinners in his way. — Psalm 25.7

Today’s Readings
Zechariah 7 (Listen – 1:57)
Matthew 4 (Listen – 3:09)

Read more about Choices and Hard Hearts
Softening your heart is something that occurs not in one single moment, but rather through a lifelong process.

Read more about Hope for Hypocrites
When I examine my own heart, I am confronted with the reality that my motivations are often wrong.

The Branch and the Branches

Scripture Focus: Zechariah 6.12-13
12 Tell him this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the Lord. 13 It is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two.’

Zechariah 3.1-2; 7-8; 10
1 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. 2 The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?” 

7 “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘If you will walk in obedience to me and keep my requirements, then you will govern my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you a place among these standing here. 
8 “ ‘Listen, High Priest Joshua, you and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch.
10 “‘In that day each of you will invite your neighbor to sit under your vine and fig tree,’ declares the LORD Almighty.”

Reflection: The Branch and the Branches
By John Tillman

Joshua, the high priest during the rebuilding of the Temple, is a unique one.

There are multiple restarts and reboots of the priesthood. Joshua is just one of them. In chapter 3, Zechariah has a vision of Joshua in priestly garments that are filthy, covered with excrement.

Satan stands to accuse him, pointing out the filth of his sin. The Lord rebukes Satan and describes Joshua as a “burning stick snatched from the fire.” The filthy clothes representing sin are removed, and just as he tenderly dressed Adam and Eve’s nakedness, The Lord dresses Joshua in fine, clean garments.

Joshua, the stick saved from the fire, is more than just a smoke-smelling testament of grace. He is a symbol, scripture tells us, of one to come. The burnt stick represents “the Branch.” The Branch will “branch out” and build a new temple as well as be a priest and a king. (Isaiah 4.2; Ezekiel 17.22; John 15.1-8) The crown made for Joshua points to this promise. The crown is not meant for Joshua. He is only holding it until the one worthy of it appears.

One of the unique characteristics here is that God is not only rebooting the priesthood but the entire culture and country. Joshua, the other priests, and everything given to them represent something in the future. Joshua represents Jesus and the priests and people represent us. We are an extension of and connected to this reboot.

Christ’s mercy goes beyond saving us like a stick from a fire. We are grafted in to the expanding branches of his kingdom. Our high priest, Jesus, is “The Branch” and we are grafted into him. (Romans 11.17-23) Christ is the new Temple of God and, like a tree of life, reaches out to offer healing and a home under his branches. His righteousness flows into us and we are able to create holy space, shade under the limbs of God’s tree.

We are the branches off of which the fruit of the gospel should bloom. May we be found to be not just leafy but fruitful. (Matthew 21.19) May we, filled with the Holy Spirit, create a cooling, welcoming shade for all who have spent time wandering the deserts of sin. (Zechariah 3.10)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
I will thank you, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and glorify your Name forevermore. — Psalm 86.12

Today’s Readings

Zechariah 6 (Listen – 2:08)
Matthew 3 (Listen – 2:17)

Read more about Family Tree

We can be grafted in to the family tree of Christ and bear the same fruit that he wants to bring about in our lives.

Read more about Cultivation Requires Planning
No park or garden is “natural.” Even the garden of Eden was planted by the Lord after the creation of the plants and animals.