“The Lord will pass through the sea of distress and strike the waves of the sea; all the depths of the Nile will dry up. The pride of Assyria will be brought down, and the scepter of Egypt will come to an end.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
History is linear. It is unidirectional. It is going somewhere. We may not be able to see where from any single point along the way, but yesterday was not the day before and the day before that was different still. This wasn’t always thought to be the case. For a time it was fashionable science to hold that the universe was cyclical–it had been expanding and contracting in an endless cycle since eternity past and would continue like this on into eternity future. Then some smart folks looked a little harder and realized that the universe actually started at a single point and has been expanding ever since. Some religious worldviews today still believe that history is cyclical. But it’s not. History moves in one direction. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t repeat itself.
As you read through the story of the Scriptures, taking in the big picture, God doesn’t do the same things very often. How He resolves one issue is rarely the same as He resolves a similar issue cropping up a second time. And yet, there are decided themes to what He does. There are themes and sometimes He does something in such a way as to point forward to a time when He’s going to do something similar, but on a grander scale. We can see this in the respective major events of the Old and New Testament.
The major event of the Old Testament–the thing by which the rest of the narrative is shaped–was the Exodus. God’s activity in freeing the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt and bringing them through the wilderness to a home that was to be theirs going forward, sets the tone for the rest of what follows. Every single event from there going forward through Malachi is best understood through the lens of that first major event. It set the parameters for God’s relationship with the people and how they should be related to Him.
In the New Testament, the major event was obviously the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Nothing else even comes close to comparing with that and everything from that point forward even to today is only properly understood through that lens.
Now, in an absolute sense, these two events were very different. One involved a nation, one involved a single man. One concerned the downfall of an international powerhouse and the other a man coming back from the dead. One involved an entire nation moving from one place to another. The other involved a few people trying to avoid the attention of an international powerhouse that remained firmly entrenched in its seat of power for several hundred more years.
But in another sense, the former was always intended to be a pointer to the latter. This is what Zechariah was trying to help the people see here as he shared with them an encouraging word from the Lord. He had redeemed and restored His people once and He was going to do it again. And when He did it again, it was going to be in the model of this former restoration only on a much grander scale.
This is one of those places where we have to understand the imagery and its figurative nature if we are going to make sense out of it. Someone coming to the Scriptures with an eye toward literalism will not be able to make good sense out of this. Zechariah is not speaking literally of Egypt or Assyria. Rather, he is pointing to what God is going to do in the future in terms that they could imagine because of the past.
And indeed, our salvation in Christ is very much in the mold of the Exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt. The Israelites were slaves to a power greater than themselves and they were powerless to change their circumstances on their own. Well, before Christ, we are slaves to the power of sin. Sin holds us in a vice grip that we are powerless to break on our own. We are not capable of saving ourselves from sin’s power. History itself should be evidence enough of that.
The Israelites were saved by one who was like them, but was also above them. In the same way, Jesus was fully human as we are, but He was also above us in that He was God incarnate. Although He was fully tempted by sin as we are, He was free from its internal pull in ways that we can’t know apart from Him.
Israel didn’t do anything to contribute to their salvation from Egypt save to do what Moses commanded them. There wasn’t anything particularly worthy in or about them to make saving them something that was obvious. Instead, God had bigger plans for the world and was keeping a promise He had made in the past–a promise made for their benefit and for the benefit of the world around them. Do I even have to say the next part? We don’t contribute anything to our salvation save to do what Jesus commands us. And there certainly isn’t anything about us that makes us particularly worthy of God’s saving efforts. He is keeping promises He made in the past–promises made for our benefit and the benefit of the world around us.
When Moses led the people out of Egypt, it was with signs and wonders and these were soon followed by the giving of a Law, a way of life that would guide their path forward from there into the beautiful future God had planned for them. Our salvation burst onto the scene with signs and wonders beginning with the most amazing sign of all: the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. These signs were soon followed by a series of teachings that would point us to a way of living that will guide our path forward into the beautiful future God has planned for us if we will follow it.
The people’s journey from that point forward was one of ups and downs and many foolishly self-inflicted wounds. Can I get an “Amen”? How many times have we soared on the wings of eagles only to crash like Icarus when we have grown prideful and stopped listening to the words of our Father? How many of our wounds are self-inflicted? More than we could count, yes?
Ultimately, the journey of the people of Israel from Egypt ended in a new land for them to call home. So will ours, but on an even grander scale. They got a few square miles. We’ll have the world itself restored to the beauty it was always designed to bear. And, just like they experienced, this end will be for those who are willing to be obedient and faithful.
So, what does all of this mean for us? Nothing in particular except to serve as a reminder that our God is consistent and good. He is consistently good. He is taking human history somewhere that will be to His great glory and our great joy if only we will follow Him faithfully and receive what He has to give. It is a journey of adventure and challenge and is not one for the faint of heart. We may not be able to see every path that it will take to get us from where we are to where we’ll be, but we can always look back to see what was and trust that the echoes still reverberating across the eons are trustworthy and true. Let us follow well so that we can enjoy the life that only He can give.