The biblical prophets Isaiah and Micah avail us of the familiar motif of many Jewish nations eagerly flowing up to Jerusalem to learn how to live by virtue of the instruction meted out there by ‘Jacob’s God’. The two offer strikingly similar variants on this theme.
The post-exilic prophet Zechariah plays upon a related note. Deploying his prophetic burden in the context of the establishment of a Jewish commonwealth in Jerusalem and its environs after the furnace of the Exile has finally been unlocked, Zechariah seems often to be required to lift the spirits of dispirited returnees. Back in Babylon, the drama of return and restoration had fired their ambitions. The mud and dust of Zion’s ruins pressed hard against such dramatic vision. More than once the partisans of Return must have wondered what they were thinking and whether the Jewish community back in the Empire’s stultifying if predictable center might have been for them a far better lot than this.
Indeed, some might have felt themselves to have become the laughingstock of multiple audiences. Against such headwinds of communal depression, Zechariah’s prophetic imagination contemplates a far different—indeed, an enviable—identity for the practitioners of restoration.
Thus says the LORD of hosts: Peoples shall yet come, the inhabitants of many cities; the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, “Come, let us go to entreat the favor of the LORD, and to seek the LORD of hosts; I myself am going.” Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem, and to entreat the favor of the LORD. Thus says the LORD of hosts: In those days ten men from nations of every language shall take hold of a Jew, grasping his garment and saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.” (Zechariah 8:20–23 NRSV)
Readers who find in the biblical literature a pregnant capacity for bearing life and meaning beyond the immediate context of its inscription will read Zechariah’s vision in line with the Zion-centric and nation-blessing images of Isaiah and Micah. Yet Zechariah paints from a palette that contains colors beyond those employed by his prophetic compeers. They saw Jacob’s God offering life-orienting instruction to many peoples and nations, even calming their mutually destructive madness via his irreproachable judgments. Zechariah adds the detail of the favor enjoyed by those who have been the very daughters and sons of the Hebrew deity.
In the moment of YHWH’s exaltation as Lord of lord and King of kings, the Jew—bound to him by covenant through centuries of privilege and depravation—becomes the agent, even the personal representative of this God to the nations who have become hungry seekers of his blessing.
One might surmise that Zechariah was dreaming, a species of religious fantasizer whom Jews, Judaism, and their Christian cousins have come in time to resent and even to fear.
Yet millennia hence, on Christmas Day, it is not difficult for a Christian reader of this Hebrew prophet to look about him at a global celebration of Bethlehem’s child and marvel at the precision of Zechariah’s foresight.