Rejoice greatly; O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey…… 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.
As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners.. Return to your fortress, O prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you!
The bible narrative from Genesis onward is not an easy read, as the consequences of sin make themselves felt at a personal and national level for God’s chosen people. Time and again they rebel and pay the price for their disobedience. But alongside this sadly realistic picture of human nature, we find words of hope – hope for temporary relief from distress, but also of a future perfect peace, a dwelling together of God and his creatures in mutual delight and harmony. This prophecy from Zechariah, addressed to a people in long-term exile, is one such word. The promise of a coming deliverer, bringing freedom, rejoicing and justice without borders.
The exiles circumstances were bad; there was no earthly reason to hope that the future might see an improvement – and their hopelessness was compounded by the knowledge that their exile was a direct result of persistent disobedience to God, and of breaking the terms of the covenant God had made with them!
Once again, God sends through his prophet a word of encouragement to the people, a word of grace, of unmerited favour and his faithfulness to an unfaithful people. Once again, God is revealed as the hero of the story, preparing to bless those who have so deeply grieved him and got themselves into a dreadful mess as a result. He alone can and will deliver the imprisoned and despairing. Any hope for salvation depends utterly on this grace of God, who chooses to act because he must be true to his own promises.
What makes us prisoners? Too often it is our fears; sometimes it is our success in the world’s eyes; and for some it will be circumstances which are beyond their control and which bring great distress. Think of the prophet Daniel, who spent his entire life in captivity in Babylon, or the exiled Ezekiel, born to be a priest in the temple but doomed never to fulfill his ambition.This passage in Zechariah promises that in God, we have a deliverer, and a sure hope for future freedom from whatever binds us now. We are called by faith to turn again to the stronghold which in this case is not a physical fortress, but the Lord God himself! The psalmist writes enthusiastically of this truth:
In you O Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame…Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me for you are my rock and my fortress… For you have been my hope, O Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth. (Ps 71.1,3&5)
When by faith we are drawn to hide ourselves in God, our fortress, then we are no longer prisoners of our fears or circumstances.Our obedience in clinging to him means that we are now capable of receiving his blessings – and our whole view of our lives is transformed.
We will be hope-prisoners in the tower of the Lord, walled about by his promises, with the light of his love shining in our lives and holding us as close to him as the tightest chains. This kind of imprisonment is not something to shun, but rather to seek! There is no safer place than in God: our great,powerful and good God.
This hope can open the door of the deepest, darkest places, bringing assurance that our God is always with us, and where he is, there is life now and will be abundance to come. Our hope is certain because it is based on the character of God, not on our own strengths, or ability to work out our own salvation. And it is the fulfillment of this hope which we celebrate in the birth of Christ, who would one day ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, deliberately recalling this prophecy, and through whose death, the basis for peace between God and man would finally be established.
Let us rejoice in this promise fulfilled. Let us live as prisoners of this great hope, turning ever and again to the stronghold which is our God, and seeking to share the good news with our neighbours.