I will signal for them and gather them in. Surely I will redeem them; they will be as numerous as before. Though I scatter them among the peoples, yet in distant lands they will remember me. They and their children will survive, and they will return. I will bring them back from Egypt and gather them from Assyria. I will bring them to Gilead and Lebanon, and there will not be room enough for them. They will pass through the sea of trouble; the surging sea will be subdued and all the depths of the Nile will dry up. Assyria’s pride will be brought down and Egypt’s scepter will pass away. I will strengthen them in the Lord and in his name they will live securely,” declares the Lord . – Zechariah 10:8-12
The subject of today’s passage is redemption, not as common a topic in the old testament as the new testament for sure. Although there are many allusions and metaphors to the idea that God will extend His arm to snatch us from the fire and help us get across a river that no one can cross. In the case of today’s passage God seems to be focusing on the people of Israel who will return to Israel from afar, “Though I scatter them among the peoples, yet in distant lands they will remember me.”
Though this seems to be referring to a return of exiles and wanderers, the “big tent” view of this passage would be that the “them” in this passage really includes anyone who “lives in His name”. Basically anyone who acknowledges and remembers who God is and what He requires of them. This would include all modern-day God followers like myself. So if we look at the passage in this light let us see where it leads.
The passage begins with “I will signal them and gather them in”. God has been trying all sorts of things to “signal” the people of Israel. He has shown up in clouds, wheels and rushing waters, bushes, hidden wells, and of abundant springs of Living Water. Despite all this signalling the people still seems to wonder where God is at and where they can find Him. Perhaps they are looking in the wrong places.
It seems God knows how hard it is to “return to Him”, “They will pass through the sea of trouble; the surging sea will be subdued and all the depths of the Nile will dry up.” What does God mean by a “Sea of Trouble”. When I first read this line I immediately thought of the lines from Hamlet that for some reason I have memorized:
“To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them?” – William Shakespeare
So Shakespeare’s solution to a “sea of troubles” is to take up arms, fight them, and end them. God has a different plan. With God’s help all those who call on Him can pass through the “sea of trouble” unharmed. This is a really amazing and reassuring thing for God to say. For me it means no matter how desperate and depressing this land of Oblivion gets God will win in the end. If we are with Him He will carry us through whatever sea of trouble we encounter.
There is even a sense that God will be with us through surging seas like those encountered by Job and Jonah. There is something about the ocean that is very much like the wild side of God that can be almost too big to fathom and when we are in a ship subject to this sort of sea it can be a very scary place. Although I have not reached the confluence of the new testament yet I am reminded of the times that Jesus “subdued the surging seas” and the impact this must have had on His Jewish disciples that were so familiar with passages like this one.
The last water reference in this tricky bit of water is “all the depths of the Nile will dry up”. Now to understand the magnitude of this statement one has to realize that the Nile was life for these desert people. Egypt and many other great civilizations revered the Nile as a god and I think this is the sense God is referring to it here. All the mighty God-replacements we hold dear in our lives will be “dried up” and we can choose to seek out the One River as our Water Source or we can remain very thirsty.
Prayer: God You promise to redeem us and help us pass through this sea of troubles. Help us look to You to satisfy our thirsty souls.