Chapter 13:7b-9 (ESV) - I will turn my hand against the little ones.
In the whole land, declares the Lord,
two thirds shall be cut off and perish,
and one third shall be left alive.
And I will put this third into the fire,
and refine them as one refines silver,
and test them as gold is tested.
They will call upon my name,
and I will answer them.
I will say, ‘They are my people’;
and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’”
Question to consider: Who were the sheep that were tested by fire?
Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered. I don’t know about you, but I take great comfort in the fact that the two pillars of the church were redeemed from the most shocking of sins. The apostle Peter denied ever having known Christ to the point where he called curses down upon himself, and the apostle Paul persecuted Christ’s bride, the church, pursuing Christians from town to town to imprison and even execute them. In fact, scripture is replete with those who have failed God, fallen short of the Law, and deserve to be cast away from the presence of God into the outer darkness. Of course, I have also failed God in thought, word and deed, and so I take great comfort in the fact that our shepherd was willing to be struck for sheep that scatter.
I have often heard people talk of God’s infinite love and mercy, but I would argue that if God’s mercy were infinite, today’s verses would not exist in scripture. Instead, we should think of God’s love and mercy as being perfect. Another word for patience in scripture is long-suffering. God literally suffers with our sin for a long time before His cup of wrath is poured out. God does not delight in sacrifice or judgment.
Christ proclaimed during His ministry that judgment was coming upon that generation, and yet he longed for them to turn from their sin and turn to Him. I think the heart of Jesus pours out from His statement in Matthew 23:37-38, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate.” Even after Christ rose from the dead and ascended to His throne, the church had almost 40 years to proclaim the gospel to the Jews scattered throughout the nations and implore them to be gathered under the wings of Christ.
You may be asking yourself how two thirds could be cut off and perish when they were scattered throughout the known world. The siege of Jerusalem took place around the Passover which brought many of the Jews to the temple for worship and sacrifices. Josephus wrote of these days in The Wars of the Jews and estimated that 1.1 million were killed from war, disease and starvation during this time.
God’s remnant, who remained alive, heeded Jesus’ warning to flee to the hills when they saw the armies rather than flee to the perceived safety of the city walls. Zechariah’s description of the one third who lived was similar to that of Peter who described the persecution faced by the church which God used as a refining fire. “...For a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6-7)
Dear heavenly father, thank You for warning Your people to flee the coming wrath. May we also give this warning to our own generation so that they can turn to You and look forward to the return of Christ in glory rather than living in fear of death and judgment. Amen.