When God Speaks in Riddles
“Bible Prophecy is confusing!” In my Bible teaching experience, if I’ve heard that once, I’ve heard it a hundred times. Let’s look at the Book of Zechariah, and talk about something that should help.
When God set about to redeem mankind, He didn’t do so randomly. First, He selected Abraham as the “Father of Faith”. Then He selected the patriarchs who descended from Abraham, out of whom came the nation of Israel. Finally, He revealed His deeds and ways to Israel, thereby revealing Himself to the rest of the world by extension. He did this as preparation for the coming of the redeemer of mankind, Jesus Christ.
As part of the revealing-of-Himself-to-Israel referred to above, God gave His Law(s) – His declaration of what is right and wrong in His sight. And so it is said that “The Law” was given through Moses (John 1:17). But in addition to His giving of The Law, God promised to also subsequently speak to Israel through prophets.
In Numbers 12 we see that, long before He did send prophets, God told Moses and his kin that He would intentionally have them speak to the people at times in riddles. This finally happened when the prophets wrote their ‘books’, which we now have in our Bible. No wonder people think that Bible prophecy is confusing!
But God knew what He was doing: He wanted to use prophecy to reveal hearts. He wanted written prophetic predictions to be like ‘sieves’, whereby those despising faith would find it easy to doubt, and those open to faith would find it easy to believe. That’s why Jesus Himself also spoke to the people in parables (see Matthew 13:10-17).
The Book of Zechariah presents some great examples of prophecy given in riddles. In one place he predicts that Messiah — understood to be the eventual ruler of the world (Isaiah 9:6-7) — will present Himself to the Jewish people riding on a donkey — a symbol of great humility (compare Zechariah 9:9 and Matthew 21:1-5). Another time, he predicts that Messiah — understood to be invincible — would somehow be betrayed for 30 pieces of silver thrown into the Temple and given to the “potter” (compare Zechariah 11:12-13 and Matthew 26:14-16 & 27:3-10). These were unclear “riddles” when they were given to Zechariah by God, but their meaning became clear later on when they actually came to pass. If one refuses to believe, they are still ‘not close enough’. But if one is open to believing, they’re incredibly accurate predictions – spoken hundreds of years before the event – which God Himself must have given!
And then there’s Zechariah’s prophecies about the Second Coming of Christ: After Jesus met with His disciples following His resurrection – on the Mount of Olives outside Jerusalem – he told them to preach the Gospel to the “ends of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8). Immediately after that, he was taken up into heaven before their eyes. As the apostles were staring into the sky, two angels reassured them that Jesus would someday come back the same way he had left (see Acts 1:9-12). No doubt, the apostles had an “Aha!” moment right then! Having been raised as good young Jews, they would have been familiar with the writings of Zechariah. It so happens that one of Zechariah’s most beloved prophecies had spoken of a future time of war for Israel when Messiah would come and rescue them after his feet had first stepped on the Mount of Olives (compare Zechariah 14:1-9). Perhaps that’s why the apostle John actually quoted Zechariah at the start of the Book of Revelation – the book of prophecy written by John that concludes the New Testament. This book taken together – more than anything else – describes the Second Coming of Christ! (Compare Revelation 1:7 and Zechariah 12:10). His Book of Revelation would have riddles of it’s own, but it would also explain Zechariah’s “Mount of Olives riddle” — to those having a heart to believe.
The take-away from all this is simple: Even if Bible prophecy seems confusing to us at times, let’s not be “slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25). Let’s just believe, pray for insight, and keep on reading! It all does have meaning, and it will all someday come to pass.