Zechariah 1 – The First Two Visions
1. (1) The prophet and his times.
In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came to Zechariah the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo the prophet, saying,
a. In the eighth month of the second year of Darius: Zechariah served the LORD in the years after the remnant returned from the 70-year Babylonian exile. His prophetic career began in the reign of Darius, the ruler of the Medes and Persians. His career was not marked by the reign of a king over Israel or Judah, because there was no king of Israel or Judah in this period after the exile.
i. The timing of Zechariah’s prophecy sets it two months after Haggai’s first prophecy (Haggai 1:1) and within a month after another prophecy of Haggai (Haggai 2:1). This was between October and November of 520 B.C.
ii. “Like Haggai, Zechariah’s message is one of encouragement. But he was aware that not all the returned remnant were fully sincere in their desires to serve God, and he therefore counseled them to repent of sin and return to God with all their hearts and minds.” (Boice)
iii. If we only had Haggai to go by, we might conclude that all God was really interested in was the temple. Zechariah gave us more of the story and showed how God is interested in the lives of His people, not only buildings.
iv. The prophecy of Zechariah is noted for its rich use of visions, pictures, and symbols. In this way, it is much like the book of Revelation or Daniel which also have significant visions. “Haggai lays down the mind of God to the people more plainly in direct and downright terms; Zechariah flies a higher pitch, abounding with types and visions; and is therefore worthily reckoned among the [most puzzling] and profoundest penmen of Holy Scripture…. We pass from dark prophecies to that which is much more dark.” (Trapp).
b. The word of the LORD came to Zechariah: We know little about this prophet, though “Zechariah” was a common name in the Old Testament (at least 27 different Zechariahs are mentioned in the Bible). The only details we have about this Zechariah come from Ezra 5-6.
i. Then the prophet Haggai and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophets, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem, in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them. So Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak rose up and began to build the house of God which is in Jerusalem; and the prophets of God were with them, helping them. (Ezra 5:1-2)
ii. So the elders of the Jews built, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they built and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the command of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia. (Ezra 6:14)
iii. The name Zechariah means the LORD remembers, and was a fitting name for a prophet of restoration. This prophet was called to encourage and mobilize God’s people to accomplish a task that they had begun yet lost the momentum for complete. He encouraged them indirectly by telling them about God’s care for them and by keeping the presence of the Messiah very much in their minds. He worked with others, notably Haggai, Zerubbabel, and Ezra. He warned them of the consequences of neglecting God’s work, and he emphasized that God wants to do a work through His people.
iv. Jesus mentioned the ministry and martyrdom of Zechariah in Matthew 23:35: That on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.
2. (2-6) God pleads with His people: “Return to Me.”
“The LORD has been very angry with your fathers. Therefore say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts: “Return to Me,” says the LORD of hosts, “and I will return to you,” says the LORD of hosts. “Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets preached, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts: “Turn now from your evil ways and your evil deeds. But they did not hear nor heed Me,” says the LORD.
“Your fathers, where are they?
And the prophets, do they live forever?
Yet surely My words and My statutes,
Which I commanded My servants the prophets,
Did they not overtake your fathers?
“So they returned and said:
‘Just as the LORD of hosts determined to do to us,
According to our ways and according to our deeds,
So He has dealt with us.’”’”
a. The LORD has been very angry with your fathers: Zechariah began his prophecy with a call to repentance, and a call that remembered the poor spiritual heritage of Israel and Judah. The sin of their fathers doomed the nation to exile, and Zechariah warned the people to remember that the same could happen to them.
i. We should remember that these weren’t “bad people” – they were the remnant that returned from Babylon. Hundreds of thousands of people went into the Babylonian captivity and only about 50,000 returned. Those who did were the most committed to the LORD and to the restoration of Jerusalem. Yet even they, some 18 years after returning to the Promised Land, needed to hear and heed this warning from the LORD.
b. Return to Me…and I will return to you: Adverse circumstances discouraged God’s people, and they wondered why God seemed so far away.
· The land was still desolate after 70 years of neglect.
· The work was to rebuild and restore was difficult.
· They didn’t have a lot of money (Haggai 1:6) or manpower.
· They suffered crop failures and drought (Haggai 1:10-11).
· Hostile enemies resisted the work (Ezra 4:1-5).
· They remembered easier times in Babylon.
i. Each of these circumstances made them feel that God was far away; through Zechariah God assured them that He was not distant. They would return to Him, and He would return to them.
ii. Return to Me: Sometimes we wish God would make us return to Him, instead of wooing us to return out of our own choice. Nevertheless, God wants our freely given love, so He prompts us to choose Him and return to Him.
iii. Zechariah’s words remind us of James 4:8: Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. God promises to run to meet us when we return to Him. We are also reminded that if we are far from God, He hasn’t distanced Himself from us, we have distanced ourselves from Him. An elderly couple drove down the road in their car with a front bench seat. As they drove, the wife noticed that in many of the other cars with couples in the front seat, the woman sat close to the man as he drove. She asked her husband, “Why is it that we don’t sit that close anymore?” He simply answered, “It wasn’t me who moved.” If we are far from God, He hasn’t moved.
c. Yet surely My words and My statutes, which I commanded My servants the prophets, did they not overtake your fathers? God’s promises outlived and outlasted all the previous prophets and ancestors. Zechariah encouraged God’s people to not only rebuild the temple (the emphasis of his contemporary prophet Haggai) but also to rebuild their relationship with the LORD and learn from the lessons of their fathers.
B. The vision of the four horses among the myrtle trees.
1. (7-10) Zechariah’s vision of the four horses and their riders.
On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, which is the month Shebat, in the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came to Zechariah the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo the prophet: I saw by night, and behold, a man riding on a red horse, and it stood among the myrtle trees in the hollow; and behind him were horses: red, sorrel, and white. Then I said, “My lord, what are these?” So the angel who talked with me said to me, “I will show you what they are.” And the man who stood among the myrtle trees answered and said, “These are the ones whom the LORD has sent to walk to and fro throughout the earth.”
a. Behold, a man riding on a red horse: Zechariah’s vision was simple enough in what he saw – one man on horseback leading other horses and their riders, patrolling to and fro throughout the earth. Zechariah saw them among myrtle trees, in a ravine (in the hollow).
i. Specifically, this exploration mission examined the progress of rebuilding Jerusalem and the other cities of Judah. Its purpose was to examine the work of God’s people.
ii. “The troop of horsemen were emissaries of the Lord sent on world mission. Like the Persian monarchs who used messengers on swift steeds to keep them informed on all matters concerning their empire, so the Lord knew all about the countries of the earth.” (Baldwin)
iii. “Just as Satan walks about the earth for evil (Job 1:7, 2:2; 1 Peter 5:8), so the Lord Jehovah has His representatives walking up and down in the earth to examine the affairs of men.” (Luck)
b. Red, sorrel, and white: Bible commentators debate the meaning of these colors. Connecting them with the four horsemen of Revelation 6:1-8 doesn’t seem to work, because these seem to be observers and not messengers of judgment as in Revelation 6. Some suggest that the different colors mean different angelic offices.
i. Sorrel is sort of a dirty yellow or a spotted, brownish orange.
ii. “Probably pointing out the different orders of angels in the heavenly host, which are employed by Christ in the defense of his Church. The different colours may point out the gradations in power, authority, and excellence, of the angelic natures which are employed between Christ and men.” (Clarke)
c. The man who stood among the myrtle trees: The myrtle tree is a laurel, which is evergreen and possibly a symbol of the people of Israel. This man is the Angel of the LORD (Zechariah 1:11) and is no doubt an Old Testament appearance of Jesus before His incarnation in Bethlehem.
i. There are many examples in the Old Testament of an encounter with a heavenly man known as the Angel of the LORD who is revealed to be God Himself (Genesis 16:7-13, Genesis 22:11-18, Exodus 3:2-9, Judges 2:1-4, and many other places). Because of Zechariah 1:11, we know this man is the Angel of the LORD, and that He is God.
ii. We can assume that this was God, in the person of Jesus Christ, appearing to Abraham before His incarnation and birth at Bethlehem, because of God the Father it is said, No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him (John 1:18), and no man has ever seen God in the person of the Father (1 Timothy 6:16). Therefore, if God appears to someone in human appearance in the Old Testament, and no one has seen God the Father, it makes sense the appearing is of the eternal Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, before His incarnation in Bethlehem.
iii. Myrtle trees: “Israel is not likened to a cedar of Lebanon, which is majestic, or an oak tree, which is strong. Having blossoms that emit a sweet fragrance when crushed, the myrtle illustrates the strange grace of Israel in affliction.” (Boice)
2. (11-17) The Angel of the LORD intercedes for Jerusalem and Judah.
So they answered the Angel of the LORD, who stood among the myrtle trees, and said, “We have walked to and fro throughout the earth, and behold, all the earth is resting quietly.” Then the Angel of the LORD answered and said, “O LORD of hosts, how long will You not have mercy on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah, against which You were angry these seventy years?” And the LORD answered the angel who talked to me, with good and comforting words. So the angel who spoke with me said to me, “Proclaim, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts:
“I am zealous for Jerusalem
And for Zion with great zeal.
I am exceedingly angry with the nations at ease;
For I was a little angry,
And they helped; but with evil intent.”
‘Therefore thus says the LORD:
“I am returning to Jerusalem with mercy;
My house shall be built in it,” says the LORD of hosts,
“And a surveyor’s line shall be stretched out over Jerusalem.”’
“Again proclaim, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts:
“My cities shall again spread out through prosperity;
The LORD will again comfort Zion,
And will again choose Jerusalem.”’”
a. All the earth is resting quietly: The patrol found that the world was at peace, but it was not the right kind of peace (I am exceedingly angry with the nations at ease). God was angry with the nations of the world because they were at ease while God’s people suffered. In God’s thinking, if the earth is at rest at the expense of His people, there is no true rest at all.
i. And they helped; but with evil intent: The nations of the world offered some help to the returning exiles, but even their help was polluted by evil motives.
b. I am zealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with great zeal: The Angel of the LORD showed His heart of compassion for Israel and Jerusalem. God relented and allowed Israel back after 70 years of exile, yet the effects of exile were still painfully evident.
i. The word for zealous in ancient Hebrew comes from the idea “to become intensely red” and it has the thought of a face becoming flushed with deep emotion. God is genuinely and deeply concerned about the state of His people.
c. My cities shall again spread out through prosperity: God solemnly promised to restore Jerusalem and the cities of Judah. This was an especially comforting promise considering the lowly condition of the cities of the Promised Land in Zechariah’s day.
i. About four years from the time of this prophecy, Zion was comforted, and Jerusalem was specially chosen. The temple was rebuilt four years after Zechariah gave this prophecy.
C. The vision of the four horns and four craftsmen.
1. (18-19) Four horns represent the nations that scattered God’s people.
Then I raised my eyes and looked, and there were four horns. And I said to the angel who talked with me, “What are these?” So he answered me, “These are the horns that have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.”
a. There were four horns: In biblical times horns spoke of strength and authority because the power of a bull or an ox is expressed through its horns.
i. “Horns, the pride of a young bull, are an obvious choice symbol to represent invincible strength…. As trophies of the hunt they represented conquest of strength.” (Baldwin)
b. These are the horns that have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem: Since Zechariah told us there were four horns we wonder which four nations Zechariah spoke of here. If he spoke of scattering in a broad prophetic sense – including scattering that had yet come to God’s people in his own day – then the likely four horns are Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome.
2. (20-21) God announces judgment against the nations that scatter His people.
Then the LORD showed me four craftsmen. And I said, “What are these coming to do?” So he said, “These are the horns that scattered Judah, so that no one could lift up his head; but the craftsmen are coming to terrify them, to cast out the horns of the nations that lifted up their horn against the land of Judah to scatter it.”
a. The craftsmen are coming to terrify them: God raised up other nations to judge the nations that scattered His people. From of old, God promised to curse those who cursed Israel (Genesis 12:3).
i. “And then he finds the right men; not four gentlemen with pens to write; not four architects to draw plans, but four mechanics to do rough work. He who wants to open an oyster, must not use a razor: there needs less of daintiness, and more of force, for some works: providence does not find gentlemen to cut off the horns, but carpenters. The work needs a man who, when he has his work to do, puts his whole strength into it, and beats away with his hammer, or cuts through the wood that lays before him with might and main. Rest assured, you who tremble for the ark of God, that when the horns grow troublesome, the carpenters will be found.” (Spurgeon)
b. To cast out the horns of the nations that lifted their horn against the land of Judah: God promised to break the power of those who used their power against God’s people. An ancient proverb puts it well: “The church of God is an anvil that has worn out many hammers.”