This evening we are beginning our study of the book of Zechariah. If the Lord wills, one Sunday evening a month we will spend our time seeking out God’s precious truths from this book and making appropriate applications for ourselves. Since we have recently studied the book of Revelation and Daniel I also wanted us to study this book before we have forgotten too much of what we have learned in those other apocalyptic books. Zechariah is a book full of visions where we will see some images that can be found in Daniel and Zechariah. Zechariah begins his prophecies in 520 B.C. At this time, the remnant has returned from Babylonian exile in 536 B.C. However, because of political problems and local unrest, the building of the temple under the leadership of Zerubabbel has stopped for 12 years. Zechariah and Haggai, a contemporary, are prophets called by God to preach to the people to restart the building of the temple. Haggai’s prophecy begins two months before Zechariah’s prophecy. The historical record of these two prophets is found in Ezra 5:1, where we read that they prophesied to the Jews, encouraging them to rebuild.
Zechariah’s First Prophecy (1:1-6)
The prophecy of Zechariah begins with a clear statement that the Lord has been angry with their fathers. This needed to be a perpetual reminder to the generation of what God did in the past to their fathers because of their disobedience. The people would not be allowed to rewrite history to think that the cause of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple occurred for any other reason than their own sins. Therefore, Zechariah makes a call to the people in verse 3 to return to God. We need to notice that the ball was in the court of these Jews. It was up to them to return to God. Further, the promise was given that if they would return to God, then God would return to them. The nature of our relationship with God has not changed in regards to repentance. Once we sever the relationship, it is up to us to be the first to return to God.
I find it interesting that the first words of Zechariah fly directly in the face of what is commonly taught by most religious groups in most denominations. Most religious groups hold to the teachings of John Calvin, who taught that it is not possible for man to choose God. Rather, only God can choose man. Calvin’s whole theology is premised on the belief that man can never turn and choose God, but God must irresistibly choose man. However, such a theology is in direct violation to what Zechariah was preaching to the Jews. Zechariah said that the relationship had been severed because of the people’s sins. It was up to the people to return to God. The people were to make the first step, not God. God would not return to the people until the people chose to turn to God.
We need to recognize that this is true today as well. We cannot fool ourselves into thinking that God is still with us when we have severed our relationship with God through sins. Because of sin, we turn away from God. It is therefore up to us to turn back to God to receive His mercy and His grace. Repentance is summed up well in Zechariah’s words, “Return to the Lord and He will return to you.” Let us make sure that we are not simply applying these words to those who have not given their lives in obedience to the Lord to be His disciples. These words were mainly stated to those who were God’s people. It is time to hear that God’s people also need to repent and return to God.
In verse 4 Zechariah tells the people to not be like their fathers when the call for repentance came. The former prophets preached to their fathers to return to God but they did not hear or pay attention to the prophet’s words. Therefore, their fathers perished for their iniquities and the prophets persecuted by their fathers. But the word and statutes of the Lord remained and judgments came as the word of the Lord had spoken. Zechariah uses history to motivate the people to return to the Lord. If the people will not repent, then the words of judgment that are spoken by God’s prophets will certainly come to pass. Therefore, the people need to turn their hearts back to the Lord and rebuild the temple of God.
Vision of the Horsemen (1:7-17)
About three months later, Zechariah receives a vision from the Lord. In the vision Zechariah sees a man riding a red horse among the myrtle trees. According to Smith’s Bible dictionary, a myrtle tree “is a shrub or low tree sometimes ten feet high, with green shining leaves, and snow-white flowers bordered with purple, which emit a perfume more exquisite than that of the rose.” Behind the man on the red horse are three other horses whose colors were red, sorrel (brown, NIV), and white. While I do not think that these are the same horses nor have the same meaning, we would be remiss not to point out that in Revelation 6 we see four horses whose colors are red, white, black, and pale green. Zechariah 6 probably has a greater parallel to Revelation 6 than this passage does.
Zechariah asks what these things are? The angel responds that he will show Zechariah. But it is the one riding the red horse among the myrtle trees that gives the actual response of who these horses are. The man among the trees responds in verse 10, “These are the ones whom the Lord has sent to walk to and fro throughout the earth.” This is very reminiscent of the answer that Satan gave in the book of Job when questioned by the Lord where he had been. Satan responded in Job 1:7 and Job 2:2, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it.” Not only does Satan wander throughout the earth, but we see the Lord has His messengers that also patrol the earth as well. This imagery of the horses going throughout the earth is likely a way to conjure an image that they had seen under the Persian empire. The Persian kings sent out messengers on horses to keep them informed of what was happening in the empire. In the same way, we are see the Lord sending out His messengers throughout the earth to show the people that the Lord knows the affairs of men on the earth.
In verse 11 we see the horses have patrolled the earth and are now giving their report to the angel of the Lord. For some reason, most commentators assume that the angel of the Lord is the Son, the Christ. We read about the angel of the Lord in many places throughout the scriptures, yet this phrase does not demand that the angel of the Lord be a reference for the Christ. I believe we need to take the words as they are stated, that this is the Lord’s angel. The angel of the Lord receives the report that the horses have patrolled the earth and all the earth is resting quietly (remains at peace, NRSV). On the surface, this report would seem to be pleasing and good. However, due to the response of the angel of the Lord in verse 12, we must understand that this was not a favorable response. A few months earlier, Zechariah’s contemporary Haggai had prophesied that in a little while the heaven, earth, sea, dry land, and nations would shake (Haggai 2:6-7). This depicts for us an imagery of judgment upon the world powers and nations for their wickedness. Since all is at peace and the judgments have not commenced yet, the angel of the Lord responds in verse 12 with a question to the Lord of “how long?” How long will there not be mercy upon Jerusalem and the cities of Judah against which the Lord has been angry these 70 years? There is a question about which time frame is the 70 years referring to. Does the 70 years refer to the time of the Jews captivity (606-536 B.C.) or to the destruction of the temple (586-516 B.C.)? While I cannot be dogmatic, I believe the latter is correct since the angel asks about the cities and not the captive people who had been released. The temple has stood in ruins for these seventy years by the hands of the heathen nations. How long will God be angry and not show mercy toward his city?
The Lord responds
In verse 13 the Lord gives the angel “good and comforting words.” It is interesting that the Lord does not directly give his answer to Zechariah or to any of the other beings in myrtle trees. Instead, the Lord gives the angel the answer and now the angel will reveal the answer to Zechariah and rest who have been noted in the vision. The angel begins with the words that Haggai and Zechariah had already used on many other occasions, “thus says the Lord.” The Lord’s response was that he is exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion. Further, the Lord was exceedingly angry with the nations because they furthered the disaster. In verse 15 we read some surprising statements. First, the Lord says that he was only “a little angry” with Jerusalem. Zechariah said back in 1:2 that the Lord was very angry with their fathers. We are able to see the depths of God’s anger. While God was very angry with Judah, He was not to the point of wrath in which He would utterly destroy Judah. God’s intention was not for a permanent destruction of His people nor of the city and temple. However, the cruelty and severity that Assyria and Babylon brought upon Israel and Judah, respectively, was too much. Therefore the Lord is exceedingly angry at what they have done and the ease that the world nations now rest.
Therefore a declaration is made from the Lord that mercy will return to Jerusalem and the house of the Lord will be built. The measuring line is stretched out over the city of Jerusalem. To stretch out the measuring line has two meanings: either a measurement for destruction or a measurement for rebuilding. Here it is clear that the meaning is for rebuilding. Measure the city so that it can be built again. Also, in verse 17 we read the Lord promising three things: (1) The cities will overflow with prosperity, (2) Zion will be comforted, and (3) Jerusalem will be chosen. It is clear by looking back at history that these things would not be fully fulfilled in the rebuilding of the physical city and the temple. As Daniel prophesied, there was still to be turmoil, tribulations, and persecutions in Jerusalem and abominations of desolations within her temple. The true fulfillment of these promises is found in Messiah and his building of new Jerusalem (Revelation 21). The rebuilding of the temple and the city were only partial blessings. These served as a token or a deposit to prove that the realities that had been prophesied through the Messiah would come. A similar analogy would be the blessings we experience now are simply a deposit and guarantee of the future blessings that we will receive if we remain faithful till the end (Ephesians 1:13-14). However, the Jews looked for an immediate, physical fulfillment which were only shadows of the reality that would be found in Jesus Christ.
Vision of Horns and Craftsmen (1:18-21)
Vision of horns
After seeing the vision of the horsemen, Zechariah now lifts his eyes and see four horns. Horns in apocalyptic literature represent authorities, powers, and strength. We can see this point proven in Daniel 7:24 where the horns represent the ten kings of the fourth beast. In Daniel 8:7 we read about the horns of the ram being broken showing that nation’s loss of power. In Revelation 17:12 the ten horns represent the kings of the beast. Do not forget about the “little horn” of Daniel that rose up against the people of God, also showing its great power and strength. So as we read about these four horns, these symbolize authority, power, and strength. Zechariah asks what these horns are. Zechariah is told that the horns are those “that have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.” Some go ahead and identify these four horns as the nations of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, and Persia. Other commentators name different nations as the four horns that are being described here.
I do not believe that the angel is identifying four particular nations here. While certainly Assyria and Babylon scattered the people of God, the case is not as strong for Egypt. One may argue that the Jews fled to Egypt in Jeremiah’s day and eventually perished, but that does not really fit what is being described here. Further, I am not sure how it could be argued that Persia scattered Israel. Persia was the nation that let the captive go free and rebuild in Israel. Certainly under Persia there were evil men like Haman who tried to extinguish the Jews, but again this does not seem to fit the pattern of nations who in the past had scattered Israel and Judah. I believe the four horns simply represent all the world nations that have taken part in Israel’s destruction and scattering. I think this is more evident in the next vision.
Vision of the craftsmen
After seeing the vision of the horns, the Lord shows Zechariah four craftsmen. The four craftsmen are the ones who come to terrify and cast down the horns of the nations who went against the land of Judah. I believe that verse 21 proves our interpretation of the horns. God says that the horns are the “horns of the nations” who went against Judah. Therefore, all the nations that went against Judah, not just four, would have the craftsmen come against them. The craftsmen seem to also represent the world nations that God has used to conquer those who have been a trouble and a scattering to Judah. What is interesting is that some of the craftsmen would become horns against Israel. For example, Babylon would have been a craftsman that uprooted the horn of Assyria since Assyria scattered the northern nation. However, Babylon became a horn by scattering Judah. Therefore Persia arose to conquer Babylon.
The message seems to be that God is working through these heathen nations. Those nations that were horns against Israel and Judah would be terrified and cast down by other nations. This was all by the hand of God. Therefore, Persia came to power by God to destroyed Babylon so that the people could return to Jerusalem and rebuild God’s temple. Further, any problems that they have encountered by the nations in trying to rebuild will also be cast down. As we know, Persia would not last either as it was conquered by Greece, just as Daniel prophesied.
God is at work among the world nations, whether they are heathen or not. This was a message of hope to the people in 520 B.C. as well as a message of hope to us in our nation today. Any nation that resists God’s people will bring judgment upon itself. God will never allow a “horn” to continue against His people forever. God will terrify it, uproot it, and cast it down. We must sound the alarm in our own nation as it continues its pursuit of wickedness. We must warn that this nation that once stood as a nation under God will be uprooted and cast down as a judgment against our nation’s evils. Let us hear the words of Zechariah and return to God so that He will return to us before it is too late.