Forum Class for September 12, 26, 2004
On February 15, 519 B.C., some three and one-half months after his initial message in 1:1-6, and two months after Haggai's final message (Haggai 2:20-23), Zechariah was given eight night visions. It appears that all eight visions were given in one night, but we cannot be sure. The eight visions can best be understood in the chiastic pattern of a, b, b, c, c, b, b, a, with the theological climax corning in the fourth and fifth visions. The first and the eighth vision bear a strong resemblance to one another, while the second and third, fourth and fifth, and sixth and seventh are in pairs. The resulting pattern would appear something like this:
a Waiting in the Calm Before the International Storm 1:7-17
b Watching the Nations Punish One Another 1:18-21
b Expecting the Glory of God on Earth 2: 1-13
c Symbolizing the Removal of Sin All in One Day 3:1-10
c Receiving God's Spirit for Doing His Work 4:1-14
b Purging Evil From Israel 5:1-4
b Removing Wickedness From Israel 5:5-11
a Executing Judgment on the Gentile Nations 6:1-15
There is one other noteworthy pattern found in these visions. Typically each begins with what Zechariah "saw," followed by the question "what are these [or, "What does this mean"]?" and concludes with an explanation by the interpreting angel, "Then the angel of the LORD answered and said. . . ."
In the first vision of Zechariah, he observes a man riding on a red horse among some myrtle trees in a ravine, or deep valley. Accompanying the red horse rider are other riders on red, sorrel, and white horses. These horsemen return after patrolling the earth with the disappointing news that "all the earth is resting quietly" (v. 11). The focal point of this vision is 1:14, a message about the "zeal" of the Lord. The Hebrew word for "zeal," qin'a, is connected with the Arabic root qana'a, meaning" to become very red," as in the red face of a person with burning passion. (The Greeks took their word for this idea from the root "to boil.")
Zeal takes the form of hatred, envy or competition with others when a person is zealous only to advance his own interests; but when zeal is directed towards others it makes one capable of the most noble deeds. When God is spoken of as being "zealous," or "jealous" (Exod. 20:5; 34:14; Deut. 5:9), what is being described is the intensity of His love towards His own, not any kind of hatred, envy, or competition with others. The Lord is described as being a jealous God and a devouring fire (Deut. 4:24; 6:15; 29:18,19; 32:16, 21). Indeed, the fire of God's jealousy will be experienced in all kinds of events, even in the defeat of Israel's enemies.
Grounded in His zeal, and the intensity of His love, this first vision exhibits three mercies God gives as He moves on the international scene towards the climax of history.
A. In Granting the Vision of His Plan for the Future 1:7-8
B. In Granting the Interpretation of the Vision 1:9-12
C. In Granting Three Declarations and Four Comforting Words for the Future 1:13-17.
IN GRANTING THE VISION OF HIS PLAN FOR THE FUTURE (1:7-8): In this vision Zechariah sees two groups of angelic beings. The man riding the red horse is probably the same as the "Angel of the LORD." The "angel who talked with me" is an interpreter that accompanied the prophet (1:8; 2:3; 4:1,5; 5:5; 6:4).
At the center of this vision, and at the center of all of history, is the rider on the red horse, none other than "the angel of the LORD" (v. 11). Some scholars identify the angel of the Lord in the Old Testament as the second person of the Trinity. (In Exodus 23:20-21, God's "name" was "in" this one called the Angel of the Lord. He is the One sent from the Father.) The other riders, said in verse 8 to be riding behind him on "red, sorrel, and white" horses, are only angels. The fact that Zechariah uses a present participle here means that the riders were in the act of riding at the time of the vision.
Christ is said to be "among the myrtle trees" (v. 8). The "myrtle," or hadassah shrub (the Jewish form of the name Esther), was an indigenous shrub that grew all over Israel and was a popular name for Israel. Thus, in this vision the myrtle tree symbolizes Israel.
The rider on the red horse is also located "in the hallow" (v. 8), a glen, ravine, or valley. This may well indicate that the nation of Israel was at the time in a period of deep humiliation. This low time in the nation's history is directly related to the fact that we have now passed into the "times of the Gentiles" (Luke 21:24). That period would last from the time of Nebuchadnezzar's first captivity in 605 B.C. until just before the second corning of Christ.
The variegated coloring of the horses may well indicate that the mission of God would be mixed. "Red" usually points to the judgment of war, and "white" usually points to mercy and peace. "Sorrel" (also translated "speckled," "dappled," "tawny," or a reddish-brown color) suggests a combination and mixture of God's works.
IN GRANTING THE INTERPRETATION OF THE VISION (1:9-12): The prophet asks the same question we would have asked: "What are these?" (v. 9).
The interpreting angel sent from the Lord, who is to be distinguished from the "Angel of the LORD," is called "the angel who talked with me" (v. 9). The interpreting angel answers: "These are the ones whom the LORD has sent to walk to and fro throughout the earth" (v. 10). Their job was to reconnoiter and patrol the events, movements, and happenings on the earth. They went "to and fro," a phrase very similar to that used to describe Satan's activities in Job 1:7 (cf. also for patrolling, Genesis 3:8, God walking in the Garden; Exodus 21:19, the daily work-a-day movements of men; and 2 Samuel 11:2, David's restless pacing on his palace roof one night as he spotted Bathsheba bathing the village below).
The patrol's report was disappointing and disquieting, for the riders declare, "all the earth is resting quietly" (v. 11). This was disappointing because it meant that the great shake-up of the heaven and earth that God had promised in Haggai 2:21-2 had not come about as immediately as some had hoped.
The cry that goes up--from the Angel of the LORD, surprisingly enough--is: "How long will You not have mercy on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah, against which You were angry these seventy years?" (v. 12). Obviously, the return of the exiles from Babylon was not in and of itself regarded as the fulfillment of the prophecy of Jeremiah 25:11 and 29:10. There had to be more to come. And the wait continues to the present moment, even though the State of Israel was reestablished in May, 1948. Yes, even though Jerusalem has been in Israeli hands since the Six-day War in 1967, the fact remains that modern Jews are still scattered all over the world. So the question still demands an answer: "How long will it be before God's promise is finally realized?"
IN GRANTING THREE DECLARATIONS AND FOUR COMFORTING WORDS FOR THE FUTURE (1:13-17): This text sets forth three declarations and four comforting words. The first of the three declarations is: "[God is] zealous for Jerusalem" (v. 14). The covenant God made with the people of Israel will never be revoked; it will be fulfilled, for the Lord made it unconditionally. One day Israel will be brought back to her land, not because she deserves it, but because God will be faithful to His Word.
The second declaration is: "[God is] exceedingly angry with the nations" (v. 15). These Gentile nations are altogether too complacent and self-reliant. Whereas God was but" a little angry" with His people, when God used nations such as Assyria or Babylon to discipline Israel (Isa. 10; Hab. 1-2) these nations "helped--but with evil intent" (v. 15); they used the occasions to try to destroy Israel and remove her from the family of nations. They disciplined Israel beyond what God had intended.
The third declaration, necessarily implicit in a text about God's zeal or jealousy, is that God will judge these nations. God will judge them before His earthly kingdom comes (Joel 3:1ff; Zech. 6:1-8).
These declarations are followed by four "good and comforting words" (v. 13). The first is that Messiah will come again to Jerusalem (v. 16a). The book of Ezekiel describes how the "glory of the LORD" departed from Jerusalem, left the Holy of Holies to go to the porch of the temple, moved out to the eastern gate of the city, and finally, went up the Mount of Olives, where the glory of the Lord went up to heaven and where it will return when our Lord returns the second time (Ezk. 10:18--19; 11:23). By the term "glory," of course, the writer means the presence of God. In the meantime, Zechariah declared that His return would signal His restoration of the people to "mercy" (v. 16a).
The second wonderful word of hope and comfort for God's people is "My house shall be built in [Jerusalem]" (v. 16b). The project of rebuilding the so-called "second temple" in the days of Haggai and Zechariah was only a partial fulfillment of the command to build a temple when our Lord returns to rule and reign in the Millennium. God's glorious promise of a temple--the details and dimensions of which had never before been seen (Ezk. 40-48)--was to be realized far in the future. Zechariah will have more to say about this structure in Zechariah 2 (see also Isa. 2:2-3).
The third comforting word promises that Jerusalem's boundaries would expand (v. 16c). This city, ravaged as it was by the Babylonians in 587 B.C., the Romans in A.D. 70, and many other conflicts since--and still ravaged in our present day--would experience unusual urban renewal and expansion. The surveyor's line would "be stretched out" to measure an enlarged Jerusalem. [Rev. 11:1]
The fourth comforting word is that Jerusalem would once again be the city God had chosen (v. 17). Somewhat like our "Governor's Award" for a model city in a state, the Lord will select Jerusalem once again as His chosen place. The reason God will do this is because "the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable" (Rom. 11:29). Having set His affection once on this city, our Lord will not forget what He has promised, even though He must judge the people of Jerusalem in the interim. The cities of the Promised Land will "spread out," or "overflow" just as the springs of water overflowed into the streets in Proverbs 5:16.
CONCLUSION: Since the life of the Church is found in the olive tree on to which we, the Gentile "wild branches," have been grafted, we cannot be disinterested in what happens to the Jewish nation. We should derive comfort from what comforts Israel.
In the meantime, the Gentile nations are not the sovereign powers they think they are; nor will they remain the owners of all power, wealth, and authority. God alone is sovereign and He will overcome all the nations and all their threats against Jerusalem.
The patience of God wears thin with these nations. While He patiently waits for the planned moment to begin His judgment, neither Israel nor the Church should slip into thinking He will not vindicate His name. He will come and restore all things.
The gospel we preach is the "good news" of salvation, which includes the "gospel of the kingdom" (Acts 20:24-25). Consequently, Gentile believers are brought into the same kingdom as believing Jews, and all recline at the table of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Matt. 8:11-12). In no sense was this kingdom postponed, nor did Jesus teach such when Israel failed to believe in Him. Had that kingdom been postponed, God's predetermined plan to have Christ go to the cross to die for our sins would have been placed in jeopardy.
The Church is a part of Messiah's kingdom (Luke 13:28-29). We still await the full establishment of Messiah's kingdom when our Lord returns in the future the second time. In the meantime, we already have eternal life because we have tasted of the powers of the age to come and His kingdom has begun already within us.
Watching the Nations Punish One Another (Zechariah 1:18-21): The second night vision of Zechariah focuses on the "four horns" and the "four craftsmen." In the previous vision the Lord expressed His anger over what other nations had been doing to His people Israel, but there was no sign that His vindication had begun. Now, God would reveal how He would begin to deal with the other nations. Two forces are revealed in this second vision:
A. The Scatterers 1:18-19
B. The Avengers 1:20-21
THE SCATTERERS (1:18-19): "Horns," the pride and symbol of strength of the animals that sport them, are used here figuratively to represent the nations that plagued Israel. As such, the "horn" is a symbol of strength and virility (Ps. 75:4,5; 102: 10; Amos 6:15).
Because of God's strength, "horn" is a title for God (Ps. 18:2; 2 Sam. 22:3). To "lift up one's horn" was a sign of victory (2 Sam. 2:1), but "to lower one's horn" was a symbol of defeat (Job 16:15). Here, the horn is simply used as a metaphor for the strength of each nation, just as the horn was the pride of the bull.
In his second vision, Zechariah sees "four horns" (v. 18b). The most natural question for him to ask was "What are these?" (v. 19). The answer given by the interpreting angel is: "These are the horns that have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem" (v. 19b). Many, including Jerome and most patristic commentators, have interpreted the four horns to be the Babylonians, Medo-Persians, Greeks and Romans. Rabbi Kimchi has also interpreted them in this way: "These are the four monarchies--and they are the Babylonian monarchy, the Persian monarchy, and the Grecian monarchy, and so the Targum of Jonathan has it instead of the four horns)--the four monarchies." (Kimchi does not identify the fourth empire because it had not yet shown itself to either Daniel or Zechariah.) These four great empires generally mark "the times of the Gentiles" (Luke 21:24). They move from 605 B.C. until the second corning of Christ.
Today the four horns are more commonly identified as the four directions from which opposition comes--a totality of opposition. Either view is acceptable, for ultimately each nation only stands for a successive empire that will finally be manifested in the complete opposition to Israel in the end day.
The order in which Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem are mentioned is somewhat unexpected, since Israel fell first in 722 B.C. The Greek LXX omits the reference to Israel, but it appears in all Hebrew manuscripts and in the partial Greek text of this passage found at Qumran. The prophet merely wanted to indicate it was the whole of the Jewish people scattered in exile, not just Judah.
The repetition of the words "to scatter" (vv. 19,21) and "to lift up" (to lift up one's eyes obediently [v. 18], to fail "to lift up" one's head as an indication of defeat [v. 21a], and "to lift up" one's horn defiantly [v. 21b], is a stylistic device used to emphasize the key ideas of the vision.
THE AVENGERS (1:20-21): The "four craftsmen" (v. 20) could come from any trade, whether carpenters (wood-workers, 2 Sam. 5:11), metallurgists (workers in metal, 1 Sam. 13:19), or masons (workers in stone, Exod. 28:11).
The prophet did not ask about their identity, as he did the four horns; he asked about their function: "What are these coming to do?" (v. 21a). The verb is an active participle in Hebrew, indicating that what they were doing was now in process: the craftsmen were in the process of destroying the four horns. "The craftsmen are coming to terrify [the four horns]" (v. 21c). This vision thus teaches that for every enemy raised up against God's people, God graciously raises up a counteracting power to destroy it. So thorough was God's counteracting move against the four horns that "that one did not lift up his head" (v. 21c; literal translation). God will "cast out" (v. 21c), or, literally, "throw down" in defeat, all who lifted their horn to scatter Israel. Note that in Hebrew "lifting up" horns against the land of Judah is an active participle, indicating that the persecution of the Jews had been continuous, not sporadic.
God's craftsmen seem to move slowly, but they are constantly at work and move relentlessly onward in their work of destroying each other's predecessor. Thus, each horn was vanquished by the succeeding horn, which then acted as the most recent craftsman ordained by God to remove the former power. "In spite of dungeon, fire, and sword," God's truth was still abiding and on course.
CONCLUSION: The second vision demonstrates that God is sovereign over the nations (cf. Dan. 4:17, 35). It also displays His power, authority, and superintendence over all the evils done in the world, particularly as they affect His people Israel.
The vision makes two points for all who hear God's word: first, God will keep His covenant with Israel; second, we are not to be anxious to vindicate ourselves. The apostle Paul reminded us: "Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay: says the Lord" (Rom. 12:19).
Expecting the Glory of God on Earth (Zechariah 2:1-13): In his third vision, the prophet sees a man measuring Jerusalem, a scene that evokes the reference in the first vision, "And a surveyor's line shall be stretched out over Jerusalem" (1:16). The message of the third vision is that the city would have a vast population and would be protected by the Lord himself as He resided within the city.
Two great affirmations are found in the third vision:
A. Our Lord's Return Will be Glorious 2:1-9
B. Our Lord's Future Blessings Will be Glorious 2:10-13
OUR LORD'S RETURN WILL BE GLORIOUS (2:1-9): The controlling thought of this text is found in verse 5, '''For I: says the LORD, 'will be a wall of fire all around her, and I will be the glory in her midst.''' The "I" is emphatic, and, contrary to normal Hebrew practice, the verb "to be" is expressed as incomplete or future action. And to make sure no one misses the point, our Lord adds, as it were, His signature, "says the LORD."
This "wall of fire" reminds us of the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire that accompanied Israel through the wilderness and separated the Egyptians from the Israelites at the Red Sea (Exod. 14:19-24).
The "glory" in her midst recalls the tragic reversal of that presence when the threefold steps of departure of that glory of God abandoned the people of God in Ezekiel's day (Ezk. 9:3; 10:19; 11:23). Not until our Lord returns a second time would His "glory" come back (Ezk. 43:1-7). The "glory" of God points primarily to His presence among men and secondarily to the luminous effects His presence produces. Note that the Angel of the LORD, usually regarded as an appearance of Christ in a pre-incarnate form, had been associated with the cloud of glory earlier in the Old Testament (Exod. 13:21-22).
The "man" (v. 1) with a measuring line in his hand cannot be the interpreting angel, but must be the one the text has previously identified as "The Angel of the LORD" (e.g., 1:12). This is no one else but Christ, the Rider of the red horse in 1:8. That this messianic person is a "man" will be affirmed even more radically in Zechariah 6:12: "Behold, the Man whose name is the BRANCH!" Likewise, in Ezekiel 40:2-3, a "man" surveyed the millennial temple, again a clear reference to Christ.
One message of the measuring line and expansion of the city is that believers should not draw in the kingdom too narrowly. Our Lord has sheep that are not of the fold of Israel that He must win (John 10:16). The expansion of the city does not refer only to a spiritual enlargement of the Kingdom of God, however; God's kingdom will house an actual enlarged city of Jerusalem wherein the Lord himself will reside just as truly as He did during the thirty years of His earthly pilgrimage.
The big news is that, due to a huge increase in population, Jerusalem will be a city without walls (v. 4). The word translated "city" is literally "plains." In Ezekiel 38:11, the same word is used to refer to a land where people dwell in peace without walls, bolts, or gates. Isaiah had taught the same truth: "For your waste and desolate places, and the land of your destruction, will even now be too small for the inhabitants; and those who swallowed you up will be far away. The children you will have, after you have lost the others, will say again in your ears, 'The place is too small for me; give me a place where I may dwell'" (Isa. 49:19-20). It cannot be without significance that Israel has received enormous numbers of immigrants in the past year or two-witness the Ethiopian airlift in the Spring of 1991 and the massive influx of people from the former Soviet Union in 1990 and 1991. Surely this is an important sign for all who take Scripture seriously.
Zechariah writes the remainder of chapter 2 in poetry: verses 6-13 are divided into two equal stanzas (vv. 6-9 and 10-13). Each stanza begins with a command followed by the exhortation "for." Beginning in verse 6 we also see a different speaker and a different audience. Zechariah now speaks, instead of the angel, and he addresses, first, the exiles in Babylon and, then, the people of the Zion whose return will act as a symbol of God's work in the final day of our Lord.
We are startled by the command in verse 6; it literally begins with "Ho! Ho!" or "Hey there! Listen!" Zechariah commands his audience: "Flee from the land of the north" [v. 6]. . . ."Up, Zion! Escape, you who dwell with the daughter of Babylon" (v. 7).
This is the same command Jeremiah had given in Jeremiah 51:6 ("Flee from the midst of Babylon") and in Jeremiah 50:8 ("Move from the midst of Babylon"). Now, if Jeremiah's command had been intended to warn the residents of the exile to flee Babylon before it fell in 539 B.C., why did the prophet and statesman Daniel remain in Babylon the very night Babylon collapsed if, as we know, Daniel knew the prophecy of Jeremiah and regarded it already as Scripture? (Dan. 9:2; cf. Jer. 25:12; 29:10). When Belshazzar called Daniel into the banquet hall in Daniel 5 to interpret the writing on the wall, Daniel should have quickly excused himself and made a beeline out of town if the words "Flee from the midst of Babylon" pertained to that day. But apparently they did not; they referred to an eschatological event in which Babylon, perhaps modern-day Iraq, would be involved in the final events of history before the coming of the Lord.
Verses 6 and 7 appear to be dependent on Isaiah 13-14 and Jeremiah 50-51. Thus, when God would finally deliver Israel, He would render His final judgment on Babylon. That would take place as Israel was being gathered from all over the world and restored to her land (Jer. 50:4-5, 20). It would be a day when the nations of the earth had drunk the cup of wine from Babylon and had gone mad (Jer. 51:6-7). (Could it be that the wine in this case may have been black, (i.e., oi1?) Zechariah commands his audience to flee from Babylon in that future day with assurance that God would protect His city Jerusalem and display His glory (v. 7b).
Mystery of mysteries, Yahweh is Lord, yet He was also "sent" (v. 8). This teaching is the same as that of Isaiah 61:1-2 (emphasis ours): "The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound." That truth is repeated in John 10:30 and 36: "I and My Father are one. The Fathersent [Me]." The Father and Son are one, yet the Father has sent the Son. That is the mystery of the Trinity.
The nation or person that "touches [Israel] touches the apple of His eye" (v. 8). That is what Deuteronomy 32:10 had taught as well: "He kept him [Israel] as the apple of His eye" (d. Ps. 17:8; Provo 7:2,9). Interestingly, although in Hebrew the usual word for "apple" of the eye is 'ison, meaning "pupil (on the eye)," Zechariah uses the word baba, a word that occurs only once in the Hebrew Bible. In this context, where the Judeans have just been told to flee Babylon, baba appears to be a cognate of "Babylon," Hebrew babili, which in the Akkadian logographic writing would be KA.DINGIR.RA.KI, where KA means" gate" and DINGER signals the presence of a deity. It could well be, then, that Zechariah's" gate of the eye" is an ironic pun on the pride of Babylon, which called herself the gateway to god! How dangerous it is for the nations to try to oppose God by picking on the people of Israel--whom God had used as the means of bringing His oracles and messianic line to the world!
OUR LORD'S FUTURE BLESSINGS WILL BE GLORIOUS (2:10-13): Since God is going to enlarge Jerusalem, the people of the city are addressed as the "daughter of Zion " (a term used to refer to the people of Jerusalem in 2:4,5; 8:3 and to the population around Jerusalem in 3:14). The people are urged to "sing and rejoice" (v. 10a). The fact that the Lord will finally be made king in Zion is more than enough cause for breaking loose in jubilant celebration of doxology.
Four beautiful promises are built upon the vision of 2:1-6. Each one tells of what God is going to do when He returns to earth to rule and reign during the Millennium.
The first promise is: "Behold, I am coming and I will dwell in your midst" (v. 10b). The second coming of our Lord is that blessed hope that the believer cherishes. It is also the climax of the oft-repeated tri-partite formula: "I will be your God, you shall be my people and I will dwell in the midst of you." The verb "to dwell" (shakan) is connected with the Shekinah (hence, the verb shakan) glory of God and with the word for the tabernacle (Mishkan; Exod. 25:8).
How sad it is that so many modern interpreters have turned their I backs on the premillennial interpretation of texts such as these. It is I especially sad, since this premillennial coming of Christ was practically the only view taken by the Church for the first four centuries of the Christian era. In modern Christianity, some scholars maintain that this view is held only by cultic groups or groups with an off-beat I brand of theology. But premillennialism's roots and significance go far beyond any of these token criticisms. God will conclude history just as He promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He will bring Israel to back to her land, and then He will personally reside in the land and will be her King and Sovereign.
The second promise is: "Many nations shall be joined to the LORD in that day, and they shall become My people" (v. 11). The term "My people" was generally reserved for Israel, but now it refers to goyim, or "Gentiles," who would be joined, by faith, to Israel to form the new, one people of God. Isaiah 19:25 used the same term to describe converted Egypt; the Egyptians, too, would one day become "My people." This work of joining believing Jew and Gentile into one people would fulfill the second part of the tri-partite formula mentioned in our commentary on verse 10.
The conclusion to verse 11 is almost identical to the conclusion to verse 9: "You will know that the LORD of hosts has sent Me to you." This work of God would be the proof that God was who He said He was.
The third promise is: "The LORD will take possession of Judah as His inheritance in the Holy Land, and will again choose Jerusalem" (v. 12). This is the only time in the Bible where the Promised Land is referred to as the "Holy Land." (This name will, however, appear later in the Apocrypha [Wisdom 12:3; 2 Maccabees 1:7]). God certainly is not finished with the city He chose years ago in 1000 B.C. for the throne of David. It will be God's chosen center of worship and place of adjudication during the messianic rule and reign of Christ on earth during the Millennium.
The fourth promise is that there would be worldwide judgment at the second coming of Christ. "All flesh" will be hushed by His awesome presence (v. 13). God will once more "arouse" (cf. Isaiah 51:9, where the same word is translated "Awake, awake") himself from "His holy habitation." Such stirring would surely indicate that He was about to commence His work of judgment as He had prophesied in His word. He will leave his heavenly temple (Hab. 2:20; Ps. 68:6; Jer. 25:30; Deut. 26:15) and come to earth.
No wonder the earth is instructed to "Be silent!" There would be little more left to do than to catch one's breath and to wait to see what God would do (Hab. 2:20; Zeph. 1:7). Great would be the day of the Lord.
CONCLUSION: Here is the hope, not only of Israel, but of the Church and the nations. As Isaiah cried, "Say to the cities of Judah [and, we add, the world], 'Behold your God!'" (Isa. 40:9d).
What a day that will be:
1. The Lord will return.
2. The Gentiles will come to know the Lord.
3. Jerusalem will be rebuilt and become the new world center.
4. World judgment from God will show right cannot forever be denied. The Lord will be King and truth will be the normal way of life, not the exception.
5. Babylon will be judged and Israel will be restored.
Great will be that day, the day of the Lord!
Symbolizing the Removal of Sin all in One Day (Zechariah 3:1-10): The "good and comfortable words" (1:13) of the first three visions promise not only the overthrow of the Gentile powers (1:18-21), the restoration of the Jewish Diaspora (1:12; 2:4), and the future habitation of Jerusalem (2:4), but also the restoration of spiritual relations between God and His people (2:5, 10, 11). It is the last promise that this vision focuses on.
One of the most famous ink spots in the world is the one on the wall of Wartburg Castle, Germany, where, it is said, Martin Luther had it out with the Devil over the evil one's constant dredging up of Luther's past sins. In a letter to Melanchthon dated May 24, 1521, Luther wrote:
I do see myself insensible and hardened, a slave to sloth, rarely, alas! Praying--unable even to utter a groan for the Church, while my untamed flesh, burns with devouring flame.
The story is that Luther dreamt that Satan appeared to him reading a long scroll with all his many sins from his birth on. As the reading of the list proceeded, Luther's terrors grew until finally he jumped up and cried, "It is all true, Satan, and many more sins I have committed in my life which are known to God only; but write at the bottom of your list, 'the blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanses us from all sin.''' Then grasping the inkwell on his table, he threw it at the Devil, who immediately fled. The memorial of this incident is now the famous spot on the Wartburg Castle.
This fourth vision deals with that same problem of sin. The focal point of the vision is 3:8-9, where Joshua, the High Priest, and his companions are declared to be "a wondrous sign." God promises that He would "remove the iniquity of that land in one day." Four acts of God would complete this promise:
A. Christ Intervenes For Us As Our High Priest 3:1-2
B. Christ Cleanses Us As Our High Priest 3:3-4
C. Christ Challenges Us As Our High Priest 3:5-7
D. Christ Delivers Us As Our High Priest 3:8-10
CHRIST INTERVENES FOR Us As OUR HIGH PRIEST (3:1-2): The problem that this vision wrestles with is: How can a morally defiled and sinful people be made fit to appear in the presence of God, much less to be priests and ministers for the Holy One who inhabits heaven (Exod. 19:6)? There is only one way; it is God who is faithful and who mercifully forgives sin. And backsliding Israel has received God's promise of a restoration.
In Zechariah's vision, the High Priest Joshua (who had returned from the Babylonian exile with Zerubbabel, the governor, and 49,697 other exiles) stands before "the Angel of the LORD" (3:1), whom we have already identified (in our commentary on 1:7-8) as a preincarnate appearance of the second person of the Trinity. Thus it was that Joshua stood before Jesus (v. 1). Joshua was to minister to the Lord, for so the Lord had set apart the tribe of Levi to serve Him, especially the family of Aaron, from whose family Joshua also descended. The High Priest was a mediator for the people.
Unfortunately, Satan is right there as well. He came "to oppose him [Joshua]" (v. Id). As the sworn enemy of Israel and the Church, Satan acts as an adversary and an accuser of the brethren (Job 1:6-10; 2:1-7; Rev. 12:10).
But it is the Lord who pleads Israel's cause and ours: "He is near who justifies Me; who will contend with Me? Let us stand together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near Me. Surely the Lord GOD will help Me; who is he who will condemn Me?" (Isa. 50:8-9a). Paul asked similar questions in Romans 8:33-34: "Who shall bring a charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us."
Thus, the Lord himself will rebuke the Devil (cf. Jude 9, where the archangel Michael says to the Devil, "The Lord rebuke you."). Interestingly, Jude used two other phrases from the prophet Zechariah (thereby showing the close affinity between the two and the way the inspired New Testament writers viewed Zechariah's meaning): "a brand plucked from the fire" (Zech. 3:2) is echoed in Jude 23: "pulling them out of the fire"; and "filthy garments" (Zech. 3:3) is echoed in Jude 23c: "hating even the garment defiled by the flesh."
Our Lord has not cast off His people or forgotten His promise just because Israel's garments have become "filthy," Le., sinful. Paul makes the same point in Romans 11:1: "I say then, has God cast away His people [Israel]? Certainly not!"
God's answer to Satan's accusations is that Israel has already endured quite a bit; she is "a brand plucked from the fire" (v. 2c). (Amos 4:11 had used the same figure of speech: "'And you [Israel] were like a firebrand plucked from the burning; yet you have not returned to Me: says the LORD.") But, despite the series of misfortunes, trials, and judgments that have passed over the Jewish nation, in the mercy of God, He has prevented Israel from being destroyed.
Joshua the High Priest, then, is the representative of his people, but the accusations that are brought by Satan are brought against all the people. But God's mercy exceeds all accusations through all of Israel's afflictions--even the "iron furnace" of Egypt (Deut. 4:20). The Lord has chosen Zion and He will not recant or back down from His promise.
CHRIST CLEANSES US AS OUR HIGH PRIEST (3:3-4): In this vision, Joshua the High Priest stands "clothed with filthy garments" (v. 3) before the Angel of the Lord. That is a picture of us all: "But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags" (Isa. 64:6a). Even more graphic, the High Priest himself is filthy from being dung-spattered!
God's command is: "Take away the filthy garments from him" (v. 4), for the Angel said he would cloth him instead with "rich robes" (v. 4d). What a graphic picture of the free, gracious forgiveness of and removal of sin from all who confess their sin to our Lord! Joshua could no more cleanse himself than we can! Someone had to take the filthy clothes from him! These "rich robes" are the garments of salvation. They are the perfect righteousness of our Lord in which all who believe are attired. Joshua was reinstated and reconsecrated by this act of replacing his garments, and, since he was a "sign:' so were all who believed thereby assured of complete cleansing from God. In fact, the sin of the land would be removed in "one day" (v. 9d). In exchange for the polluted clothes of sin, the Lord would wash away the filth of the daughter of Zion (d. Isa. 4:3-4; Ezk. 36:16-32).
CHRIST CHALLENGES US AS OUR HIGH PRIEST (3:5-7): Our Lord did not stop with clothing Joshua in richly appointed robes; He also "put a clean turban on his head" (v. 5). This turban, or miter, was worn with a plate on the forehead that reminded the wearer of his special task before God: "You shall also make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet: HOLINESS TO THE LORD. . . . So it shall be on Aaron's forehead, that Aaron may bear the iniquity of the . . . children of Israel. . . that they may be accepted before the LORD" (Exod. 28:36, 38).
God's original, and ultimate, plan is that all His people should be "to Me a kingdom of priests" (Exod. 19:6). Again, in Isaiah 61:6, the whole nation is to be called one day to be "the Priests of the Lord." This doctrine of the priesthood of all believers is reinstituted in the New Testament (1 Pet. 2:5; Rev. 1:6).
Joshua is robed in festal attire, like those who attend the marriage feast of the Lamb, the great supper of God. There, too, believers will be arrayed in "fine linen, clean and bright:' and in "wedding garments" (Matt. 22:1-14; Rev. 19:6-18). These robes of righteousness were acquired by faith. They were given not to Joshua alone, but to all who believe.
At this point, our Lord, as the Angel of the Lord, solemnly admonishes Joshua with the identical words that were often found in Deuteronomy, the words dying David gave to Solomon, and the words that were given to Joshua in the conquest: "If you will walk in My ways, and if you will keep My command, then you shall also judge My house..." (v. 7). God's "house" in this context means His people. The same metaphor was used in Numbers 12:7: "My servant Moses [who] is faithful in all My house." That same word is used again in Hebrews 3:2; verse 6 of the same chapter affirms, "Christ as a Son over His own house, whose house we are if we hold fast [italics ours]." Thus, the first reward that Joshua's obedience would yield him is being judge over the "house," or people, of God.
The second reward for Joshua's obedience and faithfulness is that he would "have charge of [God's] courts" (v. 7c). Joshua is promised the privilege of exercising authority over the temple--now in ruins for over seventy years--and its courts.
Joshua's third reward is that "I will give you places to walk among these who stand here" (v. 7d). This promise is more difficult to understand, but it appears to mean free access among the angelic beings, thereby suggesting direct access to God. But that surely is a clumsy way to express that thought, if that is indeed what is meant. The Jewish Targums make this comment on the promise: "In the resurrection of the dead, I will revive you and give you feet walking among the seraphim." The meaning, then, promised those who kept God's charge and lived according to His Word, that they would have the honor of being transplanted to higher service in heaven, after their work on earth was done, to walk among the angels.
Our pardon and justification are free gifts from our Lord, but the honor and privilege of future reward, which Joshua is promised here three times, are directly conditioned on obedience and faithfulness here and now.
CHRIST DELIVERS US AS OUR HIGH PRIEST (3:8-10): Just as Isaiah and his sons were "signs" (Isa. 8:18), so Joshua and his companions were "a wondrous sign" (v. &). Even though Joshua and his companions were imperfect signs of the person and work of Joshua's greater namesake, Jesus, Zechariah's vision was divinely given in order to teach us something about our Lord Jesus. (The Greek name Jesus, incidentally, was the same as the Hebrew name Joshua.)
Whereas the adversary accused Joshua (v. 1), the Lord now reinstates and recommissions him, granting to him the right of direct access to God the Father, even as our Lord grants direct access to God to all believers (Heb. 4:4-16).
Two marvelous titles of our Lord appear in the last part of verse 8: "My Servant" and "the BRANCH." The first, "My Servant," is the most frequently used title for the coming Messiah; it is even more frequently used than "Messiah." A large number of the twenty appearances of the title "Servant" in Isaiah 41-53 refer to Christ.
But it is the use of the title "BRANCH" that is significant. This title appears in the Old Testament in four wonderful promises about the coming Messiah. These prophetic promises give four presentations of the Branch that correspond to the four presentations of Christ in the four gospels. They are:
(1) The Branch as Royal King. "I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness" Ger. 23:5); "Behold your King" (corresponds to the presentation of the Messiah in Matthew).
(2) The Branch as Servant. "My Servant the BRANCH" (Zech. 3:8); "Behold My Servant" (corresponds to the presentation of the Messiah in Mark).
(3) The Branch as Fully Man. "The Man whose name is the BRANCH" (Zech. 6:12); "Behold the Man" (corresponds to the presentation of the Messiah in Luke).
(4) The Branch as Fully God. "The Branch of the LORD" (Isa. 4:2); "Behold the Son of God" (corresponds to the presentation of the Messiah in John).
In addition to the messianic title Branch, this passage uses the messianic title "stone." This abrupt change in metaphor has troubled some interpreters so much that they have rearranged the text (cf. the NEB). But there is absolutely no textual or manuscript evidence for doing so.
The "stone" (v. 9) was set before Joshua. The stone had seven eyes and this inscription: "And I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day" (v. 9d). The stone must be the same one that Isaiah talked about: "Behold I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; whoever believes will not act hastily" (Isa. 28:16). Again, Psalm 118:22 declares, "The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone." This stone is also reminiscent of the "stone" in Daniel 2:44-45.
The number seven, in the reference to the seven eyes, may be used here because seven is the number of completeness, or it may be a deliberate reference to the sevenfold fullness of the one Spirit of Yahweh given to Messiah (Isa. 11:2): the spirit of the LORD, the spirit of wisdom, the spirit of understanding, the spirit of counsel, the spirit of might, the spirit of knowledge, and the spirit of the fear of the LORD.
In this passage about the stone, God promises, as we have said, that He would remove the iniquity of the land in one day (v. 9). Such a cleansing of the land is typical of the spiritual cleansing that Messiah will accomplish on Calvary. This action is the key to the whole fourth vision. The "one day" promised here is "that day" of Zechariah 9-14, i.e., the "day" of Israel's national repentance when her people will look on Him whom they have pierced (Zech. 12:10). The fourth vision concludes in verse 10 with a picture of tranquility and rest, since sin has been pardoned and removed. This domestic scene of everyone sitting under his own vine and fig tree is the epitome of contentment and happiness (cf. 1 Kings 4:25; 2 Kings 18:31; Mic. 4:4).
CONCLUSION: In our new Joshua, Jesus Christ, God has intervened on behalf of our sins. Christ's atoning death has cleansed us from all our sins. Therefore, our forgiven sins are gone, and they are removed as far as the east is from the west.
In one day, God will so move on Israel that she too will confess her sins and be forgiven by God in a single day. All those who are part of God's "house" will want to rejoice in what God will do for Israel, for they will benefit by the same work of grace.
Receiving God's Spirit for Doing His Work (Zechariah 4:1-14): The fifth vision, which along with the fourth forms the apex of the chiastic arrangement of the eight visions, focuses on the completion of the temple. The central message of this vision is that the temple would not be completed by human ingenuity or drive, but by the Spirit of God (4:6). Of special concern is the "lampstand" that, in most cases, stood in the "Holy Place" (for a description of the lampstand in the tabernacle, see Exod. 25:31; and in the temple, see 1 Kings 7:49). The lampstand occupies the central place in this vision and in the eight visions taken as a whole. Three principles are taught in this vision:
A. God's Work Will Be Accomplished by God's Spirit 4:1-6
B. God's Work Must Not Be Despised for Its Small Beginnings 4:7-10
C. God's Work Values People More than Institutions 4:11-14
GOD'S WORK WILL BE ACCOMPLISHED BY GOD'S SPIRIT (4:1-6): The interpreting angel had to arouse Zechariah, for it appears he had fallen into a listless stupor. When the angel asks Zechariah what he saw, he replies: "a lampstand of solid gold with a bowl on top of it, and on the stand seven lamps with seven pipes to the seven lamps" (v. 2).
This lampstand could not be the seven-branched menorah known to us from the famous Titus' Roman arch representation found in later Jewish art. Rather, it was probably a cylindrical pedestal, made out of gold, with a bowl on top. The bowl, or, in some translations, the flared feature on top of the column, had seven lamps, each with seven pinches, or spouts, to hold seven wicks. Similar lamps, or saucer-shaped lamps, dating from 900 B.C., with seven pinches around their lip have been found at Dan and Dothan.
In addition to this seven-fluted lampstand, Zechariah sees "two olive trees. . . one at the right of the bowl and the other at its left" (v. 3). Additional information on these two olive trees appears in verse 12, where the prophet asks: "What are these two olive branches that drip into the receptacles of the two gold pipes from which the golden oil drains?" The word "branches" may also be rendered as "clusters" of fruit on the olive trees. The word "pipes" is only a guess, since this is the only place where it appears in the Old Testament. Nevertheless, the idea of "pipes" or "funnels" works well in this context. Presumably, "the golden oil" is the oil from the crushed olives that is channeled to the lamps in order to keep them burning.
The prophet is again stymied, so he inquires, "What are these, my lord?" (v. 4). The interpreting angel responds by asking, "Do you not know what these are?" (v. 5). Zechariah simply retorts, "No, my lord." This is not the only time that the prophet asks the interpreting angel to explain this vision; three times he has to repeat the question (vv. 4, 11, 12). The prophet needed divine enablement and revelation if he was going to be able to interpret this vision.
Surprisingly enough, the angel does answer his question directly and immediately; he gives Zechariah a word for governor Zerubbabel. It is this: "'Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,' says the LORD of hosts" (v. 6). While the previous vision (which, as we have said, we regard along with this vision as central to the eight night visions) focused on Joshua the High Priest, this one focuses on Zerubbabel the governor.
Verse 6 is the focal point of this vision. Any work this group of returnees from exile were going to do would only be accomplished by the power of the Spirit of God. Relying solely on human resources, human sagacity and human strength, their efforts would be worthless. The community had tried to rebuild the temple by their own strength immediately upon their return from Babylon over sixteen years earlier, but that turned out to be a fiasco (Ezra 3:8-13).
Human effort without the supply of the "oil" of the Holy Spirit would bum itself out. What the golden olive oil was to the seven fluted oil lamps the Spirit of God is to all aspects of any work done in His name; God's work done in God's way will never lack God's prevision and power. Those who resist this principle will learn the hard way that they will be powerless to do God's work.
G. Campbell Morgan reminds us how important divine enablement is:
Not by resources, nor by resoluteness. These may be high, pure, mighty; but in so far as they are human they cannot accomplish the work of God in the world. By might and by power, by resources and resoluteness, we may be able to legislate for [ourselves]. . . . we can do much on the human level; but by these things we cannot shine as lights in the world. . . . We are very far from believing that. If 1 were asked today to give what 1 think to be the reason for the comparative failure of the Church of God in missionary enterprise, 1 would say that we are terribly in danger of imagining that by our own splendid resources and resoluteness we can accomplish the work.
GOD'S WORK MUST NOT BE DESPISED FOR ITS SMALL BEGINNINGS (4:7-10): The application of the principle stated in verse 6 is immediately taken up in verse 7. "Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain!" The "great mountain" must be a metaphorical allusion to some set of obstacles or difficulties that those rebuilding the temple were facing (Ezra 4:1-4; 5:3-5). But the mountain of obstacles would quickly be flattened out in front of God's man Zerubbabel, for the work of rebuilding the temple was now proceeding according to the divine principle announced in verse 6.
Zerubbabel would "bring forth the capstone with shouts of 'Grace, grace to it!'" (v. 7c,d). This must refer to completing the temple, not to laying its foundation, for the foundation had already been laid (Ezra 3:1-10). The "capstone" represents the "topping out" of the project. And the shouts that would accompany this culminating act would be shouts praising God's favor to the people in helping them complete the task, as well as shouts praising the temple's "beauty" and "grace."
Verse 9 reaffirms the fact that verse 8 refers to completing the temple: "The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple; his hands shall also finish it. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent Me to you. "The job was finished during Zerubbabel's days; it did not drag on for centuries as did the construction of some of the great cathedrals of Europe. The fact that the temple was completed in Zerubbabel's time as Zechariah predicted is further evidence that the Lord truly spoke through Zechariah. The clause "Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent Me" repeats the identical promise made in 2:9 and 11.
Yet some may have been tempted to "despise the day of small things" (v. l0a; cf. Hag. 2:3). That would have been tragic, for such a view is a short-sighted evaluation of the significance of completing the temple. It is an unacceptable view because it fails to connect the "small thing[s]" like rebuilding the temple with either the ongoing triumph of the work of God or God's great wrap-up of history in the final day (see our commentary on Haggai 2). Often those who mock small beginnings have a lot of common sense, but, unfortunately, common sense can just as easily restrict or even block out one's vision in matters of faith.
The remainder of verse 10 is much more difficult to interpret. "For these seven rejoice to see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. They are the eyes of the LORD, which scan to and fro throughout the whole earth." The "seven" are best understood to be the "seven lamps" (since the subject is the lampstand with its wicks), rather than the "seven eyes" of the fourth vision (Zech. 3:9), notwithstanding that this vision and the fourth vision are best interpreted together.
Even more difficult is the "plumb line," for it literally means "stone of tin." The word used here is not the usual word for "plumb line" used in the Old Testament. Judging from the verbal root of the same word for "tin," the word used here can be translated "the stone of separation," signifying the distinctive nature of the community of God. The Jerusalem Bible renders the word "the chosen stone," a short step from "the stone of separation." Thus, just as the top stone was set apart in verse 9 for capping off the temple, so here a special stone is set apart for just such a unique place in the capstone of the temple. All could rejoice, therefore, in the laying of this final, special, separate capstone.
The "seven eyes of the LORD" may also be translated as the seven "springs" (since the Hebrew word for "eye" is the same as "spring" or "fountain") of the Lord. But once again, as we did in 3:9, we opt simply for the concept of completeness in the number seven. God's eyes scan the earth, going to and fro in an act of completeness--an act that points to His omniscience. He, the Lord, will see when that final, special, capstone is laid, for He sees all. Therein lies another reason why we must not belittle or demean the day of small beginnings, for one small work or one small worker plus God is always a majority.
GOD'S WORK VALUES PEOPLE MORE THAN INSTITUTIONS (4:11-14): The questioning returns to the identity and meaning of the two olive trees. Zechariah does not become so preoccupied with buildings and things that he cannot keep his value system straight. The vision forces him to notice that the two olive trees on either side of the central lampstand are more than just props.
He is told straightaway in verse 14 that "These are the two anointed ones, who stand beside the Lord of the whole earth." "Anointed ones" are, literally, "sons of oil"; they are set apart as God's representatives in the office of political and priestly leadership. They "stand beside the Lord of the whole earth" (v. 14b) to do His bidding in the service of their Lord.
People are still more important in this vision, and in the program of God, than the temple--home of the lampstand--or any of the rest of the furniture in the building itself. What fueled the lampstand were the two olive trees, Zerubbabel and Joshua. The temple needed the lampstand, and the lampstand needed the fuel of the olive oil. Thus priority must be given in God's work to the humans God uses to fire the instruments in the institutions of God. As Peter C. Craigie remarks:
The Church, as an institution, is never enough; no anonymous organization will by itself transform the world. People are always needed, for through them the life and light of God may flow. And as both Joshua and Zerubbabel had a part to pay, so too the Church depends for its vitality upon both the clergy and the laity."
CONCLUSION: God will accomplish His purposes through His chosen instruments, mortals who are willing to fuel the fires that give light and life to the house and mission of our Lord. Our Lord will accomplish His purposes in spite of mountainous obstacles that tasks such as the rebuilding of the temple pose. Moreover, while God values men and women more than He values institutions, men and women must not think that their work for God in building the institutions is accomplished by their own might and power. Rather, it is done only by His Holy Spirit.
That is why men and women must not negatively judge any work of God based on how it appears to them at present, for any demeaning or belittling of small beginnings is premature and ill-founded. All so-called "small things" are directly linked to God's ongoing triumph and, especially, to His climactic victory in the final day.
Purging the Wicked from Israel (Zechariah 5:1-4): Visions six and seven are twin messages in the chiastic arrangement detailed in our introduction. The sixth vision reveals that the wicked will be purged from Israel, while the seventh demonstrates that wickedness itself will as well be removed from Israel; Zechariah 5:1-4 warns that individual sinners will be judged, while Zechariah 5:5-11 promises that the very principle of evil will be removed from Israel.
Each of Zechariah's last three visions is conversely related to one of the first three. Vision three describes a brand new Jerusalem wherein the Lord dwells, and its corresponding vision, vision six, announces the removal of the wicked from Jerusalem. In vision two Zechariah sees the removal of the horns that had been raised up against Israel by God's craftsmen, while in vision seven evil itself is removed from Israel to the land of Babylon. (We will discuss the relationship of the first and eighth vision in our discussion of the eighth vision.)
The central teaching point of this vision is that the pervasiveness of sin and crime is enough to cancel out the blessing that one would think might come from rebuilding the temple of God. In this respect, this vision is quite similar to the point made by the prophet Haggai when he asks the priests if holiness is as "catchy" or contagious as evil is. It is not, of course. Similarly, one work of obedience does not offset the need for holiness in all aspects of living. In this vision, theft and perjury (Le. using the name of the Lord in vain or for no valid or legitimate purpose) are crimes and offenses against God and neighbor that had to be faced, regardless of the fact that the nation was actively involved in building a house for God. This vision exposes two judgments against the wicked:
A. The Evil of the Wicked Unfurled 5:1-2
B. The Evil of the Wicked Condemned 5:3-4
THE EVIL OF THE WICKED UNFURLED (5:1-2): On the prophet's visionary landscape he views "a flying scroll" (v. 1). This scroll was of unusual proportions, measuring in "its length . . . twenty cubits and its width ten cubits" (v. 2). Since a "cubit" is about eighteen inches, this scroll was about 30 feet x 15 feet. Scrolls, which antedated our modern books, were usually long strips of papyrus or parchment, but this scroll was unusually wide.
This text assigns no significance to these dimensions; many interpreters have noted nevertheless that they are the same as the Holy Place in the tabernacle (Exod. 26:15-28) and the porch of Solomon's temple (1 Kings 6:3): they have inferred that the scroll is given the similar dimensions since judgment must begin at the house of God and with the people of God. It is true that Scripture holds us responsible to make inferences in texts that are not explicit, as the commentator George Bush observes:
If inferences are not binding in the interpretation of divine law, then we would ask for the express command which was violated by Nadab and Abihu in offering strange fire [Lev. 10:1-3J, and which cost them their lives. Any prohibition in set terms on that subject will be sought for in vain. So again, did not our Savior tell the Sadducees that they ought to have inferred that the doctrine of the resurrection was true, from what God said to Moses at the bush?
These interpreters may well be drawing the correct inference from this text: Zechariah may have taken the trouble to describe the odd shape of the scroll when its dimensions would only have had significance for those who remembered that the messages it brought were aimed at the people of the house of God--and that the house shared the same dimensions. Judgment did begin at the house of God!
The fact that the scroll was "flying" likens its messages to some of the advertisements one can see at a seashore, fair or football stadium, where a small aircraft flies overhead trailing a long sign. In the case of the scroll, however, the message was being guided by God. It is almost as if the scroll were on automatic pilot.
THE EVIL OF THE WICKED CONDEMNED (5:3-4): This flying scroll had writing on both sides, just like the one in Ezekiel 2:10. Its messages were words of judgment: "This is the curse that goes out over the face of the whole earth" (v. 3).
Two classes of evildoers were enjoined on the scroll: thieves and perjurers. These two classes of sinners violated injunctions on both tables of the Law of God. Exodus 20:7 warns "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain." Exodus 20:15 warns against sinning against our neighbor: "You shall not steal." Perhaps these two sins represent the whole Law of God on both tables, and the message means that the same people who were now engaged in building the temple of God were violating the whole law of God and needed to turn back to God.
In the "curse" of God (vv. 3,4) rested the warning that had so often been given in Deuteronomy 28-30. Obedience to the commands given by Moses to the people would have resulted in "blessing," but disobedience of any kind would result in "cursing." The word "curse" ('alah) is closely identified with "covenant." In the covenant there was a bonding together of the Lord and His people, but when there are infractions and violations of that covenantal relationship, the punishments are spelled out in God's "curses."
Crime did not pay in Zechariah's time, nor will it ever pay regardless of whether law enforcement agencies and the legal profession handle criminals adequately. Criminals will come under the judgment of God. Apparently, in the community of returned exiles, theft and perjury were two very common abuses of God's Law. How could the people committing theft and perjury expect God's blessing on their lives, even if they were rebuilding the temple?
Both the thief and the perjurer could expect to "be expelled" (v. 3c). They would be "purged away," or removed from the community. So certain was this fact that God advertised it on His flying announcement! The "curse" would" enter the house of the thief," and in the house of the perjurer the curse would "remain in [his] midst" (v. 4). Surely this indicates the severity of the judgment that God would bring against those who violated His covenant. Moreover, the curse would "consume [the houses], with its timber and stones" (v. 4d). Such a consuming judgment from God reminds us of the fire that fell from heaven when the prophet Elijah prayed for God to answer his prayer by fire (1 Kings 18:38). The fire ate up the sacrificed animal, the twelve stones of which the altar was made, and the water-filled trench surrounding the altar. The wicked may not expect to escape the judgment of God.
CONCLUSION: There was great thanksgiving to God for the completion of the temple and the way the people had responded to the call to work.
But the people could not use this as an excuse for tolerating residual wickedness in their midst. God would pursue the unrepentant thief and the one swearing falsely in His name into his very house with His consuming judgments. Further, the pervasiveness of the crimes within the community of returned exiles might cancel out any blessing on that community that might have come from the rebuilding of the temple.
Removing Wickedness from Israel (Zechariah 5:5-11): The seventh vision depicts the removal of wickedness from the land of Judah to Babylon. Sin, symbolized as a woman, since wickedness is a feminine word, is thrust into an ephah, sealed with a lead disc, and carried by two women to the ancient land of Shinar (modern day Babylon/Iraq).
As in vision six, God will move against evil in two dramatic acts. These two acts are:
A. Wickedness Will Be Placed Under Wraps 5:5-8
B. Wickedness Will Be Housed in Babylon 5:9-11
WICKEDNESS WILL BE PLACED UNDER WRAPS (5:5-8): This time the prophet is shown "a basket that is going forth" (v. 6). The weight and measurements of this "basket," or "ephah," like most from that time, are difficult to describe. The ephah held somewhere between 3/8 to 2/3 of a U.S. bushel. By any estimate, it was too small for any woman to fit into. But that fact is not all that significant for apocalyptic literature where it is not necessary for the images, especially those that occur in dreams or visions, to conform in all aspects to reality.
When Zechariah, true to his previous form, asks "What is it?", he is told that "This is Wickedness!" (v. 8). Wickedness stood for everything that was the opposite of righteousness--whether in the ethical, civil or religious realm. This was wickedness personified. (The possible connection between Babylon being the ancient center of mercantile commercialism and its current ascendancy to the center of the economic forces through the oil cartel should not be missed.)
To make the image of the personified wickedness even more vivid, wickedness is depicted as "a woman sitting inside [a] basket" (v. 7). The picture is reminiscent of a kind of genie in a jar. This woman's influence would be capped by the "lead disc" (v. 7). Surely that would be God's concluding act of placing wickedness under wraps.
Wickedness had grown to such proportions that it looked as if iniquity came by the bushel-fulls. But no longer would it prevail; in God's concluding acts of history He would remove the wicked (vision six) and, as this vision shows, wickedness itself.
WICKEDNESS WILL BE HOUSED IN BABYLON (5:9-11): In the second half of this vision, the prophet suddenly sees "two women, coming with the wind in their wings; for they had wings like the wings of a stork" (v. 9bc). The Hebrew word for "stork" is hasida, meaning "faithful one," and is similar to the Hebrew word for "grace," hesed. The faithful one--the stork--may symbolize God's gracious removal of sin and iniquity from His people, just as God had removed the sin of the dung-spattered High Priest Joshua by His "grace" (Zech. 3:4).
The woman in the ephah will be removed to "Shinar," the ancient name for that part of Babylon that contained such cities as Babel (Babylon), Erech, Accad, and Calneh (Gen. 10:10; 11:2; Dan. 1:2). This was the area that from earliest times was opposed to the will of God (Gen. l1:1-9). In this land, which had also served most recently as the place of Judah's captivity, God would "build a house for [wickedness]" (v. 11).
God would give wickedness a home far removed from His people. A home like the ancient ziggurats, exhibited first, perhaps, in the tower of Babel. "When it is ready, the basket will be set there on its base" (v. l1c). Once located on its "base," or "pedestal," wickedness would be worshiped like the idol it was for those who had so consistently resisted God's will.
Given the part that Babylon plays in the eschatological drama of the closing days of this present age, the removal of wickedness to Babylon might have been in preparation for the final conflict between good and evil. Isaiah 13-14, and, especially, Jeremiah 50-51, place a revived Babylonian empire at the center of the final contest between God and "all the nations of the earth" that have been gathered into the Near East for history's finale. But God will triumph, for He has full control over evil. That can be seen in His ability to pack up evil and literally ship it to the center of wickedness where He is able to deal with it conclusively at the end of the age.
CONCLUSION: The only successful way to deal with evil conclusively is to remove it completely. This God will do as He concludes the times of the Gentiles and moves in grace and love to restore His people Israel.
Executing Judgment on the Gentile Nations (Zechariah 6:1-15): The eighth vision corresponds to the first; both visions concern Israel's relation to the Gentile nations.
The first vision concludes with the disappointing news of the equestrian patrol that all the Gentile nations were at rest. In the eighth vision, war chariots are attached to the horses so they can now dispense judgment.
The crowning of Joshua, High Priest, and a second oracle concerning the Branch (6:9-14) form a fitting conclusion to all eight visions and therefore belong to them. The conclusion also contains another reference to building a temple, one which will be built by men from the ends of the earth (v. 15).
God will execute His judgment over the nations of the world in two ways:
A. By Appeasing God's Wrath Against the Gentile Nations 6:1-8
B. By Installing God's Priest-King as Ruler Over All Nations (6:9-15).
BY APPEASING GOD'S WRATH AGAINST THE GENTILE NATIONS (6:1-8): The mission of the horses and chariots supplies the central theme to all eight visions, for they acted as a pair of book-ends at the front and back of the visions. Together, the eight visions say more than that the temple must be rebuilt and the leadership revived; they argue that God's kingdom in the whole world would be renewed and governments that had opposed His kingdom would be totally vanquished.
In the eighth vision "Four chariots" (v. 1) are immediately presented to us, not just the four horses seen in the first vision. These are obviously war chariots, so the intention to dispense judgment is clear from the start of the vision.
Instead of coming out from "a hallow," or "valley" (1:8) as in the first vision, the four chariots come out from "two mountains, . . . mountains of bronze" (v. 1). The interpreting angel never identifies these two mountains, nor does the prophet inquire as to what they stand for. But where the evidence is thin, the suggestions are legion. A favorite identification is Mount Zion and the Mount of Olives. But why would Zechariah say these limestone mountains are made of "bronze?" Another suggestion is that the mountains refer to Babylon, which claimed to be the gateway to the gods. In truth no one can be certain what these mountains stand for; nor is it clear that we must decide. The mountains may simply be part of the apocalyptic drapery that functions only to let us know that the vision has a supernatural, not natural, setting.
The colors of the horses figure prominently in the eighth vision, as they did in the first. "With the first chariot were red horses, with the second chariot black horses, with the third chariot white horses, and with the fourth chariot dappled horses--strong steeds" (vv. 2-3). These horses bear a strong resemblance to the four horsemen of Revelation 6:1-8. Generally it is said that red indicates martyrdom, white stands for victory, black stands for famine, and dappled (or "pale"), a mixture of some white on a darker background, points overall to death. In spite of what some allege, more seems to be implied by the vividness of such detail than the four comers of the globe. This will be clear from our discussion, which follows.
When the prophet asks his usual question, "What are these, my lord?" (v. 4b), the angel replies, "These are four spirits of heaven, who go out from their station before the Lord of all the earth" (v. 5). The verb "to go out" is one of the most frequently used words in the last three visions. It occurs twelve times. The whole world is being prepared for God's concluding acts in the historic process as He restores Israel to her land and assumes the reign of the world.
"The one with the black horses is going to the north country" (v. 6a). If the vision has both a now (fulfilled) and a not-yet (fulfilled) aspect about it, as many prophecies do, then this text points both to ancient Babylon (a country north and east of Jerusalem, approached from a road leading north out of Jerusalem) and to an eschatological country (or countries) where God would prepare for His concluding acts by sending first a time of deep famine--either in modem Iraq (ancient Babylon) or, perhaps, Syria--then a victory over one or more of these countries--with "the white [horses which] are going after [the black ones]" (v. 6b)--in the latter days, i.e., the time connected with the second corning of our Lord.
"The dappled are going toward the south country" (v. 6c), continues the angel. If this pale, or dappled, horse has the same symbolic value as it does in Revelation 6, then death would spread to the south of Judah, perhaps to Egypt, or even to the African continent. One immediately wonders whether the tremendous foothold the disease AIDS has on that continent is a harbinger of things to come!
The angel does not comment on the red team of horses. Some scholars have concluded that the word "after," or "behind" (hence "west" of) the white team, means the "west." However, no manuscripts contain this word, and there are no other textual reasons for making this conclusion; for the same reasons translations like The Jerusalem Bible and the New English Bible that read "The red horses went towards the east country" are not supported by the text. The red team seems to be held in reserve.
God's "strong steeds" were "eager to go, that they might walk to and fro throughout the earth" (v. 7). Unlike the steeds in the first vision which report that "all the earth is resting quietly" (1:11), in this vision the "strong steeds" did their work in their war chariots and "appeased [God's] wrath," or, literally, "they have caused my spirit to rest" ("have given rest to My Spirit"; v. 8). God could now rest because His messengers of wrath had executed what He sent them to do. Cyrus's overthrow of Babylon in 539 B.C. was the first of the promised victories. But victory over Babylon is also a key focus of an even greater victory over the Gentile nations; only when the Babylon of the final day has fallen will God's Spirit find its complete rest and will the full vindication of the persecuted people of Israel be accomplished.
By INSTALLING GOD'S PRIEST-KING AS RULER OVER ALL NATIONS (6:9-15): The climactic concluding act of the eight night visions is the symbolic crowning of Joshua. Rather than portraying this for Zechariah in a vision, the prophet is now placed in the midst of his people, where he receives a delegation of three men from Babylon who come bearing a special gift of "silver and gold" (v. 11).
The three recent arrivals from Babylon had entered "the house of Josiah the son of Zephaniah" (v. 10c). The prophet is told to go to Josiah's house in order to receive this "gift from the captives" (v. 10).
From the gift of silver and gold from those still among the exiled community in Babylon (who had not participated in Zerubbabel's return in 537 B.C., Ezra's return in 458 B.C. or Nehemiah's return in 445 B.C.), Zechariah was to fashion "an elaborate crown, and set it on the head of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest" (v. 11). The most surprising news here is that the high priest is given a dual role of priest and king! The word "crown" in Hebrew is actually the plural "crowns" and may well point to the double-ringed priestly and royal tiara, thus pointing to the Messiah who was to come as both priest and king.
The coronation ceremony of the high priest (and not of the Davidic governor, Zerubbabel) introduces five messianic promises that are of great significance for all of biblical revelation.
1. "Behold, the Man whose name is the BRANCH" (v. 12b) promises that a Davidic king would rule in the coming new age (see our comments on the title "Branch" in Zech. 3:8; cf. Jer. 23:3-5; 33:14-26; Isa. 4:2).
2. "From His place He shall branch out" (v. 12c). Messiah, though He came out of dry and parched ground (Isa. 53:2), would be elevated and prosper in accordance with His very own nature-He would, as the BRANCH, branch out! (cf. 2 Sam. 23:1; Ps. 89:19).
3. "And He shall build the temple of the LORD" (v. 12d). While Zerubbabel the governor, under the prompting of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, built the so-called second temple in 515 B.C., Messiah himself would build a new temple in that coming new age (Isa. 2:2-4; Ezk. 40-42; Mic. 4:1-5; Hag. 2:7-9). Not only would Messiah be in charge of the building of this new temple, but "He shall bear the glory" (v. 13b). Bearing "glory," or "honor," signifies all the majesty and splendor that a royal position affords (d. Ps. 96:6). There would be nothing "wimpish," or indecisive about the Messiah's exercise of royal authority.
4. "And [He] shall sit and rule on His throne" (v. 13c). God had long ago promised that the scion of David would sit on the throne of his family and that that throne would endure forever, unlike all other mortal empires (2 Sam. 7:12-16). Though some Davidic kings would not personally participate in the present spiritual benefits of this line, they would be compelled to pass on the lineal benefits of God's gracious gift to David until the Messiah himself came (cf. Luke 1:32-33). All power and all authority in heaven and earth belong to the Messiah, who would one day sit on David's throne.
5. "So He shall be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both" (v. 13d, e). This is the greatest Old Testament passage on the fact that the coming Messiah will be both a Davidic king and a Priest (cf. Heb. 7). So amazing is this prediction that it has troubled many a commentator. Was it likely that a "priest" would "sit upon His throne?" The Greek Septuagint translation attempts to soften this prediction by substituting" at His right hand" for" on His throne." But as we know from the royal Psalms (e.g., Ps. 110:4), the Anointed One would exercise an everlasting priesthood in addition to His royal and prophetic offices. Thus, Zechariah daringly combines the priestly and kingly offices into one person, "the Branch." Only the Lord himself could bring "peace" to this earth by dealing with the iniquity of the earth in one day (3:8-9). Jesus, our Savior, will once again deal with sin decisively and remove the sin of Judah, all in one day. Further, in this one person of the coming Branch, all tensions between the offices of religious and political leadership would be resolved.
The crown of verse 11 would be stored 'jar a memorial in the temple of the LORD" (v. 14), both as a reminder of the gift from the captives in Babylon and as a testimony to the coming union of the priest and king in the one office of Messiah. There that crown would stay "Until He comes whose right it is" (Ezk. 21:27; d. Gen. 49:10--"Until Shiloh comes"). In this passage, which has already had more than its share of surprises, we are further startled by the words in verse 15: "Even those who are far away shall come and build the temple of the LORD. Then you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent Me to you. And this shall come to pass if you diligently obey the voice of the LORD your God." This verse does not refer, of course, to Zerubbabel's temple, but to the millennial temple that Isaiah (2:1-4), Micah (4:1-4), and Ezekiel (40-48) spoke of. Like the Jews from Babylon who brought gifts of silver and gold to make the double crown, "those from afar" (by New Testament times a subtle circumlocution for Gentiles; e.g., Acts 2:39; Eph. 2:13) would pitch in with their gifts and labor to construct the millennial temple. These "princely gifts coming from the far-off Babylon were but a harbinger and precursor of the wealth of the nations that would pour into Jerusalem when Messiah the Branch was received as King of kings and Lord of lords."
The eight visions, and the first main block of the book of Zechariah, conclude with a warning, from Deuteronomy 28:1, that God's blessings were promised to those who walked in obedience.
CONCLUSION: The eight visions surely indicate that God was going to do more than help the newly-returned exiles now in Jerusalem to complete the building of the temple. This work would be connected to, but exceeded by, what the Messiah was going to do in the final day. Not only would a new temple be built, but Messiah, as the unifier of the priestly and kingly offices, would remove the guilt of iniquity in one day, restore the nation of Israel back to her land, subdue all the nations that had for so long harassed Israel, and sit on His throne over the whole world as undisputed king of all the nations.
From Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., The Communicator's Commentary: Micah-Malachi, Word Books, Dallas, 1992.
On line Commentary on Zechariah by Eugene H. Merrill