Zechariah's Eight Visions for Israel

by Clarence Wagner

Zechariah is one of my favorite prophets. Perhaps it is because he talks so much about God's love for His people and His land of Israel, which is also one of my favorite topics. God's passion for Israel as expressed by Zechariah is not a sappy kind of infatuation. Rather, it is a more mature love that displays God's deep and abiding commitment to love, defend and bless Israel, despite her flaws, if only she would renew her love and commitment to Him. In Zechariah 1:3, God pleads to Israel, "This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'Return to Me,' declares the Lord Almighty, 'and I will return to you.'" Zechariah's message is very messianic and future-looking, and reveals much about the end times in which we are living. Scholars list 41 citations or allusions to Zechariah's prophecies in the New Testament (Nestle, pp. 670-1), indicating that its message goes far beyond the immediate time in which it was written. Looking at the eight visions together, you can see it is God's message to restore Israel and the nations to their right relationship to one another, and to Him as the God of the world.

The Setting

The prophet Zechariah was active towards the end of the 6th century BC, prophesying in Jerusalem after the return from the Babylonian Exile. He was a Levite born in Babylon (Neh. 12:1, 16), and he was both a prophet and a priest. His name means, "Yahweh remembers." He was a contemporary of Haggai the prophet, Zerubbabel the governor, and Joshua the high priest (Ezra 5:1-2; Zech. 3:1; 4:6; 6:11). As a young man, he returned to Jerusalem from Babylon with the first returnees, a smallish contingent of 50,000 souls. Let's look at a bit of history to put Zechariah's message into context.

Because of Israel's rebellion against the ways of God (Zech. 1:2-6), not only did the Assyrians exile the northern kingdom in 722 BC, but also the Babylonians took the southern kingdom of Judah captive in 586 BC (Zech. 1:2-6). This second exile ended when the Babylonian Empire fell to the Persian Empire (539 BC), and Cyrus the Great decreed that the Jews could return to Jerusalem to rebuild their Temple (Ezra 1:2-4). Shortly after their return, Levitical sacrifices were reinstituted on a rebuilt altar of burnt offering (Ezra 3:1-6), and in the second year of the return, the foundation of the temple was laid (Ezra 3:8-13; 5:16). However, because of external opposition and internal depression, the building of the Temple was halted for about 16 more years. It was at this time (520 BC) that Haggai appeared and preached four sermons in four months encouraging the Jews to rebuild, and then he disappeared from the scene (Ezra 5:1-2). Two months after Haggai delivered his first sermon, Zechariah began his prophetic ministry (cf. Hag. 1:1 and Zech. 1:1). He encouraged the people to spiritual renewal and motivated them to rebuild the Temple by revealing to them God's plans for Israel's future. With this encouragement, the Temple reconstruction was completed in 515 BC, five years later.

Zechariah opens his book with an exhortation for Israel to repent quickly so that they could be in the position to receive God's blessing. God confirmed that He was very angry with the forefathers of Israel who did not hearken to the words of the prophets, who were sent to call them to repentance. However, even though God used Gentile nations to come up against Israel in judgment, He was even angrier with them because they went too far. At this point, Zechariah received eight prophetic visions for Israel, which all follow the same pattern, i.e., a) introductory words, b) a description of the things seen, c) a question by Zechariah to the angel for the meaning, and d) the explanation by the angel (Baldwin, pp. 92-3).

Let us look at each of these eight visions and see for ourselves what God plans for Israel. Please read each passage indicated with each vision along with this Teaching Letter to get the most complete picture and interpretation.

1. The Man Among the Myrtle Trees (Zechariah 1:7-17)
Meaning: God's anger against the nations and blessing on restored Israel.

In this vision, there was a man riding a red horse, standing in a grove of myrtle trees in a ravine. Behind him were red, brown and white horses. The angel of the Lord explained that these horses were sent throughout the earth, and found the world at rest and peace. But, Israel was not at rest and peace. In fact, it had been exiled for 70 years and Jerusalem was in ruins. Then God lamented over His beloved people and the land of Israel. He declares, "I am very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion, but I am very angry with the nations that feel secure. I was only a little angry, but they added to the calamity. Therefore, this is what the Lord says, 'I will return to Jerusalem with mercy, and there My house will be rebuilt. My towns will again overflow with prosperity, and the Lord will again comfort Zion and choose Jerusalem'" (Zech. 1:14b-15,17).

The message of this vision is that God was angry at the nations of the world, which spoiled Israel, and that He would bless restored Israel again, showing His faithfulness. Isaiah had already prophesied something similar, "I became angry with My people and desecrated My inheritance; I gave them into your hand, and you showed them no mercy, even on the aged, you laid a very heavy yoke Disaster will come upon you, and you will not know how to conjure it away. A calamity will fall upon you that you cannot ward off with a ransom; a catastrophe you cannot foresee will suddenly come upon you" (Isa. 47:6,11). The man standing at attention with his red horse seems to be awaiting a report of his reconnaissance patrol. Their report that the world was at peace could be a double reference. There was the appearance of peace in Zechariah's day, because of the hegemony of Darius and Persian rule, somewhat like the Pax Romanus, during the later period of Rome. However, this was not good news for Israel, since that placed them under Gentile domination. However, the reference to the report from "the whole world" indicates a future prophetic time when everyone except Israel is seemingly at peace in their borders, while Israel is not - somewhat like today.

The Jewish Sages in the Aggadah (Sanhedrin 93a), say that the man with the red horse "refers only to the Holy One, blessed be He, as it is said 'The Lord is a man of war; the Lord is His Name'" (Ex. 15:3). Rashi says that the red color shows He will mete out divine retribution on the nations for spoiling Israel; and the myrtle trees represent righteous men. Rabbi Redak and his father, Mezudath David, suggested that the horses represented Babylon (red and already subdued), Media-Persia (black and brown), and Greece (white). As with Babylon, each would have a period of dominance over Israel, but would then be destroyed by the hand of the Lord on behalf of Israel.

This is a recurring theme throughout Scripture, since the nations repeatedly come against Israel and God goes to her defense. Remember what the Lord said to Abram in Genesis 12:1-3: "The Lord said to Abram, Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all people on earth will be blessed through you." God had and has a central role for Israel and the Jewish people in His redemptive plan for man. Anyone who assists in this calling receives a blessing from God, and anyone who tries to thwart God's plan through Israel will be cursed. While we Christians see Yeshua (Jesus) as the fulfillment of this prophecy that brought redemption to the world, the story is not yet over. Christians see Yeshua coming back again, and where does He come to? He comes to Jerusalem, in Israel, and to His people regathered from the four corners of the earth (Isa. 11:11-12). God is still protecting His nation Israel and the Jewish people for He made a promise and He is keeping it.

2. The Four Horns and the Four Craftsmen (Zechariah 1:18-21)
Meaning: God's judgment on the nations that afflict Israel.

In this vision, Zechariah saw four horns and four craftsmen. When asked, the angel was clear in the interpretation of these symbols: "These are the horns that scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalembut the craftsmen have come to terrify them and cast out these horns of the nations who lifted up their horns against the land of Judah to scatter its people" (Zech. 1:18b, 21).

In prophecy, a horn when used symbolically indicates invincible strength (cf. Micah 4:13) or often a Gentile king who represents his kingdom (Dan. 7:24; Rev. 12:3). (Walvoord, Zuck, p. 1551). These clearly represent nations, as it says so, and many scholars compare these horns with the four great and powerful empires that came against Israel (Babylon, Media-Persia, Greece and Rome). Although Babylon had been subdued, the vision was truly prophetic because the other three empires were yet to inflict their oppression upon Israel and receive judgment for it. Other scholars see four as the number for completeness, indicating the totality of those from the four corners of the earth who have come to destroy Israel at different times in history.

The Hebrew word for craftsmen used here indicates workmen skilled in wood, stone or metal. Since it is not mentioned which material the horns were made of that would be dismantled, this makes sense. But who are they? Interestingly, if the four horns are Babylon, Media-Persia, Greece and Rome, then the craftsmen would be the succeeding power who destroyed the former. Media-Persia destroyed Babylon, Greece destroyed Media-Persia, Rome destroyed Greece, and in the end, God's Messianic Kingdom will destroy Rome. In any case, the prophecy shows that God raises up powers to destroy those who come against His land and people, Israel. The Hebrew word for the "casting out" of these nations who came against Israel (v. 21) means "to cast them away" from their place, "to break" the kingdoms of the people that bore arms against Israel, and "to exile" them!

Jewish sources have a very interesting interpretation of who the four craftsmen are. Rashi explains that they are: Messiah, son of David, and Messiah, the son of Joseph because they will rebuild the Temple; Elijah, because he was a stoneworker, having built the altar on Mt. Carmel; and Melchizedek (Shem, son of Noah), as he is known as a craftsman in Isaiah 41:7, because he helped build the ark. According to the Rabbis, this verse belongs to a future Messianic time. Today, rabbis in Israel say we are now entering that era.

3. The Surveyor with a Measuring Line (Zechariah 2:1-12)
Meaning: God's future blessing on restored Israel.

In this vision, Zechariah saw a man with a measuring line go and measure Jerusalem to find out how long it is. An angel came up and told the angel talking to Zechariah, "Run, tell that young man, 'Jerusalem will be a city without walls because of the great number of men and livestock in it. And I myself will be a wall of fire around it,' declares the Lord, 'and I will be its glory within'" (Zech. 2:4-5).

This is an incredibly prophetic statement because Zechariah was seeing his visions and giving his messages to the returning exiles of Israel who were in the process of building a wall around Jerusalem. The vision was showing that there would be a Messianic day when Jerusalem would grow to vast proportions and not need a wall because of God's protection. Never has this vision been fulfilled, except in the past 100 years. There are other things that God said in this passage that shows that the prophetic day in which this unwalled Jerusalem would exist is what we are seeing today. Let's read what He says:

As for the inhabitants of this future unwalled city, who are they? God spoke and said, "'Come! Come! Flee from the land of the north,' declares the Lord, 'for I have scattered you to the four winds of heaven,' declares the Lord" (Zech. 2:6). It is interesting that the exiles of Israel are being called from the north and the four winds, indicating an even greater exile in the future, because in Zechariah's day, the exiles were only in Babylon. This verse is a confirmation of Isaiah 11:11-12, where he says, "In that day, the Lord will reach out His hand a second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of His people He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; He will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth." Notice Isaiah is talking about a second ingathering, the first being the one Zechariah, Haggai, Ezra and Nehemiah were experiencing. Today, we see Jews coming from the land of the north and from the four corners of the earth. Jews have immigrated to Israel from 102 nations in our lifetime.

Again in this vision, God speaks of His anger at the nations who exiled and plundered Israel. I believe this refers not only to Assyria and Babylon, but to every nation who has aligned itself against Israel since then. Remember, in Genesis 12:2-3, God says, "I will bless those who bless you, and curse him who curses you, for in you will all the nations of the world be blessed." God has a calling on Israel to fulfill their role in the redemption of the world, not only thousands of years ago, but today. Therefore, He is not happy with those nations who try and thwart His plans (see Zech. 12:2-3,10). Listen to what He says in this vision of the Jewish people and those who come against them: "For whoever touches you touches the apple of His eye ­ I will surely raise My hand against them so that their slaves will plunder them" (Zech. 2:8-9). Jewish Sages interpret this verse to mean that just as it is easy to injure someone by touching or poking the pupil of one's eye (a most sensitive part of the body), so too God is injured when His people Israel are harmed in even the slightest manner and thus receive His divine retribution. They are warned, so they have no excuse.

God desires to live in the midst of His people once they return, and see other nations become part of the redemptive plan. Listen to what the Lord says, "'Shout and be glad, O Daughter of Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,' declares the Lord. 'Many nations will be joined with the Lord in that day and will become My people. I will live among you and you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent Me to you.'" (Zech. 2:10-11). Prophetically, when you see the terms, "O Daughter of" and "in that day," both used extensively in the book of Zechariah, these are markers to indicate a time in the future. Jewish sources see these verses as being for Messianic times since the nations did not come to help in Zechariah's day. However, today, many have joined in the rebuilding of Zion.

4. The Cleansing and Crowning of Joshua, the High Priest (Zechariah 3)
Meaning: Israel's future cleansing from sin and reinstatement as a priestly nation.

The first three visions pictured Israel's external deliverance from Captivity, her expansion, and the material prosperity of the land (Walvoord, Zuck, p. 1553). However, in the fourth, God is focusing on the internal state of Israel, which is in need of cleansing from sin and reinstatement as a priestly nation and a light to the world.This vision is a bit different from the others in that there are no questions about it from Zechariah, or explanations by the angel. The characters are identifiable and used symbolically. We see Joshua, the son of Johozadak, the high priest who returned with Zerubbabel from Babylon, who is representing the nation of Israel; the Angel of the Lord; Satan, the accuser; the attending angels; and Zechariah, who becomes a vocal participant in the vision.

In this vision, Satan is accusing Joshua (Israel), and God rebukes him, not because the accusations are not true, but because of God's gracious love for and choice of His people Israel. The Angel of the Lord says, "The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you!" (v.2). Then God commands the angels: "Take off his filthy clothes See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you Put a clean turban on his head" (vv. 3-5). Joshua (Israel) is seen in filthy clothes because of her sin, but the angel commands the attending angels to take them off of Joshua, representing God's forgiveness and acquittal. Jewish sources (Rabbi Ibn Ezra) say that God was willing to forgive Israel and remove the punishment, pain and shame of her iniquity. Then, the turban is a symbol of joy and reinstatement as a priestly nation (cf. Ex. 19:6).

Once forgiven and cleansed by the Lord, the angel had instructions for Joshua (Israel) in order to retain this new state of being: "If you will walk in My ways and keep My requirements, then you will govern My house and have charge of My courts, and I will give you a place among these standing here" (v.7). If Israel remained in this cleansed, priestly state, God was promising her the privilege of service in the Temple before Him, guarding it from idolatry and other religious defilement, and access to the very presence of God like the angels standing around Him.

God then confirms that this vision was symbolic of "things to come" for Israel at a future time when Messiah would come. God says, "I am going to bring My servant, the Branch the Stoneand I will remove the sin of the land in a single day" (vv. 8-9). The Branch is the promise of Messiah reinstating the throne of David (cf. Amos 9:11-12; Acts 15:16-17). The Stone, this is Messiah's role as a judge against Gentile nations who still defy Him. Then, there is the promise of peace and prosperity: "In that day, each of you will invite his neighbor to sit under his vine and fig tree (a biblical phrase that indicates peace and prosperity)" (v. 10).

5. The Gold Lampstand and the Two Olive Trees (Zechariah 4)
Meaning: Israel as the light to the nations under Messiah, the King-Priest.

In this vision, Zechariah saw a gold lampstand with a bowl of oil at the top, from which seven channels continually supplied the seven lights on the lampstand. Then, there were two olive trees standing on each side of the lampstand with two gold pipes that continually supplied golden oil to the bowl.

Zechariah asked the meaning of the lampstand with seven lights, and was told, "These seven are the eyes of the Lord, which range throughout the earth" (v. 10b). And of the olive trees, "These are the two who are anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth" (v. 14). The whole vision is connected to Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah, and the rebuilding of the Temple. The angel says that he would finish the Temple (v. 9) through the abundant supply of the Spirit of God, and then everyone would know that God's hand was in it. Thus, the oil for the lamp is associated with the Holy Spirit. Jewish sources say that God would shed His light on Israel, in contrast to their present darkness, and this would enable God's plans to be fulfilled.

Military might and human manpower could not accomplish this without God's Spirit and His light. It is in this passage where we get God's prescription on how to get things done, "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit,' says the Lord Almighty" (v.6). It is suggested by scholars that the "two" branches of the olive tree refers to Joshua and Zerubbabel, as priest and king, which represents the role of the Messiah who is Priest and King of Israel, supplying light to the nation.

6. The Flying Scroll (Zechariah 5:1-4)
Meaning: The severity and totality of divine judgment on sin in Israel.

The last three visions have to do with the administration of judgment on sin in Israel, and on the Gentile nations who have not responded to the God of Israel.In the sixth vision, Zechariah saw a flying scroll, 30 feet long and 15 feet wide (9.0 x 4.5 meters). Interestingly, it is the exact dimensions of the tabernacle, perhaps indicating that the message on it was in harmony with God's presence in the midst of Israel. The scroll was not rolled up, but flying open so that both sides could be read.

The angel explained to him what it meant: "This is the curse that is going out over the whole land; for according to what it says on one side, every thief will be banished, and according to what it says on the other, everyone who swears falsely will be banished. ... It will enter the house of the thief and the house of him who swears falsely by My Name. It will remain in his house and destroy it" (Zech. 5:3-4).This vision is a call to righteousness in Israel, and the scroll represents the Word and Law of the Lord that judges the sinful. God desires that His people and His land, the place of His past and future habitation, be holy. It has been suggested that the fullness of this vision can only be accomplished when the Messiah comes, for only then can divine judgment on sin be so rapid and complete.

7. The Woman in a Basket (Zechariah 5:5-11)
Meaning: The removal of national Israel's sin or rebellion against God.

In this vision, Zechariah saw an ephah, which is a measuring basket for grain and other household commodities. The basket represented "the iniquity of the people throughout the land." (v. 6). When the lid was lifted, inside the basket sat a woman. The angel said that the woman represented wickedness, and he pushed the wickedness back into the basket and shut the lid (v. 8). This is not to suggest that women are wicked. Rather, the Hebrew word for wickedness is in the feminine form, and the "woman" was wickedness personified. Then, Zechariah saw two women with the wind in their wings like a stork, and they lifted the basket up into the air between heaven and earth.

When Zechariah asked where the basket was being taken, he was told: "To the country of Babylonia to build a house for it" (Zech. 5:11). Babylon is the place of ancient and future idolatry and rebellion against God, so an apt location for the removal of idolatry from Israel. Putting wickedness and idolatry back in Babylon also sets the stage for her final judgment (Rev. 17-18).

8. Four Chariots (Zechariah 6:1-8)
Meaning: Divine judgment on Gentile nations.

Then Zechariah saw four chariots coming out from between two bronze mountains. In this instance, the bronze mountains could symbolize the righteous, divine judgment of God against sin (Rev. 1:15; 2:18) meted out by chariots of war going out into the world. The first chariot had red horses, the second black, the third white, and the fourth dappled ­ all of them powerful. It has been suggested that the colors represent: red = war and bloodshed, black = death, white = triumph, and dappled = pestilence.

The angel told him that: "These are the four spirits of heaven, going out from standing in the presence of the Lord of the whole world. The one with the black horses is going toward the north country, the one with the white horse towards the west, and the one with the dappled horses toward the south" (Zech. 6:5-6). They were sent throughout the world. The four spirits of heaven may refer to angels of divine judgment or to the power of God to accomplish His judicial purpose. The phrase, "the Lord of the whole world," connotes a Messianic phrase when Messiah will exact universal rule from Zion.

At the conclusion of these eight visions, God was satisfied. He instructed Zechariah to symbolically crown Joshua, the High Priest, with a crown made of silver and gold (vv. 6:9-11). Joshua, wearing the crown, would symbolize the Messiah to come, "Tell him this is what the Lord Almighty says: 'Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the Lord." Interestingly, the name Joshua and Yeshua are often used interchangeably in the Bible. This is a picture of the future Third Temple built by Messiah. The crowning has significance pointing forward to the Messiah as King-Priest, like Melchizedek centuries earlier. The high priest Joshua had little to do with the actual building of the second temple, which was the work of Zerubbabel.

Therefore, the temple to be built by Joshua in this passage is prophetic and relates to a future Temple of Messiah, as confirmed by this description: "It is He who will build the Temple of the Lord, and He will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on His throne. And He will be a priest on His throne. And there will be harmony between the two" (v. 13). The last phase, of there being "harmony between the two," refers to the office of Messiah as Priest-King. A Levitical priest could never become a king and sit on the throne.

What Does This Mean to Us?

The rest of the book of Zechariah contains more promises of forgiveness for Israel, blessings of restoration of the land and people from exile, and judgment on the nations who come against God's eternal plans and promises.Of the people of Israel, God called them to "administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other" (Zech. 7:9-10).

Of the land of Israel, God cries out: "I am very jealous for Zion; I am burning with jealousy for her I will return to Zion and dwell in Jerusalem I will save My people from the countries of the east and the west. I will bring them back to live in Jerusalem; they will be My people, and I will be faithful and righteous to them as their God" (Zech. 8:2,3,8). Of the people of the nations, God says, "In those days, ten men from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the edge of his robe and say, 'Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you'" (Zech. 8:23).

Of the choice the nations must make: "I am going to make Jerusalem a cup that sends all the surrounding people reeling. Judah will be besieged as well as Jerusalem. On that day, when all the nations of the earth are gathered against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all nations. All who try to move it will injure themselves On that day, I will set out to destroy all the nations that attack Jerusalem" (Zech. 12:2-3,9).

Of the Jewish people, He says: "And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on Me, the one they have pierced, and mourn for Him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for Him as one grieves for a firstborn son On that day, a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity" (Zech. 12:10; 13:1).

Of the Messiah, "On that day, His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south. Then, the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord Almighty, and to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles" (Zech. 14:4,16)."In that dayin that day." This book is a most prophetic book, which says much about Israel in a future day when the Jewish people will return from exile and restore the land to its former glory. Messiah will come and establish Himself in Jerusalem where He will rule and reign in justice over the whole world from Jerusalem.

This is that day, and we can be excited that we can be a part of prophecy, not only witnessing God's plan unfolding, but participating in prophecy through the projects and programs of Bridges for Peace and other Christian Zionist organizations. As we say at Bridges for Peace, "Don't just read about Bible prophecy when you can be a part of it." Get involved. Pray. Give. And, participate. Psalm 102:13 says it all: "The time to favor Zion is now!"

Shalom from Jerusalem Clarence H Wagner, Jr.
International Director

BIBLIOGRAPHY 1) Joyce G. Baldwin. Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi: an Introduction and Commentary. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Christian Press, 1972). 2) Eberhard Nestle and Jurk Aland, eds., Novum Testamentum Graece. (New York: American Bible Society, 1950). 3) The New International Study Bible, (Grand Rapids, MI: The Zondervan Corporation, 1985). 4) The New Scofield Reference Bible, Authorized King James Version, (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1967). 5) A. J. Rosenberg, The Book of the Twelve Prophets ­ Vol. Two, (New York: The Judaica Press, Inc., 1992). 6) R. Vincent Taylor, Forgiveness and Reconciliation, (1952). 7) Eds. C. Roth and G. Wigoder, Encyclopedia Judaica, (Jerusalem, Israel: Keter Publishing House, Ltd., 1972). 8) John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary ­ Old Testament, (USA: Scripture Press Publications, 1985), 9) The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976). Teaching Letters

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