Night Visions - Zechariah 1 and 2
In this month's installment, we begin our study of the Book of Zechariah. What the Book of Revelation is to the New Testament, Zechariah is to the Old Testament. Visions, symbols, and prophecies abound in this book. Zechariah talks more about Christ than any other OT book except Isaiah. Zechariah is also concerned about Israel and the end times. Zechariah's book is filled with great portent, and we will discuss how Zechariah's ministry fits in with that of Haggai.
Zechariah was a priest (Neh. 12:16), and was a prophet-priest in the tradition of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Zechariah was a contemporary of Haggai. They ministered at the same time. If you pay attention to the dates mentioned in the two books, you will see that Zechariah's ministry begins in between Haggai 2:9,10. Together the two helped in the construction of the second temple. Was their ministry successful? Read Ezra 6:14.
Haggai's ministry was to spur the people to action, but also to encourage the people. It shouldn't be surprising that since Zechariah ministered at the same time, the purpose of his ministry was similar. However, Zechariah went about his ministry of encouragement in a different way. Zechariah brought his message of hope through prophecy, by showing the people of Israel the awesome things that were to come, and by bringing them the wondrous promise of the coming Messiah.
The first six chapters of Zechariah describe a series of 8 visions Zechariah had on the same night. We will look at the first three visions this month. As we study this book, remember that like Haggai, Zechariah's goals were to bring about spiritual revival, to inspire the people to finish the Temple, and to comfort and console the people. As we study these prophecies and how they help accomplish Zechariah's goals, don't be afraid to ask God what they mean. Zechariah didn't understand everything he saw either (Zech. 1:9).
These eight visions are bracketed by an opening paragraph (1:1-6) and a closing paragraph (6:9-15). Read those paragraphs, and see if you can detect a common theme. There is one. The message is 'Turn back to the Lord and obey him!'. This message is a clue to the meaning of the 8 visions. Keep that in mind as we look at the symbols in these prophecies, and what they might mean.
The first vision is described in 1:7-17. What are the prominent symbols? We see a man upon a red horse, riding among myrtle trees. Let's begin by asking some questions. Who is the man? What do the red, brown and white horses symbolize? What do the myrtle trees mean? Zechariah did not know the answers to these questions. He asked the angel who accompanied Zechariah during these visions (1:9).
Verses 11 and 12 tell us the man on the red horse is the angel of the Lord. There are a number of references to the angel of the Lord in the Old Testament. Genesis 16:7 is one such reference. The angel of the Lord is often thought to be a reference to Christ, the second member of the Trinity.
There are other references to myrtle trees in the OT, especially Isaiah 41:19, 55:13. There, myrtle trees refer to a fertile and rejuvenated Israel.
Revelation 6:2-5 is a clue as to what the colored horses represent. There, a red horse represents war. So, what is the significance of the angel of the Lord riding a red horse in the midst of Israel?
Zechariah 1:10 tells us these horses were sent throughout the earth. II Chron 16:9 describe how the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth, so we know that God is aware of what these horses are doing. The angel with Zechariah asks how long God will withhold mercy (v. 13), and the Lord answers with "kind and comforting words" (v. 13).
How is all this comforting? Compare verse 11 with verse 15. The Gentile nations are at ease, but not for long! The stretched line in verse 16 represents the rebuilding of Jerusalem, a marked contrast to the line in II Kings 21:13, before the Exile! Enemies are currently walking all over tiny Israel, but God is watching, and stands among the Israelites, and these enemies will be destroyed as symbolized by the red horse. Israel will be rebuilt and restored to glory! Isn't that a great comfort to a people still under the heel of a powerful foreign nation?
The second vision is described in 1:18-21. Here, the symbols are 4 horns and 4 craftsmen. In the Bible, horns represent power and strength. (See Daniel 8:3,4 and Rev. 13:1). But what do these particular horns represent? They are horns that scattered Israel, and may be Assyria, Egypt, Babylon and the Persians, four empires that had played a part in taking Israel into Exile. So, the horns are forces out to destroy Israel. But then who are the craftsmen? Verse 21 says they are God's agents who will destroy the horns.
How would this comfort the Israelites? Think of who had been the recipient of recent harassment? The craftsmen, the people working on the Temple! This vision promises success to those who are faithful in rebuilding the Temple in the face of seemingly powerful opposition.
The third vision is described in chapter 2. Zechariah sees a man, probably an angel, with a measuring line, indicating the man is doing some surveying. Verse 2 says the man is surveying Jerusalem. This does not mean the city will be restored immediately, just that it is being surveyed with the intention of completing that task.
The vision goes on to describe what this restored Jerusalem will look like. It will be a city without walls (v. 4). In ancient times, cities were always built with thick walls for defense against enemies. The absence of walls implies the absence of enemies!
Verse 5 is an awesome picture of God surrounding the city with a wall of fire, reminiscent of II Kings 6:17. God Himself will stand around the city. Zechariah sees the glory of God returned, the glory which Ezekiel saw leave the city in Ezek. 11:23.
Verse 8 tells us that God's judgment will come after He returns to Jerusalem. Verse 10-12 describe many the nations joining with the Lord. If we put all this together, this vision seems to describe a time yet to come, when God will again be present on earth, ruling in majesty in a changed Jerusalem?
Consider how that would be a comfort to the Israelites struggling to rebuild the Temple and their shattered nation. A time is coming when there will be no fear of enemies, a time when God Himself protects Israel, a time when God is again present among the people. For a nation having just spent 70 years in exile, God probably seemed far away. Zechariah's visions sought to encourage the Hebrews by showing them a time when God would restore Israel to strength, a time when they would not need to fear powerful enemies, for God would destroy those enemies.
Next time, we will look at two more of these night visions, and see how God continues to present this message of encouragement to a beaten people.