The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

An Introduction to the Visions of Zechariah (1:1-6:8)

Posted by Dim Bulb on July 4, 2017

I saw in the night, and behold, a man riding upon a red horse! He was standing among the myrtle trees in the glen; and behind him were red, sorrel, and white horses~Zech 1:8

Zech 1:1. The Book of Zechariah opens with a call to conversion which is dated to November, 520 BC (Zech 1:1); it thus comes two months after Haggai’s exhortation to the returned exiles to resume the building of the temple (Hag 1:1). The prophet is to tell his audience that The LORD was angry indeed with your fathers, i.e., the previous generation that went into exile (Zech 1:2). This statement is followed by a call to the present generation to return to their God (Zech 1:3), lest they end up experiencing what befell their fathers (Zech 1:4-6). Prophetic preaching and its threats of judgement–the point of the preaching being that such judgements can be avoided by repenting–are the result of God’s patience, compassion and mercy (2 Chron 36:15-20). The underlying idea here seems to be that it is better to repent in response to this patience, mercy and compassion, than to let the hammer fall and repent after the judgment has come.

Zech 1:7-6:8. This passage contains another prophetic experience consisting of eight visions (some with oracles) which came to Zechariah on the 15th of February, 519 BC, two months after the final prophecy of Haggai (Hag 2:20). In my opinion visions 2 through 8 build upon vision 1; this I will try to bring out in what follows. Many scholars are of the opinion that the visions are structured as a reverse parallel series (1 parallels 8; 2 parallels 7, etc.), I find this plausible but will not consider it in this post.

VISION ONE~Zech 1:7-17. In this vision we see that horses have been sent to patrol the earth and they report to the angel of the Lord that the earth is at peace. The angel of the Lord then speaks: ‘O LORD of hosts, how long wilt thou have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which thou hast had indignation these seventy years?’ The Lord makes clear that He is angry with these nations, for while He was angry a little at His people–punishing them with exile–these nations furthered the disaster that befell them (a similar charge was made against Assyria 200 year earlier in Isa 10:5-7). The Lord’s presence has returned to Jerusalem (which He had abandoned in Ezek 10:4, 18-19; 11:22-23) and the Lord will oversee the rebuilding of the Temple and the cities in the land will enjoy prosperity. Zion will once again know comfort, and Jerusalem will once again be His chosen city. (Note: The earth at peace and ease may sound like a good thing, but the point here is that the nations have not as yet paid for their sins against God and his people when they “furthered the disaster.” God’s anger at the “ease” of the nations may recall Lamentations 1:5. [Note: the next two visions clearly build upon this one].

VISION TWO~Zech 1:18-21 (2:1-4 in the NABRE). [Vision one had mentioned God’s anger at the nations; this vision indicates His response to them]. Animal horns were often a sign of divine power, might and protection (2 Sam 23:2-3; Ps 18:2; Lk 1:69), but they also signified human power bestowed by God (Ps 18:17); also human or demonic power manifesting hostility toward God or His people (Jer 48:25; Dan 7:7-25; Rev 12:3-9, 13:1-6, etc.). Horns were also found on the four corners of altars, thereby signifying the power of whatever deity the altar was dedicated to (Jer 17:1; Amos 3:14). Here they symbolize the power of the pagan nations that scattered God’s people, but I suspect that the association with the altars and deities is implicit as well. The nations in question are, undoubtedly, the two great exiling powers, Assyria and Babylon, but also those nations that took advantage of the plight of God’s people (Ammonites, Moabites, Edomites, Philistines.  See 2 Kings 24:2; Ezek 25:1-17; Obad 1:2-21).

The “four smiths.” The Hebrew word indicates anyone who works in wood, stone or metal (standard material for making altars). These “smiths” have been sent “to cast down the horns of the nations who lifted up their horns against the land of Judah to scatter it.”

VISION THREE~Zech 2:1-13 (2:5-17 in the NABRE). [Vision one had had indicated that God had returned to Jerusalem, which would be comforted, prosperity would return to the cities of the land. This vision builds upon that]. In this vision a man is prepared to survey Jerusalem so as to rebuild the walls that had been destroyed at the time of the exile. Lamentations had described the destruction of the walls as God’s doing; He had stretched out His measuring line over it to destroy it (Lam 2:8). But now the wall rebuilder’s task is halted, for the Lord Himself will be the protective wall. The city will no longer be confined by material walls but will be able to accommodate a multitude within the expansive wall of the Lord’s protection. Those who plundered His people will now be plundered by them (recalls the promise of prosperity in vision one, but also Exodus 3:21-22; 12:35-36). Note the emphasis on the Lord’s presence (Zech 2:5, 10-11) and His choice of Jerusalem (Zech 2:12), both picking up themes in vision one.

VISION FOUR~Zech 3:1-10. [Vision one had mentioned the rebuilding of God’s house, i.e., Temple. In this vision we see Joshua being prepared to serve as high priest in that house, indicating that God had again chosen Jerusalem]. “Satan,” without the definite article, is not to be understood here as the Devil; rather, the figure is probably representative of opposition to the temple (Ezra 4:1-24). The filthy garments removed from Joshua indicates the removal of his “iniquity.” The word implies moral fault rather than ritual impurity. Joshua’s letting the reconstruction of the temple cease for 16 years is probably the “iniquity” in view here. Joshua and his fellow priests are called “Men of good omen” because the of God’s servant, “the Branch.” This is a messianic term (Jer 23:5; 33:15). The re-establishment of the priesthood to serve at the soon to be rebuilt temple indicates that the promises to David are still intact. Recall that David had received a kingly dynasty from God because of his desire to build the temple (2 Sam 7).

VISION FIVE~Zech 4:1-14. [Vision one had spoken of the rebuilding of God’s house/temple and that theme is evident here]. These verses are some of the most enigmatic in the bible. This is due in part to the fact that apparently significant elements of the vision are not explained (e.g., lampstand) and several verses are obscure or ambiguous (translations generally smooth over these). As a result of all of this, interpretations vary considerably. The Navarre Bible Commentary interprets the lampstand as the returned Jewish community, and the olive trees as symbols of the High Priest, Joshua, and the Davidic descendant, Zeubabbel, (he had been appoint as governor of the territory by the Persians). As olive oil supplies a lamp these two supply strength and impetus to the community and its actions. Zech 4:6, concerning Zerubabbel, indicates that the force behind him (and, by implication, behind Joshua), is God. The “great mountain” of verse 7 symbolizes the abundant obstacles Zerubabbel will overcome to see the completion of the temple. Verse 14 identifies the two men as “anointed” (literally, sons of new oil). The term is often taken as designating the priestly status of Joshua, and the kingly status of Zerubabbel. The problem with this is that the Hebrew term for “oil” used here is not used elsewhere to designate anointing oil. “New oil,” like “new wine,” often indicates an abundant harvest. The idea here seems to be that through the God-powered activity of these two men prosperity will return to the land, thus linking with a promise in vision one (Zech 1:17), and reversing the situation mentioned in Haggai 1:6, 10-11.

VISION SIX~Zech 5:1-4. [Vision one had spoken of God’s renewed presence dwelling among His people, and of the rebuilding of His house/temple. In vision six evil doers in the land will have God’s curse dwell in their homes, rotting them]. The presence of the Holy God demands holiness on the part of His people. It is no accident that the Ten Commandments and the rest of “The Covenant Code” precedes the command to build the Tabernacle wherein God would manifest His presence (Exodus 20-31). Also, it is no accident that immediately after God’s takes possession of the Tabernacle (Ex 40:34-38) there follows the holiness codes of Leviticus.

VISION SEVEN~ Zech 5:5-11. [Vision one was about the return of God’s presence to Jerusalem/the land and the rebuilding of His house/temple. In this vision iniquity will be driven from the land and deposited in Shinar (i.e., Babylon) the place where God’s people had once been exiled for their iniquity. In Shinar a temple will be built for iniquity to dwell].

VISION EIGHT~Zech 6:1-8. [Vision one contained the symbol of four different colored horses patrolling the earth, gathering information. This vision refers to four chariots with teams of different colored horses]. In the first vision horses patrolled the earth for the purpose of gathering information; here in the last vision chariots–weapons of war in ancient times–are described as “the four winds of heaven” (the RSVCE mistranslates this), they thus represent God’s power of worldwide judgement (Jer 49:36). The visions have come full circle. God, who was exceedingly jealous for His people, and very angry with the nations at ease because of the plight of His people, is now Himself at ease, having undertaken to aid His people and judge their oppressors. The question put to God in vision 1~”O LORD of hosts, how long wilt thou have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which thou hast had indignation these seventy years?” has been answered.

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