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Archive for the ‘Notes on Zechariah’ Category

The Visions of Zechariah

Posted by Dim Bulb on September 20, 2015

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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My Notes on Zechariah 2:14-17

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 11, 2011

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Background~Around 926 BC King Solomon died, leaving behind him a kingdom in disarray. He had failed to abide by the laws laid down for the king and, in fact, appears to have broken most of them (compare Deut 17:14-20 with 1 Kings 11). His heavy-handed policies had brought disaffection upon the people, and his son exacerbated the situation and, as a result, the kingdom split into two (1 Kings 12:1-16).  At first the division was political, willed by God, but latter, the first king of the new northern kingdom-which retained the name Israel-instituted a religious rebellion which was to last about 200 years and lead, eventually (722 BC), to that kingdom’s downfall (Rebellion: 1 kings 12:26-33. Downfall: 2 Kings 17:1-12). The southern kingdom-called Judah-remained under the the authority of the line of David and would last as a political entity until 587 BC when it was conquered by the Babylonians (2 Chron 36:15-21; 2 Kings 25:1-21).

In 538 Cyrus the Persian conquered Babylon and within a year issued a decree allowing the people of Judah to return to Jerusalem and its environs, and allowing them to also rebuild the temple (Ezra 1).  The altar at the ruined temple was quickly restored and, shortly thereafter, work began on the foundations of the temple (Ezra 3), but opposition from various factions, including the Samaritans led to the reconstruction being halted (Ezra 4). This situation lasted until 520 and the advent of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah (see Ezra 5:1-2 and the books of Haggai and Zechariah).

The book of Zechariah opens with a call to repentance (1:1-6). This should perhaps be seen in relation to the critique of Haggai who chided the people for being more concerned with their own homes than with the temple (Haggai 1, see Matt 6:25-34). There then follows a series of 8 visions (1:7-6:8) which appear to be arranged in the form of a reverse parallel.

Vision 1, the four horsemen (1:7-17), parallels vision 8, the four chariots (6:1-8). See both texts here.

Vision 2 (1:18-21 or 2:1-4 in some translations)  is a vision concerning four horns and four blacksmiths. The horns represent forces that had scattered and destroyed Judah. The blacksmiths concern powers which will bring down the hostile powers represented by the horns. This parallels vision 7 (5:5-11), the vision of the flying container. The power of wickedness in the land of Judah is taken away and deposited in a temple in Shinar (i.e., Babylon). The power of wickedness that once afflicted Judah now comes to rest in a pagan temple in the recently conquered Babylon. See both texts here.

Vision 3 (2:1-13 or 2:5-17 in some translations) is a vision of the new Jerusalem in which the Lord will dwell. This parallels vision 6 (5:1-4), the flying scroll which contains a curse and which will dwell in the houses of those who do evil. See both texts here.

Vision 4 (3:1-10), is concerned with the purification and exaltation of the high priest. Vision 5 (4:1-14) is a vision of Zerubbabel, the davidic prince, and of Joshua, the high priest. See both texts here.


(RSV 2:10=NAB 2:14) Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion; for lo, I come and I will dwell in the midst of you, says the LORD.

In the first vision God had stated through his angel `Cry out, Thus says the LORD of hosts: I am exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion…I have returned to Jerusalem with compassion; my house shall be built in it, says the LORD of hosts, and the measuring line shall be stretched out over Jerusalem. Cry again, Thus says the LORD of hosts: My cities shall again overflow with prosperity, and the LORD will again comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem.’ (1:14, 16-17).

Sing and rejoice. Joy, crying out and songs of praise are hallmarks of Luke’s infancy narrative from which today’s Gospel reading is taken (for joy see Lk 1:14, 42, 44, 47, 58; 2:10. For song see 1:46-55, 67-79; 2:14, 29-32). See also Zephaniah 3:14-15 where daughter Zion is told to sing and rejoice because the Lord dwells in her.

Daughter Zion. A title often applied to the Virgin Mary. The Greek word chaire (Hail! Rejoice), used in the angelic greeting to Mary was used in several OT Zion texts of the Septuagint. A parallel was especially seen between the angel’s words and those of Zephaniah: 3:14-17. Beside chaire, the text of Zephaniah speaks of God being in the midst of Daughter Zion, employing the word בקרבך, which can mean womb (Gen 25:22 “within her”). Luke twice used the phrase “in the womb” in reference to the conception of Jesus (Lk 1:31; 2:21). Also it is said by Zephaniah (3:17) that the King of Israel who is in the midst of Zion has cast out its enemies, showing himself to be mighty (RSV “warrior”) and victorious (see Lk 1:49-52).

I come and I will dwell in the midst of you. Many of the early Church Fathers saw this as an allusion to the incarnation of Christ: The Lord heard the prayer of the Prophets. The Father disregarded not the perishing of our race; He sent forth His Son, the Lord from heaven, as healer: and one of the Prophets saith, The Lord whom ye seek, cometh, and shall suddenly come (Mal 3:1). Whither? The Lord shall come to His own temple, where ye stoned Him. Then another of the Prophets, on hearing this, saith to him: In speaking of the salvation of God, speakest thou quietly? In preaching the good tidings of God’s coming for salvation, speakest thou in secret? O thou that bringest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain. Speak to the cities of Judah. What am I to speak? Behold our God! Behold! the Lord cometh with strength (Isa 40:9-10)! Again the Lord Himself saith, Behold! I come, and I will dwell in the midst of thee, saith the Lord. And many nations shall flee unto the Lord (Zech 2:10-11 or 2:14-15 in some translations). The Israelites rejected salvation through Me: I come to gather all nations and tongues (Isa 66:18). For (He came to His own and His own received Him not (Jn 1:11). Thou comest and what dost Thou bestow on the nations? I come to gather all nations, and I will leave on them a sign (Isa 66:19). For from My conflict upon the Cross I give to each of My soldiers a royal seal to bear upon his forehead. Another also of the Prophets said, (He bowed the heavens also, and came down; and darkness was under His feet (Ps 18:9). For His coming down from heaven was not known by men (St Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 12).

But it is written, say they (i.e., the Arian heretics), in the Proverbs, ‘The Lord created me the beginning of His ways, for His Works (Prov 8:22);’ and in the Epistle to the Hebrews the Apostle says, ‘Being made so much better than the Angels, as He hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent Name than they (Heb 1:4).’ And soon after, ‘Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus, who was faithful to Him that made Him ( Heb 3:1).’ And in the Acts, ‘Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus whom ye have crucified both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36).’ These passages they brought forward at every turn, mistaking their sense, under the idea that they proved that the Word of God was a creature and work and one of things originate; and thus they deceive the thoughtless, making the language of Scripture their pretence, but instead of the true sense sowing upon it the poison of their own heresy. For had they known, they would not have been irreligious against ‘the Lord of glory (1 Cor 2:8),’ nor have wrested the good words of Scripture. If then henceforward openly adopting Caiaphas’s way, they have determined on judaizing, and are ignorant of the text, that verily God shall dwell upon the earth (Zech 2:10 or 2:14 is some translations, see also 1 Kings 8:27; Baruch 3:37), let them not inquire into the Apostolical sayings; for this is not the manner of Jews. But if, mixing themselves up with the godless Manichees (), they deny that ‘the Word was made flesh,’ and His Incarnate presence, then let them not bring forward the Proverbs, for this is out of place with the Manichees. But if for preferment-sake, and the lucre of avarice which follows, and the desire for good repute, they venture not on denying the text, ‘The Word was made flesh,’ since so it is written, either let them rightly interpret the words of Scripture, of the embodied presence of the Saviour, or, if they deny their sense, let them deny that the Lord became man at all. For it is unseemly, while confessing that ‘the Word became flesh,’ yet to be ashamed at what is written of Him, and on that account to corrupt the sense (St Athanasius, First Discourse Against the Arians).

(RSV 2:11 = NAB 2:15) And many nations shall join themselves to the LORD in that day, and shall be my people; and I will dwell in the midst of you, and you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you.

God would judge the foreign nations (RSV 1:14-2:9= NAB 1:15-2:13) but, in keeping with other OT prophecies, it is here implied that foreign nations would be converted by this judgement and join themselves to God’s people (see Isaiah 54:1-3; 56:6-8). This current verse should be seen as building upon the words of Zech  2:4 (2:8 in the NAB). Here Zechariah makes explicit what his fellow contemporary prophet Haggai only hinted at. In Haggai 2:6-9 it is stated that God would shake the heavens, the earth, the sea, the dry land and the nations so that all the treasures of the nations would come to the glorious new temple in the New Jerusalem. This statement of Haggai’s could be taken as implying that the people of the nations would themselves come bearing these gifts. Haggai speaks of treasures from the nations, Zechariah speaks of people from the nations and Isaiah combines both: “For I know their works and their thoughts, and I am coming to gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and shall see my glory, and I will set a sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Put, and Lud, who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands afar off, that have not heard my fame or seen my glory; and they shall declare my glory among the nations. And they shall bring all your brethren from all the nations as an offering to the LORD, upon horses, and in chariots, and in litters, and upon mules, and upon dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says the LORD, just as the Israelites bring their cereal offering in a clean vessel to the house of the LORD (Isa 66:18-20).

(RSV 2:12 = NAB 2:16) And the LORD will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land, and will again choose Jerusalem.”

 Inherit…portion…choose. Covenant terms. Holy land is here used for the first time in Scripture to refer to the promised land (see Wisdom 12:3; 2 Macc 1:7). The phrase recalls Moses’ vision and call to ministry at Horeb (i.e., Mount Sinai) in Exodus 3 (see the reference to “holy ground” in verse 5). It would be on the “holy ground of this mountain that the the covenant would be established (Exodus 19-24). A new covenant is being hinted at here, one in which all people share, but in which Judah and Jerusalem will have a central role.

(RSV 2:13 = NAB 2:17) Be silent, all flesh, before the LORD; for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.

Be silent. Reverential fear which should be manifested at temple liturgy and before cosmic upheaval (Hab 2:20, Zeph 1:7). God’s rousing himself implies judgement, his holy dwelling implies liturgy.

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