Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
This chapter has the vision of a man with a measuring line, a vision which is number three in a series of eight. Evidently, the purpose of this vision was merely to suggest, rather than to demonstrate, the dimensions of the Jerusalem to be measured, as no measurements appear to have been either made or delivered to the prophet.
In this vision, the meaning of it was given by Zechariah in the last half of the chapter (Zechariah 2:6-13). The Jerusalem which is revealed is not the physical Jerusalem at all, but the unlimited and glorious Jerusalem which is "above, which is our mother" (Galatians 4:26). As in all the other visions, there are the most definite Messianic implications in it.
"And I lifted up mine eyes, and saw, and, behold, a man with a measuring line in his hand."
The purpose here, evidently, is to suggest the dimensions of Jerusalem, not to determine them. No measuring was done.
"A man with a measuring line ..." It is usually agreed among commentators that this person was actually an angel of God, some even declaring him to be the angel of the Covenant. This Biblical method of introducing an angel as a "man" is used rather extensively, as for example, when the angels who visited Lot prior to the destruction of Sodom were called "men" (Genesis 18:2). However, we must reject the identification which would make him the angel of the Covenant, a being who was always more specifically designated.
There are quite a number of these "measuring line" scenes in the Bible. See Ezekiel 40:3; Revelation 11:1; 21:15,16.
Dummelow and other scholars make the "man" here to be the same as "the young man" in Zechariah 2:4; but there is no reason for this. See under Zechariah 2:4.
"Then said I, Whither goest thou? And he said unto me, To measure Jerusalem, to see what is the breadth thereof, and what is the length thereof."
This emphasizes the purpose of the vision, the portrayal of the unlimited, glorious extent of God's city. This was not done by the announcement of any dimensions, but by a heavenly interruption that revealed the utter impossibility of measuring the city. No attempted "measuring" ever took place.
"To measure Jerusalem ..." That this is impossible of any application whatever to the physical Jerusalem is clear enough from the fact that the indicated greatness of it far surpasses anything that could have ever been true of the literal Jerusalem. This is also clear from the Messianic overtones that dominate the whole chapter.
"And, behold, the angel that talked with me went forth, and another angel went out to meet him, and said unto him, Run, speak to this young man, saying, Jerusalem shall be inhabited as villages without walls, by reason of the multitude of men and cattle therein."
"Speak to this young man ..." It is perfectly clear that the person indicated by this is not an angel of God, a fact inherent in the indication of his age. "Young is inapplicable and unapplied to angels, who have not our human variations of age, but exist, as they were created." Therefore, we understand this as a reference to Zechariah himself. After all, Zechariah is the only one who had requested information about any of these visions; and to suppose that the young man was an angel would do violence to that basic factor in all of these visions.
Seeing this young man as the prophet instead of making him into another angel also avoids another error, namely, that of supposing one of God's angels to have been ignorant of God's counsels and thus desiring to measure Jerusalem but being stopped from doing so. There is no way that such an explanation is reasonable.
Failure to understand the "young man" as the prophet Zechariah leads to a multitude of unsupported "guesses," none of which has ever received universal support:
The foolish Mormon conceit which makes this young man to be Joseph Smith, the pseudo-prophet, and the angel to be Moroni, who reveals to him the golden plates of the book of Mormon.
"For I, saith Jehovah, will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and I will be the glory in the midst of her."
As Ellis stated it. "This is one of the greatest texts of the Old Testament." It is the Old Testament equivalent of the blessed promise of Jesus, "I will be with you always, even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:18-20). The blunt meaning of the vision is simply this: God's real people do not need any walls, the holy presence of Almighty God is all that the true Israel needs, whether applied to the ancient Israel or the new Israel in Christ. As Leupold also understood it, "Zechariah is speaking of the ideal Jerusalem, the church, and of an ideal dwelling in her, membership in the church of God."
In Zechariah 2:6-13 in the remaining part of the chapter, the teaching is announced by Zechariah "in the name of Jehovah," the intervening transfer of the teaching via the "angel that talked with me" being bypassed. In its totality, the message of Zechariah is to be understood as God's Word first to Isarel of old, and in a larger frame of reference to the glorious church of the future, and to all mankind. In studying this passage, care should be exercised to avoid falling into the critical booby-trap that would make Zechariah the author of these admonitions instead of the Lord. It is not as Mitchell alleged that, "Zechariah puts into the mouth of Jehovah the promise, `I will come and dwell with thee,'" or that, "He makes Yahweh promise to be `a splendour in the city'!" We consider such "interpretations" to be little short of blasphemy. The opposite is the truth, that God puts the words of this prophecy into the mouth of Zechariah.
"Ho, ho, flee from the land of the north, saith Jehovah; for I have spread you abroad as the four winds of heaven, saith Jehovah."
"Saith Jehovah ..." This expression, repeated twice, identifies the message as originating with God Himself, not with the prophet Zechariah. To reject this is to reduce Holy Scripture to the status of any other book. If such a thing is really true, why do the critical commentators bother with it? If Zechariah is only an ordinary book, it doesn't make any difference what he said.
"Flee from the land of the north ..." This means "flee from Babylon"; and while Babylon did not actually lie in that direction, the traveler either to or from that city was compelled to use the road leading north, which made a great arc around the desert that lay between. This became therefore a traditional expression referring to Babylon as "the north." It was by the northern route that Chaldaean invaders came to Jerusalem.
The reason for this exhortation was:
"A great number of the exiles had remained in Babylon, having established themselves there according to Jeremiah 29:5, and grown rich. They are now called upon to flee from their adopted country."
The reason for this plea was twofold: (1) They were in eminent danger of adopting the philosophy, life-style, and even the gods of Babylon. They were in a most dangerous and precarious situation. (2) Babylon itself was not destined to escape the punishment which God would send upon that wicked and dissolute city. It would be only a few years before powerful foes would utterly destroy the place.
"I have spread you abroad ..." The dispersion of the Jews at the time of events leading to the Babylonian captivity had been most extensive; and the simplest way to view this passage is as a reference to that fact. Some would make it refer to the prosperous expansion of Israel, but this appears to be incorrect.
"Ho Zion, escape thou that dwellest with the daughter of Babylon."
"Escape thou ..." This is a feeble substitution for the dramatic words of the KJV, "Deliver thyself, O Zion ..."; and one may well question the reason for the change. "Delivering oneself" is a perpetual principle in God's economy of salvation, and the grand imperative of all ages. It found utterance upon the first day of the gospel age when Peter admonished his Pentecostal audience, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation" (Acts 2:40). A way of escape had been provided for the captive people of God, and their homeland was available to them; but whether or not they ever reached it depended upon them. They would have to cut the ties that held them in Babylon and return to Jerusalem. Needless to say, there were many thousands of them that never got around to doing it. In exactly the same manner today, God's grace has provided salvation for all men, but whether or not men receive it depends absolutely upon their response to the divinely imposed terms of the gospel.
"Escape ... from Babylon ..." has a deep spiritual import also, despite the primary application to the Jewish captives in literal Babylon. Babylon stands in all ages for the wicked city of the world, for spiritual darkness and rebellion against God. The Lord's people are perpetually warned to "Come out of her, my people," that ye have no fellowship with her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues" (Revelation 18:4).
The RSV changed the wording of this verse, based upon scholarly opinion that, "Zion is an accusative of direction, and not a vocative." Nevertheless, it is still God's true "Israel," or Zion who was commanded to escape to Zion! The change is a doubtful improvement.
"For thus saith Jehovah of hosts: After glory hath he sent me unto the nations which plundered you; for he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye."
The fact of Jehovah's reference to himself in this passage as the one sent is due to the speaker's actually being the angel of the Covenant, called Jehovah here, as is appropriate; but the identity of the angel being actually different from that of Jehovah himself is apparent in the second clause where the third person appears in the reference to "his eye." This is an amazing revelation regarding the covenant Angel, equal with God, but nevertheless subordinate in the matter of his being "sent" to the people who had plundered Israel, the Gentiles.
"After glory hath he sent me ..." The scholarly struggles with this clause are amusing. Thomas rendered it "whose glory has sent me"; Mitchell thought there was a time-reference in it, "after the glory (vision), he sent me"; Baldwin preferred: "with insistence he sent me"; Ironside thought "after the glory" meant "after the apocalyptic appearing of Jesus Christ"; and there are a number of other remarkable suppositions. Presumably, none of the learned men who adopted such bizarre meanings of a simple clause had ever experienced such a thing as being "sent to the well after a bucket of water !" We are thankful that a number of commentators had no trouble at all with the passage:
"After" in this case means "in search of" the glory.
"For, behold, I will shake my hand over them, and they shall be a spoil to those that served them; and ye shall know that Jehovah of hosts hath sent me."
The action of God's shaking his hand over a nation was a signal of their punishment and destruction (Job 31:21; Isaiah 11:15; 19:16).
"They shall be a spoil to those that served them ..." This does not mean that the captive Jews would rule over Babylon; but that some power at the moment subjected to that power would rise and overthrow them. Thus Egypt was overthrown by Assyria; Assyria by Babylon; Babylon by Medo-Persia; Persia by Greece; Greece by Rome, etc., etc. Thus Adam Clarke explained the passage, "As the Babylonians to the Medes and Persians; and so of the rest in the subversion of empires." Every great world power carries within itself the basis and the certainty of its own eventual destruction.
"Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion; for, lo, I come, and I will dwell in the midst of thee, saith Jehovah."
The glory of God's people is ever that of his presence among them. Although typical in the experience of ancient Israel, in whom God's presence was manifested, it was but a feeble and inadequate type of God's holy Spirit indwelling the Lord's Church. The many sins and rebellions of the people were continual impediments. The promise here overreaches the fate of earthly Jerusalem and applies gloriously to the Church of Jesus Christ. "This was fulfilled in the coming of the Holy Spirit to live in the Church."
It is a gross error to apply this passage as if it meant Jesus would appear physically and personally in Jerusalem and reign during a millennium on earth from that literal city. Nor can there be any accuracy in the notion that: "This prophecy was fulfilled when Zerubbabel completed and consecrated the Temple in 516 B.C." There is no evidence whatever that God in any sense ever dwelt in the Second Temple; and even the first was contrary to the will of God in significant particulars. "Josephus regarded the building works of Herod Agrippa as its literal fulfillment"; but we believe all such "fulfillments" were as nothing compared to the glorious realization of these wonderful promises in the worldwide glory and success of the church of Jesus Christ throughout this whole dispensation of the grace of God. It is tragic that many scholars never seem to catch on to the magnificent Messianic thrust of this marvelous chapter.
Mitchell, for example, allowed only that Zechariah was "attempting" to predict the future, alleging that what he predicted never came to pass. "The prophecy does not harmonize with conditions either before or after the time of the prophet! The city did not prosper as he expected." One may only pity the spiritual blindness that underlies so bold and inaccurate a declaration. The incredibly beautiful and impressive truth that salvation from sin and the gift of eternal life are now available to every one on earth who will receive and obey the gospel of Christ and the equally astounding truth that men all over the world, in every nation on earth, are taking God at his word and receiving life are but tokens of the colossal, earth-shaking fulfillment of this prophecy. Jerusalem (in the spiritual sense) is indeed greater than any wall seeking to contain her. Her prosperity exceeds anything else ever known on the planet earth.
"And many nations shall join themselves to Jehovah in that day, and shall be my people; and I will dwell in the midst of thee, and thou shalt know that Jehovah of hosts hath sent me unto thee."
The Redeemer himself speaks here; and his words have come to pass on a scale so fantastic that, even if Zechariah had fully understood the implications of his prophecy, he could scarcely have believed it.
"In that day ..." is a phrase often associated in the prophecies with "the times of the Messiah." Such an expression positively identifies the whole passage as Messianic.
"Shall join themselves to Jehovah ... shall be my people ..." This mingling of third person and first person declarations is similar to that found in Zechariah 2:8,9, "His eye ... I will shake." In all such instances, God is the speaker and the person spoken of, that is, both the third person and the first person. This gives a very amazing effectiveness as used in connection with declarations of the covenant Angel.
"And Jehovah shall inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land, and shall yet choose Jerusalem."
"This is the only time in Scripture where Palestine is called the holy land"; however, not even this is to be taken literally. Palestine is the holy land in that it was the location on earth where the Son of God appeared in his first Advent, where he suffered, where he gave his life a ransom for all, where he was crucified, and where he commissioned the apostles to go forth into all the world with the life-giving message of salvation. It is the holy land in that sense that "The word of the Lord" did indeed go forth from Jerusalem as stated again and again by the holy prophets. It is the holy land because Jesus' church began there, the first of the martyrs bled there, and because the earthly Jerusalem is typical of a heavenly reality, "the Jerusalem which is above, which is free, which is our mother" (Galatians 4:26). It is the holy land in the sense that Jesus rose from the dead in that city; there he appeared to his foreordained witnesses; there many of his most wonderful deeds were done; and there was fulfilled to the letter his sentence of death upon Jerusalem, including the ruin of the Temple, and the destruction of her people, "because they knew not the time of their visitation."
Aside from the considerations above, Palestine is not any more holy than any other place of real estate on the face of the earth. As a matter of fact the literal Palestine was utterly, completely, and finally rejected by Almighty God. "The mountain of Jehovah's house" unto which the nations shall flow (Isaiah 2:2-4) is not a literal place at all. "We are come to Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem":
"Ye are come into Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable hosts of angels, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaketh better things than the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:22-24)."
Thus the truly "holy land" is wherever God may be found dwelling in the hearts of those who love him. Without that determinative factor, not even the hill of Calvary would be holy.
"Shall yet choose Jerusalem ..." "This points to Christ as King of the spiritual Zion."
"Be silent, all flesh, before Jehovah; for he is waked up out of his holy habitation."
This is an idiomatic expression. We may not suppose that any prophet of God ever believed that God would go to sleep and neglect his people while taking a nap. "He slumbereth not, nor sleeps" was basic information about the Almighty God. The words here mean that a period of apparent indifference on the part of God would be followed by a period of mighty actions supporting and blessing his people. As Deane explained it:
"He had seemed to be asleep when he let his people be trodden down by the heathen; but now, as it were, he waketh and cometh from heaven, his holy habitation, to inflict the threatened judgment upon the nations, and to succour his own people."
"Be silent, all flesh ..." There are two tremendous suggestions here. One is, "Let all the earth worship Jehovah," as in Habakkuk's beloved call to worship (Habakkuk 2:20): "Let all the earth keep silence before him!" The other pertains to the ultimate fate of all flesh to rest eternally in the silent dust. We refer to the universal, deafening silence so dramatically prophesied in Revelation 18. (See the comment on this in my commentary on Revelation, pp. 432-435). In that passage from Revelation, the remarkable litany of silence is a constantly recurring note, "shall be heard no more at all in thee, shall be heard no more at all in thee, etc." God is continually saying to all flesh, "BE SILENT."
Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017
the Seventh Week after Epiphany
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