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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Zechariah 1

 

 

Verse 1

(1) The prophet is (in spite of the accents), no doubt, to be referred to Zechariah. (See further in my Hebrew Student Commentary.) LXX., πρὸς ζαχαριαν τὸν τοῦ βαραχιου υἱὸν αδδω τὸν προφήτην, in which υἱὸν appears to be a corruption of υἱοῦ, caused by the common Greek collocation τὸν τὸῦ . . . υἱὸν.


Verses 1-6

(1-6) On the four-and-twentieth day of the sixth mouth of the second year (B.C. 520) of Darius Hystaspis, the re-building of the Temple had been resumed (Haggai 1:15); and in the seventh month, on the twenty-first of that month, the prophet Haggai had foretold “the latter glory of this house shall be greater than its former” (Haggai 2:9); and now, but a few weeks later, Zechariah receives his mission. He is commanded to exhort the people to avoid such punishments as fell on their fathers, and to make themselves worthy of the glory which should be revealed, by turning unto the Lord with sincere repentance.


Verse 2

(2) Your fathers.—This verse contains the word of the Lord addressed directly to and through the prophet, who is included among those addressed in the pronoun “your fathers.” It gives the ground on which the exhortation to repentance is founded.


Verse 3

(3) Unto them—i.e., to the prophet’s contemporaries, whose fathers are spoken of in the preceding verse.

Turn ye . . . and I will turn.—These words need not imply any special backsliding on the part of the people since the commencement of the re-building of the Temple, when the Lord had declared that He was “with them” (Haggai 1:13; Haggai 2:4); but, rather, that the more sincerely they turned unto Him, the more gloriously would His merciful intentions be revealed to them, and fulfilled in them. Still, it may be seen from Haggai 2:14-17, how great need they had of repentance. “Zechariah comes forth like John the Baptist, and begins his preaching with a call to repentance, and warns the people by the history of their fathers that no spiritual privileges will profit them without holiness, but rather will aggravate their guilt, and increase their condemnation if they disobey God” (Wordsworth). Observe in this and the next verse the emphatic threefold “saith the Lord of hosts.”


Verse 4

(4) The former prophets—viz., those who prophesied when Jerusalem was inhabited and in prosperity (Zechariah 7:7), before the captivity. LXX., οἱ πατέρες ἔμπροσθεν [to whom] the prophets before [enjoined], which is inaccurate. οἱ προϕῆται οἱ ἔμπροσθεν, “the prophets of former times,” would have been correct.


Verse 5

(5) Fathers . . . prophets.—To show the evil result of the obstinate disobedience of their fathers, the prophet asks, “Your fathers, where are they?”—i.e., they are perished through their iniquity. To this the people answer, “But the prophets, do they live [or did they go on living] for ever?”—i.e., the prophets, who did not sin, they are dead too; so what is your argument worth?


Verse 6

(6) My words.—True, says the prophet, both your fathers and the former prophets are dead; “but” for all that, the words of the prophets were actually fulfilled in your fathers, as they themselves confessed. This is the interpretation of these verses given by Râv (second to third century A.D.) in Talmud Babli, Synhédrin, 105a. Another view of the passage is that it is equivalent to “The light of prophecy is dying out; while ye have the light, walk as children of the light.” But such an interpretation destroys the prophet’s argument.

My statutes.—Better, my decrees, as in Zephaniah 2:2. LXX. introduce “receive ye,” after “my decrees.” After “I command,” they introduce “by my spirit,” probably from Zechariah 7:12.

Take hold of.—Better, as marg., overtake. LXX., οἳ κατελάβοσαν may be a corruption of ου κατελάβοσαν. (Comp. Lamentations 1:12.)

Returned.—Better, turned: i.e., repented. The same word is used in Zechariah 1:3. LXX., wrongly, καὶ ἀπεκρίθησαν, “answered.”

Like as the Lord of hosts thought to do . . .—So Jeremiah confessed in Lamentations 2:17. Zechariah had no doubt those words of Jeremiah in his mind at the time.


Verse 7

(7) Sebat.—The eleventh month. The names of the months, which occur in Zechariah, Esther, and Nehemiah, are of Assyrio-Babylonian origin; they are in use among the Jews to this day.

Came the word of the Lord . . . saying.—This expression is fitly used here of the nocturnal visions, because the substance of them was a Divine revelation, and because the means by which the signification of them was conveyed to the prophet was that of the angel’s speaking to him the word of the Lord.

FIRST VISION.—THE HORSEMAN AMONG THE MYRTLES.


Verses 7-15

A SERIES OF SEVEN VISIONS.

Zechariah 1:7 to Zec_6:15. Between the commencement of Zechariah’s prophetic labours and the incidents recorded in Zechariah 1:7 to Zec_6:15, the Prophet Haggai received the revelation contained in Haggai 2:10-23. On the four-and-twentieth day of the eleventh month, just five months after the re-building of the Temple was resumed, Zechariah sees a succession of seven visions in one night, followed by a symbolic action (Zechariah 6:9-15).


Verse 8

(8) I saw.—Not in a dream, but apparently, from Zechariah 4:1, awake, in an ecstatic vision.

By night.—Better, on this night. LXX., τὴν νύκτα. It was during the night of the twenty-fourth of Sebat that the prophet saw this series of visions. The expression does not mean that in his vision it appeared to be night.

Red horse, and . . . the bottom.—Better, bay horse, and he was standing among the myrtles that were in a certain hollow. The construction of the Hebrew shows beyond controversy that “the man that stood among the myrtles” and “the angel of the Lord” (Zechariah 1:11) are identical. On the appellation, “the angel of the Lord,” see Note on Genesis 16:7. Angels, when they assume the human form, are often called “men”—e.g., in Genesis 18:2. There can be no doubt but that “horses” means horses with riders. Commentators endeavour to attach special significance to the expression, “the myrtles which were in the hollow.” Some see in “the myrtles” a symbol of the pious; others of the theocracy, or of the land of Judah, and take “the hollow” as a figurative representation of Babylon, or of the deep degradation into which the land and people of God had fallen at that time. Similarly with respect to the colour of the horses: some suppose that the colours either denote the lands and nations to which the riders had been sent, or the three imperial kingdoms, Babylonian, Medo-Persian, and Græco-Macedonian (Kliefoth), or as connected with the various missions which the rider had to perform. The following are specimens of such interpretation—(1) that of Keil: The riders on red horses are to cause war and bloodshed; those on pale-grey (seruqqîm) to cause hunger, famine, and pestilence; those on white go to conquest. But this explanation takes no account of the single horseman on the red (bay) horse. Moreover victory implies bloodshed, as much as does war, so that there is no practical distinction made between the red and the white horses. (2) Ewald deprives “the man standing among the myrtles” of his horse, then he renders the colours of the horses bright-red, brown, grey, and supplies dark-red, from his interpretation of Zech. vi, 3. Having thus arranged the colours to his fancy, he compares this vision with that of the chariots in Zechariah 6, and sees in the colours the mission of the riders to the four quarters of heaven. The red denotes the east; the brown (the black of Zechariah 6) the north; the grey, the west; the dark-red, the south. (3) Vitringa interprets the three colours as follows: red, times of war; varicoloured, times of varying distress and prosperity; white, times of complete prosperity, which were sent on the Jewish people. (4) That of Kliefoth, mentioned above. (5) Rabbi Mosheh Alshekh, the cabbalist, interprets red of the company of Gabriel which inclines to Strict Justice; seruqqîm of that of Raphael (who is the angel of healing after smiting, that is Justice tempered with Mercy); white of that of Michael who inclines to Free Grace. But all these suppositions are purely conjectural, utterly unsuitable, and perfectly unnecessary. In a vision or a parable we must not expect to find something in the interpretation to correspond with each detail of the figurative representation: the setting must not be confounded with the gem. So, in this case, we are of opinion that the fact that the horsemen were standing among the myrtles in a certain hollow is mentioned merely as a natural incident; for where would a body of scouts so naturally come to a halt, especially in the East, where shade and herbage are scarce, and where travellers always strive to escape as much as possible the observation of hostile tribes, as under the cool and protecting shadow of a grove of myrtles growing in a hollow place? LXX., for “among the myrtles which were in a certain hollow,” ἀνὰ μέσον τῶν δύο ὀρέων τῶν κατασκίων, misreading seemingly the word for “myrtles,” and taking the word for “hollow” as from a similar root meaning “to be shady.”

Red.—Better, bay. (Comp. Zechariah 6:2.)

Speckled, or, starling grey, is, perhaps, the meaning of the Hebrew word seruqqîm, which occurs only once again—viz., in Isaiah 16:8, and there in the sense of vine-tendrils; nothing certain is known of it as an adjective of colour. The meanings given by the Authorised Version and ourself are merely conjectural, and derived (unsatisfactorily) from a comparison of this passage with Zechariah 1:3 and Revelation 6:3. We are almost inclined to suggest that the word is a corruption of shechorîm, “black” (see Zechariah 6). The colours seem to be mentioned as those most commonly found among horses, in order to give a more realistic form to the vision, or perhaps, rather, because the prophet actually so saw them. The writer of Revelation has (Revelation 6) adopted the colours mentioned in Zechariah 6, and himself given to them a special significance in his own writings. But to interpret Zechariah in this case by the light of the Book of Revelation, as some commentators have done, would be most uncritical. The colours in LXX. of this chapter are πυρροί, ψαροὶ καὶ ποικίλοι, λευκοί. In Zechariah 6 they are πυρροί, μέλανες, λευκοί, ποικίλοι ψαροί. In Revelation 6 the colours are λευκός, πυρρός, μέλας, χλωρός.


Verse 9

(9) O my lord.—This is addressed to “the angel that talked with me,” or, perhaps, in me, according as we regard him as discharging the office of the Virgil of Dante, or the Daimon of Socrates (but, see Lawes’ History of Philosophy). LXX., ὁ λαλῶν ἐν ἐμοί. This is the angel-interpreter, whose office it was to interpret the visions (Zechariah 1:18; Zechariah 2:3; Zechariah 4:1; Zechariah 4:4-5; Zechariah 5:5-10; Zechariah 6:4), and who is often referred to simply as “he.”

I will shew thee.—viz., by the word of “the man who stood among the myrtles.”


Verse 10

(10) Answered.—The question which Zechariah had put to the angel-interpreter.

The earth—i.e., the world, “all the earth” (Zechariah 1:11), not merely “the land of Israel,” as is often the meaning of the word (e.g., Zechariah 13:8).


Verse 11

(11) And they answered need not necessarily imply that any question had been asked. Like the New Testament ἀπεκρίθησαν, it often implies merely “began to speak.”

The angel of the Lord.—That is, the man riding upon a bay horse. (See Note on Zechariah 1:8.) Just two months before this, Haggai had prophesied (Haggai 2:20-23) that God would shake the heavens and the earth, and overthrow the throne of kingdoms, &c. The horsemen had been sent forth to act, as it were, as scouts, and to bring back an account of the state of the world, that at the intercession of the angel of the Lord comforting words might be announced to Zechariah, and by him to the people. They reported the world to be still, and at rest: i.e., dwelling in self-confident security. The overthrow of the kingdoms foretold by Haggai had not yet begun, and so, although the building of the Temple was, by the decree of Darius (Ezra 5, 6), being carried on, Judah was still insecure as long as the heathen nations flourished.


Verse 12

(12) Consequently, the angel of the Lord intercedes for Jerusalem and the cities of Judah.

These threescore and ten years.—This is an old English expression. The Hebrew has one word—seventy—which is often used as a round number. From the taking of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar (B.C. 605-6) to the date of the decree of Cyrus for the return of the Jews (B.C. 538) is sixty-eight years. These are the seventy years of captivity foretold by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 25:11; Jeremiah 29:10). But eighteen years had now elapsed since that decree of Cyrus. Consequently the angelic intercessor, in saying “how long . . . these seventy years,” can hardly have referred to the seventy years spoken of by Jeremiah, since the actual number of years was now eighty-eight. Therefore it is most probable that the reference is to the period of sixty-eight years between the second taking of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, when Zedekiah was removed in chains to Babylon (B.C. 588), and the year of this prophecy (B.C. 520).


Verse 13

(13) Angel.—The Lord does not reply directly to the intercessor, but addresses the angel-interpreter, who at once, in the words of Zechariah 1:14-17, delivers the message of comfort to the prophet.


Verse 14

(14) That communed with me.—The Hebrew words are the same as those rendered elsewhere, “that spake with me.”

I am jealous.—The verb is in the perfect, like “I am returned” (Zechariah 1:16), and denotes that the Lord had already shown His jealous love for Israel in bringing them out of captivity, and that He would continue to do so in completing the restoration of Jerusalem. “The hour of darkest desolation to the Church, and of haughtiest triumph to her enemies, is often the very hour when God begins His work of judgment on the one, and returning mercy on the other” (Moore).


Verse 15

(15) But a little.—(Comp. 2 Kings 20:18.) Or, for a little while. (Comp. Job 24:24.)

Helped forward the affliction.—Better, helped for evil—i.e., they not only acted as God’s instruments to chastise Israel, but even wished to annihilate them. (Comp. Isaiah 47:6 : “I was wroth with my people . . . thou [Babylon] didst shew them no mercy.”) LXX., for “that are at ease,” τὰ συνεπιτιθέμενα, “which combine to set upon [Israel],” and for “helped,” συνεπέθεντο “combined to set upon.”


Verse 16

(16) A line.—To measure, and mark out its confines. (Comp. Zechariah 2:1-2.)


Verse 17

(17) Be spread abroad—i.e., be filled to overflowing; LXX. inserts “And the angel that spake in me said to me.” (Comp. Zechariah 2:4.) The same verb and conjugation is used in Zechariah 13:7 of “being scattered,” in a bad sense, and such is the ordinary use of the verb. But in another conjugation this verb is used in Genesis 10:18 of “being spread,” not in a bad sense.

“Then let the world forbear their rage,

The Church renounce her fear;

Israel must live through every age,

And be the Almighty’s care.”


Verse 18

SECOND VISION.—THE FOUR HORNS AND THE FOUR SMITHS (Zechariah 1:18-21).

(18) Horns.—The horn is a symbol of power and hostility. The “four horns” denote the heathen nations which had oppressed them.


Verse 19

(19) Scattered.—This word need not necessarily refer to dispersing into captivity, but may simply mean “endeavoured to destroy the national unity,” or “disintegrated.” Compare the Roman motto, “Divide et impera.”

Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.—The expression “Israel and Jerusalem” is a closer definition of Judah, as in Malachi 2:11. (For undoubted instances of the name Israel being used in reference to Judah after the separation of the Kingdoms, see 2 Chronicles 12:1; 2 Chronicles 15:17, seqq.)


Verse 20

(20) Carpenters.—Better, workmen, for the Hebrew word does not mean “carpenters,” unless followed by the word meaning “wood.


Verse 21

(21) Many commentators suppose that this vision refers to the future as well as the past, and that in it the objects are combined together so as to form one complete picture, without any regard to the time of their appearing in historical reality. And so they take the “four horns” to symbolise the four empires—the Assyrian, the Babylonian, the Medo-Persian, and the Græco-Macedonian. But such is not the case, as is clearly shown by this verse. It is true that the word “scattered” might, if standing alone, be taken as discharging the duties of historic and, at the same time, of prophetic perfect. But since in the dependent clause we have, “so that no man did lift up his head”—in the perfect—the word “have scattered” can refer only to the actual past. We must, therefore, reject all reference to the four monarchies which we have enumerated, because the Græco-Macedonian had not yet come into existence. If, then, the “four horns” do symbolise four monarchies, they can only be the Assyrian, Egyptian, Babylonian, and Medo-Persian. Some commentators have gone so far as to identify the four workmen with Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, Cambyses, and Alexander the Great. (Comp. and contrast Haggai 2:22.) But it seems more probable that here (as in Zechariah 1:8) we must not draw too close a comparison between the symbol and the thing symbolised, and should understand the “four workmen” as merely figuring the destruction of these nations for the good of the Jewish nation, without the manner of its accomplishment being accurately defined. We may remark, in passing, that some commentators do not take the vision as referring to four distinct nations, but suppose the number four to be used in reference to all the powers hostile to Judah, from whatever quarter they may have come. The vision, a natural consequent of the preceding, is one of comfort, its object being to assure the people that as the former nations which had been hostile to Israel and Judah had been destroyed, so the present Medo-Persian monarchy, which also had at times oppressed them, should have the horn of its hostility utterly cast out, and should protect them and encourage the re-building of Jerusalem.

 


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Zechariah 1:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/zechariah-1.html. 1905.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, September 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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