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Bible Commentaries
Zechariah 1

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verse 1

The writer identified the time when this first word from the Lord came to Zechariah and who he was. "The word of the Lord" is a technical term meaning the prophetic word of revelation. The eighth month of the second year of Darius was October-November of 520 B.C. Evidently Haggai began ministering two months earlier to the same audience and ended his prophetic ministry one month later (Haggai 1:1; Haggai 2:10; Haggai 2:20; cf. Ezra 5:1; Ezra 6:14). Since there was no human king of Israel then, the writer dated the prophecy in reference to Darius, a reminder that Israel was in "the times of the Gentiles" (Luke 21:24). "The times of the Gentiles" is the time when Gentiles control the destiny of Israel, namely, from the reign of Nebuchadnezzar to the future millennial reign of Christ. Zechariah’s father was Berechiah, and his more prominent grandfather (or ancestor) was Iddo. Iddo was among the priests who returned from the Captivity with Zerubbabel and Joshua (Nehemiah 12:4; Nehemiah 12:16).

Verses 1-6


That this pericope introduces the whole book seems clear since Zechariah 1:7 introduces the eight night visions that follow it (Zechariah 1:7 to Zechariah 6:8). Its content is also foundational to all that follows.

"It strikes the keynote of the entire book, and is one of the strongest and most intensely spiritual calls to repentance to be found anywhere in the Old Testament." [Note: George L. Robinson, The Twelve Minor Prophets, p. 150. Cf. Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Toward an Old Testament Theology, p. 253.]

"The initial six verses of the first chapter of Zechariah constitute a synopsis of a sermon of the prophet. Its theme strikes the keynote of the entire book and forms an indispensable introduction to it. The truth it enunciates is one which runs throughout the revealed ways of God with man; namely, the appropriation and enjoyment of God’s promises of blessing must be prefaced by genuine repentance." [Note: Unger, p. 20.]

". . . these introductory verses take the place of a call narrative [cf. Isaiah 6; Jeremiah 1; Ezekiel 1-2]." [Note: Longman and Dillard, p. 491.]

Verses 2-4

The Lord told Zechariah that He had been angry with the Jews’ forefathers. Therefore, the prophet was to preach repentance to his contemporaries as Yahweh’s authoritative and faithful mouthpiece. If they turned back to the Lord, He would return to bless them (cf. Isaiah 55:6-7; Jeremiah 3:12; Hosea 7:10; Joel 2:12-13; Amos 5:4; Amos 5:6; Malachi 3:7). This is the clarion call that furnishes the background for this book’s message of hope. [Note: Unger, p. 20.] And this was the reassurance that the restoration community needed after the discipline of the Exile. They were to return to Yahweh, to a personal relationship and allegiance to Him, not just to formal obedience to His law and covenant. Zechariah was to warn the Israelites not to be like their (pre-exilic) forefathers who refused to respond to the preaching of earlier (pre-exilic) prophets who urged them to repent (e.g., Isaiah, Jeremiah, et al.).

"It’s one thing to ask God to bless us but quite another to be the kind of people He can bless!" [Note: Warren W. Wiersbe, "Zechariah," in The Bible Exposition Commentary/Prophets, p. 449.]

Verses 5-6

Their ancestors had perished and the former prophets who warned them were no longer alive to continue warning them. They would not have endless opportunities to repent. The punishments that the former prophets had warned the people about had overtaken them. The Lord had pursued and caught the evildoers like a hunter captures his prey. Then they acknowledged that the Lord had indeed done as He had warned them that He would do (cf. Deuteronomy 28:15; Deuteronomy 28:45; 2 Chronicles 36:16). This would be the experience of the contemporary Israelites too if they failed to heed Zechariah’s exhortation (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:11).

Even though the Israelites had failed God miserably in the past, this introductory message clarified that the Abrahamic Covenant was still in force. God promised to bless His people, but their enjoyment of that blessing in any given generation depended on their walking with Him in trust and obedience. "Repent" (Heb. shub) means "return." It presupposes a previous relationship with God from which His people had departed.

". . . Zechariah enumerates in his introductory address five great principles: (1) The condition of all God’s blessings, Zechariah 1:3. (2) The evil and peril of disobedience, Zechariah 1:4. (3) The unchangeable character of God’s Word, Zechariah 1:6 a. (4) God’s governmental dealings with His people in accordance with their deeds, Zechariah 1:6 b (’according to our ways and according to our deeds’). (5) God’s immutable purposes, Zechariah 1:6 b (’as Jehovah . . . determined . . . so did he with us’)." [Note: Feinberg, p. 21.]

Verse 7

Zechariah received another revelation from the Lord three months after his previous one in Darius’ second year, 520 B.C. The second year of Darius was 520 B.C., but the eleventh month would have been January-February. In our modern calendar this would have been 519 B.C.

"On the same day (24 Shebat), five months earlier, the rebuilding of the temple had been resumed (cf. Haggai 1:14-15; see also Haggai 2:10; Haggai 2:18; Haggai 2:20). It was evidently a day in which God had special delight because of the obedience of his people." [Note: Barker, p. 610.]

"Also on that day two months previously Haggai had delivered a stern rebuke to the priests for their impurity and to the people for their delay in building the temple (Haggai 2:10-17). On that day, moreover, Haggai had received the far-reaching revelation (Haggai 2:20) of the destruction of Gentile world power previous to the establishment of millennial rule of the greater Zerubbabel-Messiah (Haggai 2:21-23)." [Note: Unger, p. 26.]

Verses 7-8


Zechariah received eight apocalyptic visions in one night (Zechariah 1:7). As the text shows, they concerned God’s purpose for the future of Israel, particularly Jerusalem, the seat of the Davidic dynasty and the site of the temple, and Judah. They deal with issues of more immediate concern to the restoration community, though none of them was fulfilled in Zechariah’s day. The broad theme of this section is the coming of the King. The purpose of these visions was to encourage the returnees to persevere in their work of rebuilding the temple.

Certain features mark each of these eight visions: an introduction, an explanation of what the prophet saw, his request for clarification of its meaning, and the elucidation. Oracles accompany three of the visions making their messages clearer (Zechariah 1:16-17; Zechariah 2:6-13; Zechariah 4:6-10). Some interpreters also connect the oracle in Zechariah 6:9-15 to the vision in Zechariah 6:1-8, but it seems to me, and others, that that oracle was separate from the preceding vision.

". . . The arrangement of the visions follows a chiastic pattern [abbccbba]. The first and last bear a strong resemblance to one another, the second and third, sixth and seventh are pairs, and the fourth and fifth, with their assurance of God-given authoritative leaders, form the climax. All eight visions are meant to be interpreted as one whole, for each contributes to the total picture of the role of Israel in the new era about to dawn." [Note: Baldwin, p. 93.]

A The horseman among the myrtle trees (Zechariah 1:7-17)

B The four horns and the four smiths (Zechariah 1:18-21)

C The surveyor (ch. 2)

D The cleansing and restoration of Joshua (ch. 3)

D’ The gold lampstand and the two olive trees (ch. 4)

C’ The flying scroll (Zechariah 5:1-4)

B’ The woman in the basket (Zechariah 5:5-11)

A’ The four chariots (Zechariah 6:1-8)

Verses 7-15

1. The vision proper 1:7-15

Verses 7-17

A. The horseman among the myrtle trees 1:7-17

This first vision emphasizes that God was lovingly jealous of His chosen people and would restore them even though they were troubled at present and the nations that oppressed them were at ease (cf. Habakkuk). In the vision an angelic patrol reported on the state of the whole earth. This vision presents hope for dispersed and downtrodden Israel. [Note: Unger, p. 25.]

Verse 8

The prophet saw a vision, and in his vision it was night. He saw a man sitting on a red (bay, reddish-brown) horse among myrtle trees in a ravine. He also saw red, sorrel (Heb. seruqim, mixed color), and white horses behind the man on the red horse. There were riders on these horses too (Zechariah 1:11).

To Zechariah, who knew the Old Testament and who lived in a particular culture (Persian as well as Hebrew), the meaning of these symbols would have been more readily apparent than they are to the modern reader.

"Viewed from the perspective of a literary type, symbolism has a unique force, impressing itself on the mind and touching the emotions with greater facility and power than prosaic literary types." [Note: Thomas E. McComiskey, "Zechariah," in The Minor Prophets, p. 1012.]

Night had connotations of gloom, obscurity, and foreboding. The present was such a period for the Israelites. The light of joy, clear sight, and security was yet to break for them. The riders evidently represent some of the Lord’s angelic army (host) that serve as His scouts and report world conditions to Him (Zechariah 1:10). Horses were instruments of war and prestigious possessions (Zechariah 10:3; 1 Kings 10:26), and the colors of these horses apparently represent their mission. The colors doubtless implied something to Zechariah, possibly bloodshed, a mixed mission (of judgment and blessing), and victory (cf. Zechariah 6:2; Isaiah 63:1-6; Revelation 6:4). If their color was very significant, the angel probably would have commented on it. Some scholars believed the colors of the horses has no significance. [Note: E.g., Smith, p. 190.] But if so, why did Zechariah mention their different colors?

"Compare Revelation 6:4. The whole period of Gentile world power is characterized by the red horse, i.e. by the sword. Cp. also Daniel 9:26; Matthew 24:6-7." [Note: The New Scofield Reference Bible, p. 964.]

Myrtle trees were evergreens used in the feast of Tabernacles to picture future endless messianic blessings that would come to Israel (Nehemiah 8:15; Isaiah 41:19; Isaiah 55:13). [Note: Leupold, p. 33.] Here they represent Israel. The ravine may hint at Israel’s present depressed position in Zechariah’s day. One amillennialist took the myrtle trees as typifying "the Jewish Church." [Note: Charles L. Feinberg, "Zechariah," in The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 898.] Others take them as representing the church or God’s people of all ages.

Verse 9

Zechariah asked the angel who was with him in his vision what the horsemen and the horses represented, and the angel said he would explain.

Verse 10

The angel, who looked like a man and who was standing in the grove of trees, said that the horsemen were Yahweh’s representatives whom He had sent to patrol the earth.

"Like the Persian monarchs who used messengers on swift steeds to keep them informed on all matters concerning their empire, so the Lord knew all about the countries of the earth, including the great Persian state." [Note: Baldwin, p. 95.]

Verse 11

The horsemen then reported to the angel that they had patrolled the earth and had found it peaceful and quiet.

"Darius boasted that in nineteen battles he had defeated nine rebel leaders and had subdued all his enemies. So the empire was again virtually quiet by 520 B.C." [Note: Barker, p. 612.]

The description of the interpreting angel as the angel of the Lord can be understood in one of three ways. He was either the Lord Himself (i.e., the second person of the Trinity), or he could have been an angel sent from the Lord and responsible to the Lord, the Lord’s special angel (cf. Zechariah 3:1-2; Genesis 16:11; Genesis 16:13; Genesis 18:1-2; Genesis 18:13; Genesis 18:17; Genesis 18:22; Genesis 22:11-12; Genesis 22:15-18; Genesis 31:11; Genesis 31:13; Exodus 3:2; Exodus 3:4; Joshua 5:13; Joshua 6:2; Judges 2:1-5; Judges 6:11-12; Judges 6:14; Judges 13:3-23; Ezekiel 43:6-7). The third interpretation is that "the angel of the Lord is a representation of Yahweh in a way that actualizes His immanence, but not in direct theophany." [Note: McComiskey, p. 1038.]

Verse 12

Then the angel of the Lord addressed sovereign Yahweh. Clearly they were separate persons. He asked the Lord how long He planned to remain bent on disciplining Jerusalem and the cities of Judah (i.e., the Israelites), which He had done in His indignation for the last 70 years (i.e., the Captivity; cf. Jeremiah 25:11-12). That prophesied period was now over, but the Israelites were still oppressed and under foreign domination.

Verse 13

The Lord responded to the angel’s question graciously and with comforting words. However, what He said Zechariah did not reveal, either because he did not hear it or because he chose not to do so under divine inspiration.

Verse 14

The angel then instructed Zechariah to proclaim that Yahweh was very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion. Jealousy when used to describe God’s attitude refers to His careful concern, specifically intolerance of rivalry or unfaithfulness, for the wellbeing of others. Often in Scripture it alludes to God as a husband wanting to keep His wife, Israel or the church, true to Himself. [Note: See Baldwin, pp. 101-3.] God’s jealousy has none of the negative connotations that we associate with selfish human jealousy. The double names for Jerusalem may be a case of poetic parallelism, or they could suggest Jerusalem of the past and Zion of the future. Zechariah’s people evidently thought that the stability that the Persian Empire currently enjoyed indicated that God had turned from them to look favorably on the nations.

Verse 15

The Lord continued to explain that He was very angry with the Gentile nations who were presently at ease. He was angry because they had compounded the punishment of Israel that God had inflicted on the Chosen People by prolonging it (cf. Genesis 12:3).

Verse 16

Because the people of Jerusalem had experienced so much hostility the Lord promised to return to them and show them compassion. The sovereign Lord promised that the temple would be rebuilt there, and the city again would become a viable entity. The Jews finished the temple in 515 B.C., but the city walls were not complete until 444 B.C. (Nehemiah 7:4; Nehemiah 11:1). Measuring the city pictures its expanded restoration (cf. Jeremiah 31:38-40), the measuring line being a construction tool. [Note: See Baruch Halpern, "The Ritual Background of Zechariah’s Temple Song," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 40 (1978):178, n. 51.]

Verses 16-17

2. The oracle about God’s jealousy for Israel 1:16-17

This is the first of four oracles that appear within the visions that Zechariah saw. These were messages that the prophet was to deliver along with the revelation of the vision.

"The vision had lifted the veil which hides the unseen, spiritual world to show that God is in control and active in the earth, but it would not have been of specific comfort without the message in words given by the interpreting angel (Zechariah 1:14-17). This oracle is essential to elucidate the implications of the vision." [Note: Ibid., p. 98. She understood the oracle as beginning with Zechariah 1:14.]

Verse 17

God promised that His cities, the cities of Judah (Zechariah 1:12), would again overflow with the benefits of prosperity. He would again comfort Zion and choose to bless Jerusalem (cf. 1 Kings 8:44; 1 Kings 8:48; 2 Chronicles 6:6; 2 Chronicles 6:34; 2 Chronicles 6:38).

"The distinctive features of comfort for Israel in this first vision are: (1) the presence of the Angel of Jehovah in the midst of degraded and depressed Israel; (2) His loving and yearning intercession for them; (3) the promises of future blessings. We may say, then, that the import of the vision is this: although Israel is not yet in her promised position, God is mindful of her, providing the means of His judgment on the persecuting nations, and reserving glory and prosperity for Israel in the benevolent and beneficent reign of the Messiah.

"The series of visions carry us through God’s dealings with Israel from the time of their chastisement by God under the Gentile powers until they are restored to their land with their rebuilt city and temple under their Messiah King. The first vision gives the general theme of the whole series; the others add the details. . . . When the world was busy with its own affairs, God’s eyes and the heart of the Messiah were upon the lowly estate of Israel and upon the temple in Jerusalem." [Note: Feinberg, God Remembers, p. 38.]

Verse 18

Zechariah 1:18 begins chapter 2 in the Hebrew Bible. Zechariah then saw another scene in his vision. He observed four animal horns. Presumably they were on living animals since they could feel terror (Zechariah 1:21), though there is no mention of animals. Horns were a common figure for power in biblical and ancient Near Eastern iconography, specifically, of a Gentile king or world empire (e.g., Deuteronomy 33:17; Psalms 18:2; Psalms 75:10; Psalms 89:17; Daniel 2:36-44; Daniel 7:3-7; Daniel 7:24; Daniel 8:20-21; Revelation 17:12).

Verses 18-21

B. The four horns and the four smiths 1:18-21

The second vision elaborates the concept of comfort promised in the first vision (Zechariah 1:13; Zechariah 1:17). Here we learn how God will execute His anger against the nations that excessively oppressed His people. The nations will meet with retribution, and Israel will triumph over her foes.

Verse 19

In response to the prophet’s request for an interpretation, the assisting angel explained that they represented the powers that had scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem. Assyria took Israel into captivity, and Babylonia destroyed Jerusalem and took the Judahites captive. So perhaps the fact that there were four horns symbolizes that they represented nations from the four corners of the world, the totality of opposition. [Note: Smith, p. 193.] Another view is that they stand for Babylonia, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome (cf. Daniel 2; Daniel 7). [Note: Charles H. Dyer, in The Old Testament Explorer, p. 823; and Feinberg, "Zechariah," p. 900.]

Verse 20

Then the Lord showed Zechariah four smiths (Heb. harashim, lit. workers in metal, craftsmen). Either the Lord Himself pointed them out or the Lord did so through Zechariah’s guiding angel.

Verse 21

Again in answer to the prophet’s request for interpretation, the angel repeated that the horns represented the powers that had scattered the Israelites. Then he added that the four artisans had come to terrify these horns and to overthrow them for attacking Israel and scattering the Israelites. These smiths evidently carried hammers with which they threatened to smash the horns. Probably the kingdoms of Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, and Messiah are in view. Each of these kingdoms destroyed the preceding one, Medo-Persia having defeated Babylonia (cf. Daniel 2:34-35; Daniel 2:44-45).

The four smithsThe four horns
God’s kingdomwill destroyRome

Another less likely view is that they describe kingdoms that had already destroyed Israel’s enemies. A third possibility is that they will all appear in the future to take vengeance on Israel’s end-times enemies. A fourth less probable view, I think, is that the horns represent "the full extent of human cruelty, military might, political machinations, and lust for power . . . which destroyed pre-exilic Judah." [Note: McComiskey, p. 1048.] A fifth view is that they represent the four judgments of Ezekiel 14:21: sword, famine, wild beasts, and plague (cf. Revelation 6:1-8). [Note: The New Scofield . . ., p. 965.] The Ezekiel prophecy describes the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 B.C., but similar judgments are predicted for the Tribulation in Revelation 6-19.

"Several features are noteworthy in this vision: (1) God takes account of every one that lifts his hand against Israel; (2) He has complete knowledge of the dejected condition of His people and the extent of their injury; and (3) He has already provided the punishment for every foe of His chosen ones." [Note: Feinberg, God Remembers, pp. 42-43.]

"As little as horns can hold their own before powerful smiths, so little can God’s enemies lastingly prevail over God’s people." [Note: Leupold, p. 51.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Zechariah 1". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/zechariah-1.html. 2012.
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