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Bible Commentaries

Layman's Bible Commentary

Zechariah 1

Verses 1-6

VISIONS AND PREACHING OF ZECHARIAH

Zechariah 1:1 to Zechariah 8:23

Introductory Appeal to Repent (1:1-6)

Like its companion and contemporary (the Book of Haggai), the Book of Zechariah begins with a date. Again in the second year of Darius, but now in the eighth month of that year, the word of the Lord came to a prophet. Thus the initial prophetic word of the book is, like the first word of Haggai, set in the year 520 B.C., during the unsettled times which followed the execution of the usurper Gaumata by Darius. Zechariah’s word falls between the two dates given in the second chapter of Haggai (the seventh month and the ninth month), and appears not to be connected significantly with any particular event.

Unlike most of the prophetic utterances of Haggai, those for whom this initial utterance of Zechariah was intended are not defined. And appropriately the message is a general one intended for the whole people. Nothing in the introductory word indicates whether the people being addressed are in Jerusalem or Babylon or elsewhere, but other prophetic words of Zechariah concern Jerusalem and Judah, and it may be assumed that these first words also concern the city in which a discouraged and poverty-stricken group of returned exiles were being urged by the prophet Haggai to rebuild the Temple of God.

Zechariah himself is concerned with the rebuilding of the Temple (see Zechariah 1:16; Zechariah 4:9; Zechariah 6:12-14), the future greatness of Jerusalem (see Zechariah 2:5; Zechariah 8:4-8), and the presence of God among the people (see Zechariah 2:1-12; Zechariah 8:3-8), but Zechariah’s concerns are broader than those expressed in Haggai. The opening appeal for repentance shows clearly one of the major concerns of Zechariah. The substance of this appeal is blunt and clear: "Return to me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you."

Zechariah did not concern himself with specific sins, but in this opening appeal for repentance he recalled the evil deeds of the "fathers." His people must not be like their fathers, to whom the former prophets preached. Because of their evil deeds before the Exile, the Lord was angry with his people, and when they did not respond to the preaching of the earlier prophets, they were wiped out, together with the prophets, according to the words of God. Only then did they repent and say, "As the Lord of hosts purposed to deal with us for our ways and deeds, so has he dealt with us."

This last statement, quoted from the Judeans of an earlier time, need not occasion any great difficulty, even though it seems a bit illogical to modern ears to hear a word of repentance from those who have just been described as refusing to repent, and to have a word from those who have been obliterated for their evil deeds. With prophetic and poetic exaggeration Zechariah has spoken of the destruction of the fathers. Actually, not all of the generation of Jeremiah’s time was wiped out. Some survived in Babylon and in Jerusalem’s environs and in Egypt, and those who survived learned the bitter lesson of the Exile, which is substantially summed up in this word of repentance: the Lord does deal with people as he purposes and according to his known laws and expressed attitudes. The fall of Jerusalem and the Exile had convinced a believing remnant of the Jews that God’s expressed will would be effectively carried out. It is a lesson people of all ages need to remember.

Verses 7-17

Visions Concerning God’s Intervention (1:7-6:8)

A Vision of the Lord’s Patrols (1:7-17)

Verse 7 of the first chapter provides the second introductory statement in the book, in which the prophet’s genealogy is repeated and in which a date is provided. Neither introductory bit of information is connected significantly with the substance of the first vision, which communicates the assurance that God has returned to Jerusalem and that prosperity will again bless his people.

The vision begins with a formula, "I saw in the night, and behold . . ." Unlike the pre-exilic prophets, Zechariah specifies that his vision was a nocturnal one. Daniel is the only other prophetic figure who specifically refers to night-time visions and dreams, and it seems from Micah 3:6 that the early prophets did not expect visions at night. Rather the moment of vision seems to have come to the early prophets together with the impulse to speak, so that the faraway look in the eye of the prophet was a proper accompaniment of the word of the Lord. Zechariah, on the other hand, received his vision, like Daniel, at night and arose the next day to present to the people what he had learned.

Zechariah saw a vision of a man riding upon a red horse; this man was standing "among the myrtle trees in the glen," against a background of other horsemen (presumably) on steeds of red, white, and sorrel. Whether or not "the glen" was a precise spot known to the prophet and his contemporaries has been debated by students. It may have been either the Valley of the Kidron, east of Jerusalem, or the point at which this valley joins the Valley of Hinnom, south of the city. Myrtles were common in these and other valleys near Jerusalem. In the prophet’s vision the spot was only familiar enough to be described sketchily.

The significant feature of the account of the vision is Zechariah’s discovery that he was in the presence of a sort of rendezvous of divinely appointed messengers. One angel talked with the prophet and answered his questions, promising an explanation of the other figures. The man among the myrtle trees answered the prophet’s first question, explaining that his companions were those whom the Lord had sent to patrol (or to walk to and fro in) the earth. Then the angel of the Lord addressed the Lord himself and received gracious and comforting words which he passed on to the prophet in the form of a message for Jerusalem. Although God declares that he has returned to Jerusalem, he speaks to the prophet Zechariah only through an intermediary.

The message of the vision may be divided into two parts: the report of the patrolling riders and the gracious and comforting words of God. The report of the Lord’s patrols is brief and concerns the condition of the world. Having gone to and fro about the earth, these heavenly police-like beings can report that all is at rest. This report must be understood against the background of uncertainty and hope which had stirred the peoples subject to Persia when Darius had killed the usurper Gaumata (or Gomates) in 522 B.C. Now, the patrols could report, political and military conditions had settled down and the earth was at rest. Darius was in firm control and the empire was stable.

The gracious and comforting words of the Lord have to do with Jerusalem and Zion, and they remind the reader of the opening words of Isaiah 40 with their emphasis on comfort, their specific concern with Jerusalem, and the direction to the prophet: "Cry out." The message of comfort to Jerusalem is concerned primarily with the attitudes of God and then with his plans for the city. God is "exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion," and "very angry with the nations that are at ease." The "jealous God" of the wilderness revelation (Exodus 20:4-6) who will not permit the making of graven images has now directed his attention to those nations who participated in the chastisement of hi; people. God was angry with his people — the sin was idolatry — but the nations chosen to be instruments of his wrath had "furthered the disaster." As we know, nearly seventy years of affliction had been measured out, and during this time the Jews had noted that those whom God used for the chastisement were also guilty of idolatry, greed, murder, and the like — this is the problem of Habakkuk. The Jews had been assured that God had measured double for all their sins (Isaiah 40:2). Now an excess o1 punishment has come upon the Jews, perhaps in the difficulties they met in Jerusalem after the return, perhaps in the continuation of the annoyances of neighboring peoples around Jerusalem In the light of these conditions, four statements can be made to Jerusalem: The Lord has returned to the city with compassion; his house shall be built; the city will be reconstructed; and the cities of Judah will again be prosperous. Zion (Jerusalem) will be com forted and again counted as elect. The vision is thus more explicit than Isaiah 40-55 and somewhat fuller than Haggai in detailed declaration to the people who were to rebuild the Temple. Such daringly definite declarations can only be made by a prophet con scions of the majesty and exaltation of God and of his choice o a particular people to do a particular task; this consciousness came to Zechariah in his first vision.

Verses 18-21

Vision of Four Horns and Four Smiths (1:18-21)

Almost without interruption comes a second vision. The prophet sees four horns. Asking what they are, he is told that they are the horns which scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem. Obviously they represent those nations which had a part in the destruction of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, but they cannot be identified with four specific nations. Rather the four horns stand for the hostility and power which completely engulfed the Hebrew state from the four points of the compass.

This engulfing hostility is now in turn to be terrified and cast down from all sides by four smiths. The smiths do not appear to represent nations, and no further explanation is provided for then by the angel of the vision except in relation to the function they are to fulfill. In view of Zechariah’s predilection for supernatural beings, it is probable that he thought of the smiths as four heavenly beings, each corresponding to a point of the compass, with authority to destroy the political powers that had brought disaster to Israel and Judah. They thus represent the forces by which God would act to remove oppressive foreign government from Judah and Jerusalem.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Zechariah 1". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/zechariah-1.html.