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Part I. A SERIES OF EIGHT VISIONS, AND A SYMBOLICAL ACTION.
§ 1. Title of the book, and author. The eighth month. This was called Bul before the Captivity (1 Kings 6:38), and afterwards Marchesvan (Josephus, 'Ant.,' 1.3 3); it answered to parts of October and November, and was a time of rain. Haggai had first prophesied two months earlier. The second year of Darius. Being now under foreign rule, the prophet uses the regnal years of the king to whom his people were subject (see note on Haggai 1:1). Son of Berechiah (see Introduction, § II.). The prophet. This appellation belongs to "Zechariah," as the LXX. and Vulgate take it. A comma should be inserted after "Iddo" here and in verse 7. Saying. The visions virtually spoke to him, communicated to him the Lord's will; but first he has to deliver the following warning.
§ 2. The prophet admonishes the people not to follow their forefathers' evil example, but to turn to the Lord with all their heart.
Hath been sore displeased; literally, displeased with displeasure, which the versions render, ὠργίσθη ὀργὴν μεγάλην: iratus iracundia (cf. Zechariah 1:15). Not only events connected with their earlier history proved that God had been incensed with their forefathers, but the ruin of their kingdom, and the late Captivity, and the desolation around them, were evidence of the same sad truth.
Say thou unto them. The prophet shows why he has reminded them of their forefathers' sins and punishment. Saith the Lord of hosts. The expression recurs three times in this verse; it denotes the almightiness and infinite resources of God (see note A in the appendix to Archdeacon Perowne's edition of this prophet). Its constant repetition, as in Haggai, gives a certain heaviness to the prophet's style. Turn (return) ye unto me. He calls the people to repentance, partly, doubtless, with a view to their taking an active part in rebuilding the temple, thus carrying on the exhortations of Haggai, but also with reference to their general indevotion and laxity which Ezra afterwards had to reprove (see Ezra 9:2). Saith the Lord of hosts; literally, (it is) the utterance of Jehovah of hosts. This is a more threatening form than the mere "saith" in the other two places in this verse. And I will turn (return) unto you (Malachi 3:7). God promises his favour on their repentance and better conduct; as Haggai had been commissioned to proclaim a return of fruitful seasons as soon as the people obeyed his word and attended diligently to the work before them (Haggai 2:19). They were called now to attend to the pure worship of the Lord, as the sole condition of prosperity. It has been well observed that when it is said, "Turn ye unto me," etc; we are reminded of our free will; and when we cry, "Turn us, good Lord, and we shall be turned," we acknowledge the need of God's preventing grace.
The former prophets have cried. Omit "have." The prophets referred to are those before the Captivity, both those whoso writings are extant, as Hosea, Joel, Amos, etc; and those whose names are mentioned in the historical books, e.g. Nathan, Gad, Shemaiah, Azariah, Hanaui, Elijah, Elisha, Micaiah (Pusey). (See similar complaints in 2 Kings 17:13; 2 Chronicles 36:15, etc.; Jeremiah 25:3-8, which last passage seems to have been in Zechariah's mind.)
To compel them to listen to the warning, he asks them, Your fathers, where are they! What became of those who paid no heed to the admonitions of the prophets? Have they not suffered dire calamities and perished miserably? And the prophets, do they live forever? They can teach and threaten no longer. It is true that the seers who warned your fathers are no more, but did not their words come true (see Zechariah 1:6)? Jerome referred these words to the false prophets, resting, doubtless, on Jeremiah 37:19. But it is more natural to refer them to the "former prophets" mentioned above and in the following verse.
My words. The words that God put into the mouths of the prophets (Jeremiah 39:16; Lamentations 2:17). Statutes, usually applied to the Law, which the prophets had to announce and enforce; but it may mean "decrees" which God appointed (Zephaniah 2:2). The LXX. inserts "receive ye" to govern these nouns. I commanded. The LXX. adds, ἐν πνεύματὶ μου, "by my inspiration." Did they not take hold of your fathers? Did they not overtake, etc.? Did not their threatened chastisements, however long delayed, reach your fathers in the end? And they returned; turned, as Zechariah 1:3, Zechariah 1:4. They turned so far as to acknowledge that the threats had been fully accomplished (see Daniel 9:5; Ezra 9:6, etc.). Thought to do; παρατέτακται, "designed, purposed to do" (comp. Lamentations 2:17).
§ 3. The first vision: the horsemen in the myrtle grove.
In a series of visions it is now shown what is the nature of the restored theocracy, and what shall befall it. Thus were the people comforted by bearing God's purposes of mercy and the great future that awaited Israel. In this first vision it is revealed to Zechariah that the Gentile nations should be overthrown, and that whatever might be the present condition of the Jewish people, God's purpose of mercy toward them was unshaken and would be fulfilled. The four and twentieth day of the eleventh month, which is the month Sebat. This month (called here by its Chaldean name) answered to parts of January and February. It was three months since Zechariah had been called to the prophetical office, and five since the building of the temple had been resumed at Haggai's remonstrance. Meantime Haggai had concluded his mission by uttering his final prophecies two months ago, and now Zechariah carries on the revelation. A comparison of the months in the cuneiform inscriptions with the Hebrew will be found in Schrader, 'Keilinschriften,' 379, and in Dr. Wright's note on this verse. The word of the Lord. Thee visions with their explanations are in effect the oracle (see note on verse 1).
I saw by night; in the night; i.e. the night of the twenty-fourth day (Zechariah 1:7). The visions were seen in this one night at short intervals. There is nothing to make one suppose that they came in dreams (Isaiah 29:7). The prophet is awake, but whether he sees these scenes with his bodily eyes, or was rapt in ecstasy, cannot be decided. A man riding upon a red horse. This is the Angel of Jehovah, mentioned again in Zechariah 1:10 and in Zechariah 1:11, in both of which places the description, "that stood among the myrtle trees," serves to identify him. He is different from the interpreting angel, and is the leader of the company of horsemen that follow him. Keil and Wright consider that the rider on the red horse cannot be identified with the Angel of Jehovah, because otherwise he would have been represented as standing opposite to the other horsemen to receive the information which they brought him, and they would not have been spoken of as "behind" hint. But the expression in Zechariah 1:8 may mean merely that the prophet sets his eyes first on the leader and then on the attendants. Or in Zechariah 1:10 he is the spokesman who begins the account of the riders' doings, which these themselves complete in Zechariah 1:11. Thus there are in the scene only
(1) the prophet;
(2) the angel rider and his attendants; and
(3) the interpreting angel.
The red colour of the horse is supposed to represent war and bloodshed, as in Revelation 6:4; but this seems unsuitable in this piece, where nothing of the kind is intimated, but rather the contrary (Revelation 6:11). It is, indeed, impossible to affix any satisfactory explanation to the colour. If, as we may well suppose, this personage is the Angel of the covenant, who was the leader and guide of the Israelites (comp. Joshua 5:13), his standing in the valley among the myrtles may represent the depressed and humbled condition of the chosen people, which yet was well pleasing unto God, like the sweet scent of odoriferous myrtles is agreeable to men. The myrtle trees. The myrtle is indigenous in the hilly regions of Northern Palestine, and is still seen in the glens near Jerusalem, though no longer on the Mount of Olives, where the returned captives found it when celebrating their first Feast of Tabernacles (Nehemiah 8:15). In the bottom; the valley. Myrtles love such places. "Amantes littora myrtos" (Virgil, 'Georg.,' 4:124). The term would suit the valley of the Kidron. Others render, "the shady place," or "the tabernacle," but not so appropriately. LXX; ἀναμέσον τῶν [Alex; 860] ὀρέων τῶν κατασκίων, "between the shady mountains." The Greek translators seem to have borrowed their reading from Revelation 6:1-17; where the chariots issue from between two mountains of brass. Behind him were them red horses; i.e. horses mounted by riders (Revelation 6:11). Speckled. It is not clear what colour is meant by this word. The Revised Version gives sorrel; Wright, "bay or chestnut;" LXX; ψαροί καὶ ποιλίλοι: "dapple-grey and spotted;" Vulgate, varii. The Septuagint Version is probably a double rendering. The word occurs elsewhere only in Isaiah 16:8, where it is applied to the tendrils of the vitae. What is intended by the different colours of the horses is a matter of great dispute, and cannot be known. There is some reason for considering that they represent the world powers at this particular period—the Babylonian, the Medo-Persian, the Greek; three of those concerning which Daniel prophesied; the fourth, the Roman, not having yet come in view. The notion of tutelary angels, presiding over countries, was familiar to the Hebrew mind (see Daniel 10:12, Daniel 10:13, Daniel 10:20, Daniel 10:21). These horsemen are evidently not post couriers, but warriors on military service.
O my lord. The prophet speaks to the angel of the Lord, who answers briefly, and is succeeded by the interpreting angel. What are these? Not "who," but "what;" i.e. what do they signify? (comp. Amos 7:8). That talked with me; literally, as the LXX. and Vulgate, that spake in me. So Zechariah 1:13, Zechariah 1:14, and in the following visions. Hence some regard the expression as intimating a communication berne inwardly to the soul without the aid of external organs, or that the angel overpowered and influenced the prophet as the evil spirit possessed the demoniac. But the same term is used, as Dr. Wright points out, in the sense of to commune with a person (Numbers 12:6, Numbers 12:8; 1 Samuel 25:39), and to speak to a person (Hosea 1:2; and perhaps Habakkuk 2:1). It may, however, be that the angel of the Lord presented matters objectively, and the prophet's own angel interpreted subjectively. But the Authorized Version is probably correct. I will show thee. This he does through the chief angel (Zechariah 1:10).
The man that stood, etc. The rider upon the red horse of Zechariah 1:8, the leader of the company of horsemen. Answered the question which the prophet had proposed, or answered in response to a sign from the interpreting angel. They whom the Lord hath sent, etc. These angelic ministers had been sent to traverse the earth and to report its condition (comp. Job 1:7; Job 2:2; Hebrews 1:14), and to guide it to the carrying out of God's purposes.
They answered. Having said who they were, the angel directs them to tell of their doings. The angel of the Lord. The "man riding upon the red horse" (Zechariah 1:8) is now called "the Angel of Jehovah." This term is usually held to denote a manifestation of the Logos, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, assuming an angelic form or imparting his immediate presence to the revealer of his will. Sitteth still, and is at rest. The world was lying in proud security. There was no sign of that shaking of nations which Haggai (Haggai 2:7, Haggai 2:21, Haggai 2:22) had foretold should precede the coming of Messiah and the restoration of Israel. In this second year of Darius, the empire, though suffering from internal disturbances, was outwardly at peace, and was threatened by no enemy at a distance. But the condition of the Jews was sad and disheartening; the temple still unbuilt, the walls of Jerusalem lying in ruins, themselves only a small remnant, exposed to the insults and attacks of jealous neighbours, living on sufferance as subjects of a heathen power, and no sign of the predicted salvation appearing,—this was their state. And the angel sees their despondency, recognizes their disappointment, and intercedes for them.
Answered. He answered the feeling in the prophet's mind, the unexpressed longing of his heart. O Lord of hosts. The angel is the intercessor for the people. So Christ prays to the Father (John 17:1-26.). How long wilt thou not have mercy, etc.? He prays that the weary waiting for deliverance may speedily come to an end, and Jerusalem be restored, and Judaea be again inhabited by a happy population. These three score and ten years. The predicted seventy years of captivity (Jeremiah 25:11; Jeremiah 29:10) were past; it was time that the punishment should cease. There are two computations of this period. The first dates from the first capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, B.C. 606, when Judaea was made tributary to Babylon (2 Kings 24:1 : 2 Chronicles 36:6; Daniel 1:1, etc.), unto the return of the company of exiles under Zerubbabel, B.C. 536; the second dates from the final destruction of Jerusalem, B.C. 588, unto the second year of Darius, B.C. 519, when Zechariah saw these visions. However reckoned, the dark period was now over; might they not now expect the commotion among the nations which was to precede their own restitution?
The Lord answered. The Angel of Jehovah is thus ca]led as the representative of God, whether we regard him as the Logos or a created angel empowered by God (see note on Zechariah 1:11). This personage is often seemingly identified with Jehovah (comp. Zechariah 3:2; Genesis 18:1, Genesis 18:2, Genesis 18:13, Genesis 18:17, Genesis 18:22; Joshua 5:14, Joshua 5:15; Joshua 6:2). He gives the answer to the interpreting angel, which the latter is to convey to the prophet, which he, in turn, was to announce to the people. Good words, promising blessing and salvation (1 Kings 12:7); and these are comfortable words (Isaiah 57:18), a message calculated to bring comfort to the people's desponding hearts. What the message is is given in the following verses (14-17).
Cry thou (Isaiah 40:6). The prophet has to publish two things:
(1) God's love for his people, however humiliated and miserable their present position might be; and
(2) the promise of coming prosperity.
I am jealous. The term implies ardent love, which cannot bear itself to be slighted, or the object of its affection to be injured (comp. Zechariah 8:2, and note there; Numbers 25:11, Numbers 25:13; Joel 2:18). For Jerusalem, as the capital of the kingdom; and for Zion, as the seat of worship.
The heathen; the nations, who were God's instruments in punishing Israel. That are at ease. Living in proud security and self-enjoyment (Isaiah 32:9, Isaiah 32:11; Amos 6:1; comp. Amos 6:11). Septuagint, τὰ συνεπιτιθέμενα, "which join in attacking her;" Vulgate, opulentas, "wealthy," their riches giving them self-confidence. I was but a little displeased. God had been angry with his people, it is true, but only in measure, chastising them, like a parent, for their good. Others take "a little" (parum, ὀλίγα) to mean "for a little time," in allusion to the seventy years' captivity. And they helped forward the affliction; or, in the LXX; συνεπέθεντο εἰς κακὰ, "helped for evil; "Vulgate, adjuverunt in malum. They exceeded their part as mere instruments in God's hands, and wished to destroy Israel altogether, or to oppress them beyond the purposed period of their chastisement. A similar complaint is made against the Assyrians (Isaiah 10:5, etc.) and the Babylonians (Isaiah 47:6).
Therefore. Because God loved his people and was incensed with the heathen. I am returned; I return. According to the promise in Zechariah 1:3 (see note on Zechariah 8:3). A line shall be stretched forth. A measuring line shall now be used to mark out the city for rebuilding (Job 38:5). The first proof of God's renewed mercy would be seen in the restoration of the temple, the symbol of the theocracy, and in the revival of the city, the type of national life. The "line" had been used for purposes of destruction (2 Kings 21:13; Isaiah 34:11; Lamentations 2:8).
Cry yet, saying. This introduces the second part of the prophet's message. The LXX. begins the verse with the words, "And the angel that spake in me said unto me." My cities through prosperity shall yet be spread abroad. "Yet," in this verse, is better rendered again. God calls the cities his, to show his love for Judah; and he promises that they shall not only be reoccupied by returning immigrants, but increased in extent and number by reason of the enlarged population. So Josephus tells us that in later times Jerusalem had outgrown its walls, and that the fourth quarter, Bezetha, was added ('Bell. Jud.,' 5.4. 2). But it seems' best to translate the clause thus: "My cities shall yet overflow with prosperity." Vulgate, Adhuc affluent civitates meae bonis; LXX; Ἔτι διαχυθήσονται πόλεις ἐν ἀγαθοῖς. Shall yet comfort Zion, for all her afflictions. Shall yet choose Jerusalem (Zechariah 2:12 [16, Hebrew]; Zechariah 3:2). God will show that the election of Israel remains unimpaired and secure. The partial fulfilment of the items of this prophecy are to be found in the rebuilding of the temple, the restoration of Jerusalem by Nehemiah, and the prosperity of Judah under the Asmonean princes. A hint of further blessings is given in the final clause, but their nature is not expressly mentioned.
§ 4. The second vision. the four horns and the four craftsmen.
I lifted up mine eyes, and saw. This vision is closely connected with the former. The prophet had been told that the hostile nations should be punished and scattered; he now is shown this threat being executed. Four horns, belching to four beasts but dimly seen or wholly invisible. Horns are symbols of strength and power (comp. Psalms 75:4, Psalms 75:5; Daniel 8:3; Amos 6:13). Here they mean powers hostile to Israel, and the number "four" (the symbol of completeness) points to the four winds from which they come, i.e. from every side. In the Hebrew Zechariah 2:1-13. begins at this verse.
Which have scattered, etc. Some see here an allusion to the prophecy of Daniel concerning the Babylonians, Medo-Persians, Macedonians, and Romans. Against this view it is urged that the prophet is speaking of past events, not of a far distant future. Others Lake the four horns to represent Assyria, Egypt, Babylon, and Medo-Persia, all of which had scattered Israel. But it is well to lay no special stress on such explanations of symbolical language, which are at best mere conjectures, liable to be overthrown by a new theory. The word "scattered," which Jerome renders ventilaverunt, means properly, as Wright observes, "to winnow," to separate and scatter by means of the wind. The perfect tense of this verb must not be pressed so as to exclude all notion of coming events. The prophets see at one glance past and future, and combine in one expression far distant occurrences. Doubtless Zechariah's vision has some relation to Daniel's, and his description of the powers hostile to the Church of God runs on parallel lines with that of his predecessor. Whether be refers to the same four empires must be left in uncertainty. Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem. All the tribes and the capital. According to Ewald, Judah is named first as occupying the place of honour, even as Benjamin is named before Judah in Psalms 68:27, because the capital city lay in its territory. Jerusalem was the centre of worship and government for all the people, the northern tribes being represented by Israel. the southern by Judah. Some critics cancel the word "Israel" here, and there is no doubt that it is often written for "Jerusalem" by mistake (comp. Jeremiah 23:6 [where see Professor Cheyne's note]; Jeremiah 32:30, Jeremiah 32:32; Jeremiah 51:49; Zephaniah 3:14; Malachi 2:11). Gratz supposes that in the present passage the scribe discovered his mistake, and wrote the right word "Jerusalem" after the wrong one "Israel," but leaving the latter still in the manuscript. Of course, there is no proof of this supposition. Some manuscripts of the Septuagint omit "Jerusalem" here.
Four carpenters; craftsmen; Revised Version, smiths, in which case "the horns" would be made of iron. The word is applied to workers in wood, stone, and metal; therefore an ambiguous rendering seems most suitable here. LXX; τέκτονας; Vulgate, fabros. They represent the human agencies employed by God to overthrow the powers hostile to the Church. Their number is the same as that of the "horns," thus showing their adequacy for the work which they have to execute. It is quite unnecessary to attempt to identify the four "craftsmen." Some take them to be Zerubbabel, Joshua, Ezra, and Nehemiah; or Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, Cambyses, and Alexander the Great; or the four evangelists; or generally, angels. We shall be safer if we look upon them merely as God's instruments and servants without further identification.
And he spake. The interpreting angel spake. Which have scattered Judah. The LXX. adds, "and broke Israel in pieces." Did lift up his head. These powers laid Judah prostrate. To fray them. To terrify the powers symbolized by the four horns, and disturb their self-complacent Security (Zechariah 1:15). The LXX; mistaking the sense, gives, Τοῦ ὀξῦναι αὐτὰ εἰς χεῖρας αὐτῶν τὰ τέσσαρα κέρατα, "To sharpen them, even the four horns, in their hands." To cast out; to cast down, to overthrow these proud powers. Over (against) the land. The nations had treated Judah as a wild bull treats things that oppose him, tossing and scattering them to the wind.
A timely warning.
"In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius, came the word of the Lord unto Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo the prophet," etc. Special attention seems invited in the opening verse of this opening prophecy to the question of time. Probably because the time of its utterance was a time of much hope, as shown by the cotemporaneous prophecies of Haggai 1:13-15 ("sixth month"); Haggai 2:1-9 ("seventh month"); and Haggai 2:18, Haggai 2:19 ("ninth month"). Probably also because a time of much hope is a time of much fear; the season of bloom is the season of blight. Accordingly, the whole of this opening message—a kind of prologue to the visions that follow—is one of admonition and warning, a warning which turns
(1) on the present position, and
(2) on the past experience, of the Jewish people and Church.
I. PRESENT POSITION.
1. The fact. How did they stand before God? As the children of sinners (Haggai 2:2). This is the first thing to be remembered by them, as also by us all (Ephesians 2:3, end).
2. The significance of the fact; and that in two opposite directions.
(1) As to God's attitude towards them. His favour was turned away from them. As he had been "displeased" with their "fathers," so also, though not irretrievably, with themselves. This implied in the very promise of Haggai 2:3, "I will turn to you." This same truth, again, both in the second commandment, and also in the gracious declaration of Exodus 34:5-7, is set forth as part of God's uniform rule.
(2) As to their (natural) attitude towards God. Their hearts were turned away from him. Hence the exhortation of verse
3. Their attitude was one even of malignant aversion, if so we may speak, always tending of itself, like certain malignant bodily diseases, to become aggravated and worse. The longer we postpone our repentance the more difficult it becomes. This is the most serious consideration of all.
II. PAST EXPERIENCE. (See Exodus 34:5, Exodus 34:6.) In these they are reminded:
1. That some things belonging to the past had indeed passed away, as it were. "Their fathers," e.g. who had received so many warnings, and despised them. Even "the prophets" also, who had delivered these warnings, and believed them, had fulfilled their days, and departed. Like a scene in a play, like a picture in a magic lantern, there was something else in their place.
2. Some things belonging to the past were still remaining. The truth of God's Word, for example (see Psalms 6:6-8). This manifest to their senses. Did not "my words and my statutes take hold of your fathers"? All their recent history, their complete and long enduring captivity, their partial return, their present condition, an affirmative answer to this question. This same truth acknowledged, too, by those gone. They acknowledged the fact: "As God thought to do, so he did." They acknowledged Its justice. According to our ways, and according to our doings, so hath he" done (comp. Lamentations 2:17, Lamentations 2:18; and as to the general principle, Judges 1:7). This the special triumph of God's Word, that it is vindicated and preached at times by its bitterest foes.
In conclusion, we may note and admire in this passage:
1. The discrimination of Scripture. How exactly suited the whole tenor of this passage to the case of those here addressed! Reminding us of the "wise steward," who gives to "every one a portion of meat in due season." Also of the declaration of the apostle, that all inspired Scripture is so variously profitable as to make "the man of God" complete, or perfect, as to all that he needs (2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Timothy 3:17).
2. The faithfulness of Scripture. How different all this from the flattery with which most nations are addressed by their teachers; and which most nations also demand! Contrast "When France is content, Europe is tranquil;" also, as to our own country, the words of the poet—
"Thou shalt flourish, great and free,
The dread and envy of them all."
3. The mercy of Scripture. Notwithstanding all provocations—all personal, all patrimonial, iniquity—the language of God here is, with outstretched hand (Romans 10:21), "Be ye reconciled unto me" (2 Corinthians 5:20; comp. also Hosea 3:1-5; and the emphatic "only" in Jeremiah 3:12-14). Note also how greatly this mercy is set forth by the greatness of the faithfulness before named. In the words of our English laureate—
"He showed me all the mercy,
For he showed me all the sin."
A vision of rest.
"Upon the four and twentieth day of the eleventh month, which is the month Sebat, in the second year of Darius, came the word of the Lord unto Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo the prophet," etc. Several points in this vision, as in many others, cannot certainly be explained. The nature and significance of the colours of the horses is one of these points. Another is as to the identity or otherwise of the "angel" of verse 9 with that of the "rider" of verse 8, who seems undeniably to be the "man" of verse 10 and the "angel of the Lord" of verses 11, 12. The idea of identity is favoured by Pusey's rendering, "talked in me," compared with Numbers 12:6-9; Habakkuk 2:1; 1 Peter 1:11; also by the high probability of the person promising in 1 Peter 1:9 being the same as the person performing in 1 Peter 1:10; and by the similar probability that the person asking in 1 Peter 1:12, and the person answered in 1 Peter 1:13, should be one and the same. From these very uncertainties, however, we may, perhaps, learn an incidental truth of importance. We may learn, e.g; that the agents of God are not less manifold, nod not less mysterious to us, than his works. Also that whether the "angel of the Lord" speaks to us directly, or only by the instrumentality of one of his accredited servants, it comes to much the same in the end. In the rest of the vision we may notice
(1) the King himself;
(2) the King's servants; and
(3) the King's work.
I. THE KING HIMSELF. Under this head we learn:
1. His condition. He appears as a Rider, i.e. as one who has left his home and is on a journey for a season.
2. His rank. He has many and various attendants, but all "behind him" (comp. Revelation 19:14, where the rider probably appears on a white horse, because riding in triumph).
3. His place; amongst the myrtle trees in the hollow; representing, it is thought, the people of God, humble yet pleasing to him, in their then low estate (see Isaiah 41:19; Isaiah 55:13).
4. His apparent purpose; viz. to "visit" and save his people (Genesis 1:24; Exodus 3:16; Exodus 4:31; Luke 1:68).
II. THE KING'S SERVANTS. Of these we find that they are the objects:
1. Of special inquiry. Who the Leader is the prophet understands. Who these are that attend upon him he cannot tell, yet much wishes to know, probably because of something very special in their numbers and variety and general appearance of readiness and expectation. "What is it the King means to do with all these?"
2. Of special explanation. Explanation very readily given. Your difficulty is natural. Your inquiry is legitimate. "I will show thee what these be." Explanation also very sufficiently given. Who are they? They are persons "sent;" they have a mission indeed to accomplish. Who sent them? The Lord himself. For what purpose? For that of special investigation. To investigate where? In all parts of the earth. This is why God has visited his people, viz. to learn, by means of these his servants, how things are with them in the world.
III. THE KING'S WORK. The nature and completeness of this are shown to us by his servants' report. For example, we see:
1. Its great promptitude. The next thing we hear of this report is of its completion (1 Peter 1:11). No time, apparently, has been lost. While the prophet's question has been put and acknowledged, their mission has been accomplished (comp. Daniel 9:21; Ezekiel 1:14).
2. Its perfection. They have examined the whole earth. They have examined it all so thoroughly that they challenge any one ("behold") to do more.
3. Its purport and unanimity. This is how they all found the world, viz. "sitting still and at rest"—like a weary traveller who has finished his long journey, and taken his seat, and only asks to sit still.
See, therefore, in conclusion, respecting this vision:
1. How specially encouraging it was at theft time. By the Jews, just then exhorted to recommence the restoration of their temple, two things only were specially required. The one was to know, as to God, that his eye was upon them for good (see Ezra 5:5). The other was to know, as to men, that they would be let alone in their work (Ezra 4:3). And these, we see, were just the two things of which this vision assures them. With everything to help them in heaven, and nothing to hinder them on earth, what more could they ask?
2. How instructive for all times. When any direct work for God, such as that of building his house or enlarging his Church, has to be done, this is how it often pleases him to order the world. So Solomon was raised up as a "man of rest" to build the original temple. So Christ was born, and the foundations of the Christian Church were laid, when all the world was at peace. So we read also in Acts 9:31. Compare also the language of the Collect for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity; and the connection between Acts 9:2 and Acts 9:4 in 1 Timothy 2:1-15.
A vision of mercy.
"Then the angel of the Lord answered and said," etc. In the last portion (Zechariah 1:7-11) we saw Christ, or the Angel-Jehovah, presented to us as a King, exercising visitatorial powers. In the present we seem to read of him under those two other principal aspects in which he is revealed to his people, viz.
(1) as their great High Priest interceding for them with God; and
(2) as their great Teacher or Prophet instructing and comforting them in God's name.
I. INTERCESSION. We find this to be:
1. Exceedingly apposite. Much had already been done for the remnant of the Captivity; but much also remained. A mere handful (some fifty thousand all told, Ezra 2:64, Ezra 2:65), compared with the many thousands of Israel, had been brought back; a few scattered centres of population only were to be found in the land, and Jerusalem itself was more like a city of the dead than of the living (compare the description of it in Nehemiah 7:4, many years afterwards). This state of things is exactly recognized in the Angel-Jehovah's petition, "How long wilt thou not have mercy on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah?" (For similar and, probably, nearly contemporaneous request for further mercy after much mercy received, comp. Psalms 126:4 and Psalms 126:1.)
2. Very judicious. See what this intercession allows, viz. the justice of God. "Thou hast had indignation;" and rightly, so it implies. (For similar confessions of God's justice in pleading for mercy, comp. Genesis 18:25; Jeremiah 12:1.) See also what this intercession relies on, viz. on the one hand, God's character, as delighting to exercise mercy (so to speak) as soon as he can; and, on the other hand, on God's faithfulness, as being Sure to confine his indignation strictly to the duration specified by him. "These three score and ten years" (see Jeremiah 26:11, Jeremiah 26:12).
3. Very effectual. This shown by the answer obtained, which consisted, on the one hand, of "good words" i.e. words promising good; and on the other hand, of "comfortable words," literally, words "sighing with," or full of sympathy, in the spirit of Romans 12:15; Isaiah 63:9; and so being all that could be wished for, both in matter and manner.
II. INSTRUCTION. The Angel-Jehovah, having received this reply, then proceeds—either personally or, as some think, through the instrumentality of some subordinate angel—to instruct the prophet accordingly. In this we may notice:
1. His commission. The satisfactory answer just received by the Angel-Jehovah the prophet was now to make known in his turn: "Cry thou." He was also to tell it aloud, to proclaim it: "Cry" (bis); comp. Gen 41:43; 2 Chronicles 32:18, where the same word is employed. And he was to do so being thus commissioned (this also is mentioned twice, 2 Chronicles 32:14, 2 Chronicles 32:17) in God's name.
2. His message. This corresponds, as might be expected, with the "words" of 2 Chronicles 32:13. For example, it is a message
(1) of great sympathy; being one, we find, in which God identifies himself with the interests of his people (observe "my," in 2 Chronicles 32:16, 2 Chronicles 32:17), and even speaks of himself as sharing to some extent in their anxieties and purely national jealousies and rivalries. It was no pleasure to him to see other nations at ease, and them in trouble, however deserved. No doubt he had been "displeased" with them (Zechariah 1:1, Zechariah 1:2); but he was still more so with their foes (2 Chronicles 32:15). A message
(2) of great hope. Much good, in fact, had begun. Not only had the remnant returned to Jerusalem; God himself also had done so (2 Chronicles 32:16), and that "with mercies;" to stay amongst his people, and not merely to "visit" them. More good was to follow. The "house" now building was to be finished; the rest of the now desolate city to be marked out and finished; and the scattered cities of Judah to be so filled as to overflow ("spread abroad;" comp. Zechariah 2:2) on all sides. All this, however apparently unlikely, was, nevertheless (observe "yet" three times), being God's settled purpose, to be accomplished; and the prophet also was to go on saying so until this was the case ("Cry yet," 2 Chronicles 32:16).
Do we not see illustrated in all this, finally?
1. The perfection of the gospel. "Good words and comfortable words"—"glad tidings of great joy"—so we see it to be. How full of sympathy! How full of hope! Its excellency culminating in this, perhaps, above all, that we have not only such a "Propitiation" (1 John 2:2). but such a perpetual "Advocate" (1 John 2:1) and Intercessor to plead it (see also Hebrews 7:25; Luke 22:31, Luke 22:32; Luke 13:8, Luke 13:9; Acts 7:55).
2. The certainty of the gospel. As to its essence and source, on the one hand. As in 2 Chronicles 32:13, it is, in effect, the promise of God to his Son (comp. Psalms 2:7-9; Psalms 110:1-7; passim). As to its conveyance to us, on the other; being, in effect, as in 2 Chronicles 32:14, the message of Christ himself to us through those appointed by him. Compare the visions of Christ to Isaiah (6.; John 12:1-50.) and Daniel (Daniel 10:5, Daniel 10:6, and references); also John 14:26; John 16:13, John 16:14; Colossians 3:16, etc.
A vision of help.
"Then lifted I up mine eyes, and saw," etc. In these verses, and some that follow, certain detached portions of the previous general prophecy seem to be set before us again in greater amplitude and detail—like maps of England, France, and so on, in an atlas, following the general but smaller-scaled map of the whole "quarter" of Europe. In the verses now especially before us, it is the previous message concerning the enemies of God's people (Zechariah 1:14, Zechariah 1:15) which seems to be thus followed up and enlarged. And the twofold purpose in view seems to be that of reminding his people in this connection
(1) of their special danger; and
(2) of their special defence.
I. THEIR SPECIAL DANGER. On this point they are shown:
1. Its reality,. Though God was sorely displeased with the heathen, though he had done much already to restrain them, so that the earth now was "at rest" (supra, Zechariah 1:11), and the returned people were able to rebuild his house, he had by no means destroyed them as yet. The four "horns" seen in the vision—the well known symbols of authority and strength and hostility (Psalms 75:4-7, Psalms 75:10; Jeremiah 48:25; Deuteronomy 33:17; 1 Kings 22:11)—suffice to prove this. However restrained at that moment, the ability and the disposition to injure were still in existence.
2. Its peculiar greatness. This
(1) as to power. How much evil those same Gentile horns had already done in the past (see end of Zechariah 1:19 and Zechariah 1:21)! Also perhaps
(2) as to direction; the "four" horns representing that they had such enemies on all sides (comp. Psalms 83:5-8, where every side of Palestine seems to be represented). Or possibly
(3) as to duration; first one enemy, then another, as in the very similar description of Jeremiah 1:17; or else with some reference to the four successive world empires of Daniel's visions, and as meaning to intimate, in that case, that, whichever of such "horns" should be specially exalted for the time, it would be a horn against them. So much was their condition, of itself, like that described in Luke 10:3.
II. THEIR SPECIAL DEFENCE.
1. The fact itself. This manifest—having such enemies as they had—from their still continued existence. Though "scattered," it was not beyond recovery; though so prostrate that no man could "lift up the head," they were not destroyed (comp. Psalms 129:1, Psalms 129:2). Who could have caused this but Jehovah himself?
2. The peculiar nature of this defence. Jehovah restrains the many enemies of his people by "fraying" or frightening them from going too far (comp. Psalms 76:9, Psalms 76:10; also Genesis 35:5; Exodus 15:16; 2Ki 19:6; 2 Chronicles 17:10; and to some extent the cases of Abimelech, Genesis 20:1, Genesis 20:7; and Balsam, Deuteronomy 23:5).
3. The peculiar instrument of this defence. Not other "horns" to push against these; not other men of war to overcome these; but artificers only, men of peace. Possibly also artificers of the class engaged in building, as though to intimate that the work of building God's temple was the best defence at that time to God's people.
4. The peculiar completeness of this defence. As shown, perhaps, by there being as many in number thus to defend as there were to attack. From whichever side, at whatever time, the attack, there also would be prepared against it this kind of defence (comp. Psalms 32:7, Psalms 32:10).
We see all this abundantly illustrated:
1. In the subsequent history of the literal Israel. How often since assaulted! how apparently close, at times, to extermination! how utterly powerless, frequently, in themselves! yet how wonderfully preserved in existence, by similar restraints of their enemies, from that day until this!
2. In the history of nations and Churches. It is at least worthy of consideration, in this connection, that since the day when the Reformation found its most congenial home in this island, every projected hostile invader has been restrained from reaching our shores. Also, perhaps, the remarkable (true) prosperity and preservation of the Moravian and Waldensian Churches, are eases in point.
3. In the history of the spiritual Israel at large. How many its enemies from the first (Acts 28:22; Luke 21:17; Ephesians 6:12)! How incapable of defending itself (Matthew 10:16, as before)! Yet how wonderfully preserved until now; and also, to be preserved to the end (Matthew 16:18)!
4. In the experience of individual believers. See lives of such men as Luther, Wesley, Whitefield, Simeon, and others. We may almost say of each of such, as just now of the Church at large, "Each man immortal till his work be done." So in truth of every one who truly believes in Christ Jesus. The righteous scarcely is saved, but he is saved, after all.
HOMILIES BY W. FORSYTH
God's call to repentance.
Repentance is turning from sin unto God.
I. THE CALL IS FOUNDED ON GOD'S ABSOLUTE RIGHT TO OBEDIENCE. "Lord of hosts." Sublime title. Thrice used, to give the greater impressiveness. Implies that God's rule is wide as creation. Mark the "host" of stars (Isaiah 40:26). Higher, behold the "angels and principalities and powers" (Psalms 103:20, Psalms 103:21). God is Lord of all, and it is this God that claims our homage. To turn from him is folly and ruin; to turn to him is the highest wisdom and blessedness.
II. URGED BY GOD'S JUDGMENTS ON TRANSGRESSORS. Israel is our "ensample" (1 Corinthians 10:11). The sun dues not ripen the corn more surely than God's favour attended the Jews when they were steadfast to walk in his ways; nor are thorns and briars more certain to spring up in a neglected field than God's judgments to fall on Israel when their hearts were set in them to do evil. God is not changed. The world is governed now on the same principles as in the past.
III. ENCOURAGED BY GOD'S PROMISES. "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh." So of God's Word. It reveals his heart. There is no bar on God's part to the sinner's return. He himself has opened the way, and his promise is to those who turn to him. "I will turn unto you." Here is hope held out, help graciously offered, joyful welcome assured. We have not only doctrines, but facts. Great cloud of witnesses, who can say each for himself, like Paul, "I obtained mercy."
IV. ENFORCED BY THE EXPERIENCES OF LIFE. Every man's life is separate. But much common. The brevity of life. Delay is dangerous. The confessions of life. God's Word is truth. Faithful are his promises and his threatenings. The monitions of life. Voices of the past, of the good, and of the evil, of earth and heaven, all combine and cry with awful and convincing force, "Repent!"—F.
Are we better than our fathers?
I. "FATHERS" IMPLIES SUCCESSIVENESS. Changes are constant. Not a whole generation together, but men go, as they come, one by one. Seems common to all existences. Necessary also. If all lived on, there would not be room for the ever-increasing multitudes. Part of God's great plan for the education of the race.
II. "FATHERS" IMPLIES INTERDEPENDENCE. There is a close relationship between fathers and children. Physically, mentally, and even morally, we are to a large degree what others have made us. "How shall a man escape from his ancestors, or draw off from his veins the black drop which he drew from his father's or his mother's life?" (Emerson).
"Tis law as steadfast as the throne of Zeus,
Our days are heritors of days gone by."
And as we have been influenced by the past, so we shall influence the future. Our children not only receive a certain impress from their birth, but ate moulded for good or evil by the teaching and example of their parents, and by the environment of their daily life.
III. "FATHERS" IMPLIES RESPONSIBILITY. "Be not as your fathers." There should be reflection and choice of the good, Whether we are better or worse is a difficult question. The term "fathers" is indefinite. We should fix some point for comparison. But where? Our immediate fathers, or those of earlier times? Besides, difficult to get evidence for a fair comparison. History defective. Tradition unreliable. The "fathers" stand out like hills enshrouded in mist, or as stars that take a glory from being far. Besides, who are to judge? Ourselves. Then risk of partiality. We naturally lean to the party to which we belong. Suppose you take the old. They are apt to side with the past. Their day is over. Their vigor is gone. They dwell on what has been done. Rarely will you find an old man who does not say, "The former days were better" (Ecclesiastes 7:10). Suppose you take the young. They side with the present. The world is all before them. They are eager for the strife. "Yearning for the large excitement that the coming years would yield." But in any case, our judgment is liable to be affected by circumstances. Our own state, the love of society, the spirit of the age, influence us largely (cf. Elijah, 1 Kings 19:4). Are we better than our fathers? There is no question but we ought to be. Progress is the law. We have the higher advantages. The great thoughts and the great deeds of others should inspire us. We are the "heirs of all the ages," In some respects we are certainly better. As to food, clothing, habitations, means of education, political and social rights, intercourse with other nations, and so forth, there has been an immense advance. But what availeth this, if morally and spiritually we stand, not higher, but lower than our fathers? "Christ is our Hope." Individually we are bound to strive after a better life, and thus we can best influence society. There may be much in our past that is bad; but it is past; and let us take hope. If there are sins, they are forgiven. If there are bad habits, they have been broken off. It there are failures, they have been retrieved. We can look on. Stirred with a holy ambition, sustained by precious promises, animated by noble examples, we can press on to the brighter and better days to come. Our standard should be, not the conventional standard of the Church or the day, but the perfect law of Christ (Matthew 5:20-48).—F.
The transitoriness of life.
I. COMPARED WITH THE PERMANENCE OF THE EARTH. Objects of nature remain. There are changes, but they are not so great within the limit of our brief lives as to attract much notice. "One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever" (Ecclesiastes 1:4).
II. COMPARED WITH THE CONTINUITY OF THE RACE. The individual withers; families disappear; kingdoms decay and fall; but the race of man remains. Our life is as a tale that is told, but the story of the generations of the past reaches back beyond our ken.
III. COMPARED WITH THE IMMENSE LABOUR BESTOWED ON MEN. What a preparation going before! What long and arduous toils there have been to fit us for our place and our work! and then how short the time we have for accomplishing anything! How often early promise fails, and the dear hopes cherished are disappointed!
IV. COMPARED WITH THE EXPECTATIONS FORMED. What plans, schemings, enterprises! What high ambitions! And yet how little is achieved! Man's promise is always better than his performance. Once, perhaps, we took a forward place; our names were on the lips of many—looked to win great fame. But the end is "vanity."
V. COMPARED WITH THE IMMORTALITY OF GOD'S WORD. Fathers and prophets alike pass away. They cannot continue by reason of death. "All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: but the Word of the Lord endureth forever. And this is the Word which by the gospel is preached unto you" (1 Peter 1:24, 1 Peter 1:25).—F.
God's Word taking hold.
I. THE FLIGHT. Men strive to get away from God. Some try one device, some another (cf. Adam, Genesis 3:10; Jonah 1:3; Paul, Acts 26:9). Such conduct is unnatural, wicked, and vain (Psalms 139:7).
II. THE PURSUIT. The sinner followed. He feels that God knows all, and that the day of reckoning will come. Memory, conscience, Law, Scripture, prophecy of judgment. The officer of justice is on the sinner's track. Any moment he may feel his hand on his shoulder, and hear the awful words, "You are my prisoner."
III. THE OVERTAKING. Certain, for good or for evil. In the day of conviction, of true penitence, or of righteous retribution—amidst the songs of rejoicing angels or the weeping and wailing of lost souls. What has been our experience? God's Word "takes hold," as truth of the intellect, as righteousness of the conscience, as love of the heart. Mark Augustine in the garden at Milan (Romans 13:13, Romans 13:14); Luther painfully climbing the church steps at Rome (Romans 1:17). Study Bunyan's 'Grace Abounding.' So of all the redeemed. Happy are we when we recognize that God's Word comes, not as a foe, but as a friend; not to compel by force, but to constrain by love; not to drag us with fear and trembling before the Judge, hut to draw us gently to the cross and the Saviour.—F.
The Church and Christ.
The vision may suggest—
I. THE BIDDEN RICHES OF THE CHURCH. "Myrtle in the bottom" symbolizes the Church in a low condition. Obscure, despised by the world; but fresh, fragrant, and beautiful in the sight of God. The object of increasing care. Grand future.
II. THE GLORY OF THE CHURCH'S HEAD. Christ supreme. All forces are under his control. The resources of heaven and earth are at his disposal. He is ever on the watch. He scans the horizon with clear, far seeing eye. He is always quick to do what he deems best for the defence and good of his people. Here is comfort for times of depression and fear. We have our personal troubles. We are distressed because of the state of the Church, and the slow progress of religion in the world. But let us take courage. Christ is Head over all things for the Church. In the darkest hour, when we pray, the heavens are opened. We behold Christ on the throne, and cry with the holy angels, "Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth" (cf. Ephesians 1:16-23).—F.
The wonder of indifference.
"'At rest;' i.e. secure, proud, and licentious, as if there were no God in heaven" (Wordsworth). May be taken to illustrate a common state of mind as to religion. Indifference seems wonderful when we consider—
I. THE VAST INTERESTS AT STAKE. What questions so deep and urgent as those that concern God and truth and immortality?
II. THE BRIEF TIME FOR DECISION. Life is short. Delay, and youth is gone; delay, and manhood is past; delay, and all is lost. Besides, what uncertainty and what constant interruptions and claims of other things! "The world is too much with us."
III. THE GREAT IMPORTANCE OF EARNESTNESS. See how men act in other matters. Firm and decided. "The children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light."
IV. THE CEASELESS ACTIVITY OF THE POWERS OF EVIL. (1 Peter 5:8.)
V. THE URGENT APPEALS OF GOD. How much of Holy Scripture is taken up with calls, and pleadings, and remonstrances, and beseechings! Then, how often does the voice of God in providence give the deeper force and significance to the warnings of his Word! Surely what lies so near the heart of God should be the chief thing for us. Surely what moved the eternal Son to come to earth should be the supreme interest with us. His mind should be our mind, and our highest blessedness should be to consecrate ourselves, like him, to the service of God and of humanity.—F.
The wrath of God and the wrath of man.
I. GOD'S WRATH IS THE HIGHEST IN CASES. It is not a mood or passion; not the outburst of arbitrary power; but the calm expression of the Eternal Mind. He who does wrong identifies himself with the wrong, and so far must be an object of indignation. God feels towards things as they are. How different the wrath of man (cf. James 4:1)!
II. GOD'S WRATH IS THE PUREST JUSTICE. Law must stand. Government and order must be maintained. Else anarchy. But nothing will be done beyond what is necessary for the ends of justice. God's wrath is just, in measure and duration. How different with the wrath of man! Often carried beyond the bounds of right, and becomes oppression. Often continued beyond the limits of justice, and becomes revenge (Isaiah 47:6).
III. GOD'S WRATH IS THE HOLIEST LOVE. There is much in the ways of God that we cannot understand, but we should never forget what he himself has taught us as to his Spirit and purpose (cf. Ezekiel 33:11). God's wrath is consistent with pity for the sufferer, mercy for the penitent, and deliverance for the oppressed. In his hand pains are disciplinary, trials are remedial, chastisements are benedictions in disguise. "The end of the Lord is merciful." But with men how often is wrath pitiless and cruel, working evil instead of good, rejoicing in destruction instead of deliverance!
"Father and Lover of our souls
Though darkly round thine anger rolls,
Thy sunshine smiles beneath the gloom,
Thou seek'st to warn us, not confound,
Thy showers would pierce the hardened ground
And win it to give out its brightness and perfume."
The dark and the bright side of things.
Prophet depressed. Heart failing for fear. Roused. Vision twofold. Like the mystic pillar of the wilderness, it is dark and lowering towards God's enemies, but bright and cheering towards his friends.
I. THE POWERS OF EVIL. Beasts dimly seen. "Horses" indicate the strength and malice of the world powers. The results are terrible. The unity of Israel is broken. Strength dissipated in party conflicts. Gored and tossed and sore oppressed by their enemies. Dispirited, "so that no man did lift up his head." But man's extremity is God's opportunity. Let us feel and confess in true humility our sin, and the justice of our sufferings, and cry mightily to God; then deliverance will surely come.
II. THE POWERS OF GOOD. (Zechariah 1:20, Zechariah 1:21.) Cf. Elisha and his servant (2 Kings 6:17). So here. "Carpenters; workmen."
1. Equal in number. Four indicates completeness. There will be sufficiency for God's purpose, and yet the number will not be in excess of that on the other side, as if the victory were to be obtained by might and not by right.
2. Greater in authority. Law at their back. Ministers of justice. Power not usurped or wrongly used, but employed under the authority of God.
3. Completer in equipment. (Eze 21:1-32 :36.) Men of free souls, sympathetic hearts, and invincible courage. Men of trained intelligence and executive ability. The right men in the right time.—F.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
The importance of repentance.
"In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius, came the word of the Lord unto Zechariah, the son of Berechish, the son of Iddo the prophet, saying, The Lord hath been sore displeased with your fathers," etc. Zechariah and Haggai were contemporaries—prophets of the restoration. The former began to prophesy about two months after Haggai. Like Jeremiah and Ezekiel, he was of priestly descent; a son of Berechiah and grandson of Iddo, the chief of one of the priestly families that returned from exile along with Zerubbabel and Joshua (Nehemiah 12:4). He commenced his prophetic labours in the second year of Darius Hystaspes, B.C. 520. The most remarkable portion of the book consists of the first six chapters, where we have a record of a series of extraordinary visions, all of which seem to have been vouchsafed to the prophet during one night. The two succeeding chapters (7 and 8.) contain an answer to a question which the inhabitants of Bethel proposed, reelecting the observance of a certain fast. The remaining six chapters contain a variety of predictions. The authenticity of these chapters is denied by some scholars, and doubted by many more. His style is varied, sometimes almost colloquial; at other times sublimely poetic, abounding with gorgeous symbols. The subject suggested by these words is—the importance of repentance. There are three grounds in this passage on which this subject is urged.
I. FROM THE DIVINE DISPLEASURE TOWARDS THE IMPENITENT MEN OF THE PAST. "The Lord hath been sore displeased with your fathers." This "may be interpreted as bearing reference to the whole of their previous history. They had all along shown a mournfully strong and inveterate propensity to depart from God and from his ways. They had needed incessant repetitions of Divine admonitions, entreaties, promises, and threatenings; and many a time all had proved unavailing. Jehovah bound them to himself with 'cords of love.' But 'they brake the bands asunder, and cast away the cords from them.' They chose their own ways; they followed the wicked devices of their own hearts. They thus provoked him to anger; they drew down upon themselves his judicial visitations. From one of these visitations the people whom the prophet now addressed had but recently, in the faithfulness and mercy of a covenant keeping and compassionate God, been delivered. And I cannot doubt that to that most recent manifestation of the Divine displeasure Zechariah specially referred. Their fathers had by their sins brought that heavy seventy years' judgment upon themselves. And he who in justice had executed the judgment, had returned in mercy, and rescued them from their second bondage" (Dr. Wardlaw). Now, the displeasure of God to sinners of the past is here referred to in order to induce the Jews to repent of the selfish negligence which they had evinced concerning the building of the temple (Haggai 1:2-7). The argument here is the kind called enthymeme, in which one premiss only is expressed, and the consequent proposition is left to be supplied by the reader. It means this: the great God has been displeased with your fathers on account of their sins, and he will be displeased with you except you repent. This is an argument that preachers may well urge at all times. They may call up to their hearers the judgments that have fallen on the wicked of the past ages, in order to urge reformed life on the existing generation.
II. FROM GOD'S ASSURANCE OF A WELCOME TO ALL THAT TRULY REPENT, "Say thou unto them, Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Turn ye unto me, saith the Lord of hosts, and I will turn unto you, saith the Lord of hosts." Blessed truth this! Proved:
1. By his invitation to the impenitent. "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord," etc.; "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord," etc.; "Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out." The infinite Father is infinitely more ready to welcome true penitence than the father of the prodigal to welcome the return of his long lost son.
2. By the experience of mankind. Manasseh, David, Saul, Bunyan, and millions more returned to him, and he not only received them, but rejoiced over them. This being the case, how powerful is the exhortation here, "Be not as your fathers, unto whom the former prophets have cried, saying," etc.! Your fathers, who rejected the call of my prophets of the past, bad as they were, would not have met with their terrible fates had they returned to me. Be not like them; Take warning from the past.
III. FROM THE TRANSITORINESS OF HUMAN LIFE, WHETHER WICKED OR GOOD, "Your fathers, where are they? and the prophets, do they live forever?" By "the fathers" here undoubtedly reference is to those spoken of in the former verses with whom the Almighty is displeased. These have disappeared; they have vanished from the earth. The prophets, too, the good men who spoke to them and whose call they rejected, useful men as they were, they did not live forever. The impenitent hearers and their faithful preachers are both gone. How solemnly true this is! All pass away from the stage of life, whether good or had, useful or mischievous. The life of a generation is but a vapour that will endure for a little and then vanish away. What an argument this:
1. For the wicked to repent! Impenitent hearers of the gospel, you will soon be gone. Ere another century passes over this globe, your bodies will be in the dust and your spirits in the awful Hades of retribution; therefore listen and repent. Ye preachers of the gospel, what an argument this:
2. For faithfulness and for persevering zeal! You will soon have finished your mission. A few more sermons, and all will be over. "The prophets, do they live forever?" etc. "Fathers," the ungodly men of the past, where are they? Ah! where are they? Echo answers, "Where?"—D.T.
The first vision: God's government of the world.
"Upon the four and twentieth day of the eleventh month, which is the month Sebat, in the second year of Darius, came the word of the Lord unto Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo the prophet, saying, I saw by night, and behold a man riding upon a red horse," etc. About three months after the call of Zechariah to the prophetic office, he had no less than seven, or, as some count, eight visions in one night. And this night, we are told, was in the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, i.e. "the month Sebat, in the second year of Darius." Exactly five months before this night the rebuilding of the temple would be resumed. Amongst the various manners in which God revealed himself to men of old, visions were perhaps the most frequent and impressive. He sometimes employed articulate sounds, sometimes the Urim and Thummim, sometimes the apparitions of the dead, sometimes internal suggestion. In some direct way he touched the springs of thought. But here in one night he appears to the prophet in many distinct visions. The visions were marked by these four characteristics. They were:
1. Mental. Unlike all other creatures on the earth, so far as we know at present, man has an inner visual organ; he can see with his mind. This is seen in poets, such as Milton, Spenser, etc.; allegorists, such as Bunyan, etc.
2. Symbolic. Strange and grotesque objects were seen. These objects were all symbolic; they had a spiritual significance.
3. Divine. All men, unless they are utterly destitute of the poetic sentiment, have visions sometimes, not only sleeping but waking visions. But seldom, perhaps, are these visions Divine.
4. Prophetic. They point here to the future of God's moral kingdom upon the earth. Men of lofty, sanctified genius often in their visions have a glance of "things that are to come." This vision seems to give us a look into God's moral government of the world. It takes us behind the veil of phenomena, and shows us principles and agencies that move, fashion, and control all. Three facts are suggested in relation to God's government in the world.
I. IT CARRIED ON IN CONNECTION WITH MYSTERIOUS AGENCIES. What did the prophet see? "I saw by night, and behold a man riding upon a red horse, and he stood among the myrtle trees that were in the bottom; and behind him were there red horses, speckled, and white." It is idle to attach special ideas to each of these objects; the grand idea is that God has ministers in his empire fully equipped for his work, and prompt to obey his behests. Who are these? Unfallen angels. These by millions stand near his throne, ready to do his bidding. In relation to these agents two thoughts are suggested.
1. That they are under the command of a transscendent mind. Most expositors regard the man on the red horse, and who stood among the myrtle trees, as no less a personage than the Angel of the covenant, the great Messiah. The subsequent verses sustain this idea. This same man appeared to Abraham in the plains of Mamre, to Jacob before his meeting with Esau, to Moses at the burning bush, to Joshua at Jericho, with the sword drawn in his hand. Here he is on the "red horse," emblem of war. He is a great moral Chieftain.
2. That there are varied orders. "Behind him were there red horses, speckled, and white." This is the troop that followed the man. When the eyes of Elisha's servant were opened, he beheld a "mountain full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha." Horses are emblems of force and fleetness. In Christ's army there are hosts, mighty in power and swift in motion. "Are they not all ministering spirits?" How infinitely varied are God's ministers—varied in kind and measure of faculty, in experience, attainment, and aspect too—thrones, principalities, powers, and dominions!
3. That the whole world is their sphere of action. "These are they whom the Lord hath sent to walk to and fro through the earth."
(1) They "go to and fro" through the earth. They are ever journeying; some are swift as lightning in their speed; some of them are "full of eyes," and see all things.
(2) They know the state of the world. "We have walked to and fro through the earth, and, behold, all the earth sitteth still, and is at rest." "At rest," not in the rest of righteousness, not in the repose of goodness, but in carnal security and sin.
II. THAT IT HAS NOT ONLY DIFFICULTIES, BUT AN INTERPRETER ALSO. "Then said I, O my lord, what are these?" Observe:
1. The difficulties of God's government. "What are these?" The prophet understood not these strange appearances; and in amazement he exclaims, "What are these?" What thoughtful man has not asked such a question as this concerning the Divine government over and over again? "What are these? What are these elements, forces, laws, existences, events? What are they? Are they messengers of mercy or of justice? O my lord, what are these?" We are all moving in mystery.
2. The interpreter of God's government. Who answered the question? "The man that stood among the myrtle trees answered and said, These are they." Some other creature, the angel that talked with him, was asked first; but the answer came not from him, but from the Man Christ Jesus. In Revelation 5:2 "a strong angel" is represented as crying with a loud voice concerning the mysteries of God's government, inquiring who was worthy to "loose the seals;" but no one was found in heaven, in earth, or under the earth, able to "open and read the book." There was only one found: "It was the Lamb in the midst of the throne." Christ is the only Interpreter of God. He is the Logos.
III. THAT IT IS ESPECIALLY CONCERNED IN THE INTERESTS OF HIS PEOPLE. His people are supposed to be here represented by the "myrtle trees." The Jewish Church at this time was not like a forest of stately cedars, but a grove of myrtles, fragile and obscure.
1. These seem to be the centre of Divine operations on the earth. Now, in the myrtle trees is the man "riding upon a red horse." And in the myrtle trees were the "red horses, speckled, and white"—the whole troop was there. The "myrtle trees" seemed to be the centre of all the agents. From it they started on their mission, and to it they returned. The true Church is the temple, the residence of God himself.
2. The object of special intercession. "Then the angel of the Lord answered and said, O Lord of hosts, how long wilt thou not have mercy on Jerusalem, and on the cities of Judah, against which thou hast had indignation these three score and ten years?" The duration of their captivity in Babylon. Who is the angel that makes this appeal? It was he that "ever liveth to make intercession for us." "If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous."
3. The subjects of the Divine communication. "The Lord answered the angel that talked with me with good words and comfortable words." The prophet is here commissioned to proclaim:
(1) God's zeal on behalf of Jerusalem. "Cry thou, saying, Thus saith the Lord of hosts."
(2) His displeasure for the enemies of Jerusalem. "I am very sore displeased with the heathen." His merciful purpose was to bestow blessings on Jerusalem. "Therefore thus earth the Lord," etc.
CONCLUSION. Though we are far enough from presuming to have given a correct interpretation of the passage, or of maintaining that the thoughts we have suggested are contained in it, we conscientiously believe that the ideas are scriptural, and adapted for spiritual usefulness. The subject of God's government in the world is one of the sublimest that can engage the human mind, and is beset with difficulties that often baffle the profoundest thinkers. It is our happiness to know that, small as is our planet in comparison with millions of other orbs that people immensity, and insignificant as are its human tenants, the infinite Father superintends it in wisdom and. in love.—D.T.
Second vision: four horns and four carpenters.
"Then lifted I up mine eyes, and saw, and behold four horns. And I said unto the angel that talked with me, What be these? And he answered me, These are the horns which have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem," etc. This is the second vision that the prophet had that night. The "horn" in the Bible is a symbol of power (Amos 6:13). The horns here represent possibly those worldly kingdoms which had been, or were to be, opposed to the Jewish people, namely, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. These four were symbolized in the colossal figure which filled the imagination of Nebuchadnezzar in his dream. Whom do the "four carpenters" symbolize, or, as some translate it, the "four smiths"? Undoubtedly, those instruments by which the moral Governor of the world overcomes all the enemies of truth and right. The interpreting angel says, in relation to these four smiths, or workmen, that they had "come to fray," or terrify and cast down, the hostile powers represented by the horns. This vision presents to us the cause of right on the earth, and suggests two thoughts in relation to it.
I. THAT THE CAUSE OF RIGHT ON THE EARTH HAS STRONG ANTAGONISTS. Here are four horns, four mighty powers, all of which are in dead hostility to the covenant people. They are represented as those who have "scattered Judah, so that no man did lift up his head." The enemies of the true scatter and crush. Though Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome have long since passed away, the horns, or the mighty powers of evil, are still here, and are at work. What are they? Reigning materialism is a horn; practical atheism is a horn; intolerant superstition is a horn; and dominant selfishness is a horn. All these mighty forces are ever at work in order to destroy the cause of right and truth upon the earth. They are the "principalities and powers of darkness," against which all that is righteous, true, and pure upon the earth have to wrestle for existence.
II. THAT THE CAUSE OF TRUTH UPON THE EARTH HAS DIVINE DEFENDERS. Here are four carpenters, or smiths, who appear to "fray them, to cast out the horns of the Gentiles." Mark, the defenders were:
1. Men, not angels. God saves man by man. Who were the first apostles?
2. Working men. Toilers, labourers. It is man as man, not philosopher, poet, king, millionaire, that has to battle for the right. The greatest moral victories have been won by men in the lower walks of life.
3. They were skilled men. These men had a trade; they were craftsmen; they had been trained to the work they undertook. There is a skill required in order to strike effectively at the errors and wrongs of life. Stupid men, however good their intentions, accomplish but little, if anything, in the noble cause. They must be men of good natural sagacity, and that sagacity trained by the Spirit of God. A man to convert souls must have as much aptitude for the work as the carpenter has in order to shape the wood to his purpose, or the smith to mould and shape the metals.
CONCLUSION. Thank God that if the "horns" are here, there are carpenters here also to bring them to ruin, and to build up the blessed kingdom of truth and righteousness.—D.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Zechariah 1". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28