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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Zechariah 1

 

 

Introduction

ZECHARIAH

(Zechariah 1:1-21; Zechariah 2:1-13; Zechariah 3:1-10; Zechariah 4:1-14; Zechariah 5:1-11; Zechariah 6:1-15; Zechariah 7:1-14; Zechariah 8:1-23)

"Not by might, and not by force, but by My Spirit, saith Jehovah of Hosts."

"Be not afraid, strengthen your hands! Speak truth every man to his neighbor; truth and wholesome judgment judge ye in your gates, and in your hearts plan no evil for each other, nor take pleasure in false swearing, for all these things do I hate-oracle of Jehovah."

THE BOOK OF ZECHARIAH

(1-8)

THE Book of Zechariah, consisting of fourteen chapters, falls clearly into two divisions: First, chapters 1-8, ascribed to Zechariah himself and full of evidence for their authenticity; Second, chapters 9-14, which are not ascribed to Zechariah, and deal with conditions different from those upon which he worked. The full discussion of the date and character of this second section we shall reserve till we reach the period at which we believe it to have been written. Here an introduction is necessary only to chapters 1-8.

These chapters may be divided into five sections.

I. Zechariah 1:1-6 -A Word of Jehovah which came to Zechariah in the eighth month of the second year of Darius, that is in November, 520 B.C., or between the second and the third oracles of Haggai. In this the prophet’s place is affirmed in the succession of the prophets of Israel. The ancient prophets are gone, but their predictions have been fulfilled in the calamities of the Exile, and God’s Word abides forever.

II. Zechariah 1:7 - Zechariah 6:9.-A Word of Jehovah which came to Zechariah on the twenty-fourth of the eleventh month of the same year, that is January or February, 519, and which he reproduces in the form of eight Visions by night.

(1) The Vision of the Four Horsemen: God’s new mercies to Jerusalem. [Zechariah 1:7-17]

(2) The Vision of the Four Horns, or Powers of the World, and the Four Smiths, who smite them down [Zechariah 2:1-4], but in the Septuagint and in the English Version. [Zechariah 1:18-21]

(3) The Vision of the Man with the Measuring Rope: Jerusalem shall be rebuilt, no longer as a narrow fortress, but spread abroad for the multitude of her population. {Zechariah 2:5-9;, Hebrews 2:1-5 LXX and English} To this Vision is appended a lyric piece of probably older date calling upon the Jews in Babylon to return, and celebrating the joining of many peoples to Jehovah, now that He takes up again His habitation in Jerusalem. {Zechariah 2:10;, Hebrews 2:6-13 LXX and English}

(4) The Vision of Joshua, the High Priest, and the Satan or Accuser: the Satan is rebuked, and Joshua is cleansed from his foul garments and clothed with a new turban and festal apparel; the land is purged and secure (chapter 3).

(5) The Vision of the Seven-Branched Lamp and the Two Olive-Trees: [Zechariah 4:1-6; Zechariah 4:10-14] into the center of this has been inserted a Word of Jehovah to Zerubbabel (Zechariah 4:6-10 a), which interrupts the Vision and ought probably to come at the close of it.

(6) The Vision of the Flying Book: it is the curse of the land, which is being removed, but after destroying the houses of the wicked. [Zechariah 5:1-4]

(7) The Vision of the Bushel and the Woman: that is the guilt of the land and its wickedness; they are carried off and planted in the land of Shinar. [Zechariah 5:5-11]

(8) The Vision of the Four Chariots: they go forth from the Lord of all the earth, to traverse the earth and bring His Spirit, or anger, to bear on the North country (Zechariah 6:1-8).

III. Zechariah 6:9-15 -A Word of Jehovah, undated (unless it is to be taken as of the same date as the Visions to which it is attached), giving directions as to the gifts sent to the community at Jerusalem from the Babylonian Jews. A crown is to be made from the silver and gold, and, according to the text, placed upon the head of Joshua. But, as we shall the text gives evident signs of having been altered in the interest of the High Priest; and probably the crown was meant for Zerubbabel, at whose right hand the priest is to stand, and there shall be a counsel of peace between the two of them. The far-away shall come and assist at the building of the Temple. This section breaks off in the middle of a sentence.

IV. Chapter 7-The Word of Jehovah which came to Zechariah on the fourth of the ninth month of the fourth year of Darius, that is nearly two years after the date of the Visions. The Temple was approaching completion; and an inquiry was addressed to the priests who were in it and to the prophets concerning the Fasts, which had been maintained during the Exile while the Temple lay desolate. [Zechariah 7:1-3] This inquiry drew from Zechariah a historical explanation of how the Fasts arose. [Zechariah 7:4-14]

V. Chapter 8-Ten short undated oracles, each introduced by the same formula, "Thus saith Jehovah of Hosts," and summarizing all Zechariah’s teaching since before the Temple began up to the question of the cessation of the Fasts upon its completion-with promises for the future.

(1) A Word affirming Jehovah’s new zeal for Jerusalem and His Return to her (Zechariah 8:1-2).

(2) Another of the same (Zechariah 8:3).

(3) A Word promising fullness of old folk and children in her streets (Zechariah 8:4-5).

(4) A Word affirming that nothing is too wonderful for Jehovah (Zechariah 8:6).

(5) A Word promising the return of the people from east and west (Zechariah 8:7-8).

(6 and 7) Two Words contrasting, in terms similar to Haggai 1:1-15, the poverty of the people before the foundation of the Temple with their new prosperity: from a curse Israel shall become a blessing. This is due to God’s anger having changed into a purpose of grace to Jerusalem. But the people themselves must do truth and justice, ceasing from perjury and thoughts of evil against each other (Zechariah 8:9-17).

(8) A Word which recurs to the question of Fasting, and commands that the four great Fasts, instituted to commemorate the siege and overthrow of Jerusalem, and the murder of Gedaliah, be changed to joy and gladness (Zechariah 8:18-19).

(9) A Word predicting the coming of the Gentiles to the worship of Jehovah at Jerusalem (Zechariah 8:20-22).

(10) Another of the same (Zechariah 8:23).

There can be little doubt that, apart from the few interpolations noted, these eight chapters are genuine prophecies of Zechariah, who is mentioned in the Book of Ezra as the colleague of Haggai, and contemporary of Zerubbabel and Joshua at the time of the rebuilding of the Temple. [Ezra 5:1;, Ezra 6:14] Like the oracles of Haggai, these prophecies are dated according to the years of Darius the king, from his second year to his fourth. Although they may contain some of the exhortations to build the Temple, which the Book of Ezra informs us that Zechariah made along with Haggai, the most of them presuppose progress in the work, and seek to assist it by historical retrospect and by glowing hopes of the Messianic effects of its completion. Their allusions suit exactly the years to which they are assigned. Darius is king. The Exile has lasted about seventy years. Numbers of Jews remain in Babylon, and are scattered over the rest of the world. [Zechariah 8:7, etc.} The community at Jerusalem is small and weak: it is the mere colony of young men and men in middle life who came to it from Babylon; there are few children and old folk. {Zechariah 8:4-5] Joshua and Zerubbabel are the heads of the community and the pledges for its future. [Zechariah 3:1-10;, Zechariah 4:6-10;, Zechariah 6:11 ff.} The exact conditions are recalled as recent which Haggai spoke of a few years before. {Zechariah 8:9-10] Moreover, there is a steady and orderly progress throughout the prophecies, in harmony with the successive dates at which they were delivered. In November, 520, they begin with a cry to repentance and lessons drawn from the past of prophecy. [Zechariah 1:1-6] In January, 519, Temple and city are still to be built. [Zechariah 1:7-17] Zerubbabel has laid the foundation; the completion is yet future. [Zechariah 4:6-10] The prophet’s duty is to quiet the people’s apprehensions about the state of the world, to provoke their zeal (Zechariah 4:6 ff.), give them confidence in their great men (Zechariah 3:1-10; Zechariah 4:1-14), and, above all, assure them that God is returned to them (Zechariah 1:16), and their sin pardoned (Zechariah 5:1-11). But in December, 518, the Temple is so far built that the priests are said to belong to it; [Zechariah 7:3] there is no occasion for continuing the fasts of the Exile, [Zechariah 7:1-7; Zechariah 8:18-19] the future has opened and the horizon is bright with the Messianic hopes. [Zechariah 8:20-23] Most of all, it is felt that the hard struggle with the forces of nature is over, and the people are exhorted to the virtues of the civic life. [Zechariah 8:16-17] They have time to lift their eyes from their work and see the nations coming from afar to Jerusalem. [Zechariah 8:20-23]

These features leave no room for doubt that the great bulk of the first eight chapters of the Book of Zechariah are by the prophet himself, and from the years to which he assigns them, November, 520, to December, 518. The point requires no argument.

There are, however, three passages which provoke further examination-two of them because of the signs they bear of an earlier date, and one because of the alteration it has suffered in the interests of a later day in Israel’s history.

The lyric passage which is appended to the Second Vision {Zechariah 2:10 Hebrew, Zechariah 6:1-13 LXX and English} suggests questions by its singularity: there is no other such among the Visions. But in addition to this it speaks not only of the Return from Babylon as still future-this might still be said after the First Return of the exiles in 536-but it differs from the language of all the Visions proper in describing the return of Jehovah Himself to Zion as still future. The whole, too, has the ring of the great odes in Isaiah 40:1-31; Isaiah 41:1-29; Isaiah 42:1-25; Isaiah 43:1-28; Isaiah 44:1-28; Isaiah 45:1-25; Isaiah 46:1-13; Isaiah 47:1-15; Isaiah 48:1-22; Isaiah 49:1-26; Isaiah 50:1-11; Isaiah 51:1-23; Isaiah 52:1-15; Isaiah 53:1-12; Isaiah 54:1-17; Isaiah 55:1-13, and seems to reflect the same situation, upon the eve of Cyrus’ conquest of Babylon. There can be little doubt that we have here inserted in Zechariah’s Visions a song of twenty years earlier, but we must confess inability to decide whether it was adopted by Zechariah himself or added by a later hand.

Again, there are the two passages called the Word of Jehovah to Zerubbabel, Zechariah 4:6 b-10a; and the Word of Jehovah concerning the gifts which came to Jerusalem from the Jews in Babylon, Zechariah 6:9-15. The first, as Wellhausen has shown, is clearly out of place; it disturbs the narrative of the Vision, and is to be put at the end of the latter. The second is undated, and separate from the Visions. The second plainly affirms that the building of the Temple is still future The man whose name is Branch or Shoot is designated: "and he shall build the Temple of Jehovah." The first is in the same temper as the first two oracles of Haggai. It is possible then that these two passages are not, like the Visions with which they are taken, to be dated from 519, but represent that still earlier prophesying of Zechariah with which we are told he assisted Haggai in instigating the people to begin to build the Temple.

The style of the prophet Zechariah betrays special features almost only in the narrative of the Visions. Outside these his language is simple, direct, and pure, as it could not but be, considering how much of it is drawn from, or modeled upon, the older prophets, and chiefly Hosea and Jeremiah. Only one or two lapses into a careless and degenerate dialect show us how the prophet might have written had he not been sustained by the music of the classical periods of the language.

This directness and pith is not shared by the language in which the Visions are narrated. Here the style is involved and redundant. The syntax is loose; there is a frequent omission of the copula, and of other means by which, in better Hebrew, connection and conciseness are sustained. The formulas, "thus saith" and "saying," are repeated to weariness. At the same time it is fair to ask how much of this redundancy was due to Zechariah himself? Take the Septuagint version. The Hebrew text which it followed, not only included a number of repetitions of the formulas, and of the designations of the personages introduced into the Visions, which do not occur in the Massoretic text, but omitted some which are found in the Massoretic text. These two sets of phenomena prove that from an early date the copiers of the original text of Zechariah must have been busy in increasing its redundancies. Further, there are still earlier intrusions and expansions, for these are shared by both the Hebrew and the Greek texts: some of them very natural efforts to clear up the personages and conversations recorded in the dreams, some of them stupid mistakes in understanding the drift of the argument. There must of course have been a certain amount of redundancy in the original to provoke such aggravations of it, and of obscurity or tortuousness of style to cause them to be deemed necessary. But it would be very unjust to charge all the faults of our present text to Zechariah himself, especially when we find such force and simplicity in the passages outside the Visions. Of course the involved and misty subjects of the latter naturally forced upon the description of them a laboriousness of art, to which there was no provocation in directly exhorting the people to a pure life, or in straightforward predictions of the Messianic era.

Beyond the corruptions due to these causes, the text of Zechariah 1:1-21; Zechariah 2:1-13; Zechariah 3:1-10; Zechariah 4:1-14; Zechariah 5:1-11; Zechariah 6:1-15; Zechariah 7:1-14; Zechariah 8:1-23, has not suffered more than that of our other prophets. There are one or two clerical errors; an occasional preposition or person of a verb needs to be amended. Here and there the text has been disarranged; and as already noticed, there has been one serious alteration of the original.

From the foregoing paragraphs it must be apparent what help and hindrance in the reconstruction of the text is furnished by the Septuagint. A list of its variant readings and of its mistranslations is appended.


Verses 1-6

ZECHARIAH THE PROPHET

Zechariah 1:1-6; Ezra 5:1;, Ezra 6:14

ZECHARIAH is one of the prophets whose personality as distinguished from their message exerts some degree of fascination on the student. This is not due, however, as in the case of Hosea or Jeremiah, to the facts of his life, for of these we know extremely little; but to certain conflicting symptoms of character which appear through his prophecies.

His name was a very common one in Israel, Zekher-Yah, "Jehovah remembers." In his own book he is described as "the son of Berekh-Yah, the son of Iddo," and in the Aramaic document of the Book of Ezra as "the son of Iddo." Some have explained this difference by supposing that Berekhyah was the actual father of the prophet, but that either he died early, leaving Zechariah to the care of the grandfather, or else that he was a man of no note, and Iddo was more naturally mentioned as the head of the family. There are several instances in the Old Testament of men being called the sons of their grandfathers; [Genesis 24:47, cf. 1 Kings 19:16, cf. 2 Kings 9:14; 2 Kings 9:20] as in these cases the grandfather was the reputed founder of the house, so in that of Zechariah Iddo was the head of his family when it came out of Babylon and was anew planted in Jerusalem. Others, however, have contested the genuineness of the words "son of Berekh-Yah," and have traced their insertion to a confusion of the prophet with Zechariah son of Yebherekh-Yahu, the contemporary of Isaiah. This is precarious, while the other hypothesis is a very natural one. Whichever be correct, the prophet Zechariah was a member of the priestly family of Iddo, that came up to Jerusalem from Babylon under Cyrus. [Nehemiah 12:4] The Book of Nehemiah adds that in the high-priesthood of Yoyakim, the son of Joshua, the head of the house of Iddo was a Zechariah. If this be our prophet, then he was probably a young man in 520, and had come up as a child in the caravans from Babylon. The Aramaic document of the Book of Ezra [Ezra 5:1;, Ezra 6:14] assigns to Zechariah a share with Haggai in the work of instigating Zerubbabel and Jeshua to begin the Temple. None of his oracles is dated previous to the beginning of the work in August, 520, but we have seen that among those undated there are one or two which by referring to the building of the Temple as still future may contain some relics of that first stage of his ministry. From November, 520, we have the first of his dated oracles; his Visions followed in January, 519, and his last recorded prophesying in December, 518.

These are all the certain events of Zechariah’s history. But in the well-attested prophecies he has left we discover, besides some obvious traits of character, certain problems of style and expression which suggest a personality of more than usual interest. Loyalty to the great voices of old, the temper which appeals to the experience, rather than to the dogmas, of the past, the gift of plain speech to his own times, a wistful anxiety about his reception as a prophet, [Zechariah 2:13;, Zechariah 4:9;, Zechariah 6:15] combined with the absence of all ambition to be original or anything but the clear voice of the lessons of the past and of the conscience of today these are the qualities which characterize Zechariah’s orations to the people. But how to reconcile them with the strained art and obscure truths of the Visions-it is this which invests with interest the study of his personality. We have proved that the obscurity and redundancy of the Visions cannot all have been due to himself. Later hands have exaggerated the repetitions and raveled the processes of the original. But these gradual blemishes have not grown from nothing: the original style must have been sufficiently involved to provoke the interpolations of the scribes, and it certainly contained all the weird and shifting apparitions which we find so hard to make clear to ourselves. The problem, therefore, remains-how one who had gift of speech, so straight and clear, came to torture and tangle his style; how one who presented with all plainness the main issues of his people’s history found it laid upon him to invent, for the further expression of these, symbols so labored and intricate.

We begin with the oracle which opens his book and illustrates those simple characteristics of the man that contrast so sharply with the temper of his Visions.

"In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of Jehovah came to the prophet Zechariah, son of Berekhyah, son of Iddo, saying: Jehovah was very wroth with your fathers."

"And thou shalt say unto them: Thus saith Jehovah of Hosts: Turn ye to Me-oracle of Jehovah of Hosts-that I may turn to you, saith Jehovah of Hosts! Be not like your fathers, to whom the former prophets preached, saying: ‘Thus saith Jehovah of Hosts, Turn now from your evil ways and from your evil deeds,’ but they hearkened not, and paid no attention to Me-oracle of Jehovah. Your fathers, where are they? And the prophets, do they live for ever? But, My words and My statutes, with which I charged My servants the prophets, did they not overtake your fathers? till these turned and said, As Jehovah of Hosts did purpose to do unto us, according to our deeds and according to our ways, so hath He dealt with us."

It is a sign of the new age which we have reached, that its prophet should appeal to the older prophets with as much solemnity as they did to Moses himself. The history which led to the Exile has become to Israel as classic and sacred as her great days of deliverance from Egypt and of conquest in Canaan. But still more significant is what Zechariah seeks from that past; this we must carefully discover, if we would appreciate with exactness his rank as a prophet.

The development of religion may be said to consist of a struggle between two tempers, both of which indeed appeal to the past, but from very opposite motives. The one proves its devotion to the older prophets by adopting the exact formulas of their doctrine, counts these sacred to the letter, and would enforce them in detail upon the minds and circumstances of the new generation. It conceives that truth has been promulgated once for all in forms as enduring, as the principles they contain. It fences ancient rites, cherishes old customs and institutions, and when these are questioned it becomes alarmed and even savage. The other temper is no whit behind this one in its devotion to the past, but it seeks the ancient prophets not so much for what they have said as for what they have been, not for what they enforced but for what they encountered, suffered, and confessed. It asks not for dogmas, but for experience and testimony. He who can thus read the past and interpret it to his own day-he is the prophet. In his reading he finds nothing so clear, nothing so tragic, nothing so convincing as the working of the Word of God. He beholds how this came to men, haunted them and was entreated by them. He sees that it was their great opportunity, which being rejected became their judgment. He finds abused justice vindicated, proud wrong punished, and all God’s neglected commonplaces achieving in time their triumph. He reads how men came to see this, and to confess their guilt. He is haunted by the remorse of generations who know how they might have obeyed the Divine call, but willfully did not. And though they have perished, and the prophets have died and their formulas are no more applicable, the victorious Word itself still lives and cries to men with the terrible emphasis of their fathers’ experience. All this is the vision of the true prophet, and it was the vision of Zechariah.

His generation was one whose chief temptation was to adopt towards the past the other attitude we have described. In their feebleness what could the poor remnant of Israel do but cling servilely to the former greatness? The vindication of the Exile had stamped the Divine authority of the earlier prophets. The habits, which the life in Babylon had perfected, of arranging and codifying the literature of the past, and of employing it, in place of altar and ritual, in the stated service of God, had canonized Scripture and provoked men to the worship of its very letter. Had the real prophet not again been raised, these habits might have too early produced the belief that the Word of God was exhausted, and must have fastened upon the feeble life of Israel that mass of stiff and stark dogmas, the literal application of which Christ afterwards found crushing the liberty and the force of religion. Zechariah prevented this-for a time. He himself was mighty in the Scriptures of the past: no man in Israel makes larger use of them. But he employs them as witnesses, not as dogmas; he finds in them not authority, but experience. He reads their testimony to the ever-living presence of God’s Word with men. And seeing that, though the old forms and figures have perished with the hearts which shaped them, the Word itself in its bare truth has vindicated its life by fulfillment in history, he knows that it lives still, and hurls it upon his people, not in the forms published by this or that prophet of long ago, but in its essence and direct from God Himself, as His Word for today and now. "The fathers, where are they? And the prophets, do they live forever? But My words and My statutes, with which I charged My servants the prophets, have they not overtaken your fathers? Thus saith Jehovah of Hosts, Be ye not like your fathers, but turn ye to Me that I may turn to you."

The argument of this oracle might very naturally have been narrowed into a credential for the prophet himself as sent from God. About his reception as Jehovah’s messenger Zechariah shows a repeated anxiety. Four times he concludes a prediction with the words. "And ye shall know that Jehovah hath sent me," as if after his first utterances he had encountered that suspicion and unbelief which a prophet never failed to suffer from his contemporaries. But in this oracle there is no trace of such personal anxiety. The oracle is pervaded only with the desire to prove the ancient Word of God as still alive, and to drive it home in its own sheer force. Like the greatest of his order Zechariah appears with the call to repent: "Turn ye to Me-oracle of Jehovah of Hosts-that I may turn to you." This is the pivot on which history has turned, the one condition on which God has been able to help men. Wherever it is read as the conclusion of all the past, wherever it is proclaimed as the conscience of the present, there the true prophet is found and the Word of God has been spoken.

This same possession by the ethical spirit reappears, as we shall see, in Zechariah’s orations to the people after the anxieties of building are over and the completion of the Temple is in sight. In these he affirms again that the whole essence of God’s Word by the older prophets has been moral-to judge true judgment, to practice mercy, to defend the widow and orphan, the stranger and poor, and to think no evil of one another. For the sad fasts of the Exile Zechariah enjoins gladness, with the duty of truth and the hope of peace. Again and again he enforces sincerity and the love without dissimulation. His ideals for Jerusalem are very high, including the conversion of the nations to her God. But warlike ambitions have vanished from them, and his pictures of her future condition are homely and practical. Jerusalem shall be no more a fortress, but spread village-wise without walls. Full families, unlike the present colony with its few children and its men worn out in middle life by harassing warfare with enemies and a sullen nature; streets rife with children playing and old folk sitting in the sun; the return of the exiles; happy harvests and spring-times of peace; solid gain of labor for every man, with no raiding neighbors to harass, nor the mutual envies of peasants in their selfish struggle with famine.

It is a simple, hearty, practical man whom such prophesying reveals, the spirit of him bent on justice and love, and yearning for the un-harassed labor of the field and for happy homes. No prophet has more beautiful sympathies, a more direct word of righteousness, or a braver heart.

"Fast not, but love truth and peace. Truth and wholesome justice set ye up in your gates. Be not afraid; strengthen your hands! Old men and women-shall yet sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand for the fullness of their years; the city’s streets shall be rife with boys and girls at play."


Verse 7

- Zechariah 6:8

THE ANGELS OF THE VISIONS

Zechariah 1:7 - Zechariah 6:8

AMONG the influences of the Exile which contributed the material of Zechariah’s Visions we included a considerable development of Israel’s belief in Angels. The general subject is in itself so large, and the Angels play so many parts in the Visions, that it is necessary to devote to them a separate chapter.

From the earliest times the Hebrews had conceived their Divine King to be surrounded by a court of ministers, who besides celebrating His glory went forth from His presence to execute His will upon earth. In this latter capacity they were called Messengers, Male’akim, which the Greeks translated Angeloi, and so gave us our Angels. The origin of this conception is wrapped in obscurity. It may have been partly due to a belief, shared by all early peoples, in the existence of superhuman beings inferior to the gods, but even without this it must have sprung up in the natural tendency to provide the royal deity of a people with a court, an army and servants. In the pious minds of early Israel there must have been a kind of necessity to believe and develop this-a necessity imposed firstly by the belief in Jehovah’s residence as confined to one spot, Sinai or Jerusalem, from which He Himself went forth only upon great occasions to the deliverance of His people as a whole; and secondly by the unwillingness to conceive of His personal appearance in missions of a menial nature, or to represent Him in the human form in which, according to primitive ideas, He could alone hold converse with men.

It can easily be understood how a religion, which was above all a religion of revelation, should accept such popular conceptions in its constant record of the appearance of God and His Word in human life. Accordingly, in the earliest documents of the Hebrews, we find angels who bring to Israel the blessings, curses, and commands of Jehovah. Apart from this duty and their human appearance, these beings are not conceived to be endowed either with character or, if we may judge by their namelessness with individuality. They are the Word of God personified. Acting as God’s mouthpiece, they are merged in Him, and so completely that they often speak of themselves by the Divine I. { 6:12 ff.}

"The function of an Angel so overshadows his personality that the Old Testament does not ask who or what this Angel is, but what he does. And the answer to the last question is that he represents God to man so directly and fully that when he speaks or acts God Himself is felt to speak or act." Besides the carriage of the Divine Word, angels bring back to their Lord report of all that happens: kings are said, in popular language, to be "as wise as the wisdom of an angel of God, to know all the things that are in the earth." [2 Samuel 14:20] They are also employed in the deliverance and discipline of His people. [Exodus 14:19-20;, Exodus 12:23, etc.; Joshua 5:13] By them come the pestilence, and the restraint of those who set themselves against God’s will.

Now the prophets before the Exile had so spiritual a conception of God, worked so immediately from His presence, and above all were so convinced of His personal and practical interest in the affairs of His people, that they felt no room for Angels between Him and their hearts, and they do not employ Angels, except when Isaiah in his inaugural vision penetrates to the heavenly palace and court of the Most High. [Zechariah 6:2-6] Even when Amos sees a plummet laid to the walls of Jerusalem, it is by the hands of Jehovah himself, and we have not encountered an Angel in the mediation of the Word to any of the prophets whom we have already studied. But Angels reappear, though not under the name, in the visions of Ezekiel, the first prophet of the Exile. They are in human form, and he calls them "Men." Some execute God’s wrath upon Jerusalem (Ezekiel 9:1-11), and one, whose appearance is as the appearance of brass, acts as the interpreter of God’s will to the prophet, and instructs him in the details of the building of City and Temple. [Ezekiel 40:3 ff.} When the glory of Jehovah appears and Jehovah Himself speaks to the prophet out of the Temple, this "Man" stands by the prophet, {Ezekiel 43:6] distinct from the Deity, and afterwards continues his work of explanation. "Therefore," as Dr. Davidson remarks, "it is not the sense of distance to which God is removed that causes Ezekiel to create these intermediaries." The necessity for them rather arises from the same natural feeling which we have suggested as giving rise to the earliest conceptions of Angels: the unwillingness, namely, to engage the Person of God Himself in the subordinate task of explaining the details of the Temple. Note, too, how the Divine Voice, which speaks to Ezekiel out of the Temple, blends and becomes one with the "Man" standing at his side. Ezekiel’s Angel-interpreter is simply one function of the Word of God.

Many of the features of Ezekiel’s Angels appear in those of Zechariah. "The four smiths" or smiters of the four horns recall the six executioners of the wicked in Jerusalem. [Zechariah 1:18, Ezekiel 9:1 ff.} Like Ezekiel’s Interpreter, they are called "Men," and like him one appears as Zechariah’s instructor and guide: "he who talked with me." But while Zechariah calls these beings "Men," he also gives them the ancient name, which Ezekiel had not used, of Male’akim, "messengers, angels." The Instructor is "the Angel who talked with me." In the First Vision, "the Man riding the brown horse, the Man that stood among the myrtles, is the Angel of Jehovah that stood among the myrtles." {Zechariah 1:8; Zechariah 1:10-11] The Interpreter is also called "the Angel of Jehovah," and if our text of the First Vision be correct, the two of them are curiously mingled, as if both were functions of the same Word of God, and in personality not to be distinguished from each other. The Reporting Angel among the myrtles takes up the duty of the Interpreting Angel and explains the Vision to the prophet. In the Fourth Vision this dissolving view is carried further, and the Angel of Jehovah is interchangeable with Jehovah Himself; just as in the Vision of Ezekiel the Divine Voice from the Glory and the Man standing beside the prophet are curiously mingled. Again in the Fourth Vision we hear of those "who stand in the presence of Jehovah," [Zechariah 3:6-7] and in the Eighth of executant angels coming out from His presence with commissions upon the whole earth. [Zechariah 6:5]

In the Visions of Zechariah, then, as in the earlier books, we see the Lord of all the earth, surrounded by a court of angels, whom He sends forth in human form to interpret His Word and execute His will, and in their doing of this there is the same indistinctness of individuality, the same predominance of function over personality. As with Ezekiel, one stands out more clearly than the rest, to be the prophet’s interpreter, whom, as in the earlier visions of angels, Zechariah calls "my lord," {Zechariah 1:9, etc.} but even he melts into the figures of the rest. These are the old and borrowed elements in Zechariah’s doctrine of Angels. But he has added to them in several important particulars, which make his Visions an intermediate stage between the Book of Ezekiel and the very intricate angelology of later Judaism.

In the first place Zechariah is the earliest prophet who introduces orders and ranks among the angels. In his Fourth Vision the Angel of Jehovah is the Divine Judge "before whom" Joshua appears with the Adversary. He also has others standing "before him" to execute his sentences. In the Third Vision, again, the Interpreting Angel does dot communicate directly with Jehovah, but receives his words from another Angel who has come forth. [Zechariah 2:3-4] All these are symptoms, that even with a prophet, who so keenly felt as Zechariah did the ethical directness of God’s word and its pervasiveness through public life, there had yet begun to increase those feelings of God’s sublimity and awfulness, which in the later thought of Israel lifted Him to so far a distance from men, and created so complex a host of intermediaries, human and superhuman, between the worshipping heart and the Throne of Grace. We can best estimate the difference in this respect between Zechariah and the earlier prophets whom we have studied by remarking that his characteristic phrase "talked with me," literally "spake in" or "by me," which he uses of the Interpreting Angel, is used by Habakkuk of God Himself. [Habakkuk 2:1; cf. also Numbers 12:6-9] To the same awful impressions of the Godhead is perhaps due the first appearance of the Angel as intercessor. Amos, Isaiah, and Jeremiah themselves directly interceded with God for the people; but with Zechariah it is the Interpreting Angel who intercedes, and who in return receives the Divine comfort. In this angelic function, the first of its kind in Scripture, we see the small and explicable beginnings of a belief destined to assume enormous dimensions in the development of the Church’s worship. The supplication of Angels, the faith in their intercession and in the prevailing prayers of the righteous dead, which has been so egregiously multiplied in certain sections of Christendom, may be traced to the same increasing sense of the distance and awfulness of God, but is to be corrected by the faith Christ has taught us of the nearness of our Father in Heaven, and of His immediate care of His every human child.

The intercession of the Angel in the First Vision is also a step towards that identification of special Angels with different peoples which we find in the Book of Daniel. This tells us of heavenly princes not only for Israel-"Michael, your prince, the great prince which standeth up for the children of thy people" [Daniel 10:21;, Daniel 12:1] -but for the heathen nations, a conception the first beginnings of which we see in a prophecy that was perhaps not far from being contemporaneous with Zechariah. [Isaiah 24:21] Zechariah’s Vision of a hierarchy among the angels was also destined to further development. The head of the patrol among the myrtles, and the Judge-Angel before whom Joshua appears, are the first Archangels. We know how these were further specialized, and had even personalities and names given them by both Jewish and Christian writers.

Among the Angels described in the Old Testament, we have seen some charged with powers of hindrance and destruction-"a troop of angels of evil." They too are the servants of God, who is the author of all evil as well as good, [Amos 3:6] and the instruments of His wrath. But the temptation of men is also part of His Providence. Where willful souls have to be misled, the spirit who does so, as in Ahab’s case, comes from Jehovah’s presence. [1 Kings 22:20 ff.} All these spirits are just as devoid of character and personality as the rest of the angelic host. They work evil as mere instruments: neither malice nor falseness is attributed to themselves. They are not rebel nor fallen angels, but obedient to Jehovah. Nay, like Ezekiel’s and Zechariah’s Angels of the Word, the Angel who tempts David to number the people is interchangeable with God Himself. Kindred to the duty of tempting men is that of discipline, in its forms both of restraining or accusing the guilty, and of vexing the righteous in order to test them. For both of these the same verb is used, "to satan," in the general sense of "withstanding," or antagonizing. The Angel of Jehovah stood in Balaam’s way "to satan him." {Numbers 22:22; Numbers 22:32] The noun, "the Satan," is used repeatedly of a human foe (1 Samuel 29:4;, 2 Samuel 19:23, 1 Kings 5:18; 1 Kings 11:14, etc.). But in two passages, of which Zechariah’s Fourth Vision is one, and the other the Prologue to Job (Zechariah 3:1 ff., Job 1:6 ff.), the name is given to an Angel, one of "the sons of Elohim," or Divine powers who receive their commission from Jehovah. The noun is not yet, what it afterwards became, [1 Chronicles 21:1] a proper name; but has the definite article, "the Adversary" or "Accuser"-that is, the Angel to whom that function was assigned. With Zechariah his business is the official one of prosecutor in the supreme court of Jehovah, and when his work is done he disappears. Yet, before he does so, we see for the first time in connection with any angel a gleam of character. This is revealed by the Lord’s rebuke of him. There is something blameworthy in the accusation of Joshua: not indeed false witness, for Israel’s guilt is patent in the foul garments of their High Priest, but hardness or malice, that would seek to prevent the Divine grace. In the Book of Job "the Satan" is also a function, even here not a fallen or rebel angel, but one of God’s court, [Job 1:6] the instrument of discipline or chastisement. Yet, in that he himself suggests his cruelties and is represented as forward and officious in their infliction, a character is imputed to him even more clearly than in Zechariah’s Vision. But the Satan still shares that identification with his function which we have seen to characterize all the angels of the Old Testament, and therefore he disappears from the drama so, soon as his place in its high argument is over.

In this description of the development of Israel’s doctrine of Angels, and of Zechariah’s contributions to it, we have not touched upon the question whether the development was assisted by Israel’s contact with the Persian religion and with the system of Angels which the latter contains. For several reasons the question is a difficult one. But so far as present evidence goes, it makes for a negative answer. Scholars, who are in no way prejudiced against the theory of a large Persian influence upon Israel declare that the religion of Persia affected the Jewish doctrine of Angels "only in secondary points," such as their "number and personality, and the existence of demons and evil spirits." Our own discussion has shown us that Zechariah’s Angels, in spite of the new features they introduce, are in substance one with the Angels of pre-exilic Israel. Even the Satan is primarily a function, and one of the servants of God. If he has developed an immoral character, this cannot be attributed to the influence of Persian belief in a Spirit of evil opposed to the Spirit of good in the universe, but may be explained by the native, or selfish, resentment of Israel against their prosecutor before the bar of Jehovah. Nor can we fail to remark that this character of evil appears in the Satan, not, as in the Persian religion, in general opposition to goodness, but as thwarting that saving grace which was so peculiarly Jehovah’s own. And Jehovah said to the Satan, "Jehovah rebuke thee, O Satan, yea, Jehovah who hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee! Is not this a brand plucked from the burning?"


Verses 7-17

3. EXPOSITION OF THE SEVERAL VISIONS

For all the Visions there is one date, "in the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, the month Shebat, in the second year of Darius." that is, January or February, 519; and one Divine impulse, "the Word of Jehovah came to the prophet Zekharyah, son of Berekhyahu, son of Iddo, as follows."

THE FIRST VISION: THE ANGEL-HORSEMEN

Zechariah 1:7-17

The seventy years which Jeremiah had fixed for the duration of the Babylonian servitude were drawing to a close. Four months had elapsed since Haggai promised that in a little while God would shake all nations. [Jeremiah 25:12;, Haggai 2:7] But the world was not shaken: there was no political movement which promised to restore her glory to Jerusalem. A very natural disappointment must have been the result among the Jews. In this situation of affairs the Word came to Zechariah, and both situation and Word he expressed by his First Vision.

It was one of the myrtle-covered glens in the neighborhood of Jerusalem: Zechariah calls it the Glen or Valley-Bottom, either because it was known under that name to the Jews, or because he was himself wont to frequent it for prayer. He discovers in it what seems to be a rendezvous of Persian cavalry-scouts, the leader of the troop in front, and the rest behind him, having just come in with their reports. Soon, however, he is made aware that they are angels, and with that quick, dissolving change both of function and figure, which marks all angelic apparitions, they explain to him their mission. Now it is an angel-interpreter at his side who speaks, and now the angel on the front horse. They are scouts of God come in from their survey of the whole earth. The world lies quiet. Whereupon "the angel of Jehovah" asks Him how long His anger must rest on Jerusalem and nothing be done to restore her; and the prophet hears a kind and comforting answer. The nations have done more evil to Israel than God empowered them to do. Their aggravations have changed His wrath against her to pity, and in pity He is come back to her. She shall soon be rebuilt and overflow with prosperity.

The only perplexity in all this is the angels’ report that the whole earth lies quiet. How this could have been in 519 is difficult to understand. The great revolts against Darius were then in active progress, the result was uncertain, and he took at least three more years to put them all down. They were confined, it is true, to the east and northeast of the empire, but some of them threatened Babylon, and we can hardly ascribe the report of the angels to such a limitation of the Jews’ horizon at this time as shut out Mesopotamia or the lands to the north of her. There remain two alternatives. Either these far-away revolts made only more impressive the stagnancy of the tribes of the rest of the empire, and the helplessness of the Jews and their Syrian neighbors was convincingly shown by their inability to take advantage even of the desperate straits to which Darius was reduced; or else in that month of vision Darius had quelled one of the rebellions against him, and for the moment there was quiet in the world.

"By night I had a vision, and behold! a man riding a brown horse, and he was standing between the myrtles that are in the Glen; and behind him horses brown, bay and white. And I said, What are these, my lord? And the angel who talked with me said, I will show you what these are. And the man who was standing among the myrtles answered and said, These are they whom Jehovah hath sent to go to and fro through the earth. And they answered the angel of Jehovah who stood among the myrtles, and said, We have gone up and down through the earth, and lo! the whole earth is still and at peace. [Isaiah 37:29;, Jeremiah 48:11;, Zephaniah 1:12] And the angel of Jehovah answered and said, Jehovah of Hosts, how long hast Thou no pity for Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, with which, Thou hast been wroth these seventy years? And Jehovah answered the angel who talked with me, kind words and comforting. And the angel who talked with me said to me, Proclaim now as follows: Thus saith Jehovah of Hosts, I am zealous for Jerusalem and for Zion, with a great zeal; but with great wrath am I wroth against the arrogant Gentiles. For I was but a little angry with Israel, but they aggravated the evil. Therefore thus saith Jehovah, I am returned to Jerusalem with mercies. My house stall be built in her-oracle of Jehovah of Hosts-and the measuring line shall be drawn over Jerusalem. Proclaim yet again, saying: Thus saith Jehovah of Hosts, My cities shall yet overflow with prosperity, and Jehovah shall again comfort Zion, and again make choice of Jerusalem."

Two things are to be noted in this oracle. No political movement is indicated as the means of Jerusalem’s restoration: this is to be the effect of God’s free grace in returning to dwell in Jerusalem, which is the reward of the building of the Temple. And there is an interesting explanation of the motive for God’s new grace: in executing His sentence upon Israel, the heathen had far exceeded their commission, and now themselves deserved punishment. That is to say, the restoration of Jerusalem and the resumption of the worship are not enough for the future of Israel. The heathen must be chastised. But Zechariah does not predict any overthrow of the world’s power, either by earthly or by heavenly forces. This is entirely in harmony with the insistence upon peace which distinguishes him from other prophets.


Verses 7-21

THE SECOND VISION: THE FOUR HORNS AND THE FOUR SMITHS

{Zechariah 2:1-4}

The Second Vision supplies what is lacking in the First, the destruction of the tyrants who have oppressed Israel. The prophet sees four horns, which, he is told by his interpreting angel, are the powers that have scattered Judah. The many attempts to identify these with four heathen nations are ingenious but futile. "Four horns were seen as representing the totality of Israel’s enemies-her enemies from all quarters." And to destroy these horns four smiths appear. Because in the Vision the horns are of iron, in Israel an old symbol of power, the first verb used of the action can hardly be, as in the Hebrew text, to terrify. The Greek reads "sharpen," and probably some verb meaning "to cut" or "chisel" stood in the original.

"And I lifted mine eyes and looked, and lo! four horns. And I said to the angel who spoke with me, What are these? And he said to me, These are the horns which scattered Judah, Israel and Jerusalem. And Jehovah showed me four smiths. And I said, What are these coming to do? And he spake, saying, These are the horns which scattered Judah, so that none lifted up his head; and these are come to them, to strike down the horns of the nations, that lifted the horn against the land of Judah to scatter it."

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Zechariah 1:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/zechariah-1.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, June 27th, 2019
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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