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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Zechariah 1

 

 

Verse 1

1. The title.

Eighth month — Called before the exile Bul (1 Kings 6:38); after the exile, by the Babylonian name Marcheshvan. It corresponds to the latter part of October and the early part of November.

Second year of Darius — See on Haggai 1:1. Zechariah delivered his first message about two months after Haggai’s first appearance. The day of the month is not given; some have thought that it has dropped out accidentally, which may be possible; but it is by no means certain that it was there originally.

Zechariah — See Introduction, p. 571.

Son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo — See Introduction, p. 571 (compare Ezra 5:1; Ezra 6:14).

The prophet — Refers to Zechariah, not to Iddo. CALL TO REPENTANCE, 2-6.

In these verses Zechariah urges his contemporaries to return to Jehovah, in order that they may enjoy once more the divine favor. He reinforces this exhortation by an appeal to the experiences of their ancestors, who suffered severe punishments because they disregarded the teaching of the prophets. The disobedience of the present generation may be followed by a similar catastrophe.


Verse 2

2. At the beginning of his message the prophet places the statement that Jehovah was angry with the fathers.

Sore displeased — Literally, angry with anger. This should serve as a warning to the present generation.


Verse 3

3. Instead of proceeding directly to his message, he introduces Jehovah as commissioning him to issue the call to repentance.

Therefore — Because Jehovah was displeased with the fathers and had withdrawn from them (compare Hosea 5:15). He has not yet returned to the people, but is anxious to do so; therefore he commissions Zechariah to urge the people to do their share in the matter.

Unto them — The contemporaries of the prophet.

Thus saith Jehovah — Repeated three times in one verse, Haggai also repeats the phrase again and again (for example, Haggai 1:4).

Jehovah of hosts — See on Hosea 12:5.

Turn ye [“Return”] unto me — See on Joel 2:12. In this case the “return” was to show itself in the resumption of building operations on the temple (Haggai 1:3-4; Haggai 1:9).

I will turn [“return”] — The sufferings of the present, such as the famine (Haggai 1:6) and the opposition of the surrounding tribes, were an indication that Jehovah had not yet returned to his people in loving-kindness and mercy. He promises, however, that if they will do their duty he will once more shower his blessings upon them.


Verses 4-6

4-6. Similar appeals were made to former generations, but they would not heed; therefore they were cut off.

The former prophets — All the predecessors of Zechariah. They all with one accord urged the people to hate the evil and love the good. It is not necessary to suppose that the prophet has in mind any particular prophet or any particular utterance (compare Hosea 14:2; Ezekiel 33:11; 2 Kings 17:13; Amos 5:14). The fathers did not hearken, and judgment overtook them.

Where are they?… do they live forever? — The fathers are dead and even the prophets have passed away, but the words which the latter spoke and the former neglected proved true, for the threatened destruction came.

Words — Especially of threatening (Jeremiah 39:16; Ezekiel 12:28).

Statutes — Not a legal term as in Malachi 4:4, but practically identical with the preceding “word”; the judicial decrees of Jehovah proclaimed by the prophets.

My servants the prophets — The “former prophets” (Zechariah 1:4). The prophets are frequently called the servants of God or of Jehovah, because it was their office to execute the purpose of their divine Master. Take hold of [“overtake”] — “The judgments decreed by Jehovah resemble messengers sent out by Jehovah to pursue and destroy the sinners” (Deuteronomy 28:15; Deuteronomy 28:45). The climax was the exile.

They returned — Though the judgments did not produce a complete change of heart, they did open the eyes of the people so that they recognized that they were sent by Jehovah in punishment for their own sins (Lamentations 2:17; Ezra 9:5 ff.). The experience of the fathers should teach a lesson to the children.


Verse 7

The first vision — the angelic horsemen, 7-17.

Zechariah beholds “a man riding upon a red horse” standing among myrtle trees (7, 8); he is accompanied by other horsemen who report that they have “walked to and fro through the earth, and, behold, all the earth sitteth still, and is at rest” (9-11). Since a “shaking” of the nations must precede the establishment of the kingdom of God (Haggai 2:6-7; Haggai 2:21-22), the report meant that there was no sign of the approach of the Messianic era. This is a disappointment to the angel who receives the report, and he inquires of Jehovah, “how long wilt thou not have mercy on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah?” (12). To which Jehovah replies that, though the shaking may be delayed, his cities “shall yet overflow with prosperity; and Jehovah shall yet comfort Zion, and shall yet choose Jerusalem” (13-17).

The vision, therefore, is a message of encouragement to the despondent people to retain faith in Jehovah, for he will surely fulfill the Messianic promises of the past.

Zechariah 1:7 gives the date of the vision.

Eleventh month — Called Shebat (see R.V.); it corresponds to the latter part of January and the first part of February. The rest of Zechariah 1:7 is identical with Zechariah 1:1 (see there).


Verse 7-8

THE EIGHT NIGHT VISIONS, Zechariah 1:7 to Zechariah 6:8.

About three months after Zechariah’s first utterance and five months after building operations on the temple were resumed (Haggai 1:15) there came to Zechariah in one single night a series of symbolical visions. Their significance was made plain to him by a heavenly interpreter. The visions have one common purpose, “the encouragement of the Jews to continue the work of restoring the temple and rebuilding the city and the re-establishing of the theocratic government.”


Verse 8

8. I saw — In a vision or trance (compare Isaiah 6), one of the means by which God communicated his truth to the prophets (compare Numbers 12:6; see on Amos 7:1; Nahum 1:1).

By night — Visions usually came during the night (1 Samuel 3:3; 1 Kings 3:5; Acts 16:9). Since the Hebrew day began at sunset, this was probably during the night preceding the twenty-fourth day.

Behold — Calls attention to the first object that met his eye. The following appear as dramatis personae in the first vision: 1. The prophet; 2. The interpreting angel, who is present in all the visions; 3. The man riding upon the red horse; 4. The men riding upon the red, speckled, and white horses; 5. The angel of Jehovah; 6. Jehovah himself.

A man riding upon a red horse — This was the first being observed by the prophet, but the man was not alone, he was followed by a group of horsemen.

Among the myrtle trees — The leader stopped in a grove of myrtle trees, because there was the one to whom the report had to be given. The fact that “the angel of Jehovah” also was among the myrtle trees is no reason for identifying the two; the latter was there first, the former stopped because the report was intended for the angel. LXX. reads wrongly, “between the mountains” (compare Zechariah 6:1). That myrtles grew near Jerusalem is shown by Nehemiah 8:15, where it is said that myrtle branches were gathered for the feast of tabernacles.

In the bottom — The meaning of the last word is somewhat obscure; various translations have been suggested; margin R.V., “shady place”; but the common rendering is to be preferred. The reference is probably to some valley at the foot of the temple hill, in which was a myrtle grove, well known to the contemporaries of the prophet, though the spot cannot be identified to-day. Attempts have been made to assign symbolical meanings to the myrtle trees and to the bottom. Keil, for example, considers the former a “symbol of the theocracy, or of the land of Judah as a land that was dear and lovely in the esteem of the Lord”; of the latter he says that it “can be only a figurative representation of the deep degradation into which the land and the people of God had fallen at that time.” Since the heavenly interpreter gives no symbolical meaning to these features, his earthly counterparts may do well to follow his example; it seems best to consider these elements mere incidents in the picture, without special symbolical significance.

Red… speckled… white — For the second R.V. reads “sorrel.” The meaning of the Hebrew so translated is uncertain; the corresponding Arabic word is used of chestnut or bay horses, and this is the meaning which should probably be given to the Hebrew. Chapter Zechariah 6:3, and Revelation 6:8, to which appeal has been made by some, are of no assistance in determining the meaning, since there is no close connection between them and this passage. Whatever may be true of other passages, here the colors are without symbolic meaning; they are only incidents introduced to make the picture complete.


Verse 9

9. The prophet, who does not understand the vision (compare Amos 7:1-9), seeks an explanation.

O my lord — The one here addressed must be the person who replies, the heavenly interpreter.

The angel that talked with me — He is the constant companion of the prophet throughout the entire series of visions; his office is to interpret to Zechariah what he sees and hears (Zechariah 1:9; Zechariah 1:13-14; Zechariah 1:19; Zechariah 2:3; Zechariah 4:1; Zechariah 4:4-5; Zechariah 5:10; Zechariah 6:4; see Introduction, p. 599).

I will show thee — The angel does not promise a direct answer, but assures the prophet that an explanation will be given.


Verse 10

10. This explanation is supplied by the further unfolding of the vision. The man among the myrtles (Zechariah 1:8) is the first to speak.

Answered — The Hebrew verb does not mean necessarily to reply to a question, sometimes it is used in the sense of begin to speak; so here. The words are not intended as a reply to Zechariah; they are addressed to the “angel of Jehovah” (Zechariah 1:11), to whom the man presents his followers, that they may report the result of their investigations. The prophet, as an interested bystander, could learn the significance of the vision from this report and from the dialogue which took place subsequently between the angel and Jehovah.

These — The men upon the horses of different colors, who are introduced as messengers of Jehovah, commissioned to “walk to and fro through the earth.” Their duty seems to have been purely to find out conditions and report on them; there is no indication that they were to interfere in any way with “terrestrial matters.”


Verse 11

11. Having been presented, the horsemen make their report; whether through a spokesman or in unison is not stated.

The angel of Jehovah — Not to be identified with “man” in Zechariah 1:8; Zechariah 1:10. The angel is the one who receives the report of the horsemen, of whom the “man” is the leader. Any angel might be called “angel of Jehovah” (1 Kings 19:7; 2 Samuel 24:16), but there are passages in the Old Testament in which the phrase has a peculiar meaning (Genesis 31:11-13; Exodus 23:20-21, etc.). To the latter class belongs this verse. In these passages the “angel of Jehovah” is “not a created angel; he is Jehovah himself,” manifesting himself without men, that is, in the external affairs of men, just as in the Old Testament “spirit of Jehovah” is Jehovah manifesting himself within men (compare A.B. Davidson, The Theology of the Old Testament, pp. 296ff.). Nowack, on the basis of Zechariah 1:12, thinks that this verse marks an advance over the more ancient passages, because here the angel is no longer identified with Jehovah, but is separate from and subordinate to him; and there is much to be said in favor of this view, but the testimony of Zechariah 1:12 is not conclusive (see comment). Whether the ancients ever considered the metaphysical aspects of this “incarnation,” and if so, what were their exact notions, we cannot determine, nor can we speak dogmatically about the connection between this manifestation of Jehovah and the divine incarnation in the person of Jesus. The suggestion of some commentators, that in this passage the “angel of Jehovah” is identical with the “man among the myrtle trees,” that the title “angel of Jehovah” is a later addition due to a confusion of the man with the interpreting angel, and that the original was “the man,” is intended to remove a difficulty, but the change is not warranted.

The earth sitteth still and is at rest — The horsemen report that all is peaceful, undisturbed by war or revolution. Evidently an allusion to Haggai 2:6-7; Haggai 2:21-22, or at least to the hope expressed there. The expectation was that Jehovah would “shake the nations” preliminary to the restoration of his grace and mercy to Zion. The people expected a speedy fulfillment of the Messianic promise; the delay produced despondency. The report of the horsemen would intensify the feeling of disappointment, for while peace and quietness prevailed the former promises would not be fulfilled.


Verse 12

12. The purpose of the vision is to remove this sense of disappointment and despondency by a solemn reaffirmation of the promises of the past (12-17). It is the angel of Jehovah (see on Zechariah 1:11) who intercedes with Jehovah for Jerusalem and Judah. The fact that the angel intercedes with Jehovah might be urged against the identification of the two (see above); but this representation, which is figurative, disproves the identification no more “than the intercessory prayer of Christ in John 17 is a disproof of his divinity.”

Answered — See on Zechariah 1:10. The “angel” understands the true significance of the report, and he inquires why Jehovah is withholding his favor, when the allotted time of his displeasure has come to an end.

Threescore and ten years — Undoubtedly a reference to Jeremiah 25:12; Jeremiah 29:10. The former passage was uttered in the fourth year of Jehoiakim, about 604 B.C.; seventy years from that date would bring us to about 534, a few years subsequent to the edict of Cyrus granting permission to the Jews to return from Babylon, and about fourteen years before the date of this vision. If this is the period meant the disappointment can be understood very easily. The pre-exilic prophets had connected the sublimest hopes with the return, but the years immediately following the return of 537 were years of depression and oppression. Many would ask and did ask, What has become of the promises of Jehovah? The angel simply voices the sentiment of the majority in the community. However, it is possible that the beginning of the seventy years should be placed at the destruction of the temple in 586; seventy years from that date would bring us to about 516. As the latter date approached, the people would inquire anxiously whether the promised exaltation would materialize. The former interpretation does justice to the primary reference, but the fact that seventy years from the destruction of the temple were about to expire may have intensified the expectation as well as the disappointment.


Verse 13

13. Jehovah answered — Jehovah is to be identified with Jehovah of hosts (12). The fact that the reply disregards entirely the angel of Jehovah favors the identification of the two (compare Genesis 31:11; Genesis 31:13; Joshua 5:13; Joshua 6:2). The reply is addressed to the interpreting angel (see on Zechariah 1:9).

Good… comfortable — Though the contents of the divine answer had to be explained by the angel, the prophet seems to have understood from the beginning that the message was one of cheer. Good — promising good, salutary (Jeremiah 29:10); comfortable, literally, consolations, so called because they were intended to cheer the drooping spirit of the prophet and the community.


Verses 14-17

14-17. The interpreting angel joins to the interpretation an exhortation to make the message known to all the people.

Cry thou — So that all may hear (compare Zechariah 1:4).

Thus saith Jehovah — The present announcement is the word of Jehovah as much as the pre-exilic prophecies.

I am jealous… with a great jealousy — See on Joel 2:18. The intensity of the divine emotion is indicated by the addition “with a great jealousy.” The Hebrew tense implies the continuity of the divine jealousy. The restoration from exile was an expression of it, and even when there was no external manifestation of it, it was there, and soon it will show itself again.


Verse 15

15. An inevitable concomitant of Jehovah’s jealousy for Jerusalem is his wrath against the nations that have ill-treated the former.

Very sore displeased — A participial construction expressing the idea that the wrath is permanent (compare Zechariah 1:2).

The heathen that are at ease — R.V., “the nations.” Their continued peace (Zechariah 1:11) and prosperity have made them self-confident and careless (Isaiah 37:29).

For — This introduces the reason for the sore displeasure of Jehovah. Though he commissioned them to execute judgment upon his people, they went beyond their commission in severity and cruelty (compare Isaiah 10:5-7; Isaiah 47:6).

A little — When used adverbially this word is generally an adverb of time — a little while. The reference is evidently to the seventy years during which the nations were permitted to execute judgment upon Israel (Isaiah 54:8). This time limit the nations did not observe; they fancied that their success was due to their own wisdom and might; therefore they were planning to continue the oppression even after the time of visitation had expired; but Jehovah will not permit it. Even during the period of judgment they were more cruel than was in accord with the will of Jehovah; therefore his wrath is aroused, and their destruction is determined.

They helped forward the affliction — Literally, they helped for evil. They carried the affliction beyond the divine purpose, so that evil was the result. “They assisted not only as the instruments of God for the chastisement of Judah, but so that harm arose from it, inasmuch as they tried to destroy Israel altogether.”


Verse 16-17

16. Therefore — Because Jehovah is jealous for Jerusalem and angry with the nations.

I am returned to Jerusalem — The tense is to be understood as a perfect of prophetic certainty. The return is not yet accomplished.

With mercies — Or, compassion. Not with judgments or wrath as in the past.

16b and 17 describe the consequences of the divine return.

My house shall be built — So long as the temple remains uncompleted Jehovah can have no permanent abiding place in the city. It was completed and dedicated in 516.

A line shall be stretched forth upon Jerusalem — Not only the temple but the city also will be rebuilt. The line is the measuring line which is used to mark off the space on which the city is to stand, and the plan according to which it is to be built (Zechariah 2:2; Jeremiah 31:39). But the blessing will not stop with the rebuilding of the city; the whole land will feel the benefits of Jehovah’s return to Zion.

Cry yet — R.V. adds “again.” A new phase of the divine blessing is to be announced.

My cities — The cities scattered throughout the land of Jehovah, that is, through Judah.

Through prosperity shall yet be spread abroad — P.V., “shall yet overflow with prosperity.” The latter is to be preferred. The verb occurs with the same meaning in Proverbs 5:16 (not so in Zechariah 13:7). At present there is distress everywhere; but when Jehovah returns to his own all will be prosperity (Jeremiah 33:12-13). 17b returns to Jerusalem; it will be the center of the divine government in the period of restoration. There is no ground for despair; Jehovah will yet comfort Zion (see on Zechariah 1:13); LXX. seems to have read a different verb, “will have mercy.”

Choose — As his royal residence (compare Zechariah 2:12; Zechariah 3:2).


Verse 18

18. Then lifted I up mine eyes — Introduces a new vision (Zechariah 2:1; Zechariah 5:1; Zechariah 6:1). If all the visions came in one night they must have followed one another in rapid succession.

Four horns — It is useless to speculate as to whether these horns belonged to one, two, or four animals, for that does not affect the symbolism. Horn is a symbol of power (Amos 6:13; Micah 4:13; Jeremiah 48:25); four indicates the four points of the compass; the four horns represent powers approaching from the four points of the compass. This does not mean, however, that the enemies actually approached or were expected to approach from four directions; the expression is used in the more general sense of every direction or all directions. From all sides enemies crowded upon the Jews during the postexilic period; all these are to be overthrown. Some have supposed that Zechariah has in mind four definite powers, either the Babylonians, Medes and Persians, Greeks, Romans, or the Assyrians, Egyptians, Babylonians, Medes and Persians. In view of Zechariah 1:19; Zechariah 1:21, which indicate that the enemies are enemies of the past, the Greeks and Romans cannot be meant. The first interpretation, which leaves the enemies unidentified, is to be preferred. 19. The prophet turns for an explanation to the interpreting angel, who replies that the four horns represent the powers that have been hostile toward the Jews.

Judah — The southern kingdom.

Israel — The northern kingdom.

Jerusalem — Mentioned on account of its special sanctity as the earthly dwelling place of Jehovah. In the corresponding passage in Zechariah 1:21 only Judah is mentioned, which has led many to suppose that in this verse the other names are a later addition.

In Zechariah 1:20 a new feature is introduced.

Carpenters — R.V., “smiths”; A.V. follows LXX.; literally, workmen, artificers. The term is used of workers in wood as well as in iron or stone. If the horns are thought of as made of iron (Micah 4:13) smith is the more suitable translation. The smiths may have had their hammers in their hands, ready to strike. 21.

He — The interpreting angel, whose duty it was to explain the symbolism to the prophet. According to his interpretation the four smiths represent the agents who are divinely appointed to execute judgment upon the nations.

No man did lift up his head — The people were completely overwhelmed.

Fray — R.V., “terrify.” Throw in a state of alarm (2 Samuel 17:2).

Cast out [“down”] the horns — A picture of utter destruction (compare Amos 3:14). Who the powers are that Jehovah will use to execute his judgment Upon the hostile nations is not stated. It is enough to assure the despondent community that the judgment will be executed.


Verses 18-21

The second vision — the four horns and the four smiths, Zechariah 1:18-21 (in Hebrew, Zechariah 2:1-4).

In the second vision the prophet beholds four horns. Upon inquiry he is told by his companion that these horns symbolize the nations that have scattered the Jews. He also sees four smiths, who, he is informed, represent the divinely appointed agents to execute judgment upon the hostile nations. The first vision announces, on the one hand, the return of Jehovah to Zion; on the other, the divine wrath against the nations. These two aspects of the first vision are expanded in visions two and three respectively. The second pictures the execution of judgment upon Israel’s enemies; the third, the blessings to be enjoyed by Jerusalem and Judah.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Zechariah 1:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/zechariah-1.html. 1874-1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 13th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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