Zechariah 1 Commentary (Verses 7-12) Explaining the Book of Zechariah
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Let’s turn our attention to the first chapter of the Old Testament book of Zechariah. Zechariah 1. We’re going to be studying verses 7-12 today.
This first vision that Zechariah receives from the Lord spans from verses 7-17, but we’ll only be covering the first six verses of this vision today.
So, let’s read this vision in its entirety to begin with. [Read Zec 1:7-17.]
Alright, so let’s then get into the details of this first vision of the prophet. Verse 7
KJV Zechariah 1:7 ¶ [Upon/On] the four and twentieth day of the eleventh month, which is the month [Sebat/Shebat], in the second year of Darius, came the word of the LORD unto Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo the prophet [i.e., Zechariah…], [saying/as follows],
So, let’s talk about the date first.
The reference to the 11th month being called S[h]ebat is Babylonian in nature. This was not the original name of the 11th month in Hebrew.
And then “The twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month…in Darius’ second year was February 15, 519 b.c.” [NET Notes]
Remember… 1:1 “The eighth month of Darius’ second year was late October – late November, 520 b.c., by the modern (Julian) calendar. This is two months later than the date of Haggai’s first message to the same community.”
Word of the Lord
This is the second of 13 times that “the word of the LORD” is mentioned in this book. The first time was back in verse 1 to open the book with that call to the Jews to turn to the Lord. They then indeed did turn back to the Lord and the Lord kept his promise and is now turning back to them. Evidence of that fact will be readily apparent in this first vision to Zechariah.
And we need to realize that this is the last time we get this kind of introduction – with the dates and all – until chapter 7, verse 1. So, now as we hear of and study all of these visions that Zechariah receives, we’re in the same timeframe. All of these individual visions come on this day that we’ve mentioned – February 15th, 519 B.C. And as crazy as it sounds, this coming February 15th will mark 2,538 years since this time in Bible history.
So, here’s what Zechariah reports as he begins to relate this first vision.
8 [I saw by/I saw at/I was attentive that/During the] night, [and behold/I saw/I had a vision and there before me was]
a man [riding upon/was riding/seated on] a red horse[,/!]
and he stood among [the/some] myrtle trees that were in the [bottom/ravine];
and behind him were there red horses, [speckled/sorrel/brown], and white.
So, let’s first realize at what time of day Zechariah sees what’s put before him. This vision is given to him “by night.” What he sees, he sees in a night time setting.
And if what Zechariah sees happens at night, you might think that he wouldn’t be able to see details – or, really, much at all. And yet, he’s able to give some pretty detailed descriptions of what he’s seeing.
And whether Zechariah is receiving this message in a dream or in a vision, whatever medium that God is conveying this message to him allows for him to be aware both of the darkness that surrounds the subject matter of the vision as well as the details that God wants the prophet to be aware of.
It’s sort of like a dream that we might have – only of course ours aren’t divine – but we might be aware in a dream that what we see is transpiring in the night. And yet we’re totally aware of intricate details that in reality we would not at all be able to see. So, that’s sort of how it’s like for Zechariah.
OK so, let’s look at some of the details that the prophet saw.
Behold… A Man!
Zechariah all of a sudden becomes aware of the presence of this man. That’s why he says “behold!” – like “whoa – look at this!”
So, he’s looking at a man. That’s all he knows that this being is for now. More will become clear as the vision progresses. But for now, this is simply a man. He looks like a man.
Riding Upon a Horse
And he’s riding a horse. He’s seated on a horse. And the horse that this man is seated on is red.
Do you wonder what kind of red we’re talking about? Because according to one source on the internet, there are at least 445 named red colors (http://drawingblog.mycoloringland.com/red-shades/)
So, was this horse red or carmine or scarlet or vermilion or crimson or…?
Well, here’s some cross-reference information we have from other parts of Scripture.
This word “red” occurs regarding Esau at his birth – he came out red and all hairy. In fact, the Hebrew word is “adom” which sounds a lot like Edom, which is intentional.
This color is the color of the stew that Jacob made – which Esau wanted “a swallow of” because he was so hungry.
It’s the color of the die that was supposed to be applied to the rams’ skins that were draped over the Tabernacle.
This is the color of the heifer that was to be sacrificed and whose blood would be used to purify the Tabernacle.
This color is the color of blood.
It’s also the color of the wrong kind of wine that will lead to your drunkenness and foolishness.
This is also the color of Israel’s sin, which God wanted to make as white as snow.
This will be the color of God’s clothing when he comes from Edom – having slaughtered many people – looking as if his garments have been stained by grapes.
This color is used in combination with the color scarlet.
So – back to the color of this horse in this passage. Think of the color of red hair. Think of the color of blood. Think of the color or red wine. This is some sort of deep darker red that this horse is characterized by.
OK, so this man is sitting on a deep red-colored horse.
Month the Myrtle Trees
And he’s “among the myrtle trees.”
We get the name Haddasah or “Esther” from this word. These trees apparently are native to Palestine and the surrounding areas. They’re evergreens and they have a sweet fragrance, according to people who are in-the-know regarding middle eastern trees.
This is one of several trees whose branches the returned exiles used to make temporary booths in order to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles.
The tree apparently grew well near water sources – like most trees do – because God promises in Isaiah to fill the desert with this kind of tree in the future. And whereas the myrtle can’t survive in deserts currently, God is going to do something amazing in the future that will allow for these myrtles to grow there.
And these trees are pleasant to mankind. They’re contrasted with the nettle – a bush that grows thorns. Not so with the myrtle – no thorns on this tree.
In the Bottom
And these trees are said to be “in the bottom.”
That term occurs 12 times in the Old Testament and most of the time it’s speaking of the seas or oceans – deep water.
But there’s at least one place where it’s simply speaking of a very low place. The Psalmist in Psalm 69:2 says, “I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing.” So, you get this idea of being in a low place.
And for the Psalmist of Psalm 69, that lowness was felt in his heart – he was experiencing depression and felt that he couldn’t sink any lower.
But for Zechariah, he’s experiencing this lowness in terms of the terrain. He is seeing this man on the dark red horse among the myrtle trees in a geographically low place.
Some have suggested that this is the Kidron Valley to the east of Jerusalem – between that city and the Mount of Olives. That very well might be.
And from there we discover that this man on the dark red horse is not alone in this valley area. Because “behind him were there red horses, speckled, and white.”
Physically behind him – from the prophet’s viewpoint – there are horses of different colors. It’s hard to say how many of each horse there was. It could be that there are four horses total including the one the man is riding. Or it could be that there are several of each color.
Also a little uncertain is whether these other horses have riders or not at this point. But that fact is cleared up later in the vision where we discover that indeed these horses do have riders.
So, we have these three colors mentioned concerning these horses – red, speckled, and white.
The red is the same word as was used for the horse mounted by the original man we’ve heard about.
The speckled color is interesting. There’s no other instance of this word being used in the Old Testament. Other translations have it as “sorrel” which is a reddish-brown or just plain “brown.” But without this word being used anywhere else, it’s hard to know what exactly this color is.
Then last there’s white.
This is the color of some of the sheep owned by Laban which Jacob took. In fact, the word for “white” in Hebrew uses the same three letters that make up the name Laban.
White is the color of teeth and milk.
This is also the color of the Manna that fell in the wilderness and the color of hair and the color of skin when those things are infected with leprosy and the color of the Psalmist David when he is washed by the Lord.
It’s the ideal color of clothing according to Qohelet in the book of Ecclesiastes.
God offers to turn the red sins of Israel into this color metaphorically in Isaiah.
This is also the color that you see on a tree branch when the bark is peeled back.
You get the idea. White is white!
OK, so we have dark red horses, horses that are of this other kind of color that’s kind of hard to determine – maybe brown, and then white horses.
So, are you wondering if those colors have any significance?
Or maybe you wonder more broadly about what these horses – not just their colors – signify.
If so, you’re in good company. Because that’s just what’s on the mind of Zechariah who was the first one to receive this vision, which prompts the following exchange in verse 9.
9 Then [said I/I asked] [i.e., someone nearby…],
[“][O my lord/Sir], what are these?[”]
What are These?
Now, note that he’s not asking who these are – like “hey, is that Bill and Fred over there?” He’s wanting to know what the message is that these horses and their riders are meant to convey to him. He knows this isn’t a divine horse show – he knows that God is communicating some sort of message through these gathered horses.
Now, to whom is Zechariah speaking? Have we been introduced to anyone else beside the prophet and the horses and the man riding that one dark red horse so far?
You wouldn’t know it, but Zechariah just hinted that there’s another person in his presence when he addressed his question to “My lord” or “Sir.”
Who is this “Lord” or “Sir” that Zechariah is addressing seemingly out of nowhere? He’s an angel.
And the [angel that talked with me/angel who was speaking with me/angelic messenger who replied to me/angel who was talking with me] [said unto me/answered],
I will shew [thee/you] what [these/they] [be/are].
The Angel that Talked with Me
By the way, this angel who is referenced simply as “the angel that talked with me” is mentioned by that exact name 11 times in Zechariah 1-6. He basically guides the prophet – along with his confused readers – through these visions. And he finds a counterpart in the book of Revelation as well where John the Apostle a few times addresses an interpreting angel like Zechariah has in this book.
I Will Shew Thee
Well, this angel takes it upon himself to lead Zechariah through this vision and help him and us understand it. In Hebrew, the subject of the verb is implied here when he says “I will shew thee.” But he adds the subject in Hebrew just to be very clear – “I myself will shew thee.”
In a similar way, God told Abraham that he would show him the land of Canaan, in the psalms he promises to show his salvation to those who obey and love him, and in Micah he promised to show Israel miracles.
And now this same God has sent an interpreting angel to explain to Zechariah what these horses signify in his vision.
And yet, interestingly enough, it’s not the interpreting angel that follows-up that promise to show Zechariah what these are with an explanation. Rather, the man on the dark red horse speaks up in verse 10.
10 [And/Then] the man [that stood/who was standing] among the myrtle trees [answered and said/spoke up and said/explained],
These are [they/those/the ones] whom the LORD hath sent to [walk to and fro through/patrol/walk about on/go throughout] the earth.
Walk To and Fro
Now, these horses that are behind this man among the myrtle trees are said to “walk to and fro” in their realm, which is the earth.
Interestingly enough, in the book of Job, there’s a being that confesses twice that this was his activity – walking to and fro. And that being of course is Satan. He tells God that this was the activity that he’s constantly engaged in.
And because of what we come to know of these horses later on in this vision and because of Satan’s tactics described elsewhere as seeking those to devour like a roaring lion would – other translations translate this activity as something like “patrolling” – with the idea of perhaps performing reconnaissance on the Lord’s behalf.
These horses then are going throughout the earth and patrolling it and investigating its condition – investigation the condition of mankind and the nations in the time of Zechariah.
And what did they discover?
11 [And they/So they/The riders/And they] [answered/then agreed with/reported to] the angel of the LORD [that stood/who was standing] among the myrtle trees, and said,
We have [walked to and fro through/patrolled/been walking about on/have gone throughout] the earth, [and, behold,/and now/and found] [all the earth/everything/the whole world] [sitteth still, and is at rest/is peaceful and quiet/is at rest and quiet/at rest and in peace].
Sitteth Still and is at Rest
Literally, the whole world “sits and is quiet.” As opposed to standing and being troubled – at the time when Zechariah prophesies here the entire world as a whole is at peace.
Now, some think that this could be a vision of the future when Jesus reigns on earth and all is at peace. But I think this is better taken as describing the condition of the world in the days of Zechariah.
And this interpretation seems to fall in line with what we know of the second year of Darius’ reign according to those who specialize in the history of this time period. By his second year, Darius had put down several rebellions – including one led by a man who was pretending to be his brother, as strange as that seems. So, Persia had put down Babylon and all other potential rivals to their world domination.
So, there was peace on earth! And that sounds really nice to us. Especially as we approach the Christmas season we’re used to being reminded of Christ’s coming assuring the eventual ushering-in of peace on earth.
And in our present time we’re all acquainted with war being a constant reality throughout the world. We yearn for peace – I do, at least.
But this vision presents a different view of the world peace of Zechariah’s day. In a word, God is not happy about it.
12 Then the angel of the LORD [answered and said/said/asked],
O LORD [of hosts/who rules over all/almighty], how long [wilt thou not/before you] have [mercy/compassion] on Jerusalem and on the [other…] [cities/towns] of Judah, [against which/with which/which] [thou hast had/you have been] [indignation/so angry with] these [threescore and ten/seventy] years?
So, what’s the reaction of this angel of the Lord to the news of world peace? I don’t know that you would say that the angel is necessarily wanting the world to be at war. And yet, he’s looking at the contrast between what’s happening in the world – peace and calm – and what’s happening in his land – Israel. And of course, what’s happening is that his temple still is not complete and his people are poor and needy and oppressed. Yes, the Persians were allowing the Jews to return to their land. And yet, most of Jerusalem and almost all of the surrounding areas lay desolate!
And this prompts the angel of the Lord to ask “how long?!” That phrase appears in the Old Testament 29 times.
And a few of those times it’s a literal question demanding a literal response. As if you tell a friend that you’re going on vacation soon and they respond with the question, “Oh, for how long?” “Just a week” is your reply.
But most of the time when we see the question “how long?!” it’s a rhetorical question. And the implication is that there’s been more than enough time that has already passed and now there needs to be a change. There needs to be action!
And that’s what this angel is submissively demanding of the Lord of hosts – How long?! Time is up! Things need to change here! They need to change right now! There’s no reason for any more delay!Mercy…Indignation
Well, what’s the situation that the angel of the Lord says needs to change?
That would be God’s lack of mercy or compassion and his active indignation against Jerusalem and the cities of Judah.
How Long Wilt Thou Not Have Mercy
The Prophet Jeremiah spoke before the Babylonian exile on God’s behalf of the lack of mercy that the Lord would have to show toward his people. He warned the Jews before their exile to Babylon that he would not have mercy on them. In fact, he was going to send Babylon against them who would have no mercy on them. God was going to smash them into each other and have no compassion on them.
Jeremiah 21:7 And afterward, saith the LORD, I will deliver Zedekiah king of Judah, and his servants, and the people, and such as are left in this city from the pestilence, from the sword, and from the famine, into the hand of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon, and into the hand of their enemies, and into the hand of those that seek their life: and he shall smite them with the edge of the sword; he shall not spare them, neither have pity, nor have mercy.
But then in the same book – the book of Jeremiah, the Lord also prophesied of returning to them in mercy and compassion.
Jeremiah 12:15 And it shall come to pass, after that I have plucked them out [i.e., the exile] I will return, and have compassion on them, and will bring them again, every man to his heritage, and every man to his land.
Jeremiah 30:18 Thus saith the LORD; Behold, I will bring again the captivity of Jacob’s tents, and have mercy on his dwellingplaces; and the city shall be builded upon her own heap, and the palace shall remain after the manner thereof.
Jeremiah 33:25-26 Thus saith the LORD; If my covenant be not with day and night, and if I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth; Then will I cast away the seed of Jacob, and David my servant, so that I will not take any of his seed to be rulers over the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: for I will cause their captivity to return, and have mercy on them.
And this turning of the Lord in mercy to his exiled people was spoken many centuries earlier in Deuteronomy 30:1-3. Let me read that.
KJV Deuteronomy 30:1 ¶ And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call them to mind among all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath driven thee, 2 And shalt return unto the LORD thy God, and shalt obey his voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul; 3 That then the LORD thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath scattered thee.
So, these Jews of Zechariah’s day had indeed been scattered among the nations for their disobedience. But now they’re returning to the land. And they’re expecting this long-promised mercy and compassion. And amazingly, the Angel of the Lord himself is earnestly pleading for this compassion and mercy upon his people, the Jews.
Against Which Thou Hast Had Indignation
But for so long, the Jews’ capital city, Jerusalem, and the surrounding cities had been experiencing something quite different from compassion and mercy. They had been experiencing God’s indignation.
In light of the destruction of Jerusalem, Jeremiah said in Lamentations 2:6 “And he hath violently taken away his tabernacle, as if it were of a garden: he hath destroyed his places of the assembly: the LORD hath caused the solemn feasts and sabbaths to be forgotten in Zion, and hath despised in the indignation of his anger the king and the priest.”
And the Angel of the Lord in Zechariah says that this kind of behavior – this lack of mercy and abundance of indignation – those had been happening in Jerusalem for how long? 70 years.
Now, there’s a period of 70 years that’s first mentioned in Jeremiah 25:11-14 and also 29:10
KJV Jeremiah 25:11 And this whole land shall be a desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. 12 And it shall come to pass, when seventy years are accomplished, that I will punish the king of Babylon, and that nation, saith the LORD, for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans, and will make it perpetual desolations. 13 And I will bring upon that land all my words which I have pronounced against it, even all that is written in this book, which Jeremiah hath prophesied against all the nations. 14 For many nations and great kings shall serve themselves of them also: and I will recompense them according to their deeds, and according to the works of their own hands.
KJV Jeremiah 29:10 ¶ For thus saith the LORD, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place.
So, in Jeremiah, the 70 years seems to be a limit upon the nation of Babylon. Babylon gets 70 years to rule the world. And then after that point, God would punish Babylon and eventually bring Judah back to her land.
Now, when does the 70 years begin? Well, if we count that period of time beginning in 605 BC when Babylon conquered Egypt at the battle of Carchemish, then that 70 year period would have ended about 535 BC.
Well, then we have Daniel the prophet seeing that promise in the book of Jeremiah. Daniel 9:1-3.
KJV Daniel 9:1 ¶ In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes, which was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans; 2 In the first year of his reign I Daniel understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem. 3 ¶ And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes:
So, this happens in about 522 BC. That’s 13 years after the 70 years of Babylon had ended. And Daniel is a literalist. He takes the Bible at face-value and interprets it in a normal and literal way. And he sees that even though 70 years have passed – nay – even 83 years have passed –Jerusalem still lies in ruins.
And that’s pretty much what the Angel of the Lord is also doing in Zechariah here. He pleads with the Lord asking how long will he not have compassion on Jerusalem which he’s been indignant against the past 70 years! That’s not saying that this has been happening 70 years and no longer. I think what he’s saying is that it’s been 70 years – and longer even! And still the Lord is seeming to be angry with his people and his cities.
Isn’t it good to know that even in the midst of discipline from the Lord, that he’s still concerned for his people? Even when you feel like he’s totally forgotten you, he really hasn’t. He never will. God can both be indignant and concerned. And thankfully we have a God who is both just and merciful and he will keep his promises. He did to the Jews. He will for us, as well.
And the way that this vision proceeds we’re going to see God comfort this angel of the Lord and give a very encouraging word to the Jews.
But first – next time I think we’d do well to focus-in on whom this angel of the Lord really is. Surprisingly, the Bible has a lot to say about him and I think it’ll be an encouragement for us. So, that’ll be our topic of study next time.
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