This prophecy is suitable to all, as the scope is to reprove for sin, and threaten God's judgments against the impenitent, and to encourage those that feared God, with assurances of the mercy God had in store for his church, and especially of the coming of the Messiah, and the setting up his kingdom in the world.
An exhortation to repentance. (1-6) A vision of the ministry of angels. (7-17) The security of the Jews and the destruction of their enemies. (18-21)
Verses 1-6 God's almighty power and sovereign dominion, should engage and encourage sinners to repent and turn to Him. It is very desirable to have the Lord of hosts for our friend, and very dreadful to have him for our enemy. Review what is past, and observe the message God sent by his servants, the prophets, to your fathers. Turn ye now from your evil ways, and from your evil doings. Be persuaded to leave your sins, as the only way to prevent approaching ruin. What is become of our fathers, and of the prophets that preached to them? They are all dead and gone. Here they were, in the towns and countries where we live, passing and repassing in the same streets, dwelling in the same houses, trading in the same shops and exchanges, worshipping God in the same places. But where are they? When they died, there was not an end of them; they are in eternity, in the world of spirits, the unchangeable world to which we hasten apace. Where are they? Those of them who lived and died in sin, are in torment. Those who lived and died in Christ, are in heaven; and if we live and die as they did, we shall be with them shortly and eternally. If they minded not their own souls, is that a reason why their posterity should ruin theirs also? The prophets are gone. Christ is a Prophet that lives for ever, but all other prophets have a period put to their office. Oh that this consideration had its due weight; that dying ministers are dealing with dying people about their never-dying souls, and an awful eternity, upon the brink of which both are standing! In another world, both we and our prophets shall live for ever: to prepare for that world ought to be our great care in this. The preachers died, and the hearers died, but the word of God died not; not one jot or title of it fell to the ground; for he is righteous.
Verses 7-17 The prophet saw a dark, shady grove, hidden by hills. This represented the low, melancholy condition of the Jewish church. A man like a warrior sat on a red horse, in the midst of this shady myrtle-grove. Though the church was in a low condition, Christ was present in the midst, ready to appear for the relief of his people. Behind him were angels ready to be employed by him, some in acts of judgment, others of mercy, others in mixed events. Would we know something of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, we must apply, not to angels, for they are themselves learners, but to Christ himself. He is ready to teach those humbly desirous to learn the things of God. The nations near Judea enjoyed peace at that time, but the state of the Jews was unsettled, which gave rise to the pleading that followed; but mercy must only be hoped for through Christ. His intercession for his church prevails. The Lord answered the Angel, this Angel of the covenant, with promises of mercy and deliverance. All the good words and comfortable words of the gospel we receive from Jesus Christ, as he received them from the Father, in answer to the prayer of his blood; and his ministers are to preach them to all the world. The earth sat still, and was at rest. It is not uncommon for the enemies of God to be at rest in sin, while his people are enduring correction, harassed by temptation, disquieted by fears of wrath, or groaning under oppression and persecution. Here are predictions which had reference to the revival of the Jews after the captivity, but those events were shadows of what shall take place in the church, after the oppression of the New Testament Babylon is ended.
Verses 18-21 The enemies of the church threaten to cut off the name of Israel. They are horns, emblems of power, strength, and violence. The prophet saw them so formidable that he began to despair of the safety of every good man, and the success of every good work; but the Lord showed him four workmen empowered to cut off these horns. With an eye of sense we see the power of the enemies of the church; look which way we will, the world shows us that; but it is only with an eye of faith that we see it safe. The Lord shows us that. When God has work to do, he will raise up some to do it, and others to defend it, and to protect those employed in doing it. What cause there is to look up in love and praise to the holy and eternal Spirit, who has the same care over the present and eternal interests of believers, by the holy word bringing the church to know the wonderful things of salvation!
Zechariah 1:1-17 . INTRODUCTORY EXHORTATION TO REPENTANCE. THE VISION. The man among the myrtles: Comforting explanation by the angel, an encouragement to the Jews to build the city and temple: The four horns and four artificers.
2. God fulfilled His threats against your fathers; beware, then, lest by disregarding His voice by me, as they did in the case of former prophets, ye suffer like them. The special object Zechariah aims at is that they should awake from their selfish negligence to obey God's command to rebuild His temple ( Haggai 1:4-8 ).
sore displeased--Hebrew, "displeased with a displeasure," that is, vehemently, with no common displeasure, exhibited in the destruction of the Jews' city and in their captivity.
3. saith the Lord of hosts--a phrase frequent in Haggai and Zechariah, implying God's boundless resources and universal power, so as to inspire the Jews with confidence to work.
Turn ye unto me . . . and I will turn--that is, and then, as the sure consequence, "I will turn unto you" ( Malachi 3:7 , 4:8 ; compare also Jeremiah 3:12 , Ezekiel 18:30 , Micah 7:19 ). Though God hath brought you back from captivity, yet this state will not last long unless ye are really converted. God has heavier scourges ready, and has begun to give symptoms of displeasure [CALVIN]. ( Haggai 1:6 ).
4. Be ye not as your fathers--The Jews boasted of their fathers; but he shows that their fathers were refractory, and that ancient example and long usage will not justify disobedience ( 2 Chronicles 36:15 2 Chronicles 36:16 ).
the former prophets--those who lived before the captivity. It aggravated their guilt that, not only had they the law, but they had been often called to repent by God's prophets.
5. Your fathers . . . and the prophets, do they live for ever?--In contrast to "My words" ( Zechariah 1:6 ), which "endure for ever" ( 1 Peter 1:25 ). "Your fathers have perished, as was foretold; and their fate ought to warn you. But you may say, The prophets too are dead. I grant it, but still My words do not die: though dead, their prophetical words from Me, fulfilled against your fathers, are not dead with them. Beware, then, lest ye share their fate."
6. statutes--My determined purposes to punish for sin.
which I commanded my servants--namely, to announce to your fathers.
did they not take hold--that is, overtake, as a foe overtakes one fleeing.
they returned--Turning from their former self-satisfaction, they recognized their punishment as that which God's prophets had foretold.
thought to do--that is, decreed to do. Compare with this verse Lamentations 2:17 .
our ways--evil ways ( Jeremiah 4:18 , 17:10 , 23:2 ).
7. The general plan of the nine following visions (Zechariah 1:8-6:15') is first to present the symbol; then, on a question being put, to subjoin the interpretation. Though the visions are distinct, they form one grand whole, presented in one night to the prophet's mind, two or three months after the prophet's first commission ( Zechariah 1:1 ).
Sebat--the eleventh month of the Jewish year, from the new moon in February to the new moon in March. The term is Chaldee, meaning a "shoot," namely, the month when trees begin to shoot or bud.
8. by night--The Jews begin their day with sunset; therefore the night which preceded the twenty-fourth day of the month is meant ( Zechariah 1:7 ).
a man--Jehovah, the second person of the Trinity, manifested in man's form, an earnest of the incarnation; called the "angel of Jehovah" ( Zechariah 1:11 Zechariah 1:12 ), "Jehovah the angel of the covenant" ( Malachi 3:1 ; compare Genesis 16:7 with Zechariah 1:13 ; Genesis 22:11 with Zechariah 1:12 ; Exodus 3:2 with Zechariah 1:4 ). Being at once divine and human, He must be God and man in one person.
riding--implying swiftness in executing God's will in His providence; hastening to help His people.
red horse--the color that represents bloodshed: implying vengeance to be inflicted on the foes of Israel (compare 2 Kings 3:22 , Isaiah 63:1 Isaiah 63:2 , Revelation 6:4 ); also fiery zeal.
among the myrtle trees--symbol of the Jewish Church: not a stately cedar, but a lowly, though fragrant, myrtle. It was its depressed state that caused the Jews to despond; this vision is designed to cheer them with better hopes. The uncreated angel of Jehovah's presence standing (as His abiding place, Psalms 132:14 ) among them, is a guarantee for her safety, lowly though she now be.
in the bottom--in a low place or bottom of a river; alluding to Babylon near the rivers Euphrates and Tigris, the scene of Judah's captivity. The myrtle delights in low places and the banks of waters [PEMBELLUS]. MAURER translates, from a different root, "in a shady place."
red horses--that is, horsemen mounted on red horses; Zechariah 1:10 Zechariah 1:11 , confirm this view.
speckled . . . white--The "white" implies triumph and victory for Judah; "speckled" (from a root "to intertwine"), a combination of the two colors white and red (bay [MOORE]), implies a state of things mixed, partly prosperous, partly otherwise [HENDERSON]; or, the connection of the wrath (answering to the "red") about to fall on the Jews' foes, and triumph (answering to the "white") to the Jews themselves in God's arrangements for His people [MOORE]. Some angels ("the red horses") exercised offices of vengeance; others ("the white"), those of joy; others ("the speckled"), those of a mixed character (compare Zechariah 6:2 Zechariah 6:3 ). God has ministers of every kind for promoting the interests of His Church.
9. the angel that talked with me--not the "man upon the red horse," as is evident from Zechariah 1:10 , where he (the Divine Angel) is distinguished from the "angel that talked with me" (the phrase used of him, Zechariah 1:13 Zechariah 1:14 , Zechariah 2:3 , Zechariah 4:1 Zechariah 4:4 Zechariah 4:5 , Zechariah 5:5 Zechariah 5:10 , 6:4 ), that is, the interpreting angel. The Hebrew for "with me," or, "in me" ( Numbers 12:8 ), implies internal, intimate communication [JEROME].
show thee--reveal to thy mental vision.
10. answered--The "angel of the covenant" here gives the reply instead of the interpreting angel, to imply that all communications through the interpreting angel come from Him as their source.
Lord hath sent to walk to and fro through the earth--If "Satan walks to and fro in the earth" (implying restless activity) on errands of mischief to God's people ( Job 1:7 ), the Lord sends other angels to "walk to and fro" with unceasing activity everywhere to counterwork Satan's designs, and to defend His people ( Psalms 34:7 , 91:11 , Psalms 103:20 Psalms 103:21 , Hebrews 1:14 ).
11. The attendant angels report to the Lord of angels, "the earth . . . is at rest." The flourishing state of the heathen "earth," while Judah was desolate and its temple not yet restored, is the powerful plea in the Divine Angel's intercession with God the Father in Zechariah 1:12 . When Judah was depressed to the lowest point, and the heathen elated to the highest, it was time for Jehovah to work for His people.
sitteth still--dwells surely.
12. Not only does Messiah stand among His people (the "myrtles," Zechariah 1:8 ), but intercedes for them with the Father ("Lord," or "Jehovah of hosts") effectively ( Zechariah 1:13 , Hebrews 7:25 ). Compare Psalms 102:13-20 Isaiah 62:6 Isaiah 62:7 , as to Judah's restoration in answer to prayer.
answered and said--said in continuation of the discourse: proceeded to say.
how long--Messiah's people pray similarly to their Head. Revelation 6:10 , "How long," &c. Heretofore it was vain to pray, but now that the divinely appointed "threescore and ten years" ( Jeremiah 25:11 , 29:10 ) are elapsed, it is time to pray to Thee for the fulfilment of Thy promise, seeing that Thy grace is not yet fully manifested, nor Thy promise fulfilled. God's promises are not to make us slothful, but to quicken our prayers. HENDERSON, dating the seventy years from the destruction of Jerusalem (588 B.C.), supposes two years of the seventy had yet to run (520 B.C.).
13. the Lord--JEHOVAH, called "the angel of the Lord (Jehovah)" ( Zechariah 1:12 ).
good words and comfortable words--literally, "words, consolations." The subject of these consolatory words is stated in Zechariah 1:14 , &c.; the promise of full re-establishment, Jeremiah 29:10 Jeremiah 29:11 (compare Isaiah 57:18 , Hosea 11:8 ).
14. Cry--Proclaim so as to be heard clearly by all ( Isaiah 40:6 , 58:1 ).
I am jealous for Jerusalem--As a husband jealous for his wife, wronged by others, so Jehovah is for Judah, who has been injured wantonly by the heathen ( Zechariah 8:2 , Numbers 25:11 Numbers 25:13 , 1 Kings 19:10 , Joel 2:18 ).
15. very sore displeased with the heathen--in contrast with "I was but a little displeased" with My people. God's displeasure with His people is temporary and for their chastening; with the heathen oppressors, it is final and fatal ( Jeremiah 30:11 ). God's instruments for chastising His people, when He has done with them, He casts into the fire.
are at ease--carnally secure. A stronger phrase than "is at rest" ( Zechariah 1:11 ). They are "at ease," but as I am "sore displeased" with them, their ease is accursed. Judah is in "affliction," but as I love her and am jealous for her, she has every reason to be encouraged in prosecuting the temple work.
helped forward the affliction--afflicted My people more than I desired. The heathen sought the utter extinction of Judah to gratify their own ambition and revenge ( Isaiah 47:6 , Ezekiel 25:3 Ezekiel 25:6 , Obadiah 1:10-17 ).
16. I am returned--whereas in anger I had before withdrawn from her ( Hosea 5:15 ).
with mercies--not merely of one kind, nor once only, but repeated mercies.
my house shall be built--which at this time (the second year of Darius, Zechariah 1:1 ) had only its foundations laid ( Haggai 2:18 ). It was not completed till the sixth year of Darius ( Ezra 6:15 ).
line--( Job 38:5 ). The measuring-line for building, not hastily, but with measured regularity. Not only the temple, but Jerusalem also was to be rebuilt ( Nehemiah 2:3 , &c.; compare Zechariah 2:1 Zechariah 2:2 ). Also, as to the future temple and city, Ezekiel 41:3,42:1-44:31,45:6'.
17. yet--though heretofore lying in abject prostration.
My cities--not only Jerusalem, but the subordinate cities of Judah. God claims them all as peculiarly His, and therefore will restore them.
through prosperity . . . spread abroad--or overflow; metaphor from an overflowing vessel or fountain (compare Proverbs 5:16 ) [PEMBELLUS]. Abundance of fruits of the earth, corn and wine, and a large increase of citizens, are meant; also spiritual prosperity.
comfort Zion--( Isaiah 40:1 Isaiah 40:2 , 51:3 ).
choose--( Zechariah 2:12 , 3:2 , Isaiah 14:1 ). Here meaning, "show by acts of loving-kindness that He has chosen." His immutable choice from everlasting is the fountain whence flow all such particular acts of love.
Zechariah 1:18-21 . SECOND VISION. The power of the Jews foes shall be dissipated.
18. four horns--To a pastoral people like the Jews the horns of the strongest in the herd naturally suggested a symbol of power and pride of conscious strength: hence the ruling powers of the world ( Revelation 17:3 Revelation 17:12 ). The number four in Zechariah's time referred to the four cardinal points of the horizon. Wherever God's people turned, there were foes to encounter ( Nehemiah 4:7 ); the Assyrian, Chaldean, and Samaritan on the north; Egypt and Arabia on the south; Philistia on the west; Ammon and Moab on the east. But the Spirit in the prophet looked farther; namely, to the four world powers, the only ones which were, or are, to rise till the kingdom of Messiah, the fifth, overthrows and absorbs all others in its universal dominion. Babylon and Medo-Persia alone had as yet risen, but soon Græco-Macedonia was to succeed (as Zechariah 9:13 foretells), and Rome the fourth and last, was to follow ( Daniel 2:1-49 , 7:1-28 ). The fact that the repairing of the evils caused to Judah and Israel by all four kingdoms is spoken of here, proves that the exhaustive fulfilment is yet future, and only the earnest of it given in the overthrow of the two world powers which up to Zechariah's time had "scattered" Judah ( Jeremiah 51:2 , Ezekiel 5:10 Ezekiel 5:12 ). That only two of the four had as yet risen, is an argument having no weight with us, as we believe God's Spirit in the prophets regards the future as present; we therefore are not to be led by Rationalists who on such grounds deny the reference here and in Zechariah 6:1 to the four world kingdoms.
19. Judah, Israel--Though some of the ten tribes of Israel returned with Judah from Babylon, the full return of the former, as of the latter, is here foretold and must be yet future.
20. four carpenters--or "artificers." The several instrumentalities employed, or to be employed, in crushing the "Gentile" powers which "scattered" Judah, are hereby referred to. For every one of the four horns there was a cleaving "artificer" to beat it down. For every enemy of God's people, God has provided a counteracting power adequate to destroy it.
21. These are the horns--rather, Those, namely, the horns being distinguished from the "carpenters," or destroying workmen ("skilful to destroy," Exodus 21:31 ), intended in the "these" of the question.
no man . . . lift up his head--so depressed were they with a heavy weight of evils ( Job 10:15 ).
to fray--to strike terror into them ( Ezekiel 30:9 ).
lifted up . . . horn--in the haughtiness of conscious strength ( Psalms 75:4 Psalms 75:5 ) tyrannizing over Judah ( Ezekiel 34:21 ).