Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius, came the word of the LORD unto Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo the prophet, saying,Chap. Zechariah 1:1-6. Introductory call to Repentance
1. The Author and date of his first Prophecy
the eighth month, in the second year of Darius] The Jews after the Captivity substituted for the years of the reigns of their own kings, by which they had been accustomed to date their history, those of the foreign kings to whom they were subject. But they retained their own months, though with altered names. The eighth month had before been called Bul (1 Kings 6:38). No name is given to it in the Bible after the return, but we learn from the Talmud and from Josephus that it was called Marcheshvan. This name has been supposed to be “a purely Hebrew term,” and to signify “wet” or “rainy.” The month coincides with our November and with the rainy season in Palestine. See Dict. of the Bible, Art. Month.
Haggai’s first prophecy had been delivered in the sixth month, and his second prophecy in the seventh month of this same year. (Haggai 1:1; Haggai 2:1.)
the son of Berechiah] called elsewhere, the son of Iddo. Ezra 5:1; Nehemiah 12:16. See Introd. to Zech. Chap. 1. p. 47.
1. The prophet;
The LORD hath been sore displeased with your fathers.2. sore displeased] Lit. displeased with displeasure. The addition of the noun serves to give emphasis to the verb. Comp. Luke 22:15. What a commentary on this “sore displeasure” was the scene on which the prophet and his hearers gazed, in its contrast with the past: the House, which had once been “exceeding magnifical, of fame and of glory throughout all countries” (1 Chronicles 22:5), now slowly rising above its foundations, the poor and feeble representative of its former self: the city, which had once been “beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth,” now such as Nehemiah some seventy-five years after saw it, on that memorable night when he “on his mule or ass, accompanied by a few followers on foot, descended into the ravine of Hinnom, and threaded his way in and out amongst the gigantic masses of ruin and rubbish …; the gate, outside of which lay the piles of the sweepings and offscourings of the streets; the masses of fallen masonry, extending as it would seem all along the western and northern side; the blackened gaps left where the gates had been destroyed by fire; till at last by the royal reservoir the accumulations became so impassable, that the animal on which he rode refused to proceed” (Stanley, Jewish Church, Vol. III. p. 125, Nehemiah 2:12-15): the people, once “many as the sand which is by the sea in multitude, eating and drinking and making merry” (1 Kings 4:20), now scattered among the heathen, represented on their native soil only by the poor and subject “remnant,” to whom the prophet addressed himself!
2. The company of horsemen and their Leader;
2–6. The call to Repentance. Zechariah’s first message is one of warning, by the example of their fathers and the earlier prophets. On their fathers, as they well knew, the displeasure of Almighty God had fallen heavily (Zechariah 1:2). Now, for the first time in this new era of their history, God is sending to them, as He did to their fathers of old, His servants the prophets, himself and Haggai, with a call to repentance and a promise of reconciliation, Zechariah 1:3. Let them not be like their fathers, who turned a deaf ear to the remonstrances of the prophets and refused to amend, Zechariah 1:4; lest, being like them in their sin, they should be like them in their punishment also, and should have with them to confess, in the bitter experience of their accomplishment, that God’s unheeded threatenings would surely take effect, Zechariah 1:5-6.
Therefore say thou unto them, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Turn ye unto me, saith the LORD of hosts, and I will turn unto you, saith the LORD of hosts.3. saith the Lord of hosts] See note on Haggai 2:6. In this verse the phrase occurs three times. The first and third times it is literally, “saith Jehovah of hosts.” But the second time there is a variation in the Hebrew and it is properly “(it is the) utterance, or oracle of Jehovah of hosts.” The same interchange of the two forms of expression is found in Haggai 1:8-9; Haggai 2:6-9.
3. The interpreting angel;
a clear and satisfactory idea of the vision is obtained. The man riding upon a red horse, the Leader of the company of horsemen, appears again in Zechariah 1:10, where the circumstance of his “standing among the myrtle-trees” is repeated, in order to identify him with the horseman of Zechariah 1:8. In Zechariah 1:11 he is called “the Angel of the Lord;” but to make it clear that he is the same person who was previously described as “a man,” his “standing among the myrtle trees” is again mentioned. Having thus been defined as the angel of the Lord (and he is the only person throughout the vision to whom that name is given) he is referred to in the next verse, Zechariah 1:12, by that title only, there being no further need to mention the circumstance of his standing among the myrtle trees, which was only introduced for the purpose of identifying him with the “man” of Zechariah 1:8; Zechariah 1:10. In Zechariah 1:13 he who is “a man” in Zechariah 1:8, and “the Angel of Jehovah” in Zechariah 1:11-12, becomes perhaps (see note on that verse) “Jehovah” Himself. If this view be adopted, then only one other angel appears upon the scene, “the angel that talked or communed with me” (Zechariah 1:9; Zechariah 1:13-14), who on this supposition stands, as it were, outside in this as he does in all the subsequent visions, and is only employed to interpret them to the prophet.
the myrtles] The myrtle is said to be indigenous to Palestine. That it abounded in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem at this period of Jewish history we learn incidentally, from the description of the Feast of Tabernacles, which was held under Ezra and Nehemiah. “Go forth,” so the proclamation ran, “unto the mount, and fetch olive-branches, and pine-branches, and myrtle-branches, and palm-branches, and branches of thick trees, to make booths, as it is written.” Nehemiah 8:15.
in the bottom] i.e. the low, deep valley, which appears to have been the favourite habitat of the myrtle. Comp. “litora myrtetis lætissima,” “amantes litora myrtos.” Virgil, Georg. ii. 112, iv. 124. Here it may well have been the valley of the Kedron. Others render, but with less probability, “the shady (place).” The idea that the “tabernacle” or dwelling-place of God is intended has nothing to recommend it.
red horses, speckled, and white] With respect to the first and last of the colours, “red,” i.e. bay or chestnut, and “white,” there is no doubt. What exactly the intermediate colour is, “speckled,” or “bay” (margin), “sorrel,” R.V., must remain uncertain. Much ingenuity has been expended in endeavouring to give a meaning to the various colours of the horses. But inasmuch as the horsemen have been on the same mission, Zechariah 1:10, and all bring back the same report, Zechariah 1:11, and no reference is made to the colour of their horses by the angel who interprets the vision, it may fairly be regarded as a detail, to which no special importance is to be attached. We may say with Calvin (and it is a remark of general application to the visions and parables both of the Old Testament and of the New), “Si contenti simus mediocritate, nihil hic erit adeo perplexum, quin saltem facile sit summam totius vaticinii colligere. Sed multum nocuit curiositas interpretum, qui dum excutiunt singulas syllabas, pueriliter ludunt in multis.” His own view is, that the obscurity in which the vision is shrouded, the dark night, the low valley, the sombre myrtles, is intended to remind the prophet that God’s judgments are unsearchable and His ways past finding out, while the angel riders are a help to his human weakness to understand how, like a king whose couriers are continually passing to and fro throughout his dominions, the Almighty is intimately acquainted with all that is done upon earth, and the different coloured horses picture to his mind the truth, that all human events, whatever be their complexion, are alike under the cognisance and control of the never-failing Providence, which ordereth all things both in heaven and earth; and we may add, however diverse they appear, are all working harmoniously to accomplish His will.
Be ye not as your fathers, unto whom the former prophets have cried, saying, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Turn ye now from your evil ways, and from your evil doings: but they did not hear, nor hearken unto me, saith the LORD.4. the former prophets have cried] Rather, cried, as R.V. The reference is not to any one particular prophet or prophets, in whose writings words similar to these may be found; but to the whole body of prophets, who had preceded Zechariah and Haggai, and of whose message in the discharge of the didactic, as distinguished from the predictive function of their office, the substance is here given. Comp. Jeremiah 7:25-26.
now] i.e. I pray.
unto me] whose word, and not their own, the prophets spoke. Comp. Luke 10:16.
Your fathers, where are they? and the prophets, do they live for ever?5, 6. The lesson conveyed by these two verses, which must be taken together, is the same as that contained in the words of Isaiah (Isaiah 40:6; Isaiah 40:8), “All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field … The grass withereth, the flower fadeth, but the word of our God shall stand for ever.” There, however, the lesson has reference to God’s word of promise, for comfort (comp. 1 Peter 1:24-25). Here it has reference to His word of threatening, for warning.
But my words and my statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not take hold of your fathers? and they returned and said, Like as the LORD of hosts thought to do unto us, according to our ways, and according to our doings, so hath he dealt with us.6. my statutes] or decrees. The word may be used here, as it is in Zephaniah 2:2; Psalm 2:7 (in both which places it is rendered decree in A. V.), of some punishment, which God had purposed or decreed, and threatened by His prophets to send upon them unless they repented. But it may also be taken to refer, as it commonly does in the O. T., to the “statutes” of the Law, sanctioned by rewards and punishments, which it was the office of the prophet to repeat and enforce.
take hold of] Marg. and R.V. overtake. Comp. Deuteronomy 28:15; Deuteronomy 28:45, where the same word is used. Pusey quotes the well-known words of Horace, “Rarely hath punishment with limping tread parted with the forerunning miscreant.”
returned] Rather turned, as the word is rendered in Zechariah 1:3-4. They were brought at last to do, what before they had refused to do, Zechariah 1:4, and what you are now intreated to be wise in time to do, Zechariah 1:3, to turn from sin and turn to God.
thought to do] Comp. Lamentations 2:17, where the penitent confession is uttered by Jeremiah, as the representative of the people, almost in the words here recorded: “The Lord hath done that which he had devised (the same word as is here rendered, “thought”); he hath fulfilled his word that he had commanded in the days of old.”
dealt with us] Lit. done with us. As He thought, or purposed, to do, so hath He done.
The Visions. Zechariah 1:7 to Zechariah 6:15. Exactly five months had now elapsed since the building of the Temple was resumed, as the fruit of Haggai’s earnest expostulation (Haggai 1:14-15). It was three months since Zechariah had uttered the call to repentance with which his Book opens (Zechariah 1:1); and in the mean time Haggai had again spoken in the name of the Lord, in his concluding prophecies (Haggai 2:10-23). On the basis of the repentance, of which the people were giving practical proof in their honest endeavours to rebuild the Temple, and as an encouragement to them to persevere in the work, Zechariah now unfolds to them God’s purposes of mercy, as they had been unfolded to him in a series of eight visions, all of which had been vouchsafed to him, as it would seem, in a single night.
Upon the four and twentieth day of the eleventh month, which is the month Sebat, in the second year of Darius, came the word of the LORD unto Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo the prophet, saying,7. the month Sebat] or Shebat, R.V. i.e. January, or February. The identification of the Jewish months with our own cannot be effected with precision, on account of the variations that must inevitably exist between the lunar and the solar months. See Gen. Introd., Chap. II. p. 18.
the word of the Lord] The visions themselves might not improperly be called, “the word of the Lord,” inasmuch as they are the medium of communication between the Divine mind and the minds of the prophet and the people. But they are accompanied not only by the spoken explanation of the angel, but by frequent passages introduced by the expression, “thus saith the Lord” (Zechariah 1:14; Zechariah 1:16-17, Zechariah 2:5; Zechariah 2:8, &c.), so that the revelation as a whole may fitly be described as “the word of the Lord.”
The First Vision. The horsemen among the myrtle-trees. Zechariah 1:8-17. In the night time, in prophetic trance or vision, Zechariah sees, in a shady valley full of myrtle trees, a man (who is also called an angel of Jehovah and, as it would seem, Jehovah Himself) seated on a red horse, and behind him a number of other horsemen on horses of three different colours, Zechariah 1:8. Wishing to know the meaning of what he sees, the prophet turns for information to an angel beside him, whose office it is to interpret to him the visions, and who remains by him for that purpose throughout the entire series, Zechariah 1:9. In answer to a sign made, or an enquiry addressed to him, by this interpreting angel, the man or angel on horseback among the myrtles explains what the mission of the band of horsemen had been, and gathers from them by sign or interrogation the result of that mission, Zechariah 1:10-11. Sympathising with the prophet and his people, in the disappointment which the report of the horsemen would produce—for it told that the promised tokens of returning favour to Zion were not yet apparent, the leading horseman, the Angel of Jehovah, intercedes with the Almighty on their behalf, Zechariah 1:12. And in the name of Jehovah he gives, as the fruit of his intercession, an answer of encouragement to the interpreting angel at the prophet’s side, Zechariah 1:13; who in turn puts into the mouth of Zechariah the message of Jehovah, which he bids him proclaim to the people, that despite the world-wide peace, which that stationary group in the still night amidst the secluded myrtle-grove at once symbolize and announce, He will speedily arise to take vengeance on their enemies, Zechariah 1:14; Zechariah 1:17, and that then the Temple shall be completed, Jerusalem rebuilt, and the land at large become inhabited and prosperous, Zechariah 1:16-17.
I saw by night, and behold a man riding upon a red horse, and he stood among the myrtle trees that were in the bottom; and behind him were there red horses, speckled, and white.8. by night] or, in the night, R. V. As the Jewish day began at sunset, this would be the night preceding the twenty-fourth day of the month. If so, Zechariah may have recited these visions to the people for their encouragement, on the very day on which, five months before, they had re-commenced their work on the Temple. Haggai 1:14-15.
a man riding upon a red horse] There is some difficulty in deciding how many persons take part in this vision. If, however, we suppose them to have been
Then said I, O my lord, what are these? And the angel that talked with me said unto me, I will shew thee what these be.9. O my lord] This question is addressed to the interpreting angel, of whose presence we are for the first time made aware by the fact that he replies to it.
the angel that talked with me] This is the title by which this angel is distinguished throughout the visions: Zechariah 1:13-14 (where the A. V. has “communed with me”), 19, Zechariah 2:3, Zechariah 4:1; Zechariah 4:4-5, Zechariah 5:10, Zechariah 6:4. The phrase has been variously interpreted. Some would render “in me,” “in that that angel formed in the spirit and imaginative power of Zechariah phantasms or images of things which were foreshown him, and gave him to understand what those images signified.” Others take it to mean “by me,” “the prophet being the channel through whom the divine revelations were made.” But there is no reason to depart from the rendering of the A. V., which accurately describes the office of the angel as actually discharged by him in explaining the visions, and which is supported by Hebrew usage. Comp. Numbers 12:8, where it is difficult to understand how God should speak “face to face,” either “in,” or “by,” a man.
And the man that stood among the myrtle trees answered and said, These are they whom the LORD hath sent to walk to and fro through the earth.10. the man] i.e. the rider on the red horse of Zechariah 1:8, who, in answer it may be to a look or sign from the interpreting angel, takes upon himself to “shew” the prophet “what these be.”
And they answered the angel of the LORD that stood among the myrtle trees, and said, We have walked to and fro through the earth, and, behold, all the earth sitteth still, and is at rest.11. the angel of the Lord] The man on the red horse, who as it now appears is an angel of Jehovah in human form, having told Zechariah, in Zechariah 1:10, what the other riders were, now turns to them and elicits from them, probably by sign or look, the fact for the prophet’s information, that they had traversed the earth and found universal peace prevailing.
Then the angel of the LORD answered and said, O LORD of hosts, how long wilt thou not have mercy on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah, against which thou hast had indignation these threescore and ten years?12. answered] The word does not necessarily mean replied to a question, but has here, as elsewhere, the more general signification of speaking in a manner corresponding, or “answering” to the circumstances described and the feelings called forth by them (comp. Job 3:2 (margin); Daniel 2:26; Acts 5:8). Pitying Zechariah and his countrymen in the disappointment, which the answer of the horsemen (Zechariah 1:11) could not fail to cause them, inasmuch as it told of rest and quiet, whereas the “shaking of all nations” was the predicted sign of returning favour to Zion (Haggai 2:7; Haggai 2:21-22), the Angel proceeds to speak “answerably” to this feeling, in the intercession which he now offers on their behalf. His sympathy and intercession make it probable, as Calvin remarks (though he offers the alternative of its being any angel you please), that this Angel of the Lord was “Christ the Mediator.”
these threescore and ten years] Comp. Jeremiah 25:11; Ezra 1:1. The meaning is: Why art Thou still angry with us, when the appointed time of our punishment, the seventy years of our captivity, has expired?
And the LORD answered the angel that talked with me with good words and comfortable words.13. the Lord] i.e. Jehovah. This may either mean, that Almighty God answered from heaven the intercession of the Angel of the Lord (Zechariah 1:12), not to himself directly, but to the interpreting angel, by words which, whether he heard them himself or gathered their import from the angel’s address to him (Zechariah 1:14), the prophet knew to be “good, even comfortable;” or the Angel of the Lord of Zechariah 1:12 may be here identified with Jehovah (comp. Genesis 18:1-2; Genesis 18:13; Genesis 18:17; Genesis 18:22; Joshua 5:13; Joshua 6:2). and represented as Himself communicating to the interpreting angel the answer, which He had received from heaven.
So the angel that communed with me said unto me, Cry thou, saying, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; I am jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great jealousy.14. I am jealous] “I have been, not now only, but in time past even when I did not shew it, and am jealous, with the tender love which allows not what it loves to be injured.” Pusey. Comp. chap. Zechariah 8:2.
And I am very sore displeased with the heathen that are at ease: for I was but a little displeased, and they helped forward the affliction.15. heathen] or, nations, R.V.
at ease] as described in Zechariah 1:11. The word in this verse is the same as in Isaiah 32:9; Isaiah 32:11, and Psalm 123:4.
helped forward] Comp. Isaiah 47:6.
Therefore thus saith the LORD; I am returned to Jerusalem with mercies: my house shall be built in it, saith the LORD of hosts, and a line shall be stretched forth upon Jerusalem.16. Therefore] because I am thus jealous for my people and angry with their enemies.
a line] i.e. a measuring line, to mark out the city with a view to its being rebuilt. Comp. Job 38:5. It had been measured before for destruction, 2 Kings 21:13; Lamentations 2:8.
Cry yet, saying, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; My cities through prosperity shall yet be spread abroad; and the LORD shall yet comfort Zion, and shall yet choose Jerusalem.17. be spread abroad] Some would render “overflow,” comparing Proverbs 5:16. But the more usual sense of the word, “spread abroad, or “disperse,” gives a good meaning. Not only shall the Temple be rebuilt, and the metropolis restored, but cities, owned and blessed by God (“my cities”), shall be scattered throughout the land.
The scope, then, of the first vision is clear. It conveys a distinct promise and prophecy of three future events. “My house shall be built,” Zechariah 1:16. This was accomplished four years later in the sixth year of Darius (Ezra 6:15). “A line shall be stretched forth upon Jerusalem,” Zechariah 1:16. This was done some seventy years later, when the city was rebuilt by Nehemiah (Nehemiah 6:15). “My cities through prosperity shall yet be spread abroad,” Zechariah 1:17. The fulfilment of this is to be found in the history of the Jews under the Asmonean princes. Beyond this the first prophecy does not expressly go; though its concluding words, “The Lord shall yet comfort Zion, and shall yet choose Jerusalem,” are at least an implied promise of better things, than any which befell the Jews before the coming of Christ.
The Second Vision. The four horns and the four workmen. Zechariah 1:18-21. (Heb., 2:1–4.) The scene changes. The first vision had foretold as certain the punishment of the heathen, with which the prosperity of Israel was bound up. This vision takes a step in advance and depicts that punishment as already come. The prophet turns again to the field of view, which he had ceased to contemplate while he gave heed to the words of the interpreting angel, or pursued the thoughts which those words suggested. Looking up, he sees now before him four mighty horns. The beast, or beasts, which bear them are hidden from his view. The horns alone stand out from the surrounding gloom (Zechariah 1:18). In answer to the question, which he addresses to the interpreting angel, he is told that these horns represent the powers which have scattered his people (Zechariah 1:19). And now he sees, in the unfolding of this vision granted him by Jehovah, four artificers or smiths coming out to view, and proceeding one towards each of the four towering horns (Zechariah 1:20). In answer to a further question by the prophet, the interpreting angel tells him that these artificers are come to demolish and drive away these horns (Zechariah 1:21).
Then lifted I up mine eyes, and saw, and behold four horns.18. four horns] The horn is a symbol of honour (1 Samuel 2:1; Job 16:15), and of power (Jeremiah 48:25; Amos 6:13). Here the latter idea is prominent. By the four horns some understand four definite powers or kingdoms, either, Babylonians, Medes and Persians, Macedonians, and Romans, in accordance with the visions of Daniel, chaps. 2, 4; or, inasmuch as the horns are interpreted in Zechariah 1:19 to be powers which “have (already) scattered” Judah, Israel and Jerusalem, Assyria, Egypt, Babylon and Medo-Persia. But it is better to take the number four generally of enemies on every side, or towards every point of the compass.
And I said unto the angel that talked with me, What be these? And he answered me, These are the horns which have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.19. Judah, Israel and Jerusalem] The two tribes, the ten tribes, and the capital of the whole nation. So inclusive a description must be held to refer to the whole Jewish people, so that the vision predicts the overthrow of the oppressors of Israel as well as of Judah.
And the LORD shewed me four carpenters.20. the Lord] Jehovah, from whom the whole series of visions proceeded, Zechariah 1:7.
four carpenters] Rather, artificers, or workmen; (smiths, R. V.). The word is used of working in wood, but also in metals and in stone. Isaiah 44:12-13; 2 Samuel 5:11. There is no ground for the idea that these artificers represent angelic ministries. They rather indicate generally the various human agencies, corresponding in number and variety to the enemies of Israel, by the instrumentality of which those enemies should be overthrown. “Comparat gentes, quæ infestæ fuerant Judæis, cornibus: postea comparet fabris alios hostes, quorum manu et opera utitur Deus ad frangendos conatus eorum omnium, qui molesti erunt ecclesiæ.” Calvin.
Then said I, What come these to do? And he spake, saying, These are the horns which have scattered Judah, so that no man did lift up his head: but these are come to fray them, to cast out the horns of the Gentiles, which lifted up their horn over the land of Judah to scatter it.21. he spake] i.e. the interpreting angel.
have scattered] Rather, scattered, R.V.
to fray them] Either the wild animals bearing the horns, or more probably the nations symbolised by them, are here spoken of as being “frayed,” or “panic-stricken.” In the following word, “to cast out,” the figure of the horns is perhaps resumed.
The Third Vision. The man with the measuring line. Zechariah 2:1-13. (Heb., 2:5–17.) The vision which describes the destruction of her enemies is followed by another, in which the consequent growth and prosperity of Jerusalem are depicted, and which in the largeness of its predictions extends into the more distant future. The prophet sees now upon the stage, or field of view, a young man with a measuring line in his hand, Zechariah 1:1. He asks him where he is going, and is answered, that he is going to measure Jerusalem, Zechariah 1:2. Upon this, the interpreting angel quits the prophet’s side and “goes forth” upon the stage in pursuit, as it would seem, of the man with the measuring line, to bid him desist from his purpose. As he does so, he is met by another angel, to whom he delegates the errand on which he himself had started, and whom he commissions in the hearing of the prophet (thus fulfilling his office as “interpreter” of the visions, and removing the false impression which the man’s answer, Zechariah 1:2, had created) to go and bid the “young man” cease from measuring, because Jerusalem, in its coming populousness and security, should neither admit of nor require walls, Zechariah 1:3-5. The exiles still remaining in Babylon are now summoned to leave her, Zechariah 1:6-7, for God’s judgments are about to fall upon her, Zechariah 1:8-9; whereas in Zion, to which they are invited to return, He will dwell, Zechariah 1:10-11, making it again His portion and His choice, Zechariah 1:12, extending its blessings to the Gentiles, Zechariah 1:11, confirming by the happy event the truth of this prediction, Zechariah 1:9; Zechariah 1:11, and manifesting Himself as the Judge of all the earth, Zechariah 1:13.