|The Book of Zechariah|
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Go to Bible: Zechariah 1
“In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of Yahweh came.” The Bible does not say what day of the eighth month God spoke to Zechariah. This was the beginning of his visions and hearing from God. His next vision came about four months later, on the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month (Zech. 1:7).
“Zechariah the prophet.” Zechariah was also a priest (Zech. 1:1, 7; Neh. 12:4), but what is important here is his prophetic calling.
“the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo.” Zechariah was the son of Berechiah, who was the son of Iddo. As is sometimes done in biblical genealogy, names are omitted for various reasons. That is the case in the genealogy of Zechariah in the Book of Ezra, where Zechariah is called the son of Iddo, when he was actually the grandson of Iddo (Ezra 5:1; 6:14). It is likely that Berechiah was left out of the genealogy in Ezra because he was not as prominent as Iddo, and also perhaps because he died young and so Iddo was the primary influence in his life. These are things that would have been known when Zechariah lived but are lost to us today.(top)
“Yahweh was angry with your fathers.” God was angry with the people of Israel from the time they left Egypt. The Israelites regularly ignored, disobeyed, and defied God, and he was angry with them and their disobedience brought consequences upon them. This can be seen throughout the Old Testament and the number of verses that reveal it would be too long to be listed (cp. Num. 14:11-12, 22-23; Jer. 7:19-20, 25-26; Ezek. 20:4-21; Isa. 1:2-15; Hos. 1:2-9; Amos 2:4-16; Micah 1:2-7). God created humankind and He expects love, respect, and obedience. That has always been the case and still is the case today. Disobedience to God brings consequences in this life and in the next. The beginning of wisdom is the fear of God (Prov. 9:10).(top)
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“so that they turned and said.” Even the disobedient and rebellious among the Israelites had to admit that they had been told that if they continued to disobey God’s commands there would be grave consequences.
For the translation “so then they turned” see C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 10, p. 508, although some other versions are very similar (cp. ASV; CJB; DBY; ERV; JPS). The 1985 JPS Tanakh gets the sense: “and in the end they had to admit, 'The LORD has dealt with us according to our ways and our deeds, just as He purposed.” The NET has, “Then they paid attention and confessed…,” which also gets the sense. Quite a few English versions translate the Hebrew as “they repented and said” (cp. CSB; ESV; NAB; NASB; NIV; NJB; and RSV), but although the Hebrew word “turned” can also be understood to mean “turned back” or “repented,” that is not the case here. The Old Testament is very clear that in most cases the people did not listen to the prophets and died in their sin. Furthermore, when they did destroy their idols, often it was not because their hearts had changed, but instead, it was because they could see that their idols were not helping them and they were in such dire circumstances that needed Yahweh’s help and so they had to get rid of their idols and turn to Him. There are many examples of Israel not repenting of sin or of temporarily changing but then going back to idols when things were better. Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness as a consequence of their sin and there was no national repentance during that time; the Book of Judges covers more than 400 years of history and records slavery to Syria, Moab, Canaanites, Midianites, Ammonites, and Philistines and each slavery was the result of turning from God. Israel so completely turned from God during the kings period that they were conquered and taken away from their land by Assyrians (2 Kings 17) and Judah so abandoned Yahweh during the kings period that He let his chosen city, Jerusalem, and his “House,” the Temple, be destroyed and the people of Judah to be carried off to Babylon. Furthermore, here in Zechariah’s time, in the post-exilic time when many from Judah had returned from Babylon, there was still much sin and disobedience to God. So Zechariah 1:6 reflects the reality that although the majority of idolaters in Israel did not repent, they still had to admit that the words of the prophets about the consequences of their sin had come to pass.(top)
“On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month.” The visions that God gives Zechariah in the night of that one day are so important that God tells us the exact day that Zechariah received the visions. Zechariah has a series of eight prophetic visions in one night (Zech. 1:7-6:8).
“as follows.”Although the Hebrew text is more literally “saying,” in this context that translation is confusing, so the REV and some other English versions translate the word as “as follows” (cp. NASB; NET; NJB), while other versions simply leave it off (cp. CJB; CSB; NAB; NIV; NKJV). The NRSV and RSV have “and Zechariah said,” to show that what followed were what Zechariah said in describing his vision.(top)
“I had a vision in the night.” What a night for Zechariah! He had eight separate visions from God in that one night. the eight visions were:
“red.” Indicating war, vengeance, and bloodshed.
“myrtle trees.” The myrtle trees stand for Israel. The myrtle “tree” (sometimes called a “shrub”) is an evergreen tree that can grow to 20-25 feet, usually in cooler, wetter areas of Israel. It used to grow on the Mount of Olives, but it no longer grows there, but it is now used as an ornamental shrub in Israel. It has a pleasant odor and delicate white flowers, and its branches were used as part of the booths built during the Feast of Tabernacles (Neh. 8:15).
The significance of the myrtle is not revealed here, which has opened the door to a lot of guesswork on the part of commentators. Not being considered one of the stately trees of Israel but being an evergreen, it likely refers to Israel in its humble but hopeful state, at that time under Persian rule but promised restoration by the prophets, and that fits with what the angel said, “‘O Yahweh of Armies, how long will you not have mercy on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah, against which you have had indignation these 70 years?’ (Zech. 1:12). The myrtle trees do not represent the Christian Church, although some commentators think they do.
Note that the angel did not ask “if” God would someday have mercy on Israel and restore her to glory. God had said through the prophets that he would do that, so the angel asks how long before it will happen.(top)
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“the ones Yahweh has sent to go back and forth through the earth.” Here in Zechariah 1:10, the angels are sent out by God to scope out what is happening on the earth and report that back to God, and in verse 11 they report what they have seen (Zech. 1:10-11).(top)
“the angel of Yahweh.” It is widely believed that “the angel of Yahweh” is Jesus Christ before he was born of Mary, but that is not the case. The “the angel of Yahweh” is an angel.
[For more information on the angel of the Lord not being Jesus Christ, see commentary on Gen. 16:7. For more information on God coming into concretion, see commentary on Acts 7:55. For more information on Jesus being the fully human Son of God and not being “God the Son,” see Appendix 10, “Jesus is the Son of God, Not God the Son”].
“all the earth is at rest and in peace.” At this time in history, the known pagan world was largely at rest. Furthermore, there was no sign of the shaking of the nations that Haggai foretold, which we know was to precede the coming of the Messiah and the restoration of Israel: “in a little while…I will shake all nations…I will shake the heavens and the earth. I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms. I will destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations. I will overthrow the chariots and those who ride in them” (Haggai 2:6-7, 21-22).
But while the pagan world was at rest, the people of God were in a sad state, ruled by pagans and not fully returned to God in their hearts (Zech. 1:3).(top)
“these 70 years.” Technically speaking, the 70 years of the Babylonian Captivity had ended when Cyrus the Persian allowed the Jews to return to their homeland and they returned bringing furnishings of the Temple with them (cp. Ezra 1:1-4). Jeremiah had prophesied that the Babylonian Captivity would be 70 years (Jer. 25:11-12; 29:10). Although at the time Zechariah 1:12 was written the 70 years had passed, Judah and the Temple had not been restored, so the indignation and anger of Yahweh against Judah was still visible and Judah needed mercy from God to be more completely rebuilt and established, and we learn from Haggai and Zechariah that there were enemies within and without that were hindering the work and God’s mercy and help were needed to overcome the obstacles.(top)
“good words, comforting words.” The REV translation is very literal but like the Hebrew text itself, it grabs the ear and the mind. The “good” and “comforting” words are in the next four verses, Zechariah 1:14-17: God was jealous (the Hebrew word can also mean “zealous”) for Jerusalem and Zion; God was angry with the nations (in the context this is the nations that afflicted Judah); God will show mercy to Jerusalem and the Temple will be rebuilt; and the cities of Judah will be rebuilt and God will again choose Jerusalem (implying that when the Temple is finished God will dwell there like He had done in the past).
Also likely included in the good and comforting words was the second and third vision of Zechariah, the vision of the horns and the craftsmen. God showed Zechariah the horns (the forces) that had scattered Israel and Judah, but then showed him the craftsmen who would defeat the horns that scattered God’s people so that they could receive God’s grace and mercy (Zech. 1:18-21).(top)
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“I will return.” The Hebrew is more literally, “I have returned,” but in the context that is a prophetic perfect, referring to a return in the future in a way that had not happened yet.
“my house will be built in it.” That the “house” of God, the Temple will be built is a prophecy that became partially fulfilled during the time Zechariah lived, but it will ultimately be fulfilled when Jesus builds the Millennial Temple that is described in Ezekiel 40-44 (cp. Zech. 6:12). There was and will be several temples built before that last temple. Solomon’s temple, the first temple, had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. The second temple had been started in Zechariah’s time, but was not complete at the time this verse was written. The temple built in Zechariah’s time was totally rebuilt and remodeled by Herod the Great, and that was the Temple that Jesus taught in. That temple was destroyed in 70 AD. In the future there will be another temple that will exist during the period of the Great Tribulation (2 Thess. 2:4; Rev. 11:1-2). That temple will also be destroyed in the Great Tribulation, and then Jesus Christ will build the final earthly temple when he reigns as king over the earth, and that temple is described in Ezekiel 40-44. When the Millennium comes to an end (Rev. 20:7-10) the Heavenly Jerusalem will come to earth and it will last forever and not have a temple in it (Rev. 21:22).
“a measuring line will be stretched out over Jerusalem.” When a building or city was going to be built or changed according to a plan, the area was measured and laid out with measuring lines. Here God encourages His people that Jerusalem will once again be built according to His plan. Although Jerusalem would continue to be rebuilt during the time of Zechariah, and it would be destroyed or partially destroyed and rebuilt again several times in history, the ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy will be in the Millennial Kingdom when Christ rules the earth and the people live under a New Covenant and Jerusalem is rebuilt using a measuring line (cp. Jer. 31:38-40). The city of Jerusalem in the Millennial Kingdom will be a square with each side measuring 4,500 cubits, which is just under 1.5 miles on each side (Ezek. 48:15-16, 30-35).
[For more on the Millennial Kingdom, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth”].(top)
“My cities.” “My cities” are God’s cities, that is, the cities in Israel. By the time of Zechariah they had been devastated by the Assyrians and the Babylonians, but the prophecy is that they will be rebuilt and be prosperous. The ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy will occur in the Millennial Kingdom, when Christ rules the earth. There are other prophecies that the cities of Israel will be rebuilt and be prosperous, and although they may have a more immediate partial fulfillment, the ultimate fulfillment will be when Christ rules (cp. Ps. 69:35-36; Isa. 51:3; 61:4; Ezek. 36:10, 33; Amos 9:14-15). [For more on the Millennial Kingdom, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth”].(top)
“four horns.” By telling us about the four horns, God has told us what we need to know about the powers that attacked and scattered Israel and Judah. Yet the prophecy of the horns is short and the explanation seems incomplete. First of all, how did Zechariah see the vision of the horns? Were they on an animal, or suspended in the air, or what? The Bible does not tell us. Biblically a “horn” ususally referred to power, strength, or even pride. Thus, “I have thrust my horn into the dust” (Job 16:15) refers to Job saying his power and strength were gone. When Hannah, Samuel’s mother, finally gave birth after being barren for years, she exclaimed, “my horn is lifted high in Yahweh” because her strength, attitude, and position in life had been lifted up (1 Sam. 2:1). A horn can also represent a ruler or kingdom (cp. Dan. 8:5-9, 20-23; Rev. 17:12). Scholars have put forth many different ideas about what the four horns in Zechariah are, including the four empires of Nebuchadnezzar’s statue and the four horns being a representation of many different opposing forces from the “four corners” of the earth, but frankly, no one knows for sure what they represent. What is clear is that there have been both spiritual and human forces that have been marshaled against Israel and Judah, but God is doing something about them, as the next vision reveals.(top)
“Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.” All these had been scattered by Israel’s enemies, and there are many prophecies in the various prophets that all these would be rebuilt and God’s people regathered, but that will not become a full reality until Christ rules the earth, an event which is still future (see commentary on Jer. 32:37). By the time of Zechariah, Israel, Judah, and Jerusalem had been scattered, and a remnant of the Judeans had returned. Jerusalem is mentioned because as the center of the worship of Yahweh in the world, one would think that Yahweh would have defended it and not allowed it to be scattered. But the fact that Jerusalem and the Temple were burned down shows that Yahweh is not interested in physical temples, He is interested in being worshiped with one’s whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. Priests and others who keep the Temple and “worship” at it are not going to do that, Yahweh has no interest in protecting His Temple for symbolism’s sake.(top)
“craftsmen.” The Hebrew word means a skilled worker in wood, metal, or stone.(top)
“to cast down the horns of the nations.” The craftsmen are spirits or spiritual forces that God sent to defeat the evil horns. What is not clearly set forth here in Zechariah, or clearly spoken about anywhere else in the Old Testament, is the war that is constantly going on behind the scenes between good and evil. Furthermore, for the most part, the Christian world is blind to it, believing that “God is in control” and that “everything that happens is God’s will.” Nothing could be further from the truth. There is a huge war going on all the time between God and the Devil and between God’s angels and His people and the Devil’s demons and his evil people. The war between David and Goliath is a one small example of the war between Good and Evil that is occurring all over the earth every day. It is not that both David and Goliath were somehow working for God or God made Goliath do evil things such that at some level Goliath was an agent of God. David was a warrior for God and Goliath was a warrior for the Devil. Even if Goliath did not know much about the true identity of the Devil, he was working on Devil’s behalf, being guided by one of the Devil’s many forms or disguises such as pagan gods, hatred and greed, or demonic guidance.
When the Jewish leaders accused Jesus of casting out demons by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, Jesus corrected them and said that if Satan cast out Satan then his kingdom would be divided and it would not stand (Matt. 12:24-28). The same truth applies here. If God sent horn-angels to scatter His people, but then sent craftsmen-angels to cast down the horn-angels, then God’s kingdom would be divided and would not stand. God would never send angel against angel. When Israel and Judah sinned, God could not protect them and demons were able to ruin them. Eventually, when God’s people turn again to Him, He is able to protect and bless them and send angelic help to reestablish them. We learn this from the New Testament. It was Jesus Christ and the New Testament in general that revealed the war between Good and Evil (see verses such as Acts 10:38; 13:8-11; John 8:37-47; 10:10; and Luke 10:17-24).
God is “the Most High God,” and He always has the strength and resources to deal with evil and demonic forces. However, He has set things up here on earth in such a way that humans can determine their own destiny. People make their own decision whether to accept Christ and be saved and live forever or reject Christ and die. Similarly, humans decide to obey God so He can bless them, or disobey God, which ties His hands and allows the Devil to act in ways he otherwise could not have acted. Unlike the Devil who sins in many ways, God has to act righteously, and if people continually reject, disobey, and defy Him, He cannot righteously protect them.
The reason that God did not clearly reveal the war between God and the Devil in the Old Testament is that the vast majority of the people had no power against demonic forces except to obey God and pray for His protection. When Jesus was on earth he gave his apostles authority over demons, and then he could reveal the spiritual war to them knowing they were equipped to deal with demons (Matt. 10:1). Then after his resurrection and before his ascension Jesus taught that when people received holy spirit they would have “power,” that is, spiritual power they did not have before, and then they could deal with demons and manifest the power of holy spirit in other ways as well (cp. Acts 2:38; 1 Cor. 12:7-10).
[For more on the war between God and the Devil see commentaries on Luke 4:6 and 1 John 5:19].(top)